"You searched about for'ard for him?" he asked Lynch.
"Yes, sir; he isn't on board," the second mate answered.
"Then why are you bothering me?" the Old Man wanted to know. "If the swab is gone, he's gone. Drive the rest of them the harder to make up for his loss!"
He resumed his pacing of the poop, while Lynch went forward.
I was well enough pleased by the ending of the incident. For a moment I had feared the captain would blame me for Newman's absence. With the little squarehead's fate fresh in my mind I had no desire to foul Yankee Swope's temper.
But I could not help thinking about Newman. His going was a mystery, and, moreover, I was sorry to see the last of him. I wondered why he had not stayed. It was not fear that made him clear out; of that I was certain. What then? The lady?
I began to think about the Golden Bough's lady. To think of Newman was to think of her. I was sure she had drawn him on board the ship. Had she, then, sent him packing ashore, while I slept? What was he—a discarded lover? Was she the lass in the beggarman's yarn? Had he shipped so he might worship his beloved from the lowly foc'sle? Or was he seeking vengeance? Oh, I read my Southworth and Bulwer in those days, and had some fine ideas regarding the tender passion. I felt sure there was some romantic heart-bond between Newman and the lady.
I wondered if the lady were really so lovely, possessed of such goodness of heart, as glowing foc'sle report declared. Was she really an incarnate Mercy in this floating hell? Did she really go forward and bind up the men's hurts? Why did she not show herself on deck this fine morning? I wanted to see this angel who was wedded to a devil.
I heard her voice first, ascending through the skylight. It thrilled me. Not the words—she was but giving a direction to the Chinese steward—but the rich, sweet quality of the voice. I, the foc'sle Jack, whose ears' portion was harsh, bruising oaths, felt the feminine accents as a healing salve. They stirred forgotten memories; they sent my mind leaping backwards over the hard years to my childhood, and the sound of my mother's voice. No wonder; I had scarce once heard the mellow sound of a good woman's voice since I ran away to sea five years before, only the hard voices of hard men, and, now and then, the shrill voice of some shrew of the waterside.
She ascended from the cabin, and stepped out upon deck, and, as if moving as far as possible from the harsh voices forward, came aft and stood near the wheel. And at the first glance, I knew that foc'sle report of the lady was not overdrawn, that the most glowing description did ill justice to her loveliness.
Her age? Oh, twenty-four, perhaps. Beautiful? Aye, judged by any standard. But it was not her youth, or the trimness of her figure, or the mere physical beauty of her features that touched the hearts, and made reverent the voices of rude sailormen. No; it was something beyond, something greater, than the flesh that commanded our homage.
Once since have I seen a face that was like the face of Captain Swope's wife—in a great church in a Latin country. It was a painting of the Madonna, and the master who had painted it had given the Mother's face an expression of brooding tenderness as deep as the sea, an expression of pity and sympathy as wide as the world. You felt, as you looked at the picture, that the artist must have known life, its sufferings and sins.
It was a like expression in the face of the Captain's lady. She was no pretty lass whose sweet innocence is merely ignorance. She was a woman who had looked upon life; you felt that she had faced the black evil and hideous cruelty in a man's world, and that she understood, and forgave. You felt her soul had passed through a fierce, white heat of pain, and had emerged burned clean of dross, free of all petty rancor or hatred. It glowed in her face, this wide understanding and sympathy, looked from her eyes, and sounded in her voice, and it was this that won the worship of the desperate men and broken derelicts who peopled the Golden Bough's forecastle.
Hair? Oh, yes, she had hair, a great mass of it piled on her head, black hair. Eyes? Her eyes were blue, not the washed out blue of a morning sky, but the changing, mysterious purple-blue of deep water. She turned those wonderful eyes upon me, as I stood there at the wheel, and the red blood flushed my cheeks, while the mask of cynical hardness I had striven so hard to cultivate fled from my face. She saw through my pretence, did the lady, she saw me as I really was, a boy playing desperately at being such a man as my experience had taught me to admire. I was abashed. I was no longer a hard case with those pitying, understanding eyes upon me. I was like a lad detected in a mischief, facing my mother.
She had heard some talk in the cabin, or perhaps she had overheard Lynch's report to the Old Man, for her words showed she knew me as one of the men who had shipped in the vessel of my own will. "Why—you are only a boy!" she said, in a surprised voice. Then her face seemed to diffuse a sweet sympathy and understanding. I can't explain it, but I knew that the lady knew just why I had shipped. She looked inside of me, and read my heart—and understood! "Oh, Boy, why did you do it?" she exclaimed softly. "It is not worth it—why did you come! Listen!—do not give offense; whatever they do, show no resentment. Oh, they are hard—forget your pride, and be willing!"
She seemed about to say more, but Captain Swope interrupted. When she appeared on deck, he affected not to see her; he had paced past her twice, but not by the quiver of an eyelash had he shown himself aware of her presence. Now he suddenly paused nearby. Perhaps his sailor's sense of fitness was ruffled by the sight of her in conversation with the man at the wheel; or, more likely, his eye had noted the scene occurring forward, and he wished to force it upon her attention, because it would cause her pain.
"Ah, madam, commencing your good works so soon?" he remarked, in a soft, sneering voice. "Well, from all signs for'ard, you had better overhaul your medicine chest. You will have a patient or two to sniffle over to-morrow morning."
The lady shuddered ever so slightly at Swope's words, and her features contracted, as though with pain. Just for an instant—then she was serenity again, and she gazed forward, as Swope bade, and silently watched the mates at their work.
They were manhandling, of course. I might have found humor in the scene had not the lady just stirred the softer chords of my being. Away forward, by the foc'sle door, Mister Lynch was engaged in dressing down the Cockney. This was not a particularly interesting exhibition, though, for although the Cockney showed fight, he was clearly outmatched, and arose from the deck only to be knocked down again.
But, by the main hatch was a more interesting spectacle. There, Mister Fitzgibbon was busied with the spare, red-shirted man, he of the intelligent face and gashed skull, the man I had found so mysteriously occupying the bunk Newman had gone to bed in, and who, Lynch declared, was neither sailor, nor bum. There on the poop, we could not overhear the small man's words for Mister Fitz's shrill cursing, but he seemed to be expostulating with the mate. And he seemed intent on forcing past the mate and coming aft. He would try to run past the hatch, and Fitzgibbon would punch him and send him reeling backwards. Even as we watched, the mate seized him by the collar of his red shirt, slammed him up against the rail, and then, with a belaying pin, hazed him forward at a run.
I heard the lady sigh—and Swope chuckled. Then I noticed she was staring fixedly at the side of the cabin skylight. A few drops of the blood the Old Man had drawn from the little squarehead were splattered upon the woodwork and the deck. Silently, she regarded them, and her slight figure seemed to droop a bit. Then, with a queer little shrug, she squared her shoulders, and faced the Captain with up-tilted chin. . . . Aye, and I sensed the meaning of that little shrug, and the squared shoulders. It meant that she had picked up her Cross, and that she would courageously bear it in pain and sorrow through the dark days of the coming voyage. For I truly believe the lady suffered vicariously for every blow that bruised a sailor's flesh on board the Golden Bough!
"Yes, I must look to my medicines," she replied to Swope. "I see they will be required." There was no active hate in her voice, or in her eyes, but she looked at the man much as one looks at some loathsome yet inevitable object—a snake, or a toad. And she turned away without further words, and descended to the cabin. Swope watched her departure with a half smile parting his beard and mustache. Oh, how I longed to be able to wipe that sneer from his mouth with my clenched fist!
The Cockney relieved me at the wheel, at one bell, when the mates turned the crowd to after a short half hour for dinner. Oh, what a changed Cockney from yestereve! He came slinking meekly along the lee side of the poop. When he took over the wheel he had hardly spirit enough in him to mumble over the directions I gave him. His eyes were puffed half closed, and his lips were cut and swollen. Gone was the swanking, swaggering Cockney who had paraded before the Swede's bar. Instead there was only this cowed, miserable sailorman taking over the wheel. That Cockney had suffered a cruel double cross when he drank of the black bottle, and was hoisted over the Golden Bough's rail. Yesterday he was a great man, the "Knitting Swede's" chief bully, with the hard seafare behind him, and with unlimited rum, and an easy, if rascally, shore life ahead of him. To-day he was just a shell-back outward bound, with a sore head and a bruised body; a fellow sufferer in the foc'sle of a dreaded ship, mere dirt beneath the officers' feet. Such a fall! Keenly as I had disliked the man yesterday, to-day I was sorry for him. The more sorry because I felt that the Jocose Swede had come near having me as the butt of his little joke, instead of Cockney.
I scurried forward, intent upon dinner. I drew my whack from the Chinaman in the gallery, and bolted it down in the empty foc'sle. It was a miserable repast, a dish of ill-cooked lobscouse, and a pannikin of muddy coffee, and I reflected glumly that I had joined a hungry ship as well as a hot one.
I finished the last of that mysterious stew, and then filled and lighted my pipe. I felt sure I would be allowed the half hour dinner spell the rest of the crowd had enjoyed, and I relaxed and puffed contentedly, determined to enjoy my respite to the last minute. For the sounds from the deck indicated a lively afternoon for all hands. But something occurred to interrupt my cherished "Smoke O," something that caused me to sit up suddenly and stiffly on the bench, while my pipe fell unheeded from my slackened mouth, and an unpleasant prickle ran over my scalp and down my spine.
I have already mentioned that the Golden Bough had a topgallant forecastle; that is, the crew's quarters were away forward, in the bows of the ship, beneath the forecastle head. It was a gloomy cavern; the bright day of outdoors was a muddy light within.
