A tale of old days at sea and of adventures in the Far East as Benjamin Lathrop set it down some sixty years ago
by Charles Boardman Hawes
TO PAY MY SHOT
To master, mate, and men of the ship Hunter, whose voyage is the backbone of my story; to Captain David Woodard, English mariner, who more than a hundred and twenty years ago was wrecked on the island of Celebes; to Captain R.G.F. Candage of Brookline, Massachusetts, who was party to the original contract in melon seeds; and to certain blue-water skippers who have left sailing directions for eastern ports and seas, I am grateful for fascinating narratives and journals, and indebted for incidents in this tale of an earlier generation.
I IN WHICH WE SAIL FOR CANTON, CHINA
I My Father and I Call on Captain Whidden II Bill Hayden III The Man Outside the Galley IV A Piece of Pie V Kipping
II IN WHICH WE ENCOUNTER AN ARAB SHIP
VI The Council in the Cabin
VII The Sail with a Lozenge-Shaped Patch VIII Attacked IX Bad Signs X The Treasure-Seeker
III WHICH APPROACHES A CRISIS
XI A Hundred Thousand Dollars in Gold XII A Strange Tale XIII Trouble Forward XIV Bill Hayden Comes to the End of His Voyage
IV IN WHICH THE TIDE OF OUR FORTUNES EBBS
XV Mr. Falk Tries to Cover His Tracks XVI A Prayer for the Dead XVII Marooned XVIII Adventures Ashore
V IN WHICH THE TIDE TURNS
XIX In Last Resort XX A Story in Melon Seeds XXI New Allies XXII We Attack XXIII What We Found in the Cabin
VI IN WHICH WE REACH THE PORT OF OUR DESTINATION
XXIV Falk Proposes a Truce XXV Including a Cross-Examination XXVI An Attempt to Play on Our Sympathy XXVII We Reach Whampoa, but Not the End of Our Troubles
VII OLD SCORES AND NEW AND A DOUBTFUL WELCOME
XXVIII A Mystery Is Solved and a Thief Gets Away XXIX Homeward Bound XXX Through Sunda Strait XXXI Pikes, Cutlasses, and Guns XXXII "So Ends"
"At 'em, men! At 'em! Pull, you sons of the devil, pull!"
Suddenly, in the brief silence that followed the two thunderous reports, a pistol shot rang out sharply, and I saw Captain Whidden spin round and fall.
We helped him pile his belongings into his chest ... and gave him a hand on deck.
"Sign that statement, Lathrop," said Captain Falk.
He cut from the melon-rind a roughly shaped model of a ship and stuck in it, to represent masts, three slivers of bamboo.
IN WHICH WE SAIL FOR CANTON, CHINA
MY FATHER AND I CALL ON CAPTAIN WHIDDEN
My father's study, as I entered it on an April morning in 1809, to learn his decision regarding a matter that was to determine the course of all my life, was dim and spacious and far removed from the bustle and clamor of the harbor-side. It was a large room paneled with dark wood. There were books along the walls, and paintings of ships, and over the fireplace there stood a beautiful model of a Burmese junk, carved by some brown artist on the bank of the Irawadi.
My father sat by the open window and looked out into the warm sunshine, which was swiftly driving the last snow from the hollows under the shrubbery.
Already crocuses were blossoming in the grass of the year before, which was still green in patches, and the bright sun and the blue sky made the study seem to me, entering, dark and sombre. It was characteristic of my father, I thought with a flash of fancy, to sit there and look out into a warm, gay world where springtime was quickening the blood and sunshine lay warm on the flowers; he always had lived in old Salem, and as he wrote his sermons, he always had looked out through study windows on a world of commerce bright with adventure. For my own part, I was of no mind to play the spectator in so stirring a drama.
With a smile he turned at my step. "So, my son, you wish to ship before the mast," he said, in a repressed voice and manner that seemed in keeping with the dim, quiet room. "Pray what do you know of the sea?"
I thought the question idle, for all my life I had lived where I could look from my window out on the harbor.
"Why, sir," I replied, "I know enough to realize that I want to follow the sea."
"To follow the sea?"
There was something in my father's eyes that I could not understand. He seemed to be dreaming, as if of voyages that he himself had made. Yet I knew he never had sailed blue water. "Well, why not?" he asked suddenly. "There was a time—"
I was too young to realize then what has come to me since: that my father's manner revealed a side of his nature that I never had known; that in his own heart was a love of adventure that he never had let me see. My sixteen years had given me a big, strong body, but no great insight, and I thought only of my own urgent desire of the moment.
"Many a boy of ten or twelve has gone to sea," I said, "and the Island Princess will sail in a fortnight. If you were to speak to Captain Whidden—"
My father sternly turned on me. "No son of mine shall climb through the cabin windows."
"But Captain Whidden—"
"I thought you desired to follow the sea—to ship before the mast."
"Then say no more of Captain Whidden. If you wish to go to sea, well and good. I'll not stand in your way. But we'll seek no favoritism, you and I. You'll ship as boy, but you'll take your medicine like a man."
"Yes, sir," I said, trying perversely to conceal my joy.
"And as for Captain Whidden," my father added, "you'll find he cuts a very different figure aboard ship from that he shows in our drawing-room."
Then a smile twinkled through his severity, and he laid his hand firmly on my shoulder.
"Son, you have my permission ungrudgingly given. There was a time—well, your grandfather didn't see things as I did."
"But some day," I cried, "I'll have a counting-house of my own— some day—"
My father laughed kindly, and I, taken aback, blushed at my own eagerness.
"Anyway," I persisted, "Roger Hamlin is to go as supercargo."
"Roger—as supercargo?" exclaimed a low voice.
I turned and saw that my sister stood in the door.
"Where—when is he going?"
"To Canton on the Island Princess! And so am I," I cried.
"Oh!" she said. And she stood there, silent and a little pale.
"You'll not see much of Roger," my father remarked to me, still smiling. He had a way of enjoying a quiet joke at my expense, to him the more pleasing because I never was quite sure just wherein the humor lay.
"But I'm going," I cried. "I'm going—I'm going—I'm going!"
"At the end of the voyage," said my father, "we'll find out whether you still wish to follow the sea. After all, I'll go with you this evening, when supper is done, to see Joseph Whidden."
The lamps were lighted when we left the house, and long beams from the windows fell on the walk and on the road. We went down the street side by side, my father absently swinging his cane, I wondering if it were not beneath the dignity of a young man about to go to sea that his parent should accompany him on such an errand.
Just as we reached the corner, a man who had come up the street a little distance behind us turned in at our own front gate, and my father, seeing me look back when the gate slammed, smiled and said, "I'll venture a guess, Bennie-my-lad, that some one named Roger is calling at our house this evening."
Afterwards—long, long afterwards—I remembered the incident.
When my father let the knocker fall against Captain Whidden's great front door, my heart, it seemed to me, echoed the sound and then danced away at a lively pace. A servant, whom I watched coming from somewhere behind the stairs, admitted us to the quiet hall; then another door opened silently, a brighter light shone out upon us, and a big, grave man appeared. He welcomed us with a few thoughtful words and, by a motion of his hand, sent us before him into the room where he had been sitting.
"And so," said Captain Whidden, when we had explained our errand, "I am to have this young man aboard my ship."
"If you will, sir," I cried eagerly, yet anxiously, too, for he did not seem nearly so well pleased as I had expected.
"Yes, Ben, you may come with us to Canton; but as your father says, you must fill your own boots and stand on your own two feet. And will you, friend Lathrop,"—he turned to my father,—"hazard a venture on the voyage?"
My father smiled. "I think, Joe," he said, "that I've placed a considerable venture in your hands already."
Captain Whidden nodded. "So you have, so you have. I'll watch it as best I can, too, though of course I'll see little of the boy. Let him go now. I'll talk with you a while if I may."
My father glanced at me, and I got up.
Captain Whidden rose, too. "Come down in the morning," he said. "You can sign with us at the Websters' counting-house.—And good-bye, Ben," he added, extending his hand.
"Good-bye? You don't mean—that I'm not to go with you?"
He smiled. "It'll be a long time, Ben, before you and I meet again on quite such terms as these."
Then I saw what he meant, and shook his hand and walked away without looking back. Nor did I ever learn what he and my father talked about after I left them there together.
More than two-score years and ten have come and gone since that day when I, Benjamin Lathrop, put out from Salem harbor, a green hand on the ship Island Princess, and in them I have achieved, I think I can say with due modesty, a position of some importance in my own world. But although innumerable activities have crowded to the full each intervening year, neither the aspirations of youth nor the successes of maturity nor the dignities of later life have effaced from my memory the picture of myself, a boy on the deck of the Island Princess in April, 1809.
I thought myself very grand as the wind whipped my pantaloons against my ankles and flapped the ribbons of the sailor hat that I had pulled snugly down; and I imagined myself the hero of a thousand stirring adventures in the South Seas, which I should relate when I came back an able seaman at the very least. Never was sun so bright; never were seas so blue; never was ship so smart as the Island Princess.
On her black hull a nicely laid band of white ran sheer from stem to stern; her bows swelled to meet the seas in a gentle curve that hinted the swift lines of our clippers of more recent years. From mainmast heel to truck, from ensign halyard to tip of flying jib-boom, her well-proportioned masts and spars and taut rigging stood up so trimly in one splendidly cooerdinating structure, that the veriest lubber must have acknowledged her the finest handiwork of man.
It was like a play to watch the men sitting here and there on deck, or talking idly around the forecastle, while Captain Whidden and the chief mate conferred together aft. I was so much taken with it all that I had no eyes for my own people who were there to see me off, until straight out from the crowded wharf there came a young man whom I knew well. His gray eyes, firm lips, square chin, and broad shoulders had been familiar to me ever since I could remember.
As he was rowed briskly to the ship, I waved to him and called out, "O Roger—ahoy!"
