Charles Boardman Hawes
Part 2 out of 5
sail to ribbons, disabled many men and, I am confident, killed several. But
there was no time to load again. Although by now we showed our stern to the
enemy, and had a fair--chance to outstrip her in a long race, her greater
momentum was bringing her down upon us rapidly. From aft came the order--it
was Mr. Thomas who gave it,--"All hands to the pikes and repel boarders!"
There was, however, no more fighting. Our assailants took measure of the
stout nets and the strong battery of pikes, and, abandoning the whole
unlucky adventure, bore away on a new course.
One man forward was killed and four were badly hurt. Mr. Thomas sat with
his back against the cabin, very white of face, with streams of red running
from his nostrils and his mouth; and Captain Whidden lay dead on the deck.
An hour later word passed through the ship that Mr. Thomas, too, had died.
It was strange that, while some of us in the forecastle were much cast down
by the tragic events of the day, others should seem to be put in really
good humor by it all. Neddie Benson soberly shook his head from time to
time; old Bill Hayden lay in his bunk without even a word about his "little
wee girl in Newburyport," and occasionally complained of not feeling well;
and various others of the crew faced the future with frank hopelessness.
For my own part, it seemed to me as unreal as a nightmare that Captain
Joseph Whidden actually had been shot dead by a band of Arab pirates. I was
bewildered--indeed, stunned--by the incredible suddenness of the calamity.
It was so complete, so appallingly final! To me, a boy still in his 'teens,
that first intimate association with violent death would have been in
itself terrible, and I keenly felt the loss of our chief mate. But Captain
Whidden to me was far more than master of the ship. He had been my father's
friend since long before I was born; and from the days when I first
discriminated between the guests at my father's house, I had counted him as
also a friend of mine. Never had I dreamed that so sad an hour would darken
my first voyage.
Kipping, on the other hand, and Davie Paine and the carpenter seemed
actually well pleased with what had happened. They lolled around with an
air of exasperating superiority when they saw any of the rest of us looking
at them; and now and then they exchanged glances that I was at a loss to
understand until all at once a new thought dawned on me: since the captain
and the first mate were dead, the command of the ship devolved upon
Mr. Falk, the second mate.
No wonder that Kipping and Davie and the carpenter and all the rest of that
lawless clique were well pleased. No wonder that old Bill Hayden and some
of the others, for whom Kipping and his friends had not a particle of use
were downcast by the prospect.
I was amazed at my own stupidity in not realizing it before, and above all
else I now longed to talk with someone whom I could trust--Roger Hamlin by
preference; as second choice, my friend the cook. But for the time being I
was disappointed in this. Almost immediately Mr. Falk summoned all hands
"Men," he said, putting on a grave face that seemed to me assumed for the
occasion, "men, we've come through a dangerous time, and we are lucky to
have come alive out of the bad scrape that we were in. Some of us haven't
come through so well. It's a sad thing for a ship to lose an officer, and
it is twice as sad to lose two fine officers like Captain Whidden and Mr.
Thomas. I'll now read the service for the burial of the dead, and after
that I'll have something more to say to you."
One of the men spoke in an undertone, and Mr. Falk cried, "What's that?"
"If you please, sir," the man said, fidgeting nervously, "couldn't we go
ashore and bury them decently?"
Others had thought of the same thing, and they showed it by their faces;
but Mr. Falk scowled and replied, "Nonsense! We'd be murdered in cold
So we stood there, bareheaded, silent, sad at heart, and heard the droning
voice of the second mate,--even then he could not hide his unrighteous
satisfaction,--who read from a worn prayer-book, that had belonged to
Captain Whidden himself, the words committing the bodies of three men to
the deep, their souls to God.
When the brief, perfunctory service was over, Mr. Falk put away the
prayer-book,--I verily believe he put away with it all fear of the
Lord,--folded his arms and faced us arrogantly.
"By the death of Captain Whidden and Mr. Thomas," he said, "I have become
the rightful master of this ship. Now I've got a few things to say to you,
and I'm going to have them understood. If you heed them and work smartly,
you'll get along as well as you deserve. If you don't heed them, you'd
better be dead and done with it. If you don't heed them--" he sneered
disagreeably--"if you don't heed them I'll lash the skin off the back of
every bloody mother's son of ye. This voyage from now on is to be carried
out for the best interests of all concerned." He stopped and smiled and
repeated significantly, "_Of_ ALL _concerned_." After another pause, in
which some of the men exchanged knowing glances, he went on, "I have no
doubt that the most of us will get along as well as need be. So far, well
and good. But if there's those that try to cross my bows,"--he swore
roundly,--"heaven help'em! They'll need it. That's all. Wait! One thing
more: we've got to have officers, and as I know you'll not be bold to pick
from among yourselves, I'll save you the trouble. Kipping from this time on
will be chief mate. You'll take his things aft, and you'll obey him from
now on and put the handle to his name. Paine will be second mate. That's
all. Go forward."
Kipping and Davie Paine! I was thunderstruck. But some of the men exchanged
glances and smiles as before, and I saw by his expression that Roger,
although ill pleased, was by no means so amazed as I should have expected
him to be.
For the last time as seaman, Kipping, mild and quiet, came to the
forecastle. But as he packed his bag and prepared to leave us, he smiled
constantly with a detestable quirk of his mouth, and before going he
stopped beside downcast old Bill Hayden. "Straighten up, be a man," he said
softly; "I'll see that you're treated right." He fairly drawled the words,
so mildly did he speak; but when he had finished, his manner instantly
changed. Thrusting out his chin and narrowing his eyes, he deliberately
drew back his foot and gave old Bill one savage kick.
I was right glad that chance had placed me in the second mate's watch.
As for Davie Paine, he was so overcome by the stroke of fortune that had
resulted in his promotion, that he could not even collect his belongings.
We helped him pile them into his chest, which he fastened with trembling
fingers, and gave him a hand on deck. But even his deep voice had failed
him for the time being, and when he took leave of us, he whispered
piteously, '"Fore the Lord, I dunno how it happened. I ain't never learned
to figger and I can't no more than write my name."
What was to become of us? Our captain was a weak officer. Our present chief
mate no man of us trusted.
Our second mate was inexperienced, incompetent, illiterate. More than ever
I longed to talk with Roger Hamlin, but there was no opportunity that
Our watch on deck was a farce, for old Davie was so unfamiliar with his new
duties and so confused by his sudden eminence that, according to the men at
the wheel, he didn't know north from south or aloft from alow. Evading his
confused glances, I sought the galley, and without any of the usual
complicated formalities was admitted to where the cook was smoking his rank
Rolling his eyes until the whites gleamed, he told me the following
"Boy," he said, "dis am de most unmitigated day ol' Frank ever see. Cap'n,
he am a good man and now he's a dead un. Mistah Thomas he am a good man and
now _he's_ a dead un. What Ah tell you about dem ha'nts? Ef Ah could have
kotched a rabbit with a lef' hind-leg, Ah guess we'd be better off. Hey?
Mistah Falk, he am cap'n--Lo'd have mercy on us! Dat Kipping, he am chief
mate--Lo'd have mercy on us mis'able sinners! Davie Paine, he am second
mate--Lo'd perserve ou' souls! Ah guess you don't know what Ah heah Mistah
Falk say to stew'd! He says, 'Stew'd, we got ev'ything--ev'ything. And we
ain't broke a single law!' Now tell me what he mean by dat? What's stew'd
got, Ah want to know? But dat ain't all--no, sah, dat ain't all."
He leaned forward, the whites of his eyes rolling, his fixed frown more
ominous than ever. "Boy, Ah see 'em when dey's dead, Ah did. Ah see 'em
all. Mistah Thomas, he have a big hole in de middle of his front, and dat
po' old sailo' man he have a big hole in de middle of his front. Yass, sah,
Ah see 'em! But cap'n, he have a little roun' hole in the back of his
head.--Yass, sah--_he was shot f'om behine_!"
The sea that night was as calm and as untroubled as if the day had passed
in Sabbath quiet. It seemed impossible that we had endured so much, that
Captain Whidden and Mr. Thomas were dead, that the space of only
twenty-four hours had wrought such a change in the fortunes of all on
[Illustration: We helped him pile his belongings into his chest
and gave him a hand on deck.]
I could not believe that one of our own men had shot our captain. Surely
the bullet must have hit him when he was turning to give an order or to
oversee some particular duty. And yet I could not forget the cook's words.
They hummed in my ears. They sounded in the strumming of the rigging, in
the "talking" of the ship:--
"A little roun' hole in the back of his head--yass, sah--he was shot f'om
Without the captain and Mr. Thomas the Island Princess was like a strange
vessel. Both Kipping and Davie Paine had been promoted from the starboard
watch, leaving us shorthanded; so a queer, self-confident fellow named
Blodgett was transferred from the chief mate's watch to ours. But even so
there were fewer hands and more work, and the spirit of the crew seemed to
have changed. Whereas earlier in the voyage most of the men had gone
smartly about their duties, always glad to lend a hand or join in a
chantey, and with an eye for the profit and welfare of the owners as well
as of themselves, now there came over the ship, silently, imperceptibly,
yet so swiftly and completely that, although no man saw it come, in
twenty-four hours it was with us and upon us in all its deadening and
discouraging weight, a spirit of lassitude and procrastination. You would
have expected some of the men to find it hard to give old Davie Paine quite
all the respect to which his new berth entitled him, and for my own part I
liked Kipping less even than I had liked Mr. Falk. But although my own
prejudice should have enabled me to understand any minor lapses from the
strict discipline of life aboard ship, much occurred in the next
twenty-four hours that puzzled me.
For one thing, those men whom I had thought most likely to accord Kipping
and Mr. Falk due respect were most careless in their work and in the small
formalities observed between officers and crew. The carpenter and the
steward, for example, spent a long time in the galley at an hour when they
should have been busy with their own duties. I was near when they came out,
and heard the cook's parting words: "Yass, sah, yass, sah, it ain't
neveh no discombobilation to help out gen'lems, sah. Yass, sah, no, sah."
And when, a little later, I myself knocked at the door, I got a reception
that surprised me beyond measure.
"Who dah," the cook cried in his usual brusque voice. "Who dah knockin' at
Coming out, he brushed past me, and stood staring fiercely from side to
side. I knew, of course, his curiously indirect methods, and I expected him
by some quick motion or muttered command to summon me, as always before,
into his hot little cubby-hole. Never was boy more taken aback! "Who dah
knockin' at mah door?" he said again, standing within two feet of my elbow,
looking past me not two inches from my nose. "Humph! Somebody knockin' at
mah door better look at what dey doin' or dey gwine git into a peck of
He turned his back on me and reentered the galley.
