E-text prepared by Al Haines
THE BLOOD SHIP
Grosset & Dunlap Publishers ————— New York Made in the United States of America Copyright, 1922, by W. J. Watt & Company Printed in the United States of America Third Edition
THE BLOOD SHIP
It was the writing guy who drew this story out of Captain Shreve. He talked so much I think the Old Man spun the yarn just to shut him up. He had talked ever since his arrival on board, early that morning, with a letter from the owners' agent, and the announcement he intended making the voyage with us. He had weak lungs, he said, and was in search of mild, tropical breezes. Also, he was seeking local color, and whatever information he could pick up about "King" Waldon.
He had heard of the death of "King" Waldon, down in Samoa—Waldon, the trader, of the vanishing race of island adventurers—and he expected to travel about the south seas investigating the "king's" past, so he could write a book about the old viking. He had heard that Captain Shreve had known Waldon. Hence, he was honoring a cargo carrier with his presence instead of taking his ease upon a mail-boat.
Captain Shreve must tell him all he knew about the "king." He was intensely interested in the subject. Splendid material, you know. That romantic legend of Waldon's arrival in the islands—too good to be true, and certainly too good not to put into a book. Was Captain Shreve familiar with the tale? How this fellow, Waldon, sailed into a Samoan harbor in an open boat, his only companion his beautiful young wife? Imagine—this man and woman coming from nowhere, sailing in from the open sea in a small boat, never telling whence they came!
He said this was the stuff to go into his book. Romance, mystery! It was quite as important as the later and better known incidents in the "king's" life. That was why Captain Shreve must tell him all he knew about the fellow. If he could only get at the beginning of the "king's" career in the islands. Where did the fellow come from? Why should a man bring his bride into an uncivilized and lawless section of the world, and settle down for life? There must be a story in that. Ah, yes, and he was the man who could properly do it.
Well, that was the way that writer talked. He talked so steadily nobody could slide a word in edgeways. Yet he said he wanted information. We wondered. If the ability to deliver an unending monologue, consisting chiefly of the ninth letter in the alphabet, is any sign of lung power, that chap didn't need any cod-liver oil or sea air. He could have given up writing, and still have made a good living ashore as a blacksmith's bellows! And as for the local color and information—well, he blinked through his black rimmed glasses at our immaculate decks, and said it was a pity they built ships for use and not for looks nowadays, and went on talking about himself, and what he could do with "King" Waldon.
Briggs, the mate, confided to me in a soft aside that the chap was making the voyage because he knew he had an audience which couldn't escape—unless it jumped over the side. Captain Shreve didn't confide; his face kept its accustomed expression of serenity, and he made no attempt to stem the author's flood of words. I was somewhat surprised by this meekness, for our Old Man is a great hand to puncture a windbag; but then, I reflected, the writing guy, being a passenger, was in the nature of a guest on board, and, according to Captain Shreve's code, a man to be humored.
We lay in the Stream, with a half dozen hours to pass ere we proceeded to sea. It was Sunday, so we were idle, the four of us lounging on the lower bridge deck—the Captain, Briggs, myself, and this human phonograph. It was a pleasant day, and we would have enjoyed the loaf in the warm afternoon sunshine, had it not been for the unending drivel of the passenger. I enjoyed it anyway, for even though the ears be filled with a buzzing, the eyes are free, and San Francisco Bay is an interesting place.
". . . and the critics all agree," the passenger rambled on, "that my genius is proved by my amazingly accurate portraits of character. I have the gift. That is why I shall do 'King' Waldon so well. I need but a mental image of the man to make him live again. You must tell me what he looked like, Captain. Is it true, as I have been told, he was such a giant of a man, and possessed of such enormous physical strength? And that his hair retained its yellow luster even in old age? And that he had a great scar on his face, or head, about which he never spoke? Ah, yes, you must tell me about him, Captain."
Captain Shreve grunted at this—the first sound he had been able to squeeze into the talk for half an hour. But the author did not pause; in fact he hastened on, as though determined to forestall any interruption. Talk! I don't know when that fellow found any time to write. He was too eager to tell the world about his gift.
"You know," says he, "I need but a few little intimate facts about 'King' Waldon's appearance and character, and I can make him stalk through my story as truly alive as when he was in the flesh. If he were alive I should not need your assistance, Captain; one look at the man and I could paint him in his true colors. I have that gift. Not men alone—I am able to invest even inanimate objects with personality. A house, a street, or a—yes, even a ship. Even this ship. Now, this old box——"
Captain Shreve sat up straight in his chair. I thought he was rasped by the fellow's slur, for he is very proud of his ship. But it was something else that rubbed the expression of patient resignation from his face; he was staring over the starboard rail with an expression of lively interest. I followed his gaze with mine, but saw only a ferryboat in the distance, and, close by, a big red-stack tug towing a dilapidated coal hulk.
The Captain's eyes were upon this tow. He tugged excitedly at his beard. "Well, by George, what a coincidence!" he exclaimed. He turned to the mate, his bright eyes snapping. "Look, Briggs! Do you know her? By George, do you recognize her?"
The writing guy was disgusted by this interruption, just when he was going to prove his genius. Briggs shifted his quid, spat, and inspected the passing hulk with extreme deliberation. I looked at her too, wondering what there was about an old coal-carrier that could pierce Captain Shreve's accustomed phlegm.
The tow was passing abreast, but a couple of hundred yards distant. The tug was shortening the line, and on the hulk's forecastle-head a couple of hands were busy at a cathead, preparing to let go anchor. She was ill-favored enough to look at, that hulk—weather-beaten, begrimed, stripped of all that makes a ship sightly. Nothing but the worn-out old hull was left. An eyesore, truly. Yet, any seaman could see with half an eye she had once been a fine ship. The clipper lines were there.
Suddenly Briggs sat up in his chair, and exclaimed, "Well, blast my eyes, so it is!" He nodded to the Captain, and then returned his regard to the hulk, his nostrils working with interest. "So it is! So it is! Well, blast my——"
"Is what?" I demanded. "What do you two see in that old hull that is so extraordinary?"
Just then the writing guy decided we had monopolized the conversation long enough. So he seized the opportunity to exercise for our benefit the rare gift he was endowed with. He glanced patronizingly at the coal hulk, wrinkled his nose in disapprobation of her appearance, and delivered himself in an oracular voice.
"What a horrible looking old tub! Not a difficult task to invest her with her true personality. An old workhorse—eh? A broken down old plug, built for heavy labor, and now rounding out an uninspiring existence by performing the most menial of tasks. An apt description—what?"
I noticed a faint smile crack the straight line of Captain Shreve's mouth. But it was Briggs who was unable to contain himself. He turned full upon the poor scribe, and plainly voiced his withering scorn.
"Why, blast my eyes, young feller, if you weren't as blind as a bat you'd know you were talking rot! 'A workhorse!' you say. 'A broken down old plug!' Blast me, man, look at the lines of her!"
The passenger flushed, and stared uncomprehendingly at the poor old hulk. The tug had gone, and she was lying anchored, now, a few hundred yards off our starboard bow. A sorry sight. The author could see nothing but her ugliness.
"Why, she is just a dirty old scow—" he commenced.
"Blast me, can't you even guess what she once was?" went on Briggs, relentlessly. "Well, young feller, that dirty old scow—as you call her—is the Golden Bough!"
The passenger only blinked. The name meant nothing to him. But it did to me.
"The Golden Bough!" I echoed. "Surely you don't mean the Golden Bough?"
"But I do," said Briggs. He waved his hand. "There she is—the Golden Bough. All that is left of the finest ship that ever smashed a record with the American flag at her gaff. She's a coal hulk now, but once she was the finest vessel afloat. Eh, Captain?"
Captain Shreve nodded affirmation. Then he turned to the writing guy, and courteously salved the chap's self-esteem.
"Small wonder you overlooked her build; it takes a sailor's eye for such things. And really, your description strikes home to me. We are all workhorses, are we not, we of the sea? And time breaks down us all, man and ship." The Old Man was staring at the hulk, and his voice was sorrowful. "Aye, but time has used her cruelly! What a pity—she was so bonny!"
The writing guy perked up at this. "Well, you know, I see her through a layman's eyes," he explained. "And she does look so old, and dirty, and commonplace——"
Briggs snorted, and the Captain hastened to continue, cutting off the mate's hard words. "Oh, yes, she looks old and dirty—no mistake. But time was when no ship afloat could match her for either looks or speed. Aye, she was a beauty. Remember how she looked in the old days, Briggs?"
Briggs did. He emphatically blasted his eyes to the effect that he remembered very well the Golden Bough in the days of her glory, the days when she was no workhorse, but a double-planked racehorse of the seas, as anyone but a lubber could see she had once been, just by looking at her. Yes, blast his eyes, he remembered her. He remembered one time running the Easting down in the Josiah T. Flynn, a smart ship, with a reputation, and they were cracking on as they would never dare crack, on in these degenerate days, when, blast his eyes, the Golden Bough came up on them, and passed, and ran away from the poor old Flynn, and Yankee Swope had stood on his poopdeck at the passing, and waved a hawser-end at the Old Man of the Flynn, asking if he wanted a tow. "And then we caught hell," commented Mr. Briggs. Aye, he should say he did remember the Golden Bough. But he had never sailed in her.
"And she looks commonplace enough," continued Captain Shreve, "providing you know nothing of her history. But she does not look commonplace to Briggs or me. I suppose we regard her through the mist of memory—we see the tall, beautiful ship that was. We know the record of that ship. Aye, lad, and if those sorry-looking timbers yonder could talk, you would not have to make the voyage with us in order to get a taste of the salt. You'd get real local color there—you'd hear of many a wild ocean race, of smashed records, or shanghaied crews and mutinies. Yes, and you'd get, perhaps, some of that particular information you say you are after. Those old, broken bulwarks yonder have looked upon life, I can tell you—and upon death."
"The dangerous life of the sailor, I presume," drawled the writing guy. "Falling from aloft, and being washed overboard, and all that sort of thing."