I thought, when he glanced up from the boat, that his gray eyes twinkled and that there was the flutter of a smile on his well-formed lips; but he looked at me and through me and seemed not to see me, and it came over me all at once that from the cabin to the forecastle was many, many times the length of the ship.
With a quick survey of the deck, as if to see who had spoken, yet seeming not to see me at all, Roger, who had lived all his life within a cable's length of the house where I was born, who had taught me to box the compass before I learned my ABC's, whose interest in my own sister had partly mystified, partly amused her younger brother—that very Roger climbed aboard the Island Princess and went on into the cabin without word or sign of recognition.
It was not the first time, of course, that I had realized what my chosen apprenticeship involved; but the incident brought it home to me more clearly than ever before. No longer was I to be known as the son of Thomas Lathrop. In my idle dreams I had been the hero of a thousand imaginary adventures; instead, in the strange experiences I am about to relate, I was to be only the ship's "boy"—the youngest and least important member of that little isolated community banded together for a journey to the other side of the world. But I was to see things happen such as most men have never dreamed of; and now, after fifty years, when the others are dead and gone, I may write the story.
When I saw that my father, who had watched Roger Hamlin with twinkling eyes ignore my greeting, was chuckling in great amusement, I bit my lip. What if Roger was supercargo, I thought: he needn't feel so big.
Now on the wharf there was a flutter of activity and a stir of color; now a louder hum of voices drifted across the intervening water. Captain Whidden lifted his hand in farewell to his invalid wife, who had come in her carriage to see him sail. The mate went forward on the forecastle and the second mate took his position in the waist.
"Now then, Mr. Thomas," Captain Whidden called in a deep voice, "is all clear forward?"
"All clear, sir," the mate replied; and then, with all eyes upon him, he took charge, as was the custom, and proceeded to work the ship.
While the men paid out the riding cable and tripped it, and hove in the slack of the other, I stood, carried away—foolish boy!—by the thought that here at last I was a seaman among seamen, until at my ear the second mate cried sharply, "Lay forward, there, and lend a hand to cat the anchor."
The sails flapped loose overhead; orders boomed back and forth; there was running and racing and hauling and swarming up the rigging; and from the windlass came the chanteyman's solo with its thunderous chorus:—
"Pull one and all! Hoy! Hoy! Cheery men. On this catfall! Hoy! Hoy! Cheery men. Answer the call! Hoy! Hoy! Cheery men. Hoy! Haulee! Hoy! Hoy!!! Oh, cheery men!"
As the second anchor rose to the pull of the creaking windlass, we sheeted home the topsails, topgallantsails and royals and hoisted them up, braced head-yards aback and after-yards full for the port tack, hoisted the jib and put over the helm. Thus the Island Princess fell off by the head, as we catted and fished the anchor; then took the wind in her sails and slipped slowly out toward the open sea.
Aft, by the lee rail, I saw Roger Hamlin watching the group, a little apart from the others, where my own people had gathered. My father stood half a head above the crowd, and beside him were my mother and my sister. When I, too, looked back at them, my father waved his hat and I knew his eyes were following me; I saw the flutter of white from my mother's hand, and I knew that her heart was going out with me to the uttermost parts of the earth.
Then, almost timidly, my sister waved her handkerchief. But I saw that she was looking at the quarter-deck.
As land fell astern until it became a thin blue line on the western horizon, and as the Island Princess ran free with the wind full in her sails, I took occasion, while I jumped back and forth in response to the mate's quick orders, to study curiously my shipmates in our little kingdom. Now that we had no means of communication with that already distant shore, we were a city unto ourselves.
Yonder was the cook, a man as black as the bottom of his iron pot, whose frown, engraved deeply in his low forehead, might have marked him in my eyes as the villain of some melodrama of the sea, had I not known him for many years to be one of the most generous darkies, so far as hungry small boys were concerned, that ever ruled a galley. The second mate, who was now in the waist, I had never seen before—to tell the truth, I was glad that he held no better berth, for I disliked the turn of his too full lips. Captain Whidden and the chief mate, Mr. Thomas, I had known a long time, and I had thought myself on terms of friendship with them, even familiarity; but so far as any outward sign was concerned, I might now have been as great a stranger to either as to the second mate.
We were twenty-two men all told: four in the cabin—Captain Whidden, Mr. Thomas, Mr. Falk, and Roger, whose duties included oversight of the cargo, supervision of matters purely of business and trade in foreign ports, and a deal of clerical work that Captain Whidden had no mind to be bothered with; three in the steerage—the cook (contrary, perhaps, to the more usual custom), the steward, and the carpenter; and fourteen in the forecastle.
All in all I was well pleased with my prospects, and promised myself that I would "show them a thing or two," particularly Roger Hamlin. I'd make a name for myself aboard the Island Princess. I'd let all the men know that it would not take Benjamin Lathrop long to become as smart a seaman as they'd hope to see.
Silly lad that I was!
Within twenty minutes of that idle dream the chain of circumstances had begun that was to bring every man aboard the Island Princess face to face with death. Like the small dark cloud that foreruns a typhoon, the first act in the wild drama that came near to costing me my own life was so slight, so insignificant relatively, that no man of us then dreamed of the hidden forces that brought it to pass.
On the forecastle by the larboard rigging stood a big, broad-shouldered fellow, who nodded familiarly at the second mate, cast a bit of a leer at the captain as if to impress on the rest of us his own daring and independence, and gave me, when I caught his eye, a cold, noncommittal stare. His name, I shortly learned, was Kipping. Undeniably he was impudent; but he had, nevertheless, a mild face and a mild manner, and when I heard him talk, I discovered that he had a mild voice; I could find no place for him in the imaginary adventures that filled my mind—he was quite too mild a man.
I perceived that he was soldiering at his work, and almost at the same moment I saw the mate come striding down on him.
"You there," Mr. Thomas snapped out, "bear a hand! Do you think you're waiting for the cows to come home?"
"No-o-o, sir," the mild man drawled, starting to walk across the deck.
The slow reply, delivered with a mocking inflection, fanned to sudden laughter chuckles that the mate's words had caused.
Mr. Thomas reddened and, stepping out, thrust his face close to the other's. "You try any of your slick tricks on me, my man," he said slowly and significantly, "you try any of your slick tricks on me, and so help me, I'll show you."
"Ye-e-es, sir," the man replied with the same inflection, though not so pronounced this time.
Suddenly the deck became very still. The listeners checked their laughter. Behind me I heard some one mutter, "Hear that, will you?" Glancing around, I saw that Captain Whidden had gone below and that Mr. Thomas was in command. I was confident that the mild seaman was mocking the mate, yet so subtle was his challenge, you could not be sure that he actually was defiant.
Although Mr. Thomas obviously shared the opinion of the men, there was so little on which to base a charge of insubordination or affront that he momentarily hesitated.
"What is your name?" he suddenly demanded.
"Kipping, sir," the mild man replied.
This time there was only the faintest suggestion of the derisive inflection. After all, it might have been but a mannerism. The man had such a mild face and such a mild manner!
"Well, Kipping, you go about your work, and after this, let me warn you, keep busy and keep a civil tongue in your head. We'll have no slick tricks aboard this ship, and the sooner you men realize it, the easier it will be for all hands."
Turning, the mate went back to the quarter-deck and resumed his station by the weather rail.
While his back was toward us, however, and just as I myself, who had listened, all ears, to the exchange of words between them, was turning to the forecastle, I saw—or thought I saw—on Kipping's almost averted face just such a leer as I had seen him cast at the captain, followed, I could have taken my oath, by a shameless wink. When he noticed me gazing at him, open-mouthed, he gave me such another cold stare as he had given me before and, muttering something under his breath, walked away.
I looked aft to discover at whom he could have winked, but I saw only the second mate, who scowled at me angrily.
"Now what," thought I, "can all this mean?" Then, being unable to make anything of it, I forgot it and devoted myself industriously to my own affairs until the hoarse call of "All hands on deck" brought the men who were below tumbling up, to be summoned aft and addressed by the captain.
Apparently Captain Whidden was not aware that there was a soul on board ship except himself. With his eyes on the sea and his hands clasped behind him, he paced the deck, while we fidgeted and twisted and grew more and more impatient. At last, with a sort of a start, as if he had just seen that we were waiting, he stopped and surveyed us closely. He was a fine figure of a man and he affected the fashions of a somewhat earlier day. A beaver with sweeping brim surmounted his strong, smooth-shaven face, and a white stock, deftly folded, swathed his throat to his resolute chin. Trim waistcoat, ample coat, and calmly folded arms completed his picture as he stood there, grave yet not severe, waiting to address us.
What he said to us in his slow, even voice was the usual speech of a captain in those times; and except for a finer dignity than common, he did not deviate from the well-worn customary phrases until he had outlined the voyage that lay before us and had summed up the advantages of prompt, willing obedience and the penalties of any other course. His tone then suddenly changed. "If any man here thinks that he can give me slovenly work or back talk and arguing," he said, "it'll be better for that man if he jumps overboard and swims for shore." I was certain—and I still am—that he glanced sharply at Kipping, who stood with a faint, nervous smile, looking at no one in particular. "Well, Mr. Thomas," he said at last, "we'll divide the watches. Choose your first man."
When we went forward, I found myself, as the green hand of the voyage, one of six men in the starboard watch. I liked the arrangement little enough, for the second mate commanded us and Kipping was the first man he had chosen; but it was all in the day's work, so I went below to get my jacket before eight bells should strike.
The voices in the forecastle suddenly stopped when my feet sounded on the steps; but as soon as the men saw that it was only the boy, they resumed their discussion without restraint.
"I tell you," some one proclaimed from the darkest corner, "the second mate, he had it all planned to get the chief mate's berth this voyage, and the captain, he put him out no end because he wouldn't let him have it. Yes, sir. And he bears a grudge against the mate, he does, him and that sly friend of his, Kipping. Perhaps you didn't see Kipping wink at the second mate after he was called down. I did, and I says to myself then, says I, 'There's going to be troublous times ere this voyage is over.' Yes, sir."
