Part 4 out of 7
and smashing! We looked every moment for the Elsinore to be struck.
And never had I seen such colours in lightning. Although from moment
to moment we were dazzled by the greater bolts, there persisted
always a tremulous, pulsing lesser play of light, sometimes softly
blue, at other times a thin purple that quivered on into a thousand
shades of lavender.
And there was no wind. No wind came. Nothing happened. The
Elsinore, naked-sparred, under only lower-topsails, with spanker and
crojack furled, was prepared for anything. Her lower-topsails hung
in limp emptiness from the yards, heavy with rain and flapping
soggily when she rolled. The cloud mass thinned, the day brightened,
the green blackness passed into gray twilight, the lightning eased,
the thunder moved along away from us, and there was no wind. In half
an hour the sun was shining, the thunder muttered intermittently
along the horizon, and the Elsinore still rolled in a hush of air.
"You can't tell, sir," Mr. Pike growled to me. "Thirty years ago I
was dismasted right here off the Plate in a clap of wind that come on
just as that come on."
It was the changing of the watches, and Mr. Mellaire, who had come on
the poop to relieve the mate, stood beside me.
"One of the nastiest pieces of water in the world," he concurred.
"Eighteen years ago the Plate gave it to me--lost half our sticks,
twenty hours on our beam-ends, cargo shifted, and foundered. I was
two days in the boat before an English tramp picked us up. And none
of the other boats ever was picked up."
"The Elsinore behaved very well last night," I put in cheerily.
"Oh, hell, that wasn't nothing," Mr. Pike grumbled. "Wait till you
see a real pampero. It's a dirty stretch hereabouts, and I, for one,
'll be glad when we get across It. I'd sooner have a dozen Cape Horn
snorters than one of these. How about you, Mr. Mellaire?"
"Same here, sir," he answered. "Those sou'-westers are honest. You
know what to expect. But here you never know. The best of ship-
masters can get tripped up off the Plate."
"'As I've found out . .
Beyond a doubt,"
Mr. Pike hummed from Newcomb's Celeste, as he went down the ladder.
The sunsets grow more bizarre and spectacular off this coast of the
Argentine. Last evening we had high clouds, broken white and golden,
flung disorderly, generously, over the western half of the sky, while
in the east was painted a second sunset--a reflection, perhaps, of
the first. At any rate, the eastern sky was a bank of pale clouds
that shed soft, spread rays of blue and white upon a blue-grey sea.
And the evening before last we had a gorgeous Arizona riot in the
west. Bastioned upon the ocean cloud-tier was piled upon cloud-tier,
spacious and lofty, until we gazed upon a Grand Canyon a myriad times
vaster and more celestial than that of the Colorado. The clouds took
on the same stratified, serrated, rose-rock formation, and all the
hollows were filled with the opal blues and purple hazes of the
The Sailing Directions say that these remarkable sunsets are due to
the dust being driven high into the air by the winds that blow across
the pampas of the Argentine.
And our sunset to-night--I am writing this at midnight, as I sit
propped in my blankets, wedged by pillows, while the Elsinore wallows
damnably in a dead calm and a huge swell rolling up from the Cape
Horn region, where, it does seem, gales perpetually blow. But our
sunset. Turner might have perpetrated it. The west was as if a
painter had stood off and slapped brushfuls of gray at a green
canvas. On this green background of sky the clouds spilled and
But such a background! Such an orgy of green! No shade of green was
missing in the interstices, large and small, between the milky,
curdled clouds--Nile-green high up, and then, in order, each with a
thousand shades, blue-green, brown-green, grey-green, and a wonderful
olive-green that tarnished into a rich bronze-green.
During the display the rest of the horizon glowed with broad bands of
pink, and blue, and pale green, and yellow. A little later, when the
sun was quite down, in the background of the curdled clouds
smouldered a wine-red mass of colour, that faded to bronze and tinged
all the fading greens with its sanguinary hue. The clouds themselves
flushed to rose of all shades, while a fan of gigantic streamers of
pale rose radiated toward the zenith. These deepened rapidly into
flaunting rose-flame and burned long in the slow-closing twilight.
And with all this wonder of the beauty of the world still glowing in
my brain hours afterward, I hear the snarling of Mr. Pike above my
head, and the trample and drag of feet as the men move from rope to
rope and pull and haul. More weather is making, and from the way
sail is being taken in it cannot be far off.
Yet at daylight this morning we were still wallowing in the same dead
calm and sickly swell. Miss West says the barometer is down, but
that the warning has been too long, for the Plate, to amount to
anything. Pamperos happen quickly here, and though the Elsinore,
under bare poles to her upper-topsails, is prepared for anything, it
may well be that they will be crowding on canvas in another hour.
Mr. Pike was so fooled that he actually had set the topgallant-sails,
and the gaskets were being taken off the royals, when the Samurai
came on deck, strolled back and forth a casual five minutes, then
spoke in an undertone to Mr. Pike. Mr. Pike did not like it. To me,
a tyro, it was evident that he disagreed with his master.
Nevertheless, his voice went out in a snarl aloft to the men on the
royal-yards to make all fast again. Then it was clewlines and
buntlines and lowering of yards as the topgallant-sails were stripped
off. The crojack was taken in, and some of the outer fore-and-aft
handsails, whose order of names I can never remember.
A breeze set in from the south-west, blowing briskly under a clear
sky. I could see that Mr. Pike was secretly pleased. The Samurai
had been mistaken. And each time Mr. Pike glanced aloft at the naked
topgallant- and royal-yards, I knew his thought was that they might
well be carrying sail. I was quite convinced that the Plate had
fooled Captain West. So was Miss West convinced, and, being a
favoured person like myself, she frankly told me so.
"Father will be setting sail in half an hour," she prophesied.
What superior weather-sense Captain West possesses I know not, save
that it is his by Samurai right. The sky, as I have said, was clear.
The air was brittle--sparkling gloriously in the windy sun. And yet,
behold, in a brief quarter of an hour, the change that took place. I
had just returned from a trip below, and Miss West was venting her
scorn on the River Plate and promising to go below to the sewing-
machine, when we heard Mr. Pike groan. It was a whimsical groan of
disgust, contrition, and acknowledgment of inferiority before the
"Here comes the whole River Plate," was what he groaned.
Following his gaze to the south-west, we saw it coming. It was a
cloud-mass that blotted out the sunlight and the day. It seemed to
swell and belch and roll over and over on itself as it advanced with
a rapidity that told of enormous wind behind it and in it. Its speed
was headlong, terrific; and, beneath it, covering the sea, advancing
with it, was a gray bank of mist.
Captain West spoke to the mate, who bawled the order along, and the
watch, reinforced by the watch below, began dewing up the mainsail
and foresail and climbing into the rigging.
