Charles Boardman Hawes
Part 4 out of 5
"Well, you have my word," said Falk at last.
"Yes, we have your word. But there's one other thing to be settled. How
about the owners' money?"
For a moment Falk seemed disconcerted, and I, thinking now that Roger was
merely badgering him, smiled with satisfaction. But Falk answered the
question after only brief hesitation, and Roger's next words plunged me
deep in a sea of doubt.
"Why, I shall guard the owners' money with all possible care, Mr. Hamlin,
and expend it in their best interests," said Falk.
"If that's the case," said Roger, "come alongside."
INCLUDING A CROSS-EXAMINATION
Falk tried, I was certain, to conceal a smile of joy at Roger's simplicity,
and I saw that others in the boat were averting their faces. Also I saw
that they were shifting their weapons to have them more readily available.
Our own men, on the contrary, were remonstrating audibly, and to my lasting
shame I joined them.
A queer expression appeared on Roger's face and he looked at us as if
incredulous. I suddenly perceived that our rebellious attitude hurt him
bitterly. He had led us so bravely through all our recent difficulties! And
now, when success seemed assured, we manifested in return doubt and
disloyalty! I literally hung my head. The others were abashed and silent,
but I knew that my own defection was more contemptible by far than theirs,
and had Roger reproached me sharply, I might have felt better for it.
Instead, he spoke without haste or anger in a voice pitched so low that
Falk could not possibly overhear him.
"We simply _have_ to hold together, men. All to the gangway, now, and stand
by for orders."
That was all he said, but it was enough. Thoroughly ashamed of ourselves,
we followed him to the gangway whither the boat was coming slowly.
Roger assumed an air of neutral welcome as he reached for the bow of the
pinnace; but to us behind him he whispered sharply, "Stand ready, all
hands, with muskets and pikes."
"Now, then, Captain Falk," he cried, "hand over the money first. We'll stow
it safe on board."
"Come, come," Falk replied. "Belay that talk." He was
standing ready to climb on deck.
"The money first," said Roger coolly.
Suddenly he tried to hook the bow of the pinnace, but missed it as the
pinnace dipped in the trough.
The rest of us, waiting breathlessly, for the first time comprehended
Falk looked up at him angrily. "That'll get you nowhere," he retorted.
"Come, stand away, or so help me, I'll see you hanged anyhow."
Roger smiled at him coldly. "The word of a gentleman? The money first,
"Well, if you are so stupid that you haven't discovered the truth yet, I
haven't the money."
"Where is the money?"
"In the safe in the cabin, as you very well know," replied Falk.
"You lie!" Roger responded.
With a ripping oath, Captain Falk whipped out his pistol.
"You lie!" Roger cried again, hotly. "Put down that pistol or I'll blow you
to hell. Stand by, boys. We'll show them!"
Though we were fewer than they, we had them at a tremendous disadvantage,
for we were protected by the bulwarks and could pour our musket-fire into
the open boat at will, and in a battle of cutlasses and pikes our advantage
would be even greater.
"Don't a flag of truce give us no protection?" Kipping asked in that
accursedly mild voice--I could not hear it without thinking of poor Bill
Hayden, and to the others, they told me later, it brought the same bitter
"How long since Cap'n Falk's ol' unde' shirt done be a p'tection?" muttered
the cook grimly.
"Yes, laugh! Laugh, you black baboon! Laugh, you silly little fool,
Lathrop!" Falk yelled. "I'll have you laughing another time one of these
days. Give way men! We'll have out their haslets yet."
A hundred feet from the ship, the men rested on their oars, and Falk put on
a very different manner. "Roger Hamlin," he cried, "you ain't going to send
us away, are you?"
I was astounded. As long as I had known Falk, I had never realized how many
different faces the man could assume at the shortest notice. But Roger
seemed not at all surprised. "Yes," he said, shortly, "we're going to send
you away, you black-hearted scoundrel."
"Good God! We'll perish!"
Although obvious retorts were many, Roger made no reply.
Now Kipping spoke up mildly and innocently:--
"What'll we do? We can't land--the Malays was waiting for us on shore with
knives, all ready to cut our throats. We can't go to sea like this. What'll
"Supposing," cried old Blodgett, sarcastically, "supposing you row back to
Salem. It's only three thousand miles or more. You'll find it a pleasant
voyage, I'm sure, and you'd ought to run into enough Ladronesers and Malays
to make it interesting along the way."
"Ain't we human?" Kipping whined, as if trying to wring pity from even
Blodgett. "Ain't you going at least to give us a keg o' water and some
"If you're not out of gunshot in five minutes," Roger cried, "I'll train
the long gun and blow you clean out of water."
Without more ado they rowed slowly away, growing smaller and smaller, until
at last they passed out of sight round the point.
"Ah me," sighed Neddie Benson, "I'm glad they're gone. It's funny Falk
ain't quite a light man nor yet a real dark man."
"_Gone_!" Davie repeated ominously. "_I_ wish they was gone." He looked up
at the furled sails. "They ain't--and neither is we."
"There's work to be done," said Roger, "and we must be about it. Leave the
nets as they are. Stack the muskets in the waist, pile the pikes handy by
the deckhouse, and all lay aft. We'd best have a few words together before
A moment later, as I was busy with the pikes, Roger came to me and
murmured, "There's something wrong afoot. The after-hatch has been pried
I noticed the hatch once more the next time I passed it, and I remembered
seeing the man from Boston emerge from the hold. But there was so much else
to be attended to that it was a long, long time before I thought of it
When we had done as Roger told us, we gathered round him where he waited,
leaning against the cabin, with his hands in his pockets.
"We're all in the same boat together, men," he began. "We knew what the
chances were when we took them. If you wish to have it so, in the eyes of
the law we're pirates and mutineers, and since Falk seems to have got away
with what money there was on board, things may go hard with us. _But_--" he
spoke the word with stern emphasis--"_but_ we've acted for the best, and I
think there's no one here wants to try to square things up by putting Falk
in command again. How about it?"
"Square things up, is it?" cried Blodgett. "The dirty villain would have us
hanged at the nearest gallows for all his buttery words."
"Exactly!" Roger threw back his head. "And when we get to Salem, I can
promise you there's no man here but will be better off for doing as he's
done so far."
"But whar's all dat money gone?" the cook demanded unexpectedly.
"I don't know," said Roger.
"What! Ain' dat yeh money heah?"
At that moment my eye chanced to fall on the man from Boston, who was
looking off at the island as if he had no interest whatever in our
conversation. The circumstances under which he had stayed with us were so
strange and his present preoccupation was so carefully assumed, that I was
suddenly exceedingly suspicious of him, although when I came to examine the
matter closely, I could find no very definite grounds for it.
Blodgett was watching him, too, and I think that Roger followed our gaze
for suddenly he cried, "You there!" in a voice that brought the man from
Boston to his feet like the snap of a whip.
"Yes, sir! Yes, sir!" he replied briskly.
"What are you doing here, anyway?" Roger demanded. The fellow, who had
begun to assume as many airs and as much self-confidence as if he had been
one of our own party from the very first, was sadly disconcerted. "Why I
come over to your side first chance I had," he replied with an aggrieved
"What were you doing in the cabin when the natives were running all over
The five of us, startled by the quick, sharp questions, looked keenly at
the man from Boston. But he, recovering his self-possession, replied coolly
enough, "I was just a-keeping watch so they wouldn't steal--I kept them
from running off with the quadrant."
"Keeping watch so _nobody'd_ steal, I suppose," said Roger.
"Yes, sir! Yes, sir! That's it exactly."
Suddenly my mind leaped back to the night when Bill Hayden had died, and
the man from Boston had made that cryptic remark, to which I called
attention long since. "He said he could tell something, Roger," I burst
out. But Roger silenced me with a glance.
Turning on the fellow again, he said, "If I find that you are lying to me,
I'll shoot you where you stand. What do you know about who killed Captain
For once the fellow was taken completely off his guard. He glanced around
as if he wished to run away, but there was no escape. He saw only hostile
"What do you know about who killed Captain Whidden?"
"Mr. Kipping killed him," the fellow gasped, startled out of whatever
reticence he may have intended to maintain. "Yes, sir! Yes, sir!"
"Do you expect me to believe that Kipping shot the captain? If you lie to
me--" Roger drew his pistol. By eyes and voice he held the man in a
hypnosis of terror.
"He did! I swear he did. Don't shoot me, sir! I'm telling you the very
gospel truth. He cursed awful and said--don't point that pistol at me, sir!
I swear I'll tell the truth!--'Mr. Thomas is as good as done for,' he said.
'There's only one man between us and a hundred thousand dollars in gold.'
And Falk--Kipping was talking to Falk low-like and didn't know I was
anywhere about--and Falk says, 'No, that's too much.' Then he says,
wild-like, 'Shoot--go on and shoot.' Then Kipping laughs and says, 'So
you've got a little gumption, have you?' and he shot Captain Whidden and
killed him. Don't point that pistol at _me_, sir! I didn't do it."
Roger had managed the situation well. His sudden and entirely unexpected
attack had got from the man a story that a month of ordinary
cross-examinations might not have elicited; for although the fellow had
volunteered to tell all he knew, his manner convinced me that under other
circumstances he would have told no more than he had to. Also he had
admitted being in the cabin while the natives were roaming over the ship!
AN ATTEMPT TO PLAY ON OUR SYMPATHY
For the time being we let the matter drop and, launching a quarter-boat for
work around the ship, turned our attention to straightening out the rigging
and the running gear so that we could get under way at the earliest
possible moment. Twice natives came aboard, and a number of canoes now and
then appeared in the distance; but we were left on the whole pretty much to
our own devices, and we had great hopes of tripping anchor in a few hours
at the latest.
Roger meanwhile got out the quadrant and saw that it was adjusted to take
an observation at the first opportunity; for there was no doubt that by
faulty navigation or, more probably, by malicious intent, Falk had brought
us far astray from the usual routes across the China Sea.
Occasionally bands of natives would come out from shore in their canoes and
circle the ship, but we gave them no further encouragement to come aboard,
and in the course of the morning Roger divided us anew into anchor watches.
All in all we worked as hard, I think, as I ever have worked, but we were
so well contented with the outcome of our adventures that there was almost
no grumbling at all.