"Right you are, Davie!" a higher, thinner voice proclaimed, "right you are. I was having my future told, I was, and the lady—"
A roar of laughter drowned the words of the luckless second speaker, and some one yelled vociferously, "Neddie the fortune-teller! Don't tell me he's shipped with us again!"
"But I tell you," Neddie persisted shrilly, "I tell you they hit it right, they do, often. And the lady, she says, 'Neddie Benson, don't you go reckless on this next voyage. There's trouble in store,' she says. 'There'll be a dark man and a light man, and a terrible danger.' And I paid the lady two dollars and I—"
Again laughter thundered in the forecastle.
"All the same," the deep-voiced Davie growled, "that sly, slippery—"
"Hist!" A man raised his hand against the light that came faintly from on deck.
Then a mild voice asked, "What are you men quidding about anyway? One of you's sitting on my chest."
"Listen to them talk," some one close beside me whispered. "You'd think this voyage was all of life, the way they run on about it. Now it don't mean so much to me. My name's Bill Hayden, and I've got a little wee girl, I have, over to Newburyport, that will be looking for her dad to come home. Two feet long she is, and cute as they make them."
Aware that the speaker was watching me closely, I perfunctorily nodded. At that he edged nearer. "Now I'm glad we're in the same watch," he said. "So many men just cut a fellow off with a curse."
I observed him more sharply, and saw that he was a stupid-looking but rather kindly soul whose hair was just turning gray.
"Now I wish you could see that little girl of mine," he continued. "Cute? there ain't no word to tell you how cute she is. All a-laughing and gurgling and as good as gold. Why, she ain't but a little old, and yet she can stand right up on her two little legs as cute as you please."
I listened with mild interest as he rambled on. He seemed such a friendly, homely soul that I could but regard him more kindly than I did some of our keener-witted fellow seamen.
Now we heard faintly the bell as it struck, clang-clang, clang-clang, clang-clang. Feet scuffled overhead, and some one called down the hatch, "Eight bells, starbow-lines ahoy!"
Davie's deep voice replied sonorously, "Ay-ay!" And one after another we climbed out on deck, where the wind from the sea blew cool on our faces.
I had mounted the first rung of the ladder, and was regularly signed as a member of the crew of the Island Princess, bound for Canton with a cargo of woolen goods and ginseng. There was much that puzzled me aboard-ship—the discontent of the second mate, the perversity of the man Kipping (others besides myself had seen that wink), and a certain undercurrent of pessimism. But although I was separated a long, long way from my old friends in the cabin, I felt that in Bill Hayden I had found a friend of a sort; then, as I began my first real watch on deck at sea, I fell to thinking of my sister and Roger Hamlin.
THE MAN OUTSIDE THE GALLEY
Strange events happened in our first month at sea—events so subtle as perhaps to seem an unimportant part of this narrative of a strange voyage, yet really as necessary to the foundation of the story as the single bricks and the single dabs of mortar at the base of a tall chimney are necessary to the completed structure. I later had cause to remember each trivial incident as if it had been written in letters of fire.
In the first dog watch one afternoon, when we were a few days out of port, I was sitting with my back against the forward deck-house, practising splices and knots with a bit of rope that I had saved for the purpose. I was only a couple of feet from the corner, so of course I heard what was going on just out of sight.
The voices were low but distinct.
"Now leave me alone!" It was Bill Hayden who spoke. "I ain't never troubled you."
"Ah, so you ain't troubled me, have you, you whimpering old dog?"
"No, I ain't troubled you."
"Oh, no! You was so glad to let me take your nice dry boots, you was, when mine was filled with water."
The slow, mild, ostensibly patient voice could be none other than Kipping's.
"I had to wear 'em myself."
"Oh, had to wear 'em yourself, did you?"
"Let go o' my arm!"
"Let go, I tell you; let go or I'll—I swear I'll hammer you good."
"Oh, you'll hammer me good, will you?"
There was a sudden scuffle, then out from the corner of the deck-house danced Kipping with both hands pressed over his jaw.
"You bloody scoundrel!" he snarled, meek no longer. "You wait—I'll get you. I'll—" Seeing me sitting there with my bit of rope, he stopped short; then, with a sneer, he walked away.
Amazed at the sudden departure of his tormentor, Bill Hayden stuck his own head round the corner and in turn discovered me in my unintentional hiding-place.
Bill, however, instead of departing in chagrin, joined me with a puzzled expression on his kind, stupid face.
"I don't understand that Kipping," he said sadly. "I've tried to use him right. I've done everything I can to help him out and I'm sure I don't want to quarrel with him, yet for all he goes around as meek as a cat that's been in the cream, he's always pecking at me and pestering me, till just now I was fair drove to give him a smart larrup."
Why, indeed, should Kipping or any one else molest good, dull old Bill Hayden?
"I'm a family man, I am," Bill continued, "with a little girl at home. I ain't a-bothering no one. I'm sure all I want is to be left alone."
For a time we sat in silence, watching the succession of blue waves through which the Island Princess cut her swift and almost silent passage. A man must have been a cowardly bully to annoy harmless old Bill. Yet even then, young though I was, I realized that sometimes there is no more dangerous man than a coward and a bully, "He's great friends with the second mate," Bill remarked at last. "And the second mate has got no use at all for Mr. Thomas because he thought he was going to get Mr. Thomas's berth and didn't; and for the same reason he don't like the captain. Well, I'm glad he's only second mate. He ain't got his hands out of the tar-bucket yet, my boy."
"How do you know he expected to get the mate's berth?" I asked.
"It's common talk, my boy. The supercargo's the only man aft he's got any manner of use for, and cook says the steward says Mr. Hamlin ain't got no manner of use for him. There you are."
"No," I thought,—though I discreetly said nothing,—"Roger Hamlin is not the man to be on friendly terms with a fellow of the second mate's calibre."
And from that time on I watched Mr. Falk, the second mate, and the mild-voiced Kipping more closely than ever—so closely that one night I stumbled on a surprising discovery.
Ours was the middle watch, and Mr. Falk as usual was on the quarter-deck. By moonlight I saw him leaning on the weather rail as haughtily as if he were the master. His slim, slightly stooped figure, silhouetted against the moonlit sea, was unmistakable. But the winds were inconstant and drifting clouds occasionally obscured the moon. Watching, I saw him distinctly; then, as the moonlight darkened, the after part of the ship became as a single shadow against a sea almost as black. While I still watched, there came through a small fissure in the clouds a single moonbeam that swept from the sea across the quarter-deck and on over the sea again. By that momentary light I saw that Mr. Falk had left the weather rail.
Certainly it was a trifling thing to consider twice, but you must remember, in the first place, that I was only a boy, with all a boy's curiosity about trifles, and in the second place that of the four men in the cabin no other derived such obvious satisfaction from the minor prerogatives of office as Mr. Falk. He fairly swelled like a frog in the sun as he basked in the prestige that he attributed to himself when, left in command, he occupied the captain's place at the weather rail.
Immediately I decided that under the cover of darkness I would see what had become of him. So I ran lightly along in the shelter of the lee bulwark, dodging past the galley, the scuttle-butt, and the cabin in turn. At the quarter-deck I hesitated, knowing well that a sound thrashing was the least I could expect if Mr. Falk discovered me trespassing on his own territory, yet lured by a curiosity that was the stronger for the vague rumors on which it had fed.
On hands and knees I stopped by the farther corner of the cabin. Clouds still hid the moon and low voices came to my ears. Very cautiously I peeked from my hiding-place, and saw that Mr. Falk and the helmsman had put their heads together and were talking earnestly.
While they talked, the helmsman suddenly laughed and prodded Mr. Falk in the ribs with his thumb. Like a flash it came over me that it was Kipping's trick at the wheel. Here was absolute proof that, when the second mate and the mild man thought no one was spying upon them, they were on uncommonly friendly terms. Yet I did not dream that I had stumbled on anything graver than to confirm one of those idle rumors that set tongues wagging in the forecastle, but that really are too trifling to be worth a second thought.
When the crew of a ship is cut off from all communication with the world at large, it is bound, for want of greater interests, to find in the monotonous daily round something about which to weave a pretty tale.
At that moment, to my consternation, the bell struck four times. As the two dark figures separated, I started back out of sight. Kipping's trick at the wheel was over, and his relief would come immediately along the very route that I had chosen; unless I got away at once I should in all probability be discovered on the quarterdeck and trounced within an inch of my life. Then suddenly, as if to punish my temerity, the cloud passed and the moonlight streamed down on deck.
Darting lightly back to the companion-ladder, I slipped down it and was on the point of escaping forward when I heard slow steps. In terror lest the relief spy me and reveal my presence by some exclamation that Kipping or the second mate would overhear, I threw myself down flat on the deck just forward of the scuttle-butt, where the moon cast a shadow; and with the fervent hope that I should appear to be only a heap of old sail, I lay without moving a muscle.
The steps came slowly nearer. They had passed, I thought, when a pause set my heart to jumping madly. Then came a low, cautious whisper:—
"You boy, what you doin' dah?"
It was not the relief after all. It was the good old villainous-looking black cook, with a cup of coffee for Mr. Falk.
"Put yo' head down dah," he whispered, "put yo' head down, boy."
With a quick motion of his hand he jerked some canvas from the butt so that it concealed me, and went on, followed by the quick steps of the real relief.
Now I heard voices, but the only words I could distinguish were in the cook's deep drawl.
"Yass, sah, yass, sah. Ah brought yo' coffee, sah, Yass, sah, Ah'll wait fo' yo' cup, sah."
Next came Kipping's step—a mild step, if there is such a thing; even in his bullying the man was mild. Then came the slow, heavy tread of the returning African.
