Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne
Part 4 out of 8
I drew the book toward me, and stood looking at the four
names all written in the same hand, rather a big and rather a
bad one: Trent, Brown, Hardy, and (instead of Ah Sing) Jos.
"Pinkerton," said I, suddenly, "have you that _Occidental_ in
"Never left me," said Pinkerton, producing the paper.
I turned to the account of the wreck. "Here," said I; "here's the
name. 'Elias Goddedaal, mate.' Why do we never come across
"That's so," said Jim. "Was he with the rest in that saloon
when you saw them?"
"I don't believe it," said I. "They were only four, and there was
none that behaved like a mate."
At this moment the clerk returned with his report.
"The captain," it appeared, "came with some kind of an express
waggon, and he and the man took off three chests and a big
satchel. Our porter helped to put them on, but they drove the
cart themselves. The porter thinks they went down town. It
was about one."
"Still in time for the City of Pekin," observed Jim.
"How many of them were here?" I inquired.
"Three, sir, and the Kanaka," replied the clerk. "I can't
somehow fin out about the third, but he's gone too."
"Mr. Goddedaal, the mate, wasn't here then?" I asked.
"No, Mr. Dodd, none but what you see," says the clerk.
"Nor you never heard where he was?"
"No. Any particular reason for finding these men, Mr. Dodd?"
inquired the clerk.
"This gentleman and I have bought the wreck," I explained;
"we wished to get some information, and it is very annoying to
find the men all gone."
A certain group had gradually formed about us, for the wreck
was still a matter of interest; and at this, one of the bystanders,
a rough seafaring man, spoke suddenly.
"I guess the mate won't be gone," said he. "He's main sick;
never left the sick-bay aboard the Tempest; so they tell ME."
Jim took me by the sleeve. "Back to the consulate," said he.
But even at the consulate nothing was known of Mr.
Goddedaal. The doctor of the Tempest had certified him very
sick; he had sent his papers in, but never appeared in person
before the authorities.
"Have you a telephone laid on to the Tempest?" asked
"Laid on yesterday," said the clerk.
"Do you mind asking, or letting me ask? We are very anxious
to get hold of Mr. Goddedaal."
"All right," said the clerk, and turned to the telephone. "I'm
sorry," he said presently, "Mr. Goddedaal has left the ship, and
no one knows where he is."
"Do you pay the men's passage home?" I inquired, a sudden
thought striking me.
"If they want it," said the clerk; "sometimes they don't. But we
paid the Kanaka's passage to Honolulu this morning; and by
what Captain Trent was saying, I understand the rest are going
"Then you haven't paid them?" said I.
"Not yet," said the clerk.
"And you would be a good deal surprised, if I were to tell you
they were gone already?" I asked.
"O, I should think you were mistaken," said he.
"Such is the fact, however," said I.
"I am sure you must be mistaken," he repeated.
"May I use your telephone one moment?" asked Pinkerton; and
s soon as permission had been granted, I heard him ring up the
printing-office where our advertisements were usually handled.
More I did not hear; for suddenly recalling the big, bad hand in
the register of the What Cheer House, I asked the consulate
clerk if he had a specimen of Captain Trent's writing.
Whereupon I learned that the captain could not write, having
cut his hand open a little before the loss of the brig; that the
latter part of the log even had been written up by Mr.
Goddedaal; and that Trent had always signed with his left
hand. By the time I had gleaned this information, Pinkerton
"That's all that we can do. Now for the schooner," said he;
"and by to-morrow evening I lay hands on Goddedaal, or my
name's not Pinkerton."
"How have you managed?" I inquired.
"You'll see before you get to bed," said Pinkerton. "And now,
after all this backwarding and forwarding, and that hotel clerk,
and that bug Bellairs, it'll be a change and a kind of consolation
to see the schooner. I guess things are humming there."
But on the wharf, when we reached it, there was no sign of
bustle, and, but for the galley smoke, no mark of life on the
Norah Creina. Pinkerton's face grew pale, and his mouth
straightened, as he leaped on board.
"Where's the captain of this----?" and he left the phrase
unfinished, finding no epithet sufficiently energetic for his
It did not appear whom or what he was addressing; but a head,
presumably the cook's, appeared in answer at the galley door.
"In the cabin, at dinner," said the cook deliberately, chewing as
"Is that cargo out?"
"None of it?"
"O, there's some of it out. We'll get at the rest of it livelier
to-morrow, I guess."
"I guess there'll be something broken first," said Pinkerton, and
strode to the cabin.
Here we found a man, fat, dark, and quiet, seated gravely at
what seemed a liberal meal. He looked up upon our entrance;
and seeing Pinkerton continue to stand facing him in silence,
hat on head, arms folded, and lips compressed, an expression
of mingled wonder and annoyance began to dawn upon his
"Well!" said Jim; and so this is what you call rushing around?"
"Who are you?" cries the captain.
"Me! I'm Pinkerton!" retorted Jim, as though the name had
been a talisman.
"You're not very civil, whoever you are," was the reply. But
still a certain effect had been produced, for he scrambled to his
feet, and added hastily, "A man must have a bit of dinner, you
know, Mr. Pinkerton."
"Where's your mate?" snapped Jim.
"He's up town," returned the other.
"Up town!" sneered Pinkerton. "Now, I'll tell you what you are:
you're a Fraud; and if I wasn't afraid of dirtying my boot, I
would kick you and your dinner into that dock."
"I'll tell you something, too," retorted the captain, duskily
flushing. "I wouldn't sail this ship for the man you are, if you
went upon your knees. I've dealt with gentlemen up to now."
"I can tell you the names of a number of gentlemen you'll never
deal with any more, and that's the whole of Longhurst's gang,"
said Jim. "I'll put your pipe out in that quarter, my friend.
Here, rout out your traps as quick as look at it, and take your
vermin along with you. I'll have a captain in, this very night,
that's a sailor, and some sailors to work for him."
"I'll go when I please, and that's to-morrow morning," cried the
captain after us, as we departed for the shore.
"There's something gone wrong with the world to-day; it must
have come bottom up!" wailed Pinkerton. "Bellairs, and then
the hotel clerk, and now This Fraud! And what am I to do for a
captain, Loudon, with Longhurst gone home an hour ago, and
the boys all scattered?"
"I know," said I. "Jump in!" And then to the driver: "Do you
know Black Tom's?"
Thither then we rattled; passed through the bar, and found (as I
had hoped) Johnson in the enjoyment of club life. The table
had been thrust upon one side; a South Sea merchant was
discoursing music from a mouth-organ in one corner; and in
the middle of the floor Johnson and a fellow-seaman, their
arms clasped about each other's bodies, somewhat heavily
danced. The room was both cold and close; a jet of gas, which
continually menaced the heads of the performers, shed a coarse
illumination; the mouth-organ sounded shrill and dismal; and
the faces of all concerned were church-like in their gravity. It
were, of course, indelicate to interrupt these solemn frolics; so
we edged ourselves to chairs, for all the world like belated
comers in a concert-room, and patiently waited for the end. At
length the organist, having exhausted his supply of breath,
ceased abruptly in the middle of a bar. With the cessation of
the strain, the dancers likewise came to a full stop, swayed a
moment, still embracing, and then separated and looked about
the circle for applause.
"Very well danced!" said one; but it appears the compliment
was not strong enough for the performers, who (forgetful of the
proverb) took up the tale in person.
"Well," said Johnson. "I mayn't be no sailor, but I can dance!"
And his late partner, with an almost pathetic conviction, added,
"My foot is as light as a feather."
Seeing how the wind set, you may be sure I added a few words
of praise before I carried Johnson alone into the passage: to
whom, thus mollified, I told so much as I judged needful of our
situation, and begged him, if he would not take the job himself,
to find me a smart man.
"Me!" he cried. "I couldn't no more do it than I could try to go
"I thought you were a mate?" said I.
"So I am a mate," giggled Johnson, "and you don't catch me
shipping noways else. But I'll tell you what, I believe I can get
you Arty Nares: you seen Arty; first-rate navigator and a son of
a gun for style." And he proceeded to explain to me that Mr.
Nares, who had the promise of a fine barque in six months,
after things had quieted down, was in the meantime living very
private, and would be pleased to have a change of air.
I called out Pinkerton and told him. "Nares!" he cried, as soon
as I had come to the name. "I would jump at the chance of a
man that had had Nares's trousers on! Why, Loudon, he's the
smartest deep-water mate out of San Francisco, and draws his
dividends regular in service and out." This hearty indorsation
clinched the proposal; Johnson agreed to produce Nares before
six the following morning; and Black Tom, being called into
the consultation, promised us four smart hands for the same
hour, and even (what appeared to all of us excessive) promised
The streets were fully lighted when we left Black Tom's: street
after street sparkling with gas or electricity, line after line of
distant luminaries climbing the steep sides of hills towards the
overvaulting darkness; and on the other hand, where the waters
of the bay invisibly trembled, a hundred riding lanterns marked
the position of a hundred ships. The sea-fog flew high in
heaven; and at the level of man's life and business it was clear
and chill. By silent consent, we paid the hack off, and
proceeded arm in arm towards the Poodle Dog for dinner.
At one of the first hoardings, I was aware of a bill-sticker at
work: it was a late hour for this employment, and I checked
Pinkerton until the sheet should be unfolded. This is what I
TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS REWARD.
OFFICERS AND MEN OF THE
WRECKED BRIG FLYING SCUD
PERSONALLY OR BY LETTER,
AT THE OFFICE OF JAMES PINKERTON, MONTANA
BEFORE NOON TO-MORROW, TUESDAY, 12TH,
TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS REWARD.
"This is your idea, Pinkerton!" I cried.
"Yes. They've lost no time; I'll say that for them--not like the
Fraud," said he. "But mind you, Loudon, that's not half of it.
The cream of the idea's here: we know our man's sick; well, a
copy of that has been mailed to every hospital, every doctor,
and every drug-store in San Francisco."
Of course, from the nature of our business, Pinkerton could do
a thing of the kind at a figure extremely reduced; for all that, I
was appalled at the extravagance, and said so.
"What matter a few dollars now?" he replied sadly. "It's in
three months that the pull comes, Loudon."
We walked on again in silence, not without a shiver. Even at
the Poodle Dog, we took our food with small appetite and less
speech; and it was not until he was warmed with a third glass
of champagne that Pinkerton cleared his throat and looked
upon me with a deprecating eye.
"Loudon," said he, "there was a subject you didn't wish to be
referred to. I only want to do so indirectly. It wasn't"--he
faltered--"it wasn't because you were dissatisfied with me?" he
concluded, with a quaver.