"Keep off! Put your wheel over! Hard over!" Captain West called
gently to the helmsman.
And the big wheel spun around, and the Elsinore's bow fell off so
that she might not be caught aback by the onslaught of wind.
Thunder rode in that rushing, rolling blackness of cloud; and it was
rent by lightning as it fell upon us.
Then it was rain, wind, obscureness of gloom, and lightning. I
caught a glimpse of the men on the lower-yards as they were blotted
from view and as the Elsinore heeled over and down. There were
fifteen men of them to each yard, and the gaskets were well passed
ere we were struck. How they regained the deck I do not know, I
never saw; for the Elsinore, under only upper- and lower-topsails,
lay down on her side, her port-rail buried in the sea, and did not
There was no maintaining an unsupported upright position on that
acute slant of deck. Everybody held on. Mr. Pike frankly gripped
the poop-rail with both hands, and Miss West and I made frantic
clutches and scrambled for footing. But I noticed that the Samurai,
poised lightly, like a bird on the verge of flight, merely rested one
hand on the rail. He gave no orders. As I divined, there was
nothing to be done. He waited--that was all--in tranquillity and
repose. The situation was simple. Either the masts would go, or the
Elsinore would rise with her masts intact, or she would never rise
In the meantime she lay dead, her lee yardarms almost touching the
sea, the sea creaming solidly to her hatch-combings across the
buried, unseen rail.
The minutes were as centuries, until the bow paid off and the
Elsinore, turned tail before it, righted to an even keel.
Immediately this was accomplished Captain West had her brought back
upon the wind. And immediately, thereupon, the big foresail went
adrift from its gaskets. The shock, or succession of shocks, to the
ship, from the tremendous buffeting that followed, was fearful. It
seemed she was being racked to pieces. Master and mate were side by
side when this happened, and the expressions on their faces typified
them. In neither face was apprehension. Mr. Pike's face bore a sour
sneer for the worthless sailors who had botched the job. Captain
West's face was serenely considerative.
Still, nothing was to be done, could be done; and for five minutes
the Elsinore was shaken as in the maw of some gigantic monster, until
the last shreds of the great piece of canvas had been torn away.
"Our foresail has departed for Africa," Miss West laughed in my ear.
She is like her father, unaware of fear.
"And now we may as well go below and be comfortable," she said five
minutes later. "The worst is over. It will only be blow, blow,
blow, and a big sea making."
All day it blew. And the big sea that arose made the Elsinore's
conduct almost unlivable. My only comfort was achieved by taking to
my bunk and wedging myself with pillows buttressed against the bunk's
sides by empty soap-boxes which Wada arranged. Mr. Pike, clinging to
my door-casing while his legs sprawled adrift in a succession of
terrific rolls, paused to tell me that it was a new one on him in the
pampero line. It was all wrong from the first. It had not come on
right. It had no reason to be.
He paused a little longer, and, in a casual way, that under the
circumstances was ridiculously transparent, exposed what was at
ferment in his mind.
First of all he was absurd enough to ask if Possum showed symptoms of
sea-sickness. Next, he unburdened his wrath for the inefficients who
had lost the foresail, and sympathized with the sail-makers for the
extra work thrown upon them. Then he asked permission to borrow one
of my books, and, clinging to my bunk, selected Buchner's Force and
Matter from my shelf, carefully wedging the empty space with the
doubled magazine I use for that purpose.
Still he was loth to depart, and, cudgelling his brains for a
pretext, he set up a rambling discourse on River Plate weather. And
all the time I kept wondering what was behind it all. At last it
"By the way, Mr. Pathurst," he remarked, "do you happen to remember
how many years ago Mr. Mellaire said it was that he was dismasted and
foundered off here?"
I caught his drift on the instant.
"Eight years ago, wasn't it?" I lied.
Mr. Pike let this sink in and slowly digested it, while the Elsinore
was guilty of three huge rolls down to port and back again.
"Now I wonder what ship was sunk off the Plate eight years ago?" he
communed, as if with himself. "I guess I'll have to ask Mr. Mellaire
her name. You can search me for all any I can recollect."
He thanked me with unwonted elaborateness for Force and Matter, of
which I knew he would never read a line, and felt his way to the
door. Here he hung on for a moment, as if struck by a new and most
"Now it wasn't, by any chance, that he said eighteen years ago?" he
I shook my head.
"Eight years ago," I said. "That's the way I remember it, though why
I should remember it at all I don't know. But that is what he said,"
I went on with increasing confidence. "Eight years ago. I am sure
Mr. Pike looked at me ponderingly, and waited until the Elsinore had
fairly righted for an instant ere he took his departure down the
I think I have followed the working of his mind. I have long since
learned that his memory of ships, officers, cargoes, gales, and
disasters is remarkable. He is a veritable encyclopaedia of the sea.
Also, it is patent that he has equipped himself with Sidney Waltham's
history. As yet, he does not dream that Mr. Mellaire is Sidney
Waltham, and he is merely wondering if Mr. Mellaire was a ship-mate
of Sidney Waltham eighteen years ago in the ship lost off the Plate.
In the meantime, I shall never forgive Mr. Mellaire for this slip he
has made. He should have been more careful.
An abominable night! A wonderful night! Sleep? I suppose I did
sleep, in catnaps, but I swear I heard every bell struck until three-
thirty. Then came a change, an easement. No longer was it a
stubborn, loggy fight against pressures. The Elsinore moved. I
could feel her slip, and slide, and send, and soar. Whereas before
she had been flung continually down to port, she now rolled as far to
one side as to the other.
I knew what had taken place. Instead of remaining hove-to on the
pampero, Captain West had turned tail and was running before it.
This, I understood, meant a really serious storm, for the north-east
was the last direction in which Captain West desired to go. But at
any rate the movement, though wilder, was easier, and I slept. I was
awakened at five by the thunder of seas that fell aboard, rushed down
the main deck, and crashed against the cabin wall. Through my open
door I could see water swashing up and down the hall, while half a
foot of water creamed and curdled from under my bunk across the floor
each time the ship rolled to starboard.
The steward brought me my coffee, and, wedged by boxes and pillows,
like an equilibrist, I sat up and drank it. Luckily I managed to
finish it in time, for a succession of terrific rolls emptied one of
my book-shelves. Possum, crawling upward from my feet under the
covered way of my bed, yapped with terror as the seas smashed and
thundered and as the avalanche of books descended upon us. And I
could not but grin when the Paste Board Crown smote me on the head,
while the puppy was knocked gasping with Chesterton's What's Wrong
with the World?
"Well, what do you think?" I queried of the steward who was helping
to set us and the books to rights.