Flicking the canvas off me, he muttered, "All's cleah fo' you to git away, boy. How you done come to git in dis yeh scrape sho' am excruciatin'. You just go 'long with you while dey's a chanst."
So, carrying with me the very unimportant discovery that I had made, I ran cautiously forward, away from the place where I had no business to be.
When, in the morning, just before eight bells, I was sent to the galley with the empty kids, I found the worthy cook in a solemn mood.
"You boy," he said, fixing on me a stare, which his deeply graven frown rendered the more severe, "you boy, what you think you gwine do, prowlin' round all hours? Hey? You tell dis nigger dat. Heah Ah's been and put you onto all de ropes and give you more infohmative disco'se about ships and how to behave on 'em dan eveh Ah give a green hand befo' in all de years Ah been gwine to sea, and heah you's so tarnation foolish as go prowlin' round de quarter-deck whar you's like to git skun alive if Mistah Falk ketches you."
I don't remember what I replied, but I am sure it was flippant; to the day of my death I shall never forget the stinging, good-natured cuff with which the cook knocked my head against the wall. "Sho' now," he growled, "go 'long!"
I was not yet ready to go. "Tell me, doctor," I said, "does the second mate get on well with the others in the cabin?"
The title mollified him somewhat, but he still felt that he must uphold the dignity of his office. "Sho' now, what kind of a question is dat fo' a ship's boy to be askin' de cook?" He glanced at me suspiciously, then challenged me directly, "Who put dose idea' in yo' head?"
By the tone of the second question, which was quite too straightforward to be confused with the bantering that we usually exchanged, I knew that he was willing, if diplomatically coaxed, to talk frankly. I then said cautiously, "Every one thinks so, but you're the only man forward that's likely to know."
"Now ain't dat jest like de assumptivity of dem dah men in de forecastle. How'd Ah know dat kind of contraptiveness, tell me?"
Looking closely at me he began to rattle his pans at a great rate while I waited in silence. He was not accomplishing much; indeed, he really was throwing things into a state of general disorder. But I observed that he was working methodically round the galley toward where I stood, until at last he bumped into me and started as if he hadn't known that I was there at all.
"You boy," he cried, "you still heah?" He scowled at me with a particularly savage intensity, then suddenly leaned over and tapped me on the shoulder. "You's right, boy," he whispered. "He ain't got no manner of use foh dem other gen'lems, and what's mo', dey ain't got no manner of use foh him. Ah's telling you, boy, it's darn lucky, you bet, dat Mistah Falk he eats at second table. Yass, sah. Hark! dah's de bell—eight bells! Yo' watch on deck, hey?" After a short pause, he whispered, "Boy, you come sneakin' round to-morrow night when dat yeh stew'd done gone to bed, an' Ah'll jest gadder you up a piece of pie f'om Cap'n's table—yass, sah! Eight bells is struck. Go 'long, you." And shoving me out of his little kingdom, the villainous-looking darky sent after me a savage scowl, which I translated rightly as a token of his high regard and sincere friendship.
In my delight at the promised treat, and in my haste to join the watch, I gave too little heed to where I was going, and shot like a bullet squarely against a man who had been standing just abaft the galley window. He collapsed with a grunt. My shoulder had knocked the wind completely out of him.
"Ugh!—" he gasped—"ugh! You son of perdition—ugh! Why in thunder don't you look where you're running—ugh!—I'll break your rascally young neck—ugh—when I get my wind."
It was Kipping, and for the second time he had lost his mildness.
As he clutched at me fiercely, I dodged and fled. Later, when I was hauling at his side, he seemed to have forgotten the accident; but I knew well enough that he had not. He was not the kind that forgets accidents. His silence troubled me. How much, I wondered, had he heard of what was going on in the galley?
A PIECE OF PIE
At two bells there sounded the sonorous call, "Sail ho!"
"Where away?" cried Mr. Falk.
"One point off the larboard bow."
In all the days since we had lost sight of land, we had seen but one other sail, which had appeared only to disappear again beyond the horizon. It seemed probable, however, that we should speak this second vessel, a brig whose course crossed our own. Captain Whidden came on deck and assumed command, and the men below, getting wind of the excitement, trooped up and lined the bulwarks forward. Our interest, which was already considerable, became even keener when the stranger hove out a signal of distress. We took in all studding-sails and topgallantsails fore and aft, and lay by for her about an hour after we first had sighted her.
Over the water, when we were within hailing distance, came the cry: "Ship ahoy!"
Captain Whidden held the speaking trumpet. "Hullo!"
"What ship is that, pray?"
"The ship Island Princess, from Salem, bound to Canton. Where are you from?"
"The brig Adventure, bound from the Straits to Boston. Our foretopmast was carried away four hours ago. Beware of—"
Losing the next words, the Captain called, "I didn't hear that last."
"Beware,"—came again the warning cry, booming deeply over the sea while one and all we strained to hear it—"beware of any Arab ship. Arabs have captured the English ship Alert and have murdered her captain and fifteen men."
Squaring her head-yards, the brig dropped her mainsail, braced her cross jack-yard sharp aback, put her helm a-weather and got sternway, while her after sails and helm kept her to the wind. So she fell off from us and the two vessels passed, perhaps never to meet again.
Both forward and aft, we aboard the Island Princess were sober men. Kipping and the second mate were talking quietly together, I saw (I saw, too, that Captain Whidden and some of the others were watching them sharply) Mr. Thomas and Roger Hamlin were leaning side by side upon the rail, and forward the men were gathering in groups. It was indeed an ominous message that the brig had given us. But supper broke the tension, and afterwards a more cheerful atmosphere prevailed.
As I was sweeping down the deck next day, Roger, to my great surprise,—for by now I was accustomed to his amused silence,—came and spoke to me with something of the old, humorous freedom that was so characteristic of him.
"Well, Bennie," said he, "we're quite a man now, are we not?"
"We are," I replied shortly. Although I would not for a great deal have given him the satisfaction of knowing it, I had been much vexed, secretly, by his rigidly ignoring me.
"Bennie," he said in a low voice, "is there trouble brewing in the forecastle?"
I was startled. "Why, no. I've seen no sign of trouble."
"No one has talked to you, then?"
"Not in such a way as you imply."
"Hm! Keep your eyes and ears open, anyway, and if you hear anything that sounds like trouble, let me know—quietly, mind you, even secretly."
"What do you mean?"
"We are carrying a valuable cargo, and we have very particular orders. All must be thus and so,—exactly thus and so,—and it means more to the owners, Bennie, than I think you realize. Now you go on with your work. But remember—eyes and ears open."
That night, as I watched the restless sea and the silent stars, my imagination was stirred as never before. I felt the mystery and wonder of great distances and far places. We were so utterly alone! Except for the passing hail of some stranger, we had cut ourselves off for months from all communication with the larger world. Whatever happened aboard ship, in whatever straits we found ourselves, we must depend solely upon our own resources; and already it appeared that some of our shipmates were scheming and intriguing against one another. Thus I meditated, until the boyish and more natural, perhaps more wholesome, thought of the cook's promise came to me.
Pie! My remembrance of pie was almost as intangible as a pleasant dream might be some two days later. With care to escape observation, I made my way to the galley and knocked cautiously.
"Who's dah?" asked softly the old cook, who had barricaded himself for the night according to his custom, and was smoking a villainously rank pipe.
"It's Ben Lathrop," I whispered.
"What you want heah?" the cook demanded.
"The pie you promised me," I answered.
"Humph! Ain't you fo'got dat pie yet? You got de most miraculous memorizer eveh Ah heared of. You wait."
I heard him fumbling inside the galley; then he opened the door and stepped out on deck as if he had just decided to take a breath of fresh air. Upon seeing me, he pretended to start with great surprise, and exclaimed rather more loudly than before:—
"What you doin' heah, boy, at dis yeh hour o' night?"
But all this was only crafty by-play. Having made sure, so he thought, that no one was in sight, he grabbed me by the collar and yanked me into the galley, at the same time shutting the door so that I almost stifled in the rank smoke with which he had filled the place.
Scowling fiercely, he reached into a little cupboard and drew out half an apple pie that to my eager eyes seemed as big as a half moon on a clear night.
"Dah," he said. "Eat it up. Mistah Falk, he tell stew'd he want pie and he gotta have pie, and stew'd he come and he say, 'Frank,' says he, 'dat Mistah Falk, his langwidge is like he is in liquo'. He gotta have pie.' 'All right,' Ah say, 'if he gotta have pie, he gotta wait twill Ah make pie. Cap'n, he et hearty o' pie lately.' Stew'd he say, 'Cap'n ain't had but one piece and Mistah Thomas, he ain't had but one piece, and Mistah Hamlin, he ain't had any. Dah's gotta be pie. You done et dat pie yo'se'f,' says he. 'Oh, no,' says Ah. 'Ah never et no pie. You fo'get 'bout dat pie you give Cap'n foh breakfas'.' Den stew'd he done crawl out. He don' know Ah make two pies yestidday. Dat's how come Ah have pie foh de boy. Boys dey need pie to make 'em grow. It's won'erful foh de indignation, pie is."
I was appalled by the hue and cry that my half-circle of pastry had occasioned, and more than a little fearful of the consequences if the truth ever should transpire; but the pie in hand was compensation for many such intangible difficulties in the future, and I was making great inroads on a wedge of it, when I thought I heard a sound outside the window, which the cook had masked with a piece of paper.
I stopped to listen and saw that Frank had heard it too. It was a scratchy sound as if some one were trying to unship the glass.
"Massy sake!" my host gasped, taking his vile pipe out of his mouth.
Although it was quite impossible for pallor to make any visible impression on his surpassing blackness, he obviously was much disturbed.
"Gobble dat pie, boy," he gasped, "gobble up ev'y crumb an' splinter."
Now, as the scratchy noise sounded at the door, the cook laid his pipe on a shelf and glanced up at a big carving-knife that hung from a rack above his head.
"Who's dah?" he demanded cautiously.