Well, in the floor of the port foc'sle, wherein I was sitting, was the hatch to the forepeak, below. It was this yard square trap-door which caused my agitation. My glance fell casually upon it, and I saw it move! It lifted a hair's breadth, and I heard a slight scraping sound below.
Aye, I was startled! A rat? But I knew that even a ship rat did not grow large enough to move a trap-door. The ghost of some dead sailor-man, haunting the scene of his earthly misery? Well, I had the superstitions of a foc'sle Jack, but I knew well enough that a proper ghost would not walk abroad in the noon o' day. I stared fascinated at that moving piece of wood. It slowly lifted about an inch, and then, through the narrow slit; I saw an eye regarding me with a fixed glare. I glared back, my amazement struggling with the conviction that was oversweeping me; and then, just as I was about to speak, Bucko Lynch's voice came booming into my retreat.
"Hey, you! D'you reckon to spell-o the whole afternoon? If you've finished your scouse, out on deck with you—and lively about it!"
There was no denying that request, eye or no eye. And at the second mate's first word, the trap door dropped shut, I clattered out of the foc'sle, and to work; but I was turning that little matter of the forepeak hatch over in my mind, you bet!
It was near dusk, well on in the first dog-watch, when the mates let up with their driving, and herded all hands aft to the main deck. The forepeak hatch had rested heavily upon my mind all afternoon, and I was tingling with excitement when I went aft with the rest to face the ceremony which always concludes the first day out, the choosing and setting of the watches, and the calling of the muster roll. Something unexpected was about to happen, I felt sure.
We were a sorry looking crowd gathered there on the main deck, before the cabin, a tatterdemalion mob, with bruised bodies and sullen faces, and with hate and fright in our glowering eyes. Those few of us who were seamen possessed a bitter knowledge of the cruel months ahead, the rest, the majority, faced a fate all the more dreadful for being dimly perceived, and of which they had received a fierce foretaste that merciless day.
Captain Swope came to the break of the poop, lounged over the rail, and looked us over. In his hand he held the ship's articles. He regarded us with a sort of wicked satisfaction, seeming to draw delight from the sight of our huddled, miserable forms. Without saying a word, he gloated over us, over the puffed face of the Cockney, over the expression of desperate horror in the face of the red-shirted man, over the abject figure of the little squarehead, who had been going about all afternoon sobbing, with his hand pressed to his side, and whose face was even now twisted with a pain to which he feared to give voice. Aye, Swope stared down at us, licking his chops, so to speak, at the sight of our suffering; and we glared back at him, hating and afraid.
Then the lady appeared at the poop rail, some paces distant from the Old Man. It was heartening to turn one's eyes from the Old Man's wicked, sneering face to the face of the lady. There was sorrow in that brooding look she gave us, and pity, and understanding. She was used to looking upon the man-made misery of men, you felt, and skilled in softening it. There was a stir in our ranks as we met her gaze, a half audible murmur ran down the line, and the slackest of us straightened our shoulders a trifle. The Old Man sensed the sudden cheer amongst us, and, I think, sensed its cause, for without glancing at the lady, he drawled an order to the mate, standing just below him.
"Well, Mister Fitz, start the ball rolling—your first say."
The mate allowed his fierce, pig eyes to rove over us, and to my secret delight he passed me by. "Where's the nigger?" he said, referring to the mulatto, who was at the wheel. "The wheel? Well, he's my meat."
So the watch choosing began. Lynch promptly chose me, as he had promised he would, and I stepped over to the starboard deck. Fitzgibbon chose the Cockney, Lynch picked a squarehead—so the alternate choosing went, the mates' skilled eyes first selecting all those who showed in their appearance some evidence of sailorly experience.
"You!" said Fitzgibbon, indicating the red-shirted man, and motioning him over to the port side of the deck.
The red-shirted man, whose agitated face I had been covertly watching, instead of obeying the mate, stepped out of line and appealed to Swope. "Captain, may I speak to you now?" he asked, in a shrill, excited voice.
"Eh, what's this?" exclaimed Swope, gazing down at the fellow. He lifted his hand and checked the mate, who was already about to collar his prey. I think Swope knew just what was coming, and he found sport in the situation. "What do you want, my man?" his soft voice inquired.
A flood of agitated words poured out of the red-shirted man's mouth. "Captain—a terrible mistake—foully mistreated, all of these men foully mistreated by your officers—tried to see you and was beaten. . . ." With an effort he made his speech more coherent. "A terrible mistake, sir! I have been kidnapped on board this vessel! I am not a sailor, I do not know how I come to be here—I have been kidnapped, sir!"
"How terrible!" said Swope. "I do not doubt your word at all, my man. Anyone can see you are no sailor, but a guttersnipe. And possibly you were—er—'kidnapped,' as you call it, in company with the wharf-rats behind you."
"But, Captain—good heavens, you do not understand!" cried the man. "I am a clergyman—a minister of the Gospel! I am the Reverend Richard Deaken of the Bethel Mission in San Francisco!"
The Reverend Richard Deaken! I saw a light. I had heard of the Reverend Deaken while I was in the Swede's house. The labors of this particular sky-pilot were, it appeared, particularly offensive to crimpdom. He threatened to throw a brickbat of exposure into the camp. He was appealing to the good people of the city to put a stop to the simple and effective methods the boarding masters used to separate Jack from his money, and then barter his carcass to the highest bidder. I had heard the Swede, himself, say, "Ay ban got him before election!" And this is how the reverend gentleman had been "got"—crimped into an outward bound windjammer, with naught but a ragged red shirt and a pair of dungaree pants to cover his nakedness; and he found, when he made his disclosure of identity, that the high place of authority was occupied by a man who enjoyed and jeered at his evil plight.
For, at the man's words, the Old Man threw back his head and laughed loudly. "Ho, ho, ho! D'ye hear that, Misters? The Swede has given us a sky-pilot—a damned Holy Joe! By God, a Holy Joe on the Golden Bough! Ho, ho, ho!" Then he addressed the unfortunate man again. "So you are a Holy Joe, are you? You don't look it! You look like an ordinary stiff to me! Let me see—what did you call yourself? Deaken?" He lifted the articles, and scanned the names that represented the crew. "Deaken—hey! Well, I see no such name written here." I did not doubt that. Save my name, and Newman's, I doubted if any name on the articles could be recognized by any man present. "I see one name here, written in just such a flourishing hand as a man of your parts might possess—- 'Montgomery Mulvaney.' That is undoubtedly you; you are Montgomery Mulvaney!"
"But, Captain—" commenced the parson, desperately.
"Shut up!" snapped Swope. "Now, listen here, my man! You may be a Holy Joe ashore, or you may not be, that does not concern me. But I find you on board my vessel, signed on my articles as 'Montgomery Mulvaney, A.B.' Yet you tell me yourself you are no sailor. Well, my fancy man, Holy Joe you may be, stiff you are, but you'll be a sailor before this passage ends, or I'm not Angus Swope! Now then, step over there to port, and join your watch!"
"But, Captain—" commenced the desperate man again. Then he evidently saw the futility of appealing to Captain Swope. Abruptly, he turned and addressed the lady.
"Madam—my God, madam, can you not make him understand——"
The lady shook her head, frowned warningly, and spoke a soft, quick, sentence. "No, no—do not protest, do as they say!" Well she knew the futility of argument, and the danger to the one who argued. Indeed, even while she spoke, the mate took the parson by his shirt collar, and jerked him roughly into his place. And there he stood, by the Cockney's side, wearing an air of bewildered dismay both comic and tragic.
The mates renewed their choosing, and in a few more moments we were all gathered in two groups, regarding each other across the empty deck. There were fifteen men in the mate's watch, but, because of Newman's absence, only fourteen had fallen to Lynch.
The Old Man handed down the articles to Mister Lynch. "All right, Mister, muster them," he said. "And (addressing us generally) if you don't recognize your names, answer anyway—or we'll baptize you anew!"
Lynch held the papers before his face. I thrilled with a sudden expectancy. Something startling was going to happen, I felt it in my bones. Some clairvoyant gleam told me the forepeak hatch was wide open now.
"Answer to your names!" boomed Lynch's great voice. "A. Newman!"
"Here!" was the loud and instant response.
As one man, we swung our heads, and looked forward. Sauntering aft, and just passing the main hatch, was the man with the scar. He came abreast of us, and paused there in the empty center of the deck.
It was the lady, on the poop above, who broke the spell of silence the man's dramatic arrival had placed upon all hands. She broke it with a kind of strangled gasp. "Roy—it is Roy—oh, God!" she said, and she swayed, and clutched the rail before her as though to keep from falling. She stared down at Newman as if he were a ghost from the grave.
But it was the manner of Captain Swope which commanded the attention of all hands. He was seeing a ghost, too, an evil ghost. It was like foc'sle belief come true—this man had sold his soul to the Devil, and the Devil was suddenly come to claim his own. He, too, stared down at Newman, and clutched the rail for support, while the flesh of his face became a livid hue, and his expression one of incredulous horror.
"Where have you come from?" he said in a shrill, strained voice.
Newman's clothes and face were smutted with the grime from the peak, but his air was debonair. He answered Captain Swope airily. "Why—I come just now from your forepeak—a most unpleasant, filthy hole, Angus! And less recently, I come from my grave, from that shameful grave of stripes and bars to which your lying words sent me, Angus! I've come to pay you a visit, to sail with you. Why, I'm on your articles—I am 'A. Newman.' An apt name, a true name—eh, Angus? Come now, are you not glad to see me?"