He shrugged his shoulders, and his bright slant eyes were very bright
as he replied:
"Many times I see like this. Me old man. Many times I see more bad.
Too much wind, too much work. Rotten dam bad."
I could guess that the scene on deck was a spectacle, and at six
o'clock, as gray light showed through my ports in the intervals when
they were not submerged, I essayed the side-board of my bunk like a
gymnast, captured my careering slippers, and shuddered as I thrust my
bare feet into their chill sogginess. I did not wait to dress.
Merely in pyjamas I headed for the poop, Possum wailing dismally at
It was a feat to travel the narrow halls. Time and again I paused
and held on until my finger-tips hurt. In the moments of easement I
made progress. Yet I miscalculated. The foot of the broad stairway
to the chart-house rested on a cross-hall a dozen feet in length.
Over-confidence and an unusually violent antic of the Elsinore caused
the disaster. She flung down to starboard with such suddenness and
at such a pitch that the flooring seemed to go out from under me and
I hustled helplessly down the incline. I missed a frantic clutch at
the newel-post, flung up my arm in time to save my face, and, most
fortunately, whirled half about, and, still falling, impacted with my
shoulder muscle-pad on Captain West's door.
Youth will have its way. So will a ship in a sea. And so will a
hundred and seventy pounds of a man. The beautiful hardwood door-
panel splintered, the latch fetched away, and I broke the nails of
the four fingers of my right hand in a futile grab at the flying
door, marring the polished surface with four parallel scratches. I
kept right on, erupting into Captain West's spacious room with the
big brass bed.
Miss West, swathed in a woollen dressing-gown, her eyes heavy still
with sleep, her hair glorious and for the once ungroomed, clinging in
the doorway that gave entrance on the main cabin, met my startled
gaze with an equally startled gaze.
It was no time for apologies. I kept right on my mad way, caught the
foot stanchion, and was whipped around in half a circle flat upon
Captain West's brass bed.
Miss West was beginning to laugh.
"Come right in," she gurgled.
A score of retorts, all deliciously inadvisable, tickled my tongue,
so I said nothing, contenting myself with holding on with my left
hand while I nursed my stinging right hand under my arm-pit. Beyond
her, across the floor of the main cabin, I saw the steward in pursuit
of Captain West's Bible and a sheaf of Miss West's music. And as she
gurgled and laughed at me, beholding her in this intimacy of storm,
the thought flashed through my brain:
SHE IS A WOMAN. SHE IS DESIRABLE.
Now did she sense this fleeting, unuttered flash of mine? I know
not, save that her laughter left her, and long conventional training
asserted itself as she said:
"I just knew everything was adrift in father's room. He hasn't been
in it all night. I could hear things rolling around . . . What is
wrong? Are you hurt?"
"Stubbed my fingers, that's all," I answered, looking at my broken
nails and standing gingerly upright.
"My, that WAS a roll," she sympathized.
"Yes; I'd started to go upstairs," I said, "and not to turn into your
father's bed. I'm afraid I've ruined the door."
Came another series of great rolls. I sat down on the bed and held
on. Miss West, secure in the doorway, began gurgling again, while
beyond, across the cabin carpet, the steward shot past, embracing a
small writing-desk that had evidently carried away from its
fastenings when he seized hold of it for support. More seas smashed
and crashed against the for'ard wall of the cabin; and the steward,
failing of lodgment, shot back across the carpet, still holding the
desk from harm.
Taking advantage of favouring spells, I managed to effect my exit and
gain the newel-post ere the next series of rolls came. And as I
clung on and waited, I could not forget what I had just seen.
Vividly under my eyelids burned the picture of Miss West's sleep-
laden eyes, her hair, and all the softness of her. A WOMAN AND
DESIRABLE kept drumming in my brain.
But I forgot all this, when, nearly at the top, I was thrown up the
hill of the stairs as if it had suddenly become downhill. My feet
flew from stair to stair to escape falling, and I flew, or fell,
apparently upward, until, at the top, I hung on for dear life while
the stern of the Elsinore flung skyward on some mighty surge.
Such antics of so huge a ship! The old stereotyped "toy" describes
her; for toy she was, the sheerest splinter of a plaything in the
grip of the elements. And yet, despite this overwhelming sensation
of microscopic helplessness, I was aware of a sense of surety. There
was the Samurai. Informed with his will and wisdom, the Elsinore was
no cat's-paw. Everything was ordered, controlled. She was doing
what he ordained her to do, and, no matter what storm-Titans bellowed
about her and buffeted her, she would continue to do what he ordained
her to do.
I glanced into the chart-room. There he sat, leaned back in a screw-
chair, his sea-booted legs, wedged against the settee, holding him in
place in the most violent rolls. His black oilskin coat glistened in
the lamplight with a myriad drops of ocean that advertised a recent
return from deck. His sou'wester, black and glistening, was like the
helmet of some legendary hero. He was smoking a cigar, and he smiled
and greeted me. But he seemed very tired and very old--old with
wisdom, however, not weakness. The flesh of his face, the pink
pigment quite washed and worn away, was more transparent than ever;
and yet never was he more serene, never more the master absolute of
our tiny, fragile world. The age that showed in him was not a matter
of terrestrial years. It was ageless, passionless, beyond human.
Never had he appeared so great to me, so far remote, so much a spirit
And he cautioned and advised me, in silver-mellow beneficent voice,
as I essayed the venture of opening the chart-house door to gain
outside. He knew the moment, although I never could have guessed it
for myself, and gave the word that enabled me to win the poop.
Water was everywhere. The Elsinore was rushing through a blurring
whirr of water. Seas creamed and licked the poop-deck edge, now to
starboard, now to port. High in the air, over-towering and
perilously down-toppling, following-seas pursued our stern. The air
was filled with spindrift like a fog or spray. No officer of the
watch was in sight. The poop was deserted, save for two helmsmen in
streaming oilskins under the half-shelter of the open wheel-house. I
nodded good morning to them.
One was Tom Spink, the elderly but keen and dependable English
sailor. The other was Bill Quigley, one of a forecastle group of
three that herded uniquely together, though the other two, Frank
Fitzgibbon and Richard Oiler, were in the second mate's watch. The
three had proved handy with their fists, and clannish; they had
fought pitched forecastle battles with the gangster clique and won a
sort of neutrality of independence for themselves. They were not
exactly sailors--Mr. Mellaire sneeringly called them the
"bricklayers"--but they had successfully refused subservience to the
To cross the deck from the chart-house to the break of the poop was
no slight feat, but I managed it and hung on to the railing while the
wind stung my flesh with the flappings of my pyjamas. At this
moment, and for the moment, the Elsinore righted to an even keel, and
dashed along and down the avalanching face of a wave. And as she
thus righted her deck was filled with water level from rail to rail.