"Lemme in," said a mild, low voice, "I want some o' that pie."
"Massy sake!" the cook gasped in disgust, "ef it ain't dat no 'count Kipping."
"Lemme in," persisted the mild, plaintive voice. "Lemme in."
"Aw, go 'long! Dah ain't no pie in heah," the cook retorted. "You's dreamin', dat's what you is. You needs a good dose of medicine, dat's what you needs."
"I'm dreaming, am I?" the mild voice repeated. "Oh, yes, I'm dreaming I am, ain't I? I didn't sneak around the galley yesterday morning and hear you tell that cocky little fool to come and get a piece of pie tonight. Oh, no! I didn't see him come prowling around when he thought no one was looking. Oh, no! I didn't see you come out of the galley like you didn't know there was anybody on deck, and walk right under the rigging where I was waiting for just such tricks. Oh, no! I was dreaming, I was. Oh, yes."
"Dat Kipping," the cook whispered, "he's hand and foot with Mistah Falk."
"Lemme in, you woolly-headed son of perdition, or I swear I'll take the kinky scalp right off your round old head."
"He's gettin' violenter," the cook whispered, eyeing me questioningly.
Saying nothing, I swallowed the last bit of pie. I had made the most of my opportunity.
Kipping now shook the door and swore angrily. Finally he kicked it with the full weight of his heel.
It rattled on its hinges and a long crack appeared in the lower panel.
"He's sho' coming in," the African said slowly and reflectively. "He's sho' coming in and when he don't get no pie, he's gwine tell Mistah Falk, and you and me's gwine have trouble." Putting his scowling face close to my ear, the cook whispered, "Ah's gwine scare him good."
Amazed by the dramatic turn that events were taking, I drew back into a corner.
From the rack above his head the cook took down the carving-knife. Dropping on hands and knees and creeping across the floor, he held the weapon between his even white teeth, sat up on his haunches, and noiselessly drew the bolt that locked the door. Then with a deft motion of an extraordinarily long arm he put out the lantern behind him and threw the galley into darkness.
I thought that Kipping must have abandoned his quest. In the darkness of the galley the silence seemed hours long. The coals in the stove glowed redly, and the almost imperceptible light of the starry sky came in here and there around the door. Otherwise not a thing was visible in the absolute blackness that shrouded my strange host, who seemed for the moment to have reverted to the savage craft of his Slave Coast ancestors. Surely Kipping must have gone away, I thought. He was so mild a man, one could expect nothing else. Then somewhere I heard the faint sigh of indrawn breath.
"You blasted nigger, open that door," said the mild, sad voice. "If you don't, I'm going to kick it in on top of you and cut your heart out right where you stand."
The silence, heavy and pregnant, was broken by the shuffling of feet. Evidently Kipping drew off to kick the door a second time. His boot struck it a terrific blow, but the door, instead of breaking, flew open and crashed against the pans behind it.
Then the cook, who so carefully had prepared the simple trap, swinging the carving-knife like a cutlass, sprang with a fierce, guttural grunt full in Kipping's face. Concealed in the dark galley, I saw it all silhouetted against the starlit deck. With the quickness of a weasel, Kipping evaded the black's clutching left hand and threw himself down and forward. Had the cook really intended to kill Kipping, the weapon scarcely could have failed to cut flesh in its terrific swing, but he gave it an upward turn that carried it safely above Kipping's head. When Kipping, however, dived under Frank's feet, Frank, who had expected him to turn and run, tripped and fell, dropping the carving-knife, and instantly black man and white wriggled toward the weapon.
It would have been funny if it hadn't been so dramatic. The two men sprawled on their bellies like snakes, neither of them daring to take time to stand, each, in the snap of a finger, striving with every tendon and muscle to reach something that lay just beyond his finger-tips. I found myself actually laughing—they looked so like two fish just out of water.
But the fight suddenly had become bitter earnest, Kipping unquestionably feared for his life, and the cook knew well that the weapon for which they fought would be turned against him if his antagonist once got possession of it.
As Kipping closed his fingers on the handle, the cook grabbed the blade. Then the mate appeared out of the dark.
"Here, what's this?" he demanded, looming on the scene of the struggle.
I saw starlight flash on the knife as it flew over the bulwark, then I heard it splash. Kipping got away by a quick twist and vanished. The cook remained alone to face the mate, for you can be very sure that I had every discreet intention not to reveal my presence in the dark galley.
"Yass, sah," said the cook, "yass, sah. Please to 'scuse me, sah, but Ah didn't go foh no premeditation of disturbance. It is quite unintelligible, sah, but one of de men, sah, he come round, sah, and says Ah gotta give him a pie, sah, and of co'se Ah can't do nothin' like dat, sah. Pies is foh de officers and gen'lems, sah, and of co'se Ah don't give pie to de men, sah, not even in dey vittles, sah, even if dey was pie, which dey wa'n't, sah, fob dis we'y day Mistah Falk he wants pie and stew'd he come, and me and he, sah, we sho' ransack dis galley, sah, and try like we can, not even two of us togetheh, sah, can sca' up a piece of pie foh Mistah Falk, sah, and he—"
Unwilling to listen longer, the mate turned with a grunt of disgust and walked away.
After he had gone, the cook stood for a time by the galley, looking pensively at the stars. Long-armed, broad-shouldered, bullet-headed, he seemed a typical savage. Yet in spite of his thick lips and protruding chin, his face had a certain thoughtful quality, and not even that deeply graven scowl could hide the dog-like faithfulness of his dark eyes.
After all, I wondered, was he not like a faithful dog: loyal to the last breath, equally ready to succor his friend or to fight for him?
"Boy," he said, when he came in, "Ah done fool 'em. Dey ain' gwine believe no gammon dat yeh Kipping tells 'em—leastwise, no one ain't onless it's Mistah Falk. Now you go 'long with you and don't you come neah me foh a week without you act like Ah ain't got no use foh you. And boy," he whispered, "you jest look out and keep clear of dat Kipping. Foh all he talk' like he got a mouth full of butter, he's an uncommon fighter, he is, yass sah, an uncommon fighter."
He paused for a moment, then added in such a way that I remembered it long afterward, "Ah sho' would like to know whar Ah done see dat Kipping befo'."
I reached the forecastle unobserved, and as I started to climb into my bunk, I felt very well satisfied with myself indeed. Not even Kipping had seen me come. But a disagreeable surprise awaited me; my hand encountered a man lying wrapped in my blankets.
It was Kipping!
He rolled out with a sly smile, looked at me in silence a long time, and then pretended to shake with silent laughter.
"Well," I whispered, "what's the matter with you?"
"There wasn't any pie," he sighed—so mildly. "How sad that there wasn't any pie."
He then climbed into his own bunk and almost immediately, I judged, went to sleep.
If he desired to make me exceedingly uncomfortable, he had accomplished his purpose. For days I puzzled over his queer behavior. I wondered how much he knew, how much he had told Mr. Falk; and I recalled, sometimes, the cook's remark, "Ah sho' would like to know whar Ah done see dat Kipping befo'."
Of one thing I was sure: both Kipping and Mr. Falk heartily disliked me. Kipping took every occasion to annoy me in petty ways, and sometimes I discovered Mr. Falk watching me sharply and ill-naturedly. But he always looked away quickly when he knew that I saw him.
We still lacked several days of having been at sea a month when we sighted Madeira, bearing west southwest about ten leagues distant. Taking a fresh departure the next day from latitude 32 deg. 22' North, and longitude 16 deg. 36' West of London, we laid our course south southwest, and swung far enough away from the outshouldering curve of the Rio de Oro coast to pass clear of the Canary Islands.
* * * * *
"Do you know," said Bill Hayden one day, some five weeks later, when we were aloft side by side, "they don't like you any better than they do me."
It was true; both Kipping and Mr. Falk showed it constantly.
"And there's others that don't like us, too," Bill added. "I told 'em, though, that if they got funny with me or you, I'd show 'em what was what."
"Who are they?" I asked, suddenly remembering Roger Hamlin's warning.
"Davie Paine is one."
"But I thought he didn't like Kipping or Mr. Falk!"
"He didn't for a while; but there was something happened that turned his mind about them."
I worked away with the tar-bucket and reflected on this unexpected change in the attitude of the deep-voiced seaman who, on our first day aboard ship, had seen Kipping wink at the second mate. It was all so trivial that I was ready to laugh at myself for thinking of it twice, and yet stupid old Bill Hayden had noticed it. A new suspicion startled me. "Bill, did any one say anything to you about any plan or scheme that Kipping is concerned in?" I asked.
"Why, yes. Didn't they speak to you about it?"
"Why, about a voyage that all the men was to have a venture in. I thought they talked to every one. I didn't want anything to do with it if Kipping was to have a finger in the pie. I told 'em 'No!' and they swore at me something awful, and said that if ever I blabbed I'd never see my little wee girl at Newburyport again. So I never said nothing." He looked at me with a frightened expression. "It's funny they never said nothing to you. Don't you tell 'em I talked. If they thought I'd split, they'd knock me in the head, that's what they' d do."
"Who's in it besides Kipping and Davie Paine?"
"The two men from Boston and Chips and the steward. Them's all I know, but there may be others. The men have been talking about it quiet like for a good while now."
As Mr. Falk came forward on some errand or other, we stopped talking and worked harder than ever at tarring down the rigging.
Presently Bill repeated without turning his head, "Don't you tell 'em I said anything, will you, Bennie? Don't you tell 'em."
And I replied, "No."
We then had passed the Canaries and the Cape Verdes, and had crossed the Line; from the most western curve of Africa we had weathered the narrows of the Atlantic almost to Pernambuco, and thence, driven by fair winds, we had swept east again in a long arc, past Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, and on south of the Cape of Good Hope.