It was unprecedented, that occurrence. A foremast hand badgering the captain on his own poop deck; badgering Yankee Swope of the Golden Bough, whilst his two trusty buckos stood by inactive and gaping. But, as I explained, there was an air about Newman that said "Hands off!" It was not so much his huge, muscular body; there was something in the spirit of the man that was respect-compelling; something lethal, a half-hidden, over-powering menace; something that overawed. He was no foc'sle Jack, no commonplace hard case; as he stood there alone, he had the bearing of a man who commanded large ships, who directed great affairs. And his bearing held inactive and over-awed those two fighting mates, while he mocked their god, Swope.
And Swope! The man became craven before Newman's upturned gaze. He was palsied with fear, stark fear. I saw the sweat beads glistening on his brow. He lifted a shaking hand and wiped them off. Then he suddenly turned and strode aft, out of our view, without a parting word to the mates, without even the time honored, "Below, the watch." In the quiet that was over us, we heard his footsteps as he walked aft. They were uncertain, like the footsteps of a drunken man. We heard them descend to the cabin.
Newman turned his gaze upon the lady. She stood there, clutching the rail. Her body seemed frozen into the attitude. But her face was alive.
Yes, alive—and not with fear or horror. There was a delight beyond the powers of description shining in her face. There was incredulity, with glad conviction overcoming it. Her eyes glowed. Her heart was in her eyes as she looked at Newman.
Newman spoke, and his voice was rich and sweet, all its harsh menace gone.
"I have come, Mary," says he.
She did not reply with words. But they looked at each other, those two, and although there were no more words, yet we gained the impression they were communing. Men and mates, we gaped, curious and tongue-tied. This was something quite beyond us, outside our experience. Bully Fitzgibbon, across the deck from me, pulled wildly at his mustache, and every movement of his fingers betrayed his bewilderment.
For what seemed a long time the man and the woman stood silent, regarding each other. The dusk, which had been gathering, crept upon us. The lady's face lost its clear outline, and became shadowy. Suddenly she turned and flitted aft. We listened to her light footsteps descending to the cabin, as, a short while before, we had listened to the Old Man's.
When sound of her had ceased, Newman, without being bidden, stepped to the starboard side and fell into line beside me.
The mate finally broke the awkward silence. Lack of the usual sting from his voice showed how the scene had shaken him.
"Well—carry on, Mister!" he said to Lynch. "Finish the mustering."
The second mate read off the list of names. With the single exception of myself, not a man responded with the usual "Here, sir." Not a man recognized his name among those called; a circumstance not to be wondered at, for the list was doubtless made up of whatever names happened to pop into the Knitting Swede's mind. But the mates did not care about responses. As soon as Lynch was finished, Fitzgibbon commanded shortly, "Relieve wheel and lookout. Go below, the watch."
We of the starboard watch went below. Newman came with us, and he walked as he afterwards walked and worked with us, a man apart.
A man apart Newman was. We instinctively recognized that fact from the beginning. When we had gained the foc'sle, the rage in our hearts found expression in bitter cursing of our luck, the Swede, the ship and the officers. But Newman did not curse, nor did we expect him to. We sensed that he was glad he was at sea in the Golden Bough, that he was there for some peculiar purpose of his own. He was, of course, the dominant personality in the foc'sle, indeed, in the ship. But, strangely enough, we did not look to him for leadership. We regarded him curiously, and with awe and some fear, but we did not look to him to lead the watch. We felt he was not one of us. His business on the ship was not our business, his aim not our aim.
Because of this aloofness of Newman, I suddenly found myself occupying the proud position of cock of the starboard watch. A foc'sle must have its leading spirit, and the cockship is a position much coveted and eagerly striven for in most ships, decided only after combat between the fighting men of the crew. But the Golden Bough had an extraordinary crew. The majority of the men in my watch were just stiffs, who possessed neither the experience nor desire to contest for leadership. The few seamen, besides myself and Newman, were squareheads, quiet peasants of Scandinavia and Germany, who felt lost and unhappy without somebody always at hand to order them about.
So, within half an hour after going below for that first time, I found myself giving orders to men and being obeyed. They were the first orders I had ever given, and, oh, they were sweet in my mouth! Think of it, my last ship I had been ordered about by the foc'sle cock. I had gone to the galley at command and fetched the watch's food. Now, scant days after, I, a fledgling able seaman, was lording it over the foc'sle of the hottest ship on the high seas, and ordering another man to go after the supper. And he went. I think I grew an inch during that dog-watch; I know my voice gained a mature note it lacked before.
I was a true son of the foc'sle, you must understand, with the habits and outlook of a barbarian. This leadership I so casually assumed may appear a petty thing, but it was actually the greatest thing that happened to me since birth. This little savage authority I commenced to exercise over my companions by virtue of the threat of my fists, was my first taste of power. It awakened in me the driving instinct, the desire to lead, and eventually placed me in command of ships; it also gave me my first sense of responsibility, without which there can be no leadership.
During the supper, and after, I found myself watching and studying my companions. For I feared that my youth might later cause someone to question my cockship, and I meant to fight for it in that event. But my scrutiny satisfied my natural confidence. There was no man in my watch I could not handle in either a rough-and-tumble or stand-up go, I thought, with the exception of Newman. He would not interfere with me—his interest lay aft, in the cabin, not in the foc'sle. In the port watch were two fighting men, my eyes had told me, the Cockney and the Nigger. If they disputed my will in foc'sle affairs, I was still confident I should prove the best man. I felt my tenure of office was secure, and that new, delicious feeling of power quite effaced, for the moment, the memory of the day, and reconciled me to the ship.
This scrutiny I gave my companions was the first chance I had to fairly size them up, and I afterwards discovered that my first impressions of them, individually and collectively, were quite correct.
We were, as you know, thirty men before the mast, fifteen to a watch. More than half of the thirty were of that class known to sailors as "stiffs." This is, they were greenhorns masquerading on the articles as able seamen. And such stiffs! The Knitting Swede must have combed the jails, and stews, and boozing kens of all San Francisco to assemble that unsavory mob.
In my watch, Newman, myself, and four square-heads could be called seamen. But the squareheads knew not a dozen words of English between them. The other nine were stiffs, various kinds of stiffs, broken men all, with the weaknesses of dissolute living stamped upon their inefficient faces.
Except two men. These two were stiffs right enough, and their faces were evil, God knows, but they plainly were not to be classed as weaklings. I noticed them particularly that first watch below because they sat apart from the wrangling, cursing gang, and whispered to each other, and stared at Newman, who was lying in his bunk.
They were medium sized men, as pallid of face as Newman, himself, and their faces gave one the impression of both slyness and force. A grim looking pair; I should not have cared to run afoul of them on the Barbary Coast after midnight. I already knew the names they called each other—the only names I ever knew them by—"Boston," for the blond fellow with the bridge of his nose flattened, and "Blackie" for the other, a chap as swarthy as a dago, with long, oily black hair, and eyes too close together.
Even as I watched, they seemed to arrive at some decision in their whispered conversation. Blackie got up from the bench and crossed over to Newman's bunk. The latter was lying with his face to the wall. Blackie placed his hand upon Newman's shoulder, leaned over, and whispered into his ear.
I saw Newman straighten out his long body. For an instant he lay tense, then he slowly turned his head and faced the man who leaned over him. On his face was the same expression of deadly menace he had shown the Cockney, back in the Swede's barroom.
Blackie could not withstand that deadly gaze. He backed hurriedly away, and sat down beside his mate. Then Newman spoke in low, measured tones, and at the first word the babel of noise stopped in the foc'sle, and all hands watched his lips with bated breath.
"I play a lone hand," he addressed the pair. "You will keep your mouths shut, and work, and play none of your deviltries in this ship unless I give the word. Otherwise—" The great scar on his forehead was blue and twitching, and his voice was deadly earnest. He did a thing so expressive it made me shudder. He lifted his hand, and carelessly placed his forefinger on the outer side of his bunk, and when he lifted it, two of the myriad cockroaches that infested the foc'sle were mashed fiat on the board.
Blackie's face set sullenly, and the angry blood darkened his cheeks. Boston wriggled uneasily on his seat, and cleared his throat as though about to speak. But, at the instant, Lynch's booming voice came into the foc'sle, calling the watch on deck, and putting an abrupt end to the scene.
There was an immediate scramble for the exit to the deck. Aye, the mates had put the fear of the Lord—and themselves—into us, and we were all eager to show how willing we were! But I heard Fitzgibbon without, as well as Lynch, and, from the gossip I had heard at the Swede's, I suspected the foc'sle was about to be introduced to the orthodox hell-ship manner of turning to the watch. Both mates would meet us coming up, and the first man on deck would get a clout for not being sooner, and the last man a boot for being a laggard.
So I held back, and allowed another the honor of being first through the door.
This honor was seized by none other than Blackie. I suppose he was anxious to escape from Newman's disturbing gaze; anyhow, at the second mate's first summons, he bounded from the bench, and tumbled through the door. I followed immediately after, and saw my suspicions confirmed.
Mister Fitz was holding a lantern, and Mister Lynch had his hands free for business. He met Blackie's egress with a careless jab of his fist that up-ended the unfortunate stiff, and the injunction, "Hearty, now, you swabs! Lay aft!"
I quickly sidestepped out of the second mate's range, in case he should aim a blow at me, and started to obey the command to lay aft. But I had taken but a step when I was arrested by Blackie's action.
Instead of adopting the sensible course of meekness under insult, Blackie rebounded from the deck and flew at Lynch. In the light cast by Mister Fitz's lantern, I saw the gleam of a knife blade in Blackie's hand. I suppose the anger that Newman's words had raised exploded beneath Lynch's blow, and caused his mad rashness.
