Part 2 out of 3
than a transcription of things thought. However, one may read between
the lines; the very breaks are eloquent, while the break at the end
speaks with a significance that no words could attain.
The manuscript in itself is interesting. It is written partly in pencil,
partly in ink (no doubt from a fountain pen), on sheets of manila paper
torn from some sort of long and narrow account-book. In two or three
places there are smudges where the powder-blackened finger and thumb
held the sheets momentarily. I would give much to own it, but Tejada
will not give it up without Bass's permission, and Bass has gone to the
As to Karslake himself. He was born in Raleigh, in North Carolina, in
1868, studied law at the State University, and went to the Bahamas in
1885 with the members of a government coast survey commission. Gave up
the practice of law and "went in" for fiction and the study of the
ethnology of North America about 1887. He was unmarried.
The reasons for his enlisting have long been misunderstood. It was known
that at the time of his death he was a member of B Troop of the Sixth
Regiment of United States Cavalry, and it was assumed that because of
this fact Karslake was in financial difficulties and not upon good terms
with his family. All this, of course, is untrue, and I have every reason
to believe that Karslake at this time was planning a novel of military
life in the Southwest, and, wishing to get in closer touch with the
_milieu_ of the story, actually enlisted in order to be able to write
authoritatively. He saw no active service until the time when his
narrative begins. The year of his death is uncertain. It was in the
spring probably of 1896, in the twenty-eighth year of his age.
There is no doubt he would have become in time a great writer. A young
man of twenty-eight who had so lively a sense of the value of accurate
observation, and so eager a desire to produce that in the very face of
death he could faithfully set down a description of his surroundings,
actually laying down the rifle to pick up the pen, certainly was
possessed of extraordinary faculties.
"They came in sight early this morning just after we had had breakfast
and had broken camp. The four of us--'Bunt,' 'Idaho,' Estorijo and
myself--were jogging on to the southward and had just come up out of the
dry bed of some water-hole--the alkali was white as snow in the
crevices--when Idaho pointed them out to us, three to the rear, two on
one side, one on the other and--very far away--two ahead. Five minutes
before, the desert was as empty as the flat of my hand. They seemed
literally to have _grown_ out of the sage-brush. We took them in through
my field-glasses and Bunt made sure they were an outlying band of
Hunt-in-the-Morning's Bucks. I had thought, and so had all of us, that
the rest of the boys had rounded up the whole of the old man's hostiles
long since. We are at a loss to account for these fellows here. They
seem to be well mounted.
"We held a council of war from the saddle without halting, but there
seemed very little to be done--but to go right along and wait for
developments. At about eleven we found water--just a pocket in the bed
of a dried stream--and stopped to water the ponies. I am writing this
during the halt.
"We have one hundred and sixteen rifle cartridges. Yesterday was Friday,
and all day, as the newspapers say, 'the situation remained unchanged.'
We expected surely that the night would see some rather radical change,
but nothing happened, though we stood watch and watch till morning. Of
yesterday's eight only six are in sight and we bring up reserves. We now
have two to the front, one on each side, and two to the rear, all far
out of rifle-range.
[_The following paragraph is in an unsteady script and would appear to
have been written in the saddle. The same peculiarity occurs from time
to time in the narrative, and occasionally the writing is so broken as
to be illegible_.]
"On again after breakfast. It is about eight-fifteen. The other two have
come back--without 'reserves,' thank God. Very possibly they did not go
away at all, but were hidden by a dip in the ground. I cannot see that
any of them are nearer. I have watched one to the left of us steadily
for more than half an hour and I am sure that he has not shortened the
distance between himself and us. What their plans are Hell only knows,
but this silent, persistent escorting tells on the nerves. I do not
think I am afraid--as yet. It does not seem possible but that we will
ride into La Paz at the end of the fortnight exactly as we had planned,
meet Greenock according to arrangements and take the stage on to the
railroad. Then next month I shall be in San Antonio and report at
headquarters. Of course, all this is to be, of course; and this business
of to-day will make a good story to tell. It's an experience--good
'material.' Very naturally I cannot now see how I am going to get out of
this" [_the word "alive" has here been erased_], "but of course I
_will_. Why 'of course'? I don't know. Maybe I am trying to deceive
myself. Frankly, it looks like a situation insoluble; but the solution
will surely come right enough in good time.
"Eleven o'clock.--No change.
"Two-thirty P. M.--We are halted to tighten girths and to take a single
swallow of the canteens. One of them rode in a wide circle from the rear
to the flank, about ten minutes ago, conferred a moment with his fellow,
then fell back to his old position. He wears some sort of red cloth or
blanket. We reach no more water till day after to-morrow. But we have
sufficient. Estorijo has been telling funny stories en route.
"Four o'clock P. M.--They have closed up perceptibly, and we have been
debating about trying one of them with Idaho's Winchester. No use;
better save the ammunition. It looks...." [_the next words are
undecipherable, but from the context they would appear to be_ "_as if
they would attack to-night_"]"...we have come to know certain of them
now by nicknames. We speak of the Red One, or the Little One, or the One
with the Feather, and Idaho has named a short thickset fellow on our
right 'Little Willie.' By God, I wish something would turn up--relief or
fight. I don't care which. How Estorijo can cackle on, reeling off his
senseless, pointless funny stories, is beyond me. Bunt is almost as bad.
They understand the fix we are in, I _know_, but how they can take it so
easily is the staggering surprise. I feel that I am as courageous as
either of them, but levity seems horribly inappropriate. I could kill
"Sunday morning.--Still no developments. We were so sure of something
turning up last night that none of us pretended to sleep. But nothing
stirred. There is no sneaking out of the circle at night. The moon is
full. A jack-rabbit could not have slipped by them unseen last night.
"Nine o'clock (in the saddle).--We had coffee and bacon as usual at
sunrise; then on again to the southeast just as before. For half an hour
after starting the Red One and two others were well within rifle-shot,
nearer than ever before. They had worked in from the flank. But before
Idaho could get a chance at them they dipped into a shallow arroyo, and
when they came out on the other side were too far away to think of
"Ten o'clock.--All at once we find there are nine instead of eight;
where and when this last one joined the band we cannot tell. He wears a
sombrero and army trousers, but the upper part of his body is bare.
Idaho calls him 'Half-and-half.' He is riding a---- They're coming.
"Later.--For a moment we thought it was the long-expected rush. The Red
One--he had been in the front--wheeled quick as a flash and came
straight for us, and the others followed suit. Great Heavens, how they
rode! We could hear them yelling on every side of us. We jumped off our
ponies and stood behind them, the rifles across the saddles. But at four
hundred yards they all pivoted about and cantered off again leisurely.
Now they followed us as before--three in the front, two in the rear and
two on either side. I do not think I am going to be frightened when the
rush does come. I watched myself just now. I was excited, and I remember
Bunt saying to me, 'Keep your shirt on, m'son'; but I was not afraid of
being killed. Thank God for that! It is something I've long wished to
find out, and now that I know it I am proud of it. Neither side fired a
shot. I was not afraid. It's glorious. Estorijo is all right.
"Sunday afternoon, one-thirty.--No change. It is unspeakably hot.
"Three-fifteen.--The One with the Feather is walking, leading his pony.
It seems to be lame." [_With this entry Karslake ended page five, and
the next page of the manuscript is numbered seven. It is very probable,
however, that he made a mistake in the numerical sequence of his pages,
for the narrative is continuous, and, at this point at least, unbroken.
There does not seem to be any sixth page_.]
"Four o'clock.--Is it possible that we are to pass another night of
suspense? They certainly show no signs of bringing on the crisis, and
they surely would not attempt anything so late in the afternoon as this.
It is a relief to feel that we have nothing to fear till morning, but
the tension of watching all night long is fearful.
"Later.--Idaho has just killed the Little One.
"Later.--Still at it.
"Later, about five.--A bullet struck within three feet of me.
"Seven-thirty P. M., in camp.--It happened so quickly that it was all
over before I realized. We had our first interchange of shots with them
late this afternoon. The Little One was riding from the front to the
flank. Evidently he did not think he was in range--nor did any of us.
All at once Idaho tossed up his rifle and let go without aiming--or so
it seemed to me. The stock was not at his shoulder before the report
came. About six seconds after the smoke had cleared away we could see
the Little One begin to lean backward in the saddle, and Idaho said
grimly, 'I guess I got _you_.' The Little One leaned farther and farther
till suddenly his head dropped back between his shoulder-blades. He held
to his pony's mane with both hands for a long time and then all at once
went off feet first. His legs bent under him like putty as his feet
touched the ground. The pony bolted.
"Just as soon as Idaho fired the others closed right up and began riding
around us at top speed, firing as they went. Their aim was bad as a
rule, but one bullet came very close to me. At about half-past five they
drew off out of range again and we made camp right where we stood.
Estorijo and I are both sure that Idaho hit the Red One, but Idaho
himself is doubtful, and Bunt did not see the shot. I could swear that
the Red One all but went off his pony. However, he seems active enough
"Monday morning.--Still another night without attack. I have not slept
since Friday evening. The strain is terrific. At daybreak this morning,
when one of our ponies snorted suddenly, I cried out at the top of my
voice. I could no more have repressed it than I could have stopped my
blood flowing; and for half an hour afterward I could feel my flesh
crisping and pringling, and there was a sickening weakness at the pit of
my stomach. At breakfast I had to force down my coffee. They are still
in place, but now there are two on each side, two in the front, two in
the rear. The killing of the Little One seems to have heartened us all
wonderfully. I am sure we will get out--somehow. But oh! the suspense of
"Monday morning, nine-thirty.--Under way for over two hours. There is no
new development. But Idaho has just said that they seem to be edging in.
We hope to reach water to-day. Our supply is low, and the ponies are
beginning to hang their heads. It promises to be a blazing hot day.
There is alkali all to the west of us, and we just commence to see the
rise of ground miles to the southward that Idaho says is the San Jacinto
Mountains. Plenty of water there. The desert hereabout is vast and
lonesome beyond words; leagues of sparse sage-brush, leagues of
leper-white alkali, leagues of baking gray sand, empty, heat-ridden, the
abomination of desolation; and always--in whichever direction I turn my
eyes--always, in the midst of this pale-yellow blur, a single figure in
the distance, blanketed, watchful, solitary, standing out sharp and
distinct against the background of sage and sand.
"Monday, about eleven o'clock.--No change. The heat is appalling. There
is just a----
"Later.--I was on the point of saying that there was just a mouthful of
water left for each of us in our canteens when Estorijo and Idaho both
at the same time cried out that they were moving in. It is true. They
are within rifle range, but do not fire. We, as well, have decided to
reserve our fire until something more positive happens.
"Noon.--The first shot--for to-day--from the Red One. We are halted. The
shot struck low and to the left. We could see the sand spout up in a
cloud just as though a bubble had burst on the surface of the ground.
"They have separated from each other, and the whole eight of them are
now in a circle around us. Idaho believes the Red One fired as a signal.
Estorijo is getting ready to take a shot at the One with the Feather. We
have the ponies in a circle around us. It looks as if now at last this
was the beginning of the real business.
Later, twelve-thirty-five.--Estorijo missed. Idaho will try with the
Winchester as soon as the One with the Feather halts. He is galloping
toward the Red One.