When at last I went below I was dead tired. Every nerve and weary muscle
throbbed and ached, and flinging myself on my bunk, I fell instantly into
the deepest sleep. When I woke with the echo of the call, "All hands on
deck," still lingering in my ears, it seemed as if I scarcely had closed my
eyes; but while I hesitated between sleeping and waking, the call sounded
again with a peremptory ring that brought me to my feet in spite of my
"All hands on deck! Tumble up! Tumble up!" It was the third summons.
When we staggered forth, blinded by the glaring sunlight, the other watch
already had snatched up muskets and pikes and all were staring to the
northeast. Thence, moving very slowly indeed, once more came the boat.
Falk was sitting down now; his chin rested on his hands and his face was
ghastly pale; the bandage round his head appeared bloodier than ever and
dirtier. The men, too, were white and woe-begone, and Kipping was scowling
It seemed shameful to take arms against human beings in such a piteous
plight, but we stood with our muskets cocked and waited for them to speak
"Haven't you men hearts?" Falk cried when he had come within earshot. "Are
you going to sit there aboard ship with plenty of food and drink and see
your shipmates a-dying of starvation and thirst?"
The men rested on their oars while he called to us; but when we did not
answer, he motioned with his hand and they again rowed toward us with
short, feeble strokes.
"All we ask is food and water," Falk said, when he had come so near that we
could see the lines on the faces of the men and the worn, hunted look in
They had laid their weapons on the bottom of the boat, and there was
nothing warlike about them now to remind us of the bloody fight they had
waged against us. With a boy's short memory of the past and short sight for
the future, I was ready to take the poor fellows aboard and to forgive them
everything; and though it undoubtedly was foolish of me, I am not ashamed
of my generous weakness. They seemed so utterly miserable! But fortunately
wiser counsels prevailed.
"You ain't really going to leave us to perish of hunger and thirst, are
you?" Falk cried. "We can't go ashore, even to get water. Those cursed
heathen are laying to butcher us. Guns pointed at friends and shipmates is
no kind of a 'welcome home.'"
"Give us the money, then--" Roger began.
The cook interrupted him in an undertone that was plainly audible though
probably not intended for all ears.
"Yeee-ah! Heah dat yeh man discribblate! He don't like guns pointed at
shipmates, hey? How about guns pointed at a cap'n when he ain't lookin'?
Falk obviously overheard the cook's muttered sally and was disconcerted by
it; and the murmur of assent with which our men received it convinced me
that it went a long way to reinforce their determination to withstand the
other party at any cost whatsoever.
After hesitating perceptibly, Falk decided to ignore it. "All we want's
bread and water," he whined.
"Give us the money, then," Roger repeated, "and we'll see that you don't
starve." His voice was calm and incisive. He absolutely controlled the
Falk threw up his hands in a gesture of despair. "But we ain't got the
money. So help me God, we ain't got a cent of it."
"Hand over the money," Roger repeated, "and we'll give you food and water."
He pointed at the quarter-boat, which swung at the end of a long painter.
"Come no nearer. Put the money in that boat and we'll haul it up."
"We _ain't got the money_, I tell you. I swear on my immortal soul, we
ain't got it." Falk seemed to be on the point of weeping. He was so weak
When Roger did not reply, I turned to look at him. There was a thoughtful
expression on his face, and following the direction of his eyes, my own
gaze rested on the face of the man from Boston. He was smiling. But when
he saw us looking at him, he stopped and changed color.
"I believe you," Roger declared suddenly. "You'll have to keep your
distance or I'll blow your boat to pieces; but if you obey orders, I'll
help you out as far as a few days' supply of food will go. Cook, haul in
that boat and put half a hundredweight of ship's bread and four buckets of
water in it. That'll keep 'em for a while."
"You ain't gwine to feed dat yeh Kipping, sah, is you?"
The cook turned in silence to do Roger's bidding.
Twice the man from Boston started forward as if to speak. The motion was so
slight that it almost escaped me, but the second time I was sure that I
really had detected such an impulse, and at the same moment I perceived
that Falk, whose fingers were twitching nervously, was shooting an angry
glance at him. This byplay to a considerable extent distracted my
attention; but when the fellow finally did get up courage to speak, I saw
that the eyes of every man in Falk's boat were on him and that Kipping had
clenched both fists.
"Stop!" the man from Boston cried. "Stop!" He stepped toward Roger with one
Roger soberly turned on him. "Be still," he said.
"But, sir, there ain't no--"
Certainly as far as we could see, the man's feverish persistence was arrant
insubordination. What Roger would have done we had no time to learn, for
Blodgett, bursting with zeal for our common cause, grasped him by the
throat and choked his words into a gurgle. A queer expression of spite and
hatred passed over the man's face, and when he squirmed away from
Blodgett's grip I saw that he was muttering to himself as he rubbed his
bruised neck. But the others were paying him no attention and he presently
folded his arms with an air that continued to trouble me and stood apart
from the rest.
And Falk and Kipping and all their men now were grinning broadly!
The water slopped over the edges of the buckets and wet some of the bread
as the cook pushed the boat out toward Falk; but the men in the pinnace
watched it eagerly, and when it floated to the end of the painter, they
clutched for it so hastily that they almost upset the precious buckets.
When they had got it, they looked at each other and laughed and slapped
their legs and laughed again in an uproarious, almost maudlin mirth that we
could not understand.
We covered them with our muskets lest they try to seize the boat, which I
firmly believe they had contemplated before they realized how closely we
were watching them, and we smiled to see them cram their mouths with bread
and pass the buckets from hand to hand. When they had finished their
inexplicable laughter, they ate like animals and drew new strength and
courage from their food. Though Falk was still white under his bloody
bandage, his voice was stronger.
"I'll remember this," he said. "Maybe I'll give you a day or two of grace
before you swing. Oh, you can laugh at me now, you white-livered sons of
sea-cooks, but the day's coming when you'll sing another song to pay your
He looked round and laughed at his own men, and again they all laughed as
if he had said something clever, and he and Kipping exchanged glances.
"They ain't found the gold," he caustically remarked to Kipping. "We'll see
what we shall see."
"Ay, we'll see," Kipping returned, mildly. "We'll see. It'll be fun to see
it, too, won't it, sir?"
It was all very silly, and we, of course, had nothing to say in return; so
we watched them, with our muskets peeping over the bulwark and with the
long gun and the stern-chasers cleared in case of trouble, and in
undertones we kept up an exchange of comments.
After whispering among themselves, the men in the boat once more began to
row toward us. Singularly enough they showed no sign of the exhaustion that
a little before had seemed so painful. It slowly dawned upon me that their
air of misery had been nothing more than a cheap trick to play upon our
compassion. We watched them suspiciously, but they now assumed a frank
manner, which they evidently hoped would put us off our guard.
"Now you men listen to me," said Falk. "After all, what's the use of
behaving this way? You're just getting yourselves into trouble with the
law. We can send you to the gallows for this little spree, and what's more
we're going to do it--unless, that is, unless you come round sensible and
call it all off. Now what do you say? Why don't you be reasonable? You take
us on board and we'll use you right and hush all this up as best we can.
What do you say?"
"What do we say?" said Roger, "We say that bread and water have gone to
your head. You were singing another time a while back."
"Oh well, we _were_ a little down in the mouth then. But we're feeling a
sight better now. Come, ain't our plan reasonable?"
All the time they were rowing slowly nearer to the ship.
"Mistah Falk, O Mistah Falk!"
"Well?" Falk received the cook's interruption with an ill temper that made
the darkey's eyes roll with joy.
"Whar you git dat bootiful head-piece?"
A flush darkened Falk's pale face under the bandage, and with what dignity
he could muster, he ignored our snickers.
"What do you say?" he cried to Roger. "Evidently you haven't found the
To us Roger said in an undertone, "Hold your fire." To Falk he
replied clearly, "You black-hearted villain, if you show your face in a
Christian port you'll go to the gallows for abetting the cold-blooded
murder of an able officer and an honorable gentleman, Captain Joseph
Whidden. Quid that over a while and stow your tales of piracy and mutiny.
Back water, you! Keep off!"
Here was no subtle insinuation. Falk was stopped in his tracks by the flat
statement. He had a dazed, frightened look. But Kipping, who had kept
himself in the background up to this point, now assumed command.
"Them's bad words," he said mildly, coldly. "Bad words. _But_--" he
slightly raised his voice--"we ain't a-goin' to eat 'em. Not we." All at
once he let out a yell that rang shrilly far over the water. "At 'em, men!
At 'em! Pull, you sons of the devil, pull! Out pikes and cutlasses! Take
'em by storm! Slash the netting and go over the side."
"Hold your fire,"--Roger repeated,--"one minute--till I give the word."
My heart was pounding at my ribs. I was breathing in fast gulps. With my
thumb on the hammer of the musket, I gave one glance to the priming, and
half raised it to my shoulder.
From the bottom of the boat Falk's men had snatched up the weapons that
hitherto they had kept out of sight. I had no time then to wonder why they
did not shoot; afterwards we agreed that they probably were so short of
powder and balls that they dared not expend any except in gravest
emergency. Kipping was standing as they rowed, and so fiercely now did they
ply their oars, casting to the winds every pretence of weakness, that the
boat rocked from side to side.
"At 'em!" Kipping snarled. "We'll show 'em! We'll show'em!"
"Hold your fire, men," said Roger the third time. "I'll wing that bird."
And aiming deliberately, he shot.
The report of his musket rang out sharply and was followed by a groan.
Kipping clutched his thigh with both hands and fell. The men stopped rowing
and the boat, gradually losing way, veered in a half circle and lay
broadside toward us. In the midst of the confusion aboard it, I saw Kipping
sitting up and cursing in a way that chilled my blood. "Oh," he moaned,
"I'll get you yet! I'll get you yet!" Then some one in the boat returned a
single shot that buried itself in our bulwark.
"Yeeeehaha! Got Kipping!" the cook cackled. "He got Kipping!"
"Now then," cried Roger, "bear off. We've had enough of you. If ever again
you come within gunshot of this ship, we'll shoot so much lead into you
that the weight will sink you. It's only a leg wound, Kipping. I was
careful where I aimed."