Then I looked aft, and saw Kipping and the steward grinning broadly.
Before, I had been disconcerted. Now I was enraged. How had they turned old
black Frank against me, I wondered? Kipping and the steward, whom the negro
disliked above all people on board! So the steward and the carpenter and
Kipping were working hand in glove! And Mr. Falk probably was in the same
boat with them. Where was Roger Hamlin, and what was he doing as supercargo
to protect the goods below decks? Then I laughed shortly, though a little
angrily, at my own childish impatience.
Certainly any suspicions of danger to the cargo were entirely without
foundations. Mr. Falk--Captain Falk, I must call him now--might have a
disagreeable personality, but there was nothing to indicate that he was not
in most respects a competent officer, or that the ship and cargo would
suffer at his hands. The cook had been companionable in his own peculiar
way and a very convenient friend indeed; but, after all, I could get along
very well on my own resources.
The difference that a change of officers makes in the life and spirit of a
ship's crew is surprising to one unfamiliar with the sea. Captain Whidden
had been a gentleman and a first-class sailor; by ordering our life
strictly, though not harshly or severely, he had maintained that efficient,
smoothly working organization which is best and pleasantest for all
concerned. But Captain Falk was a master whose sails were cut on another
pattern. He lacked Captain Whidden's straightforward, searching gaze. From
the corners of his mouth lines drooped unpleasantly around his chin. His
voice was not forceful and commanding. I was confident that under ordinary
conditions he never would have been given a ship; I doubted even if he
would have got a chief mate's berth. But fortune had played into his hands,
and he now was our lawful master, resistance to whom could be construed as
mutiny and punished in any court in the land.
Never, while Captain Whidden commanded the ship, would the steward and the
carpenter have deserted their work and have hidden themselves away in the
cook's galley. Never, I was positive, would such a pair of officers as
Kipping and old Davie Paine have been promoted from the forecastle. To be
sure, the transgressions of the carpenter and the steward were only petty
as yet, and if no worse came of our new situation, I should be very foolish
to take it all so seriously. But it was not easy to regard our situation
lightly. There were too many straws to show the direction of the wind.
It was a starlit night while we still lingered off the coast of Sumatra for
water and fresh vegetables. The land was low and black against the steely
green of the sky, and a young moon like a silver thread shone in the west.
Blodgett, the new man in our watch, was the centre of a little group on the
He was small and wrinkled and very wise. The more I saw and heard of him,
the more I marveled that he had not attracted my attention before; but up
to this point in the voyage it was only by night that he had appeared
different from other men, and I thought of him only as a prowler in the
In some ways he was like a cat. By day he would sit in corners in the sun
when opportunity offered, or lurk around the galley, shirking so brazenly,
that the men were amused rather than angry. Even at work he was as slow and
drowsy as an old cat, half opening his sleepy eyes when the officers called
him to account, and receiving an occasional kick or cuff with the same mild
surprise that a favorite cat might show. But once darkness had fallen,
Blodgett was a different man. He became nervously wakeful. His eyes
distended and his face lighted with strange animation. He walked hither and
yon. He fairly arched his neck. And sometimes, when some ordinary incident
struck his peculiar humor, he would throw back his head, open his great
mouth, and utter a screech of wild laughter for all the world like the yowl
of a tom-cat.
On that particular night he walked the forecastle, keeping close to the
bulwarks, till the rest of us assembled by the rigging and watched him with
a kind of fascination. After a time he saw us gathered there and came over
to where we were. His eyes were large and his wrinkled features twitched
with eagerness. He seemed very old; he had traveled to the farthest lands.
"Men," he cried in his thin, windy voice, "yonder's the moon."
The moon indeed was there. There was no reason to gainsay him. He stood
with it over his left shoulder and extended his arms before him, one
pointing somewhat to the right, the other to the left. "The right hand is
the right way," he cried, "but the left we'll never leave."
We stared at the man and wondered if he were mad.
"No," he said, smiling at our puzzled glances, "we'll never leave the
"Belay that talk," said one of the men sharply. "Ye'll have to steer a
clearer course than that if you want us to follow you."
Blodgett smiled. "The course is clear," he replied. "Yonder"--he waved his
right hand--"is Singapore and the Chinese Sea and Whampoa. It's the right
course. Our orders is for that course. Our cargo is for that course. It's
the course that will make money for the owners. It's the right--you
understand?--my right hand and the right course according to orders. But
yonder"--this time he waved his left hand--"is the course that won't be
left. And yet it's the left you know--my left hand."
He explained his feeble little joke with an air of pride.
"Why won't it be left?" the gruff seaman demanded.
"Because," said Blodgett, "we ain't going to leave it. There's gold there
and no end of treasure. Do you suppose Captain Falk is going to leave it
all for some one else to get? He's going to sail through Malacca Strait and
across the Bay of Bengal to Calcutta. That's what he's going to do. I've
been in India myself and seen the heaps of gold lying on the ground by the
money-changer's door and no body watching it but a sleepy Gentoo."
"But what's this treasure you're talking about," some one asked.
"Sure," said Blodgett in a husky whisper, "it's a treasure such as never
was heard of before. There's barrels and barrels of gold and diamonds and
emeralds and rubies and no end of such gear. There's idols with crowns of
precious stones, and eyes in their carved heads that would pay a king's
ransom. There's money enough in gold mohurs and rupees to buy the Bank of
It was a cock-and-bull story that the little old man told us; but, absurd
though it was, he had an air of impressive sincerity; and although every
one of us would have laughed the yarn out of meeting had it been told of
Captain Whidden, affairs had changed in the last days aboard ship.
Certainly we did not trust Captain Falk. I thought of the cook's dark
words, "A little roun' hole in the back of his head--he was shot f'om
behine!" As we followed the direction of Blodgett's two hands,--the right
to the northeast and the Chinese shore, the left to the northwest and the
dim lowlands of Sumatra that lay along the road to Burma,--anything seemed
possible. Moon-madness was upon us, and we were carried away by the mystery
of the night.
Such madness is not uncommon. Of tales in the fore-castle during a long
voyage there is no end. Extraordinary significance is attributed to trivial
happenings in the daily life of the crew, and the wonders of the sea and
the land are overshadowed completely by simple incidents that superstitious
shipmates are sure to exaggerate and to dwell upon.
After a time, though, as Blodgett walked back and forth along the bulwark,
like a cat that will not go into the open, my sanity came back to me.
"That's all nonsense," I said--perhaps too sharply; "Mr. Falk is an honest
seaman. His whole future would be ruined if he attempted any such thing as
"Ay, hear the boy," Blodgett muttered sarcastically. "What does the boy
think a man rich enough to buy all the ships in the king's navy will care
for such a future as Captain Falk has in front of him? Hgh! A boy that
don't know enough to call his captain by his proper title!"
Blodgett fairly bristled in his indignation, and I said no more, although I
knew well enough--or thought I did--that such a scheme was quite too wild
to be plausible. Captain Falk might play a double game, but not such a
silly double game as that.
"No," said Bill Hayden solemnly, as if voicing my own thought, "the captain
ain't going to spoil his good name like that." Poor, stupid old Bill!
Blodgett snorted angrily, but the others laughed at Bill--silly old butt of
the forecastle, daft about his little girl!--and after speculating at
length concerning the treasure that Blodgett had described so vaguely, fell
at last into a hot argument about how far a skipper could disobey the
orders of his owners without committing piracy.
Thus began the rumor that revealed the scatterwitted convictions so
characteristic of the strange, cat-like Blodgett, which later were to lead
almost to death certain simple members of the crew; which served, by a
freak of chance, to involve poor Bill Hayden in an affair that came to a
tragic end; and which, by a whim of fortune almost as remote, though
happier, placed me in closer touch with Roger Hamlin than I had been since
the Island Princess sailed from Salem harbor.
An hour later I saw the cook standing silently by his galley. He gave me
neither look nor word, although he must have known that I was watching him,
but only puffed at his rank old pipe and stared at the stars and the hills.
I wondered if the jungle growth reminded him of his own African tropics; if
behind his grim, seamed face an unsuspected sense of poetry lurked, a sort
of half-beast, half-human imagination.
Never glancing at me, never indicating by so much as a quiver of his black
features that he had perceived my presence, he sighed deeply, walked to the
rail and knocked the dead ashes from his pipe into the water. He then
turned and went into the galley and barricaded himself against intruders,
there to stay until, some time in the night, he should seek his berth in
the steerage for the few hours of deep sleep that were all his great body
required. But as he passed me I heard him murmuring to himself, "Dat Bill
Hayden, he betteh look out, yass, sah. He say Mistah Captain Falk don't
want to go to spoil his good name. Dat Hay den he betteh look out."
With a bang of his plank door the old darky shut himself away from all of
us in the darkness of his little kingdom of pots and pans.
WHICH APPROACHES A CRISIS
A HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS IN GOLD
Unquestionably the negro had known that I was there. Never otherwise could
he have ignored me so completely. I was certain too, that his cryptic
remarks about Bill Hayden were intended for my ears, for he never acted
without a reason, obscure, perhaps, and far-fetched, but always, according
to his own queer notions, sufficient.
Sometimes it seemed as if he despised me; sometimes, as if he were
concealing a warm, friendly regard for me.
An hour later, hearing the murmer of low voices, I discovered a little
group of men by the mainmast; and moved by the curiosity that more than
once had led me where I had no business to go, I silently approached.
"Ah," said one of the men, "so you're keeping a weather eye out for my good
name, are you?" It was Captain Falk.
I was startled. It seemed as if the old African were standing at my
shoulder, saying, "What did Ah told you, hey?" The cook had used almost
those very words. Where, I wondered, had he got them? It was almost
"No, sir," came the reply,--it was poor Bill Hayden's voice,--"no, sir, I
didn't say that. I said--"
"Well, what _did_ you say? Speak up!"
"Why, sir, it--well, it wasn't that, I know. I wouldn't never ha' said
that. I--well, sir, it sounded something like that, I got to admit--I--I
ain't so good at remembering, sir, as I might be."
The shadowy figures moved closer together.
"You'll admit, then, that it _sounded_ like that?" There was the thud of a
quick blow. "I'll show you. I don't care what you _said_, as long as that
was what you _meant_. Take that! I'll show you."
"Oh!--I--that's just it, sir, don't hit me!--It may have sounded like that,
but--Oh!--it never meant anything like that. I can't remember just how the
words was put together--I ain't so good at remembering but--Oh!--"
The scene made me feel sick, it was so brutal; yet there was nothing that
the rest of us could do to stop it.
Captain Falk was in command of the ship.
I heard a mild laugh that filled me with rage. "That's the way to make 'em
take back their talk, captain. Give him a good one," said the mild voice.