"All at once, about two o'clock, the fighting began. This is the first
let-up. It is now--God knows what time. They closed up suddenly and
began galloping about us in a circle, firing all the time. They rode
like madmen. I would not have believed that Indian ponies could run so
quickly. What with their yelling and the incessant crack of their rifles
and the thud of their ponies' feet our horses at first became very
restless, and at last Idaho's mustang bolted clean away. We all stood to
it as hard as we could. For about the first fifteen minutes it was hot
work. The Spotted One is hit. We are certain of that much, though we do
not know whose gun did the work. My poor old horse is bleeding
dreadfully from the mouth. He has two bullets in the stomach, and I do
not believe he can stand much longer. They have let up for the last few
moments, but are still riding around us, their guns at 'ready.' Every
now and then one of us fires, but the heat shimmer has come up over the
ground since noon and the range is extraordinarily deceiving.
"Three-ten.--Estorijo's horse is down, shot clean through the head. Mine
has gone long since. We have made a rampart of the bodies.
"Three-twenty.--They are at it again, tearing around us incredibly fast,
every now and then narrowing the circle. The bullets are striking
everywhere now. I have no rifle, do what I can with my revolver, and try
to watch what is going on in front of me and warn the others when they
press in too close on my side." [_Karslake nowhere accounts for the
absence of his carbine. That a U. S. trooper should be without his gun
while traversing a hostile country is a fact difficult to account for_.]
"Three-thirty.--They have winged me--through the shoulder. Not bad, but
it is bothersome. I sit up to fire, and Bunt gives me his knee on which
to rest my right arm. When it hangs it is painful.
"Quarter to four.--It is horrible. Bunt is dying. He cannot speak, the
ball having gone through the lower part of his face, but back, near the
neck. It happened through his trying to catch his horse. The animal was
struck in the breast and tried to bolt. He reared up, backing away, and
as we had to keep him close to us to serve as a bulwark Bunt followed
him out from the little circle that we formed, his gun in one hand, his
other gripping the bridle. I suppose every one of the eight fired at him
simultaneously, and down he went. The pony dragged him a little ways
still clutching the bridle, then fell itself, its whole weight rolling
on Bunt's chest. We have managed to get him in and secure his rifle, but
he will not live. None of us knows him very well. He only joined us
about a week ago, but we all liked him from the start. He never spoke of
himself, so we cannot tell much about him. Idaho says he has a wife in
Torreon, but that he has not lived with her for two years; they did not
get along well together, it seems. This is the first violent death I
have ever seen, and it astonishes me to note how _unimportant_ it seems.
How little anybody cares--after all. If I had been told of his
death--the details of it, in a story or in the form of fiction--it is
easily conceivable that it would have impressed me more with its
importance than the actual scene has done. Possibly my mental vision is
scaled to a larger field since Friday, and as the greater issues loom up
one man more or less seems to be but a unit--more or less--in an eternal
series. When he was hit he swung back against the horse, still holding
by the rein. His feet slid from under him, and he cried out, 'My _God_!'
just once. We divided his cartridges between us and Idaho passed me his
carbine. The barrel was scorching hot.
"They have drawn off a little and for fifteen minutes, though they still
circle us slowly, there has been no firing. Forty cartridges left.
Bunt's body (I think he is dead now) lies just back of me, and already
the gnats--I can't speak of it."
[_Karslake evidently made the next few entries at successive intervals
of time, but neglected in his excitement to note the exact hour as
above. We may gather that "They" made another attack and then repeated
the assault so quickly that he had no chance to record it properly. I
transcribe the entries in exactly the disjointed manner in which they
occur in the original. The reference to the "fire" is unexplainable_.]
"I shall do my best to set down exactly what happened and what I do and
think, and what I see.
"The heat-shimmer spoiled my aim, but I am quite sure that either
"This last rush was the nearest. I had started to say that though the
heat-shimmer was bad, either Estorijo or myself wounded one of their
ponies. We saw him stumble.
"Only a few cartridges left.
"The Red One like a whirlwind only fifty yards away.
"We fire separately now as they sneak up under cover of our smoke.
"We put the fire out. Estorijo--" [_It is possible that Karslake had
begun here to chronicle the death of the Mexican_.]
"I have killed the Spotted One. Just as he wheeled his horse I saw him
in a line with the rifle-sights and let him have it squarely. It took
him straight in the breast. I could _feel_ that shot strike. He went
down like a sack of lead weights. By God, it was superb!
"Later.--They have drawn off out of range again, and we are allowed a
breathing-spell. Our ponies are either dead or dying, and we have
dragged them around us to form a barricade. We lie on the ground behind
the bodies and fire over them. There are twenty-seven cartridges left.
"It is now mid-afternoon. Our plan is to stand them off if we can till
night and then to try an escape between them. But to what purpose? They
would trail us so soon as it was light.
[Illustration: CAUGHT IN THE CIRCLE.
The last stand of three troopers and a scout overtaken by a band of
_Drawn by Frederic Remington. Courtesy of Collier's Weekly._]
"We think now that they followed us without attacking for so long
because they were waiting till the lay of the land suited them. They
wanted--no doubt--an absolutely flat piece of country, with no
depressions, no hills or stream-beds in which we could hide, but which
should be high upon the edges, like an amphitheatre. They would get us
in the centre and occupy the rim themselves. Roughly, this is the bit of
desert which witnesses our 'last stand.' On three sides the ground
swells a very little--the rise is not four feet. On the third side it is
open, and so flat that even lying on the ground as we do we can see
(leagues away) the San Jacinto hills--'from whence cometh no help.' It
is all sand and sage, forever and forever. Even the sage is sparse--a
bad place even for a coyote. The whole is flagellated with an
intolerable heat and--now that the shooting is relaxed--oppressed with a
benumbing, sodden silence--the silence of a primordial world. Such a
silence as must have brooded over the Face of the Waters on the Eve of
Creation--desolate, desolate, as though a colossal, invisible pillar--a
pillar of the Infinitely Still, the pillar of Nirvana--rose forever into
the empty blue, human life an atom of microscopic dust crushed under its
basis, and at the summit God Himself. And I find time to ask myself why,
at this of all moments of my tiny life-span, I am able to write as I do,
registering impressions, keeping a finger upon the pulse of the spirit.
But oh! if I had time now--time to write down the great thoughts that do
throng the brain. They are there, I feel them, know them. No doubt the
supreme exaltation of approaching death is the stimulus that one never
experiences in the humdrum business of the day-to-day existence. Such
mighty thoughts! Unintelligible, but if I had time I could spell them
out, _and how I could write then_! I feel that the whole secret of Life
is within my reach; I can almost grasp it; I seem to feel that in just
another instant I can see it all plainly, as the archangels see it all
the time, as the great minds of the world, the great philosophers, have
seen it once or twice, vaguely--a glimpse here and there, after years of
patient study. Seeing thus I should be the equal of the gods. But it is
not meant to be. There is a sacrilege in it. I almost seem to understand
why it is kept from us. But the very reason of this withholding is in
itself a part of the secret. If I could only, only set it down!--for
whose eyes? Those of a wandering hawk? God knows. But never mind. I
should have spoken--once; should have said the great Word for which the
World since the evening and the morning of the First Day has listened.
God knows. God knows. What a whirl is this? Monstrous incongruity.
Philosophy and fighting troopers. The Infinite and dead horses. There's
humour for you. The Sublime takes off its hat to the Ridiculous. Send a
cartridge clashing into the breech and speculate about the Absolute.
Keep one eye on your sights and the other on Cosmos. Blow the reek of
burned powder from before you so you may look over the edge of the abyss
of the Great Primal Cause. Duck to the whistle of a bullet and commune
with Schopenhauer. Perhaps I am a little mad. Perhaps I am supremely
intelligent. But in either case I am not understandable to myself. How,
then, be understandable to others? If these sheets of paper, this
incoherence, is ever read, the others will understand it about as much
as the investigating hawk. But none the less be it of record that I,
Karslake, SAW. It reads like Revelations: 'I, John, saw.' It is just
that. There is something apocalyptic in it all. I have seen a vision,
but cannot--there is the pitch of anguish in the impotence--bear record.
If time were allowed to order and arrange the words of description, this
exaltation of spirit, in that very space of time, would relax, and the
describer lapse back to the level of the average again before he could
set down the things he saw, the things he thought. The machinery of the
mind that could coin the great Word is automatic, and the very force
that brings the die near the blank metal supplies the motor power of the
reaction before the impression is made ... I stopped for an instant,
looking up from the page, and at once the great vague panorama faded. I
lost it all. Cosmos has dwindled again to an amphitheatre of sage and
sand, a vista of distant purple hills, the shimmer of scorching alkali,
and in the middle distance there, those figures, blanketed, beaded,
feathered, rifle in hand.
"But for a moment I stood on Patmos.
"The Ridiculous jostles the elbow of the Sublime and shoulders it from
place as Idaho announces that he has found two more cartridges in
"They rushed again. Eight more cartridges gone. Twenty-one left. They
rush in this manner--at first the circle, rapid beyond expression, one
figure succeeding the other so swiftly that the dizzied vision loses
count and instead of seven of them there appear to be seventy. Then
suddenly, on some indistinguishable signal, they contract this circle,
and through the jets of powder-smoke Idaho and I see them whirling past
our rifle-sights not one hundred yards away. Then their fire suddenly
slackens, the smoke drifts by, and we see them in the distance again,
moving about us at a slow canter. Then the blessed breathing-spell,
while we peer out to know if we have killed or not, and count our
cartridges. We have laid the twenty-one loaded shells that remain in a
row between us, and after our first glance outward to see if any of them
are down, our next is inward at that ever-shrinking line of brass and
lead. We do not talk much. This is the end. We know it now. All of a
sudden the conviction that I am to die here has hardened within me. It
is, all at once, absurd that I should ever have supposed that I was to
reach La Paz, take the east-bound train and report at San Antonio. It
seems to me that I _knew_, weeks ago, that our trip was to end thus. I
knew it--somehow--in Sonora, while we were waiting orders, and I tell
myself that if I had only stopped to really think of it I could have
foreseen today's bloody business.
"Later.--The Red One got off his horse and bound up the creature's leg.
One of us hit him, evidently. A little higher, it would have reached the
heart. Our aim is ridiculously bad--the heat-shimmer----
"Later.--Idaho is wounded. This last time, for a moment, I was sure the
end had come. They were within revolver range and we could feel the
vibration of the ground under their ponies' hoofs. But suddenly they
drew off. I have looked at my watch; it is four o'clock.
"Four o'clock.--Idaho's wound is bad--a long, raking furrow in the right
forearm. I bind it up for him, but he is losing a great deal of blood
and is very weak.
"They seem to know that we are only two by now, for with each rush they
grow bolder. The slackening of our fire must tell them how scant is our
"Later.--This last was magnificent. The Red One and one other with lines
of blue paint across his cheek galloped right at us. Idaho had been
lying with his head and shoulders propped against the neck of his dead
pony. His eyes were shut, and I thought he had fainted. But as he heard
them coming he struggled up, first to his knees and then to his feet--to
his full height--dragging his revolver from his hip with his left hand.