"Pinkerton!" cried I.
"No, no, not a word just now," he hastened to proceed. "Let me
speak first. I appreciate, though I can't imitate, the delicacy of
your nature; and I can well understand you would rather die
than speak of it, and yet might feel disappointed. I did think I
could have done better myself. But when I found how tight
money was in this city, and a man like Douglas B. Longhurst--
a forty-niner, the man that stood at bay in a corn patch for five
hours against the San Diablo squatters--weakening on the
operation, I tell you, Loudon, I began to despair; and--I may
have made mistakes, no doubt there are thousands who could
have done better--but I give you a loyal hand on it, I did my
"My poor Jim," said I, "as if I ever doubted you! as if I didn't
know you had done wonders! All day I've been admiring your
energy and resource. And as for that affair----"
"No, Loudon, no more, not a word more! I don't want to hear,"
"Well, to tell you the truth, I don't want to tell you," said I; "for
it's a thing I'm ashamed of."
"Ashamed, Loudon? O, don't say that; don't use such an
expression even in jest!" protested Pinkerton.
"Do you never do anything you're ashamed of?" I inquired.
"No," says he, rolling his eyes. "Why? I'm sometimes sorry
afterwards, when it pans out different from what I figured. But
I can't see what I would want to be ashamed for."
I sat a while considering with admiration the simplicity of my
friend's character. Then I sighed. "Do you know, Jim, what
I'm sorriest for?" said I. "At this rate, I can't be best man at
"My marriage!" he repeated, echoing the sigh. "No marriage
for me now. I'm going right down to-night to break it to her. I
think that's what's shaken me all day. I feel as if I had had no
right (after I was engaged) to operate so widely."
"Well, you know, Jim, it was my doing, and you must lay the
blame on me," said I.
"Not a cent of it!" he cried. "I was as eager as yourself, only
not so bright at the beginning. No; I've myself to thank for it;
but it's a wrench."
While Jim departed on his dolorous mission, I returned alone to
the office, lit the gas, and sat down to reflect on the events of
that momentous day: on the strange features of the tale that
had been so far unfolded, the disappearances, the terrors, the
great sums of money; and on the dangerous and ungrateful task
that awaited me in the immediate future.
It is difficult, in the retrospect of such affairs, to avoid
attributing to ourselves in the past a measure of the knowledge
we possess to-day. But I may say, and yet be well within the
mark, that I was consumed that night with a fever of suspicion
and curiosity; exhausted my fancy in solutions, which I still
dismissed as incommensurable with the facts; and in the
mystery by which I saw myself surrounded, found a precious
stimulus for my courage and a convenient soothing draught for
conscience. Even had all been plain sailing, I do not hint that I
should have drawn back. Smuggling is one of the meanest of
crimes, for by that we rob a whole country pro rata, and are
therefore certain to impoverish the poor: to smuggle opium is
an offence particularly dark, since it stands related not so much
to murder, as to massacre. Upon all these points I was quite
clear; my sympathy was all in arms against my interest; and
had not Jim been involved, I could have dwelt almost with
satisfaction on the idea of my failure. But Jim, his whole
fortune, and his marriage, depended upon my success; and I
preferred the interests of my friend before those of all the
islanders in the South Seas. This is a poor, private morality, if
you like; but it is mine, and the best I have; and I am not half
so much ashamed of having embarked at all on this adventure,
as I am proud that (while I was in it, and for the sake of my
friend) I was up early and down late, set my own hand to
everything, took dangers as they came, and for once in my life
played the man throughout. At the same time, I could have
desired another field of energy; and I was the more grateful for
the redeeming element of mystery. Without that, though I
might have gone ahead and done as well, it would scarce have
been with ardour; and what inspired me that night with an
impatient greed of the sea, the island, and the wreck, was the
hope that I might stumble there upon the answer to a hundred
questions, and learn why Captain Trent fanned his red face in
the exchange, and why Mr. Dickson fled from the telephone in
the Mission Street lodging-house.
IN WHICH JIM AND I TAKE DIFFERENT WAYS.
I was unhappy when I closed my eyes; and it was to
unhappiness that I opened them again next morning, to a
confused sense of some calamity still inarticulate, and to the
consciousness of jaded limbs and of a swimming head. I must
have lain for some time inert and stupidly miserable, before I
became aware of a reiterated knocking at the door; with which
discovery all my wits flowed back in their accustomed
channels, and I remembered the sale, and the wreck, and
Goddedaal, and Nares, and Johnson, and Black Tom, and the
troubles of yesterday, and the manifold engagements of the day
that was to come. The thought thrilled me like a trumpet in the
hour of battle. In a moment, I had leaped from bed, crossed the
office where Pinkerton lay in a deep trance of sleep on the
convertible sofa, and stood in the doorway, in my night gear, to
receive our visitors.
Johnson was first, by way of usher, smiling. From a little
behind, with his Sunday hat tilted forward over his brow, and a
cigar glowing between his lips, Captain Nares acknowledged
our previous acquaintance with a succinct nod. Behind him
again, in the top of the stairway, a knot of sailors, the new crew
of the Norah Creina, stood polishing the wall with back and
elbow. These I left without to their reflections. But our two
officers I carried at once into the office, where (taking Jim by
the shoulder) I shook him slowly into consciousness. He sat
up, all abroad for the moment, and stared on the new captain.
"Jim," said I, "this is Captain Nares. Captain, Mr. Pinkerton."
Nares repeated his curt nod, still without speech; and I thought
he held us both under a watchful scrutiny.
"O!" says Jim, "this is Captain Nares, is it? Good morning,
Captain Nares. Happy to have the pleasure of your
acquaintance, sir. I know you well by reputation."
Perhaps, under the circumstances of the moment, this was
scarce a welcome speech. At least, Nares received it with a
"Well, Captain," Jim continued, "you know about the size of
the business? You're to take the Nora Creina to Midway
Island, break up a wreck, call at Honolulu, and back to this
port? I suppose that's understood?"
"Well," returned Nares, with the same unamiable reserve, "for a
reason, which I guess you know, the cruise may suit me; but
there's a point or two to settle. We shall have to talk, Mr.
Pinkerton. But whether I go or not, somebody will; there's no
sense in losing time; and you might give Mr. Johnson a note,
let him take the hands right down, and set to to overhaul the
rigging. The beasts look sober," he added, with an air of great
disgust, "and need putting to work to keep them so."
This being agreed upon, Nares watched his subordinate depart
and drew a visible breath.
"And now we're alone and can talk," said he. "What's this
thing about? It's been advertised like Barnum's museum; that
poster of yours has set the Front talking; that's an objection in
itself, for I'm laying a little dark just now; and anyway, before I
take the ship, I require to know what I'm going after."
Thereupon Pinkerton gave him the whole tale, beginning with a
businesslike precision, and working himself up, as he went on,
to the boiling-point of narrative enthusiasm. Nares sat and
smoked, hat still on head, and acknowledged each fresh feature
of the story with a frowning nod. But his pale blue eyes
betrayed him, and lighted visibly.
"Now you see for yourself," Pinkerton concluded: "there's
every last chance that Trent has skipped to Honolulu, and it
won't take much of that fifty thousand dollars to charter a smart
schooner down to Midway. Here's where I want a man!" cried
Jim, with contagious energy. "That wreck's mine; I've paid for
it, money down; and if it's got to be fought for, I want to see it
fought for lively. If you're not back in ninety days, I tell you
plainly, I'll make one of the biggest busts ever seen upon this
coast; it's life or death for Mr. Dodd and me. As like as not,
it'll come to grapples on the island; and when I heard your
name last night--and a blame' sight more this morning when I
saw the eye you've got in your head--I said, 'Nares is good
enough for me!'"
"I guess," observed Nares, studying the ash of his cigar, "the
sooner I get that schooner outside the Farallones, the better
you'll be pleased."
"You're the man I dreamed of!" cried Jim, bouncing on the bed.
"There's not five per cent of fraud in all your carcase."
"Just hold on," said Nares. "There's another point. I heard
some talk about a supercargo."
"That's Mr. Dodd, here, my partner," said Jim.
"I don't see it," returned the captain drily. "One captain's
enough for any ship that ever I was aboard."
"Now don't you start disappointing me," said Pinkerton; "for
you're talking without thought. I'm not going to give you the
run of the books of this firm, am I? I guess not. Well, this is
not only a cruise; it's a business operation; and that's in the
hands of my partner. You sail that ship, you see to breaking up
that wreck and keeping the men upon the jump, and you'll find
your hands about full. Only, no mistake about one thing: it
has to be done to Mr. Dodd's satisfaction; for it's Mr. Dodd
"I'm accustomed to give satisfaction," said Mr. Nares, with a
"And so you will here!" cried Pinkerton. "I understand you.
You're prickly to handle, but you're straight all through."
"The position's got to be understood, though," returned Nares,
perhaps a trifle mollified. "My position, I mean. I'm not going
to ship sailing-master; it's enough out of my way already, to set
a foot on this mosquito schooner."
"Well, I'll tell you," retorted Jim, with an indescribable twinkle:
"you just meet me on the ballast, and we'll make it a
Nares laughed a little; tactless Pinkerton had once more gained
a victory in tact. "Then there's another point," resumed the
captain, tacitly relinquishing the last. "How about the
"O, you leave that to me; I'm one of Longhurst's crowd, you
know," said Jim, with sudden bristling vanity. "Any man that's
good enough for me, is good enough for them."
"Who are they?" asked Nares.
"M'Intyre and Spittal," said Jim.
"O, well, give me a card of yours," said the captain: "you
needn't bother to write; I keep M'Intyre and Spittal in my
Boast for boast; it was always thus with Nares and Pinkerton--
the two vainest men of my acquaintance. And having thus
reinstated himself in his own opinion, the captain rose, and,
with a couple of his stiff nods, departed.
"Jim," I cried, as the door closed behind him, "I don't like that
"You've just got to, Loudon," returned Jim. "He's a typical
American seaman--brave as a lion, full of resource, and stands
high with his owners. He's a man with a record."
"For brutality at sea," said I.
"Say what you like," exclaimed Pinkerton, "it was a good hour
we got him in: I'd trust Mamie's life to him to-morrow."
"Well, and talking of Mamie?" says I.
Jim paused with his trousers half on. "She's the gallantest little
soul God ever made!" he cried. "Loudon, I'd meant to knock
you up last night, and I hope you won't take it unfriendly that I
didn't. I went in and looked at you asleep; and I saw you were
all broken up, and let you be. The news would keep, anyway;
and even you, Loudon, couldn't feel it the same way as I did."