In a disorderly way the men began to pull out of range, but still we could
hear Kipping shrieking a stream of oaths and maledictions, and now Falk
stood up and shook his fist at us and yelled with as much semblance of
dignity as he could muster, "I'll see you yet, all seven of you, I'll see
you a-swinging one after another from the game yard-arm!" Then, to our
amazement, one of them whispered to the others behind his hand, and they
all began to laugh again as if they had played some famous joke on us.
Instead of going toward the island, they rowed out into the ocean. We could
not understand it. Surely they would not try to cross the China Sea in an
open boat! Were they so afraid of the natives?
Still we could hear Kipping, faintly now, bawling wrath and blasphemy. We
could see Captain Falk shaking his fist at us, and very clearly we could
hear his faint voice calling, "I'll sack that ship, so help me! We'll see
then what's become of the money."
Where in heaven's name could they be going? Suddenly the answer came to us.
Beyond them in the farthest offing were the tiny sails of the almost
becalmed junk. They were rowing toward it. Eight mariners from a Christian
In that broad expanse of land and sea and sky, the only moving object was
the boat bearing Captain Falk and his men, which minute after minute
labored across the gently tossing sea.
Already the monsoon was weakening. The winds were variable, and for the
time being scarce a breath of air was stirring.
From the masthead we watched the boat grow smaller and smaller until it
seemed no bigger than the point of a pin. The men were rowing with short,
slow strokes. They may have gone eight or ten miles before darkness closed
in upon them and blotted them out, and they must have got very near to the
The moon, rising soon after sunset, flooded the world with a pale light
that made the sea shine like silver and made the island appear like a dark,
low shadow. But of the boat and the junk it revealed nothing.
The cook and Blodgett and I were talking idly on the fore hatch when
faintly, but so distinctly that we could not mistake it, we heard far off
the report of a gun.
"Listen!" cried Blodgett.
It came again and then again.
The cook laid his hand on my shoulder. "Boy," he gasped out, "don' you heah
dat yeh screechin'?"
"No," said I.
We sat for a long time silent, and presently we heard one more very distant
Neither Blodgett nor I had heard anything else, but the cook insisted that
he had heard clearly the sound of some one far off shrieking and wailing in
the night. "Ah heah dat yeh noise, yass, sah. Ah ain't got none of dem
yamalgamations what heahs what ain't."
He was so big and black and primitive, and his great ears spread so far out
from his head, that he reminded me of some wild beast. Certainly he had a
wild beast's keen ears.
But now Blodgett raised his hand. "Here's wind," he said.
And wind it was, a fresh breeze that seemed to gather up the waning
strength of the light airs that had been playing at hide and seek with our
ropes and canvas.
At daybreak, cutting the cable and abandoning the working bower, we got
under way on the remainder of our voyage to China, bearing in a generally
northwesterly course to avoid the dangerous waters lying directly between
us and the port of our destination.
As we hauled at halyard and sheet and brace, and sprang quickly about at
Roger's bidding, I found no leisure to watch the dawn, nor did I think of
aught save the duties of the moment, which in some ways was a blessed
relief; but I presently became aware that David Paine, who seemed able to
work without thought, had stopped and was staring intently across the heavy
seas that went rolling past us. Then, suddenly, he cried in his deep voice,
Hazily, in the silver light that intervened between moonset and sunrise, we
saw a junk with high poop and swinging batten sails bearing across our
course. She took the seas clumsily, her sails banging as she pitched, and
we gathered at the rail to watch her pass.
"See there, men!" old Blodgett cried.
He pointed his finger at the strange vessel. We drew closer and stared
On the poop of the junk, beside the cumbersome rudder windlass, leaning
nonchalantly against the great carved rail, were Captain Nathan Falk and
Chief Mate Kipping. That the slow craft could not cross our bows, they saw
as well as we. Indeed, I question if they cared a farthing whether they
sighted us that day or not. But they and their men, who gathered forward to
stare sullenly as we drew near, shook fists and once more shouted curses. I
could see them distinctly, Falk and Kipping and the carpenter and the
steward and the sail-maker and the rest--angry, familiar faces.
When we had swept by them, running before the wind, some one called after
us in a small, far-off voice, "We'll see you yet in Sunda Strait."
There was a commotion on the deck of the junk and Blodgett declared that
Falk had hit a man.
Were they changing their time for some reason that they did not want us to
suspect? _Did they really wish to cut us off on our return?_
Speculating about the fate of the yellow mariners who once had manned those
clumsy sails, and about what scenes of bloody cruelty there must have been
when those eight mad desperadoes attacked the ancient Chinese vessel, we
sailed away and left them in their pirated junk. But I imagined, even when
the old junk was hull down beyond the horizon, that I could hear an angry
voice calling after us.
WE REACH WHAMPOA, BUT NOT THE END OF OUR TROUBLES
We were only seven men to work that ship, and after all these years I
marvel at our temerity. Time and again the cry "All hands" would come down
the hatch and summon the three of us from below to make sail, or reef, or
furl, or man the braces. Weary and almost blind with sleep, we would
stagger on deck and pull and haul, or would swarm aloft and strive to cope
with the sails. The cook, and even Roger, served tricks at the wheel, turn
and turn about with the rest of us; and for three terrible weeks we forced
ourselves to the sheets and halyards, day and night, when we scarcely could
hold our eyes open or bend our stiffened fingers.
A Divine Providence must have watched over us during the voyage and have
preserved us from danger; for though at that season bad storms are by no
means unknown, the weather remained settled and fine. With clear water
under our keel we passed shoal and reef and low-lying island. Now we saw a
Tonquinese trader running before the wind, a curious craft, with one mast
and a single sail bent to a yard at the head and stiffened by bamboo sprits
running from luff to leech; now a dingy nondescript junk; now in the offing
a fleet of proas, which caused us grave concern. But in all our passage
only one event was really worth noting.
When we were safely beyond London Reefs and the Fiery Cross, we laid our
course north by east to pass west of Macclesfield Bank. All was going as
well as we had dared expect, so willing was every man of our little
company, except possibly the man from Boston, whom I suspected of a
tendency to shirk, when late one evening the cook came aft with a very long
"Well," said Roger, his eyes a-twinkle. "What's wrong in the galley,
"Yass, sah, yass, sah! S'pose, sah, you don't' know dah's almost no mo'
wateh foh to drink, sah."
"What's that you say?"
"Yass, sah, yass, sah, we done share up with dat yeh Kipping and dah ain't
no mo' to speak of at all, sah."
It was true. The casks below decks were empty. In the casks already broken
out there was enough for short rations to last until we made port, so our
predicament as yet was by no means desperate; but we remembered the
laughter of Falk and his men, and we were convinced that they knew the
trick they played when they persuaded us to divide the ship's bread and
water. By what mishap or mismanagement the supply of food had fallen
short--there had been abundant opportunity for either--we were never to
learn; but concerning the water-supply and Falk's duplicity, we were very
"Our friend from Boston," Roger said slowly, when the cook had gone, "seems
to have played us double. We'll have him below, Ben, and give him a chance
I liked the fellow less than ever when he came into the cabin. He had a
certain triumphant air that consorted ill with his trick of evading one's
eyes. He came nervously, I thought; but to my surprise Roger's caustic
accusal seemed rather to put him at ease than to disconcert him further.
"And so," Roger concluded, after stating the case in no mincing terms, "you
knew us to be short of water, yet you deliberately neglected to warn us."
"Didn't I try to speak, sir? Didn't you cut me off, sir?"
Roger looked at him gravely. Although the fellow flinched, he was telling
the truth. In justice we had to admit that Roger had given him no hearing.
"Ay, and that skinny old money-chaser tried to throttle me," he continued.
"Falk lay off that island only because we needed water. Ay, we all knew we
needed it--Falk and all of us. But them murderin' natives was after our
heart's blood whenever we goes ashore, just because Chips and Kipping
drills a few bullet-holes in some of 'em. I knew what Falk was after when
he asks you for water, sir. The scuttlebutts with water in 'em was on deck
handy, and most of them below was empty where you wa'n't likely to trouble
'em for a while yet. He see how't would work out. Wasn't I going to tell
you, even though he killed me for it, until you cut me off and that 'un
choked me? It helps take the soreness--it--I tried to tell you, sir."
In petty spite, the fellow had committed himself, along with the rest of
us, to privation at the very least. Yet he had a defense of a kind,
contemptible though it was, and Roger let him go.
It was a weary voyage; but all things have an end, and in ten days we had
left Helen Shoal astern. Now we saw many junks and small native craft,
which we viewed with uncomfortable suspicion, for though our cannon were
double-charged and though loaded muskets were stacked around the
mizzenmast, we were very, very few to stand off an attack by those yellow
demons who swarmed the Eastern seas in the time of my boyhood and who, for
all I know, swarm them still.
There came at last a day when we went aloft and saw with red eyes that
ached for sleep hills above the horizon and a ship in the offing with all
sails set. A splendid sight she was, for our own flag flew from the ensign
halyards, and less than three weeks before, any man of us would have given
his right hand to see that ship and that flag within hail; but now it was
the sight of land that thrilled us to the heart. Hungry, thirsty, worn out
with fatigue, we joyously stared at those low, distant hills.
"Oh, mah golly, oh, mah golly!" the cook cried, in ecstasy, "jest once Ah
gits mah foots on dry land Ah's gwine be de happies' nigger eveh bo'n. Ah
ain' neveh gwine to sea agin, no sah, not neveh."
"Ay, land's good," Davie Paine muttered, "but the sea holds a man."
Blodgett said naught. What dreams of wealth were stirring in his head, I
never knew. He was so very pale! He more than any one else, I think, was
exhausted by the hardships of the voyage.
Roger, gaunt and silent, stood with his arms crossed on the rail. He had
eaten almost nothing; he had slept scarcely at all. With unceasing courage
he had done his duty by day and by night, and I realized as I saw him
standing there, sternly indomitable, that his was the fibre of heroes. I
was proud of him--and when I thought of my sister, I was glad. Then it was
that I remembered my father's words when, as we walked toward Captain
Whidden's house, we heard our gate shut and he knew without looking back
who had entered.
We came into the Canton River, or the Chu-Kiang as it is called, by the
Bocca-Tigris, and with the help of some sailing directions that Captain
Whidden had left in writing we passed safely through the first part of
the channel between Tiger Island and Towling Flat. Thence, keeping the
watch-tower on Chuen-pee Fort well away from the North Fort of Anung-hoy,
we worked up toward Towling Island in seven or eight fathoms.