"He ain't the only one that 'll be better for a sound beating."
There was a scuffle of footsteps, then I heard Bill cry out, "Oh--oh!--oh!"
Suddenly a man broke from the group and fled along the deck.
"Come back here, you scoundrel!" the captain cried with vile oaths; "come
back here, or I swear I'll seize you up and lash you to a bloody pulp."
The fugitive now stood in the bow, trembling, and faced those who were
approaching him. "Don't," he cried piteously, "I didn't go to do nothing."
"Oh, no, not you!" said the mild voice, followed by a mild laugh. "He
didn't do nothing, captain."
"Not he!" Captain Falk muttered. "I'll show him who's captain here."
There was no escape for the unfortunate man. They closed in on him and
roughly dragged him from his retreat straight aft to the quarter-deck, and
there I heard their brief discussion.
"Hadn't you better call up the men, captain?" asked the mild voice. "It'll
do 'em good, I'll warrant you."
"No," the captain replied, hotly. "This is a personal affair. Strip him and
seize him up."
I heard nothing more for a few minutes, but I could see them moving about,
and presently I distinguished Bill's bare back and arms as they
spread-eagled him to the rigging.
Then the rope whistled in the air and Bill moaned.
Unable to endure the sight, I was turning away, when some one coming from
the cabin broke in upon the scene.
"Well," said Roger Hamlin, "what's all this about?"
Roger's calm voice and composed manner were so characteristic of him that
for the moment I could almost imagine myself at home in Salem and merely
passing him on the street.
"I'll have you know, sir," said Captain Falk, "that I'm master here."
"Then what do you mean, sir, by challenging me like that?"
"From what I have heard, I judge that the punishment is out of proportion
to the offense, even if the steward's yarn was true."
"I'll have you know, that I'm the only man aboard this ship that has any
judgment," Falk snarled.
"Judgment ?" Roger exclaimed; and the twist he gave the word was so funny
that some one actually snickered.
"Yes, judgment !" Falk roared; and he turned on Roger with all the anger of
his mean nature choking his voice. "I'll--I'll beat you, you young upstart,
you! I'll beat you in that man's place," he cried, with a string of oaths.
"No," said Roger very coolly, "I think you won't."
"By heaven, I will!"
The two men faced each other like two cocks in the pit at the instant
before the battle. There was a deathly silence on deck.
Such a scene, as I saw it there, if put on the stage in a theatre, would be
a drama in itself without word or action. The sky was bright with stars;
the land lay low and dark against the horizon; the sea whispered round the
ship and sparkled with golden phosphorescence. Over our heads the masts
towered to slender black shafts, which at that lofty height seemed far too
frail to support the great network of rigging and spars and close-furled
canvas. Dwarfed by the tall masts, by the distances of the sea, and by the
vastness of the heavens, the small black figures stood silent on the
quarter-deck. But one of those men was bound half-naked to the rigging, and
two faced each other in attitudes that by outline alone, for we could
discern the features of neither, revealed antagonism and defiance.
"No," said Roger once more, very coolly, "I think you won't."
As the captain lifted his rope to hit Bill again, Roger stepped forward.
The captain looked sharply at him; then with a shrug he said, "Oh, well,
the fellow's had enough. Cut him down, cut him down."
So they unlashed Bill, and he came forward with his clothes in his arms and
one long, raw welt across his back.
"Now, what did I say?" he whimpered. "What did I say to make 'em do like
What had he said, indeed? Certainly nothing culpable. Some one had twisted
his innocent remarks in such a way as to irritate the captain and had
carried tales to the cabin. With decent officers such a thing never would
have happened. Affairs had run a sad course since Captain Falk had read the
burial service over Captain Whidden and Mr. Thomas, both of whom had been
strict, fair, honorable gentlemen. There was a sober time in the forecastle
that night, and none of us had much to say.
Next day we sent a boat ashore again, and got information that led us to
sail along five miles farther, where there was a settlement from which we
got a good supply of water and vegetables. This took another day, and on
the morning of the day following we made sail once more and laid our course
west of Lingga Island, which convinced us for a time that we really were
about to bear away through Malacca Strait and on to Burma, at the very
I almost believed it myself, India seemed so near; and Blodgett, sleepy by
day, wakeful by night, prowled about with an air of triumph. But in the
forenoon watch Roger Hamlin came forward openly and told me certain things
that were more momentous than any treasure-hunting trip to India that
Blodgett ever dreamed of.
Captain Falk and Mr. Kipping--I suppose they must be given their titles
now--watched him, and I could see that they didn't like it. They exchanged
glances and stared after him suspiciously, even resentfully; but there
was nothing that they could do or say. So he came on slowly and
confidently, looking keenly from one man to another as he passed.
By this time the two parties on board were sharply divided, and from the
attitude of the men as they met Roger's glance their partisanship was
pretty plainly revealed. The two from Boston, who were, I was confident,
on friendly and even familiar terms with Captain Falk and Mr. Kipping, gave
him a half-concealed sneer. There was no doubt where their sympathies would
lie, should Roger cross courses with our new master. The carpenter, working
on a plank laid on deck, heard him coming, glanced up, and seeing who it
was, continued at his labor without moving so much as a hair's breadth to
let him by; the steward looked him in the eye brazenly and impersonally;
and others of the crew, among them the strange Blodgett, treated him with a
certain subtle rudeness, even contempt. Yet here and there a man was glad
to see him coming and gave him a cordial nod, or a cheerful "Ay, ay, sir,"
in answer to whatever observation he let fall.
The cook alone, as I watched the scene with close interest, I could not
understand. To a certain extent he seemed surly, to a certain extent,
subservient. Perhaps he intended that we--and others--should be mystified.
One thing I now realized for the first time: although the crew was divided
into two cliques, the understanding was much more complete on the side of
Captain Falk. Among those who enjoyed the favor of our new officers there
was, I felt sure, some secret agreement, perhaps even some definite
organization. There seemed to be a unity of thought and manner that only a
common purpose could explain, whereas the rest drifted as the wind blew.
"Ben," Roger said, coming to me where I sat on the forecastle, "I want to
talk to you. Step over by the mast."
I followed him, though surprised.
"Here we can see on all sides," he said. "There are no hiding-places within
earshot. Ben"--He hesitated as if to find the right words.
All were watching us now, the captain and the mate from the quarter-deck,
the others from wherever they happened to be.
"I am loath to draw your sister's younger brother into danger," Roger
began. His adjective was tactfully chosen. "I am almost equally reluctant
to implicate you in what seems likely to confront us, because you are an
old friend of mine and a good deal younger than I am. But when the time
comes to go home, Ben, I'm sure we want to be able to look your sister and
all the others squarely in the eyes, with our hands clean and our
consciences clear--if we go home. How about it, Ben?"
I was too bewildered to answer, and in Roger's eyes something of his old
"Ultimately," he continued, grave once more and speaking still in enigmas,
"we shall be vindicated in any case. But I fear that, before then, I, for
one, shall have to clasp hands with mutiny, perhaps with piracy. How would
you like that, Ben, with a thundering old fight against odds, a fight that
likely enough will leave us to sleep forever on one of these green islands
Still I did not understand.
Roger regarded me thoughtfully. "Tell me all that you know about our
"Why," said I, finding my tongue at last, "it's ginseng and woollen goods
for Canton. That's all I know."
"Then you don't know that at this moment there is one hundred thousand
dollars in gold in the hold of the Island Princess?"
"What?" I gasped.
"One hundred thousand dollars in gold."
I could not believe my ears. Certainly, so far as I was concerned, the
secret had been well kept.
Then a new thought came to me, "Does Captain Falk know?" I asked.
"Yes," said Roger, "Captain Falk knows."
A STRANGE TALE
Roger Hamlin's words were to linger a long time in my ears, and so far as I
then could see, there was little to say in reply. A hundred thousand
dollars in gold had bought, soul and body, many a better man than Captain
Falk. At that very moment Falk was watching us from the quarter-deck with
an expression on his face that was partly an amused smile, partly a sneer.
Weak and conceited though he was, he was master of that ship and crew in
more ways than one.
But Roger had not finished. "Do you remember, Ben," he continued in a low
voice, but otherwise unmindful of those about us, "that some half a dozen
years ago, when Thomas Webster was sore put to it for enough money to
square his debts and make a clean start, the brig Vesper, on which he had
sent a venture, returned him a profit so unbelievably great that he was
able to pay his creditors and buy from the Shattucks the old Eastern
Empress, which he fitted out for the voyage to Sumatra that saved his
I remembered it vaguely--I had been only a small boy when it happened--and
I listened with keenest interest. The Websters owned the Island Princess.
"Not a dozen people know all the story of that voyage. It's been a kind of
family secret with the Websters. Perhaps they're ashamed to be so deeply
indebted to a Chinese merchant. Well, it's a story I shouldn't tell under
other conditions, but in the light of all that's come to pass, it's best
you should hear the whole tale, Ben; and in some ways it's a fine tale,
too. The Websters, as you probably know, had had bad luck, what with three
wrecks and pirates in the West Indies. They were pretty much by the head in
those days, and it was a dark outlook before them, when young Webster
signed the Vesper's articles as first officer and went aboard, with all
that the old man could scrape together for a venture, and with the future
of his family hanging in the balance. At Whampoa young Webster went up to
the Hong along with the others, and drove what bargains he could, and
cleared a tidy little sum. But it was nowhere near enough to save the
family. If only they could get the money to tide them over, they'd weather
the gale. If not, they'd go on a lee shore. Certain men--you'd know their
names, but such things are better forgotten--were waiting to attach the
ships the Websters had on the ways, and if the ships were attached there
would be nothing left for the Websters but stools in somebody's
"As I've heard the story, young Webster was waiting by the river for his
boat, with a face as long as you'd hope to see, when a Chinese who'd been
watching him from a little distance came up and addressed him in such
pidgin English as he could muster and asked after his father. Of course
young Webster was taken by surprise, but he returned a civil answer, and
the two fell to talking together. It seemed that, once upon a time, when
the Chinese was involved, head and heels, with some rascally down-east
Yankee, old man Webster had come to the rescue and had got him out of the
scrape with his yellow hide whole and his moneybags untapped.
"The Chinaman seemed to suspect from the boy's long face that all was not
as it should be, and he squeezed more or less of the truth out of the
young fellow, had him up to the Hong again, gave him various gifts, and
sent him back to America with five teak-wood chests. Just five ordinary
teak-wood chests--but in those teak-wood chests, Ben, was the money that
put the Websters on their feet again. The hundred thousand dollars below
is for that Chinese merchant."
It was a strange tale, but stranger tales than that were told in the old
town from which we had sailed.
"And Captain Falk--?" I began questioningly.