But Bully Lynch made nothing of the assault. "Ah, would you!" I heard him say as Blackie closed with him, and then the knife-hand went up in the air, and the weapon fell upon the deck. "I'll teach you!" said Lynch, and he commenced to shower blows upon the man. Blackie screamed curses, and fought back futilely. Lynch commented in a monotone with each of his thudding blows, "Take that—that—that." Soon he knocked Blackie cold, across the forehatch. Then he turned to us who were clustered outside the foc'sle door, watching. "Aft, with you! Jumping, it is, now!"
Aft, we went, and jumping, too, with the mate's laugh in our ears.
I had the second trick at the wheel that watch, from ten o'clock till midnight. I came panting and sweating to the task, keenly relishing the chance of resting. For there was to be no "farming" away the night watches in the Golden Bough; the second mate had kept us upon the dead run from one job to another, and I sensed this was the routine of the ship.
It was a fine, clean smelling night of moon and stars, and brisk breeze. The wind had freshened since day, and the vessel was stepping out and showing the paces that made her famous. She had an easy helm; one of those rare craft that may be said to steer herself. I had time to think, and receive impressions, as I half lounged at the wheel. The round moon brightened the world, the west pyramids of canvas above me bellied taut, the cordage wrung a stirring whistle from the wind, the silver spray cascaded on the weather deck. I watched the scene with delight, drank in the living beauty of that ship, and felt the witchery the Golden Bough practiced upon sailors' minds steal over and possess me. Aye, she was a ship! I was soon to curse my masters, and the very day I was born, but never, after that night, did I curse the ship. I loved her. I felt the full force that night of a hoary sea axiom, "Ships are all right. 'Tis the men in them."
I was surprised not to see Captain Swope upon the poop. According to the gossip I had heard at the Knitting Swede's, this eight to twelve watch was Yankee Swope's favorite prowling time. But he did not appear; indeed, he had not shown himself since he had so ignominiously surrendered the deck to Newman. I was not disappointed. I shouldn't have cared if he remained below the entire voyage.
But I did see the lady that watch. When Mister Lynch, and his familiars (of whom more anon), had gone forward to a job, she suddenly stepped out of the companion hatch and flitted aft towards me. Then, when she was close enough to discern my features by the reflection from the binnacle lights, she stopped. I heard a sort of gasping sigh that meant, I knew, disappointment, and she moved over to the rail, and stood staring at the sea.
I knew what was wrong. She had, in the darkness, mistaken my very respectable bulk for Newman's gigantic body. She had expected to find Newman at the wheel; she was eager for a private word with him.
I watched her, with my head half turned on my shoulder. Aye, but it thrilled me, the sight of her! You will call me a romantic young fool, but it was not that. It was no thrill of desire, no throb of passion for her beauty, though she was fair enough, in all faith, as she stood there in the moonlight. It was something bigger, something deeper, a wave of sympathy and pity that surged through my being, a feeling I had never before felt during my savage young life. A pretty pass, you say, when the ignorant foc'sle Jack pities the captain's wife? Aye, but the very beasts of the field might have pitied the wife of Yankee Swope.
Her body seemed so slender and childlike. Too fine and dainty to hold the woe of a hell-ship, and, Heaven knew, what private sorrow besides. She did not know I was observing her, or else her great trouble caused her to forget my presence, for she suddenly buried her face in her hands, and her shoulders commenced to heave. It stabbed me to the quick, the sight of that noiseless grief. My eyelids smarted, and my throat bulged uncomfortably. What was her trouble? Swope? Had he hurt her? Was the talk I had heard at the Swede's correct, did that black devil beat the lady? My hands grasped the wheel spokes fiercely, as though I had Swope's sleek throat between my fingers.
I heard Mister Lynch coming aft. I thought the lady would not wish him to see her weeping, and since she did not seem to hear the approach, I called softly to her, "Lady! They come!"
She straightened, and, after a second, came swiftly to me. She bent her face within the narrow radius of the binnacle lights, and her eyes looked straight into mine. Aye, and the misery and suffering I saw in those great eyes!
"God bless you, boy," she whispered. "You are his friend? Tell him I come forward in the morning. Tell him—for my sake—as he loves his life—to look behind him when he walks in the dark!"
With that she turned and sped to the hatch, and was gone below. And up the poop ladder tramped Lynch, with the two tradesmen following him.
I have mentioned these two familiars of the second mate before, and I had better explain them.
The Golden Bough carried neither junior officers, nor bo'suns, an unusual circumstance, considering the size and character of her crews. Instead, she carried two sailmakers and two carpenters, and these tradesmen lived by themselves in the round-house, ate aft at a special table, and, save when emergency work prevented, stood watch and watch. They stood their night watches aft, with the officer on deck. This arrangement—unique in all my sea experience—provided three men, awake, armed and handy, throughout the night. It worried us a good deal, this arrangement, when, in due time, we began to talk of mutiny.
But I was not talking, or even thinking, of mutiny this night, or for many nights. Nothing was further from my thoughts. Mutiny is a serious business, a hanging business, the business of scoundrels, or the last resort of desperate men. I knew the consequences of mutiny, so did the others, squareheads and stiffs, and we had not been sufficiently maltreated to make us ripe for such an undertaking.
But there was mutiny in the air on the Golden Bough from that very first day or the voyage. I was soon to learn that there was plenty of rebellious spirit forward, and shrewd, daring fellows eager to lead, because of piratical greed. Also, she was a hell-ship. It was part of a hell-ship's routine to thump the crew to the raw edge of mutiny, and keep them there.
You must understand the Golden Bough, and to understand her you must understand the knock-down-and-drag-out system in vogue on board a good many American ships of that day, and later. A hell-ship was not just the result of senseless brutality on the part of the officers. She was the product of a system. The captain rode high in his owner's esteem when he could point to the golden results of his stern rule at sea; the bucko mates were specifically hired to haze the crew, and drew extra large pay for the job.
It was, of course, a matter of dollars. If the owners did not have to pay wages to the crew, they would save money, wouldn't they? I suppose some sleek-jowled, comfortable pillar of church and society first thought of it, and whispered it into his skipper's ear. And the skipper whispered it to his mates, and they made that ship so hot the crew cleared out at the first port or call, leaving their wages behind. So was the hell-ship born.
For instance: We were thirty men before the mast in the Golden Bough, signed on for the voyage at $25 a month. Of course, we didn't get any of this wage until the voyage was completed, until the vessel returned to an American port. Think of the saving to the owners if we deserted in Hong Kong. They would have no labor bill, practically, for working the ship from America to China, no labor bill during the months ere she was ready for sea again. Then when ready to leave Hong Kong, Swope would ship a new crew, haze them as we were being hazed, and they would clear out at the next port.
That system worked. It was a money saver, and lasted till the ascendency of steam, and the passage of tardy laws, ended it. Why, some skippers—like Yankee Swope—-boasted they never paid off a crew. Talk about efficiency, and reducing overhead costs! Some of those old windjammer skippers could swap yarns with these factory experts of to-day, I tell you!
Of course, not all American ships, or even a majority of them, adopted this system. But enough did to give American ships an evil name among sailors that has endured to the present day.
And this evil name helped sustain the system. It completed a kind of vicious circle. The crew ran away from the hell-ship, and spread the evil fame of the vessel over the five oceans. Sailors then would not willing ship in her—save, of course, a few adventuresome young fools, like myself, who sought glory—and the skipper found himself putting to sea with a mob of stiffs in his foc'sle.
Often he had trouble getting stiffs. In some ports, where the crimping system was not developed, the hell ship waited for months for a crew. In other ports, like San Francisco, where the boarding master's will was the law of sailortown, the captain paid over his blood money, and the boarding master delivered him his crew, drunk, drugged and sandbagged. When he got to sea he would find his crew composed chiefly of the very scum of the waterside, a mode of unlicked, lawless ruffians, and his bucko mates would need all their prowess to keep them subordinate. Hazing such a mob was the only way to manage them. Also, it made them run away and leave their wages behind.
But there were degrees of "heat" in the hell-ships. The bucko mates usually contented themselves with working the men at top speed, depriving them of their afternoon watches below, and thumping the stiffs, because they were lubberly at their work. This treatment was sufficiently severe to produce the desired results. This was normal hell-ship style. The few sailors, in the crew, providing they were willing, rarely received more than verbal abuse.
Now, brutality feeds upon itself. Some officers, after living under the system for a time, became perfect fiends. They came to enjoy beating up men. In some ships, the dressing down of the crew was a continuous performance, and sailors, as well as stiffs, caught it.
As in the Golden Bough. God's truth, there was blood spilt every watch! Always, after the first day out, did the foc'sle bunks contain a miserable wretch or two laid up because of a manhandling.
Yet we of the starboard watch were comparatively lucky. Mister Lynch, our officer, was what I may call a normal bucko. He hazed for the results rather than for the pleasure of hazing, though I think he did get some satisfaction out of thumping the men. You feel a fine thrill when you see a half dozen huskies cringe away before you with fear in their eyes. I imagine it is the same thrill a wild animal tamer feels as he faces his beasts. I felt this fascinating sensation many times after I had become a mate of ships. Lynch had no mercy on the stiffs of our watch; he hammered the rudiments of seamanship into them with astonishing speed. He cuffed a knowledge of English into the squareheads. But he kept his hands off Newman and me, not because he was afraid of us—I don't think Lynch feared anything—but because we knew our work and did it. Oh, I got mine, and with interest, in the Golden Bough, but not from Lynch.
The mate was a different type. He was all brute, was Fitzgibbon, and sailors and stiffs alike caught it from him. A natural bully, and, like most such, at heart craven.
Lynch used his bare fists upon the men, Fitz used brass knuckles. I don't think Lynch ever bothered to carry a gun in the daytime. Fitzgibbon never stirred on deck without a deadly bulge in his coat pocket. Lynch stalked among us by night or day, alone, and unafraid. After dark, the mate never stirred from the poop unless Sails and Chips were at his heels. Lynch was a bluff, hard man; Fitzgibbon was a cruel, sly beast.