The routine of a sailor's life is full of hard work and petty detail. Week follows week, each like every other. The men complain about their duties and their food and the officers grow irritable. There are few stories worth telling in the drudgery of life at sea, but now and then in a long, long time fate and coincidence conspire to unite in a single voyage, such as that which I am chronicling, enough plots and crimes and untoward incidents to season a dozen ordinary lifetimes spent before the mast.
I could not, of course, even begin as yet to comprehend the magnitude that the tiny whirlpool of discontented and lawless schemers would attain. But boy though I was, in those first months of the voyage I had learned enough about the different members of the crew to realize that serious consequences might grow from such a clique.
Kipping, whom I had thought at first a mild, harmless man, had proved himself a vengeful bully, cowardly in a sense, yet apparently courageous enough so far as physical combat was concerned. Also, he had disclosed an unexpected subtlety, a cat-like craft in eavesdropping and underhanded contrivances. The steward I believed a mercenary soul, tricky so far as his own comfort and gain were concerned, who, according to common report, had ingratiated himself with the second mate by sympathizing with him on every occasion because he had not been given the chief mate's berth. The two men from Boston I cared even less for; they were slipshod workmen and ill-tempered, and their bearing convinced me that, from the point of view of our officers and of the owners of the ship, they were a most undesirable addition to such a coterie as Kipping seemed to be forming. Davie Paine and the carpenter prided themselves on being always affable, and each, although slow to make up his mind, would throw himself heart and body into whatever course of action he finally decided on. But significant above all else was Kipping's familiarity with Mr. Falk.
The question now was, how to communicate my suspicions secretly to Roger Hamlin. After thinking the matter over in all its details, I wrote a few letters on a piece of white paper, and found opportunity to take counsel with my friend the cook, when I, as the youngest in the crew, was left in the galley to bring the kids forward to the men in the forecastle.
"Doctor," I said, "if I wanted to get a note to Mr. Hamlin without anybody's knowing,—particularly the steward or Mr. Falk,—how should I go about it?"
The perpetually frowning black heaped salt beef on the kids. "Dah's enough grub foh a hun'erd o'nary men. Dey's enough meat dah to feed a whole regiment of Sigambeezel cavalry—yass, sah, ho'ses and all. And yet Ah'll bet you foh dollahs right out of mah pay, doze pesky cable-scrapers fo'ward 'll eat all dat meat and cuss me in good shape 'cause it ain't mo', and den, mah golly, dey'll sot up all night, Ah'll bet you, yass, sah, a-kicking dey heads off 'cause dey ain't fed f'om de cabin table. Boy, if you was to set beefsteak and bake' 'taters and ham and eggs down befo' dem fool men ev'y mo'ning foh breakfas', dey'd come heah hollerin' and cussin' and tellin' me dey wah n't gwine have dey innards spiled on all dat yeh truck jest 'cause dem aft can't eat it."
Turning his ferocious scowl full upon me, the savage-looking darky handed me the kids. "Dah! you take doze straight along fo'ward." Then, dropping his voice to a whisper, he said, "Gimme yo' note."
Knowing now that the cook approached every important matter by an extraordinarily indirect route, I had expected some such conclusion, and I held the note ready.
"Go long," he said, when I had slipped it into his huge black hand. "Ah'll do it right."
So I departed with all confidence that my message would go secretly and safely to its destination. Even if it should fall into other hands than those for which it was intended, I felt that I had not committed myself dangerously. I had written only one word: "News."
IN WHICH WE ENCOUNTER AN ARAB SHIP
THE COUNCIL IN THE CABIN
Sometimes in the night I dream of the forecastle of the Island Princess, and see the crew sitting on chests and bunks, as vividly as if only yesterday I had come through the hatchway and down the steps with a kid of "salt horse" for the mess, and had found them waiting, each with his pan and spoon and the great tin dipper of tea that he himself had brought from the galley. There was Chips, the carpenter, who had descended for the moment from the dignity of the steerage; calmly he helped himself to twice his share, ignoring the oaths of the others, and washed down his first mouthful with a great gulp of tea. Once upon a time Chips came down just too late to get any meat, and tried to kill the cook; but as the cook remarked to me afterwards, "Foh a drea'ful impulsive pusson, he wah n't ve'y handy with his fists." There was Bill Hayden, who always got last chance at the meat, and took whatever the doubtful generosity of his shipmates had left him—poor Bill, as happy in the thought of his little wee girl at Newburyport as if all the wealth of the khans of Tartary were waiting for him at the end of the voyage. There was the deep-voiced Davie, almost out of sight in the darkest corner, who chose his food carefully, pretending the while to be considerate of the others, and growled amiably about his hard lot. Also there was Kipping, mild and evasive, yet amply able to look out for his own interests, as I, who so often brought down the kids, well knew.
When, that evening, Bill Hayden had scraped up the last poor slivers of meat, he sat down beside me on my chest.
"If I didn't have my little wee girl at Newburyport," he said, "I might be as gloomy as Neddie Benson. Do you suppose if I went to see a fortune-teller I'd be as gloomy as Neddie is? I never used to be gloomy, even before I married, and I married late. I was older than Neddie is now when I married. Neddie ought to get a wife and stop going to see fortune-tellers, and then he wouldn't be so gloomy."
Bill would run on indefinitely in his stupid, kindly way, for I was almost the only person aboard ship who listened to him at all, and, to tell the truth, even I seldom more than half listened. But already he had given me valuable information that day, and now something in the tone of his rambling words caught my attention.
"Has Neddie Benson been talking about the fortuneteller again?" I asked.
"He's had a lot to say about her. He says the lady said to him—"
"But what started him off?"
"He says things is bound to come to a bad end."
As I have said before, I had a normal boy's curiosity about all that was going on around us. Perhaps, I have come to think, I had more than the ordinary boy's sense for important information. Roger Hamlin's warning had put me on my guard, and I intended to learn all I could and to keep my mouth shut where certain people were concerned.
"It's queer they don't say nothing to you about what's going on," Bill remarked.
For my own part I understood very well why they should say nothing of any underhanded trickery to one who ashore was so intimately acquainted with Captain Whidden and Roger Hamlin. But I kept my thoughts to myself and persisted in my questions.
"What is going on?"
"Oh, I don't just make out what." Bill's stupidity was exasperating at times. "It's something about Mr. Falk. Kipping, he—"
"Yes?" said that eternally mild voice. "Mr. Falk? And Kipping? What else please?"
Both Bill and I were startled to find Kipping at our elbows. But before either of us could answer, some one called down the hatch:—
"Lathrop is wanted aft."
Relieved at escaping from an embarrassing situation, I jumped up so promptly that my knife fell with a clatter, and hastened on deck, calling "Ay, ay," to the man who had summoned me. I knew very well why I was wanted aft.
Mr. Falk, who was on duty on the quarter-deck, completely ignored me as I passed him and went down the companionway.
"At least," I thought, "he can't come below now."
The steward, when I appeared, raised his eyebrows and almost dropped his tray; then he paused in the door, inconspicuously, as if to linger. But Captain Whidden glanced round and dismissed him by a sharp nod, and I found myself alone in the cabin with the captain, Mr. Thomas, and Roger Hamlin.
"I understand there's news forward, Lathrop," said Captain Whidden.
Roger looked at me with that humorous, exasperating twinkle of his eyes,—I thought of my sister and of how she had looked when she learned that he was to sail for Canton,—and Mr. Thomas folded his arms and leaned back in his chair.
"Yes, sir," I replied, "although it seems pretty unimportant to be worth much as news."
"Tell us about it."
To all that I had gathered from Bill Hayden I added what I had learned by my own observations, and it seemed to interest them, although for my own part I doubted whether it was of much account.
"Has any one approached you directly about these things?" Captain Whidden asked when I was through.
"Have you heard any one say just what this little group is trying to accomplish, or just when it is going to act?"
"Do you, Lathrop, know anything about the cargo of the Island Princess? Or anything about the terms under which it is carried?"
"Only in a general way, sir, that it is made up of ginseng and woolen goods shipped to Canton."
Captain Whidden looked at me very sharply indeed. "You are positive that that is all you know?"
"Yes, sir—except, in a general way, that the cargo is uncommonly important."
The three men exchanged glances, and Roger Hamlin nodded as if to corroborate my reply.
"Lathrop," Captain Whidden began again, "I want you to say nothing about this interview after you leave the cabin. It is more important that you hold your peace than you may ever realize—than, I trust, you ever will realize. I am going to ask you to give me your word of honor to that effect."
It seemed to me then that I saw Captain Whidden in a new light. We of the younger generation had inclined to belittle him because he continued to follow the sea at an age when more successful men had established their counting-houses or had retired from active business altogether. But twice his mercantile adventures had proved unfortunate, and now, though nearly sixty years old and worth a very comfortable fortune, he refused to leave again for a less familiar occupation the profession by which he had amassed his competence. I noticed that his hair was gray on his temples, and that his weathered face revealed a certain stern sadness. I felt as if suddenly, in spite of my minor importance on board his ship, I had come closer to the straightforward gentleman, the true Joseph Whidden, than in all the years that I had known him, almost intimately, it had seemed at the time, in my father's house.
"I promise, sir," I said.
He took up a pencil and with the point tapped a piece of paper.
"Tell me who of all the men forward absolutely are not influenced by this man Kipping."
"The cook," I returned, "and Bill Hayden, and, I think, Neddie Benson. Probably there are a number of others, but only of those three am I absolutely sure."
"That's what I want—the men you are absolutely sure of. Hm! The cook, useful but not particularly quick-witted. Hayden, a harmless, negative body. Benson, a gloomy soul if ever there was one. It might be better but—" He looked at Mr. Thomas and smiled. "That is all, Lathrop; you may go now. Just one moment more, though: be cautious, keep your eyes and ears open, and if anything else comes up, communicate with Mr. Hamlin or,—" he hesitated, but finally said it,—"or directly with me."