A thousand little boats and sampans clustered round us, and we were annoyed
and a little frightened by the gesticulations of the Chinese who manned
them, until it dawned on us that they wished to serve as pilots. By signs
we drove a bargain--a silver dollar and two fingers; three fingers; five
fingers--and got for seven silver dollars the services of several men in
four sampans, who took their places along the channel just ahead of us and
sounded the depth with bamboo poles, until by their guidance we crossed the
second bar on the flood tide, which providentially came at the very hour
when we most needed it, and proceeded safely on up the river.
That night, too tired and weak to stand, we let the best bower go by the
run in Whampoa Roads, and threw ourselves on the deck. By and by--hours
later it seemed--we heard the sound of oars.
"Island Princess ahoy!" came the hearty hail.
"Ahoy," some one replied.
"What's wrong? Come, look alive! What does this mean?"
I now sat up and saw that Roger was standing in the stern just as he had
stood before, his feet spread far apart, his arms folded, his chin
out-thrust. "Do you, sir," he said slowly, "happen to have a bottle of wine
I heard the men talking together, but I could not tell what they were
saying. Next, I saw a head appear above the bulwark and realized that they
were coming aboard.
"Bless my soul! What's happened? Where's Captain Whidden? Bless my soul!
Who are _you_?" The speaker was big, well dressed, comfortably well fed. He
stared at the six of us sprawled out grotesquely on the deck, where we had
thrown ourselves when the ship swung at her anchor. He looked up at the
loose, half-furled sails. He turned to Roger, who stood gaunt and silent
before him. "Bless my soul! _Who are you?_"
"I," said Roger, "am Mr. Hamlin, supercargo of this ship."
"But where--what in heaven's name has taken place? Where's Captain
"Captain Whidden," said Roger, "is dead."
"But when--but what--"
"_Who are you?_" Roger fired the words at him like a thunderclap.
"I--I--I am Mr. Johnston, agent for Thomas Webster and Sons," the man
"Sir," cried Roger, "if you are agent for Thomas Webster and Sons, fetch us
food and water and get watchmen to guard this ship while we sleep. Then,
sir, I'll tell you such a story as you'll not often hear."
The well-fed, comfortable man regarded him with a kind of frown. The
situation was so extraordinary that he simply could not comprehend it. For
a moment he hesitated, then, stepping to the side, he called down some
order, which I did not understand, but which evidently sent the boat
hurrying back to the landing. As he paced the deck, he repeated over and
over in a curiously helpless way, "Bless my soul! Bless my soul!"
All this time I was aware of Roger still standing defiantly on the
quarter-deck. I know that I fell asleep, and that when I woke he was still
there. Shortly afterwards some one raised my head and gave me something hot
to drink and some one else repeated my name, and I saw that Roger was no
longer in sight. Then, as I was carried below, I vaguely heard some one
repeating over and over, "Bless my soul! It is awful! Why won't that young
man explain things? Bless my soul!" When I opened my eyes sunlight was
creeping through the hatch.
"Is this not Mr. Lathrop?" a stranger asked, when I stepped out in the open
air--and virtually for the first time, so weary had I been the night
before, saw the pointed hills, the broad river, and the great fleet of
ships lying at anchor.
"Yes," said I, surprised at the man's respectful manner. Immediately I was
aware that he was no sailor.
"I thought as much. Mr. Hamlin says, will you go to the cabin. I was just
going to call you. Mr. Johnston has come aboard again and there's some kind
of a conference. Mr. Johnston does get so wrought up! If you'll hurry right
As I turned, the strange landsman kept in step with me. "Mr. Johnston is so
wrought up!" he repeated interminably. "So wrought up! I never saw him so
When I entered the cabin, Roger sat in the captain's chair, with Mr.
Johnston on his right and a strange gentleman on his left. Opposite Roger
was a vacant seat, but I did not venture to sit down until the others
indicated that they wished me to do so.
"This is a strange story I've been hearing, Mr. Lathrop," said Mr.
Johnston. His manner instantly revealed that my family connection carried
weight with him. "I thought it best you should join us. One never knows
when a witness will be needed. It's one of the most disturbing situations
I've met in all my experience."
The stranger gravely nodded.
"Certainly it is without precedent in my own experience," said Roger.
Mr. Johnston tapped the table nervously. "Captain and chief mate killed by
a member of the crew; second mate--later, acting captain--accused of
abetting the murder. You must admit, sir, that you make that charge on
decidedly inadequate evidence. And one hundred thousand dollars in gold
gone, heaven knows where! Bless my soul, what shall I do?"
"Do?" cried Roger. "Help us to make arrangements to unload the cargo, to
ship a new crew, and to get a return cargo. It seems to me obvious enough
what you 'shall do'!"
"But, Mr. Hamlin, the situation is extraordinary. There are legal problems
involved. There is no captain--bless my soul! I never heard of such a
"I've brought this ship across the China Sea with only six hands. I assure
you that I shall have no difficulty in taking her back to Salem when a
new crew is aboard." Roger's eyes twinkled as of old. "Here's your
captain--I'll do. Lathrop, here, will do good work as supercargo, I'm sure.
I'm told there's the crew of a wrecked brig in port. They'll fill up our
forecastle and maybe furnish me with a mate or two. You'll have to give us
papers of a kind."
"Lathrop as supercargo? He's too young. He's only a lad."
"We can get no one else off-hand who has so good an education," said Roger.
"He can write a fair-copy, cipher, and keep books. I'll warrant, Mr.
Johnston, that not even you can catch him napping with a problem in tare
and tret. Above all, the Websters know him well and will be glad to see him
"Hm! I'm doubtful--well, very well. As you say. But one hundred thousand
dollars in gold--bless my soul! I was told nothing about that; the letters
barely mention it." Mr. Johnston beat a mad tattoo on the arm of his chair.
"That, sir, is my affair and my responsibility. I will answer to the
"Bless my soul! I'm afraid I'll be compounding piracy, murder, and heaven
knows what other crimes; but we shall see--we shall see." Mr. Johnston got
up and paced the cabin nervously. "Well, what's done's done. Nothing to do
but make the best of a bad bargain. Woolens are high now, praise the Lord,
and there's a lively demand for ginseng. Well, I've already had good
offers. I'll show you the figures, Captain Hamlin, if you'll come to the
factory. And you, too, Mr. Lathrop. If you daren't leave the ship, I'll
send ashore for them. I'm confident we can fill out your crew, and I
suppose I'll have to give you some kind of a statement to authorize your
retaining command--What if I am compounding a felony? Bless my soul! And
one hundred thousand dollars!"
I was glad enough to see Mr. Johnston rowed away from the ship. Roger,
accompanying him, returned late in the evening with half a dozen new men
and a Mr. Cledd, formerly mate of the brig Essay, which had been wrecked a
few weeks before in a typhoon off Hainan. He was a pleasant fellow of about
Roger's age, and had a frank manner that we all liked. The new men, all of
whom had served under him on the Essay, reported him to be a smart officer,
a little severe perhaps, but perfectly fair in his dealings with the crew;
so we were almost as glad to have him in the place of Kipping, as we were
to have Roger in the place of Captain Falk. We had settled down in the
forecastle to talk things over when presently word came that Davie Paine
and I were wanted aft.
"Ben," said Roger to me, cordially, "you can move your things into the
cabin. You are to be supercargo." He tapped his pencil on the table and
turned to Davie with a kindly smile. "You, Davie, can have your old
berth of second mate, if you wish it. I'll not degrade a faithful man.
You'd better move aft to-day, for the new crew is coming aboard to-morrow."
Davie scratched his head and shifted his feet uneasily. "Thank you, sir,"
he said at last. "It's good of you and I'm sure I appreciate it, but I
ain't no great shakes of a scholar and I--well, if it's all the same to
you, sir, I'll stay for'ard with the men, sir."
I was surprised to find how hard it was to leave the forecastle. The others
were all so friendly and so glad of my good fortune, that they brought a
lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. It seemed as if I were taking leave
forever, instead of only moving the length of the ship; and, indeed, as I
had long since learned, the distance from forecastle to cabin is not to be
measured by feet and inches.
"I knew't would come," Neddie Benson remarked. "You was a gentleman's son.
But we've had good times together--ay, and hard times, too." He shook his
All who were left of the old crew gathered round me while I closed my
chest, and Blodgett and Davie Paine seized the beckets before I knew what
they were about and carried it to my stateroom.
As I passed the galley the cook stopped me. "You ain't gwine far, sah,
praise de Lo'd!" he said. "Dah's a hot time ahead and we gotta stand one by
anotheh. Ah's gwine keep my eye on dat yeh man f'om Boston. Yass, sah! Ah's
gwine keep mah eye on him."
Now what did the cook mean by that, I wondered. But no answer suggested
itself to me, and when I entered the cabin I heard things that drove the
cook and the man from Boston far out of my mind.
"Kipping!" Mr. Cledd, the new chief mate was saying. "Not _William_
Roger got down the attested copy of the articles and pointed at the neatly
written name: "William Kipping."
Mr. Cledd looked very grave indeed. "I've heard of Falk--he's a vicious
scoundrel in some ways, although too weak to be dangerous of his own
devices But I _know_ Kipping."
"Tell me about him,' said Roger.
"Kipping is the meanest, doggonedest, low-down wharf-runner that ever
robbed poor Jack of his wages. That's Kipping. Furthermore, he never signed
a ship's articles unless he thought there was considerable money in it
somewhere. I tell you, Captain Hamlin, he's an angry, disappointed man at
this very minute. If you want to know what I think, he's out somewhere on
those seas yonder--_just_--_waiting_. We've not seen the last of Kipping."
Roger got up, and walking over to the chest of ammunition, thoughtfully
"No, sir!" Mr. Cledd reiterated, "if Kipping's Kipping, we've not seen the
last of him."