"Not always," retorted Captain Shreve. "There were other ways of going to Davy Jones in the old clipper days—and in these days, also, for that matter. Knives, for instance, or bullets, or a pair of furious hands—if you care for violent tragedy. But I did not mean the physical dangers of life, particularly; I meant, rather, that Fate tangles lives on board ship as queerly as in cities ashore. I meant that the Golden Bough, in her day, left her mark upon a good many lives. She broke men, and made them. And once, I know, she had to do with a woman's life, and a woman's love. There was a wedding performed upon that ship upon the high seas, and a dead man sprawled on the deck at the feet of the nuptial pair, and the bride was the dead man's widow!"
"Oh, come now—" said the writing guy. It was plain he thought the skipper was stringing him. But I knew how difficult it was to get our Old Man to spin a yarn, and I was determined he should not be shunted off on a new tack. I interrupted the author, hurriedly. "Did you ever make a voyage in the Golden Bough, Captain?" I asked.
"Yes," replied the Captain. "I was a witness to that wedding; and I played my small part in bringing it about. Yes, that old wreck yonder has had a good deal to do with my own life. I received my first boost upward in the Golden Bough. Shipped in the foc'sle, and ended the voyage in the cabin. Stepped into dead man's shoes. And more important than that—I won my manhood on those old decks."
"Ah, performed some valorous deed?" purred the writing guy.
"No; I abstained from performing an infamous deed," said Captain Shreve. "I think that is the way most men win to manhood."
"Oh!" said the writing guy. He seemed about to say a lot more, when I put my oar in again.
"Let us have the yarn, Captain," I begged.
Captain Shreve squinted at the sun, and then favored the passenger with one of his rare smiles. "Why, yes," he said. "We have an idle afternoon ahead of us, and I'll gladly spin the yarn. You say, sir, you are interested in ships, and sailors, and, particularly, in 'King' Waldon's history. Well, perhaps you may find some material of use in this tale of mine; though I fear my lack of skill in recounting it may offend your trained mind.
"Yet it is simply life and living—this yarn. Human beings set down upon those decks to work out their separate destinies as Fate and character directed. Aye, and their characters, and the motives that inspired their acts, were diverse enough, heaven knows.
"There was Swope, Black Yankee Swope, who captained that hell-ship, a man with a twisted heart, a man who delighted in evil, and worked it for its own sake. There was Holy Joe, the shanghaied parson, whose weak flesh scorned the torture, because of the strong, pure faith in the man's soul. There were Blackie and Boston, their rat-hearts steeled to courage by lust of gold, their rascally, seductive tongues welding into a dangerous unit the mob of desperate, broken stiffs who inhabited the foc'sle. There were Lynch and Fitzgibbon, the buckos, living up to their grim code; and the Knitting Swede, that prince of crimps, who put most of us into the ship. There was myself, with my childish vanity, and petty ambitions. There was the lady, the beautiful, despairing lady aft, wife of the infamous brute who ruled us. There was Cockney, the gutless swab, whose lying words nearly had Newman's life. And last, and chiefly, there was the man with the scar, he who called himself 'Newman,' man of mystery, who came like the fabled knight, killed the beast who held the princess captive, and led her out of bondage. And I helped him; and saw the shanghaied parson marry them, there on the bloody deck.
"Stuff for a yarn—eh? But just life, and living. By George, it was mighty strenuous living, too! And yet, well as I know this tale I lived in, I am at a loss how to commence telling it. You know, sir, this is where you writing folk have at disadvantage the chaps who only live their stories—you see the yarn from the beginning to the end, we see but those chapters in which Fate makes us characters. The beginning, the end, the plot—all are beyond our ken. If indeed there is a beginning, or end, or plot to a story one lives."
"Every story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end," began the writing guy, sonorously. "Now I——"
Just then I leaned over and placed my number nine brogan firmly upon that writing guy's kid-clad foot, and held him in speechless agony for a moment, while Captain Shreve got his yarn fairly launched.
Then, if I must have a beginning for the yarn (said Captain Shreve), I'll begin with that morning, in this very port of San Francisco, when I walked out of the Shipping Commissioner's office with my first A.B.'s discharge in my hand, and a twelve months' pay-day jingling in my pocket. For I must explain something of my state of mind on that morning, so you will understand how I got Into Yankee Swope's blood-ship.
It was the heyday of the crimps, and I walked through the very heart of crimpdom, along the old East street. It is not a very prepossessing thoroughfare even to-day, when it masquerades as the Embarcadero, a sinner reformed. In those days, when it was just East street, it consisted of solid blocks of ramshackle frame buildings, that housed all the varieties of sharks and harpies who live off Jack ashore; it was an ugly, dirty, fascinating way, a street with a garish, besotted face. But on this morning it seemed the most wonderful avenue in the world to me. I saw East street through the colorful eyes of youth—the eyes of Romance.
I stepped along with my chest out and my chin up-tilted. A few paces behind me a beachcomber wobbled along with my sea-bag on his shoulder—for what A.B. would demean himself with such labor on pay-day, when moochers abounded at his heel! I was looking for a boarding-house.
But it was not the Sailors' Home. That respectable institution might do very well for boys, and callow ordinary seamen, but it certainly would not do for a newly made A.B. Nor was I looking for Mother Harrison's place, as I told Mother's runner, who stuck at my elbow for a time. Mother Harrison's was known as the quietest, most orderly house on the street; it might do for those quiet and orderly old shellbacks whose blood had been chilled by age; but it would never do for a young A.B., a real man, who was wishful for all the mad living the beach afforded. No; I was looking for the Knitting Swede's.
Knitting Swede Olson! Remember him, Briggs? A fine hole for a young fool to seek! But I was a man, remember—a MAN—and that precious discharge proved it. I was nineteen years old, and manhood bears a very serious aspect at nineteen. No wonder I was holding my head in the air. The fellows in my watch would listen to my opinions with respect, now I was an able seaman. No longer would I scrub the foc'sle floor while the lazy beggars slept. No longer would I peggy week in and week out. I was A.B. at last; a full-fledged man! Of course, I must straightway prove my manhood; so I was bound for the Knitting Swede's.
Everybody knew the Knitting Swede in those days; every man Jack who ever joined a ship. They told of him in New York, and London, and Callao, and Singapore, and in every foc'sle afloat. The king of crimps! He sat in his barroom, in East street, placidly knitting socks with four steel needles, and as placidly ignoring every law of God and man. He ruled the 'Frisco waterfront, did the Knitting Swede, and made his power felt to the very ends of the seas.
Stories about him were without number. It was the Knitting Swede who shanghaied the corpse on board the Tam o' Shanter. It was the Knitting Swede who drugged the skipper of the Sequoia, and shipped him in his own foc'sle. It was the Knitting Swede who sent the crowd of cowboys to sea in the Enterprise. It was the Knitting Swede who was the infamous hero of quite half the dog-watch yarns. It was the Knitting Swede who was—oh, the very devil!
And it was on this very account I was bound for the Swede's house. Very simple, and sailorlike, my motive. In my mind's eye I saw a scene which would be enacted on board my next ship. Some fellow would ask me—as some fellow always does—"And what house did you put up in, in 'Frisco, Jack?" And I would take the pipe out of my mouth, and answer in a carefully careless voice, "Oh, I stopped with the Knitting Swede." And then the whole foc'sle would look at me as one man, and there would be respect in their eyes. For only very hard cases ever stopped at the Knitting Swede's.
Well, I found the Swede's place easily enough. And he was there in person to welcome me. I discovered his appearance to be just what the stories described—a tall, great paunched man, who bulked gigantic as he perched on a high stool at the end of the bar, a half-knitted gray sock in his hands, and an air about him of cow-like contentment. He possessed a mop of straw-colored hair, and a pair of little, mild, blue eyes that regarded one with all the innocence of a babe's stare.
He suspended his knitting for a moment, gave me a fat, flabby hand, and a grin which disclosed a mouthful of yellow teeth.
"Ja, you koom for a good time, and, by and by, a good ship," says he. "Yoost trust the Swede—he treat you right."
So he sent my bag upstairs to a room, accepted my money for safekeeping, and I set up the drinks for the house.
What? Give him my money for safekeeping? Of course. There was a code of honor even in crimpdom, you know. I came to the Swede's house of my own choosing; no runner of his snared me out of a ship. Therefore I would be permitted to spend the last dollar of my pay-day, chiefly over his bar, of course, and when the money was gone, he would ship me in a ship of my own choosing. Unless, of course, men were exceptionally scarce, and blood money exceptionally high. Crimpdom honor wouldn't stand much temptation. But I was confident of my ability to look after myself. I was a man of nineteen, you know.
So, at the Knitting Swede's I was lodged. I spent most of my first day there in examining and getting acquainted with my fellow lodgers. Aye, they were a crowd, quite in keeping with the repute of the house; hard living, hard swearing, hard fighting A.B.'s, for the most part; the unruly toughs of the five oceans. I swaggered amongst them and thought myself a very devil of a fellow. I bought them drinks at the Swede's bar, and listened with immense satisfaction to their loud comments on my generosity. It was, "He's a fine lad, and no mistake!" and, "He's a real proper bloke, for certain!" And I ordered up the rounds, and swung my shoulders, and felt like a "real proper bloke" indeed.
Well, I saw one chap in the house who really attracted me. I should liked to have chummed with him, and I went out of my way to be friendly towards him. He was a regular giant of a man, with yellow hair and frosty eyes, and a very white face. In fact he looked as if he might have recently been sick, though his huge, muscular frame showed no effects of an illness. He had a jagged, bluish scar over one eye, which traveled up his forehead and disappeared beneath his hair, plainly the result of some terrible clout. But it was not these things, not his face or size which drew me to him; it was his bearing.
All of the chaps in Swede Olson's house were hard cases. They boasted of their hardness. But their hardness was the typical tough's hardness, nine parts bravado, a savagery not difficult to subdue with an oak belaying pin in the fist of a bucko mate. But the hardness of this big, scar-faced man was of a different sort. You sensed, immediately you looked at him, that he possessed a steely armor of indifference that penetrated to his very heart. He was a real hard case, a proper nut, a fellow who simply did not care what happened. It was nothing he said or did, but his demeanor declared plainly he was utterly reckless of events or consequences. It was amusing to observe how circumspectly the bullies of the house walked while in his neighborhood.