As I went up on deck, I again passed Mr. Falk and again he pretended not to see me. But although he seemed to be intent on the rolling seas to windward, I was very confident that, when I had left the quarter-deck, he turned and looked after me as earnestly as if he hoped to read in my step and carriage everything that had occurred in the cabin.
THE SAIL WITH A LOZENGE-SHAPED PATCH
It was not long before we got another warning even more ominous than the one from the captain of the Adventure. On Friday, July 28, in latitude 19 deg. 50' South, longitude 101 deg. 53' East,—the log of the voyage, kept beyond this point in Mr. Thomas's own hand, gives me the dates and figures to the very day for it still is preserved in the vaults of Hamlin, Lathrop & Company,—we sighted a bark to the south, and at the captain's orders wore ship to speak her. When she also came about, we served out pikes and muskets as a precaution against treachery, and Mr. Falk saw that our guns were shotted. But she proved to be in good faith, and in answer to our hail she declared herself the Adrienne of Liverpool, eight days from the Straits, homeward bound. Her master, it appeared, wished to compare notes on longitude, and a long, dull discussion followed; but in parting Captain Whidden asked if there was news of pirates or marauders.
"Yes," was the reply. "Much news and bad news." And the master of the Adrienne thereupon launched into a tale of piracy and treachery such, as I never had heard before. Leaning over the taffrail, his elbows out-thrust and his big hands folded, he roared the story at us in a great booming voice that at times seemed to drown the words in its own volume. Now, as the waves and the wind snatched it away, it grew momentarily fainter and clearer; now it came bellowing back again, loud, hoarse, and indistinct.
It was all about an Arab ship off Benkulen; Ladronesers and the havoc they had wrought among the American ships in the China Sea; a warning not to sail from Macao for Whampoa without a fleet of four or five sail; and again, about the depredations of the Malays. The grizzled old captain seemed to delight in repeating horrible yarns of the seas whence he came, whither we were going. He roared them after us until we had left him far astern; and at the last we heard him laughing long and hoarsely.
"What dat yeh man think we all am? He think we all gwine believe dat yeh? Hgh!" the cook growled.
But Neddie Benson dolefully shook his head.
Parting, the Adrienne and the Island Princess continued, each on her course, the one back round the Cape of Good Hope and north again to Liverpool, the other on into strange oceans beset with a thousand dangers.
We sailed now a sea of opalescent greens and purples that shimmered and changed with the changing lights. Strange shadows played across it, even when the sky was cloudless, and it rolled past the ship in great, regular swells, ruffled by favoring breezes and bright beneath the clear sun.
At daylight on August 3 we saw land about nine miles away, bearing from east by south to north, a long line of rugged hills, which appeared to be piled one above another, and which our last lunar observations indicated were in longitude 107 deg. 15' East; and we made out a single sail lying off the coast to the north.
The sail caught and held our attention—not that, so far as we then could see, that particular sail was at all remarkable: any sail, at that time and in that place, would have interested us unusually. Mindful of the warnings we had received, we paused in our work to watch it. Kipping, with a sly glance aft, left the winch with which he was occupied and leaned on the rail. Here and there the crew conversed cautiously, and on the quarter-deck a lively discussion, I could see, was in progress.
We were so intent on that distant spot of canvas which pricked the horizon, that a fierce squall, sweeping down upon us, almost took us aback.
The cry, "All hands on deck!" brought the sleeping watch from the bunks below, and the carpenter, steward, and sailmaker from the steerage. The foresail ripped from its bolt ropes with a deafening crack, and tore to ribbons in the gale. As the ship lay into the wind, I could hear the captain's voice louder than the very storm, "Meet her!—Meet her!—Ease her off!" But the reply of the man at the wheel was lost in the rush of wind and rain.
I had been well drilled long since in furling the royals, for on them the green hands were oftenest practised; and now, from his post on the forecastle, Mr. Thomas spied me as I slipped and fell half across the deck. I alone at that moment was not hard at work, and, in obedience to the captain's orders, during a lull that gave us a momentary respite, he sent me aloft.
It was quite a different thing from furling a royal in a light breeze. When I had got to the topgallant masthead, the yard was well down by the lifts and steadied by the braces, but the clews were not hauled chock up to the blocks. Leaning out precariously, I won Mr. Thomas's attention with greatest difficulty, and shrieked to have it done. This he did. Then, casting the yard-arm gaskets off from the tye and laying them across between the tye and the mast, I stretched out on the weather yard-arm and, getting hold of the weather leech, brought it in to the slings taut along the yard. Mind you, all this time I, only a boy, was working in a gale of wind and driven rain, and was clinging to a yard that was sweeping from side to side in lurching, unsteady flight far above the deck and the angry sea. Hauling the sail through the clew, and letting it fall in the bunt, I drew the weather clew a little abaft the yard, and held it with my knee while I brought in the lee leech in, the same manner. Then, making up my bunt and putting into it the slack of the clews, the leech and footrope and the body of the sail, I hauled it well up on the yard, smoothed the skin, brought it down abaft, and made fast the bunt-gasket round the mast. Passing the weather and lee yard-arm gaskets round the yard in turn, and hauling them taut and making them fast, I left all snug and trim.
From aft came faintly the clear command, "Full and by!" And promptly, for by this time the force of the squall was already spent, the answer of the man at the wheel, "Full and by, sir."
In this first moment of leisure I instinctively turned, as did virtually every man aboard ship, to look for the sail that had been reported to the north of us. But although we looked long and anxiously, we saw no sail, no trace of any floating craft. It had disappeared during the squall, utterly and completely. Only the wild dark sea and the wild succession of mountain piled on mountain met our searching eyes.
A sail there had been, beyond all question, where now there was none. Driven by the storm, it had vanished completely from our sight.
As well as we could judge by our lunar observations, the land was between Paga River and Stony Point, and when we had sailed along some forty miles, the shore, as it should be according to our reckoning, was less mountainous.
It was my first glimpse of the Sunda Islands, of which I had heard so much, and I well remember that I stood by the forward rigging watching the distant land from where it seemed on my right to rise from the sea, to where it seemed on my left to go down beyond the horizon into the sea again, and that I murmured to myself in a small, awed voice:—
"This is Java!"
The very name had magic in it. Already from those islands our Salem mariners had accumulated great wealth. Not yet are the old days forgotten, when Elias Hasket Derby's ships brought back fortunes from Batavia, and when Captain Carnes, by one voyage in Jonathan Peele's schooner Rajah to the northern coast of Sumatra for wild pepper, made a profit of seven hundred per cent of both the total cost of the schooner itself and the whole expense of the entire expedition. I who lived in the exhilarating atmosphere of those adventurous times was thrilled to the heart by my first sight of lands to which hundreds of Salem ships had sailed.
It really was Java, and night was falling on its shores. Far to the northeast some tiny object pricked above the skyline, and a point of light gleamed clearly, low against the blue heavens in which the stars had just begun to shine.
"A sail!" I cried.
Before the words had left my lips a deep voice aloft sonorously proclaimed:—
"Where away?" Mr. Thomas cried.
"Two points off the larboard bow, sir."
The little knot of officers on the quarter-deck already were intent on the tiny spot of almost invisible canvas, and we forward were crowding one another for a better sight of it. Then in the gathering darkness it faded and was gone. Could it have been the same that we had seen before?
There was much talk of the mysterious ship that night, and many strange theories were offered to account for it. Davie Paine, in his deep, rolling voice, sent shivers down our backs by his story of a ghost-ship manned by dead men with bony fingers and hollow eyes, which had sailed the seas in the days of his great-uncle, a stout old mariner who seemed from Davie's account to have been a hard drinker. Kipping was reminded of yarns about Malay pirates, which he told so quietly, so mildly, that they seemed by contrast thrice as terrible. Neddie Benson lugubriously recalled the prophecy of the charming fortune-teller and argued the worst of our mysterious stranger. "The lady said," he repeated, "that there'd be a dark man and a light man and no end o' trouble. She was a nice lady, too." But Neddie and his doleful fortune-teller as usual banished our gloom, and the forecastle reechoed with hoarse laughter, which grew louder and louder when Neddie once again narrated the lady's charms, and at last cried angrily that she was as plump as a nice young chicken.
"If you was to ask me," Bill Hayden murmured, "I'd say it was just a sail." But no one asked Bill Hayden, and with a few words about his "little wee girl at Newburyport," he buried himself in his old blankets and was soon asleep.
During the mid-watch that same night, the cook prowled the deck forward like a dog sneaking along the wharves. Silently, the whites of his eyes gleaming out of the darkness, he moved hither and thither, careful always to avoid the second mate's observation. As I watched him, I became more and more curious, for I could make nothing of his veering course. He went now to starboard, now to larboard, now to the forecastle, now to the steerage, always silently, always deliberately. After a while he came over and stood beside me.
"It ain't right," he whispered. "Ah tell you, boy, it ain't right."
"What's not right?" I asked.
"De goin's on aboa'd dis ship."
"What goings on?"
"Boy, Ah's been a long time to sea and Ah's cooked foh some bad crews in my time, yass, sah, but Ah's gwine tell you, boy, 'cause Ah done took a fancy to you, dis am de most iniquitous crew Ah eveh done cook salt hoss foh. Yass, sah."
"What do you mean?"
The negro ignored my question.
"Ah's gwine tell you, boy, dis yeh crew am bad 'nough, but when dah come a ha'nt boat a-sailin' oveh yondeh jest at dahk, boy, Ah wish Ah was back home whar Ah could somehow come to shoot a rabbit what got a lef' hind-foot. Yass, sah."
For a long time he silently paced up and down by the bulwark; but finally I saw him momentarily against the light of his dim lantern as he entered his own quarters.
Morning came with fine breezes and pleasant weather. At half-past four we saw Winerow Point bearing northwest by west. At seven o'clock we took in all studding-sails and staysails, and the fore and mizzen topgallant-sails. So another day passed and another night. An hour after midnight we took in the main topgallantsail, and lay by with our head to the south until six bells, when we wore ship, proceeding north again, and saw Java Head at nine o'clock to the minute.