"What news?" I asked.
"It's this way," says Jim. "I told her how we stood, and that I
backed down from marrying. 'Are you tired of me?' says she:
God bless her! Well, I explained the whole thing over again,
the chance of smash, your absence unavoidable, the point I
made of having you for the best man, and that. 'If you're not
tired of me, I think I see one way to manage,' says she. "Let's
get married to-morrow, and Mr. Loudon can be best man
before he goes to sea.' That's how she said it, crisp and bright,
like one of Dickens's characters. It was no good for me to talk
about the smash. 'You'll want me all the more,' she said.
Loudon, I only pray I can make it up to her; I prayed for it last
night beside your bed, while you lay sleeping--for you, and
Mamie and myself; and--I don't know if you quite believe in
prayer, I'm a bit Ingersollian myself--but a kind of sweetness
came over me, and I couldn't help but think it was an answer.
Never was a man so lucky! You and me and Mamie; it's a
triple cord, Loudon. If either of you were to die! And she likes
you so much, and thinks you so accomplished and distingue-
looking, and was just as set as I was to have you for best man.
'Mr. Loudon,' she calls you; seems to me so friendly! And she
sat up till three in the morning fixing up a costume for the
marriage; it did me good to see her, Loudon, and to see that
needle going, going, and to say 'All this hurry, Jim, is just to
marry you!' I couldn't believe it; it was so like some blame'
fairy story. To think of those old tin-type times about turned
my head; I was so unrefined then, and so illiterate, and so
lonesome; and here I am in clover, and I'm blamed if I can see
what I've done to deserve it."
So he poured forth with innocent volubility the fulness of his
heart; and I, from these irregular communications, must pick
out, here a little and there a little, the particulars of his new
plan. They were to be married, sure enough, that day; the
wedding breakfast was to be at Frank's; the evening to be
passed in a visit of God-speed aboard the Norah Creina; and
then we were to part, Jim and I, he to his married life, I on my
sea-enterprise. If ever I cherished an ill-feeling for Miss
Mamie, I forgave her now; so brave and kind, so pretty and
venturesome, was her decision. The weather frowned overhead
with a leaden sky, and San Francisco had never (in all my
experience) looked so bleak and gaunt, and shoddy, and crazy,
like a city prematurely old; but through all my wanderings and
errands to and fro, by the dock side or in the jostling street,
among rude sounds and ugly sights, there ran in my mind, like
a tiny strain of music, the thought of my friend's happiness.
For that was indeed a day of many and incongruous
occupations. Breakfast was scarce swallowed before Jim must
run to the City Hall and Frank's about the cares of marriage,
and I hurry to John Smith's upon the account of stores, and
thence, on a visit of certification, to the Norah Creina.
Methought she looked smaller than ever, sundry great ships
overspiring her from close without. She was already a
nightmare of disorder; and the wharf alongside was piled with
a world of casks, and cases, and tins, and tools, and coils of
rope, and miniature barrels of giant powder, such as it seemed
no human ingenuity could stuff on board of her. Johnson was
in the waist, in a red shirt and dungaree trousers, his eye
kindled with activity. With him I exchanged a word or two;
thence stepped aft along the narrow alleyway between the
house and the rail, and down the companion to the main cabin,
where the captain sat with the commissioner at wine.
I gazed with disaffection at the little box which for many a day
I was to call home. On the starboard was a stateroom for the
captain; on the port, a pair of frowsy berths, one over the other,
and abutting astern upon the side of an unsavoury cupboard.
The walls were yellow and damp, the floor black and greasy;
there was a prodigious litter of straw, old newspapers, and
broken packing-cases; and by way of ornament, only a glass-
rack, a thermometer presented "with compliments" of some
advertising whiskey-dealer, and a swinging lamp. It was hard
to foresee that, before a week was up, I should regard that
cabin as cheerful, lightsome, airy, and even spacious.
I was presented to the commissioner, and to a young friend of
his whom he had brought with him for the purpose (apparently)
of smoking cigars; and after we had pledged one another in a
glass of California port, a trifle sweet and sticky for a morning
beverage, the functionary spread his papers on the table, and
the hands were summoned. Down they trooped, accordingly,
into the cabin; and stood eyeing the ceiling or the floor, the
picture of sheepish embarrassment, and with a common air of
wanting to expectorate and not quite daring. In admirable
contrast, stood the Chinese cook, easy, dignified, set apart by
spotless raiment, the hidalgo of the seas.
I daresay you never had occasion to assist at the farce which
followed. Our shipping laws in the United States (thanks to
the inimitable Dana) are conceived in a spirit of paternal
stringency, and proceed throughout on the hypothesis that poor
Jack is an imbecile, and the other parties to the contract, rogues
and ruffians. A long and wordy paper of precautions, a fo'c's'le
bill of rights, must be read separately to each man. I had now
the benefit of hearing it five times in brisk succession; and you
would suppose I was acquainted with its contents. But the
commissioner (worthy man) spends his days in doing little
else; and when we bear in mind the parallel case of the
irreverent curate, we need not be surprised that he took the
passage tempo prestissimo, in one roulade of gabble --that I,
with the trained attention of an educated man, could gather but
a fraction of its import--and the sailors nothing. No profanity
in giving orders, no sheath-knives, Midway Island and any
other port the master may direct, not to exceed six calendar
months, and to this port to be paid off: so it seemed to run,
with surprising verbiage; so ended. And with the end, the
commissioner, in each case, fetched a deep breath, resumed his
natural voice, and proceeded to business. "Now, my man," he
would say, "you ship A. B. at so many dollars, American gold
coin. Sign your name here, if you have one, and can write."
Whereupon, and the name (with infinite hard breathing) being
signed, the commissioner would proceed to fill in the man's
appearance, height, etc., on the official form. In this task of
literary portraiture he seemed to rely wholly upon temperament;
for I could not perceive him to cast one glance on any of his
models. He was assisted, however, by a running commentary
from the captain: "Hair blue and eyes red, nose five foot seven,
and stature broken"--jests as old, presumably, as the American
marine; and, like the similar pleasantries of the billiard board,
perennially relished. The highest note of humour was reached
in the case of the Chinese cook, who was shipped under the
name of "One Lung," to the sound of his own protests and the
self-approving chuckles of the functionary.
"Now, captain," said the latter, when the men were gone, and
he had bundled up his papers, "the law requires you to carry a
slop-chest and a chest of medicines."
"I guess I know that," said Nares.
"I guess you do," returned the commissioner, and helped
himself to port.
But when he was gone, I appealed to Nares on the same
subject, for I was well aware we carried none of these
"Well," drawled Nares, "there's sixty pounds of niggerhead on
the quay, isn't there? and twenty pounds of salts; and I never
travel without some painkiller in my gripsack."
As a matter of fact, we were richer. The captain had the usual
sailor's provision of quack medicines, with which, in the usual
sailor fashion, he would daily drug himself, displaying an
extreme inconstancy, and flitting from Kennedy's Red
Discovery to Kennedy's White, and from Hood's Sarsaparilla to
Mother Seigel's Syrup. And there were, besides, some
mildewed and half-empty bottles, the labels obliterated, over
which Nares would sometimes sniff and speculate. "Seems to
smell like diarrhoea stuff," he would remark. "I wish't I knew,
and I would try it." But the slop-chest was indeed represented
by the plugs of niggerhead, and nothing else. Thus paternal
laws are made, thus they are evaded; and the schooner put to
sea, like plenty of her neighbours, liable to a fine of six hundred
This characteristic scene, which has delayed me overlong, was
but a moment in that day of exercise and agitation. To fit out a
schooner for sea, and improvise a marriage between dawn and
dusk, involves heroic effort. All day Jim and I ran, and
tramped, and laughed, and came near crying, and fell in sudden
anxious consultations, and were sped (with a prepared sarcasm
on our lips) to some fallacious milliner, and made dashes to the
schooner and John Smith's, and at every second corner were
reminded (by our own huge posters) of our desperate estate.
Between whiles, I had found the time to hover at some half-a-
dozen jewellers' windows; and my present, thus intemperately
chosen, was graciously accepted. I believe, indeed, that was
the last (though not the least) of my concerns, before the old
minister, shabby and benign, was routed from his house and
led to the office like a performing poodle; and there, in the
growing dusk, under the cold glitter of Thirteen Star, two
hundred strong, and beside the garish glories of the agricultural
engine, Mamie and Jim were made one. The scene was
incongruous, but the business pretty, whimsical, and affecting:
the typewriters with such kindly faces and fine posies, Mamie
so demure, and Jim--how shall I describe that poor,
transfigured Jim? He began by taking the minister aside to the
far end of the office. I knew not what he said, but I have reason
to believe he was protesting his unfitness; for he wept as he
said it: and the old minister, himself genuinely moved, was
heard to console and encourage him, and at one time to use this
expression: "I assure you, Mr. Pinkerton, there are not many
who can say so much"--from which I gathered that my friend
had tempered his self-accusations with at least one legitimate
boast. From this ghostly counselling, Jim turned to me; and
though he never got beyond the explosive utterance of my name
and one fierce handgrip, communicated some of his own
emotion, like a charge of electricity, to his best man. We stood
up to the ceremony at last, in a general and kindly
discomposure. Jim was all abroad; and the divine himself
betrayed his sympathy in voice and demeanour, and concluded
with a fatherly allocution, in which he congratulated Mamie
(calling her "my dear") upon the fortune of an excellent
husband, and protested he had rarely married a more
interesting couple. At this stage, like a glory descending, there
was handed in, ex machina, the card of Douglas B. Longhurst,
with congratulations and four dozen Perrier-Jouet. A bottle
was opened; and the minister pledged the bride, and the
bridesmaids simpered and tasted, and I made a speech with
airy bacchanalianism, glass in hand. But poor Jim must leave
the wine untasted. "Don't touch it," I had found the opportunity
to whisper; "in your state it will make you as drunk as a
fiddler." And Jim had wrung my hand with a "God bless you,
Loudon!--saved me again!"
Hard following upon this, the supper passed off at Frank's with
somewhat tremulous gaiety. And thence, with one half of the
Perrier-Jouet--I would accept no more--we voyaged in a hack to
the Norah Creina.
"What a dear little ship!" cried Mamie, as our miniature craft
was pointed out to her. And then, on second thought, she
turned to the best man. "And how brave you must be, Mr.
Dodd," she cried, "to go in that tiny thing so far upon the
ocean!" And I perceived I had risen in the lady's estimation.