Above this flood, or knee-deep in it, Mr. Pike and half-a-dozen
sailors were bunched on the fife-rail of the mizzen-mast. The
carpenter, too, was there, with a couple of assistants.
The next roll spilled half a thousand tons of water outboard sheer
over the starboard-rail, while all the starboard ports opened
automatically and gushed huge streams. Then came the opposite roll
to port, with a clanging shut of the iron doors; and a hundred tons
of sea sloshed outboard across the port-rail, while all the iron
doors on that side opened wide and gushed. And all this time, it
must not be forgotten, the Elsinore was dashing ahead through the
The only sail she carried was three upper-topsails. Not the tiniest
triangle of headsail was on her. I had never seen her with so little
wind-surface, and the three narrow strips of canvas, bellied to the
seemingness of sheet-iron with the pressure of the wind, drove her
before the gale at astonishing speed.
As the water on the deck subsided the men on the fife-rail left their
refuge. One group, led by the redoubtable Mr. Pike, strove to
capture a mass of planks and twisted steel. For the moment I did not
recognize what it was. The carpenter, with two men, sprang upon
Number Three hatch and worked hurriedly and fearfully. And I knew
why Captain West had turned tail to the storm. Number Three hatch
was a wreck. Among other things the great timber, called the
"strong-back," was broken. He had had to run, or founder. Before
our decks were swept again I could make out the carpenter's emergency
repairs. With fresh timbers he was bolting, lashing, and wedging
Number Three hatch into some sort of tightness.
When the Elsinore dipped her port-rail under and scooped several
hundred tons of South Atlantic, and then, immediately rolling her
starboard-rail under, had another hundred tons of breaking sea fall
in board upon her, all the men forsook everything and scrambled for
life upon the fife-rail. In the bursting spray they were quite
hidden; and then I saw them and counted them all as they emerged into
view. Again they waited for the water to subside.
The mass of wreckage pursued by Mr. Pike and his men ground a hundred
feet along the deck for'ard, and, as the Elsinore's stern sank down
in some abyss, ground back again and smashed up against the cabin
wall. I identified this stuff as part of the bridge. That portion
which spanned from the mizzen-mast to the 'midship-house was missing,
while the starboard boat on the 'midship-house was a splintered mess.
Watching the struggle to capture and subdue the section of bridge, I
was reminded of Victor Hugo's splendid description of the sailor's
battle with a ship's gun gone adrift in a night of storm. But there
was a difference, I found that Hugo's narrative had stirred me more
profoundly than was I stirred by this actual struggle before my eyes.
I have repeatedly said that the sea makes one hard. I now realized
how hard I had become as I stood there at the break of the poop in my
wind-shipped, spray-soaked pyjamas. I felt no solicitude for the
forecastle humans who struggled in peril of their lives beneath me.
They did not count. Ah--I was even curious to see what might happen,
did they get caught by those crashing avalanches of sea ere they
could gain the safety of the fife-rail.
And I saw. Mr. Pike, in the lead, of course, up to his waist in
rushing water, dashed in, caught the flying wreckage with a turn of
rope, and fetched it up short with a turn around one of the port
mizzen-shrouds. The Elsinore flung down to port, and a solid wall of
down-toppling green upreared a dozen feet above the rail. The men
fled to the fife-rail. But Mr. Pike, holding his turn, held on,
looked squarely into the wall of the wave, and received the downfall.
He emerged, still holding by the turn the captured bridge.
The feeble-minded faun (the stone-deaf man) led the way to Mr. Pike's
assistance, followed by Tony, the suicidal Greek. Paddy was next,
and in order came Shorty, Henry the training-ship boy, and Nancy,
last, of course, and looking as if he were going to execution.
The deck-water was no more than knee-deep, though rushing with
torrential force, when Mr. Pike and the six men lifted the section of
bridge and started for'ard with it. They swayed and staggered, but
managed to keep going.
The carpenter saw the impending ocean-mountain first. I saw him cry
to his own men and then to Mr. Pike ere he fled to the fife-rail.
But Mr. Pike's men had no chance. Abreast of the 'midship-house, on
the starboard side, fully fifteen feet above the rail and twenty
above the deck, the sea fell on board. The top of the 'midship-house
was swept clean of the splintered boat. The water, impacting against
the side of the house, spouted skyward as high as the crojack-yard.
And all this, in addition to the main bulk of the wave, swept and
descended upon Mr. Pike and his men.
They disappeared. The bridge disappeared. The Elsinore rolled to
port and dipped her deck full from rail to rail. Next, she plunged
down by the head, and all this mass of water surged forward. Through
the creaming, foaming surface now and then emerged an arm, or a head,
or a back, while cruel edges of jagged plank and twisted steel rods
advertised that the bridge was turning over and over. I wondered
what men were beneath it and what mauling they were receiving.
And yet these men did not count. I was aware of anxiety only for Mr.
Pike. He, in a way, socially, was of my caste and class. He and I
belonged aft in the high place; ate at the same table. I was acutely
desirous that he should not be hurt or killed. The rest did not
matter. They were not of my world. I imagine the old-time skippers,
on the middle passage, felt much the same toward their slave-cargoes
in the fetid 'tween decks.
The Elsinore's bow tilted skyward while her stern fell into a foaming
valley. Not a man had gained his feet. Bridge and men swept back
toward me and fetched up against the mizzen-shrouds. And then that
prodigious, incredible old man appeared out of the water, on his two
legs, upright, dragging with him, a man in each hand, the helpless
forms of Nancy and the Faun. My heart leapt at beholding this mighty
figure of a man-killer and slave-driver, it is true, but who sprang
first into the teeth of danger so that his slaves might follow, and
who emerged with a half-drowned slave in either hand.
I knew augustness and pride as I gazed--pride that my eyes were blue,
like his; that my skin was blond, like his; that my place was aft
with him, and with the Samurai, in the high place of government and
command. I nearly wept with the chill of pride that was akin to awe
and that tingled and bristled along my spinal column and in my brain.
As for the rest--the weaklings and the rejected, and the dark-
pigmented things, the half-castes, the mongrel-bloods, and the dregs
of long-conquered races--how could they count? My heels were iron as
I gazed on them in their peril and weakness. Lord! Lord! For ten
thousand generations and centuries we had stamped upon their faces
and enslaved them to the toil of our will.