And Swope! Well, I cannot explain or judge his character. It would take a medical man to do that, I think. He was his two mates rolled into one, plus brains. He had fed a certain strong Sadistic element in his nature until inflicting pain upon others had become his chief passion. I can imagine his perverted soul living in former lives—as a Familiar of the Inquisition, or the red-clad torturer of some medieval prince. But explain him, no. I will tell his ending, you may judge.
But, of course, I was not musing upon the economy of hell-ships, or the characters of bucko mates, during the balance of that trick at the wheel. The lady's message to Newman possessed my mind.
When I went forward at eight bells, I immediately called Newman aside, and delivered her words. He listened in silence, and his face grew soft. He squeezed my hand, and whispered somewhat brokenly, "Thank you, Jack"—an exhibition of emotion that startled as much as it pleased me, he being such a stern man.
Then, when I repeated the latter part of the lady's message, "Tell him . . . to look behind him when he walks in the dark," his features hardened again, and I heard him mutter, "So, that is his game!"
"What is?" I asked.
He did not answer for a moment, and I turned away towards my bunk. But at that he reached out a detaining hand.
"You are a big man, Shreve," he said. "Not such a difference in our sizes but that a man might mistake us after dark. Keep your weather eye lifted, lad; you, too, must look behind when you walk in the dark."
"And what shall I look for?" asked I.
"Death," he said.
Came morning, but not the lady.
And the foc'sle was in sad need of her ministrations. Quite half the crew needed salves and bandages for their bruises and cuts, and there was, besides, a more serious case demanding attention.
When the starboard watch was called at four o'clock, we heard a low, insistent moaning in the port foc'sle. The man who called us said that the little squarehead—the lad Swope had manhandled—had again fallen afoul the masters. The hurts Swope had inflicted prevented the boy moving about as quickly as Mister Fitzgibbon desired, so the bucko had laid him out and walked upon him during the mid-watch. When he was through, the lad had crawled on his hands and knees into the foc'sle, and collapsed.
By eight o'clock in the morning, when the starboard watch went below again, we found the poor chap daft, and babbling, and on fire with fever. The mate gave up his efforts to arouse him, and admitted to Lynch that "the damn little stock fish is a bit off color. Needs a dose o' black draught."
After breakfast, Newman and I stepped into the port foc'sle. The squareheads of our watch were already there, sitting gloomily about, or clumsily attempting to make the injured youth more comfortable.
He looked bad, no mistake. Newman shook his head, gravely, as we turned away.
"It is a task for her," he said to me. "She has the healing gift. The boy is badly hurt."
A growled curse took my answer from me. It came from one of the squareheads, from Lindquist, a sober, bearded, middle-aged man, the one man among them who could manage a few words of English conversation.
"Koom vrom mine town," he said, indicating the tossing form in the bunk.
His blue eyes had a worried, puzzled expression, and his voice bespoke puzzled wrath. It was evident his slow moving peasant's mind was grappling with the bloody fact of a hell-ship. It was something new in his experience. He was trying to fathom it. Why were he and his mates thumped, when they willingly did their work? What for? "Nils iss goot boy," he said to us. "So hard he vork, ja." Then he bent over the bunk and resumed the application of his old folk remedy, the placing of wetted woolen socks upon Nils' forehead.
Before the foc'sle door, we found our mob of stiffs, nursing their hurts, and watching the cabin. For, as all the world of ships knew, this was the time of day the lady came forward on her errand of mercy. They were a sorry-looking mob, as sore of heart as of body.
It was not so much medical attention the stiffs wanted, I think, as sympathy. Bruises and lacerations, so long as they didn't keep a man off his feet, were lightly regarded in that tough crowd. But the lady's sweet, sane being was a light in the pall of brutality that hung over the ship. She was something more than woman, or doctor, to those men; in her they saw the upper world they had lost, the fineness of life they had never attained. They had all felt the heartening influence of her presence at the muster; they craved for it now as thirsty men crave for water. They were men in hell, and through the lady they had a vision of heaven.
Two bells went, and then three, and the lady did not come. At last Wong, the Chinese steward, came forward.
"All slick man go aft," says he. "Lady flix um."
"Is she not coming forward?" asked Newman.
"No can do. Slick man lay aft."
"What have you there?" I demanded, for he bore a glass filled with liquid.
"Dosey. Mlissa Mate, him say give slick man inside," and he pointed into the foc'sle.
Newman ripped out an oath. "Give it here. A bonesetter, not a dose of physic is needed in there."
He reached out his hand, and Wong obediently surrendered the glass. He surrendered something else. I was standing by Newman's side, and, saw the piece of paper that passed into his hand with the tumbler.
Newman's face remained as impassive as the Chinaman's own. He sniffed of the draught, made a wry face and tossed it, glass and all, over the side into the sea. Then he turned on his heel and went into the foc'sle. Wong went aft, followed by most of the watch.
I went after Newman. He was sitting on the edge of his bunk, musing, and the note was open upon his knee. He handed it to me to read.
It was just a strip of wrapping paper, hastily scribbled over in pencil. But the handwriting was dainty and feminine. It was from the lady, plainly enough, even though no name was signed.
"We have quarreled, and he has forbidden me to leave the cabin, or go forward this voyage. He is drinking, he is desperate—oh, Roy, be careful, he is capable of anything. I know him now. Do not come aft with the sick."
I looked at Newman inquiringly. But he said nothing to supplement the note. He took it from me, lighted a match, and burned it up. I guessed he was disappointed, that he had counted upon the lady coming forward.
"And did the little dear write? And what did she say," drawled an unpleasant voice behind us.
I swung about with a start, and saw Boston and Blackie lying in their bunks, one above the other. Boston had spoken, but they were both eyeing Newman.
The dangerous light came into Newman's face. "Mind your own business!" he said, shortly.
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence, broken by Boston, with a wheedling note in his voice.
"Aw, say, Big 'Un, don't get horstile. We didn't mean to horn in. We just want to be friends; we feel hurt, Blackie an' me, at the way you're giving us the go by. We're all on the dodge together, ain't we? And we got a rich lay, I tell you! Blackie and me has it all figured out, but we need you to lead, Big 'Un. What d'ye want to pal with that cub for, when two old friends like Blackie an' me are ready and willing to work for you? We got a rich lay, I tell you!"
"Damn your thieving schemes," said Newman.
"Aw, now, bring the cub in, if you like," persisted Boston. "He's a game 'un."
Blackie, the hot-headed, spoke up, resentfully. He lifted his battered face on his elbow, and lisped through the gap Lynch's fist had made in his teeth. "Number seven hundred and three wasn't so finicky about his pals the time he jumped the dead line, and ditched the Big House!"
Newman crossed the foc'sle with one catlike bound. He got Blackie by the throat and yanked him from the bunk. Then he shook him, and threw him into the farther corner.
"There will be no scheme set on foot from this foc'sle, save the one I father," he told the pair in his cool, level voice. "I gave you your answer last night. Now, if you two come between me and my goal, in this ship, as God lives, I'll kill you!"
With that, he swung about and stepped into the port foc'sle.
"Come on, Shreve," he said to me, over his shoulder. "Lend a hand. You and I must attend to this boy."
Presently I was standing by Nils' bunk, together with the squareheads, marveling at the gentleness with which Newman's huge hands handled the sufferer. It was an exhibition of practiced skill. The feeling was strong on me that moment that Newman had gained this skill in no foc'sle, but in a cabin, where as master he had doctored his own sick.
But, after all, he was no surgeon, and there was little he could do for the lad. Newman undressed him—the squareheads had not been able to accomplish this feat, because of the pain their rough handling caused—and bared the poor broken body to view. The squareheads cursed deeply and bitterly at the sight of the shocking bruises on the white flesh. Nils was delirious, staring up at us with brilliant, unseeing eyes, and babbling in his own lingo.
"He say, mudder, mudder," commented Lindquist in a choked voice. "I know his mudder."
Newman explored the hurts with his finger, and his gentle touch brought gasps of agony. His face grew very grave. Then he ripped up a blanket, and with my assistance, skillfully bandaged Nils about the body.
When he was through, he looked Lindquist in the eyes, and shook his head.
"So?" said Lindquist. His eyes, so stupid and dull a while before, were blazing now. Aye, it was evident his law-abiding mind had arrived at a lawless decision; his lowering face boded no good for the brute who had maltreated his young friend. "Gott, if he die!" he said. It was a full-mouthed promise to avenge, that sentence.
As we left, I became aware that Boston and Blackie had followed Newman and me, and had witnessed the scene. Said Boston to his mate, in a low voice that I just caught,
"If the kid croaks we'll have the squareheads with us."
Captain Swope did not emerge from the cabin that day, nor the next day, nor the next. But we obtained plain confirmation of the lady's word he was drinking, when, every morning the Chinese cabin boy brought empty bottles out on deck and heaved them overboard. Whereat, all the thirsty souls forward clicked their tongues and swore.
But this interim, during which Yankee Swope stayed below, and moped and drank, was, you may be sure, no peaceful period for the foc'sle. The Golden Bough's mates could be trusted to hustle the crowd whether or not the skipper's eyes were upon them. There was bloody, knock-about work with belaying pin and knuckles, while the ship settled down into deep sea form, and the mob of stiffs learned to keep out of its own way and hand the right rope when yelled at.
Since leaving port, the Golden Bough had been standing a southerly course, on a port tack. Now, on the third day, the wind hauled around aft, and came on us from the nor'east, as a freshening gale. We squared away, and went booming down before it, true clipper style. By nightfall it was blowing hard, and the kites were doused.