OLD SCORES AND NEW AND A DOUBTFUL WELCOME
A MYSTERY IS SOLVED, AND A THIEF GETS AWAY
Innumerable sampans were plying up and down the river, some with masts and
some without, and great junks with carved sterns lay side by side so
closely that their sails formed a patchwork as many-colored as Joseph's
coat. There were West River small craft with arched deck-houses, which had
beaten their way precariously far up and down the coast; tall, narrow sails
from the north, and web-peaked sails on curved yards from the south; Hainan
and Kwangtung trawlers working upstream with staysails set, and a few
storm-tossed craft with great holes gaping between their battens. All were
nameless when I saw them for the first time, and strange; but in the days
that followed I learned them rope and spar.
Vessels from almost every western nation were there, too--bluff-bowed Dutch
craft with square-headed crews, brigantines from the Levant, and ships from
Spain, England, and America.
The captains of three other American ships in port came aboard to inquire
about the state of the seas between the Si-Kiang and the Cape of Good Hope
and shook their heads gravely at what we told them. One, an old friend of
Captain Whidden, said that he knew my own father. "It's shameful that such
things should be--simply shameful," he declared, when he had heard the
story of our fight with the Arab ship. "What with Arabs and Malays on the
high seas, Ladronesers in port--ay, and British men-of-war everywhere!"
He went briskly over the side, settled himself in the stern-sheets of his
boat, and gave us on the quarter-deck a wave of his hand; then his men
rowed him smartly away down-stream.
"Ay, it is shameful," Roger repeated. He soberly watched the other
disappear among the shipping, then he turned to Mr. Cledd. "I shall go
ashore for the day," he said. "I have business that will take considerable
time, and I think that Mr. Lathrop had better come too, and bring his
As we left the ship we saw Mr. Cledd observing closely all that went
forward, and Roger gravely nodded when I remarked that our new mate knew
At the end of some three weeks of hard work we had cleared the hold,
painted and overhauled the ship inside and out, and were ready to begin
loading at daylight on a Monday morning. However great was Mr. Johnston's
proclivity to get "wrought up," he had proved himself an excellent man of
business by the way he had conducted our affairs ashore when once he put
his hand to them; and we, too, had accomplished much, both in getting out
the cargo and in putting the ship in repair. We had stripped her to her
girt-lines, calked her, decks and all, from her hold up, and painted her
inside and out. She was a sight to be proud of, when, rigged once more, she
swung at her anchorage.
That evening, as Roger and Mr. Cledd, the new second mate, and I were
sitting in the cabin and talking of our plans and prospects, we heard a
step on the companionway.
"Who's that?" Mr. Cledd asked in an undertone. "I thought steward had gone
for the night."
Roger motioned him to remain silent. We all turned.
To our amazement it was the cook who suddenly appeared before us, rolling
his eyes wildly under his deep frown.
"'Scuse me, gen'lems! 'Scuse me, Cap'n Hamlin! 'Scuse me, Mistah Cledd!
'Scuse me, ev'ybody! Ah knows Ah done didn't had ought to, but Ah says,
Frank, you ol' nigger, you jest up 'n' go. Don't you let dat feller git
away with all dat yeh money."
"What's that?" Roger cried sharply.
"Yass, sah! Yass, sah! Hun f'om Boston! He's got de chisel and de hammer
and de saw."
We all stared.
"Come, come, doctor," said Roger. "What's this cock-and-bull story?"
"Yass, sah, he's got de chisel and de hammer and de saw. Ah was a-watchin',
yass, sah. He don't fool dis yeh ol' nigger. Ah see him sneakin' round when
Chips he ain't looking."
For a moment Roger frowned, then in a low, calm voice he said, "Mr. Cledd,
you'll take command on deck. Have a few men with you. Better see that your
pistols are well primed. You two, come with me. Now, then, Frank, lead the
From the deck we could see the lanterns of all the ships lying at anchor,
the hills and the land-lights and a boat or two moving on the river. We
hurried close at the negro's heels to the main hatch.
"Look dah!" The negro rested the blunt tip of one of his great fingers on
Some sharp tool had dropped beside the hatch and had cut a straight, thin
line where it fell.
"Chisel done dat."
We were communicating in whispers now, and with a finger at his lips the
cook gave us a warning glance. He then laid hold of the rope that was made
fast to a shears overhead, swung out, and slid down to the very keelson.
Silently, one at a time, we followed. The only sound was our sibilant
breathing and the very faint shuffle of feet. Now we could see, almost
midway between the hatches, the dim light of a candle and a man at work.
While we watched, the man cautiously struck several blows. Was he scuttling
the ship? Then, as Roger and the cook tiptoed forward, I suddenly tripped
over a piece of plank and sprawled headlong.
As I fell, I saw Roger and the cook leap ahead, then the man doused the
light. There was a sound of scuffling, a crash, a splutter of angry words.
A moment later I heard the click of flint on steel, a tiny blaze sprang
from the tinder, and the candle again sent up its bright flame.
"Come, Ben, hold the light," Roger called. He and Frank had the man from
Boston down on the limber board and were holding him fast. The fight,
though fierce while it lasted, already was over.
The second mate now handed me the candle, and bent over and examined the
hole the man had cut in the ceiling. "Is the scoundrel trying to sink us?"
he asked hotly.
Roger smiled. "I suspect there's more than that behind this little
project," he replied.
The man from Boston groaned. "Don't--don't twist my arm," he begged.
"Heee-ha-ha!" laughed the cook. "Guess Ah knows whar dat money is."
"Open up the hole, Ben," said Roger.
I saw now that there was a chalk-line, as true as the needle, from
somewhere above us in the darkness, drawn along the skin of the hold
perpendicular to the keelson, and that the man from Boston had begun to cut
at the bilge where the line crossed it.
He blinked at me angrily as I sawed through the planks. But when with
chisel and saw I had removed a square yard of planking and revealed only
the bilge-water that had backed up from the pump well, he brightened. Had
the Island Princess not been as tight as you could wish, we should have had
a wetter time of it than we had. Our feet were wet as it was, and the man
from Boston was sadly drabbled.
"There's nothing there?" said Roger, interrogatively. "Hm! Put your hand in
and feel around."
I reluctantly obeyed. Finding nothing at first, I thrust my arm deeper,
then higher up beyond the curve. My fingers touched something hard that
slipped away from them. Regardless of the foul water, I thrust my arm in
still farther, and, securing my hold on a cord, drew out a leather bag. It
was black and slimy, and so heavy that I had to use both hands to lift it,
and it clinked when I set it down.
"I thought so," said Roger. "There'll be more of them in there. Fish them
While Roger and the cook sat on the man from Boston and forced him down
into the evil-smelling bilge-water, the second mate and I felt around under
the skin of the hold and drew out bag after bag, until the candle-light
showed eighteen lying side by side.
"There ought to be two more," said Roger.
"I can't find another one, sir," the second mate replied.
I now hit upon an idea. "Here," said I, "here's what will do the work." I
had picked up a six-foot pole and the others eagerly seized upon my
I worked the pole into the space between the inner and outer planking while
the man from Boston blinked at me angrily, and fished about with it until I
discovered and pried within reach two more leather bags.
"Well done!" Roger cried. "Cook, suppose you take this fellow in
tow,--we've a good strong set of irons waiting for him,--and I'll help
carry these bags over under the hatch."
Calling up to Mr. Cledd, Roger then instructed him to throw down a
tarpaulin, which he did, and this we made fast about the twenty bags.
Having taken several turns of a rope's end round the whole, Roger, carrying
the other end, climbed hand-over-hand the rope by which we had lowered
ourselves, and I followed at his heels; then we rigged a tackle and, with
several men to help us, hauled up the bundle.
"Cap'n Hamlin, sah," the cook called, "how's we gwine send up dis yeh
"Let him come," said Roger. "We'll see to him. Prick his calves with a
knife if he's slow about it."
We heard the cook say in a lower voice, "G'wan, you ol' scalliwaggle";
then, "Heah he is, cap'n, heah he come! Watch out foh him. He's
nimble--yass, sah, he's nimble."
The rope swayed in the darkness below the hatch, then the fellow's head and
shoulders appeared; but, as we reached to seize him, he evaded our
outstretched fingers by a quick wriggle, flung himself safely to the deck
on the far side of the hatch, and leaping to the bulwark, dove into the
river with scarcely a splash.
Some one fired a musket at the water; the flash illuminated the side of the
ship, and an echo rolled solemnly back from the shore. Three or four men
pointed and called, "There he goes--there--there! See him swimming!" For a
moment I myself saw him, a dark spot at the apex of a V-shaped ripple, then
he disappeared. It was the last we ever knew of the man from Boston.
We had the gold, though, twenty leather bags of it; and we carried it to
the cabin and packed it into the safe, which it just filled.
"Now," said Roger, "we _have_ a story to tell Mr. Johnston."
"So we have!" exclaimed Mr. Cledd, who had heard as yet but a small part of
this eventful history. "Will you tell me, though, how that beggar ever knew
those bags were just there?"
"Certainly." Roger's eyes twinkled as of old. "He put them there. When the
islanders were everywhere aboard ship, and the rest of us were so much
taken up with them and with the fight we'd just been through that we
didn't know what was on foot,--it was still so dark that he could work
unnoticed,--he sneaked below and opened the safe, which he had the craft to
lock again behind him, and hauled the money forward to the hatch, a few
bags at a time. Eventually he found a chance to crawl over the cargo, start
a plank in the ceiling, drop the bags down inside the jacket one by one,
and mark the place. Then, holding his peace until the cargo was out of the
hold, he drew a chalk line straight down from his mark to the lower deck,
took bearings from the hatch, and continued the line from the beam-clamp to
the bilge, and cut on the curve. There, of course, was where the money had
fallen. He worked hard--and failed."
Then I remembered the hatch that had been pried off when the natives were
ranging over the boat.
Early next morning Roger, Mr. Cledd, and I, placing the money between us in
the boat and arming ourselves and our men, each with a brace of pistols,
went ashore. That brief trip seems a mere trifle as I write of it here and
now, so far in distance and in time from the river at Whampoa, but I truly
think it was as perilous a voyage as any I have made; for pirates, or
Ladronesers as they were called, could not be distinguished from ordinary
boatmen, and enough true stories of robbery and murder on that river passed
current among seafaring men in my boyhood to make the everlasting fortune
of one of those fellows who have nothing better to do than sit down and
spin out a yarn of hair-raising adventures. But we showed our cocked
pistols and passed unmolested through the press, and came at last safe to
Laboring under the weight of gold, we went by short stages up to the
factory, where Mr. Johnston in his dressing-gown met us, blessing his soul
and altogether upset.