Again the Elsinore rolled to starboard and to port, while the spume
spouted to our lower-yards and a thousand tons of South Atlantic
surged across from rail to rail. And again all were down and under,
with jagged plank and twisted steel overriding them. And again that
amazing blond-skinned giant emerged, on his two legs upstanding, a
broken waif like a rat in either hand. He forced his way through
rushing, waist-high water, deposited his burdens with the carpenter
on the fife-rail, and returned to drag Larry reeling to his feet and
help him to the fife-rail. Out of the wash, Tony, the Greek, crawled
on hands and knees and sank down helplessly at the fife-rail. There
was nothing suicidal now in his mood. Struggle as he would, he could
not lift himself until the mate, gripping his oilskin at the collar,
with one hand flung him through the air into the carpenter's arms.
Next came Shorty, his face streaming blood, one arm hanging useless,
his sea-boots stripped from him. Mr. Pike pitched him into the fife-
rail, and returned for the last man. It was Henry, the training-ship
boy. Him I had seen, unstruggling, motionless, show at the surface
like a drowned man and sink again as the flood surged aft and smashed
him against the cabin. Mr. Pike, shoulder-deep, twice beaten to his
knees and under by bursting seas, caught the lad, shouldered him, and
carried him away for'ard.
An hour later, in the cabin, I encountered Mr. Pike going into
breakfast. He had changed his clothes, and he had shaved! Now how
could one treat a hero such as he save as I treated him when I
remarked off-handedly that he must have had a lively watch?
"My," he answered, equally off-handedly, "I did get a prime soaking."
That was all. He had had no time to see me at the poop-rail. It was
merely the day's work, the ship's work, the MAN'S work--all capitals,
if you please, in MAN. I was the only one aft who knew, and I knew
because I had chanced to see. Had I not been on the poop at that
early hour no one aft ever would have known those gray, storm-morning
deeds of his.
"Anybody hurt?" I asked.
"Oh, some of the men got wet. But no bones broke. Henry'll be laid
off for a day. He got turned over in a sea and bashed his head. And
Shorty's got a wrenched shoulder, I think.--But, say, we got Davis
into the top bunk! The seas filled him full and he had to climb for
it. He's all awash and wet now, and you oughta seen me praying for
more." He paused and sighed. "I'm getting old, I guess. I oughta
wring his neck, but somehow I ain't got the gumption. Just the same,
he'll be overside before we get in."
"A month's wages against a pound of tobacco he won't," I challenged.
"No," said Mr. Pike slowly. "But I'll tell you what I will do. I'll
bet you a pound of tobacco even, or a month's wages even, that I'll
have the pleasure of putting a sack of coal to his feet that never
will come off."
"Done," said I.
"Done," said Mr. Pike. "And now I guess I'll get a bite to eat."
The more I see of Miss West the more she pleases me. Explain it in
terms of propinquity, or isolation, or whatever you will; I, at
least, do not attempt explanation. I know only that she is a woman
and desirable. And I am rather proud, in a way, to find that I am
just a man like any man. The midnight oil, and the relentless
pursuit I have endured in the past from the whole tribe of women,
have not, I am glad to say, utterly spoiled me.
I am obsessed by that phrase--a WOMAN AND DESIRABLE. It beats in my
brain, in my thought. I go out of my way to steal a glimpse of Miss
West through a cabin door or vista of hall when she does not know I
am looking. A woman is a wonderful thing. A woman's hair is
wonderful. A woman's softness is a magic.--Oh, I know them for what
they are, and yet this very knowledge makes them only the more
wonderful. I know--I would stake my soul--that Miss West has
considered me as a mate a thousand times to once that I have so
considered her. And yet--she is a woman and desirable.
And I find myself continually reminded of Richard Le Gallienne's
"Were I a woman, I would all day long
Sing my own beauty in some holy song,
Bend low before it, hushed and half afraid,
And say 'I am a woman' all day long."
Let me advise all philosophers suffering from world-sickness to take
a long sea voyage with a woman like Miss West.
In this narrative I shall call her "Miss West" no more. She has
ceased to be Miss West. She is Margaret. I do not think of her as
Miss West. I think of her as Margaret. It is a pretty word, a
woman-word. What poet must have created it! Margaret! I never tire
of it. My tongue is enamoured of it. Margaret West! What a name to
conjure with! A name provocative of dreams and mighty connotations.
The history of our westward-faring race is written in it. There is
pride in it, and dominion, and adventure, and conquest. When I
murmur it I see visions of lean, beaked ships, of winged helmets, and
heels iron-shod of restless men, royal lovers, royal adventurers,
royal fighters. Yes, and even now, in these latter days when the sun
consumes us, still we sit in the high seat of government and command.
Oh--and by the way--she is twenty-four years old. I asked Mr. Pike
the date of the Dixie's collision with the river steamer in San
Francisco Bay. This occurred in 1901. Margaret was twelve years old
at the time. This is 1913. Blessings on the head of the man who
invented arithmetic! She is twenty-four. Her name is Margaret, and
she is desirable.
There are so many things to tell about. Where and how this mad
voyage, with a mad crew, will end is beyond all surmise. But the
Elsinore drives on, and day by day her history is bloodily written.
And while murder is done, and while the whole floating drama moves
toward the bleak southern ocean and the icy blasts of Cape Horn, I
sit in the high place with the masters, unafraid, I am proud to say,
in an ecstasy, I am proud to say, and I murmur over and over to
MYSELF--MARGARET, A WOMAN; MARGARET, AND DESIRABLE.
But to resume. It is the first day of June. Ten days have passed
since the pampero. When the strong back on Number Three hatch was
repaired Captain West came back on the wind, hove to, and rode out
the gale. Since then, in calm, and fog, and damp, and storm, we have
won south until to-day we are almost abreast of the Falklands. The
coast of the Argentine lies to the West, below the sea-line, and some
time this morning we crossed the fiftieth parallel of south latitude.
Here begins the passage of Cape Horn, for so it is reckoned by the
navigators--fifty south in the Atlantic to fifty south in the
And yet all is well with us in the matter of weather. The Elsinore
slides along with favouring winds. Daily it grows colder. The great
cabin stove roars and is white-hot, and all the connecting doors are
open, so that the whole after region of the ship is warm and
comfortable. But on the deck the air bites, and Margaret and I wear
mittens as we promenade the poop or go for'ard along the repaired
bridge to see the chickens on the 'midship-house. The poor, wretched
creatures of instinct and climate! Behold, as they approach the
southern mid-winter of the Horn, when they have need of all their
feathers, they proceed to moult, because, forsooth, this is the
summer time in the land they came from. Or is moulting determined by
the time of year they happen to be born? I shall have to look into
this. Margaret will know.
Yesterday ominous preparations were made for the passage of the Horn.
All the braces were taken from the main deck pin-rails and geared and
arranged so that they may be worked from the tops of the houses.
