Part 5 out of 5
our new carpenter had repaired the broken bulwark and the various other
damages the ship had suffered, and before the rigging was thoroughly
restored. Weeks passed, their monotony broken only by the sight of an
occasional sail; days piled on end, morning and night, night and morning,
until weeks had become months. In the fullness of time we rounded Good
Hope, and now swiftly with fair winds, now slowly with foul, we worked up
to the equator, then home across the North Atlantic.
On the afternoon of a bright day in the fall, more than a year after we
first had set sail, we passed Baker Island and stood up Salem Harbor.
Bleak and bare though they were, the rough, rocky shores were home. To
those of us who hailed from Salem, every roof and tree gave welcome after
an absence of eighteen months. Already, we knew, reports of our approach
would have spread far and wide. Probably a dozen good old captains,
sweeping the sea, each with his glass on his "captain's walk," had sighted
our topsails while we were hull down and had cried out that Joseph Whidden
was home again. Such was the penetration of seafaring men in those good old
days when they recognized a ship and its master while as yet they could spy
nothing more than topgallantsails.
We could see the people gathering along the shore and lining the wharf and
calling and cheering and waving hands. We thought of our comrades whom we
had left in far seas; we longed and feared to ask a thousand questions
about those at home, of whom we had thought so tenderly and so often.
Already boats were putting out to greet us; and now, in the foremost of
them, one of the younger Websters stood up. "Mr. Hamlin, ahoy!" he called,
seeing Roger on the quarter-deck. "Where is Captain Whidden?"
Roger did not answer until the boat had come fairly close under the rail,
and meanwhile young Webster stood looking up at him as if more than half
expecting bad news.
Only when the boat was so near that each could see the other's expression
and hear every inflection of the other's voice, did Roger reply.
"He is dead."
"We heard a story," young Webster cried in great excitement, coming briskly
aboard. "One Captain Craigie, brig Eve late from Bencoolen, brought it. An
appalling tale of murder and mutiny. As he had it, the men mutinied against
Mr. Thomas and against Mr. Falk when he assumed command. They seized the
ship and killed Mr. Thomas and marooned Mr. Falk, who, while Captain
Craigie was thereabouts, hustled a crew of fire-eating Malays and white
adventurers and bought a dozen barrels of powder and set sail with a fleet
of junks to retake the ship. But that, of course, is stuff and nonsense.
"Falk," said Roger with a wry smile, "decided to spend the rest of his days
at the Straits."
"Oh!" Young Webster looked hard at Roger and then looked around the deck.
All was ship-shape, but there were many strange faces.
"Oh," he said again. "And you--" He stopped short.
"And I?" Roger repeated.
Again young Webster looked around the ship. He bit his lip. "What is _your_
story, Mr. Hamlin?" he said sharply.
"Is your father here, Mr. Webster?" Roger asked.
"No," the young man replied stiffly, "he is at Newburyport, but I have no
doubt whatsoever that he will return at once when he hears you have
arrived. This seems to be a strange situation, Mr. Hamlin. Who is in
"I am, sir."
"Oh!" After a time he added, "I heard rumors, but I refused to credit
"What do you mean by that, sir?" Roger asked.
"Oh, nothing much, sir. You evaded my question. What is _your_ story?"
"_My_ story?" Roger looked him squarely in the eye. In Roger's own eyes
there was the glint of his old humorous twinkle, and I knew that the young
man's bustling self-importance amused him.
"My story?" Roger repeated. "Why, such a story as I have to tell, I'll tell
your father when I report to him."
Young Webster reddened. "Oh!" he said with a sarcastic turn of his voice.
"Stuff and nonsense! It may be--or it may not." And with that he stationed
himself by the rail and said no more.
When at last we had come to anchor and young Webster had gone hastily
ashore and we had exchanged greetings at a distance with a number of
acquaintances, Roger and Mr. Cledd and I sat down--perhaps more promptly
than need be--over our accounts in the great cabin. I felt bitterly
disappointed that none of my own people had come to welcome me; but
realizing how silly it was to think that they surely must know of our
arrival, I jumped at Roger's suggestion that we gather up our various
documents and then leave Mr. Cledd in charge--he was not a Salem man--and
hurry home as fast as we could go.
As we bent to our work, Mr. Cledd remarked with a dry smile, "I'm thinking,
sir, there's going to be more of a sting to this pirate-and-mutiny business
than I'd believed. That smug, sarcastic young man means trouble or I've no
eye for weather."
"He's the worst of all the Websters," Roger replied thoughtfully. "And I'll
confess that Captain Craigie's story knocks the wind out of _my_ canvas.
Who'd have looked for a garbled story of our misfortunes to outsail us?
However,--" he shook his head and brushed away all such anxieties,--"time
will tell. Now, gentlemen, to our accounts."
Before we had more than got well started, I heard a voice on deck that
brought me to my feet.
There was a step on the companionway, and then, "Father!" I cried, and
leaped up with an eagerness that, boy-like, I thought I concealed with
painstaking dignity when I shook his hand.