"Never in my life," he cried, clasping his hands, "have I seen such men as
you. And now, pray, what brings you here?"
"We have come with one hundred thousand dollars," said Roger, "to be paid
to the Chinese gentleman of whom you and I have spoken together."
Mr. Johnston looked at the lumpy bundles wrapped now in canvas and for once
rose to an emergency. "Come in," he said. "I'll dispatch a messenger
immediately. Come in and I'll join you at breakfast."
We ate our breakfast that morning with a fortune in gold coin under the
table; and when the boat came down the river, bringing a quiet man whom Mr.
Johnston introduced as the very person we were seeking, and who himself in
quaint pidgin English corroborated the statement that he it was who had
sent to Thomas Webster the five teakwood chests, we paid him the money and
received in return his receipt beautifully written with small flourishes of
"That's done," said Roger, when all was over, "in spite of as rascally a
crew as ever sailed a Salem ship. I am, I fear, a pirate, a mutineer, and
various other unsavory things; but I declare, Mr. Cledd, in addition to
them all, I am an honest man."
The coolies already had begun to pass chests of tea into the hold when we
came aboard; and under the eye of the second mate, who was proving himself
in every respect a competent officer,--in his own place the equal, perhaps,
of Mr. Cledd in his,--all hands were industriously working. The days passed
swiftly. Work aboard ship and business ashore crowded every hour; and so
our stay on the river drew to an end.
Before that time, however, Blodgett hesitantly sought me out one night.
"Mr. Lathrop," he said with a bit of constraint, "I and Davie and Neddie
and cook was a-thinkin' we'd like to do something for poor Bill Hayden's
little girl. Of course we ain't got no great to give, but we've taken up a
little purse of money, and we wondered wouldn't you, seein' you was a good
friend to old Bill, like to come in with us?"
That I was glad of the chance, I assured him. "And Captain Hamlin will come
in, too," I added. "Oh, I'm certain he will."
Blodgett seemed pleased. "Thinks I, he's likely to, but it ain't fit I
should ask the captain."
Promising to present the plea as if it were my own, I sent Blodgett away
reassured, and eventually we all raised a sum that bought such a royal doll
as probably no merchant in Newburyport ever gave his small daughter, and
enough silk to make the little maid, when she should reach the age for it,
as handsome a gown as ever woman wore. Nor was that the end. The night
before we sailed from China, Blodgett came to me secretly, after a
mysterious absence, and pressed a small package into my hand.
"Don't tell," he said. "It's little enough. If we'd stopped off on some o'
them islands I might ha' done better. Thinks I last night, I'd like to send
her a bit of a gift all by myself as a kind of a keepsake, you know, sir,
seeing I never had a little lass o' my own. So I slips away from the others
and borrows a boat that was handy to the shore and drops down stream
quiet-like till I comes in sight of one of them temples where there's gongs
ringing and all manner of queer goings-on. Says I,--not aloud, you
understand,--'Here, my lad, 's the very place you're looking for, just
a-waiting for you!' So I sneaks up soft and easy,--it were a rare dark
night,--and looks in, and what do I see by the light o' them there crazy
lanterns? There was one o' them heathen idols! Yes, sir, a heathen idol as
handy as you please. 'Aha!' says I,--not aloud, you understand, sir,--'Aha!
I'll wager you've got a fine pair o' rubies in your old eye-sockets, you
blessed idol.' And with that I takes a squint at the lay o' the land and
sees my chance, and in I walks. The old priest, he gives a squawk, but I
cracks him with a brass pot full of incense, which scatters and nigh chokes
me, and I grabs the ear-rings and runs before they catches me, for all
there's a million of 'em a-yammering at my heels. I never had a chance at
the eyes--worse luck! But I fared well, when all's said and done. It was a
dark night, thank heaven, and the boat was handy. The rings is jade. She'll
like 'em some day."
I restrained my chuckles until he had gone, and added the stolen treasures
to the rest of the gifts. What else could I do? Certainly it was beyond my
power to restore them to the rightful owners.
The last chest of tea and the last roll of silk were swung into the hold,
the hatches were battened down, and all was cleared for sailing as soon as
wind and tide should favor us.
That morning Mr. Johnston came aboard, more brisk and pompous than ever,
and having critically inspected the ship, met us in the cabin for a final
word. My new duties as supercargo had kept me busy and my papers were
scattered over the table; but when I started to gather them up and
withdraw, he motioned me to stay.
"Never in all my experience has such a problem as this arisen," he
exclaimed, rubbing his chin lugubriously. "Bless my soul! Who ever heard of
such a thing? Captain and chief mate murdered--crew mutinied--bless my
soul! Well, Captain Hamlin--I suppose you've noticed before, that I give
you the title of master?--well, Captain Hamlin, I fear I'm compounding
felony, but after all that's a matter to be settled in the courts. I'm
confident that I cannot be held criminally responsible for not
understanding a nice point in admiralty. Whatever else happens, the ship
must go home to Salem, and you, sir, are the logical man to take her home.
Well, sir, although in a way you represent the owners more directly than I
do, still your authority is vicariously acquired and I've that here
which'll protect you against interruption in the course of the voyage by
any lawful process. I doubt, from all I've heard, if Falk will go to law;
but here's a paper--" he drew it out of his pocket and laid it on the
table--"signed, sealed and witnessed, stating that I, Walter Johnston,
agent in China for Thomas Webster and Sons, do hereby recognize you as
master of the ship Island Princess, and do invest you, as far as my
authority goes, with whatever privileges and responsibilities are attached
to the office. All questions legal and otherwise, ensuing from this
investure, must be settled on your arrival at the United States of America.
That, sir, is the best I can do for you, and I assure you that I hope
sincerely you may not be hanged as a pirate but that I am by no means
certain of it."
Thus he left-handedly concluded his remarks, and murmuring under his
breath, "Bless my soul," as if in final protest against everything without
precedent, folded his fat hands over his expansive waist-band.
"I thank you, Mr. Johnston," Roger replied gravely, though he could not
completely hide the amusement in his eyes. "I'm sure it is handsome of you
to do so much for us, and I certainly hope no act of piracy or violence, of
which we may have been guilty, will compromise you in the slightest
"Thank _you_, Captain Hamlin. I hope so myself."
If I had met Roger's glance, I must have laughed outright. The man was so
unconscious of any double edge to Roger's words, and so complacent, that
our meeting was all but farce, when he bethought himself of another subject
of which he had intended to speak.
"Bless my soul!" he exclaimed. "I well nigh forgot. Shall you--but of
course you will not!--go home by way of Sunda Strait?"
Mr. Cledd, who hitherto had sat with a slight smile on his lean Yankee
face, now looked at Roger with keener interest.
"Yes," said Roger, "I shall go home by way of Sunda Strait."
"Now surely, Captain Hamlin, that would be folly; there are other courses."
"But none so direct."
"A long way round is often the shortest way home. Why, bless my soul, that
would be to back your sails in the face of Providence."
Roger leaned forward. "Why should I not go home by way of Sunda Strait?"
"Why, my dear sir, if any one were--er-er--to wish you harm,--and if your
own story is to be believed, there are those who do wish you harm,--Sunda
Strait, of all places in the world, is the easiest to cut you off."
"Mr. Johnston, that is nonsense," said Roger. "Such things don't happen. I
will go home by way of Sunda Strait."
"But, Captain Hamlin,--" the good man rubbed his hands more nervously than
ever,--"but, Captain Hamlin, bless my soul, I consider it highly
Roger smiled. "Sir, I will not back down. By Sunda Strait we came. By Sunda
Strait we'll return. If any man wishes to see us there--" He finished the
sentence with another smile.
Mr. Cledd spoke up sharply. "Ay, and if a certain man we all know of should
appear, I'm thinking he'd be unpleasantly surprised to find me aboard."
Mr. Johnston rubbed his hands and tapped the table and rubbed his hands
again. So comfortable did he appear, and so well-fed, that he seemed quite
out of place in that severely plain cabin, beside Roger and Mr. Cledd. That
he had a certain mercantile shrewdness I was ready to admit; but the others
were men fearless and quick to act.
"Bless my soul!" he said at last, beating a tattoo on the table with his
soft fingers. "Bless my soul!"
THROUGH SUNDA STRAIT
Laden deep with tea and silk, we dropped down the Chu-Kiang, past Macao and
the Ladrone Islands, and out through the Great West Channel. Since the
northeast monsoon now had set in and the winds were constant, we soon
passed the tide-rips of St. Esprit, and sighting only a few small islands
covered with brush and mangroves, where the seas broke in long lines of
silver under an occasional cocoanut palm, we left astern in due time the
treacherous water of the Paracel Reefs.
Each day was much like every other until we had put the China Sea behind
us. We touched at the mouth of the Saigon, but found no promise of trade,
and weighed anchor again with the intention of visiting Singapore. Among
other curious things, we saw a number of pink porpoises and some that were
mottled pink and white and brown. Porpoises not infrequently are spotted by
disease; but those that we saw appeared to be in excellent health, and
although we remarked on their odd appearance, we believed their strange
colors to be entirely natural. A fleet of galleys, too, which we saw in the
offing, helped break the monotony of our life. There must have been fifty
of them, with flags a-flutter and arms bristling. Although we did not
approach them near enough to learn more about them, it seemed probable that
they were conveying some great mandarin or chief on affairs of state.
"That man Blodgett is telling stories of one kind or another," Mr. Cledd
remarked one afternoon, after watching a little group that had gathered by
the forecastle-hatch during the first dog-watch. "The fortuneteller fellow,
too, Benson, is stirring up the men."
As I looked across the water at the small island of palms where the waves
were rolling with a sullen roar, which carried far on the evening air, I
saw a native boat lying off the land, and dimly through the mists I saw the
sail of an old junk. I watched the junk uneasily. Small wonder that the men
were apprehensive, I thought.
After leaving Singapore, we passed the familiar shores of eastern Sumatra,
Banka Island and Banka Strait, and the mouths of the Palambang, but in an
inverted order, which made them seem as strange as if we never before had
sighted them. Then one night, heading west against the tide, we anchored in
a rolling swell, with Kodang Island to the northeast and Sindo Island to
the north. On the one hand were the Zutphen Islands; on the other was Hog
Point; and almost abeam of us the Sumatran coast rose to the steep bluff
that across some miles of sea faces the Java shore. We lay in Sunda Strait.