The dear little ship presented a horrid picture of confusion, and
its occupants of weariness and ill-humour. From the cabin the
cook was storing tins into the lazarette, and the four hands,
sweaty and sullen, were passing them from one to another from
the waist. Johnson was three parts asleep over the table; and in
his bunk, in his own cabin, the captain sourly chewed and
puffed at a cigar.
"See here," he said, rising; "you'll be sorry you came. We can't
stop work if we're to get away to-morrow. A ship getting ready
for sea is no place for people, anyway. You'll only interrupt my
I was on the point of answering something tart; but Jim, who
was acquainted with the breed, as he was with most things that
had a bearing on affairs, made haste to pour in oil.
"Captain," he said, "I know we're a nuisance here, and that
you've had a rough time. But all we want is that you should
drink one glass of wine with us, Perrier-Jouet, from Longhurst,
on the occasion of my marriage, and Loudon's--Mr. Dodd's--
"Well, it's your lookout," said Nares. "I don't mind half an
hour. Spell, O!" he added to the men; "go and kick your heels
for half an hour, and then you can turn to again a trifle livelier.
Johnson, see if you can't wipe off a chair for the lady."
His tone was no more gracious than his language; but when
Mamie had turned upon him the soft fire of her eyes, and
informed him that he was the first sea-captain she had ever
met, "except captains of steamers, of course"--she so qualified
the statement--and had expressed a lively sense of his courage,
and perhaps implied (for I suppose the arts of ladies are the
same as those of men) a modest consciousness of his good
looks, our bear began insensibly to soften; and it was already
part as an apology, though still with unaffected heat of temper,
that he volunteered some sketch of his annoyances.
"A pretty mess we've had!" said he. "Half the stores were
wrong; I'll wring John Smith's neck for him some of these days.
Then two newspaper beasts came down, and tried to raise copy
out of me, till I threatened them with the first thing handy; and
then some kind of missionary bug, wanting to work his passage
to Raiatea or somewhere. I told him I would take him off the
wharf with the butt end of my boot, and he went away cursing.
This vessel's been depreciated by the look of him."
While the captain spoke, with his strange, humorous, arrogant
abruptness, I observed Jim to be sizing him up, like a thing at
once quaint and familiar, and with a scrutiny that was both
curious and knowing.
"One word, dear boy," he said, turning suddenly to me. And
when he had drawn me on deck, "That man," says he, "will
carry sail till your hair grows white; but never you let on, never
breathe a word. I know his line: he'll die before he'll take
advice; and if you get his back up, he'll run you right under. I
don't often jam in my advice, Loudon; and when I do, it means
I'm thoroughly posted."
The little party in the cabin, so disastrously begun, finished,
under the mellowing influence of wine and woman, in excellent
feeling and with some hilarity. Mamie, in a plush
Gainsborough hat and a gown of wine-coloured silk, sat, an
apparent queen, among her rude surroundings and companions.
The dusky litter of the cabin set off her radiant trimness: tarry
Johnson was a foil to her fair beauty; she glowed in that poor
place, fair as a star; until even I, who was not usually of her
admirers, caught a spark of admiration; and even the captain,
who was in no courtly humour, proposed that the scene should
be commemorated by my pencil. It was the last act of the
evening. Hurriedly as I went about my task, the half-hour had
lengthened out to more than three before it was completed:
Mamie in full value, the rest of the party figuring in outline
only, and the artist himself introduced in a back view, which
was pronounced a likeness. But it was to Mamie that I devoted
the best of my attention; and it was with her I made my chief
"O!" she cried, "am I really like that? No wonder Jim ..." She
paused. "Why it's just as lovely as he's good!" she cried: an
epigram which was appreciated, and repeated as we made our
salutations, and called out after the retreating couple as they
passed away under the lamplight on the wharf.
Thus it was that our farewells were smuggled through under an
ambuscade of laughter, and the parting over ere I knew it was
begun. The figures vanished, the steps died away along the
silent city front; on board, the men had returned to their
labours, the captain to his solitary cigar; and after that long and
complex day of business and emotion, I was at last alone and
free. It was, perhaps, chiefly fatigue that made my heart so
heavy. I leaned at least upon the house, and stared at the foggy
heaven, or over the rail at the wavering reflection of the lamps,
like a man that was quite done with hope and would have
welcomed the asylum of the grave. And all at once, as I thus
stood, the City of Pekin flashed into my mind, racing her
thirteen knots for Honolulu, with the hated Trent--perhaps with
the mysterious Goddedaal--on board; and with the thought, the
blood leaped and careered through all my body. It seemed no
chase at all; it seemed we had no chance, as we lay there bound
to iron pillars, and fooling away the precious moments over tins
of beans. "Let them get there first!" I thought. "Let them! We
can't be long behind." And from that moment, I date myself a
man of a rounded experience: nothing had lacked but this, that
I should entertain and welcome the grim thought of bloodshed.
It was long before the toil remitted in the cabin, and it was
worth my while to get to bed; long after that, before sleep
favoured me; and scarce a moment later (or so it seemed) when
I was recalled to consciousness by bawling men and the jar of
The schooner was cast off before I got on deck. In the misty
obscurity of the first dawn, I saw the tug heading us with
glowing fires and blowing smoke, and heard her beat the
roughened waters of the bay. Beside us, on her flock of hills,
the lighted city towered up and stood swollen in the raw fog. It
was strange to see her burn on thus wastefully, with half-
quenched luminaries, when the dawn was already grown strong
enough to show me, and to suffer me to recognise, a solitary
figure standing by the piles.
Or was it really the eye, and not rather the heart, that identified
that shadow in the dusk, among the shoreside lamps? I know
not. It was Jim, at least; Jim, come for a last look; and we had
but time to wave a valedictory gesture and exchange a wordless
cry. This was our second parting, and our capacities were now
reversed. It was mine to play the Argonaut, to speed affairs, to
plan and to accomplish--if need were, at the price of life; it was
his to sit at home, to study the calendar, and to wait. I knew
besides another thing that gave me joy. I knew that my friend
had succeeded in my education; that the romance of business, if
our fantastic purchase merited the name, had at last stirred my
dilletante nature; and, as we swept under cloudy Tamalpais and
through the roaring narrows of the bay, the Yankee blood sang
in my veins with suspense and exultation.
Outside the heads, as if to meet my desire, we found it blowing
fresh from the northeast. No time had been lost. The sun was
not yet up before the tug cast off the hawser, gave us a salute of
three whistles, and turned homeward toward the coast, which
now began to gleam along its margin with the earliest rays of
day. There was no other ship in view when the Norah Creina,
lying over under all plain sail, began her long and lonely
voyage to the wreck.
THE "NORAH CREINA."
I love to recall the glad monotony of a Pacific voyage, when the
trades are not stinted, and the ship, day after day, goes free.
The mountain scenery of trade-wind clouds, watched (and in
my case painted) under every vicissitude of light--blotting stars,
withering in the moon's glory, barring the scarlet eve, lying
across the dawn collapsed into the unfeatured morning bank, or
at noon raising their snowy summits between the blue roof of
heaven and the blue floor of sea; the small, busy, and deliberate
world of the schooner, with its unfamiliar scenes, the spearing
of dolphin from the bowsprit end, the holy war on sharks, the
cook making bread on the main hatch; reefing down before a
violent squall, with the men hanging out on the foot-ropes; the
squall itself, the catch at the heart, the opened sluices of the
sky; and the relief, the renewed loveliness of life, when all is
over, the sun forth again, and our out-fought enemy only a blot
upon the leeward sea. I love to recall, and would that I could
reproduce that life, the unforgettable, the unrememberable. The
memory, which shows so wise a backwardness in registering
pain, is besides an imperfect recorder of extended pleasures;
and a long-continued well-being escapes (as it were, by its
mass) our petty methods of commemoration. On a part of our
life's map there lies a roseate, undecipherable haze, and that is
Of one thing, if I am at all to trust my own annals, I was
delightedly conscious. Day after day, in the sun-gilded cabin,
the whiskey-dealer's thermometer stood at 84. Day after day,
the air had the same indescribable liveliness and sweetness,
soft and nimble, and cool as the cheek of health. Day after day
the sun flamed; night after night the moon beaconed, or the
stars paraded their lustrous regiment. I was aware of a
spiritual change, or, perhaps, rather a molecular reconstitution.
My bones were sweeter to me. I had come home to my own
climate, and looked back with pity on those damp and wintry
zones, miscalled the temperate.
"Two years of this, and comfortable quarters to live in, kind of
shake the grit out of a man," the captain remarked; "can't make
out to be happy anywhere else. A townie of mine was lost
down this way, in a coalship that took fire at sea. He struck the
beach somewhere in the Navigators; and he wrote to me that
when he left the place, it would be feet first. He's well off, too,
and his father owns some coasting craft Down East; but Billy
prefers the beach, and hot rolls off the bread-fruit trees."
A voice told me I was on the same track as Billy. But when
was this? Our outward track in the Norah Creina lay well to
the northward; and perhaps it is but the impression of a few pet
days which I have unconsciously spread longer, or perhaps the
feeling grew upon me later, in the run to Honolulu. One thing I
am sure: it was before I had ever seen an island worthy of the
name that I must date my loyalty to the South Seas. The blank
sea itself grew desirable under such skies; and wherever the
trade-wind blows, I know no better country than a schooner's
But for the tugging anxiety as to the journey's end, the journey
itself must thus have counted for the best of holidays. My
physical well-being was over-proof; effects of sea and sky kept
me for ever busy with my pencil; and I had no lack of
intellectual exercise of a different order in the study of my
inconsistent friend, the captain. I call him friend, here on the
threshold; but that is to look well ahead. At first, I was too
much horrified by what I considered his barbarities, too much
puzzled by his shifting humours, and too frequently annoyed by
his small vanities, to regard him otherwise than as the cross of
my existence. It was only by degrees, in his rare hours of
pleasantness, when he forgot (and made me forget) the
weaknesses to which he was so prone, that he won me to a
kind of unconsenting fondness. Lastly, the faults were all
embraced in a more generous view: I saw them in their place,
like discords in a musical progression; and accepted them and
found them picturesque, as we accept and admire, in the
habitable face of nature, the smoky head of the volcano or the
pernicious thicket of the swamp.