The night came down black as coal tar, with an overcast sky, and lightning playing through the cloud in frequent, blinding flashes. My watch had the deck from eight to twelve, and Mister Lynch (and his satellites, Chips and Sails) kept us hustling fore and aft, sweating sheets, and taking a heave at this and that.
Few watches in my life stand out so sharply in my memory. And it was not the near tragedy that concluded it that so impressed my mind; it was the sailing. For Lynch was cracking on, and there was no faint-hearted skipper interfering with his game. Indeed, had Swope been on deck before the hour when he did come up, I do not think he would have protested. This reckless sailing was what made half the fame of the Golden Bough. It was said that Yankee Swope sailed around Cape Stiff with padlocks on his topsail sheets! And this night we showed the gale the full spread of her three t'gan's'ls, and the ship raced before the wind like a frightened stag.
Oh, I had seen sailing before. I had been in smart ships, had run my Easting down in southern waters more than once, had made the eastern passage of the Western Ocean with the winter storm on my back the whole distance. But this night was my introduction to the clipper style, where the officers banked fifty per cent on their seamanship, to avert disaster, and fifty per cent on blind chance that the top hamper would stand the strain. An incautious system? Aye, but cautious men did not sail those ships.
It was so dark we had to feel our way about the decks. I could not see the upper canvas, but I could imagine it standing out like curved sheet iron. Every moment I expected to hear the explosion of rent canvas, or the rattle of falling gear on the deck. Not I alone thought so, for once when Chips and Sails went to windward of me, I heard Sails bawl to his companion,
"He'll have the spars about our ears before the hour is out!"
"Not he," responded Chips. "Trust Lynch and his luck!"
True enough. The hour passed, and another, and Lynch still carried on without mishap. Indeed, the wind had moderated a bit.
Throughout the watch I kept close by Newman's side. That warning, to look behind me in the dark, had by no means escaped my mind. When we came on deck, Newman said to me, "A good night for a bad job, Jack! Keep your eyes open!" Small advice on such a night, when a man could not have seen his own mother, stood she two feet distant!
That warning had puzzled me, and I did not dare question Newman concerning it. He was not the kind of man one could question. But what was likely to lurk in the dark? "Death," said he. Did that mean he feared a stealthy assassination, a knife thrust from the dark? Did he think that Captain Swope was planning the cold-blooded murder of an able seaman?
There was the question. In one way, it opposed my reason. Of course, this was a hell-ship, and murder might very well take place on board. But that the captain should deliberately plot the removal of a foc'sle hand! Able seamen were not of such importance in a hell-ship.
Yet Newman was more than a foremast hand. God knew who he was, or what his business in the ship, but it was plain he was Swope's enemy, and there was a private feud between them. His mere appearance had caused the Old Man to run below, and remain hidden for three days! . . . There was the lady. She was Newman's friend. She knew the Old Man's moods, and she was positive about it. The warning was doubtless well founded, I concluded. And Newman was my friend, my chum for the voyage, I hoped. If there were danger for him in the dark, it were well his friend stayed handy by. So, throughout that black watch, I stuck as close as possible to his elbow.
Six bells went when the watch was forward at a job. Suddenly, down the wind, came a dear, musical hail, from aft.
"B'Gawd, the Old Man's on deck!" ejaculated Lynch to his assistants. Then he bellowed aft, "Yes, sir?"
"Reef t'gan's'l's, Mister!" came the command.
"Eh!" blankly exclaimed Lynch. "Now, what is he up to?" But he yelled back his acknowledgment, "Reef t'gan's'ls, sir!"
When the sails were clewed up, Newman and I were ordered aloft on the mizzen. The stiffs were useless aloft on such a night, and the fore and main were given the handful of squareheads and the two tradesmen.
When we jumped for the sheer pole we passed within a foot of a figure lounging across the rail at the poop break, and we knew it was Swope. There had been no word from him since the initial order.
It was so dark we did not see his face. As we swung up into the mizzen rigging, Newman shouted words in my ear that I knew the wind carried to the captain.
"The devil is abroad, Jack, and there is hell to pay!"
And when we had gained the yardarm, he added, "It is coming, Jack; one hand for yourself and one for the ship!"
But he did not act upon the advice himself. No more did I. Indeed, one needs both arms and a stout back to pass reef points. We leaned into the work, put our united brawn into it, and progressed briskly. All the while I stared beneath me, into the whistling, inky void, trying to discern that spot on the deck below, where the braces that held this yard steady were made fast. I felt this lofty spot was no healthful abiding place for Newman and me. I had a premonition of what was coming!
Yet, when it did come, I was caught unawares. I felt the wood I leaned on draw suddenly away from me. There came a jerk that nigh snapped my neck. My feet left the foot rope, and I was falling, head foremost, into the blackness. They said I screamed loudly. I was not conscious I opened my mouth.
It is strange, the trick a thing like that can play with one's senses. I seemed to be falling for moments, an immeasurable distance. Actually, the whole thing occurred in about a second's space, and my feet just about cleared the yardarm when Newman's grip fastened upon my ankle.
My face was buried in the smothering folds of the threshing sail; then Newman had drawn me up until my body balanced on the yard. A second later my feet were again on the foot rope, and my hands fastened for dear life to the jackstay.
I was conscious of using my voice then. Aye—but I swore! "By heaven, he let go the port brace!" I yelled to Newman.
For answer, Newman grabbed me around the waist, just as a fork of lightning zigzagged through the sky. For the briefest instant, the ship stood out in a bright light. Far below us, on the deck, we saw Captain Swope standing, looking up at us. Then blackness again. I felt myself for a second time jerked clear of my foothold—to immediately wrap my limbs about a wire rope. For Newman had leaped for a backstay, as the yard swung close, and carried me with him.
For a moment we hung there, one above the other, then we commenced to slide to the deck. Mister Lynch's voice came booming up to us, and we saw the light of a lantern bobbing about. A moment later we clattered off the poop, on to the main deck.
A group was bunched together in the lee of the cabin, Captain Swope, and Lynch and the tradesmen. Lynch carried the lighted hurricane lamp that hung handy in a sheltered nook during the night. Forward, a respectful distance, the stiffs of the watch made a vague blot in the gloom. As, we came down the poop ladder a voice I recognized as Boston's called to us from this last group, "He tried to get you, Big 'Un!" So I knew that the lightning flash had revealed to the watch what it had revealed to us.
"The brace was slipped," said Newman to Lynch.
"I know," replied the second mate, shortly. There was contempt in his voice, and I knew, when I looked at his grim, disdainful face, that he had had no hand in the affair. Bucko Lynch might kill a man in what he considered the line of duty, but snapping men off a yardarm was not his style. But I also knew that he was an officer of an American ship, and would consider it his duty to back up his captain no matter what villainy the latter attempted.
Swope smiled sweetly at us. One might think that a man, even a ship's autocrat, when detected in an attempt at cold-blooded murder, would make some specious explanation of his act. Not Swope. No hypocritical contrition showed in the face the lantern lighted; rather, a cool, pitiless inhumanity that squeezed my bowels, even while rage surged within me.
We had understood that Swope was drunk for the past three days, but the smiling features showed no mark of his dissipation. Neither did he exhibit any of the fear he had shown at Newman's sudden appearance the other afternoon. It was plain that Captain Swope had taken heartening counsel with himself regarding the danger he might incur from Newman's presence on board. Whatever was the mysterious feud between the two, Swope had the upper hand. He rested secure in the knowledge of his power as captain, in his knowledge of Newman's helplessness as a mere foremast hand.
And so he smiled, and said musingly, and distinctly, to Newman, "A miss is as good as a mile, eh? But it is a long passage!" The cool insolence of it! God's truth, it chilled me, this careless confession of the deed, and threat of what the future held. And then, as though to remove the last possible doubt in our minds that the slipping of the brace was an accident, that the whole job of striking sail was but a pretext to get Newman aloft, Swope turned to the second mate.
"I think she'll stand it, Mister," he said. "You may as well shake out the t'gan's'l's again!"
I went below after that watch with the thought of mutiny stirring in the back of my mind. But in the back, not the front, mind you. For mutiny on a ship is a dreadful business, as I, a sailor, well knew. A neck-stretching business! Yet there the thought was, and it stuck, and pecked ever more insistently at my consciousness as the days passed.
Of course, I was wild with rage at Swope's attempt. And I was anxious on Newman's account. You see, I looked upon him as my chum, and—had he not saved my life, up there, on the yard? It is true, there were none of the usual manifestations of foc'sle friendship between us; we did not swap tobacco, and yarns, and oaths. Newman did not permit such intimacy; always he was a man apart, a marked man. But, from the very first, the man's personality dominated me, and, after that night on the yardarm, I felt a passionate loyalty to him. He was not insensible to my friendliness, I knew; he welcomed it, and found comfort in it.
If he had come to me that night, or afterwards, with a scheme for taking the ship, I should have joined in straightway, no matter how harebrained it might seem. But, of course, he did no such thing. Indeed, he never mentioned the incident to me, after we left the deck that night. For all of him, it might never have happened. And, you may be sure, I did not intrude upon his reserve with queries, or reminiscence.
Nor did the rest of the watch approach him. Rather did they avoid him, as a dangerous person. With that thought of rebellion in my mind, I watched my watchmates that night with more tolerance than my eyes had yet shown them. I wanted to judge what stuff was in them.