The whole right arm swung useless. He was so weak that he could only
lift the revolver half way--could not get the muzzle up. But though it
sagged and dropped in his grip, he _would_ die fighting. When he fired
the bullet threw up the sand not a yard from his feet, and then he fell
on his face across the body of the horse. During the charge I fired as
fast as I could, but evidently to no purpose. They must have thought
that Idaho was dead, for as soon as they saw him getting to his feet
they sheered their horses off and went by on either side of us. I have
made Idaho comfortable. He is unconscious; have used the last of the
water to give him a drink. He does not seem----
"They continue to circle us. Their fire is incessant, but very wild. So
long as I keep my head down I am comparatively safe.
"Later.--I think Idaho is dying. It seems he was hit a second time when
he stood up to fire. Estorijo is still breathing; I thought him dead
"Four-ten.--Idaho gone. Twelve cartridges left. Am all alone now.
"Four-twenty-five.--I am very weak." [_Karslake was evidently wounded
sometime between ten and twenty-five minutes after four. His notes make
no mention of the fact_.] "Eight cartridges remain. I leave my library
to my brother, Walter Patterson Karslake; all my personal effects to my
parents, except the picture of myself taken in Baltimore in 1897, which
I direct to be" [_the next lines are undecipherable_] "...at
Washington, D. C., as soon as possible. I appoint as my literary--
"Four forty-five.--Seven cartridges. Very weak and unable to move lower
part of my body. Am in no pain. They rode in very close. The Red One
is---- An intolerable thirst----
"I appoint as my literary executor my brother, Patterson Karslake. The
notes on 'Coronado in New Mexico' should be revised.
"My death occurred in western Arizona, April 15th, at the hands of a
roving band of Hunt-in-the-Morning's bucks. They have----
"Five o'clock.--The last cartridge gone.
"Estorijo still breathing. I cover his face with my hat. Their fire is
incessant. Am much weaker. Convey news of death to Patterson Karslake,
care of Corn Exchange Bank, New York City.
"Five-fifteen--about.--They have ceased firing, and draw together in a
bunch. I have four cartridges left" [_see conflicting note dated five
o'clock_], "but am extremely weak. Idaho was the best friend I had in
all the Southwest. I wish it to be known that he was a generous,
open-hearted fellow, a kindly man, clean of speech, and absolutely
unselfish. He may be known as follows: Sandy beard, long sandy hair,
scar on forehead, about six feet one inch in height. His real name is
James Monroe Herndon; his profession that of government scout. Notify
Mrs. Herndon, Trinidad, New Mexico.
"The writer is Arthur Staples Karslake, dark hair, height five feet
eleven, body will be found near that of Herndon.
"Luis Estorijo, Mexican----
"Later.--Two more cartridges.
"It is half-past five in the afternoon of April fifteenth. They followed
us from the eleventh--Friday--till to-day. It will
[_The MS. ends here_.]
TWO HEARTS THAT BEAT AS ONE
"Which I puts it up as how you ain't never heard about that time that
Hardenberg and Strokher--the Englisher--had a friendly go with bare
knuckles--ten rounds it was--all along o' a feemale woman?"
It is a small world and I had just found out that my friend, Bunt
McBride--horse-wrangler, miner, faro-dealer and bone-gatherer--whose
world was the plains and ranges of the Great Southwest, was known of the
Three Black Crows, Hardenberg, Strokher and Ally Bazan, and had even
foregathered with them on more than one of their ventures for Cyrus
Ryder's Exploitation Agency--ventures that had nothing of the desert in
them, but that involved the sea, and the schooner, and the taste of the
great-lunged canorous trades.
"Ye ain't never crossed the trail o' that mournful history?"
I professed my ignorance and said:
"Mister Man," returned Bunt soberly, as one broaching a subject not to
be trifled with, "They sure did. Friendly-like, y'know--like as how two
high-steppin', sassy gents figures out to settle any little strained
relations--friendly-like but considerable keen."
He took a pinch of tobacco from his pouch and a bit of paper and rolled
a cigarette in the twinkling of an eye, using only one hand, in true
"Now," he said, as he drew the first long puff to the very bottom of the
leathern valves he calls his lungs. "Now, I'm a-goin' for to relate that
same painful proceedin' to you, just so as you kin get a line on the
consumin' and devourin' foolishness o' male humans when they's a woman
in the wind. Woman," said Bunt, wagging his head thoughtfully at the
water, "woman is a weather-breeder. Mister Dixon, they is three things
I'm skeered of. The last two I don't just rightly call to mind at this
moment, but the first is woman. When I meets up with a feemale woman on
my trail, I sheers off some prompt, Mr. Dixon; I sheers off. An'
Hardenberg," he added irrelevantly, "would a-took an' married this
woman, so he would. Yes, an' Strokher would, too."
"Was there another man?" I asked.
"No," said Bunt. Then he began to chuckle behind his mustaches. "Yes,
they was." He smote a thigh. "They sure was another man for fair. Well,
now, Mr. Man, lemmee tell you the whole '_how_.'
"It began with me bein' took into a wild-eyed scheme that that maverick,
Cy Ryder, had cooked up for the Three Crows. They was a row down
Gortamalar way. Same gesabe named Palachi--Barreto Palachi--findin'
times dull an' the boys some off their feed, ups an' says to hisself,
'Exercise is wot I needs. I will now take an' overthrow the blame
Gover'ment.' Well, this same Palachi rounds up a bunch o' _insurrectos_
an' begins pesterin' an' badgerin' an' hectorin' the Gover'ment; an'
r'arin' round an' bellerin' an' makin' a procession of hisself, till he
sure pervades the landscape; an' before you knows what, lo'n beholt,
here's a reel live Revolution-Thing cayoodlin' in the scenery, an' the
Gover'ment is plum bothered.
"They rounds up the gesabe at last at a place on the coast, but he
escapes as easy as how-do-you-do. He can't, howsomever, git back to his
_insurrectos_; the blame Gover'ment being in possession of all the
trails leadin' into the hinterland; so says he, 'What for a game would
it be for me to hyke up to 'Frisco an' git in touch with my financial
backers an' conspirate to smuggle down a load o' arms?' Which the same
he does, and there's where the Three Black Crows an' me begin to take a
"Cy Ryder gives us the job o' taking the schooner down to a certain
point on the Gortamalar coast and there delivering to the agent o' the
gazabo three thousand stand o' forty-eight Winchesters.
"When we gits this far into the game Ryder ups and says:
"'Boys, here's where I cashes right in. You sets right to me for the
schooner and the cargo. But you goes to Palachi's agent over 'crost the
bay for instructions and directions.'
"'But,' says the Englisher, Strokher, 'this bettin' a blind play don't
suit our hand. Why not' says he, 'make right up to Mister Palachi
"'No,' says Ryder, 'No, boys. Ye can't. The Sig˝or is lying as low as a
toad in a wheeltrack these days, because o' the pryin' and meddlin'
disposition o' the local authorities. No,' he says, 'ye must have your
palaver with the agent which she is a woman,' an' thereon I groans low
"So soon as he mentions 'feemale' I _knowed_ trouble was in the
atmosphere. An' right there is where I sure looses my presence o' mind.
What I should a-done was to say, 'Mister Ryder, Hardenberg and gents
all: You're good boys an' you drinks and deals fair, an' I loves you all
with a love that can never, never die for the terms o' your natural
lives, an' may God have mercy on your souls; _but_ I ain't keepin' case
on this 'ere game no longer. Woman and me is mules an' music. We ain't
never made to ride in the same go-cart Good-by.' That-all is wot I
should ha' said. But I didn't. I walked right plum into the sloo, like
the mudhead that I was, an' got mired for fair--jes as I might a-knowed
"Well, Ryder gives us a address over across the bay an' we fair hykes
over there all along o' as crool a rain as ever killed crops. We finds
the place after awhile, a lodgin'-house all lorn and loony, set down all
by itself in the middle o' some real estate extension like a tepee in a
'barren'--a crazy 'modern' house all gimcrack and woodwork and frostin',
with never another place in so far as you could hear a coyote yelp.
"Well, we bucks right up an' asks o' the party at the door if the
Sig˝orita Esperanza Ulivarri--that was who Ryder had told us to ask
for--might be concealed about the premises, an' we shows Cy Ryder's
note. The party that opened the door was a Greaser, the worst looking I
ever clapped eyes on--looked like the kind wot 'ud steal the coppers off
his dead grandmother's eyes. Anyhow, he says to come in, gruff-like, an'
to wait, _poco tiempo_.
"Well, we waited _moucho tiempo--muy moucho_, all a-settin' on the edge
of the sofy, with our hats on our knees, like philly-loo birds on a
rail, and a-countin' of the patterns in the wall-paper to pass the time
along. An' Hardenberg, who's got to do the talkin', gets the fidgets
byne-by; and because he's only restin' the toes o' his feet on the
floor, his knees begin jiggerin'; an' along o' watchin' him, _my_ knees
begin to go, an' then Strokher's and then Ally Bazan's. An' there we sat
all in a row and jiggered an' jiggered. Great snakes, it makes me sick
to the stummick to think o' the idjeets we were.
"Then after a long time we hears a rustle o' silk petticoats, an' we all
grabs holt o' one another an' looks scared-like, out from under our
eyebrows. An' then--then, Mister Man, they walks into that bunk-house
parlour the loveliest-lookin' young feemale woman that ever wore hair.
"She was lovelier than Mary Anderson; she was lovelier than Lotta. She
was tall, an' black-haired, and had a eye ... well, I dunno; when she
gave you the littlest flicker o' that same eye, you felt it was about
time to take an' lie right down an' say, 'I would esteem it, ma'am, a
sure smart favour if you was to take an' wipe your boots on my
waistcoat, jus' so's you could hear my heart a-beatin'. That's the kind
o' feemale woman _she_ was.
"Well, when Hardenberg had caught his second wind, we begins to talk
"'An' you're to take a passenger back with you,' says Esperanza after
"'What for a passenger might it be?' says Hardenberg.
"She fished out her calling-card at that and tore it in two an' gave
"'It's the party,' she says, 'that'll come aboard off San Diego on your
way down an' who will show up the other half o' the card--the half I
have here an' which the same I'm goin' to mail to him. An' you be sure
the halves fit before you let him come aboard. An' when that party comes
aboard,' she says, 'he's to take over charge.'
"'Very good,' says Hardenberg, mincing an' silly like a chessy cat
lappin' cream. 'Very good, ma'am; your orders shall be obeyed.' He sure
said it just like that, as if he spoke out o' a story-book. An' I kicked
him under the table for it.
"Then we palavers a whole lot an' settles the way the thing is to be
run, an' fin'ly, when we'd got as far as could be that day, the
Sig˝orita stood up an' says:
"'Now me good fellows.' 'Twas Spanish she spoke. 'Now, me good fellows,
you must drink a drink with me.' She herds us all up into the
dining-room and fetches out--not whisky, mind you--but a great, fat,
green-and-gold bottle o' champagne, an' when Ally Bazan has fired it
off, she fills our glasses--dinky little flat glasses that looked like
flower vases. Then she stands up there before us, fine an' tall, all in
black silk, an' puts her glass up high an' sings out----
"'To the Revolution!'