"Captain Falk was never thought of as a possible master of this ship."
"Will he try to steal the money?"
Roger raised his brows. "Steal it? Steal is a disagreeable word. He thinks
he has a grievance because he was not given the chief mate's berth to begin
with. He says, at all events, that he will not hand over any such sum to a
yellow heathen. He thinks he can return it to the owners two-fold. Although
he seldom reads his Bible, I believe he referred to the man who was given
"But the owners' orders!" I exclaimed.
"The owners' orders in that respect were secret. They were issued to
Captain Whidden and to me, and Captain Falk refuses to accept my version of
Roger smiled and looked me hard in the eye. "I am going to see that they
are carried out," he said. "The Websters would be grievously disappointed
if this commission were not discharged. Also--" his eyes twinkled in the
old way--"I am not convinced that Captain Falk is in all respects an
honest--no, let us not speak too harshly--let us say, a _reliable_ man."
"So there'll be a fight," I mused.
"We'll see," Roger replied. "In any case, you know the story. Are you with
After fifty years I can confess without shame that I was frightened when
Roger asked me that question, for Roger and I were only two, and Falk, by
hook or by crook, had won most of the others to his side. There was Bill
Hayden, to be sure, on whom we could count; but he was a weak soul at best,
and of the cook's loyalty to Roger and whatever cause he might espouse I
now held grave doubts. Yet I managed to reply, "Yes, Roger, I am with you."
I thought of my sister when I said it, and of the white flutter of her
handkerchief, which had waved so bravely from the old wharf when Roger and
I sailed out of Salem harbor. After all, I was glad even then that I had
answered as I did.
"I'll have more to say later," said Roger; "but if I stay here much longer
now, Falk and Kipping will be breaking in upon us." And, turning, he coolly
Falk and Kipping were still watching us with sneers, and not a few of the
crew gave us hostile glances as we separated. But I looked after Roger with
an affection and a confidence that I was too young fully to appreciate. I
only realized that he was upright and fearless, and that I was ready to
follow him anywhere.
More and more I was afraid of the influence that Captain Falk had
established in the forecastle. More and more it seemed as if he actually
had entered into some lawless conspiracy with the men. Certainly they
grumbled less than before, and accepted greater discomforts with better
grace; and although I found myself excluded from their councils without any
apparent reason, I overheard occasional snatches of talk from which I
gathered that they derived great satisfaction from their scheme, whatever
it was. Even the cook would have none of me in the galley of an evening;
and Roger in the cabin where no doubt he was fighting his own battles, was
far away from the green hand in the forecastle. I was left to my own
devices and to Bill Hayden.
To a great extent, I suppose, it counted against me that I was the son of a
gentleman. But if I was left alone forward, so Roger, I learned now and
then, was left alone aft.
Continually I puzzled over the complacency of the men. They would nod and
smile and glance at me pityingly, even when I was getting my meat from the
same kids and my tea from the same pot; and chance phrases, which I caught
now and then, added to my uneasiness.
Once old Blodgett, prowling like a cat in the night, was telling how he was
going to "take his money and buy a little place over Ipswich way. There's
nice little places over Ipswich way where a man can settle snug as you
please and buy him a wife and end his days in comfort. We'll go home by way
of India, too, I'll warrant you, and take each of us our handful of round
red rubies. Right's right, but right'll be left--mind what I tell you."
Another time--on the same day, as I now recall it--I overheard the
carpenter saying that he was going to build a brick house in Boston up on
Temple Place. "And there'll be fan-lights over the door," he said, "their
panels as thin as rose-leaves, and leaded glass in a fine pattern." The
carpenter was a craftsman who aspired to be an artist.
But where did old Blodgett or the carpenter hope to get the money to
indulge the tastes of a prosperous merchant? I suspected well enough the
answer to that question, and I was not far wrong.
The cook remained inscrutable. I could not fathom the expressions of his
black frowning face. Although Captain Falk of course had no direct
communication with him openly, I learned through Bill Hayden that
indirectly he treated him with tolerant and friendly patronage. It even did
not surprise me greatly to be told that sometimes he secretly visited the
galley after dark and actually hobnobbed with black Frank in his own
quarters. It was almost incredible, to be sure; but so was much else in
which Captain Falk was implicated, and I could see revealed now in the game
that he was playing his desire to win and hold the men until they had
served his ends, whatever those ends might be.
"Yass, sah," black Frank would growl absently as he passed me without a
glance, "dis am de most appetizin' crew eveh Ah cooked foh. Dey's got no
mo' bottom to dey innards dan a sponge has. Ah's a-cookin' mah head off to
feed dat bunch of wuthless man-critters, a-a-a-a-h!" And he would stump to
the galley with a brimming pail of water in each hand.
I came sadly to conclude that old Frank had found other friends more to his
taste than the boy in the forecastle, and that Captain Falk, by trickery
and favoritism, really was securing his grip on the crew. In all his petty
manoeuvres and childish efforts to please the men and flatter them and make
them think him a good officer to have over them, he had made up to this
point only one or two false steps.
Working our way north by west to the Straits of Singapore, and thence on
into the China Sea, where we expected to take advantage of the last weeks
of the southwest monsoon, we left far astern the low, feverous shores of
Sumatra. There were other games than a raid on India to be played for
money, and the men thought less and less now of the rubies of Burma and the
gold mohurs and rupees of Calcutta.
In the starboard watch, one fine day when there was neither land nor sail
in sight, Davie Paine was overseeing the work on the rigging and badly
botching it. The old fellow was a fair seaman himself, but for all his deep
voice and big body, his best friend must have acknowledged that as an
officer he was hopelessly incompetent. "Now unlay the strands so," he would
say. "No, that ain't right. No, so! No, that ain't right either. Supposing
you form the eye so. No, that ain't right either."
After a time we were smiling so broadly at his confused orders that we
caught the captain's eye.
He came forward quickly--say what you would against Captain Falk as an
officer, no one could deny that he knew his business--and instantly he took
in the whole unfortunate situation. "Well, _Mister_ Paine," he cried,
sarcastically stressing the title, "are n't you man enough to unlay a bit
of rope and make a Flemish eye?"
Old Davie flushed in hopeless embarrassment, and even the men who had been
chuckling most openly were sorry for him. That the captain had reason to be
dissatisfied with the second mate's work, we were ready enough to admit;
but he should have called him aside and rebuked him privately. We all, I
think, regarded such open interference as unnecessary and unkind.
"Why--y-yes, sir," Davie stammered.
"To make you a Flemish eye," Captain Falk continued in cold sarcasm, "you
unlay the end of the rope and open up the yarns. Then you half-knot some
half the inside yarns over that bit of wood you have there, and scrape the
rest of them down over the others, and marl, parcel, and serve them
together. That's the way you go to make a Flemish eye. Now then, _Mister_
Paine, see that you get a smart job done here and keep your eyes open, you
old lubber. I thought you shipped for able seaman. A fine picture of an
able seaman you are, you doddering old fool!"
It is impossible to reproduce the meanness with which he gave his little
lecture, or the patronizing air with which he walked away. Old Davie was
quite taken aback by it and for a time he could not control his voice
enough to speak. It was pitiful to see him drop all the pretensions of his
office and, as if desiring only some friendly word, try to get back on the
old familiar footing of the forecastle.
"I know I ain't no great shakes of a scholar," he managed to mutter at
last, "and I ain't no great shakes of a second mate. But he made me second
mate, he did, and he hadn't ought to shame me in front of all the men, now
had he? It was him that gave me the berth. If he don't like me in it, now
why don't he take it away from me? I didn't want to be second mate when he
made me do it, and I can't read figures good nor nothing. Now why don't he
send me forrard if he don't like the way I do things?"
The old man ran on in a pathetic monologue, for none of us felt exactly at
liberty to put in our own oars, and he could find relief only in his
incoherent talk. It had been a needless and unkind thing and the men almost
unanimously disapproved of it. Why indeed should Captain Falk not send
Davie back to the forecastle rather than make his life miserable aft? The
captain was responsible only to himself for the appointment, and its tenure
depended only on his own whims; but that, apparently, he had no intention
"'Tain't right," old Blodgett murmured, careful not to let Captain Falk see
him talking. "He didn't ought to use a man like that."
"No, he didn't," Neddie Benson said in his squeaky voice, turning his face
so that neither Davie nor Captain Falk should see the motion of his lips.
"I didn't ought to ship for this voyage, either. The fortune teller--she
was a lady, she was, a nice lady--she says, 'Neddie, there'll be a dark man
and a light man and a store of trouble.' She kind of liked me, I think. But
I up and come. I'm always reckless."
A ripple of low, mild laughter, which only Kipping could have uttered,
drifted forward, and the men exchanged glances and looked furtively at old
The murmur of disapproval went from mouth to mouth, until for a time I
dared hope that Captain Falk had quite destroyed the popularity that he had
tried so hard to win. But, though Davie was grieved by the injustice and
though the men were angry, they seemed soon to forget it in the excitement
of that mysterious plot from which Roger and I were virtually the only ones
Nevertheless, like certain other very trivial happenings aboard the Island
Princess, Captain Falk's unwarrantable insult to Davie Paine--it seems
incongruous to call him "mister"--was to play its part later in events that
as yet were only gathering way.
We had not seen much of Kipping for a time, and perhaps it was because he
had kept so much to himself that to a certain extent we forgot his sly,
tricky ways. His laugh, mild and insinuating, was enough to call them to
mind, but we were to have a yet more disagreeable reminder.
All day Bill Hayden had complained of not feeling well and now he leaned
against the deck-house, looking white and sick. Old Davie would never have
troubled him, I am sure, but Kipping was built by quite another mould.
Unaware of what was brewing, I turned away, sorry for poor Bill, who seemed
to be in much pain, and in response to a command from Kipping, I went aloft
with an "Ay, ay sir," to loose the fore-royal. Having accomplished my
errand, I was on my way down again, when I heard a sharp sound as of
Startled, I looked at the deck-house. I was aware at the same time that the
men below me were looking in the same direction.
The sound of slapping was repeated; then I heard a mild, gentle voice
saying, "Oh, he's sick, is he? Poor fellow! Ain't it hard to be sick away
from home?" Slap--slap. "Well, I declare, what do you suppose we'd better
do about it? Shan't we send for the doctor? Poor fellow!" Slap--slap. "Ah!
ah! ah!" Kipping's voice hardened. "You blinking, bloody old fool. You
would turn on me, would you? You would give me one, would you? You would
sojer round the deck and say you're sick, would you? I 'll show you--take
that--I'll show you!"
Now, as I sprang on deck and ran out where I could see what was going
forward, I heard Bill's feeble reply. "Don't hit me, sir. I didn't go to do
nothing. I'm sick. I've got a pain in my innards. I _can't_ work--so help
me, I _can't_ work."