He was come of good people Down East, and had the
beginnings of a thorough education. His temper had been
ungovernable from the first; and it is likely the defect was
inherited, and the blame of the rupture not entirely his. He ran
away at least to sea; suffered horrible maltreatment, which
seemed to have rather hardened than enlightened him; ran
away again to shore in a South American port; proved his
capacity and made money, although still a child; fell among
thieves and was robbed; worked back a passage to the States,
and knocked one morning at the door of an old lady whose
orchard he had often robbed. The introduction appears
insufficient; but Nares knew what he was doing. The sight of
her old neighbourly depredator shivering at the door in tatters,
the very oddity of his appeal, touched a soft spot in the
spinster's heart. "I always had a fancy for the old lady," Nares
said, "even when she used to stampede me out of the orchard,
and shake her thimble and her old curls at me out of the
window as I was going by; I always thought she was a kind of
pleasant old girl. Well, when she came to the door that
morning, I told her so, and that I was stone-broke; and she took
me right in, and fetched out the pie." She clothed him, taught
him, and had him to sea again in better shape, welcomed him
to her hearth on his return from every cruise, and when she died
bequeathed him her possessions. "She was a good old girl," he
would say. "I tell you, Mr. Dodd, it was a queer thing to see
me and the old lady talking a pasear in the garden, and the old
man scowling at us over the pickets. She lived right next door
to the old man, and I guess that's just what took me there. I
wanted him to know that I was badly beat, you see, and would
rather go to the devil than to him. What made the dig harder,
he had quarrelled with the old lady about me and the orchard: I
guess that made him rage. Yes, I was a beast when I was
young. But I was always pretty good to the old lady." Since
then he had prospered, not uneventfully, in his profession; the
old lady's money had fallen in during the voyage of the
Gleaner, and he was now, as soon as the smoke of that
engagement cleared away, secure of his ship. I suppose he was
about thirty: a powerful, active man, with a blue eye, a thick
head of hair, about the colour of oakum and growing low over
the brow; clean-shaved and lean about the jaw; a good singer; a
good performer on that sea-instrument, the accordion; a quick
observer, a close reasoner; when he pleased, of a really elegant
address; and when he chose, the greatest brute upon the seas.
His usage of the men, his hazing, his bullying, his perpetual
fault-finding for no cause, his perpetual and brutal sarcasm,
might have raised a mutiny in a slave galley. Suppose the
steersman's eye to have wandered: "You ----, ----, little,
mutton-faced Dutchman," Nares would bawl; "you want a
booting to keep you on your course! I know a little city-front
slush when I see one. Just you glue your eye to that compass,
or I'll show you round the vessel at the butt-end of my boot."
Or suppose a hand to linger aft, whither he had perhaps been
summoned not a minute before. "Mr. Daniells, will you oblige
me by stepping clear of that main-sheet?" the captain might
begin, with truculent courtesy. "Thank you. And perhaps
you'll be so kind as to tell me what the hell you're doing on my
quarter-deck? I want no dirt of your sort here. Is there nothing
for you to do? Where's the mate? Don't you set ME to find
work for you, or I'll find you some that will keep you on your
back a fortnight." Such allocutions, conceived with a perfect
knowledge of his audience, so that every insult carried home,
were delivered with a mien so menacing, and an eye so fiercely
cruel, that his unhappy subordinates shrank and quailed. Too
often violence followed; too often I have heard and seen and
boiled at the cowardly aggression; and the victim, his hands
bound by law, has risen again from deck and crawled forward
stupefied--I know not what passion of revenge in his wronged
It seems strange I should have grown to like this tyrant. It may
even seem strange that I should have stood by and suffered his
excesses to proceed. But I was not quite such a chicken as to
interfere in public; for I would rather have a man or two
mishandled than one half of us butchered in a mutiny and the
rest suffer on the gallows. And in private, I was unceasing in
"Captain," I once said to him, appealing to his patriotism,
which was of a hardy quality, "this is no way to treat American
seamen. You don't call it American to treat men like dogs?"
"Americans?" he said grimly. "Do you call these Dutchmen
and Scattermouches  Americans? I've been fourteen years to
sea, all but one trip under American colours, and I've never laid
eye on an American foremast hand. There used to be such
things in the old days, when thirty-five dollars were the wages
out of Boston; and then you could see ships handled and run
the way they want to be. But that's all past and gone; and
nowadays the only thing that flies in an American ship is a
belaying-pin. You don't know; you haven't a guess. How
would you like to go on deck for your middle watch, fourteen
months on end, with all your duty to do and every one's life
depending on you, and expect to get a knife ripped into you as
you come out of your stateroom, or be sand-bagged as you pass
the boat, or get tripped into the hold, if the hatches are off in
fine weather? That kind of shakes the starch out of the
brotherly love and New Jerusalem business. You go through
the mill, and you'll have a bigger grudge against every old
shellback that dirties his plate in the three oceans, than the
Bank of California could settle up. No; it has an ugly look to it,
but the only way to run a ship is to make yourself a terror."
 In sea-lingo (Pacific) DUTCHMAN includes all Teutons
and folk from the basin of the Baltic; SCATTERMOUCH, all
Latins and Levantines.
"Come, Captain," said I, "there are degrees in everything. You
know American ships have a bad name; you know perfectly
well if it wasn't for the high wage and the good food, there's not
a man would ship in one if he could help; and even as it is,
some prefer a British ship, beastly food and all."
"O, the lime-juicers?" said he. "There's plenty booting in lime-
juicers, I guess; though I don't deny but what some of them are
soft." And with that he smiled like a man recalling something.
"Look here, that brings a yarn in my head," he resumed; "and
for the sake of the joke, I'll give myself away. It was in 1874, I
shipped mate in the British ship Maria, from 'Frisco for
Melbourne. She was the queerest craft in some ways that ever
I was aboard of. The food was a caution; there was nothing fit
to put your lips to--but the lime-juice, which was from the end
bin no doubt: it used to make me sick to see the men's dinners,
and sorry to see my own. The old man was good enough, I
guess; Green was his name; a mild, fatherly old galoot. But the
hands were the lowest gang I ever handled; and whenever I
tried to knock a little spirit into them, the old man took their
part! It was Gilbert and Sullivan on the high seas; but you bet I
wouldn't let any man dictate to me. 'You give me your orders,
Captain Green,' I said, 'and you'll find I'll carry them out; that's
all you've got to say. You'll find I do my duty,' I said; 'how I do
it is my lookout; and there's no man born that's going to give
me lessons.' Well, there was plenty dirt on board that Maria
first and last. Of course, the old man put my back up, and, of
course, he put up the crew's; and I had to regular fight my way
through every watch. The men got to hate me, so's I would
hear them grit their teeth when I came up. At last, one day, I
saw a big hulking beast of a Dutchman booting the ship's boy.
I made one shoot of it off the house and laid that Dutchman
out. Up he came, and I laid him out again. 'Now,' I said, 'if
there's a kick left in you, just mention it, and I'll stamp your
ribs in like a packing-case.' He thought better of it, and never
let on; lay there as mild as a deacon at a funeral; and they took
him below to reflect on his native Dutchland. One night we got
caught in rather a dirty thing about 25 south. I guess we were
all asleep; for the first thing I knew there was the fore-royal
gone. I ran forward, bawling blue hell; and just as I came by
the foremast, something struck me right through the forearm
and stuck there. I put my other hand up, and by George! it was
the grain; the beasts had speared me like a porpoise. 'Cap'n!' I
cried.--'What's wrong?' says he.--'They've grained me,' says I.--
'Grained you?' says he. 'Well, I've been looking for that.'----
'And by God,' I cried, 'I want to have some of these beasts
murdered for it!'--'Now, Mr. Nares,' says he, 'you better go
below. If I had been one of the men, you'd have got more than
this. And I want no more of your language on deck. You've
cost me my fore-royal already,' says he; 'and if you carry on,
you'll have the three sticks out of her.' That was old man
Green's idea of supporting officers. But you wait a bit; the
cream's coming. We made Melbourne right enough, and the
old man said: 'Mr. Nares, you and me don't draw together.
You're a first-rate seaman, no mistake of that; but you're the
most disagreeable man I ever sailed with; and your language
and your conduct to the crew I cannot stomach. I guess we'll
separate.' I didn't care about the berth, you may be sure; but I
felt kind of mean; and if he made one kind of stink, I thought I
could make another. So I said I would go ashore and see how
things stood; went, found I was all right, and came aboard
again on the top rail.--'Are you getting your traps together, Mr.
Nares?' says the old man.--'No,' says I, 'I don't know as we'll
separate much before 'Frisco; at least,' I said, 'it's a point for
your consideration. I'm very willing to say good-by to the
Maria, but I don't know whether you'll care to start me out with
three months' wages.' He got his money-box right away. 'My
son,' says he, 'I think it cheap at the money.' He had me there."
It was a singular tale for a man to tell of himself; above all, in
the midst of our discussion; but it was quite in character for
Nares. I never made a good hit in our disputes, I never justly
resented any act or speech of his, but what I found it long after
carefully posted in his day-book and reckoned (here was the
man's oddity) to my credit. It was the same with his father,
whom he had hated; he would give a sketch of the old fellow,
frank and credible, and yet so honestly touched that it was
charming. I have never met a man so strangely constituted: to
possess a reason of the most equal justice, to have his nerves at
the same time quivering with petty spite, and to act upon the
nerves and not the reason.
A kindred wonder in my eyes was the nature of his courage.
There was never a braver man: he went out to welcome
danger; an emergency (came it never so sudden) strung him
like a tonic. And yet, upon the other hand, I have known none
so nervous, so oppressed with possibilities, looking upon the
world at large, and the life of a sailor in particular, with so
constant and haggard a consideration of the ugly chances. All
his courage was in blood, not merely cold, but icy with
reasoned apprehension. He would lay our little craft rail under,
and "hang on" in a squall, until I gave myself up for lost, and
the men were rushing to their stations of their own accord.
"There," he would say, "I guess there's not a man on board
would have hung on as long as I did that time; they'll have to
give up thinking me no schooner sailor. I guess I can shave
just as near capsizing as any other captain of this vessel, drunk
or sober." And then he would fall to repining and wishing
himself well out of the enterprise, and dilate on the peril of the
seas, the particular dangers of the schooner rig, which he
abhorred, the various ways in which we might go to the
bottom, and the prodigious fleet of ships that have sailed out in
the course of history, dwindled from the eyes of watchers, and
returned no more. "Well," he would wind up, "I guess it don't
much matter. I can't see what any one wants to live for,
anyway. If I could get into some one else's apple-tree, and be
about twelve years old, and just stick the way I was, eating
stolen apples, I won't say. But there's no sense in this
grown-up business--sailorising, politics, the piety mill, and all
the rest of it. Good clean drowning is good enough for me." It
is hard to imagine any more depressing talk for a poor
landsman on a dirty night; it is hard to imagine anything less
sailor-like (as sailors are supposed to be, and generally are)
than this persistent harping on the minor.