"An' we all solemn-like says, 'To the Revolution,' an' crooks our
elbows. When we-all comes to, about half an hour later, we're in the
street outside, havin' jus' said good-by to the Sig˝orita. We-all are
some quiet the first block or so, and then Hardenberg says--stoppin'
dead in his tracks:
"'I pauses to remark that when a certain young feemale party havin'
black hair an' a killin' eye gets good an' ready to travel up the centre
aisle of a church, I know the gent to show her the way, which he is six
feet one in his stocking-feet, some freckled across the nose, an' shoots
with both hands.'
"'Which the same observations,' speaks up Strokher, twirlin' his yeller
lady-killer, 'which the same observations,' he says, 'has my hearty
indorsement an' cooperation savin' in the particular of the description
o' the gent. The gent is five foot eleven high, three feet thick, is the
only son of my mother, an' has yeller mustaches and a buck tooth.'
"'He don't qualify,' puts in Hardenberg. 'First, because he's a
Englisher, and second, because he's up again a American--and besides, he
has a tooth that's bucked.'
"'Buck or no buck,' flares out Strokher, 'wot might be the meanin' o'
that remark consernin' being a Englisher?'
"'The fact o' his bein' English,' says Hardenberg, 'is only half the
hoe-handle. 'Tother half being the fact that the first-named gent is all
American. No Yank ain't never took no dust from aft a Englisher, whether
it were war, walkin'-matches, or women.'
"'But they's a Englisher,' sings out Strokher, 'not forty miles from
here as can nick the nose o' a freckled Yank if so be occasion require.'
"Now ain't that plum foolish-like," observed Bunt, philosophically.
"Ain't it plum foolish-like o' them two gesabes to go flyin' up in the
air like two he-hens on a hot plate--for nothin' in the world but
because a neat lookin' feemale woman has looked at 'em some soft?
"Well, naturally, we others--Ally Bazan an' me--we others throws it into
'em pretty strong about bein' more kinds of blame fools than a pup with
a bug; an' they simmers down some, but along o' the way home I kin see
as how they're a-glarin' at each other, an' a-drawin' theirselves up
proud-like an' presumptchoous, an' I groans again, not loud but deep, as
the Good Book says.
"We has two or three more palavers with the Sig˝orita Esperanza and
stacks the deck to beat the harbor police and the Customs people an'
all, an' to nip down the coast with our contraband. An' each time we
chins with the Sig˝orita there's them two locoes steppin' and sidle'n'
around her, actin' that silly-like that me and Ally Bazan takes an'
beats our heads agin' the walls so soon as we're alone just because
we're that pizen mortified.
"Fin'ly comes the last talky-talk an' we're to sail away next day an'
mebbee snatch the little Joker through or be took an' hung by the _Costa
"An' 'Good-by,' says Hardenberg to Esperanza, in a faintin', die-away
voice like a kitten with a cold. 'An' ain't we goin' to meet no more?'
"'I sure hopes as much,' puts in Strokher, smirkin' so's you'd think he
was a he-milliner sellin' a bonnet. 'I hope,' says he, 'our delightful
acquaintanceship ain't a-goin' for to end abrupt this-a-way.'
"'Oh, you nice, big Mister Men,' pipes up the Sig˝orita in English, 'we
will meet down there in Gortamalar soon again, yes, because I go down by
the vapour carriages to-morrow.'
"'Unprotected, too,' says Hardenberg, waggin' his fool head. 'An' so
"Holy Geronimo! I don't know what more fool drivelin' they had, but they
fin'ly comes away. Ally Bazan and me rounds 'em up and conducts 'em to
the boat an' puts 'em to bed like as if they was little--or drunk, an'
the next day--or next night, rather--about one o'clock, we slips the
heel ropes and hobbles o' the schooner quiet as a mountain-lion stalking
a buck, and catches the out-tide through the gate o' the bay. Lord, we
was some keyed up, lemmee tell you, an' Ally Bazan and Hardenberg was at
the fore end o' the boat with their guns ready in case o' bein' asked
impert'nent questions by the patrol-boats.
"Well, how-some-ever, we nips out with the little Jokers (they was writ
in the manifest as minin' pumps) an' starts south. This 'ere _pasear_
down to Gortamalar is the first time I goes a-gallying about on what the
Three Crows calls 'blue water'; and when that schooner hit the bar I
begins to remember that my stummick and inside arrangements ain't made
o' no chilled steel, nor yet o' rawhide. First I gits plum sad, and
shivery, and I feels as mean an' pore as a prairie-dog w'ich 'as eat a
horned toad back'ards. I goes to Ally Bazan and gives it out as how I'm
going for to die, an' I puts it up that I'm sure sad and depressed-like;
an' don't care much about life nohow; an' that present surroundin's lack
that certain undescribable charm. I tells him that I _knows_ the ship is
goin' to sink afore we git over the bar. Waves!--they was higher'n the
masts; and I've rode some fair lively sun-fishers in my time, but I
ain't never struck anythin' like the r'arin' and buckin' and
high-an'-lofty tumblin' that that same boat went through with those
first few hours after we had come out.
"But Ally Bazan tells me to go downstairs in the boat an' lie up quiet,
an' byne-by I do feel better. By next day I kin sit up and take solid
food again. An' then's when I takes special notice o' the everlastin'
foolishness o' Strokner and Hardenberg.
"You'd a thought each one o' them two mush-heads was tryin' to act the
part of a ole cow which has had her calf took. They goes a-moonin' about
the boat that mournful it 'ud make you yell jus' out o' sheer
nervousness. First one 'ud up an' hold his head on his hand an' lean on
the fence-rail that ran around the boat, and sigh till he'd raise his
pants clean outa the top o' his boots. An' then the other 'ud go off in
another part o' the boat an' _he'd_ sigh an' moon an' take on fit to
sicken a coyote.
"But byne-by--we're mebbee six days to the good o' 'Frisco--byne-by they
two gits kind o' sassy along o' each t'other, an' they has a
heart-to-heart talk and puts it up as how either one o' 'em 'ud stand to
win so only the t'other was out o' the game.
"'It's double or nothing,' says Hardenberg, who is somethin' o' a card
sharp, 'for either you or me, Stroke; an' if you're agreeable I'll play
you a round o' jacks for the chance at the Sig˝orita--the loser to pull
out o' the running for good an' all.'
"No, Strokher don't come in on no such game, he says. He wins her, he
says, as a man, and not as no poker player. No, nor he won't throw no
dice for the chance o' winnin' Esperanza, nor he won't flip no coin, nor
yet 'rastle. 'But,' says he all of a sudden, 'I'll tell you which I'll
do. You're a big, thick, strappin' hulk o' a two-fisted dray-horse,
Hardie, an' I ain't no effete an' digenerate one-lunger myself. Here's
wot I propose--that we-all takes an' lays out a sixteen-foot ring on the
quarterdeck, an' that the raw-boned Yank and the stodgy Englisher strips
to the waist, an' all-friendly-like, settles the question by Queensbury
rules an' may the best man win.'
"Hardenberg looks him over.
"'An' wot might be your weight?' says he. 'I don't figure on hurtin' of
you, if so be you're below my class.'
"'I fights at a hunder and seventy,' says Strokher.
"'An' me,' says Hardenberg, 'at a hunder an' seventy-five. We're
"'Is it a go?' inquires Strokher.
"'You bet your great-gran'mammy's tortis-shell chessy cat it's a go,'
says Hardenberg, prompt as a hop-frog catching flies.
"We don't lose no time trying to reason with 'em, for they is sure keen
on havin' the go. So we lays out a ring by the rear end o' the deck, an'
runs the schooner in till we're in the lee o' the land, an' she ridin'
steady on her pins.
"Then along o' about four o'clock on a fine still day we lays the boat
to, as they say, an' folds up the sail, an' havin' scattered resin in
the ring (which it ain't no ring, but a square o' ropes on posts), we
says all is ready.
"Ally Bazan, he's referee, an' me, I'm the time-keeper which I has to
ring the ship's bell every three minutes to let 'em know to quit an'
that the round is over.
"We gets 'em into the ring, each in his own corner, squattin' on a
bucket, the time-keeper bein' second to Hardenberg an' the referee being
second to Strokher. An' then, after they has shuk hands, I climbs up on'
the chicken-coop an' hollers 'Time' an' they begins.
"Mister Man, I've saw Tim Henan at his best, an' I've saw Sayres when he
was a top-notcher, an' likewise several other irregler boxin' sharps
that were sure tough tarriers. Also I've saw two short-horn bulls
arguin' about a question o' leadership, but so help me Bob--the fight I
saw that day made the others look like a young ladies' quadrille. Oh, I
ain't goin' to tell o' that mill in detail, nor by rounds. Rounds! After
the first five minutes they _wa'n't_ no rounds. I rung the blame bell
till I rung her loose an' Ally Bazan yells 'break-away' an' 'time's up'
till he's black in the face, but you could no more separate them two
than you could put the brakes on a blame earthquake.
"At about suppertime we pulled 'em apart. We could do it by then, they
was both so gone; an' jammed each one o' 'em down in their corners. I
rings my bell good an' plenty, an' Ally Bazan stands up on a bucket in
the middle o' the ring an' says:
"'I declare this 'ere glove contest a draw.'
"An' draw it sure was. They fit for two hours stiddy an' never a one got
no better o' the other. They give each other lick for lick as fast an'
as steady as they could stand to it. 'Rastlin', borin' in, boxin'--all
was alike. The one was just as good as t'other. An' both willin' to the
"When Ally Bazan calls it a draw, they gits up and wobbles toward each
other an' shakes hands, and Hardenberg he says:
"'Stroke, I thanks you a whole lot for as neat a go as ever I mixed in.'
"An' Strokher answers up:
"'Hardie, I loves you better'n ever. You'se the first man I've met up
with which I couldn't do for--an' I've met up with some scraggy
propositions in my time, too.'
"Well, they two is a sorry-lookin' pair o' birds by the time we runs
into San Diego harbour next night. They was fine lookin' objects for
fair, all bruises and bumps. You remember now we was to take on a party
at San Diego who was to show t'other half o' Esperanza's card, an'
thereafterward to boss the job.
"Well, we waits till nightfall an' then slides in an' lays to off a
certain pile o' stone, an' shows two green lights and one white every
three and a half minutes for half a hour--this being a signal.
"They is a moon, an' we kin see pretty well. After we'd signaled about a
hour, mebbee, we gits the answer--a one-minute green flare, and
thereafterward we makes out a rowboat putting out and comin' towards us.
They is two people in the boat. One is the gesabe at the oars an' the
other a party sitting in the hinder end.
"Ally Bazan an' me, an' Strokher an' Hardenberg, we's all leanin' over
the fence a-watchin'; when all to once I ups an' groans some sad. The
party in the hinder end o' the boat bein' feemale.
"'Ain't we never goin' to git shut of 'em?' says I; but the words ain't
no more'n off my teeth when Strokher pipes up:
"'It's _she_,' says he, gaspin' as though shot hard.
"'Wot!' cries Hardenberg, sort of mystified, 'Oh, I'm sure a-dreamin'!
he says, just that silly-like.
"'An' the mugs we've got!' says Strokher.
"An' they both sets to swearin' and cussin' to beat all I ever heard.
"'I can't let her see me so bunged up,' says Hardenberg, doleful-like,
'Oh, whatever is to be done?'
"'An' _I_ look like a real genuine blown-in-the-bottle pug,' whimpers
Strokher. 'Never mind,' says he, 'we must face the music. We'll tell her
these are sure honourable scars, got because we fit for her.'