"Aha!" Again Kipping laughed mildly. "Aha! _Can't_ work, eh? I'll teach you
Bill staggered against the deck-house and clumsily fell, pressing his hands
against his side and moaning.
"Hgh!" Kipping grunted. "Hgh!"
At that moment the day flashed upon my memory when I had sat on one side of
that very corner while Kipping attempted to bully Bill on the other side of
it--the day when Bill had turned on his tormentor. I now understood some of
Kipping's veiled references, and a great contempt for the man who would use
the power and security of his office to revenge himself on a fellow seaman
who merely had stood up bravely for his rights swept over me. But what
could I or the others do? Kipping now was mate, and to strike him would be
open mutiny. Although thus far, in spite of the dislike with which he and
Captain Falk regarded me, my good behavior and my family connections had
protected me from abuse, I gladly would have forfeited such security to
help Bill; but mutiny was quite another affair.
We all stood silent, while Kipping berated Bill with many oaths, though
poor Bill was so white and miserable that it was almost more than we could
endure. I, for one, thought of his little girl in Newburyport, and I
remember that I hoped she might never know of what her loving, stupid old
father was suffering.
Enraged to fury by nothing more or less than Bill's yielding to his
attacks, Kipping turned suddenly and reached for the carpenter's mallet,
which lay where Chips had been working nearby. With a round oath, he
yelled, "I'll make you grovel and ask me to stop."
Kipping had moved quickly, but old Bill moved more quickly still. Springing
to his feet like a flash, with a look of anguish on his face such as I hope
I never shall see again, he warded off a blow of the mallet with his hand
and, running to the side, scrambled clean over the bulwark into the sea.
We stood there like men in a waxwork for a good minute at the very least;
and if you think a minute is not a long time, try it with your eyes shut.
Kipping's angry snarl was frozen on his mean features,--it would have been
ludicrous if the scene had not been so tragic,--and his outstretched hand
still held the mallet at the end of the blow. The carpenter's mouth was
open in amazement. Neddie Benson, the first to move or break the silence,
had spread his hands as if he were about to clutch at a butterfly or a
beetle; dropping them to his side, he gasped huskily, "She said there'd be
a light man and a dark man--I--oh, Lord!"
It was the cook, as black as midnight and as inscrutable as a figurehead,
who brought us to our senses. Silently observing all that had happened, he
had stood by the galley, without lifting his hand or changing the
expression of a single feature; but now, taking his pipe from his mouth, he
roared, "Man ovehboa'd!" Then, snatching up the carpenter's bench with one
hand and gathering his great body for the effort, he gave a heave of his
shoulders and tossed the bench far out on the water.
As if waking from a dream, Mr. Kipping turned aft, smiling scornfully, and
said with a deliberation that seemed to me criminal, "Put down the helm!"
So carelessly did he speak, that the man at the wheel did not hear him, and
he was obliged to repeat the order a little more loudly. "Didn't you hear
me? I say, put down the helm."
"Put down the helm, sir," came the reply; and the ship began to head up in
At this moment Captain Falk, having heard the cook's shout, appeared on
deck, breathing hard, and took command. However little I liked Captain
Falk, I must confess in justice to him that he did all any man could have
done under the circumstances. While two or three hands cleared away a
quarter-boat, we hauled up the mainsail, braced the after yards and raised
the head sheets, so that the ship, with her main yards aback, drifted down
in the general direction in which we thought Bill must be.
Not a man of us expected ever to see Bill again. He had flung himself
overboard so suddenly, and so much time had elapsed, that there seemed to
be no chance of his keeping himself afloat. I saw that the smile actually
still hovered on Kipping's mean, mild mouth. But all at once the cook, near
whom I was standing, grasped my arm and muttered almost inaudibly, "If dey
was to look behine, dey'd get ahead, yass, sah."
Taking his hint, I looked astern and cried out loudly. Something was
bobbing at the end of the log line. It was Bill clinging desperately.
When we got him on board, he was nearer dead than alive, and even the stiff
drink that the captain poured between his blue lips did not really revive
him. He moaned continually and now and then he cried out in pain.
Occasionally, too, he tried to tell us about his little girl at
Newburyport, and rambled on about how he had married late in life and had a
good wife and a comfortable home, and before long, God willing, he would be
back with them once more and would never sail the seas again. It was all so
natural and homely that I didn't realize at the time that Bill was
delirious; but when I helped the men carry him below, I was startled to
find his face so hot, and presently it came over me that he did not
Poor old stupid Bill! He meant so well, and he wished so well for all of
us! It was hard that he should be the one who could not keep out of harm's
But there were other things to think of, more important even than the fate
of Bill Hayden, and one of them was an extraordinary interview with the
I heard laughter in the galley that night, and lingered near as long as I
dared, with a boy's jealous desire to learn who was enjoying the cook's
hospitality. By his voice I soon knew that it was the steward, and
remembering how black Frank once was ready to deceive him for the sake of
giving me a piece of pie, I was more disconsolate than ever. After a while
I saw him leave, but I thought little of that. I still had two more hours
to stand watch, so I paced along in the darkness, listening to the sound of
the waves and watching the bright stars.
When presently I again passed the galley I thought I heard a suspicious
sound there. Later I saw something move by the door. But neither time did I
go nearer. I had no desire for further rebuffs from the old negro.
When I passed a third time, at a distance of only a foot or two, I was
badly startled. A long black arm reached out from the apparently closed
door; a black hand grasped me, lifted me bodily from the floor, and
silently drew me into the galley, which was as dark as Egypt. I heard the
cook close the door behind me and bolt it and cover the deadlight with a
tin pan. What he was up to, I had not the remotest idea; but when he had
barricaded and sealed every crack and cranny, he lighted a candle and set
it on a saucer and glared at me ferociously.
"Mind you, boy," he said in a very low voice, "don't you think Ah'm any
friend of yo's. No, sah. Don't you think Ah'm doing nothin' foh you. No,
sah. 'Cause Ah ain't. No, sah. Ah'm gwine make a fo'tune dis yeh trip, Ah
am. Yass, sah. Dis yeh nigger's gwine go home putty darn well off. Yass,
sah. So don't you think dis yeh nigger's gwine do nothin' foh you. No,
For a moment I was completely bewildered; then, as I recalled the darky's
crafty and indirect ways, my confidence returned and I had the keenest
curiosity to see what would be forthcoming.
"Boys, dey's a pest," he grumbled. "Dey didn't had ought to have boys
aboa'd ship. No, sah. Cap'n Falk, he say so, too."
The negro was looking at me so intently that I searched his words for some
hidden meaning; but I could find none.
"No, sah, boys am de mos' discombobulationest eveh was nohow. Yass, sah.
Dey's been su'thin' happen aft. Yass, sah. Ah ain't gwine tell no boy,
nohow. No, sah. 'Taint dis nigger would go tell a boy dat Mistah Hamlin he
have a riot with Mistah Cap'n Falk, no sah. Ah ain't gwine tell no boy dat
Mistah Hamlin, he say dat Mistah Cap'n Falk he ain't holdin' to de right
co'se, no, sah; nor dat Mistah Cap'n Falk he bristle up like a guinea
gander and he say, while he's swearin' most amazin', dat he know what co'se
he's sailin', no, sah. Ah ain't gwine tell no boy dat Mistah Hamlin, he say
he am supercargo, an' dat he reckon he got orders f'om de owners; and
Mistah Cap'n Falk, he say he am cap'n and he cuss su'thin' awful 'bout dem
orders; and Mistah Roger Hamlin he say Mistah Cap'n Falk his clock am a
hour wrong and no wonder Mistah Kipping am writing in de log-book dat de
ship am whar she ain't; and Mistah Kipping he swear dre'ful pious and he
say by golly he am writer of dat log-book and he reckon he know what's what
ain't. No, sah, Ah ain't gwine tell a boy dem things 'cause Ah tell stew'd
Ah ain't, an' stew'd, him an' me is great friends, what's gwine make a
fo'tune _when Mistah Cap'n Falk git dat money_!"
He said those last words in a whisper, and stared at me intently; in that
same whisper, he repeated them, "When Mistah Cap'n Falk git dat money_!"
Then, in a strangely meditative way, as if an unfamiliar process of thought
suddenly occupied all his attention, he muttered absently, letting his eyes
fall, "Seem like Ah done see dat Kipping befo'; Ah jes' can't put mah
finger on him." It was the second time that he had made such a remark in my
The candle guttered in the saucer that served for a candlestick, and its
crazy, wavering light shone unsteadily on the black face of the cook, who
continued to stare at me grimly and apparently in anger. A pan rattled as
the ship rolled. Water splashed from a bucket. I watched the drops falling
from the shelf. One--two--three--four--five--six--seven! Each with its
_pht_, its little splash. They continued to drip interminably. I lost all
count of them. And still the black face, motionless except for the wildly
rolling eyes, stared at me across the galley stove.
BILL HAYDEN COMES TO THE END OF HIS VOYAGE
I was ejected from the galley as abruptly and strangely as I had been drawn
into it. The candle went out at a breath from the great round lips; the big
hand again closed on my shoulder and lifted me bodily from my chair. The
door opened and shut, and there was I, dazed by my strange experience and
bewildered by the story I had heard, outside on the identical spot from
which I had been snatched ten minutes before.
In my ears the negro's parting message still sounded, "Dis nigger wouldn't
tell a boy one word, no sah, not dis nigger. If he was to tell a boy jest
one leetle word, dat boy, he might lay hisself out ready foh a fight. Yass,
For a long time I puzzled over the whole extraordinary experience. It was
so like a dream, that only the numbness of my arm where the negro's great
fist had gripped it convinced me that the happenings of the night were
real. But as I pondered, I found more and more significance in the cook's
incoherent remarks, and became more and more convinced that their
incoherence was entirely artful. Obviously, first of all, he was trying to
pacify his conscience, which troubled him for breaking the promise of
secrecy that he probably had given the steward, from whom he must have
learned the things at which he had hinted. Also he had established for
himself an alibi of a kind, if ever he should be accused of tattling about
affairs in the cabin.
That Captain Falk had promised to divide the money among the crew, I long
had suspected; consequently that part of the cook's revelations did not
surprise me. But the picture he gave of affairs in the cabin, disconnected
though it was, caused me grave concern. After all, what could Roger do to
preserve the owners' property or to carry out their orders? Captain Falk
had all the men on his side, except me and perhaps poor old Bill Hayden.