But I found him to be a man of silent and lonesome habit, and temperate. He discouraged my friendly advance with a cold indifference, and my idea of chumming with him during my pay-day "bust" soon went glimmering. Yet I admired him mightily from the moment I first clapped eyes upon him, and endeavored to imitate his carriage of utter recklessness in my own strutting.
The talk in the Swede's house was all of drink and women and ships. I was too young and clean to find much enjoyment in too much of the first two; much liquor made me sick, and I did not find the painted Jezebels of sailor-town attractive. But ships were my life, and I lent a ready ear to the gossip about them. To tell the truth, I didn't enjoy the Knitting Swede's place very much. I did so want to be a hard case, and I guess I was a pretty hard case, but I didn't like the other hard cases. Youth likes companionship, but I didn't want to chum with that gang, willing though most of them were that I permit them to help me spend my money. I hadn't been ashore twenty-four hours before I found myself wishing for a clean breeze and blue water.
Shipping was brisk in the port, and I discovered I would have no trouble in picking my ship when my money was gone. The Enterprise was loading for Boston; the Glory of the Seas would sail within the fortnight for the United Kingdom; there were a half-dozen other smart ships wishing to be manned by smart lads. I had nothing to worry about. I could blow my pay-day as quickly as I liked; there was no danger of my being stranded "on the beach."
So I spent my money, as violently as possible. I made a noise in the Swede's house, and was proud of myself. My first A.B.'s spree!
On the third evening of my "bust," my mettle was tested. There was a woman in the Swede's house, a slim wisp of a little Jewess, with the sweet face of a Madonna and the eyes of a wanton. Well—she smiled on me. She had good reason to; was I not making my gold pieces dance a merry tune? Was I not fair game for any huntress?
But she belonged to the Swede's chief runner, his number one bouncer, as ugly a brute as ever thumped a drunken sailor. The bully objected, with a deal of obscene threatening, to my fancied raiding of his property. We had it out with bare knuckles in the Swede's big back room, with all the little tables pushed against the wall to make fighting space, and the toughest crowd in San Francisco standing by to see fair play. I was the younger, and as hard as nails, he was soft and rotten with evil living, so I thrashed him soundly enough in five rounds.
After he had taken the count, I turned away and commenced to pull my shirt on over my head. I heard a sharp curse, a yell of pain, and the clatter of steel upon the floor. When my head emerged, I beheld my late antagonist slinking away before the threatening figure of the man with the scar. The bully's right arm dangled by his side, limp and broken, and a sheath-knife was lying on the floor, at the big man's feet. The sight gave me a rather sick feeling at the pit of the stomach, for I realized I had narrowly escaped being knifed.
The scar-faced man would not listen to my thanks. He bestowed upon me a cool, bracing glance, and remarked, "You must never take your eyes off one of that breed!" Then he resumed his seat at a table in the far corner of the room, and quite plainly dismissed the incident from his mind.
Indeed, the house as speedily dismissed the incident from Its collective mind. A fist fight or a knifing was but a momentary diversion in the Swede's place. Five minutes after he left the room, the whipped bully left the establishment, his one good hand carrying his duffle. The Knitting Swede would have no whipped bouncer in his employ.
That was a purple night for me. I was the victor, and the fruits of the victory were very sweet. The Jewess murmured adoring flatteries in my ear. The others—that crowd of rough, tough men—clapped me respectfully upon the back, felt gingerly of my biceps, and swore loudly and luridly I was the best man in the port. I agreed with them—and set up the drinks, again and again. Oh, I was a great man that night! The house caroused at my expense till late.
Only my silent friend in the corner declined to take part in the merry-making. The man with the scar sat alone, drinking nothing, and regarding with cool and visible contempt the dizzy gyrations of the roughs who were swilling away the money I had worked for. But his open contempt of them was not resented, even at the height of the orgy. They were hard cases, rough, tough fighting men, but they gave the big fellow plenty of sea-room. No ruffling or swaggering in his direction. No gibes or practical jokes. The bludgeon-like wit of the house very carefully passed him by. For he was so plainly a desperate man.
"He's a bad one," whispered the Jewess to me, lifting an eye towards the lonely table. "He has the house bluffed. Bet you the Swede doesn't try any of his tricks with him. He's a real bad one. Wonder who he is?"
I openly admired the man. I'd have given my soul almost to own his manner. The careless yet grand air of the man, the something about him that lifted him above the rest of us—aye, he was the real hero, he was the sort of hard case I wanted to be.
"I know he's a sailorman by the cut of his jib," I said. "But he is so pale—and that scar—I guess he is just out of the hospital. Been sick, or hurt, most likely."
The woman gave me a pitying look that set my teeth on edge. She was continually marveling over my innocence, and I didn't relish being innocent. "Just out of hospital!" she mocked. "You certainly haven't been around places like this very much or you would know."
"Know what?" I demanded.
She shook her head, and looked serious. "No, I'll not preach, not even to you. And I like him—because he saved you."
Next morning the Swede interrupted his knitting long enough to toss my last ten dollars across the bar. "Ay tank you ship now?" says he.
The huskies who were gathered about the room immediately chorused their disapproval. "Oh, give the poor beggar a chance!" they sang out. "Let him rest up a spell, Swede!" But the Swede had gauged me correctly. He knew I would not want to stay on the beach after my money was spent.
"I am ready to ship," I told him, "but, remember this, Swede, in a ship of my own choosing."
He grinned widely, and showed his whole mouthful of yellow teeth. His baby stare rested appreciatively upon me, as though I had just cracked an excellent joke. "Oh, ja, you pick him yourself," he chortled. "Mineself get you good ship, easy ship. No bucko, no hardtack, good pay, soft time, by Yimminy!"
His mirthful humor abruptly vanished. He leaned towards me, and the lids of his little round eyes slowly lifted. It was like the lifting of curtains. For an instant I looked into the unplumbed abyss of the man's soul, and I felt the full impact of his ruthless, powerful mind. It was an astonishing revelation of character, that glance. I think the Swede designed it so, for he was about to make me a momentous offer.
"Ay ship you by easy ship, shore-going ship. No vatch, no heavy veather, good times, ja. You thump mine roonar, you take his voomans, so—you take his yob. Ja? You ship by the Knitting Swede?"
The eyelids drooped, and his gaze was again one of infantile innocence. His fat smooth jowls quivered, as he waited with an expectant smile for my answer.
I'll admit I was completely bowled over for a moment. A hush had fallen upon the room. I heard a voice behind me exclaim softly and bitterly, "Gaw' blimme, 'e's got it!" I knew the voice belonged to a big Cockney who was, himself, an avowed candidate for the runner's job. My mind was filled with confused, tingling thoughts. Oh, I was a man, right enough, to be singled out by the Knitting Swede for his chief lieutenancy. I was a hard case, a proper nut, to have that honor offered me. For it was an honor in sailordom. I thought of the foc'sles to come, and my shipmates pointing me out most respectfully as the fighting bloke who had been offered a chief runner's berth by the Knitting Swede.
For I did not doubt there would be other foc'sles, and soon. Life ashore at the Knitting Swede's was not for me. Young fool, I was, with all the conceit of my years and inches. Yet I realized clearly enough I would only be happy with the feel of a deck beneath my feet, and the breath of open water in my nostrils. I was of the sea, and for the sea. And if anything were needed to make my decision more certain, there was the little Jewess. She leaned close, and there was more than a hint of command in her voice. "Boy, say yes! I want you to, Boy!"
"Boy!" To me, a nineteen-year-old man, who had just been offered a fighting man's berth! "I want you to," she commanded. I saw more clearly just what the Swede's offer meant: to spend my days in evil living, my drugged will twisted about the slim, dishonest fingers of the wanton; to spend my nights carrying out whatever black rascality the Swede might command. An ignoble slavery. Not for me!
"I'll only ship in a proper ship, Swede," I said, decisively.
The Swede nodded. My refusal did not disconcert him; I think his insight had prepared him for it. But the tension in the room released with a loud gasp of astonishment. It was unbelievable to those bullies that such an offer could be turned down. A sailorman refusing unlimited opportunities for getting drunk! "Gaw' strike me blind, 'e arn't got the guts for hit!" a voice cried at my elbow, and I found the Cockney openly sneering into my face.
I saw through his motive immediately. Cockney wanted the job, and he wasn't going to allow the Swede to overlook his peculiar qualifications a second time. Therefore, he would risk battle with me.
I was nothing loath. I might turn down the job, but I would not turn down a challenge. I stepped back, and my coat was already on the floor by the time the Swede had a chance to form his words. And his words showed him also cognizant of the Cockney's ruse.
"'Vast there, Cocky! Ay give you the yob. No need to fight, and get smashed sick. To-night I got vork—to put the crew by the Golden Bough!"
The Cockney's hostility melted into a satisfied smirk. He called upon his Maker with many blasphemies while he assured the Swede he was the very "proper blushin' bloke" for the berth. The crowd straightway lost all interest in the runnership; they had another sensation to occupy them. At the Swede's words, a low growl ran around the room, a growl which swelled into a chorus of imprecations.
The Swede was going to ship the crew for the Golden Bough that night! That meant he needed sailors. And every man who was in debt to the Swede, or in any way under his thumb (and I suspect every man Jack of them was under his thumb in some fashion or other), quaked in his boots, and thought, "Will the Swede choose me?" For they knew ships, those men, and they knew the Golden Bough. Some of them had sailed in her.
The Swede grinned jocosely at me. "How you like to ship by the Golden Bough! There ban easy ship, Ja! Plenty grub, easy vork, good mates——"
"Yah-h-h!" One swelling, jeering shout from the whole crowd submerged the Swede's joking reference.
"Plenty to eat!" yelled one. "Aye, plenty o' belaying-pin soup, an' knuckle-duster hash!"
"Easy work!" sang out another. "In your watch below, which never happens!"
"Proper gents, the mates are," spoke up a third. "They eats a sailorman every mornin' for breakfast!"
Oh, they knew the Golden Bough! Who did not?
"How many, Swede?" called out a man.
"Ay ban ship a crowd of stiffs—and some sailor-mans," stated the Swede.