"Come, come, come, you young rascals!" my father cried. "What's the meaning
of this? First hour in the home port and you are as busy at your books as
if you were old students like myself. Come, put by your big books and your
ledgers, lads. Roger, much as I hate to have to break bad news, your family
are all in Boston, so--more joy to us!--there's nothing left but you shall
come straight home with Benny here. Unless, that is--" my father's eyes
twinkled just as Roger's sometimes did--"unless you've more urgent business
"I thank you, sir," said Roger, "but I have _no_ more urgent business, and
I shall be--well, delighted doesn't half express it."
His manner was collected enough, but at my father's smile he reddened and
his own eyes danced.
"Pack away your books and come along, then. There's some one will be glad
to see you besides Benny's mother. Leave work till morning. I'll wager come
sun-up you'll be glad enough to get to your tasks if you've had a little
home life meanwhile. Come, lads, come."
Almost before we fully could realize what it meant, we were walking up to
the door of my own home, and there was my mother standing on the threshold,
and my sister, her face as pink now as it had been white on the day long
ago when she had heard that Roger was to sail as supercargo.
Many times more embarrassed than Roger, whom I never had suspected of such
shamelessness, I promptly turned my back on him and my sister; where upon
my father laughed aloud and drew me into the house. From the hall I saw
the dining-table laid with our grandest silver, and, over all, the
towering candle-sticks that were brought forth only on state occasions.
"And now, lads," said my father, when we sat before such a meal as only
returning prodigals can know, "what's this tale of mutiny and piracy with
which the town's been buzzing these two weeks past? Trash, of course."
"Why, sir, I think we've done the right thing," said Roger, "and yet I
can't say that it's trash."
When my father had heard the story he said so little that he frightened me;
and my mother and sister exchanged anxious glances.
"Of course," Roger added, "we are convinced absolutely, and if that fellow
hadn't got away at Whampoa, we'd have proof of Kipping's part in it--"
"But he got away," my father interposed, "and I question if his word is
good for much, in any event. Poor Joseph Whidden! We were boys together."
He shortly left the table, and a shadow seemed to have fallen over us. We
ate in silence, and after supper Roger and my sister went into the garden
together. What, I wondered, was to become of us now?
That night I dreamed of courts and judges and goodness knows what penalties
of the law, and woke, and dreamed again, and slept uneasily until the
unaccustomed sound of some one pounding on our street door waked me in the
After a time a servant answered the loudly repeated summons. Low voices
followed, then I heard my father open his own door and go out into the
"Is that you, Tom Webster?" he called.
"It is. I'm told you've two of my men here in hiding. Rout 'em out. What
brand of discipline do you call this? All hands laying a-bed at four in the
morning. I've been up all night. Called by messenger just as I turned in at
that confounded tavern, charged full price for a night's lodging,--curse
that skinflint Hodges!--and took a coach that brought me to Salem as fast
as it could clip over the road. I'm too fat to straddle a horse. Come,
where's Hamlin and that young scamp of yours?"
I scrambled out of bed and was dressing as fast as I could, when I heard
Roger also in the hall.
"Aha! Here he is," Mr. Webster cried. "Fine sea-captain you are, you young
mutineer, laying abed at cockcrow! Come, stir a leg there. I've been aboard
ship this morning, after a ride that was like to shake my liver into my
boots. Where's Ben Lathrop? Come, come, you fine-young-gentleman
Crying, "Here I am," I pulled on my boots and joined the others in the
lower hall, and the three of us, Mr. Webster, Roger, and I, hurried down
the street in time to the old man's testy exclamations, which burst out
fervently and often profanely whenever his lame foot struck the
ground harder than usual. "Pirates--mutineers--young cubs--laying abed--
cockcrow--" and so on, until we were in a boat and out on the harbor, where
the Island Princess towered above the morning mist.
"Lathrop'll row us," the old man snapped out. "Good for him--stretch his
Coming aboard the ship, we hailed the watch and went directly to the cabin.
"Now," the old man cried, "bring out your log-book and your papers."
He slowly scanned the pages of the log and looked at our accounts with a
searching gaze that noted every figure, dot and comma. After a time he
said, "Tell me everything."
It was indeed a strange story that Roger told, and I thought that I read
incredulity in the old man's eyes; but he did not interrupt the narrative
from beginning to end. When it was done, he spread his great hands on the
table and shot question after question, first at one of us, then at the
other, indicating by his glance which he wished to answer him.
"When first did you suspect Falk?--What proof had you?--Did Captain Whidden
know anything from the start?--How do you know that Falk was laying for Mr.
Thomas?--Do you know the penalty for mutiny?--Do you know the penalty for
piracy?--Hand out your receipts for all money paid over at Canton.--Who in
thunder gave you command of my ship?--Do you appreciate the seriousness of
overthrowing the lawful captain?--How in thunder did you force that paper
out of Johnston?"
His vehemence and anger seemed to grow as he went on, and for twenty
minutes he snapped out his questions till it seemed as if we were facing a
running fire of musketry. His square, smooth-shaven chin was thrust out
between his bushy side-whiskers, and his eyes shot fiercely, first at
Roger, then at me.