Indeed, I feared for Roger's own safety if he had detected that rascally
pair in falsifying the log; he then would be a dangerous man when we all
went back to Salem together. I stopped as if struck: what assurance had I
that we should go back to Salem together--or singly, for that matter? There
was no assurance whatever, that all, or any one of us, would ever go back
to Salem. If they wished to make way with Roger, and with me too, for that
matter, the green tropical seas would keep the secret until the end of
I am not ashamed that I frankly was white with fear of what the future
might bring. You can forgive in a boy weaknesses of which a man grown might
have been guilty. But as I watched the phosphorescent sea and the stars
from which I tried to read our course, I gradually overcame the terror that
had seized me. I think that remembering my father and mother, and my
sister, for whom I suspected that Roger cared more than I, perhaps, could
fully realize, helped to compose me; and I am sure that the thought of the
Roger I had known so long,--cool, bold, resourceful, with that twinkle in
his steady eyes--did much to renew my courage. When eight bells struck and
some one called down the hatch, "Larbowlines ahoy," and the dim figures of
the new watch appeared on deck, and we of the old watch went below, I was
fairly ready to face whatever the next hours might bring.
"Roger and I against them all," I thought, feeling very much a martyr,
"unless," I mentally added, "Bill Hayden joins us." At that I actually
laughed, so that Blodgett, prowling restlessly in the darkness, asked me
crossly what was the matter. I should have been amazed and incredulous if
anyone had told me that poor Bill Hayden was to play the deciding part in
He lay now in his bunk, tossing restlessly and muttering once in a while to
himself. When I went over and asked if there was anything that I could do
for him, he raised himself on his elbow and stared at me more stupidly than
ever. It seemed to come to him slowly who I was. After a while he made out
my face by the light of the dim, swinging lantern, and thanked me, and said
if I would be so good as to give him a drink of water--He never completed
the sentence; but I brought him a drink carefully, and when he had finished
it, he thanked me again and leaned wearily back.
His face seemed dark by the lantern-light, and I judged that it was still
flushed. Muttering something about a "pain in his innards," he apparently
went to sleep, and I climbed into my own bunk. The lantern swung more and
more irregularly, and Bill tossed with ever-increasing uneasiness. When at
last I dozed off, my own sleep was fitful, and shortly I woke with a start.
Others, too, had waked, and I heard questions flung back and forth:--
"Who was that yelled?"
"Did you hear that? Tell me, did you hear it?"
Some one spoke of ghosts,--none of us laughed,--and Neddie Benson whimpered
something about the lady who told fortunes. "She said the light man and the
dark man would make no end o' trouble," he cried; "and he--"
"Keep still," another voice exclaimed angrily. "It was Bill Hayden," the
voice continued. "He hollered."
Getting out of my bunk, I crossed the forecastle. "Bill," I said, "are you
He started up wildly. "Don't hit me!" he cried. "That wasn't what I said--
it--I don't remember _just_ what I said, because I ain't good at
remembering, but it wasn't that--don't-oh! oh!--I _know_ it wasn't that."
Two of the men joined me, moving cautiously for the ship was pitching now
in short, heavy seas.
"What's that he's saying?" one of them asked.
Before I could answer, Bill seemed suddenly to get control of himself.
"Oh," he moaned. "I've got such a pain in my innards! I've got a rolling,
howling old pain in my innards."
There was little that we could do, so we smoothed his blankets and went
back to our own. The Island Princess was pitching more fiercely than ever
now, and while I watched the lantern swing and toss before I went to sleep,
I heard old Blodgett saying something about squalls and cross seas. There
was not much rest for us that night. No sooner had I hauled the blankets to
my chin and closed my eyes, than a shout came faintly down to us,
Some one called, "Ay, ay," and we rolled out again wearily--all except Bill
Hayden whose fitful tossing seemed to have settled at last into deep sleep.
Coming on deck, we found the ship scudding under close-reefed maintopsail
and reefed foresail, with the wind on her larboard quarter. A heavy sea
having blown up, all signs indicated that a bad night was before us; and
just as we emerged from the hatch, she came about suddenly, which brought
the wind on the starboard quarter and laid all aback.
In the darkness and rain and wind, we sprang to the ropes. Mr. Kipping was
forward at his post on the forecastle and Captain Falk was on the
quarter-deck. As the man at the wheel put the helm hard-a-starboard, we
raised the fore tack and sheet, filled the foresail and shivered the
mainsail, thus bringing the wind aft again, where we met her with the helm
and trimmed the yards for her course. For the moment we were safe, but
already it was blowing a gale, and shortly we lay to, close-reefed, under
what sails we were carrying.
In a lull I heard Blodgett, who was pulling at the ropes by my side, say to
a man just beyond him, "Ay, it's a good thing for _us_ that Captain Falk
got command. We'd never make our bloody fortunes under the old officers."
As the wind came again and drowned whatever else may have been said, I
thought to myself that they never would have. Plainly, Captain Falk and
Kipping had won over the simple-minded crew, which was ready to follow them
with never a thought of the chance that that precious pair might run off
with the spoils themselves and leave the others in the lurch.
But now Kipping's indescribably disagreeable voice, which we all by this
time knew so well, asked, "Has anybody seen that sojering old lubber,
"Ay, ay, sir," Blodgett replied. "He's below sick."
"Sick?" said the mild voice. "Sick is he? Supposing Blodgett, you go below
and bring him on deck. He ain't sick, he's sojering."
"But, sir,--" Blodgett began.
"But what?" roared Kipping. His mildness changed to fierceness. "_You go_!"
He snapped out the words, and Blodgett went.
Poor stupid old Bill!
When he appeared, Blodgett had him by the arm to help him.
"You sojering, bloody fool," Kipping cried; "do you think I'm so blind I
can't see through such tricks as yours?"
A murmur of remonstrance came from the men, but Kipping paid no attention
"You think, do you, that I ain't on to your slick tricks? Take that."
Bill never flinched.
"So!" Kipping muttered. "So! Bring him aft."
Though heavy seas had blown up, the squalls had subsided, and some of the
men, for the moment unoccupied, trailed at a cautious distance after the
luckless Bill. We could not hear what those on the quarterdeck said; but
Blodgett, who stood beside me and stared into the darkness with eyes that I
was convinced could see by night, cried suddenly, "He's fallen!"
Then Captain Falk called, "Come here, two or three of you, and take this
Old Bill was moaning when we got there. "Sure," he groaned, "I've got a
rolling--howling--old Barney's bull of a pain in my innards." But when we
laid him in his bunk, he began to laugh queerly, and he seemed to pretend
that he was talking to his little wee girl; for we heard him saying that
her old father had come to her and that he was never going to leave her
To me--only a boy, you must remember--it was a horrible experience, even
though I did not completely understand all that was happening; and to the
others old Bill's rambling talk seemed to bring an unnamed terror.
All night he restlessly tossed, though he soon ceased his wild talking and
slept lightly and fitfully. The men watching him were wakeful, too, and as
I lay trying to sleep and trying not to see the swaying lantern and the
fantastic shadows, I heard at intervals snatches of their low conversation.
"They hadn't ought to 'a' called him out. It warn't human. A sick man has
got _some_ rights," one of the men from Boston repeated interminably. He
seemed unable to hold more than one idea at a time.
Then Blodgett would say, "Ay, it don't seem right. But we've all got to
stand by the skipper. That's how we'll serve our ends best. It don't do to
get too much excited."
I imagined that Blodgett's voice did not sound as if he were fully
convinced of the doctrine he was preaching.
"Ay," the other would return, "but they hadn't ought to 'a' called him out.
It warn't human. A sick man has got _some_ rights, and he was allers
They talked on endlessly, while I tried in vain to sleep and while poor
Bill tossed away, getting no good from the troubled slumber that the Lord
No sooner, it seemed to me, did I actually close my eyes than I woke and
heard him moaning, "Water--a--drink--of--water."
The others by then had left him, so I got up and fetched water, and he
muttered something more about the "pain in his innards." Then my watch was
called and I went on deck with the rest.
For the most part it was a day of coarse weather. Now intermittent squalls
from the southwest swept upon us with lightning and thunder, driving before
them rain in solid sheets; now the ship danced in choppy waves, with barely
enough wind to give her steerage-way and with a warm, gentle drizzle that
wet us to the skin and penetrated into the forecastle, where blankets and
clothing soon became soggy and uncomfortable. But the greater part of the
time we lurched along in a gale of wind, with an occasional dash of rain,
which we accepted as a compromise between those two worse alternatives, the
cloudbursts that accompanied the squalls, and the enervating warm drizzle.
That Bill Hayden did not stand watch with the others, no one, apparently,
noticed. The men were glad enough to forget him, I think, and the officers
let his absence pass, except Davie Paine, who found opportunity to inquire
of me secretly about him and sadly shook his gray head at the tidings I
Below we could not forget him. I heard the larboard watch talking of it
when they relieved us; and no sooner had we gone below in turn than
Blodgett cried, "Look at old Bill! His face is all of a sweat."
He was up on his elbow when we came down, staring as if he had expected
some one; and when he saw who it was, he kept his eyes on the hatch as if
waiting for still another to come. Presently he fell back in his bunk. "Oh,
I've got such a pain in my innards," he moaned.
By and by he began to talk again, but he seemed to have forgotten his pain
completely, for he talked about doughnuts and duff, and Sundays ashore when
he was a little shaver, and going to church, and about the tiny wee girl on
the bank of the Merrimac who would be looking for her dad to come home, and
lots of things that no one would have thought he knew. He seemed so natural
now and so cheerful that I was much relieved about him, and I whispered to
Blodgett that I thought Bill was better. But Blodgett shook his head so
gravely that I was frightened in spite of my hopes, and we lay there, some
of us awake, some asleep, while Bill rambled cheerily on and the lantern
swung with the motion of the ship.
To-day I remember those watches below at
that time in the voyage as a succession of short unrestful snatches of
sleep broken by vivid pictures of the most trivial things--the swinging
lantern, the distorted shadows the muttered comments of the men, Bill
leaning on his elbow at the edge of his bunk and staring toward the hatch
as if some one long expected were just about to come. I do not pretend to
understand the reason, but in my experience it is the trifling unimportant
things that after a time of stress or tragedy are most clearly remembered.
When next I woke I heard the bell--_clang-clang, clang-clang, clang-clang,
clang_--faint and far off. Then I saw that Blodgett was sitting on the edge
of his bunk, counting the strokes on his fingers. When he had finished he
gravely shook his head and nodded toward Bill who was breathing harder now.
"He's far gone," Blodgett whispered. "He ain't going to share in no
split-up at Manila. He ain't going to put back again to India when we've
got rid of the cargo. His time's come."
I didn't believe a word that Blodgett said then, but I sat beside him as
still as the grave while the forecastle lantern nodded and swung as
casually as if old Bill were not, for all we knew, dying. By and by we
heard the bell again, and some one called from the hatch, "Eight bells!