"Well, the boat comes up an' the feemale party jumps out and comes up
the let-down stairway, onto the deck. Without sayin' a word she hands
Hardenberg the half o' the card and he fishes out his half an' matches
the two by the light o' a lantern.
"By this time the rowboat has gone a little ways off, an' then at last
"'Welkum aboard, Sig˝orita.'
"And Strokher cuts in with----
"'We thought it was to be a man that 'ud join us here to take command,
but _you_,' he says--an' oh, butter wouldn't a-melted in his mouth--'But
_you_ he says, 'is always our mistress.
"'Very right, _bueno_. Me good fellows,' says the Sig˝orita, 'but don't
you be afraid that they's no man is at the head o' this business.' An'
with that the party chucks off hat an' skirts, _and I'll be Mexican if
it wa'n't a man after all!_
"'I'm the Sig˝or Barreto Palachi, gentlemen,' says he. 'The gringo
police who wanted for to arrest me made the disguise necessary.
Gentlemen, I regret to have been obliged to deceive such gallant
_compadres_; but war knows no law.'
"Hardenberg and Strokher gives one look at the Sig˝or and another at
their own spiled faces, then:
"'Come back here with the boat!' roars Hardenberg over the side, and
with that--(upon me word you'd a-thought they two both were moved with
the same spring)--over they goes into the water and strikes out hands
over hands for the boat as hard as ever they kin lay to it. The boat
meets 'em--Lord knows what the party at the oars thought--they climbs in
an' the last I sees of 'em they was puttin' for shore--each havin' taken
a oar from the boatman, an' they sure was makin' that boat _hum_.
"Well, we sails away eventually without 'em; an' a year or more
afterward I crosses their trail again in Cy Ryder's office in 'Frisco."
"Did you ask them about it all?" said I.
"Mister Man," observed Bunt. "I'm several kinds of a fool; I know it.
But sometimes I'm wise. I wishes for to live as long as I can, an' die
when I can't help it. I does _not_, neither there, nor thereafterward,
ever make no joke, nor yet no alloosion about, or concerning the
Sig˝orita Esperanza Palachi in the hearin' o' Hardenberg an' Strokher.
I've seen--(ye remember)--both those boys use their fists--an' likewise
Hardenberg, as he says hisself, shoots with both hands."
THE DUAL PERSONALITY OF SLICK DICK NICKERSON
On a certain morning in the spring of the year, the three men who were
known as the Three Black Crows called at the office of "The President of
the Pacific and Oriental Flotation Company," situated in an obscure
street near San Francisco's water-front. They were Strokher, the tall,
blond, solemn, silent Englishman; Hardenberg, the American, dry of
humour, shrewd, resourceful, who bargained like a Vermonter and sailed a
schooner like a Gloucester cod-fisher; and in their company, as ever
inseparable from the other two, came the little colonial, nicknamed, for
occult reasons, "Ally Bazan," a small, wiry man, excitable, vociferous,
who was without fear, without guile and without money.
When Hardenberg, who was always spokesman for the Three Crows, had sent
in their names, they were admitted at once to the inner office of the
"President." The President was an old man, bearded like a prophet, with
a watery blue eye and a forehead wrinkled like an orang's. He spoke to
the Three Crows in the manner of one speaking to friends he has not seen
in some time.
"Well, Mr. Ryder," began Hardenberg. "We called around to see if you had
anything fer us this morning. I don't mind telling you that we're at
liberty jus' now. Anything doing?"
Ryder fingered his beard distressfully. "Very little, Joe; very little."
"Got any wrecks?"
"Not a wreck."
Hardenberg turned to a great map that hung on the wall by Ryder's desk.
It was marked in places by red crosses, against which were written
certain numbers and letters. Hardenberg put his finger on a small island
south of the Marquesas group and demanded: "What might be H. 33, Mr.
"Pearl Island," answered the President. "Davidson is on that job."
"Or H. 125?" Hardenberg indicated a point in the Gilbert group.
"Guano deposits. That's promised."
"Hallo! You're up in the Aleutians. I make out. 20 A.--what's that?"
"Old government telegraph wire--line abandoned--finest drawn-copper
wire. I've had three boys at that for months."
"What's 301? This here, off the Mexican coast?"
The President, unable to remember, turned to his one clerk: "Hyers,
what's 301? Isn't that Peterson?"
The clerk ran his finger down a column: "No, sir; 301 is the Whisky
"Ah! So it is. I remember. _You_ remember, too, Joe. Little schooner,
the _Tropic Bird_--sixty days out from Callao--five hundred cases of
whisky aboard--sunk in squall. It was thirty years ago. Think of five
hundred cases of thirty-year-old whisky! There's money in that if I can
lay my hands on the schooner. Suppose you try that, you boys--on a
twenty per cent. basis. Come now, what do you say?"
"Not for _five_ per cent.," declared Hardenberg. "How'd we raise her?
How'd we know how deep she lies? Not for Joe. What's the matter with
landing arms down here in Central America for Bocas and his gang?"
"I'm out o' that, Joe. Too much competition."
"What's doing here in Tahiti--No. 88? It ain't lettered."
Once more the President consulted his books.
"Ah!--88. Here we are. Cache o' illicit pearls. I had it looked up.
Nothing in it."
"Say, Cap'n!"--Hardenberg's eye had traveled to the upper edge of the
map--"whatever did you strike up here in Alaska? At Point Barrow, s'elp
me Bob! It's 48 B."
The President stirred uneasily in his place. "Well, I ain't quite worked
that scheme out, Joe. But I smell the deal. There's a Russian post along
there some'eres. Where they catch sea-otters. And the skins o'
sea-otters are selling this very day for seventy dollars at any port in
"I s'y," piped up Ally Bazan, "I knows a bit about that gyme. They's a
bally kind o' Lum-tums among them Chinese as sports those syme skins on
their bally clothes--as a mark o' rank, d'ye see."
"Have you figured at all on the proposition, Cap'n?" inquired
"There's risk in it, Joe; big risk," declared the President nervously.
"But I'd only ask fifteen per cent."
"You _have_ worked out the scheme, then."
"Well--ah--y'see, there's the risk, and--ah--" Suddenly Ryder leaned
forward, his watery blue eyes glinting: "Boys, it's a _jewel_. It's just
your kind. I'd a-sent for you, to try on this very scheme, if you hadn't
shown up. You kin have the _Bertha Millner_--I've a year's charter o'
her from Wilbur--and I'll only ask you fifteen per cent. of the _net_
profits--_net_, mind you."
"I ain't buyin' no dead horse, Cap'n," returned Hardenberg, "but I'll
say this: we pay no fifteen per cent."
"Banks and the Ruggles were daft to try it and give me twenty-five."
"An' where would Banks land the scheme? I know him. You put him on that
German cipher-code job down Honolulu way, an' it cost you about a
thousand before you could pull out. We'll give you seven an' a half."
"Ten," declared Ryder, "ten, Joe, at the very least. Why, how much do
you suppose just the stores would cost me? And Point Barrow--why, Joe,
that's right up in the Arctic. I got to run the risk o' you getting the
_Bertha_ smashed in the ice."
"What do _we_ risk?" retorted Hardenberg; and it was the monosyllabic
Strokher who gave the answer:
"Chokee, by Jove!"
"Ten is fair. It's ten or nothing," answered Hardenberg.
"Gross, then, Joe. Ten on the gross--or I give the job to the Ruggles
"Who's your bloomin' agent?" put in Ally Bazan.
"Nickerson. I sent him with Peterson on that _Mary Archer_ wreck scheme.
An' you know what Peterson says of him--didn't give him no trouble at
all. One o' my best men, boys."
"There have been," observed Strokher stolidly, "certain stories told
about Nickerson. Not that _I_ wish to seem suspicious, but I put it to
you as man to man."
"Ay," exclaimed Ally Bazan. "He was fair nutty once, they tell me. Threw
some kind o' bally fit an' come aout all skew-jee'd in his mind. Forgot
his nyme an' all. I s'y, how abaout him, anyw'y?"
"Boys," said Ryder, "I'll tell you. Nickerson--yes, I know the yarns
about him. It was this way--y'see, I ain't keeping anything from you,
boys. Two years ago he was a Methody preacher in Santa Clara. Well, he
was what they call a revivalist, and he was holding forth one blazin'
hot day out in the sun when all to once he goes down, _flat,_ an' don't
come round for the better part o' two days. When he wakes up he's
_another person;_ he'd forgot his name, forgot his job, forgot the whole
blamed shooting-match. _And he ain't never remembered them since._ The
doctors have names for that kind o' thing. It seems it does happen now
and again. Well, he turned to an' began sailoring first off--soon as the
hospitals and medicos were done with him--an' him not having any friends
as you might say, he was let go his own gait. He got to be third mate of
some kind o' dough-dish down Mexico way; and then I got hold o' him an'
took him into the Comp'ny. He's been with me ever since. He ain't got
the faintest kind o' recollection o' his Methody days, an' believes he's
always been a sailorman. Well, that's _his_ business, ain't it? If he
takes my orders an' walks chalk, what do I care about his Methody game?
There, boys, is the origin, history and development of Slick Dick
Nickerson. If you take up this sea-otter deal and go to Point Barrow,
naturally Nick has got to go as owner's agent and representative of the
Comp'ny. But I couldn't send a easier fellow to get along with. Honest,
now, I couldn't. Boys, you think over the proposition between now and
tomorrow an' then come around and let me know."
And the upshot of the whole matter was that one month later the _Bertha
Millner_, with Nickerson, Hardenberg, Strokher and Ally Bazan on board,
cleared from San Francisco, bound--the papers were beautifully
precise--for Seattle and Tacoma with a cargo of general merchandise.
As a matter of fact, the bulk of her cargo consisted of some odd
hundreds of very fine lumps of rock--which as ballast is cheap by the
ton--and some odd dozen cases of conspicuously labeled champagne.
The Pacific and Oriental Flotation Company made this champagne out of
Rhine wine, effervescent salts, raisins, rock candy and alcohol. It was
from the same stock of wine of which Ryder had sold some thousand cases
to the Coreans the year before.
"Not that I care a curse," said Strokher, the Englishman. "But I put it
to you squarely that this voyage lacks that certain indescribable
The _Bertha Millner_ was a fortnight out, and the four adventurers--or,
rather, the three adventurers and Nickerson--were lame in every joint,
red-eyed from lack of sleep, half-starved, wholly wet and unequivocally
disgusted. They had had heavy weather from the day they bade farewell to
the whistling buoy off San Francisco Bay until the moment when even
patient, docile, taciturn Strokher had at last--in his own
"Ain't I a dam' fool? Ain't I a proper lot? Gard strike me if I don't
chuck fer fair after this. Wot'd I come to sea fer--an' this 'ere go is
the worst I _ever_ knew--a baoat no bigger'n a bally bath-tub, head
seas, livin' gyles the clock 'round, wet food, wet clothes, wet bunks.
Caold till, by cricky! I've lost the feel o' mee feet. An' wat for? For
the bloomin' good chanst o' a slug in mee guts. That's wat for." At
little intervals the little vociferous colonial, Ally Bazan--he was
red-haired and speckled--capered with rage, shaking his fists.