The stiffs whispered together and eyed us furtively. I did not like the stuff I saw in them. Rough, lawless, held obedient only by fear, the scum of the beach—I did not like to imagine them sweeping along the decks with restraint cast aside, and passions unleashed. The squareheads were a different kind. Good men and sailors, here, but men whose habit of life was submission. Yet, I saw they were gravely disturbed by what had taken place on deck. No wonder. I knew their minds. "Who is safe in this ship?" they thought. "Who, now, may go aloft feeling secure he will reach the deck again, alive and unhurt?" Those squareheads had proof of the mate's temper in the person of their young landsman, lying broken in his bunk. Now, they had proof of the skipper's temper.
My eyes met those of Boston and Blackie, eyeing me speculatively, and the contact brought my musing to a sharp turn. What did Boston and Blackie think of it? I could tell from their bearing that, for some reason, they were pleased. I thought of them as fighting material—and did not relish the thought. Fighters, yes, but foul fighters. I did not like to think of being leagued with them in an enterprise. And what was this "rich lay" they spoke of? What was this game they were willing I should enter? Did they, too, think mutiny?
These thoughts plagued me for days, and I found no answer, or peace of mind. Hell was preparing in that ship, I felt it in my bones; and we were getting enough hell already, with drive, drive, drive, from dawn to dawn. Yet, there were rifts in the clouds.
For one thing, Lynch quieted my mind of the fear that the Old Man would again get Newman aloft at night, and attempt his life with better success. The very next day, Lynch came to the foretop, where Newman and I were working on the rigging. He examined the work, and then said, abruptly, to Newman,
"I had nothing to do with that affair last night."
"I know you had not," answered Newman.
"I give you warning—he intends to get you," continued the second mate. "But he'll not get you that way in my watch. From now on, you need not go aloft after dark."
"Thank you, sir," said Newman.
"You need not," was the response. "I'm not doing this for your sake. Well—you understand. And make no mistake, my man, as to my position; I am a ship's officer, and if trouble comes it will find me doing my duty by my captain's side."
"There will be no trouble if I can prevent it, sir," was Newman's reply.
"Then you have your work cut out for you. You—understand?"
"Yes, I understand," said Newman.
I watched Mister Lynch leap nimbly to the deck, and go striding aft, a fine figure of a man. "Why, he's on the square!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, he is not like the others," said Newman. "She says his heart is clean."
She says! Well, it was hardly news to me. I was sure he was in communication with her. He always made it a point to meet Wong, the steward, when the latter came forward to the galley. And there were times in the night watches below when his bunk was empty. He was a great hand for pacing the deck in lonely meditation, and for stowing himself away and brooding alone in odd corners. We did not spy upon him, or force ourselves upon him, you may be sure. Not upon Newman.
The lady was, we understood, forbidden by the Old Man to come forward. The daily visits to our dogs' kennel, dispensing cheer and mercy, and for which she was famous the world around, were to be denied us this voyage. Because of Newman's presence. We missed the visits; they would have brightened the cruel days. But I don't think any man felt resentful against Newman. Our sympathies were all with the lady, and the lady's feelings, we knew, were all with Newman. So it was upon Yankee Swope's unheeding head we rained our black curses.
The lady was doing what she could to aid us. She held, every morning, a levee in the cabin for the lame and sick, all who could drag themselves aft, and tended them skillfully. But this did not help the bedridden ones. It did not help young Nils.
But nothing could have helped Nils. The bucko had done his work too well. Not once did the boy rally; daily and visibly his life ebbed.
You must understand the callous indifference of the afterguard to realize its effect upon the foc'sle. The boy lay dying for weeks, and not once did the Captain come forward to look at him. Medicines and opiates were sent forward by the lady, but, though they eased the chap, they were powerless to salvage his wrecked body. Newman said Nils' ribs were sticking into his lungs.
Lindquist went aft to ask permission to move the boy to the cabin, where the lady could nurse him. Swope blackguarded the man, and Fitzgibbon kicked him forward. Lynch ignored the very existence of Nils—-the lad was not of his watch, and the whole matter was none of his business. But Mister Fitz came into the port foc'sle every day, to make sure Nils could not stand on his feet and turn to; and on deck he would sing out to his watch that Nils' fate was the fate of each man did he not move livelier. "Jump, you rats! I'll put you all in your bunks!" he would tell them.
The sight of their young landsman in agony stirred the berserk in the squareheads of the crew. It made them ripe for revolt, drove them to lawless acts, as their shanghaiing and the brutality of the officers could not have done.
These squareheads were no strangers to each other. They were all friends and old shipmates. The Knitting Swede had crimped them all out of a Norwegian bark, plied them with drink, and put them on board the Golden Bough after he had promised to find them a high-waged coasting ship.
Young Nils was a sort of mascot in this crowd. He was making his first deep-water voyage under their protection and guidance. Most of them were his townsmen; they had known him from babyhood. As Lindquist said to me, his blue eyes filled with pain and rage, "I know his mudder. When Nils ban so high, I yump him by mine knee." So it was that rage over the pitiful fate of their dear friend fanned into flame a spark of rebellion in the squarehead's disciplined souls, and caused them, eventually, to leap the barriers of race and caste prejudice and make common cause with the stiffs.
Now, I do not wish to idealize those stiffs. No use saying they were honest workingmen kidnaped to sea. They were not. They were just what the mates called them—dogs, scum, vile sweeps of jail and boozing-ken. With the single exception of the shanghaied parson, there was not a decent man in the lot. Bums and crooks, all.
These men had lived violent, lawless lives ashore. Here, at sea, the mates hammered the fear of the Lord and the Law into them. This was well and good. But the mates hammered too hard. They aimed to cow the stiffs, and cow them they did. But the stiffs' fear of the afterguard became so great they were like cornered rats. They came below after a watch on deck with fresh marks upon their faces and bodies, and heard little Nils moaning in his pain. And each man said to himself, "I may be the next to get what the little squarehead got."
Misery loves company, so these stiffs naturally drew close together. Their common hatred and fear of the afterguard fused them into a unit. By the time we were a month at sea, the stiffs, like the squareheads, were in a most dangerous temper, and ripe for any deviltry.
This common state of mind grew beneath my eyes, but at first I did not see significance in it. A mutinous state of mind is a normal state of mind in a hell-ship's foc'sle.
But a mutiny was incubating in that ship. There were men forward who were vitally interested in bringing trouble to a head, in causing an outbreak of violence, in fomenting an uprising of the slaves. One day, my eyes were opened to their game.
For weeks I noticed Blackie and Boston circulating among the men during the dog-watches. They were great whisperers, a secretive pair, and they never spoke their minds outright before the crowd. I paid them little attention, for I did not like them, and felt no interest in what I thought was their gossip. It never occurred to me they were industriously fanning the spark of revolt, suggesting revenge to the squareheads, and tickling the rascally imagination of the stiffs with hints of golden loot.
So far my rule as cock of the foc'sle had been unchallenged. All hands had accepted my will in foc'sle matters willingly enough, and I had been careful not to hector. As number one man, it was my place to see that the men stood their "peggy"—that is, they took their regular turn about at getting the food at meal time, and cleaning up the foc'sle.
It came Boston's peggy day. He didn't like it a bit. He thought himself too good for such menial tasks, and suggested that Shorty, the smallest and weakest of the stiffs, be made permanent peggy. I vetoed this as unfair, and Boston went about the work, but sullenly.
Next day was Blackie's peggy, as he well knew. When we came below at noon, he made no move to fetch the grub from the galley.
"How about dinner, Blackie?" I demanded.
"Well—how about it?" he replied. "I'm no servant girl! Get your own grub!"
All hands looked at me, expectantly. This was open defiance, and they wanted to see what the cock would do about it. There was only one thing I could do, and I did it gladly.
I took that chesty stiff by the throat, and squeezed until his eyes popped. Then I carried him out on deck and stuck his head in the wash-deck tub, to cool his ardor; the whole watch following us as interested spectators.
"Well, Blackie, how about dinner?" I asked, when I released my grip.
In answer, he backed quickly away from me, spluttering oaths and salt water. I watched him warily, for his affair with the second mate had shown him to be a knife wielder, and I had no wish to be stabbed. True enough, he jerked out his sheath knife.
"Stop that, you fool!" came Boston's voice, from behind me. "Do you want to crab the whole game?"
Those words had an astonishing effect upon Blackie. His bellicose attitude vanished abruptly, he stopped cursing, and his knife went back into its sheath.
"That dinner, Blackie," I insisted.
"Sure—I'll get it," he answered submissively.
But I wasn't satisfied with my victory. Of course, I was confident I could have knocked him out as handily as Bucko Lynch, himself, but I knew it was not fear of me, but obedience to Boston's words that caused Blackie to give in so readily.
Those words bothered me. "Do you want to crab the whole game?" Now what the deuce did Boston mean? What game were these two worthies up to? Undoubtedly, it was that "rich lay" they had spoken to Newman about. But what had I to do with it? How could I crab their game? I began to think there was something besides loose talk in these hints of revenge and loot the pair were dropping in the foc'sle.
I guess Boston knew my suspicions must be aroused, and thought it time to sound my sentiments. Also, as it turned out, he wanted to pump me regarding Newman. I was Newman's one close friend, and Boston must have thought I knew something of the big man's intentions.
Anyway, after supper that evening, as I was sitting on the forehatch, whittling away at a model of the Golden Bough I was making, Boston came and sat down beside me.
"Should think you'd be so fed up with this hooker, you wouldn't want any model of her," he remarked, by way of opening a conversation.
"She's a bonny ship," I told him. "It is not the ship, it is the men in her. You'll never see a better craft than the Golden Bough, Boston."
"Faugh!" he snorted, and followed with a blistering curse. "Blast your pretty ships! I'd like to see this old hooker go on the rocks, by God I would! Well—maybe I will see her finish, eh?"