The very monotony of our life--the watches below and on deck, each like
every other, marked off by the faint clanging of the ship's bell--made
Bill's sickness seem less dreadful. There is little to thrill a lad or
even, after a time, to interest him, in the interminable routine of a long
When we came on deck Davie Paine looked us over and said, "Where's Bill?"
Blodgett shook his head. Even this simple motion had a sleepy quality that
made me think of a cat.
"I'm afraid, sir," he replied, "that Bill has stood his last watch."
"So!" said old Davie, reflectively, in his deep voice, "so!--I was afraid
of that." Ignorant though Davie was, and hopelessly incompetent as an
officer, he had a certain kindly tolerance, increased, perhaps, by his own
recent difficulties, that made him more approachable than any other man in
the cabin. After a time he added, "I cal'ate I got to tell the captain."
Davie's manner implied that he was taking us into his confidence.
"Yes," Neddie Benson muttered under his breath, "tell the captain! If it
wasn't for Mr. Kipping and the captain, Bill would be as able a man this
minute as any one of us here. It didn't do to abuse him. He ain't got the
spirit to stand up under it."
Davie shuffled away without hearing what was said, and soon, instead of
Captain Falk, Mr. Kipping appeared, bristling with anger.
"What's all this?" he snapped, with none of the mildness that he usually
affected. "Who says Bill Hayden has stood his last watch? Is mutiny
brewing? I'll have you know I'm mate here, legal and lawful, and what's
more I'll show you I'm mate in a way that none of you won't forget if he
thinks he can try any more of his sojering on me. I'll fix him. You go
forward, Blodgett, and drag him out by the scalp-lock."
Blodgett walked off, keeping close to the bulwark, and five minutes later
he was back again.
Mr. Kipping grew very red. "Well, my man," he said in a way that made my
skin creep, "are you a party to this little mutiny?"
"N-no, sir," Blodgett stammered. "I--he-it ain't no use, he _can't_ come."
The mate looked sternly at Blodgett, and I thought he was going to hit
him; but instead, after a moment of hesitation, he started forward alone.
We scarcely believed our eyes.
By and by he came back again, but to us he said nothing. He went into the
cabin, and when next we saw him Captain Falk was by his side.
"I don't like the looks of it," Kipping was saying, "I don't at all."
As the captain passed me he called, "Lathrop, go to the galley and get a
bucket of hot water."
Running to the deck-house, I thrust my head into the galley and made known
my want with so little ceremony that the cook was exasperated. Or so at
least his manner intimated.
"You boy," he roared in a voice that easily carried to where the others
stood and grinned at my discomfiture, "you boy, what foh you come
promulgatin' in on me with 'gimme dis' and 'gimme dat' like Ah wahn't ol'
enough to be yo' pa? Ain't you got no manners nohow? You vex me, yass, sah,
you vex me. If we gotta have a boy on boa'd ship, why don' dey keep him out
of de galley?"
Then with a change of voice that startled me, he demanded in an undertone
that must have been inaudible a dozen feet away, "Have things broke? Is de
fight on? Has de row started?"
Bewildered, I replied, "Why, no--it's only Bill Hayden."
Instantly he resumed his loud and abusive tone. "Well, if dey gwine send a
boy heah foh wateh, wateh he's gotta have. Heah, you wuthless boy, git! Git
out of heah!"
Filling a bucket with boiling water, he thrust it into my hand and shoved
me half across the deck so roughly that I narrowly escaped scalding myself,
then returned to his work, muttering imprecations on the whole race of
boys. He was too much of a strategist for me.
When I took the bucket to the forecastle, I found the captain and Mr.
Kipping looking at poor old Bill.
"Dip a cloth in the water," the captain said carelessly, "and pull his
clothes off and lay the cloth on where it hurts."
I obeyed as well as I could, letting the cloth cool a bit first; and
although Bill cried out sharply when it touched his skin, the heat eased
him of pain, and by and by he opened his eyes for all the world as if he
had been asleep and looked at Captain Falk and said in a scared voice, "In
heaven's name, what's happened?"
The captain and Mr. Kipping laughed coldly. It seemed to me that they
didn't care whether he lived or died.
Certainly the men of the larboard watch, who were lying in their bunks at
the time, didn't like the way the two behaved. I caught the word
"heartless" twice repeated.
"Well," said Captain Falk at last, "either he'll live or he'll not. How
about it, Mr. Kipping?"
The mate laughed as if he had heard a good joke. "That's one of the truest
things ever was said aboard a ship," he replied, in his slow, insincere
way. "Yes, sir, it hits the nail on the head going up and coming down."
"Well, then, let's leave him to make up his mind."
So the two went aft together as if they had done a good day's work. But
there was a buzz of disapproval in the forecastle when they had gone, and
one of the men from Boston, of whom I hitherto had had a very poor opinion,
actually got out of his blankets and came over to help me minister to poor
"It ain't right," he said dipping the cloth in the hot water; "they never
so much as gave him a dose of medicine. A man may be only a sailor, but
he's worth a dose of medicine. There never come no good of denying poor
Jack his pill when he's sick."
"Ay, heartless!" one of the others exclaimed. _"I could tell things if I
That remark, I ask you to remember. The man who made it, the other of the
two from Boston, had black hair and a black beard, and a nose that
protruded in a big hook where he had broken it years before. It was easy to
recognize his profile a long way off because of the peculiar shape of the
nose. The remark itself is of little importance, of course; but a story is
made up of things that seem to be of little importance, yet really are more
significant by far than matters that for the moment are startling.
It was touching to see the solicitude of the men and the clumsy kindness of
their efforts to help poor Bill when the captain and the mate had left him.
They crowded up to his bunk and smoothed out his blankets and spoke to him
more gently than I should have believed possible. So angry were they at the
brutality of the two officers, that the coldest and hardest of them all
gave the sick man a muttered word of sympathy or an awkward helping hand.
We worked over him, easing him as best we could, while the bell struck the
half hours and the hours; and for a while he seemed more comfortable. In a
moment of sanity he looked up at me with a sad smile and said, "I wish,
lad, I surely wish I could do something for _you_." But long before the
watch was over he once more began to talk about the tiny wee girl at
Newburyport--"Cute she is as they make 'em," he reiterated weakly,
"a-waiting for her dad to come home." And by and by he spoke of his wife,
--"a good wife," he called her,--and then he made a little noise in his
throat and lay for a long time without moving.
"He's dead," the man from Boston said at last; there was no sound in the
forecastle except the rattle of the swinging lantern and the chug-chug of
I was younger than the others and more sensitive, so I went on deck and
leaned on the bulwark, looking at the ocean and seeing nothing.
IN WHICH THE TIDE OF OUR FORTUNES EBBS
MR. FALK TRIES TO COVER HIS TRACKS
How long I leaned on the bulwark I do not know; I had no sense of passing
time. But after a while some one told me that the captain wished to see me
in the cabin, and I went aft with other tragic memories in mind. I had not
entered the cabin since Captain Whidden died--"_shot f'om behine_." The
negro's phrase now flashed upon my memory and rang over and over again in
The cabin itself was much as it had been that other day: I suppose no
article of its furnishings had been changed. But when I saw Captain Falk in
the place of Captain Whidden and Kipping in the place of Mr. Thomas, I felt
sick at heart. All that encouraged me was the sight of Roger Hamlin, and I
suspected that he attended uninvited, for he came into the cabin from his
stateroom at the same moment when I came down the companionway, and there
was no twinkle now in his steady eyes.
Captain Falk glanced at him sharply. "Well, sir?" he exclaimed testily.
"I have decided to join you, sir," Roger said, and calmly seated himself.
For a moment Falk hesitated, then, obviously unwilling, he assented with a
"Lathrop," he said, turning to me, "you were present when Hayden died, and
also you had helped care for him previously. Mr. Kipping has written a
statement of the circumstances in the log and you are to sign it, Here's
the place for your name. Here's a pen and ink. Be careful not to blot or
He pushed the big, canvas-covered book over to me and placed his finger on
a vacant line. All that preceded it was covered with paper.
"Of course," said Roger, coldly, "Lathrop will read the statement before
signing it." He was looking the captain squarely in the eye.
Falk scowled as he replied, "I consider that quite unnecessary."
"A great many of the ordinary decencies of life seem to be considered
unnecessary aboard this ship."
"If you are making any insinuations at me, Mr. Hamlin, I'll show you who's
"You needn't. You've done it sufficiently already. Anyhow, if Lathrop were
foolish enough to sign the statement without reading it, I should know that
he hadn't read it and I assure you that it wouldn't pass muster in any
court of law."
As Captain Falk was about to retort even more angrily, Kipping touched his
arm and whispered to him.
"Oh, well," he said with ill grace, "as you wish, Mr. Kipping. There's
nothing underhanded about this. Of course the account is absolutely true
and the whole world could read it; only I don't intend a silly young fop
shall think he can bully me on my own ship. Show Lathrop the statement."
Kipping withdrew the paper and I began to read what was written in the log,
but Roger now interrupted again.
"Read it aloud," he said.
"What in heaven's name do you think you are, you young fool? If you think
you can bully Nathan Falk like that, I'll lash you to skin and pulp."
"Oh, well," said Roger comically, in imitation of the captain's own air of
concession, "since you feel so warmly on the subject, I'm quite willing to
yield the point. It's enough that Lathrop should read it before he signs."
Then, turning to me suddenly, he cried, "Ben, what's the course according
to the log?"
The angry red of Captain Talk's face deepened, but before he could speak, I
had seen and repeated it:--
"Northeast by north."
Roger smiled. "Go on," he said. "Read the statement."
The statement was straightforward enough for the most part--more
straightforward, it seemed to me, than either of the two men who probably
had collaborated in writing it; but one sentence caught my attention and I
"Well," said Roger who was watching me closely, "is anything wrong?"
"Why, perhaps not exactly wrong," I replied, "though I do think most of the
men forward would deny it."
"See here," cried Captain Falk, cutting off Kipping, who tried to speak at
the same moment, "I tell you, Mr. Hamlin, if you thrust your oar in here
again I'll thrash you within an inch of your life! I'll keelhaul you, so
help me! I'll--" He wrinkled up his nose and twisted his lips into a sneer
before he added, almost in a whisper, "I'll do worse than that."
"No," said Roger calmly, "I don't think you will. What's the sentence,
Without waiting for another word from anyone I read aloud as follows:--
"'And the captain and the chief mate tended Hayden carefully and did what
they might to make his last hours comfortable.'"
"Well," said Falk, "didn't we?"