But Hardenberg only shifted his cigar to the other corner of his mouth.
He knew Ally Bazan, and knew that the little fellow would have jeered at
the offer of a first-cabin passage back to San Francisco in the
swiftest, surest, steadiest passenger steamer that ever wore paint. So
he remarked: "I ain't ever billed this promenade as a Coney Island
picnic, I guess."
Nickerson--Slick Dick, the supercargo--was all that Hardenberg, who
captained the schooner, could expect. He never interfered, never
questioned; never protested in the name or interests of the Company when
Hardenberg "hung on" in the bleak, bitter squalls till the _Bertha_ was
rail under and the sails hard as iron.
If it was true that he had once been a Methody revivalist no one, to
quote Alia Bazan, "could a' smelled it off'n him." He was a
black-bearded, scrawling six-footer, with a voice like a steam siren and
a fist like a sledge. He carried two revolvers, spoke of the Russians at
Point Barrow as the "Boomskys," and boasted if it came to _that_ he'd
engage to account for two of them, would shove their heads into their
boot-legs and give them the running scrag, by God so he would!
Slowly, laboriously, beset in blinding fogs, swept with, icy rains,
buffeted and mauled and man-handled by the unending assaults of the sea,
the _Bertha Millner_ worked her way northward up that iron coast--till
suddenly she entered an elysium.
Overnight she seemed to have run into it: it was a world of green,
wooded islands, of smooth channels, of warm and steady winds, of
cloudless skies. Coming on deck upon the morning of the _Bertha's_ first
day in this new region, Ally Bazan gazed open-mouthed. Then: "I s'y!" he
yelled. "Hey! By crickey! Look!" He slapped his thighs. "S'trewth! This
Strokher was smoking his pipe on the hatch combings. "Rather," he
observed. "An' I put it to you--we've deserved it."
In the main, however, the northward flitting was uneventful. Every fifth
day Nickerson got drunk--on the Company's Corean champagne. Now that the
weather had sweetened, the Three Black Crows had less to do in the way
of handling and nursing the schooner. Their plans when the "Boomskys"
should be reached were rehearsed over and over again. Then came spells
of card and checker playing, story-telling, or hours of silent inertia
when, man fashion, they brooded over pipes in a patch of sun, somnolent,
the mind empty of all thought.
But at length the air took on a keener tang; there was a bite to the
breeze, the sun lost his savour and the light of him lengthened till
Hardenberg could read off logarithms at ten in the evening. Great-coats
and sweaters were had from the chests, and it was no man's work to reef
when the wind came down from out the north.
Each day now the schooner was drawing nearer the Arctic Circle. At
length snow fell, and two days later they saw their first iceberg.
Hardenberg worked out their position on the chart and bore to the
eastward till he made out the Alaskan coast--a smudge on the horizon.
For another week he kept this in sight, the schooner dodging the bergs
that by now drove by in squadrons, and even bumping and butling through
drift and slush ice.
Seals were plentiful, and Hardenberg and Strokher promptly revived the
quarrel of their respective nations. Once even they slew a mammoth bull
walrus--astray from some northern herd--and played poker for the tusks.
Then suddenly they pulled themselves sharply together, and, as it were,
For more than a week the schooner, following the trend of the
far-distant coast, had headed eastward, and now at length, looming out
of the snow and out of the mist, a somber bulwark, black, vast, ominous,
rose the scarps and crags of that which they came so far to see--Point
Hardenberg rounded the point, ran in under the lee of the land and
brought out the chart which Ryder had given him. Then he shortened sail
and moved west again till Barrow was "hull down" behind him. To the
north was the Arctic, treacherous, nursing hurricanes, ice-sheathed; but
close aboard, not a quarter of a mile off his counter, stretched a gray
and gloomy land, barren, bleak as a dead planet, inhospitable as the
For three days they crawled along the edge keeping their glasses trained
upon every bay, every inlet. Then at length, early one morning, Ally
Bazan, who had been posted at the bows, came scrambling aft to
Hardenberg at the wheel. He was gasping for breath in his excitement.
"Hi! There we are," he shouted. "O Lord! Oh, I s'y! Now we're in fer it.
That's them! That's them! By the great jumpin' jimminy Christmas, that's
them fer fair! Strike me blind for a bleedin' gutter-cat if it eyent. O
Lord! S'y, I gotta to get drunk. S'y, what-all's the first jump in the
bally game now?"
"Well, the first thing, little man," observed Hardenberg, "is for your
mother's son to hang the monkey onto the safety-valve. Keep y'r steam
and watch y'r uncle."
"Scrag the Boomskys," said Slick Dick encouragingly.
Strokher pulled the left end of his viking mustache with the fingers of
his right hand.
"We must now talk," he said.
A last conference was held in the cabin, and the various parts of the
comedy rehearsed. Also the three looked to their revolvers.
"Not that I expect a rupture of diplomatic relations," commented
Strokher; "but if there's any shooting done, as between man and man, I
choose to do it."
"All understood, then?" asked Hardenberg, looking from face to face.
"There won't be no chance to ask questions once we set foot ashore."
The others nodded.
It was not difficult to get in with the seven Russian sea-otter
fishermen at the post. Certain of them spoke a macerated English, and
through these Hardenberg, Ally Bazan and Nickerson--Strokher remained on
board to look after the schooner--told to the "Boomskys" a lamentable
tale of the reported wreck of a vessel, described by Hardenberg, with
laborious precision, as a steam whaler from San Francisco--the _Tiber_
by name, bark-rigged, seven hundred tons burden, Captain Henry Ward
Beecher, mate Mr. James Boss Tweed. They, the visitors, were the
officers of the relief-ship on the lookout for castaways and survivors.
But in the course of these preliminaries it became necessary to restrain
Nickerson--not yet wholly recovered from a recent incursion into the
store of Corean champagne. It presented itself to his consideration as
facetious to indulge (when speaking to the Russians) in strange and
elaborate distortions of speech.
"And she sunk-avitch in a hundred fathom o' water-owski."
"--All on board-erewski."
"--hell of dam' bad storm-onavna."
And he persisted in the idiocy till Hardenberg found an excuse for
taking him aside and cursing him into a realization of his position.
In the end--inevitably--the schooner's company were invited to dine at
It was a strange affair--a strange scene. The coast, flat, gray, dreary
beyond all power of expression, lonesome as the interstellar space, and
quite as cold, and in all that limitless vastness of the World's Edge,
two specks--the hut, its three windows streaming with light, and the
tiny schooner rocking in the offing. Over all flared the pallid
incandescence of the auroras.
The Company drank steadily, and Strokher, listening from the schooner's
quarterdeck, heard the shouting and the songs faintly above the wash and
lapping under the counter. Two hours had passed since the moment he
guessed that the feast had been laid. A third went by. He grew uneasy.
There was no cessation of the noise of carousing. He even fancied he
heard pistol shots. Then after a long time the noise by degrees wore
down; a long silence followed. The hut seemed deserted; nothing stirred;
another hour went by.
Then at length Strokher saw a figure emerge from the door of the hut and
come down to the shore. It was Hardenberg. Strokher saw him wave his arm
slowly, now to the left, now to the right, and he took down the wig-wag
as follows: "Stand--in--closer--we--have--the--skins."
During the course of the next few days Strokher heard the different
versions of the affair in the hut over and over again till he knew its
smallest details. He learned how the "Boomskys" fell upon Ryder's
champagne like wolves upon a wounded buck, how they drank it from
"enameled-ware" coffee-cups, from tin dippers, from the bottles
themselves; how at last they even dispensed with the tedium of removing
the corks and knocked off the heads against the table-ledge and drank
from the splintered bottoms; how they quarreled over the lees and dregs,
how ever and always fresh supplies were forthcoming, and how at last
Hardenberg, Ally Bazan and Slick Dick stood up from the table in the
midst of the seven inert bodies; how they ransacked the place for the
priceless furs; how they failed to locate them; how the conviction grew
that this was the wrong place after all, and how at length Hardenberg
discovered the trap-door that admitted to the cellar, where in the dim
light of the uplifted lanterns they saw, corded in tiny bales and
packages, the costliest furs known to commerce.
Ally Bazan had sobbed in his excitement over that vision and did not
regain the power of articulate speech till the "loot" was safely stowed
in the 'tween-decks and Hardenberg had given order to come about.
"Now," he had observed dryly, "now, lads, it's Hongkong--or bust."
The tackle had fouled aloft and the jib hung slatting over the sprit
like a collapsed balloon.
"Cast off up there, Nick!" called Hardenberg from the wheel.
Nickerson swung himself into the rigging, crying out in a mincing voice
as, holding to a rope's end, he swung around to face the receding hut:
"By-bye-skevitch. We've had _such_ a charming evening. _Do_ hope-sky
we'll be able to come again-off." And as he spoke the lurch of the
_Bertha_ twitched his grip from the rope. He fell some thirty feet to
the deck, and his head carromed against an iron cleat with a resounding
"Here's luck," observed Hardenberg, twelve hours later, when Slick Dick,
sitting on the edge of his bunk, looked stolidly and with fishy eyes
from face to face. "We wa'n't quite short-handed enough, it seems."
"Dotty for fair. Dotty for fair," exclaimed Ally Bazan; "clean off 'is
nut. I s'y, Dick-ol'-chap, wyke-up, naow. Buck up. Buck up. _'Ave_ a
But Nickerson could only nod his head and murmur: "A few
more--consequently--and a good light----" Then his voice died down to
"We'll have to call at Juneau," decided Hardenberg two days later. "I
don't figure on navigating this 'ere bath-tub to no Hongkong whatsoever,
with three hands. We gotta pick up a couple o' A.B.'s in Juneau, if so
be we can."
"How about the loot?" objected Strokher. "If one of those hands gets
between decks he might smell--a sea-otter, now. I put it to you he
"My son," said Hardenberg, "I've handled A.B.'s before;" and that
settled the question.
During the first part of the run down, Nickerson gloomed silently over
the schooner, looking curiously about him, now at his comrades' faces,
now at the tumbling gray-green seas, now--and this by the hour--at his
own hands. He seemed perplexed, dazed, trying very hard to get his
bearings. But by and by he appeared, little by little, to come to
himself. One day he pointed to the rigging with an unsteady forefinger,
then, laying the same finger doubtfully upon his lips, said to Strokher:
"Quite so, quite so, me boy."
"Yes," muttered Nickerson absently, "a ship--of course."
Hardenberg expected to make Juneau on a Thursday. Wednesday afternoon
Slick Dick came to him. He seemed never more master of himself. "How did
I come aboard?" he asked.
"What have we been doing?"
"Why, don't you remember?" continued Hardenberg. He outlined the voyage
in detail. "Then you remember," he went on, "we got up there to Point
Barrow and found where the Russian fellows had their post, where they
caught sea-otters, and we went ashore and got 'em all full and lifted
all the skins they had----"
"'Lifted'? You mean _stole_ them."
"Come here," said the other. Encouraged by Nickerson's apparent
convalescence, Hardenberg decided that the concrete evidence of things
done would prove effective. He led him down into the 'tween-decks. "See
now," he said. "See this packing-case"--he pried up a board--"see these
'ere skins. Take one in y'r hand. Remember how we found 'em all in the
cellar and hyked 'em out while the beggars slept?"