But I was to see more of the man's gloomy constancy ere the
cruise was at an end.
On the morning of the seventeenth day I came on deck, to find
the schooner under double reefs, and flying rather wild before a
heavy run of sea. Snoring trades and humming sails had been
our portion hitherto. We were already nearing the island. My
restrained excitement had begun again to overmaster me; and
for some time my only book had been the patent log that trailed
over the taffrail, and my chief interest the daily observation and
our caterpillar progress across the chart. My first glance,
which was at the compass, and my second, which was at the
log, were all that I could wish. We lay our course; we had been
doing over eight since nine the night before; and I drew a heavy
breath of satisfaction. And then I know not what odd and
wintry appearance of the sea and sky knocked suddenly at my
heart. I observed the schooner to look more than usually small,
the men silent and studious of the weather. Nares, in one of his
rusty humours, afforded me no shadow of a morning salutation.
He, too, seemed to observe the behaviour of the ship with an
intent and anxious scrutiny. What I liked still less, Johnson
himself was at the wheel, which he span busily, often with a
visible effort; and as the seas ranged up behind us, black and
imminent, he kept casting behind him eyes of animal swiftness,
and drawing in his neck between his shoulders, like a man
dodging a blow. From these signs, I gathered that all was not
exactly for the best; and I would have given a good handful of
dollars for a plain answer to the questions which I dared not
put. Had I dared, with the present danger signal in the
captain's face, I should only have been reminded of my position
as supercargo--an office never touched upon in kindness--and
advised, in a very indigestible manner, to go below. There was
nothing for it, therefore, but to entertain my vague
apprehensions as best I should be able, until it pleased the
captain to enlighten me of his own accord. This he did sooner
than I had expected; as soon, indeed, as the Chinaman had
summoned us to breakfast, and we sat face to face across the
"See here, Mr. Dodd," he began, looking at me rather queerly,
"here is a business point arisen. This sea's been running up for
the last two days, and now it's too high for comfort. The glass
is falling, the wind is breezing up, and I won't say but what
there's dirt in it. If I lay her to, we may have to ride out a gale
of wind and drift God knows where--on these French Frigate
Shoals, for instance. If I keep her as she goes, we'll make that
island to-morrow afternoon, and have the lee of it to lie under,
if we can't make out to run in. The point you have to figure on,
is whether you'll take the big chances of that Captain Trent
making the place before you, or take the risk of something
happening. I'm to run this ship to your satisfaction," he added,
with an ugly sneer. "Well, here's a point for the supercargo."
"Captain," I returned, with my heart in my mouth, "risk is
better than certain failure."
"Life is all risk, Mr. Dodd," he remarked. "But there's one
thing: it's now or never; in half an hour, Archdeacon Gabriel
couldn't lay her to, if he came down stairs on purpose."
"All right," said I. "Llet's run."
"Run goes," said he; and with that he fell to breakfast, and
passed half an hour in stowing away pie and devoutly wishing
himself back in San Francisco.
When we came on deck again, he took the wheel from Johnson
--it appears they could trust none among the hands--and I stood
close beside him, feeling safe in this proximity, and tasting a
fearful joy from our surroundings and the consciousness of my
decision. The breeze had already risen, and as it tore over our
heads, it uttered at times a long hooting note that sent my heart
into my boots. The sea pursued us without remission, leaping
to the assault of the low rail. The quarter-deck was all awash,
and we must close the companion doors.
"And all this, if you please, for Mr. Pinkerton's dollars!" the
captain suddenly exclaimed. "There's many a fine fellow gone
under, Mr. Dodd, because of drivers like your friend. What do
they care for a ship or two? Insured, I guess. What do they
care for sailors' lives alongside of a few thousand dollars?
What they want is speed between ports, and a damned fool of a
captain that'll drive a ship under as I'm doing this one. You
can put in the morning, asking why I do it."
I sheered off to another part of the vessel as fast as civility
permitted. This was not at all the talk that I desired, nor was
the train of reflection which it started anyway welcome. Here I
was, running some hazard of my life, and perilling the lives of
seven others; exactly for what end, I was now at liberty to ask
myself. For a very large amount of a very deadly poison, was
the obvious answer; and I thought if all tales were true, and I
were soon to be subjected to cross-examination at the bar of
Eternal Justice, it was one which would not increase my
popularity with the court. "Well, never mind, Jim," thought I.
"I'm doing it for you."
Before eleven, a third reef was taken in the mainsail; and
Johnson filled the cabin with a storm-sail of No. 1 duck and sat
cross-legged on the streaming floor, vigorously putting it to
rights with a couple of the hands. By dinner I had fled the
deck, and sat in the bench corner, giddy, dumb, and stupefied
with terror. The frightened leaps of the poor Norah Creina,
spanking like a stag for bare existence, bruised me between the
table and the berths. Overhead, the wild huntsman of the storm
passed continuously in one blare of mingled noises; screaming
wind, straining timber, lashing rope's end, pounding block and
bursting sea contributed; and I could have thought there was at
times another, a more piercing, a more human note, that
dominated all, like the wailing of an angel; I could have
thought I knew the angel's name, and that his wings were
black. It seemed incredible that any creature of man's art could
long endure the barbarous mishandling of the seas, kicked as
the schooner was from mountain side to mountain side, beaten
and blown upon and wrenched in every joint and sinew, like a
child upon the rack. There was not a plank of her that did not
cry aloud for mercy; and as she continued to hold together, I
became conscious of a growing sympathy with her endeavours,
a growing admiration for her gallant staunchness, that amused
and at times obliterated my terrors for myself. God bless every
man that swung a mallet on that tiny and strong hull! It was
not for wages only that he laboured, but to save men's lives.
All the rest of the day, and all the following night, I sat in the
corner or lay wakeful in my bunk; and it was only with the
return of morning that a new phase of my alarms drove me
once more on deck. A gloomier interval I never passed.
Johnson and Nares steadily relieved each other at the wheel
and came below. The first glance of each was at the glass,
which he repeatedly knuckled and frowned upon; for it was
sagging lower all the time. Then, if Johnson were the visitor,
he would pick a snack out of the cupboard, and stand, braced
against the table, eating it, and perhaps obliging me with a
word or two of his hee-haw conversation: how it was "a son of
a gun of a cold night on deck, Mr. Dodd" (with a grin); how "it
wasn't no night for panjammers, he could tell me": having
transacted all which, he would throw himself down in his bunk
and sleep his two hours with compunction. But the captain
neither ate nor slept. "You there, Mr. Dodd?" he would say,
after the obligatory visit to the glass. "Well, my son, we're one
hundred and four miles" (or whatever it was) "off the island,
and scudding for all we're worth. We'll make it to-morrow
about four, or not, as the case may be. That's the news. And
now, Mr. Dodd, I've stretched a point for you; you can see I'm
dead tired; so just you stretch away back to your bunk again."
And with this attempt at geniality, his teeth would settle hard
down on his cigar, and he would pass his spell below staring
and blinking at the cabin lamp through a cloud of tobacco
smoke. He has told me since that he was happy, which I
should never have divined. "You see," he said, "the wind we
had was never anything out of the way; but the sea was really
nasty, the schooner wanted a lot of humouring, and it was clear
from the glass that we were close to some dirt. We might be
running out of it, or we might be running right crack into it.
Well, there's always something sublime about a big deal like
that; and it kind of raises a man in his own liking. We're a
queer kind of beasts, Mr. Dodd."
The morning broke with sinister brightness; the air alarmingly
transparent, the sky pure, the rim of the horizon clear and
strong against the heavens. The wind and the wild seas, now
vastly swollen, indefatigably hunted us. I stood on deck,
choking with fear; I seemed to lose all power upon my limbs;
my knees were as paper when she plunged into the murderous
valleys; my heart collapsed when some black mountain fell in
avalanche beside her counter, and the water, that was more
than spray, swept round my ankles like a torrent. I was
conscious of but one strong desire, to bear myself decently in
my terrors, and whatever should happen to my life, preserve my
character: as the captain said, we are a queer kind of beasts.
Breakfast time came, and I made shift to swallow some hot tea.
Then I must stagger below to take the time, reading the
chronometer with dizzy eyes, and marvelling the while what
value there could be in observations taken in a ship launched
(as ours then was) like a missile among flying seas. The
forenoon dragged on in a grinding monotony of peril; every
spoke of the wheel a rash, but an obliged experiment--rash as a
forlorn hope, needful as the leap that lands a fireman from a
burning staircase. Noon was made; the captain dined on his
day's work, and I on watching him; and our place was entered
on the chart with a meticulous precision which seemed to me
half pitiful and half absurd, since the next eye to behold that
sheet of paper might be the eye of an exploring fish. One
o'clock came, then two; the captain gloomed and chafed, as he
held to the coaming of the house, and if ever I saw dormant
murder in man's eye, it was in his. God help the hand that
should have disobeyed him.
Of a sudden, he turned towards the mate, who was doing his
trick at the wheel.
"Two points on the port bow," I heard him say. And he took
the wheel himself.
Johnson nodded, wiped his eyes with the back of his wet hand,
watched a chance as the vessel lunged up hill, and got to the
main rigging, where he swarmed aloft. Up and up, I watched
him go, hanging on at every ugly plunge, gaining with every
lull of the schooner's movement, until, clambering into the
cross-trees and clinging with one arm around the masts, I could
see him take one comprehensive sweep of the southwesterly
horizon. The next moment, he had slid down the backstay and
stood on deck, with a grin, a nod, and a gesture of the finger
that said "yes"; the next again, and he was back sweating and
squirming at the wheel, his tired face streaming and smiling,
and his hair and the rags and corners of his clothes lashing
round him in the wind.
Nares went below, fetched up his binocular, and fell into a
silent perusal of the sea-line; I also, with my unaided eyesight.
Little by little, in that white waste of water, I began to make out
a quarter where the whiteness appeared more condensed: the
sky above was whitish likewise, and misty like a squall; and
little by little there thrilled upon my ears a note deeper and
more terrible than the yelling of the gale--the long, thundering
roll of breakers. Nares wiped his night glass on his sleeve and
passed it to me, motioning, as he did so, with his hand. An
endless wilderness of raging billows came and went and
danced in the circle of the glass; now and then a pale corner of
sky, or the strong line of the horizon rugged with the heads of
waves; and then of a sudden--come and gone ere I could fix it,
with a swallow's swiftness--one glimpse of what we had come
so far and paid so dear to see: the masts and rigging of a brig
pencilled on heaven, with an ensign streaming at the main, and
the ragged ribbons of a topsail thrashing from the yard. Again
and again, with toilful searching, I recalled that apparition.