I came on deck after a while and saw the men stirring about.
"They're uneasy," said Mr. Cledd.
"I'm not surprised," I replied.
The trees on the high summit of the island off which we lay were
silhouetted clearly against the sky. What spying eyes might not look down
upon us from those wooded heights? What lawless craft might not lurk beyond
its abrupt headlands?
"No, I don't wonder, either," said Mr. Cledd, thoughtfully.
At daybreak we again weighed anchor and set sail. Three or four times a
far-away vessel set my heart leaping, but each in turn passed and we saw it
no more. A score of native proas manoeuvring at a distance singly or by
twos caused Roger to call up the watch and prepare for any eventuality; but
they vanished as silently as they had appeared. At nightfall we once more
hove to, having made but little progress, and lay at anchor until dawn.
In the darkness that night the cook came up to me in the waist whither I
had wandered, unable to sleep. "Mistah Lathrop," he muttered, "Ah don't
like dis yeh nosing and prying roun' islands whar a ship's got to lay up
all night jes' like an ol' hen with a mess of chickens."
We watched phosphorescent waves play around the anchor cable. The spell of
uneasiness weighed heavily on us both.
The next evening, still beating our way against adverse winds, we rounded
Java Head, which seemed so low by moonlight that I scarcely could believe
it was the famous promontory beyond which lay the open sea. I went to my
stateroom, expecting once again to sleep soundly all night long. Certainly
it seemed now that all our troubles must be over. Yet I could not compose
myself. After a time I came on deck, and found topsails and royals set and
Mr. Cledd in command.
"All goes well, Mr. Lathrop," he said with a smile, "but that darky cook
seems not to believe it. He's prowling about like an old owl."
"Which is he?" I asked; for several of the men were pacing the deck and at
the moment I could not distinguish between them.
"They do seem to be astir. That nearest man walks like Blodgett. Has the
negro scared them all?"
When, just after Mr. Cledd had spoken, Blodgett came aft, we were
surprised; but he approached us with an air of suppressed excitement, which
averted any reprimand Mr. Cledd may have had in mind.
"If you please, sir," he said, "there's a sail to windward."
"To windward? You're mistaken. You ought to call out if you see a sail, but
it's just as well you didn't this time."
Mr. Cledd turned his back on Blodgett after looking hard up the wind.
"If you please, sir, I've got good eyes." Blodgett's manner was such that
no one could be seriously offended by his persistence.
"My eyes are good, too," Mr. Cledd replied rather sharply. "I see no
Nor did I.
Blodgett leaned on the rail and stared into the darkness like a cat. "If
you please, sir," he said, "I beg your pardon, but I _can_ see a sail."
Now, for the first time I thought that I myself saw something moving. "I
see a bank of fog blowing westward," I remarked, "but I don't think it's a
After a moment, Mr. Cledd spoke up frankly. "I'll take back what I've just
said. I see it too. It's only a junk, but I suppose we'd better call the
"Only a junk!" Blodgett repeated sharply. "When last we saw 'em, a junk was
all they had."
"What's that?" Mr. Cledd demanded.
"Ay, ay, sir, they was sailing away in a junk, sir."
Mr. Cledd stepped to the companionway. "Captain Hamlin," he called.
The junk was running free when we first sighted her, but just as she was
passing astern of us, she began to come slowly about. I could see a great
number of men swaying in unison against the helm that controlled the
gigantic rudder. Others were bracing the curious old sails.
"I wish she were near enough for us to watch them handle the sails on the
after masts," I said.
She had a pair of mizzen-masts, one on the larboard side, one on the
starboard, and I was puzzled to know how they were used.
"She'll pass close aboard on this next tack," Mr. Cledd replied. "I think
we'll be able to see." He had paused to watch her manoeuvres.
"Here's the doctor," Blodgett murmured.
Black Frank was coming aft with a quick humpy walk. "'Scuse me, sah, 'scuse
me!" he said. "But I's skeered that we--"
Mr. Cledd now had gone to the companion. "Captain Hamlin," he called again,
"there's a junk passing close aboard."
I heard Roger's step on the companion-way. It later transpired that he had
not heard the first summons.
"Mah golly! Look dah!" the cook exclaimed.
The junk was looming up dangerously.
Mr. Cledd caught my arm. "Run forward quick--quick--call up all hands," he
cried. Then raising the trumpet, "Half a dozen of you men loose the
Leaping to the spar deck, I ran to do his bidding, for the junk now was
bearing swiftly down upon us. On my way to the forecastle-hatch I noted the
stacked pikes and loaded muskets by the mainmast, and picked out the most
likely cover from which to fire on possible boarders. That my voice was
shaking with excitement, I did not realize until I had sent my summons
trembling down into the darkness.
I heard the men leaping from their bunks; I heard Roger giving sharp
commands from the quarter-deck; I heard voices on the junk. By accident or
by malice, she inevitably was going to collide with the Island Princess. As
we came up into the wind with sails a-shiver, I scurried back to the stack
Neddie Benson was puffing away just behind me. "I didn't ought to 'ave
come," he moaned. "I had my warning. Oh, it serves me right--I might 'a'
married the lady."
"Bah, that's no way for a _man_ to talk," cried Davie Paine.
It all was so unreal that I felt as if I were looking at a picture. It did
not seem as if it could be Ben Lathrop who was standing shoulder to
shoulder with Neddie Benson and old Davie. There was running and calling on
all sides and aloft. Blocks were creaking as the men hauled at braces and
halyards; and when the ship rolled I saw that the men on the yard-arms were
shaking the courses from the gaskets. Although our crew was really too
small to work the ship and fight at the same time, it was evident that
Roger intended so far as possible to do both.
But meanwhile the junk had worn ship and she still held her position to
windward. Suddenly there came from her deck the flash of a musket and a
loud report. Then another and another. Then Roger's voice sounded sharply
above the sudden clamor and our own long gun replied.
Flame from its muzzle burst in the faces of the men at the bow of the junk,
and the ball, mainly by chance, I suppose, hit her foremast and brought
down mast and sail. Then the junk came about and bumped into us abreast,
with a terrific crash that stove in the larboard bulwark and showered us
with fragments of carved and gilded wood broken from her towering bow.
PIKES, CUTLASSES, AND GUNS
As I hastily poured powder into the pan of my musket, a man sprang to our
deck and dashed at Davie Paine, who thrust out a pike and impaled him as if
he were a fowl on a spit, then reached for a musket. Another came and
another; I saw them leap down singly. One of our new men whom we had signed
at Canton raised his cutlass and sliced down the third man to board us;
then they came on in an overwhelming stream.
Seeing that it would be suicide to attempt to maintain our ground, and that
we already were cut off from the party on the quarter-deck, we retreated
forward, fighting off the enemy as we went, and ten or a dozen of us took
our stand on the forecastle.
Kipping and Falk and the beach-combers they had gathered together had
conducted their campaign well. Some half of us were forward, half aft, so
that we could not fire on the boarders without danger of hitting our own
men. Davie Paine clubbed his musket and felled a strange white man, and
Neddie Benson went down with a bullet through his thigh; then the pirates
surged forward and almost around us. Before we realized what was happening,
we had been forced back away from Neddie and had retreated to the
knightheads. We saw a beast of a yellow ruffian stab Neddie with a kris,
then one of our own men saw a chance to dart back under the very feet of
our enemies and lay hold of Neddie's collar and drag him groaning up to us.
They came at us hotly, and we fought them off with pikes and cutlasses; but
we were breathing hard now and our arms ached and our feet slipped. The
circle of steel blades was steadily drawing closer.
That the end of our voyage had come, I was convinced, but I truly was not
afraid to die. It was no credit to me; simply in the heat of action I found
no time for fear. Parry and slash! Slash and parry! Blood was in my eyes. A
cut burned across my right hand. My musket had fallen underfoot and I
wielded a rusty blade that some one else had dropped. Fortunately the flesh
wound I got from the musket-ball in our other battle had healed cleanly,
and no lameness handicapped me.
We had no idea what was going on aft, and for my own part I supposed that
Roger and the rest were in straits as sore as our own; but suddenly a
tremendous report almost deafened us, and when our opponents turned to see
what had happened we got an instant's breathing-space.
"It's the stern-chasers," Davie gasped. "They've faced 'em round!"
The light of a torch flared up and I saw shadowy shapes darting this way
There were two cannon; but only one shot had been fired.
Suddenly Davie seized me by the shoulder. "See! See there!" he cried
hoarsely in my ear.
I turned and followed his finger with my eyes. High on the stern of the
junk, black against the starlit sky, I saw the unmistakable figure of
Kipping. He was laughing--mildly. The outline of his body and the posture
and motion of his head and shoulders all showed it. Then he leaped to the
deck and we lost sight of him. Where he had mustered that horde of
slant-eyed pirates, we never stopped to wonder. We had no time for idle
I know that I, for one, finding time during the lull in the fighting to
appraise our chances, expected to die there and then. A vastly greater
force was attacking us, and we were divided as well as outnumbered. But if
we were to die, we were determined to die fighting; so with our backs to
the bulwark and with whatever weapons we had been able to snatch up in our
hands, we defended ourselves as best we could and had no more respite to
think of what was going on aft.
Only one stern gun, you remember, had been fired. Now the second spoke.
There was a yell of anguish as the ball cut through the midst of the
pirates, a tremendous crash that followed almost instantly the report of
the cannon, a sort of brooding hush, then a thunderous reverberation
compared with which all other noises of the night had been as nothing.
Tongues of flame sprang skyward and a ghastly light shot far out on the
sea. The junk heaved back, settled, turned slowly over and seemed to spread
out into a great mass of wreckage. Pieces of timber and plank and spar came
tumbling down and a few men scrambled to our decks. We could hear others
crying out in the water, as they swam here and there or grasped at planks
and beams to keep themselves afloat.
The cannon ball had penetrated the side of the junk and had exploded a
great store of gunpowder.