"_Stole_ them? You say we got--that is _you_ did--got somebody
intoxicated and stole their property, and now you are on your way to
dispose of it."
"Oh, well, if you want to put it thataway. Sure we did."
"I understand----Well----Let's go back on deck. I want to think this
The _Bertha Millner_ crept into the harbour of Juneau in a fog, with
ships' bells tolling on every side, let go her anchor at last in
desperation and lay up to wait for the lifting. When this came the Three
Crows looked at one another wide-eyed. They made out the drenched town
and the dripping hills behind it. The quays, the custom house, the one
hotel, and the few ships in the harbour. There were a couple of whalers
from 'Frisco, a white, showily painted passenger boat from the same
port, a Norwegian bark, and a freighter from Seattle grimy with
coal-dust. These, however, the _Bertha's_ company ignored. Another boat
claimed all their attention. In the fog they had let go not a
pistol-shot from her anchorage. She lay practically beside them. She was
the United States revenue cutter _Bear._
"But so long as they can't _smell_ sea-otter skin," remarked Hardenberg,
"I don't know that we're any the worse."
"All the syme," observed Ally Bazan, "I don't want to lose no bloomin'
tyme a-pecking up aour bloomin' A.B.'s."
"I'll stay aboard and tend the baby," said Hardenberg with a wink. "You
two move along ashore and get what you can--Scoovies for choice. Take
Slick Dick with you. I reckon a change o' air might buck him up."
When the three had gone, Hardenberg, after writing up the painfully
doctored log, set to work to finish a task on which the adventurers had
been engaged in their leisure moments since leaving Point Barrow. This
was the counting and sorting of the skins. The packing-case had been
broken open, and the scanty but precious contents littered an improvised
table in the hold. Pen in hand, Hardenberg counted and ciphered and
counted again. He could not forbear a chuckle when the net result was
reached. The lot of the skins--the pelt of the sea-otter is ridiculously
small in proportion to its value--was no heavy load for the average man.
But Hardenberg knew that once the "loot" was safely landed at the
Hongkong pierhead the Three Crows would share between them close upon
ten thousand dollars. Even--if they had luck, and could dispose of the
skins singly or in small lots--that figure might be doubled.
"And I call it a neat turn," observed Hardenberg. He was aroused by the
noise of hurried feet upon the deck, and there was that in their sound
that brought him upright in a second, hand on hip. Then, after a second,
he jumped out on deck to meet Ally Bazan and Strokher, who had just
scrambled over the rail.
"Bust. B-u-s-t!" remarked the Englishman.
"'Ere's 'ell to pay," cried Ally Bazan in a hoarse whisper, glancing
over at the revenue cutter.
"Where's Nickerson?" demanded Hardenberg.
"That's it," answered the colonial. "That's where it's 'ell. Listen
naow. He goes ashore along o' us, quiet and peaceable like, never
battin' a eye, we givin' him a bit o' jolly, y' know, to keep him
chirked up as ye might s'y. But so soon as ever he sets foot on shore,
abaout faice he gaoes, plumb into the Custom's orfice. I s'ys, 'Wot all
naow, messmite? Come along aout o' that.' But he turns on me like a
bloomin' babby an s'ys he: 'Hands orf, wretch!' Ay, them's just his
words. Just like that, 'Hands orf, wretch!' And then he nips into the
orfice an' marches fair up to the desk an' sy's like this--we heerd him,
havin' followed on to the door--he s'ys, just like this:
"'Orfficer, I am a min'ster o' the gospel, o' the Methodis'
denomineye-tion, an' I'm deteyined agin my will along o' a pirate ship
which has robbed certain parties o' val-able goods. Which syme I'm
pre-pared to attest afore a no'try publick, an' lodge informeye-tion o'
crime. An',' s'ys he, 'I demand the protection o' the authorities an'
arsk to be directed to the American consul.'
"S'y, we never wyted to hear no more, but hyked awye hot foot. S'y, wot
all now. Oh, mee Gord! eyen't it a rum gao for fair? S'y, let's get
aout o' here, Hardy, dear."
"Look there," said Hardenberg, jerking his head toward the cutter, "how
far'd we get before the customs would 'a' passed the tip to _her_ and
she'd started to overhaul us? That's what they feed her for--to round up
the likes o' us."
"We got to do something rather soon," put in Strokher. "Here comes the
custom house dinghy now."
As a matter of fact, a boat was putting off from the dock. At her stern
fluttered the custom house flag.
"Bitched--bitched for fair!" cried Ally Bazan.
[Illustration: "'ERE'S 'ELL TO PAY!"
From a drawing by Lucius Hitchcock _Courtesy of Collier's Weekly_.]
"Quick, now!" exclaimed Hardenberg. "On the jump! Overboard with that
loot!--or no. Steady! That won't do. There's that dam' cutter. They'd
see it go. Here!--into the galley. There's a fire in the stove. Get a
"Wot!" wailed Ally Bazan. "Burn the little joker. Gord, I _can't,_
Hardy, I _can't._ It's agin human nature."
"You can do time in San Quentin, then, for felony," retorted Strokher as
he and Hardenberg dashed by him, their arms full of the skins. "You can
do time in San Quentin else. Make your choice. I put it to you as
between man and man."
With set teeth, and ever and again glancing over the rail at the
oncoming boat, the two fed their fortune to the fire. The pelts,
partially cured and still fatty, blazed like crude oil, the hair
crisping, the hides melting into rivulets of grease. For a minute the
schooner reeked of the smell and a stifling smoke poured from the galley
stack. Then the embers of the fire guttered and a long whiff of sea wind
blew away the reek. A single skin, fallen in the scramble, still
remained on the floor of the galley. Hardenberg snatched it up, tossed
it into the flames and clapped the door to. "Now, let him squeal," he
declared. "You fellows, when that boat gets here, let _me_ talk; keep
your mouths shut or, by God, we'll all wear stripes."
The Three Crows watched the boat's approach in a silence broken only
once by a long whimper from Ally Bazan. "An' it was a-workin' out as
lovely as Billy-oh," he said, "till that syme underbred costermonger's
swipe remembered he was Methody--an' him who, only a few d'ys back, went
raound s'yin' 'scrag the "Boomskys"!' A couple o' thousand pounds gone
as quick as look at it. Oh, I eyn't never goin' to git over this."
The boat came up and the Three Crows were puzzled to note that no
brass-buttoned personage sat in the stern-sheets, no harbour police
glowered at them from the bow, no officer of the law fixed them with the
eye of suspicion. The boat was manned only by a couple of
freight-handlers in woolen Jerseys, upon the breasts of which were
affixed the two letters "C.H."
"Say," called one of the freight-handlers, "is this the _Bertha
"Yes," answered Hardenberg, his voice at a growl. "An' what might you
want with her, my friend?"
"Well, look here," said the other, "one of your hands came ashore mad as
a coot and broke into the house of the American Consul, and resisted
arrest and raised hell generally. The inspector says you got to send a
provost guard or something ashore to take him off. There's been several
mix-ups among ships' crews lately and the town----"
The tide drifted the boat out of hearing, and Hardenberg sat down on the
capstan head, turning his back to his comrades. There was a long
silence. Then he said:
"Boys, let's go home. I--I want to have a talk with President Ryder."
THE SHIP THAT SAW A GHOST
Very much of this story must remain untold, for the reason that if it
were definitely known what business I had aboard the tramp
steam-freighter _Glarus_, three hundred miles off the South American
coast on a certain summer's day, some few years ago, I would very likely
be obliged to answer a great many personal and direct questions put by
fussy and impertinent experts in maritime law--who are paid to be
inquisitive. Also, I would get "Ally Bazan," Strokher and Hardenberg
Suppose on that certain summer's day, you had asked of Lloyds' agency
where the _Glarus_ was, and what was her destination and cargo. You
would have been told that she was twenty days out from Callao, bound
north to San Francisco in ballast; that she had been spoken by the bark
_Medea_ and the steamer _Benevento_; that she was reported to have blown
out a cylinder head, but being manageable was proceeding on her way
That is what Lloyds would have answered.
If you know something of the ways of ships and what is expected of them,
you will understand that the _Glarus_, to be some half a dozen hundred
miles south of where Lloyds' would have her, and to be still going
south, under full steam, was a scandal that would have made her brothers
and sisters ostracize her finally and forever.
And that is curious, too. Humans may indulge in vagaries innumerable,
and may go far afield in the way of lying; but a ship may not so much as
quibble without suspicion. The least lapse of "regularity," the least
difficulty in squaring performance with intuition, and behold she is on
the black list, and her captain, owners, officers, agents and
consignors, and even supercargoes, are asked to explain.
And the _Glarus_ was already on the black list. From the beginning her
stars had been malign. As the _Breda_, she had first lost her
reputation, seduced into a filibustering escapade down the South
American coast, where in the end a plain-clothes United States
detective--that is to say, a revenue cutter--arrested her off Buenos
Ayres and brought her home, a prodigal daughter, besmirched and
After that she was in some dreadful black-birding business in a far
quarter of the South Pacific; and after that--her name changed finally
to the _Glarus_--poached seals for a syndicate of Dutchmen who lived in
Tacoma, and who afterward built a club-house out of what she earned.
And after that we got her.
We got her, I say, through Ryder's South Pacific Exploitation Company.
The "President" had picked out a lovely little deal for Hardenberg,
Strokher and Ally Bazan (the Three Black Crows), which he swore would
make them "independent rich" the rest of their respective lives. It is a
promising deal (B. 300 it is on Ryder's map), and if you want to know
more about it you may write to ask Ryder what B. 300 is. If he chooses
to tell you, that is his affair.
For B. 300--let us confess it--is, as Hardenberg puts it, as crooked as
a dog's hind leg. It is as risky as barratry. If you pull it off you
may--after paying Ryder his share--divide sixty-five, or possibly
sixty-seven, thousand dollars between you and your associates. If you
fail, and you are perilously like to fail, you will be sure to have a
man or two of your companions shot, maybe yourself obliged to pistol
certain people, and in the end fetch up at Tahiti, prisoner in a French
Observe that B. 300 is spoken of as still open. It is so, for the reason
that the Three Black Crows did not pull it off. It still stands marked
up in red ink on the map that hangs over Ryder's desk in the San
Francisco office; and any one can have a chance at it who will meet
Cyrus Ryder's terms. Only he can't get the _Glarus_ for the attempt.
For the trip to the island after B. 300 was the last occasion on which
the _Glarus_ will smell blue water or taste the trades. She will never
clear again. She is lumber.
And yet the _Glarus_ on this very blessed day of 1902 is riding to her
buoys off Sausalito in San Francisco Bay, complete in every detail (bar
a broken propeller shaft), not a rope missing, not a screw loose, not a
plank started--a perfectly equipped steam-freighter.
But you may go along the "Front" in San Francisco from Fisherman's Wharf
to the China steamships' docks and shake your dollars under the seamen's
noses, and if you so much as whisper _Glarus_ they will edge suddenly
off and look at you with scared suspicion, and then, as like as not,
walk away without another word. No pilot will take the _Glarus_ out; no
captain will navigate her; no stoker will feed her fires; no sailor will
walk her decks. The _Glarus_ is suspect. She has seen a ghost.