A small swinging lantern lighted the scene. Its rays made the corners seem
dark and remote. They fell on the rough features of the old merchant
mariner who owned the ship and who so largely controlled our fortunes,
making him seem more irascible than ever, and faded out in the early
morning light that came in through the deadlights.
At last he placed his hands each on the opposite shoulder, planted his
elbows on the table, and fiercely glared at us while he demanded, "Have you
two young men stopped yet to think how it'll seem to be hanged?"
The lantern swung slowly during the silence that followed. The shadows
swayed haltingly from side to side.
"No," cried Roger hotly, "we have not, Captain Webster. We've been too busy
looking after _your_ interests."
The scar where the case-knife had slashed his cheek so long ago stood
starkly out from the dull red of his face.
At that the old man threw back his head and burst into a great guffaw of
laughter. He laughed until the lantern trembled, until his chair leaned so
far back that I feared he was about to fall,--or hoped he was,--until it
seemed as if the echoes must come booming back from the farthest shore.
"Lads, lads!" he cried, "you're good lads. You're the delight of an old
man's heart! You've done fine! Roger Hamlin, I've a new ship to be finished
this summer. You shall be master, if you'll be so kind, for an old man that
wishes you well, and"--here he slyly winked at me--"on the day you take a
wife, there'll come to your bride a kiss and a thousand dollars in gold
from Thomas Webster. As for Ben, here, he's done fine as supercargo of the
old Island Princess,--them are good accounts, boy,--and I'll recommend he
sails in the new ship with you."
He stopped short then and looked away as if through the bulkhead and over
the sea as far, perhaps, as Sunda Strait, and the long line of Sunda
Islands bending like a curved blade to guard the mysteries of the East
against such young adventurers as we.
After a time he said in a very different voice, "I was warned of one man in
the crew, just after you sailed." His fingers beat a dull tattoo on the
polished table. "It was too late then to help matters, so I said never a
word--not even to my own sons. But--" the old man's voice hardened--"if
Nathan Falk ever again sets foot on American soil he'll hang higher than
ever Haman hung, if I have to build the gallows with my own two hands, Mr.
Hamlin--ay, he or any man of his crew. The law and I'll work together to
that end, Mr. Hamlin."
So for a long time we sat and talked of one thing and another.
When at last we went on deck, Mr. Cledd spoke to Roger of something that
had happened early in the watch. I approached them idly, overheard a phrase
or two and joined them.
"It was the cook," Mr. Cledd was saying. "He was trying to sneak aboard in
the dark. I don't think he had been drinking. I can't understand it. He had
a big bag of dried apples and said that was all he went for. I don't like
to discipline a man so late in the voyage."
"Let it pass," Roger replied. "Cook's done good work for us."
I didn't understand then what it meant; but later in the day I heard some
one say softly, "Mistah Lathrop, Ah done got an apple pie, yass, sah. Young
gen'lems dey jest got to have pie. You jest come long with dis yeh ol'
There were tears in my eyes when I saw the great pie that the old African
had baked. I urged him to share it with me, and though for a time he
refused, at last he hesitantly consented. "Ah dunno," he remarked, "Ah
dunno as Ah had ought to. Pies, dey's foh young gen'lems and officers, but
dis yeh is a kind of ambigoo-cous pie--yass, sah, seeing you say so, Ah
Never did eating bread and salt together pledge a stronger or more enduring
friendship. To this very day I have the tenderest regard for the old man
with whom I had passed so many desperate hours.
That old Blodgett and Davie Paine should take our gifts to "the tiny wee
girl" at Newburyport we all agreed, when they asked the privilege. "It
ain't but a wee bit to do for a good ship-mate," Blodgett remarked with a
deprecatory wave of his hand. "I'd do more 'n that for the memory of old
Bill Hayden." And just before he left for the journey he cautiously
confided to me, "I've got a few more little tricks I picked up at that 'ere
temple. It don't do to talk about such trinkets,--not that I'm
superstitious,--but she'll never tell if she don't know where they come
from. Ah, Mr. Lathrop, it's sad to lose a fortune, and that's what we done
when we let all them heathen islands go without a good Christian expedition
to destroy the idols and relieve them of their ill-gotten gains."
The two departed side by side, with their bundles swung over their
shoulders. They and the cook had received double wages to reward their
loyal service, and they carried handsome presents for the little girl of
whom we had heard so much; but it was a sad mission for which they had
offered themselves. No gift on all the green earth could take the place of
poor, faithful old Bill, the father who was never coming home.
That night, when Roger and I again went together to my own father's house,
eager to tell the news of our good fortune, we found my mother and my
sister in the garden waiting for us. I was not wise enough then to
understand that the tears in my mother's eyes were for a young boy and a
young girl whom she had had but yesterday, but of whom now only memories
remained--memories, and a youth and a woman grown. Nor could I read the
future and see the ships of the firm of Hamlin and Lathrop sailing every
sea. I only thought to myself, as I saw Roger stand straight and tall
beside my sister, with the white scar on his face, that _there_ was a
brother of whom I could be proud.