There was no sign of any land; the wreck stood between sea
and sky, a thing the most isolated I had ever viewed; but as we
drew nearer, I perceived her to be defended by a line of
breakers which drew off on either hand, and marked, indeed,
the nearest segment of the reef. Heavy spray hung over them
like a smoke, some hundred feet into the air; and the sound of
their consecutive explosions rolled like a cannonade.
In half an hour we were close in; for perhaps as long again, we
skirted that formidable barrier toward its farther side; and
presently the sea began insensibly to moderate and the ship to
go more sweetly. We had gained the lee of the island as (for
form's sake) I may call that ring of foam and haze and thunder;
and shaking out a reef, wore ship and headed for the passage.
THE ISLAND AND THE WRECK.
All hands were filled with joy. It was betrayed in their alacrity
and easy faces: Johnson smiling broadly at the wheel, Nares
studying the sketch chart of the island with an eye at peace, and
the hands clustered forward, eagerly talking and pointing: so
manifest was our escape, so wonderful the attraction of a single
foot of earth after so many suns had set and risen on an empty
sea. To add to the relief, besides, by one of those malicious
coincidences which suggest for fate the image of an underbred
and grinning schoolboy, we had no sooner worn ship than the
wind began to abate.
For myself, however, I did but exchange anxieties. I was no
sooner out of one fear than I fell upon another; no sooner secure
that I should myself make the intended haven, than I began to
be convinced that Trent was there before me. I climbed into the
rigging, stood on the board, and eagerly scanned that ring of
coral reef and bursting breaker, and the blue lagoon which they
enclosed. The two islets within began to show plainly--Middle
Brooks and Lower Brooks Island, the Directory named them:
two low, bush-covered, rolling strips of sand, each with
glittering beaches, each perhaps a mile or a mile and a half in
length, running east and west, and divided by a narrow
channel. Over these, innumerable as maggots, there hovered,
chattered, screamed and clanged, millions of twinkling sea-
birds: white and black; the black by far the largest. With
singular scintillations, this vortex of winged life swayed to and
fro in the strong sunshine, whirled continually through itself,
and would now and again burst asunder and scatter as wide as
the lagoon: so that I was irresistibly reminded of what I had
read of nebular convulsions. A thin cloud overspread the area
of the reef and the adjacent sea--the dust, as I could not but
fancy, of earlier explosions. And a little apart, there was yet
another focus of centrifugal and centripetal flight, where, hard
by the deafening line of breakers, her sails (all but the tattered
topsail) snugly furled down, and the red rag that marks Old
England on the seas beating, union down, at the main--the
Flying Scud, the fruit of so many toilers, a recollection in so
many lives of men, whose tall spars had been mirrored in the
remotest corners of the sea--lay stationary at last and forever, in
the first stage of naval dissolution. Towards her, the taut
Norah Creina, vulture-wise, wriggled to windward: come from
so far to pick her bones. And, look as I pleased, there was no
other presence of man or of man's handiwork; no Honolulu
schooner lay there crowded with armed rivals, no smoke rose
from the fire at which I fancied Trent cooking a meal of sea-
birds. It seemed, after all, we were in time, and I drew a
I had not arrived at this reviving certainty before the breakers
were already close aboard, the leadsman at his station, and the
captain posted in the fore cross-trees to con us through the coral
lumps of the lagoon. All circumstances were in our favour, the
light behind, the sun low, the wind still fresh and steady, and
the tide about the turn. A moment later we shot at racing speed
betwixt two pier heads of broken water; the lead began to be
cast, the captain to bawl down his anxious directions, the
schooner to tack and dodge among the scattered dangers of the
lagoon; and at one bell in the first dog watch, we had come to
our anchor off the north-east end of Middle Brooks Island, in
five fathoms water. The sails were gasketted and covered, the
boats emptied of the miscellaneous stores and odds and ends of
sea-furniture, that accumulate in the course of a voyage, the
kedge sent ashore, and the decks tidied down: a good three-
quarters of an hour's work, during which I raged about the deck
like a man with a strong toothache. The transition from the
wild sea to the comparative immobility of the lagoon had
wrought strange distress among my nerves: I could not hold
still whether in hand or foot; the slowness of the men, tired as
dogs after our rough experience outside, irritated me like
something personal; and the irrational screaming of the sea-
birds saddened me like a dirge. It was a relief when, with
Nares, and a couple of hands, I might drop into the boat and
move off at last for the Flying Scud.
"She looks kind of pitiful, don't she?" observed the captain,
nodding towards the wreck, from which we were separated by
some half a mile. "Looks as if she didn't like her berth, and
Captain Trent had used her badly. Give her ginger, boys!" he
added to the hands, "and you can all have shore liberty to-night
to see the birds and paint the town red."
We all laughed at the pleasantry, and the boat skimmed the
faster over the rippling face of the lagoon. The Flying Scud
would have seemed small enough beside the wharves of San
Francisco, but she was some thrice the size of the Norah
Creina, which had been so long our continent; and as we
craned up at her wall-sides, she impressed us with a mountain
magnitude. She lay head to the reef, where the huge blue wall
of the rollers was for ever ranging up and crumbling down; and
to gain her starboard side, we must pass below the stern. The
rudder was hard aport, and we could read the legend:
On the other side, about the break of the poop, some half a
fathom of rope ladder trailed over the rail, and by this we made
She was a roomy ship inside, with a raised poop standing some
three feet higher than the deck, and a small forward house, for
the men's bunks and the galley, just abaft the foremast. There
was one boat on the house, and another and larger one, in beds
on deck, on either hand of it. She had been painted white, with
tropical economy, outside and in; and we found, later on, that
the stanchions of the rail, hoops of the scuttle but, etc., were
picked out with green. At that time, however, when we first
stepped aboard, all was hidden under the droppings of
The birds themselves gyrated and screamed meanwhile among
the rigging; and when we looked into the galley, their outrush
drove us back. Savage-looking fowl they were, savagely
beaked, and some of the black ones great as eagles. Half-
buried in the slush, we were aware of a litter of kegs in the
waist; and these, on being somewhat cleaned, proved to be
water beakers and quarter casks of mess beef with some
colonial brand, doubtless collected there before the Tempest
hove in sight, and while Trent and his men had no better
expectation than to strike for Honolulu in the boats. Nothing
else was notable on deck, save where the loose topsail had
played some havoc with the rigging, and there hung, and
swayed, and sang in the declining wind, a raffle of intorted
With a shyness that was almost awe, Nares and I descended
the companion. The stair turned upon itself and landed us just
forward of a thwart-ship bulkhead that cut the poop in two.
The fore part formed a kind of miscellaneous store-room, with
a double-bunked division for the cook (as Nares supposed) and
second mate. The after part contained, in the midst, the main
cabin, running in a kind of bow into the curvature of the stern;
on the port side, a pantry opening forward and a stateroom for
the mate; and on the starboard, the captain's berth and water-
closet. Into these we did but glance: the main cabin holding
us. It was dark, for the sea-birds had obscured the skylight
with their droppings; it smelt rank and fusty; and it was beset
with a loud swarm of flies that beat continually in our faces.
Supposing them close attendants upon man and his broken
meat, I marvelled how they had found their way to Midway
reef; it was sure at least some vessel must have brought them,
and that long ago, for they had multiplied exceedingly. Part of
the floor was strewn with a confusion of clothes, books,
nautical instruments, odds and ends of finery, and such trash as
might be expected from the turning out of several seamen's
chests, upon a sudden emergency and after a long cruise. It
was strange in that dim cabin, quivering with the near thunder
of the breakers and pierced with the screaming of the fowls, to
turn over so many things that other men had coveted, and
prized, and worn on their warm bodies--frayed old
underclothing, pyjamas of strange design, duck suits in every
stage of rustiness, oil skins, pilot coats, bottles of scent,
embroidered shirts, jackets of Ponjee silk--clothes for the night
watch at sea or the day ashore in the hotel verandah; and
mingled among these, books, cigars, fancy pipes, quantities of
tobacco, many keys, a rusty pistol, and a sprinkling of cheap
curiosities--Benares brass, Chinese jars and pictures, and
bottles of odd shells in cotton, each designed no doubt for
somebody at home--perhaps in Hull, of which Trent had been a
native and his ship a citizen.
Thence we turned our attention to the table, which stood
spread, as if for a meal, with stout ship's crockery and the
remains of food--a pot of marmalade, dregs of coffee in the
mugs, unrecognisable remains of foods, bread, some toast, and
a tin of condensed milk. The table-cloth, originally of a red
colour, was stained a dark brown at the captain's end,
apparently with coffee; at the other end, it had been folded
back, and a pen and ink-pot stood on the bare table. Stools
were here and there about the table, irregularly placed, as
though the meal had been finished and the men smoking and
chatting; and one of the stools lay on the floor, broken.
"See! they were writing up the log," said Nares, pointing to the
ink-bottle. "Caught napping, as usual. I wonder if there ever
was a captain yet, that lost a ship with his log-book up to date?
He generally has about a month to fill up on a clean break, like
Charles Dickens and his serial novels.--What a regular, lime-
juicer spread!" he added contemptuously. "Marmalade--and
toast for the old man! Nasty, slovenly pigs!"
There was something in this criticism of the absent that jarred
upon my feelings. I had no love indeed for Captain Trent or
any of his vanished gang; but the desertion and decay of this
once habitable cabin struck me hard: the death of man's
handiwork is melancholy like the death of man himself; and I
was impressed with an involuntary and irrational sense of
tragedy in my surroundings.
"This sickens me," I said. "Let's go on deck and breathe."
The captain nodded. "It IS kind of lonely, isn't it?" he said.
"But I can't go up till I get the code signals. I want to run up
'Got Left' or something, just to brighten up this island home.
Captain Trent hasn't been here yet, but he'll drop in before long;
and it'll cheer him up to see a signal on the brig."
"Isn't there some official expression we could use?" I asked,
vastly taken by the fancy. "'Sold for the benefit of the
underwriters: for further particulars, apply to J. Pinkerton,
Montana Block, S.F.'"
"Well," returned Nares, "I won't say but what an old navy
quartermaster might telegraph all that, if you gave him a day to
do it in and a pound of tobacco for himself. But it's above my
register. I must try something short and sweet: KB, urgent
signal, 'Heave all aback'; or LM, urgent, 'The berth you're now
in is not safe'; or what do you say to PQH?--'Tell my owners
the ship answers remarkably well.'"