* * * * *
It happened on our voyage to the island after this same B. 300. We had
stood well off from shore for day after day, and Hardenberg had shaped
our course so far from the track of navigation that since the
_Benevento_ had hulled down and vanished over the horizon no stitch of
canvas nor smudge of smoke had we seen. We had passed the equator long
since, and would fetch a long circuit to the southard, and bear up
against the island by a circuitous route. This to avoid being spoken. It
was tremendously essential that the _Glarus_ should not be spoken.
I suppose, no doubt, that it was the knowledge of our isolation that
impressed me with the dreadful remoteness of our position. Certainly the
sea in itself looks no different at a thousand than at a hundred miles
from shore. But as day after day I came out on deck at noon, after
ascertaining our position on the chart (a mere pin-point in a reach of
empty paper), the sight of the ocean weighed down upon me with an
infinitely great awesomeness--and I was no new hand to the high seas
But at such times the _Glarus_ seemed to me to be threading a loneliness
beyond all worlds and beyond all conception desolate. Even in more
populous waters, when no sail notches the line of the horizon, the
propinquity of one's kind is nevertheless a thing understood, and to an
unappreciated degree comforting. Here, however, I knew we were out, far
out in the desert. Never a keel for years upon years before us had
parted these waters; never a sail had bellied to these winds.
Perfunctorily, day in and day out we turned our eyes through long habit
toward the horizon. But we knew, before the look, that the searching
would be bootless. Forever and forever, under the pitiless sun and cold
blue sky stretched the indigo of the ocean floor. The ether between the
planets can be no less empty, no less void.
I never, till that moment, could have so much as conceived the
imagination of such loneliness, such utter stagnant abomination of
desolation. In an open boat, bereft of comrades, I should have gone mad
in thirty minutes.
I remember to have approximated the impression of such empty immensity
only once before, in my younger days, when I lay on my back on a
treeless, bushless mountainside and stared up into the sky for the
better part of an hour.
You probably know the trick. If you do not, you must understand that if
you look up at the blue long enough, the flatness of the thing begins
little by little to expand, to give here and there; and the eye travels
on and on and up and up, till at length (well for you that it lasts but
the fraction of a second), you all at once see space. You generally stop
there and cry out, and--your hands over your eyes--are only too glad to
grovel close to the good old solid earth again. Just as I, so often on
short voyage, was glad to wrench my eyes away from that horrid vacancy,
to fasten them upon our sailless masts and stack, or to lay my grip upon
the sooty smudged taffrail of the only thing that stood between me and
the Outer Dark.
For we had come at last to that region of the Great Seas where no ship
goes, the silent sea of Coleridge and the Ancient One, the unplumbed,
untracked, uncharted Dreadfulness, primordial, hushed, and we were as
much alone as a grain of star-dust whirling in the empty space beyond
Uranus and the ken of the greater telescopes.
So the _Glarus_ plodded and churned her way onward. Every day and all
day the same pale-blue sky and the unwinking sun bent over that moving
speck. Every day and all day the same black-blue water-world, untouched
by any known wind, smooth as a slab of syenite, colourful as an opal,
stretched out and around and beyond and before and behind us, forever,
illimitable, empty. Every day the smoke of our fires veiled the streaked
whiteness of our wake. Every day Hardenberg (our skipper) at noon
pricked a pin-hole in the chart that hung in the wheel-house, and that
showed we were so much farther into the wilderness. Every day the world
of men, of civilization, of newspapers, policemen and street-railways
receded, and we steamed on alone, lost and forgotten in that silent sea.
"Jolly lot o' room to turn raound in," observed Ally Bazan, the
colonial, "withaout steppin' on y'r neighbour's toes."
"We're clean, clean out o' the track o' navigation," Hardenberg told
him. "An' a blessed good thing for us, too. Nobody ever comes down into
these waters. Ye couldn't pick no course here. Everything leads to
"Might as well be in a bally balloon," said Strokher.
I shall not tell of the nature of the venture on which the _Glarus_ was
bound, further than to say it was not legitimate. It had to do with an
ill thing done more than two centuries ago. There was money in the
venture, but it was not to be gained by a violation of metes and bounds
which are better left intact.
The island toward which we were heading is associated in the minds of
men with a Horror.
A ship had called there once, two hundred years in advance of the
_Glarus_--a ship not much unlike the crank high-prowed caravel of
Hudson, and her company had landed, and having accomplished the evil
they had set out to do, made shift to sail away. And then, just after
the palms of the island had sunk from sight below the water's edge, the
unspeakable had happened. The Death that was not Death had arisen from
out the sea and stood before the ship, and over it, and the blight of
the thing lay along the decks like mould, and the ship sweated in the
terror of that which is yet without a name.
Twenty men died in the first week, all but six in the second. These six,
with the shadow of insanity upon them, made out to launch a boat,
returned to the island and died there, after leaving a record of what
The six left the ship exactly as she was, sails all set, lanterns all
lit--left her in the shadow of the Death that was not Death.
She stood there, becalmed, and watched them go. She was never heard of
Or was she--well, that's as may be.
But the main point of the whole affair, to my notion, has always been
this. The ship was the last friend of those six poor wretches who made
back for the island with their poor chests of plunder. She was their
guardian, as it were, would have defended and befriended them to the
last; and also we, the Three Black Crows and myself, had no right under
heaven, nor before the law of men, to come prying and peeping into this
business--into this affair of the dead and buried past. There was
sacrilege in it. We were no better than body-snatchers.
* * * * *
When I heard the others complaining of the loneliness of our
surroundings, I said nothing at first. I was no sailor man, and I was on
board only by tolerance. But I looked again at the maddening sameness of
the horizon--the same vacant, void horizon that we had seen now for
sixteen days on end, and felt in my wits and in my nerves that same
formless rebellion and protest such as comes when the same note is
reiterated over and over again.
It may seem a little thing that the mere fact of meeting with no other
ship should have ground down the edge of the spirit. But let the
incredulous--bound upon such a hazard as ours--sail straight into
nothingness for sixteen days on end, seeing nothing but the sun, hearing
nothing but the thresh of his own screw, and then put the question.
And yet, of all things, we desired no company. Stealth was our one great
aim. But I think there were moments--toward the last--when the Three
Crows would have welcomed even a cruiser.
Besides, there was more cause for depression, after all, than mere
On the seventh day Hardenberg and I were forward by the cat-head,
adjusting the grain with some half-formed intent of spearing the
porpoises that of late had begun to appear under our bows, and
Hardenberg had been computing the number of days we were yet to run.
"We are some five hundred odd miles off that island by now," he said,
"and she's doing her thirteen knots handsome. All's well so far--but do
you know, I'd just as soon raise that point o' land as soon as
"How so?" said I, bending on the line. "Expect some weather?"
"Mr. Dixon," said he, giving me a curious glance, "the sea is a queer
proposition, put it any ways. I've been a seafarin' man since I was big
as a minute, and I know the sea, and what's more, the Feel o' the sea.
Now, look out yonder. Nothin', hey? Nothin' but the same ol' skyline
we've watched all the way out. The glass is as steady as a steeple, and
this ol' hooker, I reckon, is as sound as the day she went off the ways.
But just the same if I were to home now, a-foolin' about Gloucester way
in my little dough-dish--d'ye know what? I'd put into port. I sure
would. Because why? Because I got the Feel o' the Sea, Mr. Dixon. I got
the Feel o' the Sea."
I had heard old skippers say something of this before, and I cited to
Hardenberg the experience of a skipper captain I once knew who had
turned turtle in a calm sea off Trincomalee. I ask him what this Feel of
the Sea was warning him against just now (for on the high sea any
premonition is a premonition of evil, not of good). But he was not
"I don't know," he answered moodily, and as if in great perplexity,
coiling the rope as he spoke. "I don't know. There's some blame thing or
other close to us, I'll bet a hat. I don't know the name of it, but
there's a big Bird in the air, just out of sight som'eres, and," he
suddenly exclaimed, smacking his knee and leaning forward,
The same thing came up in our talk in the cabin that night, after the
dinner was taken off and we settled down to tobacco. Only, at this time,
Hardenberg was on duty on the bridge. It was Ally Bazan who spoke
"Seems to me," he hazarded, "as haow they's somethin' or other a-goin'
to bump up pretty blyme soon. I shouldn't be surprised, naow, y'know, if
we piled her up on some bally uncharted reef along o' to-night and went
strite daown afore we'd had a bloomin' charnce to s'y 'So long,
He laughed as he spoke, but when, just at that moment, a pan clattered
in the galley, he jumped suddenly with an oath, and looked hard about
Then Strokher confessed to a sense of distress also. He'd been having it
since day before yesterday, it seemed.
"And I put it to you the glass is lovely," he said, "so it's no blow. I
guess," he continued, "we're all a bit seedy and ship-sore."
And whether or not this talk worked upon my own nerves, or whether in
very truth the Feel of the Sea had found me also, I do not know; but I
do know that after dinner that night, just before going to bed, a queer
sense of apprehension came upon me, and that when I had come to my
stateroom, after my turn upon deck, I became furiously angry with nobody
in particular, because I could not at once find the matches. But here
was a difference. The other man had been merely vaguely uncomfortable.
I could put a name to my uneasiness. I felt that we were being watched.
* * * * *
It was a strange ship's company we made after that. I speak only of the
Crows and myself. We carried a scant crew of stokers, and there was also
a chief engineer. But we saw so little of him that he did not count. The
Crows and I gloomed on the quarterdeck from dawn to dark, silent,
irritable, working upon each other's nerves till the creak of a block
would make a man jump like cold steel laid to his flesh. We quarreled
over absolute nothings, glowered at each other for half a word, and each
one of us, at different times, was at some pains to declare that never
in the course of his career had he been associated with such a
disagreeable trio of brutes. Yet we were always together, and sought
each other's company with painful insistence.
Only once were we all agreed, and that was when the cook, a Chinaman,
spoiled a certain batch of biscuits. Unanimously we fell foul of the
creature with so much vociferation as fishwives till he fled the cabin
in actual fear of mishandling, leaving us suddenly seized with noisy
hilarity--for the first time in a week. Hardenberg proposed a round of
drinks from our single remaining case of beer. We stood up and formed an
Elk's chain and then drained our glasses to each other's health with
That same evening, I remember, we all sat on the quarterdeck till late
and--oddly enough--related each one his life's history up to date; and
then went down to the cabin for a game of euchre before turning in.
We had left Strokher on the bridge--it was his watch--and had forgotten
all about him in the interest of the game, when--I suppose it was about
one in the morning--I heard him whistle long and shrill. I laid down my
cards and said:
In the silence that followed we heard at first only the muffled lope of
our engines, the cadenced snorting of the exhaust, and the ticking of
Hardenberg's big watch in his waistcoat that he had hung by the arm-hole
to the back of his chair. Then from the bridge, above our deck,
prolonged, intoned--a wailing cry in the night--came Strokher's voice:
And the cards fell from our hands, and, like men turned to stone, we sat
looking at each other across the soiled red cloth for what seemed an
immeasurably long minute.
Then stumbling and swearing, in a hysteria of hurry, we gained the deck.
There was a moon, very low and reddish, but no wind. The sea beyond the
taffrail was as smooth as lava, and so still that the swells from the
cutwater of the _Glarus_ did not break as they rolled away from the
I remember that I stood staring and blinking at the empty ocean--where