Part of the wreckage of the junk was burning, and the flames threw a red
glare over the strange scene aboard the ship, where the odds had been so
suddenly altered. Our assailants, who but a moment before had had us at
their mercy, now were confounded by the terrific blow they had received;
instead of fighting the more bravely because no retreat was left them, they
were confused and did not know which way to turn.
Davie Paine, sometimes so slow-witted, seemed now to grasp the situation
with extraordinary quickness. "Come on, lads," he bellowed, "we've got 'em
by the run."
Again clubbing his musket, he leaped into the gangway so ferociously that
the pirates scrambled over the side, brown men and white, preferring to
take their chances in the sea. As he charged on, I lost sight of him in the
maelstrom of struggling figures. On my left a Lascar was fighting for his
life against one of our new crew. On every side men were splashing and
shouting and cursing.
Now, high above the uproar, I heard a voice, at once familiar and strange.
For a moment I could not place it; it had a wild note that baffled me. Then
I saw black Frank, cleaver in hand, come bounding out of the darkness. His
arms and legs, like the legs of some huge tarantula, flew out at all angles
as he ran, and in fierce gutturals he was yelling over and over again:--
"Whar's dat Kipping?"
He peered this way and that.
"Whar's dat Kipping?"
Out of the corner of my eye I saw some one stir by the deck-house, and the
negro, seeing him at the same moment, leaped at my own conclusion.
In doubt whither to flee, too much of a coward at heart either to throw
himself overboard or to face his enemy if there was any chance of escape,
the unhappy Kipping hesitated one second too long. With a mighty lunge the
negro caught him by the throat, and for a moment the two swayed back and
forth in the open space between us and our enemies.
I thought of the night when they had fought together in the galley door.
Momentarily Kipping seemed actually to hold his own against the mad negro;
but his strength was of despair and almost at once we saw that it was
"Stop!" Kipping cried. "I'll yield! Stop--stop! Don't kill me!"
For a moment the negro hesitated. He seemed bewildered; his very passion
seemed to waver. Then I saw that Kipping, all the while holding the negro's
wrist with his left hand, was fumbling for his sheath-knife with his right.
With basest treachery he was about to knife his assailant at the very
instant when he himself was crying for quarter. My shout of warning was
lost in the general uproar; but the negro, though taken off his guard, had
himself perceived Kipping's intentions.
By a sudden jerk he shook Kipping's hand off his wrist and raised high his
From the shadow of the deck-house one of Kipping's own adherents sprang to
his rescue, but Davie Paine--blundering old Davie!--knocked him flat.
For an instant the cook's weapon shone bright in the glare of the torches.
Kipping snatched vainly at the black wrist above him, then jerked his knife
clean out of the sheath--but too late.
"Ah got you now, you pow'ful fighter, you! Ah got you now, you dirty scut!"
the cook yelled, and with one blow of his cleaver he split Kipping's skull
to the chin.
* * * * *
When at last we braced the yards and drew away from the shattered fragments
of the junk, which were drifting out to sea, we found that of the lawless
company that so confidently had expected to murder us all, only five living
men, one of whom was Captain Nathan Falk, were left aboard. They were a
glum and angry little band of prisoners.
Lights and voices ashore indicated that some of our assailants had saved
themselves, and by their cries and confused orders we knew that they in
turn were rescuing others. Of their dead we had no record, but the number
must have been large.
Of us six who had defied Falk in that time long ago, which we had come to
regard almost as ancient history, only Neddie Benson had fallen. Although
we had laughed time and again at the charming plump lady who had prophesied
such terrible events, it had proved in bitter earnest a sad last voyage for
From the low and distant land there continued to come what seemed to be
only faint whispers of sound, yet we knew that they really were the cries
of men fighting for their lives where the sea beat against the shore.
"Ah wonder," said the cook, grimly, "how dem yeh scalliwaggles gwine git
along come Judgment when Gab'el blows his ho'n and Peter rattles his keys
and all de wicked is a-wailin' and a-weepin' and a-gnashin' and can't git
in nohow. Yass, sah. Ah guess dis yeh ol' nigger, he's gwine sit on de
pearly gate and twiddle his toes at 'em."
He folded his arms and stood in the lantern light, with a dreamy expression
on his grotesque face such as I had seen there once or twice before. When
he glanced at me with that strange affection shining from his great eyes,
he seemed like some big, benign dog. Never had I seen a calmer man. It
seemed impossible that passion ever had contorted those homely black
But the others were discussing the fate of our prisoners. I heard Roger
say, "Let me look at them, Mr. Cledd. I'll know them--some of them anyway.
Ah, Captain Falk? And the carpenter? Well, well, well! We hadn't dared hope
for the pleasure of your company on the return voyage. In fact, we'd quite
given it up. I may add that we'd reconciled ourselves to the loss of it."
I now edged toward them, followed by the cook.
"Ay, Mr. Hamlin, it's all very well for you to talk like that," Falk
replied in a trembling voice from which all arrogance had not yet vanished.
"I'm lawful master of this here vessel, as you very well know. You're
nothing but a mutineer and a pirate. Go ahead and kill me! Why don't you?
You know I can tell a story that will send you to the gallows. What have I
done, but try to get back the owners' property and defend it? To think that
I could have knocked you and that addle-pated Ben Lathrop on the head any
day I wished! And I wished it, too, but Kipping he said--"
Falk stopped suddenly.
"So Kipping had a finger in the pie, did he?" said Roger. "Well, Mr. Falk,
what did Kipping say?"
Falk bit his lip sullenly and remained silent.
There really was something pathetic in the man's plight. He had been
ambitious, and ambition alone, which often is a virtue, had gone far to
contribute to his downfall. In many ways he was so weak! A quality that in
other men might have led to almost anything good, in him had bred
resentment and trickery and at last downright crime. He stood there now,
ruined in his profession, the leader of a defeated band of criminals and
vagabonds. Yet if he had succeeded in capturing the ship and putting the
rest of us to death, he could have sailed her home to Salem, and by
spreading his own version of the mutiny have gained great credit, and
probably promotion, for himself.
"Well, Chips," said Roger, "I hope you, at least, are pleased with your
The carpenter likewise made no reply.
"Hm, Mr. Cledd, they haven't a great deal to say, have they?"
"Aha," the negro murmured just behind me, "dey's got fine prospec's, dey
has. Dey's gwine dance, dey is, yass, sah, on de end of a rope, and after
dey's done dance a while dey's gwine be leetle che'ubs, dey is, and flap
dey wings and sing sweet on a golden harp. Yass, sah."
The carpenter shot an angry glance at the cook, but no one else paid him
A fire was flaming now on the distant shore. The seas rushed and gurgled
along the side of the ship. Our lights dipped with the rigging as the ship
rolled and tossed, now lifting her dripping sides high out of water, now
plunging them again deep into the trough.
"Mr. Cledd, I think we can spare those five men a boat," Roger said, after
"You're not going to let them go!" Mr. Cledd exclaimed.
Mr. Cledd raised his eyebrows, but silently acceded.
I thought that an expression of relief crossed Falk's face, yet dismay was
mingled with it. Those were dark, inhospitable lands to leeward. The
carpenter opened his mouth as if to speak, closed it without a word, and
vacantly stared at Roger. The rest of us exchanged glances of surprise.
When we had hove to, they lowered the boat, fumbling at the falls while
they did so, as if they were afraid to leave the ship. The seas caught the
boat and bumped it against the side, but Falk still lingered, even when
Roger indicated by a gesture that he was to go.
"Ay," he cried, "it's over the side and away. You're sending us to our
death, Mr. Hamlin."
"To your death?" said Roger. "Sir, do you wish to return with us to Salem?"
Falk glared sullenly, but made no reply.
"Sir," Roger repeated sharply, "do you wish to return with us to Salem?"
Still there was no response.
"Ah, I thought not. Stay here, if you wish. I shall have you put in irons;
I should not be justified in any other course. But in Salem we'll lay our
two stories before the owners--ay, and before the law. Then, sir, if you
are in the right and I am in the wrong, your triumph will repay you many
times over for the discomforts of a few months in irons. No? Will you not
Still Falk did not reply.
"Sir," Roger sternly cried, "if I were to take you back a prisoner to
Salem, you'd go to the gallows by way of the courts. Here you can steer
your own course--though in all probability the port will be the same."
Without another word Falk went over the side, and down by the chains to the
boat that was bumping below. But before we cast off the painter, he looked
up at us in the light of a lantern that some one held over the bulwark and
cried bitterly, "I hope, Mr. Hamlin, you're satisfied now. I'm rightful
master of that vessel in spite of all your high-handed tricks."
For the first time I noticed the marks of wounds that he had got in the
fight off the island. His face was white and his eyes were at once fierce
"You're mistaken," Roger replied. "I have papers from the firm's agent that
appoint me as master." Then he laughed softly and added, "But any time you
wish to carry our little dispute to the courts, you'll find me ready and
willing to meet you there. Too ready, Mr. Falk, for your own good. No, Mr.
Falk, it's better for you that you leave us here. Go your own gait. May you
fare better than you deserve!"
We cast off the painter, and they rowed into the dark toward the shore of
Java. They were men of broken fortunes, whose only hope for life lay in a
land infested with cut-throat desperadoes. I thought of Kipping who lay
dead on our deck. It seemed to me after all that Falk had got the worse
punishment; he had aspired to better things; weak though he was, there had
been the possibility of much good in his future. Now his career was
shattered; never again could he go home to his own country.
Yet when all was said and done, it was more merciful to set him adrift than
to bring him home to trial. Though he must suffer, he would suffer alone.
The punishment that he so fully deserved would not be made more bitter by
his knowing that all who knew him knew of his ruined life.
"Poor Falk!" I thought, and was amazed at myself for thinking almost kindly
Through the watches that followed I passed as if everything were unreal;
they were like a succession of nightmares, and to this day they are no more
than shadows on my memory. Working in silence, the men laid the dead on
clean canvas and washed down the decks; cut away wreckage, cleared the
running rigging, and replaced with new sails those that had been cut or
burned in battle. Then came the new day with its new duties; and a sad day
it was for those of us who had stood together through so many hardships,
when Neddie Benson went over the side with a prayer to speed him. We were
homeward bound with all sail set, but things that actually had happened
already seemed incredible, and concerning the future we could only
We had gone a long way on our journey toward the Cape of Good Hope before
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