"It's premature," I replied; "but it seems calculated to give pain
to Trent. PQH for me."
The flags were found in Trent's cabin, neatly stored behind a
lettered grating; Nares chose what he required and (I following)
returned on deck, where the sun had already dipped, and the
dusk was coming.
"Here! don't touch that, you fool!" shouted the captain to one of
the hands, who was drinking from the scuttle but. "That water's
"Beg pardon, sir," replied the man. "Tastes quite sweet."
"Let me see," returned Nares, and he took the dipper and held it
to his lips. "Yes, it's all right," he said. "Must have rotted and
come sweet again. Queer, isn't it, Mr. Dodd? Though I've
known the same on a Cape Horner."
There was something in his intonation that made me look him
in the face; he stood a little on tiptoe to look right and left about
the ship, like a man filled with curiosity, and his whole
expression and bearing testified to some suppressed
"You don't believe what you're saying!" I broke out.
"O, I don't know but what I do!" he replied, laying a hand upon
me soothingly. "The thing's very possible. Only, I'm bothered
about something else."
And with that he called a hand, gave him the code flags, and
stepped himself to the main signal halliards, which vibrated
under the weight of the ensign overhead. A minute later, the
American colours, which we had brought in the boat, replaced
the English red, and PQH was fluttering at the fore.
"Now, then," said Nares, who had watched the breaking out of
his signal with the old-maidish particularity of an American
sailor, "out with those handspikes, and let's see what water
there is in the lagoon."
The bars were shoved home; the barbarous cacophony of the
clanking pump rose in the waist; and streams of ill-smelling
water gushed on deck and made valleys in the slab guano.
Nares leaned on the rail, watching the steady stream of bilge as
though he found some interest in it.
"What is it that bothers you?" I asked.
"Well, I'll tell you one thing shortly," he replied. "But here's
another. Do you see those boats there, one on the house and
two on the beds? Well, where is the boat Trent lowered when
he lost the hands?"
"Got it aboard again, I suppose," said I.
"Well, if you'll tell me why!" returned the captain.
"Then it must have been another," I suggested.
"She might have carried another on the main hatch, I won't
deny," admitted Nares; "but I can't see what she wanted with it,
unless it was for the old man to go out and play the accordion
in, on moonlight nights."
"It can't much matter, anyway," I reflected.
"O, I don't suppose it does," said he, glancing over his shoulder
at the spouting of the scuppers.
"And how long are we to keep up this racket?" I asked. "We're
simply pumping up the lagoon. Captain Trent himself said she
had settled down and was full forward."
"Did he?" said Nares, with a significant dryness. And almost
as he spoke the pumps sucked, and sucked again, and the men
threw down their bars. "There, what do you make of that?" he
asked. "Now, I'll tell, Mr. Dodd," he went on, lowering his
voice, but not shifting from his easy attitude against the rail,
"this ship is as sound as the Norah Creina. I had a guess of it
before we came aboard, and now I know."
"It's not possible!" I cried. "What do you make of Trent?"
"I don't make anything of Trent; I don't know whether he's a
liar or only an old wife; I simply tell you what's the fact," said
Nares. "And I'll tell you something more," he added: "I've
taken the ground myself in deep-water vessels; I know what
I'm saying; and I say that, when she first struck and before she
bedded down, seven or eight hours' work would have got this
hooker off, and there's no man that ever went two years to sea
but must have known it."
I could only utter an exclamation.
Nares raised his finger warningly. "Don't let THEM get hold of
it," said he. "Think what you like, but say nothing."
I glanced round; the dusk was melting into early night; the
twinkle of a lantern marked the schooner's position in the
distance; and our men, free from further labour, stood grouped
together in the waist, their faces illuminated by their glowing
"Why didn't Trent get her off?" inquired the captain. "Why did
he want to buy her back in 'Frisco for these fabulous sums,
when he might have sailed her into the bay himself?"
"Perhaps he never knew her value until then," I suggested.
"I wish we knew her value now," exclaimed Nares. "However,
I don't want to depress you; I'm sorry for you, Mr. Dodd; I
know how bothering it must be to you; and the best I can say's
this: I haven't taken much time getting down, and now I'm
here I mean to work this thing in proper style. I just want to
put your mind at rest: you shall have no trouble with me."
There was something trusty and friendly in his voice; and I
found myself gripping hands with him, in that hard, short
shake that means so much with English-speaking people.
"We'll do, old fellow," said he. "We've shaken down into pretty
good friends, you and me; and you won't find me working the
business any the less hard for that. And now let's scoot for
After supper, with the idle curiosity of the seafarer, we pulled
ashore in a fine moonlight, and landed on Middle Brook's
Island. A flat beach surrounded it upon all sides; and the midst
was occupied by a thicket of bushes, the highest of them
scarcely five feet high, in which the sea-fowl lived. Through
this we tried at first to strike; but it were easier to cross
Trafalgar Square on a day of demonstration than to invade
these haunts of sleeping sea-birds. The nests sank, and the
eggs burst under footing; wings beat in our faces, beaks
menaced our eyes, our minds were confounded with the
screeching, and the coil spread over the island and mounted
high into the air.
"I guess we'll saunter round the beach," said Nares, when we
had made good our retreat.
The hands were all busy after sea-birds' eggs, so there were
none to follow us. Our way lay on the crisp sand by the margin
of the water: on one side, the thicket from which we had been
dislodged; on the other, the face of the lagoon, barred with a
broad path of moonlight, and beyond that, the line, alternately
dark and shining, alternately hove high and fallen prone, of the
external breakers. The beach was strewn with bits of wreck
and drift: some redwood and spruce logs, no less than two
lower masts of junks, and the stern-post of a European ship; all
of which we looked on with a shade of serious concern,
speaking of the dangers of the sea and the hard case of
castaways. In this sober vein we made the greater part of the
circuit of the island; had a near view of its neighbour from the
southern end; walked the whole length of the westerly side in
the shadow of the thicket; and came forth again into the
moonlight at the opposite extremity.
On our right, at the distance of about half a mile, the schooner
lay faintly heaving at her anchors. About half a mile down the
beach, at a spot still hidden from us by the thicket, an upboiling
of the birds showed where the men were still (with sailor-like
insatiability) collecting eggs. And right before us, in a small
indentation of the sand, we were aware of a boat lying high and
dry, and right side up.
Nares crouched back into the shadow of the bushes.
"What the devil's this?" he whispered.
"Trent," I suggested, with a beating heart.
"We were damned fools to come ashore unarmed," said he.
"But I've got to know where I stand." In the shadow, his face
looked conspicuously white, and his voice betrayed a strong
excitement. He took his boat's whistle from his pocket. "In
case I might want to play a tune," said he, grimly, and thrusting
it between his teeth, advanced into the moonlit open; which we
crossed with rapid steps, looking guiltily about us as we went.
Not a leaf stirred; and the boat, when we came up to it, offered
convincing proof of long desertion. She was an eighteen-foot
whaleboat of the ordinary type, equipped with oars and thole-
pins. Two or three quarter-casks lay on the bilge amidships,
one of which must have been broached, and now stank
horribly; and these, upon examination, proved to bear the same
New Zealand brand as the beef on board the wreck.
"Well, here's the boat," said I; "here's one of your difficulties
"H'm," said he. There was a little water in the bilge, and here
he stooped and tasted it.
"Fresh," he said. "Only rain-water."
"You don't object to that?" I asked.
"No," said he.
"Well, then, what ails you?" I cried.
"In plain United States, Mr. Dodd," he returned, "a whaleboat,
five ash sweeps, and a barrel of stinking pork."
"Or, in other words, the whole thing?" I commented.
"Well, it's this way," he condescended to explain. "I've no use
for a fourth boat at all; but a boat of this model tops the
business. I don't say the type's not common in these waters; it's
as common as dirt; the traders carry them for surf-boats. But
the Flying Scud? a deep-water tramp, who was lime-juicing
around between big ports, Calcutta and Rangoon and 'Frisco
and the Canton River? No, I don't see it."
We were leaning over the gunwale of the boat as we spoke.
The captain stood nearest the bow, and he was idly playing
with the trailing painter, when a thought arrested him. He
hauled the line in hand over hand, and stared, and remained
staring, at the end.
"Anything wrong with it?" I asked.
"Do you know, Mr. Dodd," said he, in a queer voice, "this
painter's been cut? A sailor always seizes a rope's end, but this
is sliced short off with the cold steel. This won't do at all for
the men," he added. "Just stand by till I fix it up more natural."
"Any guess what it all means?" I asked.
"Well, it means one thing," said he. "It means Trent was a liar.
I guess the story of the Flying Scud was a sight more
picturesque than he gave out."
Half an hour later, the whaleboat was lying astern of the Norah
Creina; and Nares and I sought our bunks, silent and half-
bewildered by our late discoveries.
THE CABIN OF THE "FLYING SCUD."
The sun of the morrow had not cleared the morning bank: the
lake of the lagoon, the islets, and the wall of breakers now
beginning to subside, still lay clearly pictured in the flushed
obscurity of early day, when we stepped again upon the deck of
the Flying Scud: Nares, myself, the mate, two of the hands, and
one dozen bright, virgin axes, in war against that massive
structure. I think we all drew pleasurable breath; so profound
in man is the instinct of destruction, so engaging is the interest
of the chase. For we were now about to taste, in a supreme
degree, the double joys of demolishing a toy and playing "Hide
the handkerchief": sports from which we had all perhaps
desisted since the days of infancy. And the toy we were to
burst in pieces was a deep-sea ship; and the hidden good for
which we were to hunt was a prodigious fortune.
The decks were washed down, the main hatch removed, and a
gun-tackle purchase rigged before the boat arrived with
breakfast. I had grown so suspicious of the wreck, that it was a
positive relief to me to look down into the hold, and see it full,
or nearly full, of undeniable rice packed in the Chinese fashion
in boluses of matting. Breakfast over, Johnson and the hands
turned to upon the cargo; while Nares and I, having smashed
open the skylight and rigged up a windsail on deck, began the
work of rummaging the cabins.
I must not be expected to describe our first day's work, or (for
that matter) any of the rest, in order and detail as it occurred.
Such particularity might have been possible for several officers
and a draft of men from a ship of war, accompanied by an
experienced secretary with a knowledge of shorthand. For two
plain human beings, unaccustomed to the use of the broad-axe
and consumed with an impatient greed of the result, the whole
business melts, in the retrospect, into a nightmare of exertion,
heat, hurry, and bewilderment; sweat pouring from the face like
rain, the scurry of rats, the choking exhalations of the bilge, and
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