Thus, the fore-braces run to the top of the forecastle, the main-
braces to the top of the 'midship-house, and the mizzen-braces to the
poop. It is evident that they expect our main deck frequently to be
filled with water. So evident is it that a laden ship when in big
seas is like a log awash, that fore and aft, on both sides, along the
deck, shoulder-high, life-lines have been rigged. Also, the two iron
doors, on port and starboard, that open from the cabin directly upon
the main deck, have been barricaded and caulked. Not until we are in
the Pacific and flying north will these doors open again.
And while we prepare to battle around the stormiest headland in the
world our situation on board grows darker. This morning Petro
Marinkovich, a sailor in Mr. Mellaire's watch, was found dead on
Number One hatch. The body bore several knife-wounds and the throat
was cut. It was palpably done by some one or several of the
forecastle hands; but not a word can be elicited. Those who are
guilty of it are silent, of course; while others who may chance to
know are afraid to speak.
Before midday the body was overside with the customary sack of coal.
Already the man is a past episode. But the humans for'ard are tense
with expectancy of what is to come. I strolled for'ard this
afternoon, and noted for the first time a distinct hostility toward
me. They recognize that I belong with the after-guard in the high
place. Oh, nothing was said; but it was patent by the way almost
every man looked at me, or refused to look at me. Only Mulligan
Jacobs and Charles Davis were outspoken.
"Good riddance," said Mulligan Jacobs. "The Guinea didn't have the
spunk of a louse. And he's better off, ain't he? He lived dirty,
an' he died dirty, an' now he's over an' done with the whole dirty
game. There's men on board that oughta wish they was as lucky as
him. Theirs is still a-coming to 'em."
"You mean . . . ?" I queried.
"Whatever you want to think I mean," the twisted wretch grinned
malevolently into my face.
Charles Davis, when I peeped into his iron room, was exuberant.
"A pretty tale for the court in Seattle," he exulted. "It'll only
make my case that much stronger. And wait till the reporters get
hold of it! The hell-ship Elsinore! They'll have pretty pickin's!"
"I haven't seen any hell-ship," I said coldly.
"You've seen my treatment, ain't you?" he retorted. "You've seen the
hell I've got, ain't you?"
"I know you for a cold-blooded murderer," I answered.
"The court will determine that, sir. All you'll have to do is to
testify to facts."
"I'll testify that had I been in the mate's place I'd have hanged you
His eyes positively sparkled.
"I'll ask you to remember this conversation when you're under oath,
sir," he cried eagerly.
I confess the man aroused in me a reluctant admiration. I looked
about his mean, iron-walled room. During the pampero the place had
been awash. The white paint was peeling off in huge scabs, and iron-
rust was everywhere. The floor was filthy. The place stank with the
stench of his sickness. His pannikin and unwashed eating-gear from
the last meal were scattered on the floor: His blankets were wet,
his clothing was wet. In a corner was a heterogeneous mass of soggy,
dirty garments. He lay in the very bunk in which he had brained
O'Sullivan. He had been months in this vile hole. In order to live
he would have to remain months more in it. And while his rat-like
vitality won my admiration, I loathed and detested him in very
"Aren't you afraid?" I demanded. "What makes you think you will last
the voyage? Don't you know bets are being made that you won't?"
So interested was he that he seemed to prick up his ears as he raised
on his elbow.
"I suppose you're too scared to tell me about them bets," he sneered.
"Oh, I've bet you'll last," I assured him.
"That means there's others that bet I won't," he rattled on hastily.
"An' that means that there's men aboard the Elsinore right now
financially interested in my taking-off."
At this moment the steward, bound aft from the galley, paused in the
doorway and listened, grinning. As for Charles Davis, the man had
missed his vocation. He should have been a land-lawyer, not a sea-
"Very well, sir," he went on. "I'll have you testify to that in
Seattle, unless you're lying to a helpless sick man, or unless you'll
perjure yourself under oath."
He got what he was seeking, for he stung me to retort:
"Oh, I'll testify. Though I tell you candidly that I don't think
I'll win my bet."
"You loose 'm bet sure," the steward broke in, nodding his head.
"That fellow him die damn soon."
"Bet with'm, sir," David challenged me. "It's a straight tip from
me, an' a regular cinch."
The whole situation was so gruesome and grotesque, and I had been
swept into it so absurdly, that for the moment I did not know what to
do or say.
"It's good money," Davis urged. "I ain't goin' to die. Look here,
steward, how much you want to bet?"
"Five dollar, ten dollar, twenty dollar," the steward answered, with
a shoulder-shrug that meant that the sum was immaterial.
"Very well then, steward. Mr. Pathurst covers your money, say for
twenty. Is it a go, sir?"
"Why don't you bet with him yourself?" I demanded.
"Sure I will, sir. Here, you steward, I bet you twenty even I don't
The steward shook his head.
"I bet you twenty to ten," the sick man insisted. "What's eatin'
"You live, me lose, me pay you," the steward explained. "You die, I
win, you dead; no pay me."
Still grinning and shaking his head, he went his way.
"Just the same, sir, it'll be rich testimony," David chuckled. "An'
can't you see the reporters eatin' it up?"
The Asiatic clique in the cook's room has its suspicions about the
death of Marinkovich, but will not voice them. Beyond shakings of
heads and dark mutterings, I can get nothing out of Wada or the
steward. When I talked with the sail-maker, he complained that his
injured hand was hurting him and that he would be glad when he could
get to the surgeons in Seattle. As for the murder, when pressed by
me, he gave me to understand that it was no affair of the Japanese or
Chinese on board, and that he was a Japanese.
But Louis, the Chinese half-caste with the Oxford accent, was more
frank. I caught him aft from the galley on a trip to the lazarette
"We are of a different race, sir, from these men," he said; "and our
safest policy is to leave them alone. We have talked it over, and we
have nothing to say, sir, nothing whatever to say. Consider my
position. I work for'ard in the galley; I am in constant contact
with the sailors; I even sleep in their section of the ship; and I am
one man against many. The only other countryman I have on board is
the steward, and he sleeps aft. Your servant and the two sail-makers
are Japanese. They are only remotely kin to us, though we've agreed
to stand together and apart from whatever happens."
"There is Shorty," I said, remembering Mr. Pike's diagnosis of his
"But we do not recognize him, sir," Louis answered suavely. "He is
Portuguese; he is Malay; he is Japanese, true; but he is a mongrel,
sir, a mongrel and a bastard. Also, he is a fool. And please, sir,
remember that we are very few, and that our position compels us to
"But your outlook is gloomy," I persisted. "How do you think it will
"We shall arrive in Seattle most probably, some of us. But I can
tell you this, sir: I have lived a long life on the sea, but I have
never seen a crew like this. There are few sailors in it; there are
bad men in it; and the rest are fools and worse. You will notice I
mention no names, sir; but there are men on board whom I do not care
to antagonize. I am just Louis, the cook. I do my work to the best
of my ability, and that is all, sir."