Cursing broke out afresh. Some of them must go! The bulk of the crew was to be crimped, of course, in the Swede knew what kennels of the town. But a few tried sailormen must go to leaven that sodden, sea-ignorant lump. It was like condemning men to penal servitude. No wonder they swore. And swear they did, with mouth-filling, curdling oaths, as though in vain hope their flaming words would quite consume that evilly known vessel.
In the midst of that bedlam I stood thinking strange thoughts. It is hardly credible, but I was considering if I should tell the Swede I would ship in the Golden Bough. And I had heard all about the ship, too, for if the Knitting Swede was the hero of half the dog-watch yarns, the Golden Bough was the heroine of the other half. I knew of the ship, the most notorious blood-ship afloat, and the queen of all the speedy clippers. I knew of her captain, the black-hearted, silky-voiced Yankee Swope, who boasted he never had to pay off a crew; I knew of her two mates, Fitzgibbon and Lynch, who each boasted he could polish off a watch single-handed, and lived up to his boast. I knew of the famous, blood-specked passages the ship had made; of the cruel, bruising life the foremast hands led in her. And I stood before the Swede's bar and considered shipping. Oh, Youth!
For my thoughts were fathered by the vaulting conceit of my nineteen years. Consider . . . a few days before I had for the first time assumed a man's estate in sailordom. Already I was a marked man. Had I not stopped at the Knitting Swede's, and ruffled on equality with the hard cases? Had I not whipped the bully of the beach? Had I not been offered a fighting man's billet by the Swede, himself? Was not that glory?
Then how much greater the glory if I spoke up with a devil-may-care lilt in my voice, and shipped in the hottest packet afloat! Glory!—why, I would be the unquestioned cock of any foc'sle I afterward happened into. You know, in those days the ambitious young lads regularly shipped in the hot clippers; it was a postgraduate course in seamanship, and accomplishment of such a voyage gave one a standing with his fellows. I had intended going in one—in the Enterprise, or the Glory of the Seas, both loading in port. But the Golden Bough! No man shipped in her, sober, and unafraid. If I shipped, I should be famous the world around as the fellow who feared neither God, nor Devil, nor Yankee Swope and his bucko mates!
So I stood there, half wishful, half afraid, deaf to all save my own swirling thoughts. And there happened that which gave me my decision.
It was the man with the scar. He had been lounging against the bar, an uninterested spectator of the bestowing of the runnership. Now, my eyes fell upon him, and I saw to my surprise that he was shaken out of his careless humor. He was standing tensely on the balls of his feet, and his hands were gripping the bar rail so fiercely his fingers seemed white and bloodless. It was apparent some stern emotion wrestled him; the profile I saw was set like chiseled marble. There was something indescribably menacing in his poise. The sight of him jolted my ears open to the noises of the room.
The crowd was still talking about the Golden Bough. And the talk had progressed, as talk of the Golden Bough always progressed, from skipper and mates, to the lady. They spoke of the ship's mystery, of the Captain's lady. She was a character to pique a sailorman's interest, the Lady of the Golden Bough. Her fame was as wide, and much sweeter, than the vessel's. With all their toughs' frankness, the crowd were discussing the lady's puzzling relations with Swope.
"Uncommon queer, I calls it," said one chap, who had sailed in the ship. "They call 'em man an' wife, but she lives to port, an' he to starboard. Separate cabins, dash me! I had it from the cabin boy. They even eats separate. . . . He's nasty to her—I've heard the devil snarl at her more than once, when I've had a wheel. . . . Blank me, she's a blessed angel. There was I with a sprained wrist big as my blanked head, an' Lynch a-hazin' me to work—and every morning she trips into the foc'sle with her bright cheer an' her linaments. A blanked, blessed angel, she is!"
"He beats her," supplemented another man. "I got it from a mate what chummed with the bloke as was a Sails on her one voyage. He said, that sailmaker did, as how Swope got drunk, and beat her."
The big Cockney, who had been visibly possessed by a pompous self-importance since his elevation to the dignity of runner, saw fit to interpose his contrary opinion of the Lady of the Golden Bough. Because the man was vile, his words were vile.
"Blimme, yer needn't worrit abaht Yankee Swope's lydy, as yer call 'er. She arn't nah bleedin' lydy—she's just a blarsted Judy. Yer got to knock a Judy abaht, arn't yer? Hi 'arve hit straight—'e picked 'er hoff the streets——"
The man with the scar wheeled on his heel, reached out, and grasped the Cockney by his two wrists. I exclaimed aloud when I saw the man's full face. There was death in it. He spoke to Cockney in a voice of cold fury. "You lie!" he cried. "Say you lie!"
Cockney was a big man, and husky. He cursed, and struggled. But he was a child in the grasp of that white-faced giant towering over him. The hands I had seen gripping the rail a moment before, now gripped Cockney's wrists in the same terrible clutch. They squeezed, as though to crush the very bones. Cockney squirmed, and whimpered, then he broke down, and screamed in agony.
"Ow, Gaw' blimme, let hup! Hi never meant northin'! A lie— Ow, yuss—a lie! She's a proper lydy— Hi never 'eard the hother— Gaw' strike me blind!"
The man with the scar cast the fellow contemptuously away; and Cockney lost no time in putting the distance of the room between them. The big man turned on the Swede, and his voice was sharp and commanding.
"Swede, does the Golden Bough sail to-morrow?"
"Ja, with da flood," the Swede answered.
"Then I ship in her," declared the man. "I ship in the Golden Bough, Swede!"
It was the spark needed to fire my own resolution. What another dared, I would dare. I thumped the bar with my fist and sang out valorously, "I ship in her too, Swede!"
The Swede's needles stopped flashing in and out of the gray yarn. He regarded us, one after the other, with his baby stare. Then he said to the big man, "Vat if your frients ship by her?"
"I have no friends," was the curt answer.
The Swede leaned back on his stool, and his big belly quivered with his wheezy laughter. "By Yimminy, Ay tank da Golden Bough haf vun lively voyage!" he exclaimed.
We signed articles in the Swede's house, almost within the hour. A little man with a pimply, bulbous nose appeared in the house; he carried in his person the authority of Shipping Commissioner and in his hand the articles of the Golden Bough. After the careless fashion of the day and port we signed on without further ado for a voyage to Hong Kong and beyond—sitting at a table in the back room, and cementing the contract with a drink around.
The Shipping Commissioner made the usual pretense of reading the articles. Then he squinted up at us.
"What's yer John Henry's?" says he.
My big shipmate mused a moment. He stroked the scar on his forehead—a habit he had when thinking. He smiled.
"My name is Newman," he made answer. "It is a good name."
He took the pen from the Shipping Commissioner's hand and wrote the name in the proper place upon the articles. "A. Newman," that is how he wrote it. Not the first time he had clapped eyes upon ship's articles, one could see with half an eye. I wrote my own "John Shreve" below his name, with an outward flourish, but with a sinking sensation inwardly.
As soon as the ceremony was completed, A. Newman got to his feet, refused my pressing invitation to visit the bar, and went upstairs to his room. Now, this seemed very peculiar to my sailor's way of thinking; it seemed more peculiar than his choice of a name. Here we were, shipmates, together committed to a high adventure, yet the man would not tarry by my side long enough to up-end a schooner to a fair passage. I was to have other surprises before the day was out—the mean-faced beggar, and the way in which the Knitting Swede put us on board the Golden Bough. Surprising incidents. But this refusal of my new shipmate to drink with me was most surprising. Think of a sailor, a hard case, too, moping alone in his room on the day he shipped, when downstairs he could wassail away the day. I was surprised and resentful. It is hard for a nineteen-year-old man to stand alone, and I felt that Newman, my shipmate, should give me the moral support of his companionship.
I strutted away the day in lonely glory. I had not the courage to violate the hoary traditions of the foc'sle and join my ship sober, so I imbibed as steadily as my youthful stomach permitted. Towards evening I was, as sailors say, "half seas over."
I was mellow, but not befuddled. I saw things clearly, too clearly. Of a sudden I felt an urgent necessity to get away from the Swede's barroom. I wanted to breathe a bit of fresh air, I wanted to shut out from my mind the sights and sounds and smells of the groggery, the reek and the smut and the evil faces. Above all, I wished to escape the importunities of the little Jewess. She had gotten upon my nerves. Oh, I was her fancy boy to-day, you bet! I was spending my advance money, you see, and this was her last chance at my pocketbook.
So, when opportunity offered, I slipped away from the crowd unobserved, and went rolling along East street as though that thoroughfare belonged to me. And in truth it did. Aye, I was the chesty lad, and my step was high and proud, during that stroll. For men hailed me, and pointed me out. I was the rough, tough king of the beach that hour; I was the lad who had whipped the Knitting Swede's bully, and shipped in the Golden Bough.
Upon a corner, some blocks from the Knitting Swede's house, I came upon a fellow who was spitting blood into the gutter. He was the sorriest-looking wretch I had ever seen, the gaunt ruin of a man. He drew his filthy rags about him, and shivered, and prefaced his whine for alms with a fit of coughing that seemed to make his bones rattle.
I can't say that my heart went out to the man. It didn't. He was too unwholesome looking, and his face was mean and sly. His voice was as remarkable as anything about him; instead of speaking words, he whined them, through his nose it sounded like, and though his tone seemed pitched low, his whine cut through the East street uproar like a sharp knife through butter.
Well, he was a pitiful wreck. On the rocks for good, already breaking up and going to pieces. Without thinking much about it, I emptied my pockets of their change. He pounced upon that handful of silver with the avidity of a miser, and slobbered nasal thanks at me. I was the kindest-hearted lad he had met in many a day, he said.
We would have gone our different ways promptly but for a flurry of wind. I suspect that, with the money in his hand, he was as eager to see the last of me as I was to see the last of him. But I felt ashamed of my distaste of him; it seemed heartless. And when the cold wind came swooping across from the docks, setting him shivering and coughing, I thought of the spare pea-coat I had in my bag. It was serviceable and warm, and I had a new one to wear.