I glanced at him sidewise, and discovered he was likewise regarding me, with the lids drawn over his pale eyes till they were mere slits. I didn't like Boston's eyes. For that matter, I didn't like anything about Boston. But I was interested; I sensed this was no idle talk. There was something behind the words.
"Small chance of your seeing her finish," I said. "As well found a ship as there is afloat—and you may call the Old Man and his buckos what you will, but they are sailormen."
"I've heard of ships sinking in storms," says he.
"You talk like the stiff you are," I scoffed. "Show me the weather that will drown the Golden Bough, with good sailors aft! Besides, Boston, we're not likely to have any bad weather, for which you can say a prayer of thanks, for you stiffs would catch it if we did pick up a decent blow."
"Why not?" he asked.
"It's a fair weather passage," I explained. "These trades will blow us clean across one hundred and eighty, into the sou'west monsoon, and with luck that'll carry us into the China Sea. Of course, there is always the chance of meeting a hurricane this side, or a typhoon on the other side. You'll squeal if we do, I bet!"
Says he, "Well, now how about running on a rock? We'll be going among islands, hey? These South Sea Islands?"
"Forget it," I replied. "We'll not sight the beach this side of the Orient, unless the Old Man makes a landfall of Guam. We are running along sixteen north, and that takes us south of the Sandwich group, and north of the Marshalls and Carolines."
"Well, now, I guess the Big 'Un has been showing you his map, hey?"
"What's that to you?" I said, shortly.
"Nothing. Nothing at all," he answered, hurriedly.
In truth, I was surprised and nettled. I hadn't got the point of Boston's questions, and I hadn't supposed he was watching Newman and me so sharply.
For Boston had it right, I had been looking at the Big 'Un's "map." Newman had a fine, large scale chart of the Pacific in his bag, and this he brought out every day, and traced upon it the progress of the voyage. He got the ship's position either from the steward, or from the lady, I did not know which.
I had been privileged to see the chart, but I knew that none other had ventured to approach when it was spread out on Newman's bunk. Newman had traced the ship's probable course clear to Hong Kong, for my benefit, and explained to me the problems of the passage. He did not speak like a man merely guessing, but with authority, like a man who had sailed his own ship over this course. I absorbed the information greedily, but did not venture to inquire how he was so positive about Yankee Swope's sailing plans. Somehow, I knew he was correct.
It pricked my conceit to discover that Boston was aware Newman had fathered the information that was falling from my lips.
"Say, how long before we reach Hong Kong?" went on Boston.
"You had better ask Newman, himself," I retorted.
"Now don't get mad, Jack," he said humbly. "You know I didn't mean nothing. Guess you sabe as much about sailing as the Big 'Un, anyway."
"Well, this is a fast ship—none faster," I told him, mollified by his flattery. "Say seventy days, at the outside, from 'Frisco to Hong Kong. Probably sixty days would be nearer to it."
At that he burst out cursing, and consigned the ship and all her afterguard to the Evil One. "My God, another month of this hell!" he cried. "Will you stand it, Shreve?"
"Sure. We'll all stand it. What else to do?" I replied.
"What else!" said he. His voice was suddenly crafty. "Well, now, Shreve, didn't it ever strike you as how we're blasted fools to let those fellows aft knock us about? There are thirty of us, and two of them!"
"More than that," I warned him. "You forget Captain Swope, and the tradesmen. There are seven of them, aft, all armed, and of a fighting breed. You are hinting at a silly business, Boston."
"Oh, I don't know," he persisted. "Thirty to seven ain't so bad. And they haven't all the arms—we got our knives, ain't we? And maybe other things, too."
"Forget it," said I. "Don't imagine for a minute these stiffs will face guns. You and your mate might, but as for the rest of the gang—why, Lynch could clean them up single-handed. Better stow that kind of talk. It's dangerous. You have the law against you, and it's a neck-stretching affair."
"The law?" he echoed. "What do you think that gang cares for the law? Mighty few laws they ain't broke in their time! And they may be stiffs, right enough, but they'll fight—for money!"
"Dare say," I remarked, sarcastically. "And I suppose you'll hire them with your bags of gold, which you probably have stowed under your bunk?"
"Well, now, maybe I'd just have to promise them something," he said. He glanced around, then leaned towards me and lowered his voice to a whisper. "Shreve, there are a hundred thousand dollars in hard cash aft there in the cabin!"
"What's that?" I exclaimed.
"Yes," he said. "I know. You bet I know. Blackie and me knew before ever we come on board this cursed hooker. The Swede didn't shanghai us, you bet!"
"Oh, stow that sort of guff, Boston," I told him. "Maybe the Swede didn't shanghai you; but if he didn't, it was because you and your mate were willing to ship with the devil himself in order to get out of the country."
My words touched his temper, as I thought they would. "You seem to know a lot more than I know myself," he sneered. Before I could answer, he regained control of his tongue, and continued with oily suavity. "I guess the Big 'Un has been talking to you? Hasn't he? I guess maybe he's told you that Blackie and me are two men who can take a chance without weakening? Say, Jack, what has the Big 'Un been saying to you about us? I want particular to know."
"He hasn't said a blessed word about you," I answered, truthfully.
Boston cursed, and favored me with an evil squint; then he hid the look behind a forced laugh. "Well, If you don't want to tell me, I guess you don't have to," he remarked. "It don't hurt me and Blackie none, whatever the Big 'Un says. And say, Jack, you and us ought to be good friends. Blackie and me know that you're a good man, the kind that'll take a chance, and keep his word. Well, we're the same. There are only a few of us in this end of the ship that have any backbone to speak of, and we ought to stick together. There's pay-dirt in this ship if we only play the game right."
"What do you mean?" I wanted to know.
But Boston concluded he had said almost enough for once. He rapped his pipe against the hatch-combing to dislodge the dottle, and got to his feet. I thought he was going to leave me without replying to my query, but after he had taken a step or two he spoke over his shoulder, softly.
"That's true what I said about the money, Jack. It's there, just waiting for a few lads of nerve to come and take it."
"If that talk gets aft, the Old Man will have you thumped into a jelly, just as an example to the other stiffs," I warned him.
He gave the devil's cackle that passed with him for a laugh, and stepping close to my side, spoke directly into my ear.
"Who is going to take the talk aft? Not you. Blackie and me know that Jack Shreve ain't a snitch. Not the Big 'Un. You can tell him what I said if you like. You can tell him something more. Blackie and me think there is a snitch in this gang, and the Big 'Un had better keep his eyes peeled for a double-cross. You tell him that. You tell him to ask Nigger about it."
"What do you mean?" I cried.
His answer was a mysterious shake of the head, and he disappeared into the foc'sle.
If Boston meant to give me something to think about, he succeeded. He left me worried. Not about the treasure or mutiny at which he hinted; for the time being I put this subject out of my mind. I was concerned over his unexplained warning. What did it mean? Did some new danger threaten my friend?
I went in search of Newman, to give him the warning. He was not in his bunk, so I stepped into the port foc'sle, expecting to find him by Nils' side. Nils was dying—we had been expecting him to go at almost any hour for a week past—and Newman had been spending a goodly share of his watches below by the lad's side.
But he was not there now. The parson, and some of the squareheads of the port watch, were keeping sick vigil. Nils was very near the time when he must slip his cable; he lay quiet, eyes closed, hardly breathing, and his thin, white face seemed already composed into its death mold. Holy Joe sat holding the boy's hand; his head was bowed, and I judged he was praying. The others stared miserably at the floor, or ceiling, or at each other. Aye, the taste of bitter sorrow was in the air of the port foc'sle. I left without disturbing the silent watchers, but I wondered at their boldness. They should have been on deck. Mister Fitzgibbon did not give his men respite, even during the dog-watches.
I went poking about the odd corners of the fore deck, expecting to find my man tucked away somewhere smoking and meditating, for Newman was a solitary fellow, very fond of his own company in his free time. I laid the ill-success of my search to the dusk; it was past seven bells, and although there was still a glow in the western sky, on board ship it was quite dark and the sidelights had been out a half hour. Finally, I decided to lay off, waylay the Nigger when he came for'ard from his trick at the wheel, and ask him myself what was the meaning of Boston's talk of "snitch."
Now it was no light undertaking for a foremast hand to trespass abaft the main mast in the Golden Bough. There was risk in it, risk of a beating, or worse. A man might lay aft in that ship to work, or in obedience to orders, but for no other reason. Hell-ship discipline.
So I slipped aft without making a noise, and avoided attracting to myself unwelcome attention from the poop. I was barefoot, and I crept along the rail, keeping within the shadows on the lee deck. When I came abreast the roundhouse, I darted into the black shadow it threw upon the lee deck, and crouched there, composed to wait. My eyes were aft, upon the break of the poop, and I was ready to take instant flight for'ard, did discovery threaten me.
After I had lain there a moment, I noticed the figure of a man standing motionless, flattened against the cabin wall, on my side of the deck. He was so still he appeared to be lifeless, a part of the ship; I looked hard before I decided it was a man. It was too dark to make out his features, almost too dark to discern outline, but by the bigness of the blot he made against his background I was sure the man was Newman. What he was doing in such a position I could not guess, but I was so sure of my man, I did not hesitate to move towards him. I even spoke his name, in an urgent whisper.
My hiss brought a prompt response, but not the one for which I was looking. To my surprise the fellow ran away from me; he slipped across the deck (padding noiselessly, for he was barefoot, like, myself) and, bending nearly double, scurried for'ard beside the weather rail.
I stared after him, undecided what to do. The man looked like Newman, but he did not act like him. I had half a mind to pursue his flitting figure.
Then all at once I discovered I must take cover myself. I heard the mate's voice, up on the poop; he was hailing his tradesmen.