"And will Charles Davis arrive in Seattle?" I asked, changing the
topic in acknowledgment of his right to be reticent.
"No, I do not think so, sir," he answered, although his eyes thanked
me for my courtesy. "The steward tells me you have bet that he will.
I think, sir, it is a poor bet. We are about to go around the Horn.
I have been around it many times. This is midwinter, and we are
going from east to west. Davis' room will be awash for weeks. It
will never be dry. A strong healthy man confined in it could well
die of the hardship. And Davis is far from well. In short, sir, I
know his condition, and he is in a shocking state. Surgeons might
prolong his life, but here in a wind-jammer it is shortened very
rapidly. I have seen many men die at sea. I know, sir. Thank you,
And the Eurasian Chinese-Englishman bowed himself away.
Things are worse than I fancied. Here are two episodes within the
last seventy-two hours. Mr. Mellaire, for instance, is going to
pieces. He cannot stand the strain of being on the same vessel with
the man who has sworn to avenge Captain Somers's murder, especially
when that man is the redoubtable Mr. Pike.
For several days Margaret and I have been remarking the second mate's
bloodshot eyes and pain-lined face and wondering if he were sick.
And to-day the secret leaked out. Wada does not like Mr. Mellaire,
and this morning, when he brought me breakfast, I saw by the wicked,
gleeful gleam in his almond eyes that he was spilling over with some
fresh, delectable ship's gossip.
For several days, I learned, he and the steward have been solving a
cabin mystery. A gallon can of wood alcohol, standing on a shelf in
the after-room, had lost quite a portion of its contents. They
compared notes and then made of themselves a Sherlock Holmes and a
Doctor Watson. First, they gauged the daily diminution of alcohol.
Next they gauged it several times daily, and learned that the
diminution, whenever it occurred, was first apparent immediately
after meal-time. This focussed their attention on two suspects--the
second mate and the carpenter, who alone sat in the after-room. The
rest was easy. Whenever Mr. Mellaire arrived ahead of the carpenter
more alcohol was missing. When they arrived and departed together,
the alcohol was undisturbed. The carpenter was never alone in the
room. The syllogism was complete. And now the steward stores the
alcohol under his bunk.
But wood alcohol is deadly poison. What a constitution this man of
fifty must have! Small wonder his eyes have been bloodshot. The
great wonder is that the stuff did not destroy him.
I have not whispered a word of this to Margaret; nor shall I whisper
it. I should like to put Mr. Pike on his guard; and yet I know that
the revealing of Mr. Mellaire's identity would precipitate another
killing. And still we drive south, close-hauled on the wind, toward
the inhospitable tip of the continent. To-day we are south of a line
drawn between the Straits of Magellan and the Falklands, and to-
morrow, if the breeze holds, we shall pick up the coast of Tierra del
Fuego close to the entrance of the Straits of Le Maire, through which
Captain West intends to pass if the wind favours.
The other episode occurred last night. Mr. Pike says nothing, yet he
knows the crew situation. I have been watching some time now, ever
since the death of Marinkovich; and I am certain that Mr. Pike never
ventures on the main deck after dark. Yet he holds his tongue,
confides in no man, and plays out the bitter perilous game as a
commonplace matter of course and all in the day's work.
And now to the episode. Shortly after the close of the second dog-
watch last evening I went for'ard to the chickens on the 'midship-
house on an errand for Margaret. I was to make sure that the steward
had carried out her orders. The canvas covering to the big chicken
coop had to be down, the ventilation insured, and the kerosene stove
burning properly. When I had proved to my satisfaction the
dependableness of the steward, and just as I was on the verge of
returning to the poop, I was drawn aside by the weird crying of
penguins in the darkness and by the unmistakable noise of a whale
blowing not far away.
I had climbed around the end of the port boat, and was standing
there, quite hidden in the darkness, when I heard the unmistakable
age-lag step of the mate proceed along the bridge from the poop. It
was a dim starry night, and the Elsinore, in the calm ocean under the
lee of Tierra del Fuego, was slipping gently and prettily through the
water at an eight-knot clip.
Mr. Pike paused at the for'ard end of the housetop and stood in a
listening attitude. From the main deck below, near Number Two hatch,
across the mumbling of various voices, I could recognize Kid Twist,
Nosey Murphy, and Bert Rhine--the three gangsters. But Steve
Roberts, the cow-boy, was also there, as was Mr. Mellaire, both of
whom belonged in the other watch and should have been turned in; for,
at midnight, it would be their watch on deck. Especially wrong was
Mr. Mellaire's presence, holding social converse with members of the
crew--a breach of ship ethics most grievous.
I have always been cursed with curiosity. Always have I wanted to
know; and, on the Elsinore, I have already witnessed many a little
scene that was a clean-cut dramatic gem. So I did not discover
myself, but lurked behind the boat.
Five minutes passed. Ten minutes passed. The men still talked. I
was tantalized by the crying of the penguins, and by the whale,
evidently playful, which came so close that it spouted and splashed a
biscuit-toss away. I saw Mr. Pike's head turn at the sound; he
glanced squarely in my direction, but did not see me. Then he
returned to listening to the mumble of voices from beneath.
Now whether Mulligan Jacobs just happened along, or whether he was
deliberately scouting, I do not know. I tell what occurred. Up-and-
down the side of the 'midship-house is a ladder. And up this ladder
Mulligan Jacobs climbed so noiselessly that I was not aware of his
presence until I heard Mr. Pike snarl
"What the hell you doin' here?"
Then I saw Mulligan Jacobs in the gloom, within two yards of the
"What's it to you?" Mulligan Jacobs snarled back. The voices below
hushed. I knew every man stood there tense and listening. No; the
philosophers have not yet explained Mulligan Jacobs. There is
something more to him than the last word has said in any book. He
stood there in the darkness, a fragile creature with curvature of the
spine, facing alone the first mate, and he was not afraid.
Mr. Pike cursed him with fearful, unrepeatable words, and again
demanded what he was doing there.
"I left me plug of tobacco here when I was coiling down last," said
the little twisted man--no; he did not say it. He spat it out like
so much venom.
"Get off of here, or I'll throw you off, you and your tobacco," raged
Mulligan Jacobs lurched closer to Mr. Pike, and in the gloom and with
the roll of the ship swayed in the other's face.
"By God, Jacobs!" was all the mate could say.
"You old stiff," was all the terrible little cripple could retort.
Mr. Pike gripped him by the collar and swung him in the air.
"Are you goin' down?--or am I goin' to throw you down?" the mate
I cannot describe their manner of utterance. It was that of wild
"I ain't ate outa your hand yet, have I?" was the reply.