So I carried him back to the Swede's house with me. I did not take him into the barroom, though he brazenly hinted he would like to stop in there; but I feared the gibes of the boisterous gang. This bum of mine was such grotesque horror that the drunken wits of the house would not, I knew, fail to seize the chance to ridicule me upon my choice of a chum. Besides it was clothes not whisky I intended giving him.
I took him upstairs by the side entrance, the entrance to the lodging-house section of the Knitting Swede's establishment. The house was a veritable rookery above the first floor. I lodged on the third floor, in a room overlooking the street, a shabby, dirty little cubicle, but one of the choice rooms at the Swede's disposal—for was I not spending money in his house?
My companion's complaining whine filled the halls as we ascended the stairs. He was damning the times and the hard hearts of men. As we walked along the hall towards my room, the door of the room next to mine opened and the big man, who signed himself Newman, looked out at us. I had not known before that he occupied this room, he was so silent and secretive in his comings and goings.
I hailed Newman heartily, but he gave me no response, not even a direct glance. He was regarding the derelict; aye, and there was something in his face as he looked at the man that sent a thrill through me. There was recognition in his look, and something else. It made me shiver. As for this fellow with me—he stopped short at first sight of Newman. He said, "Oh, my God!" and then he seemed to choke. He stumbled against the banisters, and clung to them for support while his knees sagged under him. He'd have run, undoubtedly, if he had had the strength.
"Hello, Beasley," said Newman, in a very quiet voice. He came out of his room, and approached us. Then this man of mine threw a fit indeed. I never saw such fright in a man's face. He opened his mouth as If to scream, but nothing came out except a gurgle; and he lifted his arm as if to ward off an expected blow.
But Newman made no move to strike him. He looked down at him, studying him, with his stern mouth cracked into a little smile (but, God's truth, there was no mirth in it) and after a moment he said, "Surprised? Eh? But no more surprised than I."
The poor wreck got some sound out of his mouth that sounded like "How—how—" several times repeated.
"And I wanted to meet you more than I can tell," went on Newman. "I want to talk to you—about——"
The other got his tongue to working in a half-coherent fashion, though the disjointed words he forced out of his mouth were just husky whispers. "Oh, my God—you! Not me—oh, my God, not me!—him—he made me—it was——"
No more sense than that to his agonized mumbling. And he got no more than that out of him when he choked, and an ugly splotch of crimson appeared upon his pale lips. His knees gave way altogether, and he crouched there on the floor, gibbering silently at the big man, and plainly terrified clean out of his wits.
Well, I felt out of it, so to speak. The feeling made me a little resentful. After all, this bum was my bum.
"Look here, the man's sick," I said to Newman. "Don't look at him like that—he'll die. You've half scared him to death already."
"Oh, no; he'll not die—yet," said Newman. "He's just a little bit surprised at the encounter. But he's glad to see me—aren't you, Beasley? Stop that nonsense, and get up!" This last was barked at the fellow; it was a soft-voiced but imperative command.
The command was instantly obeyed. That was Newman for you—people didn't argue with him, they did what he said. I'd have obeyed too, just as quickly, if he had spoken to me in that tone. There was something in that man, something compelling, and, besides, he had the habit of command in his manner.
So Beasley tottered to his feet, and stood there swaying. He found his tongue, too, in sensible speech. "For God's sake, get me a drink!" he said.
I was glad to seize the cue. It gave me an excuse to do something.
"I'll get some whisky downstairs," I sang out to Newman, as I moved for the stairs. "Take him into my room; I'll be right back."
But when I returned with the liquor a few moments later, I discovered that Newman had taken his prize into his own room. I heard the murmur of voices through the closed door. But I had rather expected this. Half seas over I might be, but I was still clear-witted enough to realize that I had accidentally brought two old acquaintances together, and that one was pleased at the meeting and the other terrified, and that whatever was or had been between the two was none of my business. I had no intention of intruding upon them. But the fellow, Beasley, had looked so much in need of the stimulant that I ventured a knock upon the door.
Newman opened, and I handed him the bottle without comment. I could see my erstwhile tow sitting upon the bed, slumped in an attitude of collapse. He looked so abject; his condition might have touched a harder heart than mine. But there was no softening of Newman's heart, to judge from his face; the little mirthless smile had vanished and his features were hard and set. Aye, and his manner towards me was curt enough.
"Thank you; he needs a pick-me-up," he said, as he took the bottle. "And now—you'll excuse us, lad."
It wasn't a question, that last; it was a statement. Little he cared if I excused him or not. He shut the door in my face, and I heard the key turn in the lock.
Well, I suppose I should have been incensed by this off-hand dismissal. Oh, I was no meek and humble specimen; my temper was only too touchy, and besides there was my reputation as a hard case to look to. But strangely enough I did not become incensed; I never thought of kicking down the door, I never thought of harboring a grudge. It wasn't fear of the big man, either. It was—well, that was Newman. He could do a thing like that, and get away with it.
The carousing gang downstairs was more than ever distasteful to me. I went into my own room and lay down upon the bed. The liquor that was in me made me a bit drowsy, and I rather relished the thought of a nap.
But I discovered I was likely to be cheated of even the nap by my next door neighbors. The walls in the Swede's house were poor barriers to sounds, and lying there on the bed I suddenly found myself overhearing a considerable part of the conversation in the next room. Newman's deep voice was a mere rumble, a menacing rumble, with the words undistinguishable, but the beggar's disagreeable whine carried through the partition so distinctly I could not help overhearing nearly every word he said. I didn't try to eavesdrop; at the time Beasley's words had little interest or meaning for me. But afterwards, on the ship, I had reason to ponder over what he said.
The burden of his speech was to the effect that somebody referred to as "he" was to blame. Aye, trust a rat of that caliber to set up that wail. For some time that was all I got from the words that came through the wall. I wasn't trying to listen; I was drowsing, and paying very little attention.
But gradually Beasley's whine grew louder and more distinct. I suppose the whisky was oiling his tongue. Once he cried out sharply, "For God's sake, don't look at me like that! I'm telling the truth, I swear I am!" The scrape of a chair followed this outburst, and when the whine began again it was closer to the wall, and more distinct than ever.
"I didn't want to, but he made me. I had to look out for myself, hadn't I? I had to do what he said. He had this paper of mine—he knew they were forgeries—I had to do what he said. But, my God, I didn't know what he was planning—I swear I didn't!"
Newman's rumble broke in, and then the voluble, reedy voice continued, "But he was wild when he came home and found you and Mary so thick, and everybody just waiting for the announcement that it was a match. Why, he had the whole thing planned, the very day he arrived. I know he had, because he came to me, in the tavern, and told me I was to drop hints here and there through the village that you and Beulah Twigg had been seen together in Boston. I didn't want to, but I had to obey him. Why, those checks—he could have put me in prison. My father would not have helped me. You remember my father—he was ready to throw me out anyway. He never could make allowances for a young fellow's fun.
"He had others dropping hints around. Trust him to handle a job like that. He was your friend, and Mary's friend—your very best friend, and all the time the tongues were wagging behind your back. Why, it was the talk of the town. You and Beulah Twigg, together in Boston; you and Beulah together at sea; you and Beulah—well, you know what a story they would make of it in a little town like Freeport. Mary must have heard the gossip about you; the women would tell her.
"But it didn't seem to have any effect. The two of you were as thick as ever. We were laying bets in the tavern that you would be married before you went to sea again. He didn't like that—the talk about your wedding. But he wasn't beaten yet; he was just preparing his ground. Oh, he was a slick devil!
"He came to me one day and said, 'Beasley, give me the key to the Old Place—and keep your mouth shut and stay away from there.'
"Now you begin to understand? The Old Place—that tumble-down old ruin of a house all alone out there on the cliffs. It belonged to my father, you remember, but it hadn't been lived in for years. I had a key because we young bloods used the place for card-playing, and high jinks.
"I gave him the key. Why not? It was a small matter. He went off to Boston—business trip, he said. I could make a good guess at the nature of the business. Didn't I know his ways? But I wouldn't blab; he owned me body and soul. I was afraid of him. His soft voice, his slick ways, and what he could do to me if I didn't obey!
"He brought Beulah Twigg back with him from Boston. Now you understand? Little Beulah—pretty face, empty head, too much heart. He owned her body and soul, too. When folks wondered where she had run off to, I could have told them. I knew how he'd played with her, on the quiet, while he sparked Mary in the open—last time he was home. You were home then, also. Remember, you left a day ahead of him, to join your ship in New York? A China voyage, wasn't it? Well—Beulah left the same day. Just disappeared. And poor old Twigg couldn't understand it. You remember the old fool? Beulah was all the family he had, and after she skipped out he got to drinking. They found him one morning at the bottom of the cliffs, not a hundred yards from the spot where they afterwards found her.
"But I knew what had become of Beulah. I guessed right. Didn't I know his ways with the girls? You know there weren't many women who could stand out against him. Mary could, and did—that's why he was so wild against you. But little Beulah—she threw herself at him. And when she ran away, it was to join him in Philadelphia, and go sailing with him to South America.
"Now you know how he turned the trick on you, don't you? But—don't look at me like that! I didn't know what he was doing, I swear I didn't! I thought he just wanted his sweetheart near him, or that she insisted on coming, or something like that. I thought it was devilish bold of him, bringing the girl where everybody knew her. But then, he really wasn't taking such a chance, because nobody ever went near the Old Place, except upon my invitation, and he drove her over from the next township in the night, and she didn't come near the village. I knew, but he knew I wouldn't blab. My God, no!
"Well, he came to me the next day after he got back from Boston. 'I ask a favor of you,' he said to me. Yes—asking favors, when he knew I must do what he said. Smiling and purring—you remember the pleasant manner he had. 'Just a short note. I know you are handy with the pen,' he said.
"What could I do? I had to look out for myself. He gave me a page from an old letter as a sample of the handwriting. It was Mary Barntree's writing; oh, I knew it well. I had it perfect in a few minutes. You know—I had a rare trick with the pen in those days—before this cough got me, and my hand got shaky. The note I wrote for him was a mere line. 'Meet me at Beasley's Old Place at three,' with her initial signed. That was all. But he had a sheet of her own special note paper for me to write on (no, I don't know where he got it!) and of course he knew—like we all knew—how fond the two of you were of lovers' walks out on the cliffs.