We now faced Sunda Strait, the channel that separates Java from Sumatra and unites the Indian Ocean with the Java Sea. From the bow of our ship there stretched out on one hand and on the other, far beyond the horizon, Borneo, Celebes, Banka and Billiton; the Little Sunda Islands—Bali and Lombok, Simbawa, Flores and Timor; the China Sea, the Philippines, and farther and greater than them all, the mainland of Asia.
While we were still intent on Java Head there came once more the cry, "Sail ho!"
This time the sail was not to be mistaken. Captain Whidden trained on it the glass, which he shortly handed to Mr. Thomas. "See her go!" the men cried. It was true. She was running away from us easily. Now she was hull down. Now we could see only her topgallant-sails. Now she again had disappeared. But this time we had found, besides her general appearance and the cut of her sails, which no seaman could mistake, a mark by which any landsman must recognize her: on her fore-topsail there was a white lozenge-shaped patch.
At eleven o'clock in the morning, with Prince's Island bearing from north to west by south, we entered the Straits of Sunda. At noon we were due east of Prince's Island beach and had sighted the third Point of Java and the Isle of Cracato.
Fine breezes and a clear sky favored us, and the islands, green and blue according to their distance, were beautiful to see. Occasionally we had glimpses of little native craft, or descried villages sleeping amid the drowsy green of the cocoanut trees. It was a peaceful, beautiful world that met our eyes as the Island Princess stood through the Straits and up the east coast of Sumatra; the air was warm and pleasant, and the leaves of the tufted palms, lacily interwoven, were small in the distance like the fronds of ferns in our own land. But Captain Whidden and Mr. Thomas remained on deck and constantly searched the horizon with the glass; and the men worked uneasily, glancing up apprehensively every minute or two, and starting at slight sounds. There was reason to be apprehensive, we all knew.
On the evening of Friday, August 11, beyond possibility of doubt we sighted a ship; and that it was the same which we already had seen at least once, the lozenge-shaped patch on the foresail proved to the satisfaction of officers and men.
In the morning we were mystified to see that the sail once again had disappeared. But to distract us from idle speculations, need of fresh water now added to our uneasiness, and we anchored on a mud bottom while the captain and Mr. Thomas went ashore and searched in vain for a watering-place.
During the day we saw a number of natives fishing in their boats a short distance away; but when our own boat approached them, they pulled for the shore with all speed and fled into the woods like wild men. Thus the day passed,—so quietly and uneventfully that it lulled us into confidence that we were safe from harm,—and a new day dawned.
That morning, as we lay at anchor, the strange ship, with the sun shining brightly on her sails, boldly reappeared from beyond a distant point, and hove to about three miles to the north-northeast. As she lay in plain sight and almost within earshot, she seemed no more out of the ordinary than any vessel that we might have passed off the coast of New England. But on her great foresail, which hung loose now with the wind shaken out of it, there was a lozenge-shaped patch of clean new canvas.
Soon word passed from mouth to mouth that the captain and Mr. Falk would go in the gig to learn the stranger's name and port.
To a certain extent we were relieved to find that our phantom ship was built of solid wood and iron; yet we were decidedly apprehensive as we watched the men pull away in the bright sun. The boat became smaller and smaller, and the dipping oars flashed like gold.
With his head out-thrust and his chin sunk below the level of his shoulders, the cook stood by the galley, in doubt and foreboding, and watched the boat pull away.
His voice, when he spoke, gave me a start.
"Look dah, boy! Look dah! Dey's sumpin' funny, yass, sah. 'Tain't safe foh to truck with ha'nts, no sah! You can't make dis yeh nigger think a winkin' fire-bug of a fly-by-night ship ain't a ha'nt."
"Ha'nts," said Kipping mildly, "ha'nts is bad things for niggers, but they don't hurt white men."
"Lemme tell you, you Kipping, it ain't gwine pay you to be disrespectable to de cook." Frank stuck his angry face in front of the mild man's. "Ef you think—ha!"—He stopped suddenly, his eyes fixed on something far beyond Kipping, over whose shoulder he now was looking. "Look dah! Look dah! What Ah say? Hey? What Ah say? Look dah! Look dah!"
Startled by the cook's fierce yell, we turned as if a gun had been fired; but we saw only that the boat was coming about.
"Look dah! Look dah! See 'em row! Don' tell me dat ain't no ha'nt!" Jumping up and down, waving his arms wildly, contorting his irregular features till he resembled a gorilla, he continued to yell in frenzy.
Although there seemed to be no cause for any such outburst, the rest of us now were alarmed by the behavior of the men in the boat. Having come about, they were racing back to the Island Princess as fast as ever they could, and the captain and Mr. Falk, if we could judge by their gestures, were urging them to even greater efforts.
"Look dah! Look dah! Don't you tell me dey ain't seen a ha'nt, you Kipping!"
As they approached, I heard Roger Hamlin say sharply to the mate, "Mr. Thomas, that ship yonder is drifting down on us rapidly. See! They're sheeting home the topsail."
I could see that Mr. Thomas, who evidently thought Roger's fear groundless, was laughing, but I could not hear his reply. In any case he gave no order to prepare for action until the boat came within earshot and the captain abruptly hailed him and ordered him to trip anchor and prepare to make sail.
As the boat came aboard, we heard news that thrilled us. "She's an Arab ship," spread the word. "They were waiting for our boat, with no sign of hostility until Mr. Falk saw the sunlight strike on a gun-barrel that was intended to be hidden behind the bulwark. As the boat veered away, the man with the gun started to fire, but another prevented him, probably because the distance was so great."
Instantly there was wild activity on the Island Princess. While we loosed the sails and sheeted them home and, with anchor aweigh, braced the yards and began to move ahead, the idlers were tricing up the boarding nettings and double-charging our cannon, of which we carried three—a long gun amidships and a pair of stern chasers. Men to work the ship were ordered to the ropes. The rest were served pikes and loaded muskets.
We accomplished the various preparations in an incredibly short time, and, gathering way, stood ready to receive the stranger should she force us to fight.
For the time being we were doubtful of her intentions, and seeing us armed and ready, she stood off as if still unwilling to press us more closely. But some one aboard her, if I guess aright, resented so tame an end to a long pursuit and insisted on at least an exchange of volleys.
Now she came down on us, running easily with the wind on her quarter, and gave us a round from her muskets.
"Hold your fire," Captain Whidden ordered. "They're feeling their way."
Emboldened by our silence, she wore ship and came nearer. It seemed now that she would attempt to board us, for we spied men waiting with grapnels, and she came steadily on while our own men fretted at their guns, not daring to fire without the captain's orders, till we could see the triumphant sneer on the dark face of her commander.
Now her muskets spoke again. I heard a bullet sing over my head and saw one of our own seamen in the waist fall and lie quite still. Should we never answer her in kind? In three minutes, it seemed, we should have to meet her men hand to hand.
Now our helmsman luffed, and we came closer into the wind, which gave our guns a chance.
"Now, then," Captain Whidden cried, "let them have the long gun and hold the rest."
With a crash our cannon swept the deck of the Arab, splintering the cabin and accomplishing ten times as much damage as all her muskets had done to us. But she in turn, exasperated by the havoc we had wrought, fired simultaneously her two largest guns at point-blank range.
I ducked behind the bulwark and looked back along the deck. One ball had hit the scuttle-butt and had splashed the water fifteen feet in every direction. Another had splintered the cross jack-yard. Suddenly, in the brief silence that followed the two thunderous reports, a single pistol-shot rang out sharply and I saw Captain Whidden spin round and fall.
Our own guns, as we came about, sent an answer that cut the Arab's lower sail to ribbons, disabled many men and, I am confident, killed several. But there was no time to load again. Although by now we showed our stern to the enemy, and had a fair—chance to outstrip her in a long race, her greater momentum was bringing her down upon us rapidly. From aft came the order—it was Mr. Thomas who gave it,—"All hands to the pikes and repel boarders!"
There was, however, no more fighting. Our assailants took measure of the stout nets and the strong battery of pikes, and, abandoning the whole unlucky adventure, bore away on a new course.
One man forward was killed and four were badly hurt. Mr. Thomas sat with his back against the cabin, very white of face, with streams of red running from his nostrils and his mouth; and Captain Whidden lay dead on the deck. An hour later word passed through the ship that Mr. Thomas, too, had died.
It was strange that, while some of us in the forecastle were much cast down by the tragic events of the day, others should seem to be put in really good humor by it all. Neddie Benson soberly shook his head from time to time; old Bill Hayden lay in his bunk without even a word about his "little wee girl in Newburyport," and occasionally complained of not feeling well; and various others of the crew faced the future with frank hopelessness.
For my own part, it seemed to me as unreal as a nightmare that Captain Joseph Whidden actually had been shot dead by a band of Arab pirates. I was bewildered—indeed, stunned—by the incredible suddenness of the calamity. It was so complete, so appallingly final! To me, a boy still in his 'teens, that first intimate association with violent death would have been in itself terrible, and I keenly felt the loss of our chief mate. But Captain Whidden to me was far more than master of the ship. He had been my father's friend since long before I was born; and from the days when I first discriminated between the guests at my father's house, I had counted him as also a friend of mine. Never had I dreamed that so sad an hour would darken my first voyage.
Kipping, on the other hand, and Davie Paine and the carpenter seemed actually well pleased with what had happened. They lolled around with an air of exasperating superiority when they saw any of the rest of us looking at them; and now and then they exchanged glances that I was at a loss to understand until all at once a new thought dawned on me: since the captain and the first mate were dead, the command of the ship devolved upon Mr. Falk, the second mate.
No wonder that Kipping and Davie and the carpenter and all the rest of that lawless clique were well pleased. No wonder that old Bill Hayden and some of the others, for whom Kipping and his friends had not a particle of use were downcast by the prospect.