"No, by heaven, you didn't," Roger cried suddenly, taking the floor from
me. "I know how you beat Hayden. I know how you two drove him to throw
himself overboard. You're a precious pair! And what's more, all the men
forward know it. While we're about it, Captain Falk, here's something else
I know. According to the log, which you consistently have refused to let me
see the course is northeast by north. According to the men at the wheel,--I
will not be still! I will not close my mouth! If you assault me, sir, I
will break your shallow head,--according to the men at the wheel, of whom I
have inquired, according to the ship's compass when I've taken a chance to
look at it, according to the tell-tale that you yourself can see at this
very minute and--" Roger laid on the table a little box of hard wood bound
with brass--"according to this compass of my own, which I know is a good
one, our course is now and has been for two days east-northeast. Captain
Falk, do you think you can make us believe that Manila is Canton?"
"It may be that I do, and it may be that I do not," Falk retorted hotly.
"As for you, Mr. Hamlin, I'll attend to your case later. Now sign that
Falk was standing. His hands, a moment before lifted for a blow, rested on
the table; but the knuckles were streaked with red along the creases, and
the nails of his fingers, which were bent under, he had pressed hard
against the dull mahogany. When he had finished speaking, he sat down
"Sign it, Ben," said Roger; "but first draw your pen through that
Quick as thought I did what Roger told me, leaving a single broad line
through the words "and did what they might to make his last hours
comfortable"; then I wrote my name and laid the pen on the table.
[Illustration: "Sign that statement, Lathrop," said Captain Falk.]
Leaning over to see what I had done, Falk leaped up white with passion.
"Good God!" he yelled, "that's worse than nothing."
"Yes," said Roger coolly, "I think it is."
"What--" Falk stopped suddenly. Kipping had touched his sleeve. "Well?"
Kipping whispered to him.
"No," Falk snarled, glancing at me, "I'm going to take that young pup's
hide off his back and salt it."
Again Kipping whispered to him.
This time he seemed half persuaded. He was a weak man, even in his
passions. "All right," he said, after reflecting briefly. "As you say, it
don't make so much odds. Myself, I'm for slitting the young pup's ears--but
later on, later on. And though I'd like to straighten out the record as far
as it goes--Well, as you say."
For all of Captain Falk's bluster and pretension, I was becoming more and
more aware that the subtle Kipping could twist him around his little
finger, and that for some end of his own Kipping did not wish affairs to
come yet to a head.
He leaned back in his chair, twirling his thumbs behind his interlocked
fingers, and smiled at us mildly. His whole bearing was odious. He fairly
exhaled hypocrisy. I remembered a dozen episodes of his career aboard the
Island Princess--the wink he had given Captain Falk, then second mate; his
coming to the cook's galley for part of my pie; his bullying poor old Bill
Hayden; his cold selfishness in taking the best meat from the kids, and
many other offensive incidents. Was it possible that Captain Falk was not
at the bottom of all our troubles? that Captain Falk had been from the
first only somebody's tool?
We left the cabin in single file, the captain first, Kipping second, then
Roger, then I.
A PRAYER FOR THE DEAD
In the last few hours we had sighted an island, which lay now off the
starboard bow; and as I had had no opportunity hitherto to observe it
closely, I regarded it with much interest when I came on deck. Inland there
were several cone-shaped mountains thickly wooded about the base; to the
south the shore was low and apparently marshy; to the north a bold and
rugged promontory extended. Along the shore and for some distance beyond it
there were open spaces that might have been great tracts of cleared land;
and a report prevailed among the men that a fishing boat had been sighted
far off, which seemed to put back incontinently to the shore. Otherwise
there was no sign of human habitation, but we knew the character of the
natives of such islands thereabouts too well to approach land with any
sense of security.
Captain Falk and Kipping were deep in consultation, and the rest were
intent upon the sad duty that awaited us. On the deck there lay now a shape
sewed in canvas. The men, glancing occasionally at the captain, stood a
little way off, bare-headed and ill at ease, and conversed in whispers. For
the moment I had forgotten that we were to do honor for the last time--and,
I fear me, for the first--to poor Bill Hayden. Poor, stupid Bill! He had
meant so well by us all, and life had dealt so hardly with him! Even in
death he was neglected.
As time passed, the island became gradually clearer, so that now we could
see its mountains more distinctly and pick out each separate peak. Although
the wind was light and unsteady, we were making fair progress; but Captain
Falk and Mr. Kipping remained intent on their conference.
I could see that Roger Hamlin, who was leaning on the taffrail, was
imperturbable; but Davie Paine grew nervous and walked back and forth,
looking now and then at the still shape in canvas, and the men began to
murmur among themselves.
"Well," said the captain at last, "what does all this mean, Mr. Paine? What
in thunder do you mean by letting the men stand around like this?"
He knew well enough what it meant, though, for all his bluster. If he had
not, he would have been ranting up the deck the instant he laid eyes on
that scene of idleness such as no competent officer could countenance.
Old Davie, who was as confused as the captain had intended that he should
be, stammered a while and finally managed to say, "If you please, sir, Bill
"Yes," said the captain, "it looks like he's dead."
We all heard him and more than one of us breathed hard with anger.
"Well, why don't you heave him over and be done with it?" he asked shortly,
and turned away.
The men exchanged glances.
"If you please, sir,--" it was Davie, and a different Davie from the one we
had known before,--"if you please, sir, ain't you goin' to read the service
and say the words?"
I turned and stared at Davie in amazement. His voice was sharper now than
ever I had heard it and there was a challenge in his eyes as well.
"What?" Falk snapped out angrily.
"Ain't you goin' to read the Bible and say the words, sir?"
I am convinced that up to this point Captain Falk had intended, after
badgering Davie enough to suit his own unkind humor, to read the service
with all the solemnity that the occasion demanded. He was too eager for
every prerogative of his office to think of doing otherwise. But his was
the way of a weak man; at Davie's challenge he instantly made up his mind
not to do what was desired, and having set himself on record thus, his
mulish obstinacy held him to his decision in spite of whatever better
judgment he may have had.
"Not I!" he cried. "Toss him over to suit yourself."
When an angry murmur rose on every side, he faced about again. "Well," he
said, "what do you want, anyway? I'm captain here, and if you wish I'll
_show_ you I'm captain here. I'll read the service or I'll not read it,
just as I please. If any man here's got anything to say about it, I'll do
some saying myself. If any man here wants to read the service over that
lump of clay, let him read it." Then, turning with an air of indifference,
he leaned on the rail with a sneer, and smiled at Kipping.
What would have happened next I do not know, so angry were the men at this
wretched exhibition on the part of the captain, if Roger had not stepped
"Very well, sir," he said facing the captain, "since you put it that way,
_I'll read the service_." And without ceremony he took from the captain's
hand the prayer-book that Falk had brought on deck.
Disconcerted by this unexpected act and angered by the murmur of approval
from the men, Falk started to speak, then thought better of it and sidled
over beside Kipping, to whom he whispered something at which they both
laughed heartily. Then they stood smiling scornfully while Roger went down
beside poor Bill's body.
Roger opened the prayer-book, turned the pages deliberately, and began to
read the service slowly and with feeling. He was younger and more slender
than many of the men, but straight and tall and handsome, and I remember
how proud of him I felt for taking affairs in his own hands and making the
best of a bad situation.
"We therefore commit his body to the deep," he read "looking for the
general Resurrection in the last day, and the life of the world to come,
through our Lord Jesus Christ; at whose second coming in glorious majesty
to judge the world, the sea shall give up her dead; and the corruptible
bodies of those who sleep in Him shall be changed and made like unto his
glorious body; according to the mighty working whereby He is able to subdue
all things unto Himself."
Then Blodgett, Davie Paine, the cook, and the man from Boston lifted the
plank and inclined it over the bulwark, and so passed all that was mortal
of poor Bill Hayden.
Suddenly, in the absolute silence that ensued when Roger closed the
prayer-book, I became aware that he was signaling me to come nearer, and I
stepped over beside him. At the same instant the reason for it burst upon
me. Now, if ever, was the time to turn against Captain Falk.
"Men," said Roger in a low voice, "are you going to stand by without
lifting a hand and see a shipmate's dead body insulted?"
The crew came together in a close group about their supercargo. With stern
faces and with the heavy breathing of men who contemplate some rash or
daring deed, they were, I could see, intent on what Roger had to say.
He looked from one to another of them as if to appraise their spirit and
determination. "I represent the owners," he continued tersely. "The owners'
orders are not being obeyed. Mind what I tell you--_the owners' orders are
not being obeyed._ You know why as well as I do, and you remember this:
though it may seem on the face of it that I advocate mutiny or even piracy,
if we take the ship from the present captain and carry out the voyage and
obey the owners' orders, I can promise you that there'll be a fine rich
reward waiting at Salem for every man here. What's more, it'll be an honest
reward, with credit from the owners and all law-abiding men. But enough of
that! It's a matter of ordinary decency--of common honesty! The man who
will conspire against the owners of this ship is a contemptible cur, a fit
shipmate with the brute who horsed poor Bill to death."
I never had lacked faith in Roger, but never before had I appreciated to
the full his reckless courage and his unyielding sense of personal honor.
He paused and again glanced from face to face. "What say, men? Are you with
me?" he cried, raising his voice.
Meanwhile Captain Falk, aware that something was going on forward, shouted
angrily, "Here, here! What's all this! Come, lay to your work, you sons of
perdition, or I'll show you what's what. You, Blodgett, go forward and
heave that lead as you were told."
In his hand Blodgett held the seven-pound dipsey lead, but he stood his
"Well?" Falk came down on us like a whirlwind. "Well? You, Hamlin, what in
Tophet are you backing and hauling about?"
"I? Backing and hauling?" Roger spoke as calmly as you please. "I am merely
advocating that the men take charge of the ship in the name of the lawful
owners and according to their orders."
As Captain Falk sprang forward to strike him down, there came a thin, windy
cry, "No you don't; no, you don't!"
To my amazement I saw that it was old Blodgett.
"It don't do to insult the dead," he cried in a voice like the yowl of a
tom-cat. "You can kill us all you like. It's captain's rights. But, by the
holy, you ain't got no rights whatsoever to refuse a poor sailor a decent
With a vile oath, Captain Falk contemplated this new factor in the
situation. Suddenly he yelled, "Kipping! It's mutiny! Help!" And with a
clutch at his hip he drew his pistol.
"'Heave the lead' is it?" Blodgett muttered. "Ay, I'll heave the lead." He
whipped up his arm and hurled the missile straight at Captain Falk's head.
The captain dodged, but the lead struck his shoulder and felled him.
Seeing Kipping coming silently with a pistol in each hand, I ducked and
tried to pull Roger over beside Blodgett; but Roger, instantly aware of
Kipping's move, spun on his heel as the first bullet flew harmlessly past
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