"Do you remember how you got that note? Oh, he was a slick devil. He thought of everything. Abel Horn brought it to you—remember? He told you, with a wink and a grin, that it was from a lady—but he didn't say what lady. Remember? Well, Beulah had given him the note, and told him to say that—not to mention names. Abel was a good fellow; he wouldn't gossip. He knew that.
"That wasn't the only note he had written. He made Beulah write one, too, addressed to Mary, and asking her to come to the Old Place, and be secret about it. Ah, now you understand? But—I swear I didn't know what he was leading up to. No, I didn't. I thought it was—well, all's fair in love, you know. And I had to do what he said, I had to!
"Poor little Beulah had to do what he said, too. I only feared him, but she loved and feared him both. He owned her completely. He had made her into a regular echo of himself. She didn't want to, she cried about it, but she had to do what he said.
"Mary came, as he knew she would. Didn't she have the kindest heart in the country? And there he was, with Beulah, with his eyes on her, and his soft, sly words making her lie seem more true. I heard it all. I was upstairs. He placed me there, in case Mary didn't believe; then I was to come in and tell about seeing you and Beulah together in Boston, and how she begged me to bring her home. But—for God's sake!—I didn't do it. I didn't have to. Mary believed. How could she help believing—the gossip, and poor little Beulah sobbing out her story. Beulah said it was you who got the best of her. She didn't want to say it, she faltered and choked on the lie, but his eyes were on her, and his voice urged her, and so she had to say it. The very way she carried on made the lie seem true.
"Well, Mary did just what he expected her to do. She promised to help Beulah; she told Beulah she would make you make amends. Then she rushed out of the house and met you coming along the cliff road—coming along all spruced up, and with the look about you of one going to meet a lady. Just as he planned.
"What more could Mary ask in the way of evidence than the sight of you in that place at that time? Of course she was convinced, completely convinced. And she behaved just as he knew she would behave—she denounced you, and threw your ring in your face, and raced off home. And you behaved just as he knew you would behave. He was a slick devil! He knew your pride and temper; he counted on them. He knew you would be too proud to chase Mary down and demand a full explanation; that you would be too angry to sift the thing to the bottom. You packed up and went off to New York that night to join your ship—and that was just what he wanted you to do.
"Next morning you were gone, and—they picked up little Beulah at the bottom of the cliffs. And you gone in haste, without a word. They said she jumped—desertion, despair, you know what they would make of it. The gossip—and Abel Horn's tale—and you running away to sea.
"And I—my flesh would creep when I looked at him. I was certain she—didn't jump. I tell you he was a devil. There wasn't anything he wouldn't do. He didn't have such a feeling as mercy. Didn't I find it out? He wanted to get rid of me—and he did. Before the week was out; before Beulah was fairly buried, before Mary was outdoors again. He showed those checks I had signed—and I had to go, I had to go far and in a hurry. After all I had done for him, that's the way he treated me."
There was a movement of chairs in the next room, and a scraping of feet. There was more talk, Newman's heavy murmur, and responding whines. But I do not remember what else was said. In fact, although I have given you Beasley's tale in straight-forward fashion, I did not overhear it as I tell it. I caught it in snatches, so to speak, rather disconnected snatches which I pieced together afterwards. I heard this fellow, Beasley, talk while lying drowsing on the bed, and not trying particularly to understand his words. In fact, I did drop off to sleep. First thing I knew, the Knitting Swede was shaking me awake. "Yump out of it, Yackie," says he. "We go aboard."
I turned out, shouldered my sea-bag, and went downstairs. There was Newman, with his dunnage, waiting. He was alone. There was no sign of my beggar about. In fact, I never saw him again. Newman's face didn't invite questions.
As a matter of fact, I didn't even think of asking him questions. I had forgotten Beasley; I was worrying about myself. Now that the hour had come to join the ship, I wasn't feeling quite so carefree and chesty. I went into the bar, and poured Dutch courage into myself, until the Knitting Swede was ready to leave.
We rode down to the dock in a hack. I was considerably elated when the vehicle drew up before the door; It is not every sailorman who rides down to the dock in a hack, you bet! The Swede was spreading himself to give us a grand send-off, I thought! But I changed my mind when we started. The hack was on Newman's account, solely; and he made a quick dash from the door to its shelter, with his face concealed by cap and pea-coat collar. He didn't want to be seen in the streets—that is why we rode in the hack!
The ride was made amidst a silence that proved to be a wet blanket to all my attempts to be jovial, and light-hearted and devil-may-care. The Swede slumped in one seat, with our dunnage piled by his side, wheezing profanely as the lurching of the hack over the cobblestones jolted the sea-bags against him, and grunting at my efforts to make conversation. Newman sat by my side. Once he spoke.
"You are sure the lady sails, Swede?" was what he said.
"Ja, I have it vrom Swope, himself," the crimp replied.
Now, of course, I had already reasoned it out that Newman was sailing in the Golden Bough because of the lady aft, and that he had once owned some other name than "Newman." That was as plain as the nose on my face. I didn't bother my head about it; the man's reasons were his own, and foc'sle custom said that a shipmate should be judged by his acts, not by his past, or his motives. But I did bother my head about his question in the hack—or rather about the Swede's manner of replying to it. It was a little thing, but very noticeable to a sailor.
The Swede's manner towards me was one of genial condescension, like a father towards an indulged child. This was a proper bearing for a powerful crimp to adopt towards a foremost hand. But the Swede's manner towards Newman was different. There was respect in it, as though he were talking to some skipper. It considerably increased the feeling of awe I was beginning to have for my stern shipmate.
I supposed we would join the rest of the crew at the dock, and go on board in orthodox fashion, on a tug, with drugged and drunken men lying around, to be met at the rail by the mates, and dressed down into the foc'sle. Such was the custom of the port. But when we alighted at Meigg's Wharf not a sailor or runner was in sight. A regiment of roosting gulls was in lonely possession of the planking. The hack rattled away; the Swede, bidding us gather up our dunnage and follow him, waddled to the wharf edge, and disappeared over the string-piece.
"Why, where is the crew?" I asked of Newman. "You and I, alone, aren't going to sail the ruddy packet?"
"They'll follow later," replied Newman. "The Swede is going to put us two aboard. He's getting the boat free now."
I stopped stock still. The constant surprises were rapidly shocking me sober, and this last one fairly took my breath for a moment. The Swede was putting us on board!
Now, the King of Crimps didn't put sailormen on board. He hired runners to oversee the disposal of the slaves. The most he did was lounge in the sternsheets of his Whitehall while his retainers rowed him out to a ship to interview the captain, and collect his blood money. It was unusual for the Swede to go down to the dock with a couple of men; and now, he was going to fasten his lordly hands upon a pair of oars and row us out to our vessel!
"Say, what is the idea?" I demanded of Newman. "We are no flaming dukes to be coddled this way!"
Newman placed his hand upon my shoulders. "What say you call it off, lad?" he said. "That hell-ship yonder is no proper berth for you. Take my advice, and dodge around the corner with your bag. I can fix it with the Swede, all right."
I should have liked to have taken the advice, I admit. I was not in nearly such a vainglorious mood as I had been back in the Swede's barroom, with the waterfront applauding me. If Newman had offered to dodge around the corner with me, I'd have gone. The aspect of that empty wharf was depressing, and there was something sinister about all these unusual circumstances surrounding our joining the ship. I began to feel that there was something wrong about the Golden Bough besides her bucko mates, and I possessed the superstitions of my kind. But Newman did not offer to dodge around the corner with me. He was merely advising me, in a fatherly, pitying fashion that my nineteen-year-old manhood could not stomach.
"I shipped in her, and I'll sail in her," I told him, shortly. "I can stand as much hell as any man, and I'd join her if I had to swim for it. That flaming packet can't scare me away; I'll take a pay-day from her, yet!" I was bound I'd live up to my reputation as a hard case! I was letting Newman know I was just as proper a nut as himself.
The Swede hailed us from the darkness beyond. We reached the wharf edge, and dimly made out the Swede's huge bulk squatting in a Whitehall boat below. "Yump in!" he bade us. We tossed our bags down, followed ourselves, and a moment later I was bidding farewell to the beach.
The Swede lay back manfully on the oars, grunting with every stroke. He was expert; he seemed to make nothing of the inrushing tide, and quickly ferried us out into the fairway. Newman and I sat together in the sternsheets, each wrapped in his mantle of dignified silence. I kept my eyes on the black bulk of the vessel we were rapidly nearing, and I confess my thoughts were not very cheerful. One needed jolly companions, and more drink inside than I had, to have cheerful thoughts when joining the Golden Bough.
The Swede lay on his oars when we were a few hundred yards from the ship, allowing us to drift down with the tide. He fumbled about his clothes for a moment, and produced a bottle. "Here, yoongstar, you take a yolt!" he commanded, passing me the bottle.
I thought he was just bolstering up my courage, and I was grateful. I swallowed a great gulp of the fiery stuff. It was good liquor, and possessed an added flavor to which I was stranger.
I passed the bottle to Newman; he accepted it, but I noticed he did not drink.
The Swede lifted up his voice and hailed the ship. Immediately, the most magnificent fore-topsail-yard-ahoy voice I had ever heard bellowed a reply, "Ahoy, the boat! What d'ye want?"
"That ban Lynch," remarked the Swede to us. Then he called in reply. "Ay ban Swede Olson with two hands for you! Heave over da Yacob's ladder, Mistar Lynch!" He lay back on his oars, and shot us under the quarter.
A moment later the three of us were standing on the clipper maindeck, confronting a large man who inspected us with the aid of a lantern. Afterwards, I discovered Mister Second Mate Lynch to be a handsome, muscular chap, with not so much of the "bucko" in his bearing as his reputation led one to expect. But at the moment I was impressed only by his big body and stern face. In truth, even that impression was hazy, for the drink I had taken from the Swede's bottle a moment before proved to be surprisingly potent. No sooner did I set foot upon the deck than I commenced to feel a heavy languor overcoming my body and mind.
Lynch turned, and his voice rumbled into the lighted cabin alleyway. "Oh, Fitz, come here. Those two jaspers we heard of have come aboard."
A moment later a man came from the cabin and stood by Lynch's side. Here was a true bucko, even my addled wits sensed that. A human gorilla, with a battered face and brutal, pitiless mouth—the dreaded Fitzgibbon, "chief kicker" of the Golden Bough.
Mister "Fitz" regarded us with a sneering smile. "Huh, stewed to the gills! What did you dope 'em with, Swede?" he said. Then he added to Lynch, "Good beef, though. They'll pull their weight. Hope there are more like them." He gave his regard to me, looked me up and down slowly, and then turned his eyes on Newman. "Shipped themselves, did they? Two jumps ahead o' the police, I bet! Lord, what a cargo he's got aboard!"
This last referred to Newman. I was staring at him, myself, with stupid surprise, his peculiar antics aiding me to retain a slender clutch on my senses.
For Newman was drunk, rip-roaring drunk. Now mind, he had been cold sober a few moments before when I handed him the Swede's bottle, and I was quite certain he had not touched that bottle to his lips. He came over the rail with the bottle clutched in his hand, and as soon as he touched the deck he was as pickled as any sailor who ever joined a ship. He hung his head, and lurched unsteadily from foot to foot, mumbling to himself. Suddenly he brandished the bottle, and commenced to howl, "Blow the Man Down," in a raucous voice.
"Stow that!" commanded Lynch, shortly. "You'll wake up the lady!"
Newman shut up. "Vas da lady on board?" asked the Swede, respectfully.
"Yes, and if that jasper rouses her, I'll shove a pin down his gullet!" answered Lynch. "Here you two," he commanded us, "gather up your dunnage and get for'rd!"
Newman and I grappled laboriously with our bags. Fitzgibbon spoke to the Swede. "When does the crew come off?"
"Flood tide," answered the Swede. "Captain Swope comes with them. And I send a port gang to get you oondar way."
"Hope there are some more huskies like these two," said Lynch.
"Ja, day ban all able seamans," declared the Swede.
"You're a filthy liar!" I heard Lynch comment. But further words I lost, for Newman and I went stumbling forward to the forecastle.
We dumped our bags upon the floor, and Newman lighted the lamp. My knees gave way, and I sat down upon the bench that ran around beside the tiers of empty bunks. Then, when the flickering light revealed my companion's face, I felt another shock of surprise.
For Newman was sober again. As soon as he was out of sight of the group on the after deck, he dropped his inebriety like a mantle. The face I looked into was alert and hard set, and the eyes gleamed strangely as though the man were laboring under a strong, repressed excitement. Newman wore an air of triumph, as though he had just accomplished a difficult victory. My tongue had suddenly become very thick, but I managed to mumble a query. "Say, matey, what's the game?"
He regarded me sharply. "What's the matter with you, lad?" he exclaimed. He leaned over, pressed up one of my eyelids, and looked into my eye. Then he tilted the bottle he still carried, and wetted his laps with the liquor. "That . . . Swede! He drugged this bottle! Bound to get the blood money for you!"
I didn't answer. I couldn't, for while Newman was speaking, a wonderful thing happened. He suddenly dwindled in size until he was no larger than a manikin, going through the motion of drinking from a tiny bottle; while in contrast, his voice increased so tremendously in volume it broke upon my ears like a surf upon a beach. I couldn't grasp the miracle.
". . . well, not enough to hurt . . . all right tomorrow . . ." Newman boomed. Then he picked me up in his arms and deposited me in a bunk. He got a blanket out of my bag and spread it over me. I found something very comical about this, though I couldn't laugh as I wished. One hard case tucking in another hard case, like a mother tucks in her child!
The last thing I saw, or thought I saw, ere oblivion overcrept me, was Newman's manikin-sized figure stretching out in a manikin-sized bunk opposite.
My head ached, my tongue was thick and wood-tastey, but I awoke in full possession of my faculties. Even in the brief instant between the awakening and the eye-opening, I sensed what was about.
The motion told me the ship was under way. The noises that had probably aroused me, boomed commands, stormed curses, groans, sounds of blows, feet stamping—all told me that the mates were turning to the crew. I sat up and looked around.
It had been dark night, and the foc'sle empty, when Newman had tucked me in for my drugged siesta. Now it was broad day, and a bright streak of sunlight streaming into the dirty hole through the open door showed men's forms sprawled in the bunks about me.
The Golden Bough had a topgallant foc'sle, the port and starboard sides divided by a partition that reached not quite to the deck above, and which contained a connecting door. Newman and I had stumbled into the port foc'sle the previous night, and as I sat up, I discovered that the babel of sound came from the starboard side of the partition. I swung up into the bunk above my head, raised my eyes above the partition, and looked down.
I saw Mister Lynch, the second mate, standing in the middle of the starboard foc'sle's floor. He was turning to the crew with a vengeance. His method was simple, effective, but rather ungentle. His long arm would dart into a bunk where lay huddled a formless heap of rags. This heap of rags, yanked bodily out of bed, would resolve itself into a limp and drunken man. Then Mister Lynch would commence to eject life into the sodden lump, working scientifically and dispassionately, and bellowing the while ferocious oaths in the victim's ear.
"Out on deck with you!" he would cry, shaking the limp bundle much as a dog would shake a rat. A sharp clout on either jaw would elicit a profane protest from the patient. The toe of his heavy boot, sharply applied where it would do the most good, would produce further evidences of life. Then Lynch would take firm grasp of the scruff of the neck and seat of the breeches, and hurl the resurrected one through the door onto the deck, and out of range of my vision. A waspish voice streaming blistering oaths proved that Mister Fitzgibbon was welcoming each as he emerged into daylight. Another voice, melodiously penetrating the uproar, proved another man was watching the crew turn to. I recognized the silky, musical voice of Yankee Swope. "Stir them up, Mister! Make them jump! My ship is no hotel!" is what it said.
The second mate boosted the starboard foc'sle's last occupant deckwards; then he paused a moment for a breathing spell. Next, his roving eye rested upon my face blinking down at him from the top of the wall.
"Oh, ho—so you have come to life, have you!" he addressed me. "The Swede said you would be dead until afternoon!"
He stepped through the connecting door, into my side of the foc'sle, and looked about. I leaped down from the upper bunk and stood before him, feeling rather sheepish at having been discovered spying.
"Where is that big jasper who came aboard with you?" he suddenly demanded of me.
"Why;—there!" I replied promptly, indicating the bunk opposite the one in which I had slept.
Then, I became aware that Newman was not in that bunk; and a rapid survey of the foc'sle showed he was not in any bunk. He was gone, though his sea-bag was still lying on the floor. The bunk I thought he was in contained an occupant of very different aspect from my grim companion of the night before.
A short, spare man of some thirty years, wearing an old red flannel shirt, was stretched out upon the bare bunk-boards. Lynch and I contemplated him in silence for a moment.
He was no beachcomber or sailor, one could tell that at a glance. His skin had no tan upon it. It was white and soft. Obviously, he was no inhabitant of the underworld of forecastles and waterside groggeries. His white face looked intelligent and forceful even in unconsciousness.
In some way, the man had come by a wicked blow upon the head. It was the cause, I suspected, of his swoon, and stertorous breathing. Dried blood was plastered on the boards about his head, and his thick, dark hair was clotted and matted with the flow from his wound.
Lynch leaned over, and opened one of the fellow's loosely clenched hands. It was as white and soft as a lady's hand.
"This jasper is no bum—or sailor!" declared Lynch. "That damn Swede's been up to some o' his tricks. Well—we'll make a sailor of him before we fetch China Sea, I reckon!" He straightened, and turned on me with another demand for Newman. "Where did you say that big jasper was?"
I shrugged my shoulders helplessly. I could have sworn Newman had turned into that bunk; and I told him so.
Lynch snorted. "Didn't have the guts to face the music, I reckon, and cleared out! Well, if he tried to swim for it, I'll bet he's feeding fishes now!" His eyes roved around the room. Several of the bunks were occupied by nondescript figures, but Newman's huge bulk did not appear. "Damned seedy bunch," commented Lynch. "Couldn't afford to lose good beef. Hello—who's this?"
His eyes rested upon the bunk farthest forward, athwartship bunk in the eyes. The body of a big man lying therein loomed indistinctly in the gloom of the corner. Lynch reached the bunk with a bound, and I was close behind.
But it was not Newman. It was—the Cockney! The very man to whom the Swede had tendered the runner's job, the man Newman had manhandled! He lay on his back, snoring loudly, his bloated, unlovely face upturned to us.
I laughed. "It's the runner," I said. "The Swede's first runner. Swede gave him the job yesterday."
"And gave him a swig out of the black bottle last night!" commented Lynch. Then he grasped the significance of the Swede's double cross, and his laughter joined mine. "Ho, ho—shanghaied his own runner! Ho, ho . . . that damned Swede!"
Then it evidently struck Mister Lynch that he was conducting himself with unseemly levity in company with a foremast hand. His face became stern, his voice hard, and my moment of grace was ended.
"Turn to!" he commanded me. "What are you standing about for? Get out on deck, before I boot you out!"
I knew my place, and I obeyed with alacrity. As I reached the door, his voice held me again for a moment.
"I guess you are a smart lad," says he. "I'll pick you for my watch, if Fitz doesn't get ahead of me. Got your nerve—shipping in this packet! If you know your work, and fly about it, you'll be all right. Otherwise, God help you!"
During my brief communion with Lynch in the foc'sle, I had, of course, been conscious of ship work proceeding on deck. I had been deaf otherwise, what with the mate's obscene, shrill voice ringing through the ship, and the rattle of blocks, the cries of men, and the tramp of their feet as they pulled together. Now, as I stepped from the foc'sle into the bright daylight, I saw just what work was doing.
The vessel was aback on the main, her way lost for the moment. Abeam, a tug was puffing away from us, carrying the port crew—who had lifted anchor and taken the Golden Bough to sea—back to San Francisco. And we were fairly to sea; the rugged coast of Marin was miles astern, and the Golden Gate was lost in a distant haze. The voyage was begun.
I saw this at a glance, out of the corners of my eyes, as I ran aft to join the crowd. For I was minded to take the second mate's advice, and fly about my work in the Golden Bough. To wait for an order, was, I knew well enough, to wait for a blow. The crowd were already at the lee braces, commencing to trim up the yards, and I tailed onto the line and threw in my weight, thanking my lucky star that Mister Fitzgibbon was too busied with the weather braces to accord my advent on deck any other reception than a sizzling oath.
We got the ship under wary, and then jumped to other work. Mister Lynch had flung several more sick, frightened wretches out of the foc'sle, and now he joined with the mate in forcible encouragement of our efforts. The port gang had hoisted the yards, and loosed the sails, but the upper canvas was ill sheeted, and soon we were pully-hauling for dear life.
The best of ships is a madhouse the first day at sea, but the Golden Bough—God! she was madhouse and purgatory rolled into one! My own agility and knowledge saved me from ill usage for the moment, since the mates had plenty of ignorant, clumsy material to work upon. Such material! I never before or after saw such a welter of human misery as on that bright morning, such a crowd of sick, suffering, terrified men. Most of them knew not one rope from another, some of them knew not a word of English, half of them were still drunk, and stumbled and fell as they were driven about, the other half were seasick and all but helpless. Oh, they caught it, I tell you! The mates were merciless, as their reputations declared them to be. It was sing out an order, then knock a man down, jerk him to his feet, thrust a line into his hands, and kick him until he bent his weight upon it. It was bitter driving. But I'll admit it brought order out of chaos. We cleared the decks of the first-day-out hurrah's nest in jig time. Mercifully, it was fair weather, with a light, steady, fair breeze.
I found myself working shoulder to shoulder with a big, trim-bodied mulatto. He was a sailorman, I saw at a glance, and we stuck together as much as possible during the morning. He already bore Fitzgibbon's mark in the shape of a raw gash on his forehead, and his blood-specked eyes were hot with mingled rage and terror. He murmured over and over again to me, as though obsessed by the words, "Does yoh know where yoh am, mate? Lawd—de Golden Bough! de Golden Bough!"
There came an ominous flapping of canvas aloft. "He done gib her too much wheel!" said the mulatto to me. "Lawd help him!"
The black-bearded man who had been lounging over the poop rail watching us work, and at whom I had been casting curious and fearful glances as I rushed about beneath his arctic glare, now swung about and damned the helmsman's eye with soft voiced, deadly words. The mates' voices dropped low, and we listened to Yankee Swope's storm of venomous curses with bated breath.
As a man curses so he is. I learned that truth that morning, a truth amply tested by the days that came after. It was like a book page before my eyes, revealing the different characters of the three men who ruled our world, by comparison of their oaths.
Now Lynch swore robustious oaths in a hearty voice. They enlivened your legs and arms, for you sensed there was a blow behind the words if you lagged. But they did not rasp your soul. You knew there was no personal application to them. They were the oaths of a bluff, hard man who would drive you mercilessly, but who would none the less respect your manhood. They were the oaths of the boss to the man, and they bespoke force.
Fitzgibbon's swearing always sounded dirty. His curses fell about you like a vile shower, and aroused your hot resentment; the same words that came clean from Lynch's lips, sounded vile from Fitzgibbon, because the man, himself, was bad through and through. His oaths were the oaths of a slave-driver to the slave, and they bespoke cruelty.
But the curses of Captain Swope! God keep me from ever hearing their like again. They sounded worse than harsh, or vile, they sounded inhuman. The words came soft and melodious from his lips, but they were forked with poison and viciousness. As we of the foc'sle listened to him curse the helmsman, that first morning out, each man felt fear's icy finger touch the pit of his stomach. The captain's words horrified us, they sounded so utterly evil, and foretold so plainly the suffering that was to come to us.
He suddenly cut short his cursing, and turning, caught sight of us, men and mates, standing idle by the main fife rail. "What's this, Misters?" he sang out. "Going asleep on the job? Rush those dogs—rush them! And send a man aft to the wheel—a sailorman! This damned Dutchman does not know how to steer!"
Those evenly spoken words aroused us to a very frenzy of effort. Fitzgibbon struck out blindly at the man nearest him, and commenced to curse us in a steady stream. Lynch reached out and dragged me away from the line on which I was heaving. "Aft with you!" he ordered me. "Take the wheel—lively, now!"
Lively it was. I ran along the lee deck towards the poop, my belly griped by the knowledge that the black-bearded man was watching my progress. Nineteen-year-old man I might be, able seaman and hard case, but I'll admit I was afraid. I was afraid of that sinister figure on the poop, afraid of the soft voice that cursed so horribly.
It was a little squarehead who had the wheel. A young Scandinavian, an undersized, scrawny boy. He was pallid, and glazy-eyed with terror, as well he might be after facing the Old Man's tirade, and when I took the spokes from his nerveless grasp he had not sufficient wit left to give me the course. Indeed, he had not much chance to speak, for Captain Swope had followed me aft, and as soon as I had the wheel he commenced on the luckless youth.
"You didn't watch her, did you? Now I'll show you what happens in my ship when a man goes to sleep on his job!" he purred. Purred—aye, that is the word. Through his beard I could see the tip of his tongue rimming his lips, as he contemplated the frightened boy, much like a cat contemplating a choice morsel about to be devoured; and there was a beam of satisfaction in his eye. Oh, it was very evident that Yankee Swope was about to enjoy himself.
The poor squarehead cowered backward, and Swope stepped forward and drove his clenched list into the boy's face, smashing him against the cabin skylights. The boy cried out with pain and fear, the blood gushing from his nose, and, placing his hands over his face, he tried to escape by running forward. Swope, the devil, ran beside him, showering blows upon his unprotected head, and as they reached the break of the poop he knocked the boy down. Then he gave him the boots, commenced to kick him heavily about the body, while the boy squirmed, and pleaded in agonized, broken English for mercy. It was a brutal, revolting exhibition. I was an untamed forecastle savage, myself, used to cruelty, and regarding it as natural and inevitable, but as I stood there at the wheel and, watched Yankee Swope manhandle that boy I became sick with disgust and rage. Aye, and with fear, for what was happening to the squarehead might well happen to me!
The boy ceased to squirm under the impact of the boots, and his pained cries were silenced. Then the captain ceased his kicking, though he did not cease the silky-toned evil curses that slid from his lips. He leaned over the bruised, insensible form, grasped the clothes, and heaved the boy clear off the poop, much as one might heave aside a sack of rubbish. So the little squarehead vanished from my ken for the time being, though I heard the thud of his body striking the deck below.
Swope stood looking down at his handiwork for a moment; then he swung about and came aft, brushing invisible dirt from his clothes as he walked. When he drew near, I saw his eyes were bright with joyous excitement; yes, by heaven, Captain Swope was happy because of the work he had just done; he was a man who found pleasure in inflicting pain upon others! He paused at my side, glanced sharply at me, then aloft at the highest weather leech, for I was steering full and by. But he found no cause for offense, and after damning my eye to be careful, he turned away and commenced pacing up and down. I was in a furious rage against the man. But when he looked at me my knees felt weak, and I answered his words respectfully and meekly indeed. God's truth, I was afraid of him!
Oh, it was not his size. Yankee Swope was only of medium build; I was much the better man physically, and could have wiped the deck with him in short order—though, of course, a quick death would have rewarded any such attempt upon the master of the Golden Bough. Nor was his face ill to look at. Indeed, he had a handsome face, though beard and mustache covered half of it, and there was a peculiar and disturbing glitter in his black eyes. Some of my fear was caused, I think, by the sinister softness of his voice. But most of it was caused by the impression the man, himself, gave—call it personality, if you like. It was much like the impression of utter recklessness that Newman gave, only in Yankee Swope's case it was not recklessness, but utter wickedness. An aura of evil seemed to cling about him, he walked about in an atmosphere of black iniquity that was horrifying. Any foremast hand would look after Yankee Swope and say, "There—he's sold his soul to the Devil! He's a bad one, a real bad one, and no mistake!"
So I looked after him, and thought, while he paced the poop, and I held the wheel. "You're in for it, Shreve!" I thought. "This packet is so hot she sizzles, and this Old Man is a bad egg, and no fatal error! There will be bloody, sudden death before this passage is ended, or I'm a ruddy soldier!"
Standing there at the wheel, with one eye upon Captain Swope and the other upon my work, I found I owned a full measure of rueful thoughts. The Golden Bough was an eye-opener to me, used though I was to hard ships and hard men. I wished I had not shown myself such a hard case back there in the Swede's. I cursed myself for the vainglorious fool I was for having put myself in such a hole. The only rift in my cloud of gloom was Lynch; the second mate seemed favorably disposed towards me, I reflected, and had promised to choose me for his watch. He said I would be safe if I jumped lively to my work. I promised myself to do that same, for I foresaw a cruel fate for the malingering man aboard that vessel.
From Lynch, my thoughts naturally jumped to Newman. What had become of him? Deserted, as Lynch had declared? Developed a craven streak, and cleared out? No. My grim, reserved companion of the night before had had some strong, secret purpose in joining the Golden Bough; if he had deserted, I knew it was in obedience to that same hidden purpose, and not from fear of ship or officers.
It was while I was speculating about Newman's disappearance that Mister Lynch came aft and reported that fact to the Old Man, in my hearing. "We have them all hustling except two," he told Swope. "One jasper the Swede dosed with his black bottle, and another one who has been sandbagged. I'll have them on deck by muster. A damned seedy bunch, taken by and large, Captain. We're one hand shy!"
"What's that? One hand shy?" exclaimed Swope, sharply.
"Yes, sir; cleared out, I expect. Came on board last night—one of the two the Swede told us about, who picked the ship themselves. There's one of them at the wheel. But the other one, the big one, was gone this morning. Best looking beef of the entire lot, too. Good sailorman, or I'm a farmer; looked like an officer down on his luck."
Swope turned to me. "Where is the fellow who came on board with you?" he demanded.
"I don't know, sir," I replied. "He had disappeared when I woke up this morning."
"Huh! Sounds fishy!" was his response. "Don't lie to me, my lad, or I'll wring your neck for you!" He stood silent a moment, opening and shutting his fingers, just as though he were turning the matter over in the palms of his hands. Then he cursed.