Mr. Pike tried to say something, still holding the cripple suspended,
but he could do no more than strangle in his impotence of rage.
"You're an old stiff, an old stiff, an old stiff," Mulligan Jacobs
chanted, equally incoherent and unimaginative with brutish fury.
"Say it again and over you go," the mate managed to enunciate
"You're an old stiff," gasped Mulligan Jacobs. He was flung. He
soared through the air with the might of the fling, and even as he
soared and fell through the darkness he reiterated:
"Old stiff! Old stiff !"
He fell among the men on Number Two hatch, and there were confusion
and movement below, and groans.
Mr. Pike paced up and down the narrow house and gritted his teeth.
Then he paused. He leaned his arms on the bridge-rail, rested his
head on his arms for a full minute, then groaned:
"Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear." That was all. Then he went
aft, slowly, dragging his feet along the bridge.
The days grow gray. The sun has lost its warmth, and each noon, at
meridian, it is lower in the northern sky. All the old stars have
long since gone, and it would seem the sun is following them. The
world--the only world I know--has been left behind far there to the
north, and the hill of the earth is between it and us. This sad and
solitary ocean, gray and cold, is the end of all things, the falling-
off place where all things cease. Only it grows colder, and grayer,
and penguins cry in the night, and huge amphibians moan and slubber,
and great albatrosses, gray with storm-battling of the Horn, wheel
"Land ho!" was the cry yesterday morning. I shivered as I gazed at
this, the first land since Baltimore a few centuries ago. There was
no sun, and the morning was damp and cold with a brisk wind that
penetrated any garment. The deck thermometer marked 30--two degrees
below freezing-point; and now and then easy squalls of snow swept
All of the land that was to be seen was snow. Long, low chains of
peaks, snow-covered, arose out of the ocean. As we drew closer,
there were no signs of life. It was a sheer, savage, bleak, forsaken
land. By eleven, off the entrance of Le Maire Straits, the squalls
ceased, the wind steadied, and the tide began to make through in the
direction we desired to go.
Captain West did not hesitate. His orders to Mr. Pike were quick and
tranquil. The man at the wheel altered the course, while both
watches sprang aloft to shake out royals and skysails. And yet
Captain West knew every inch of the risk he took in this graveyard of
When we entered the narrow strait, under full sail and gripped by a
tremendous tide, the rugged headlands of Tierra del Fuego dashed by
with dizzying swiftness. Close we were to them, and close we were to
the jagged coast of Staten Island on the opposite shore. It was
here, in a wild bight, between two black and precipitous walls of
rock where even the snow could find no lodgment, that Captain West
paused in a casual sweep of his glasses and gazed steadily at one
place. I picked the spot up with my own glasses and was aware of an
instant chill as I saw the four masts of a great ship sticking out of
the water. Whatever craft it was, it was as large as the Elsinore,
and it had been but recently wrecked.
"One of the German nitrate ships," said Mr. Pike. Captain West
nodded, still studying the wreck, then said:
"She looks quite deserted. Just the same, Mr. Pike, send several of
your best-sighted sailors aloft, and keep a good lookout yourself.
There may be some survivors ashore trying to signal us."
But we sailed on, and no signals were seen. Mr. Pike was delighted
with our good fortune. He was guilty of walking up and down, rubbing
his hands and chuckling to himself. Not since 1888, he told me, had
he been through the Straits of Le Maire. Also, he said that he knew
of shipmasters who had made forty voyages around the Horn and had
never once had the luck to win through the straits. The regular
passage is far to the east around Staten Island, which means a loss
of westing, and here, at the tip of the world, where the great west
wind, unobstructed by any land, sweeps round and around the narrow
girth of earth, westing is the thing that has to be fought for mile
by mile and inch by inch. The Sailing Directions advise masters on
the Horn passage: Make Westing. WHATEVER YOU DO, MAKE WESTING.
When we emerged from the straits in the early afternoon the same
steady breeze continued, and in the calm water under the lee of
Tierra del Fuego, which extends south-westerly to the Horn, we
slipped along at an eight-knot clip.
Mr. Pike was beside himself. He could scarcely tear himself from the
deck when it was his watch below. He chuckled, rubbed his hands, and
incessantly hummed snatches from the Twelfth Mass. Also, he was
"To-morrow morning we'll be up with the Horn. We'll shave it by a
dozen or fifteen miles. Think of it! We'll just steal around! I
never had such luck, and never expected to. Old girl Elsinore,
you're rotten for'ard, but the hand of God is at your helm."
Once, under the weather cloth, I came upon him talking to himself.
It was more a prayer.
"If only she don't pipe up," he kept repeating. "If only she don't
Mr. Mellaire was quite different.
"It never happens," he told me. "No ship ever went around like this.
You watch her come. She always comes a-smoking out of the sou'west."
"But can't a vessel ever steal around?" I asked.
"The odds are mighty big against it, sir," he answered. "I'll give
you a line on them. I'll wager even, sir, just a nominal bet of a
pound of tobacco, that inside twenty-four hours we'll he hove to
under upper-topsails. I'll wager ten pounds to five that we're not
west of the Horn a week from now; and, fifty to fifty being the
passage, twenty pounds to five that two weeks from now we're not up
with fifty in the Pacific."
As for Captain West, the perils of Le Maire behind, he sat below, his
slippered feet stretched before him, smoking a cigar. He had nothing
to say whatever, although Margaret and I were jubilant and dared
duets through all of the second dog-watch.
And this morning, in a smooth sea and gentle breeze, the Horn bore
almost due north of us not more than six miles away. Here we were,
well abreast and reeling off westing.
"What price tobacco this morning?" I quizzed Mr. Mellaire.
"Going up," he came back. "Wish I had a thousand bets like the one
with you, sir."
I glanced about at sea and sky and gauged the speed of our way by the
foam, but failed to see anything that warranted his remark. It was
surely fine weather, and the steward, in token of the same, was
trying to catch fluttering Cape pigeons with a bent pin on a piece of
For'ard, on the poop, I encountered Mr. Pike. It WAS an encounter,
for his salutation was a grunt.
"Well, we're going right along," I ventured cheerily.
He made no reply, but turned and stared into the gray south-west with
an expression sourer than any I had ever seen on his face. He
mumbled something I failed to catch, and, on my asking him to repeat
it, he said:
"It's breeding weather. Can't you see it?"
I shook my head.
"What d'ye think we're taking off the kites for?" he growled.
I looked aloft. The skysails were already furled; men were furling
the royals; and the topgallant-yards were running down while
clewlines and buntlines bagged the canvas. Yet, if anything, our
northerly breeze fanned even more gently.
"Bless me if I can see any weather," I said.
"Then go and take a look at the barometer," he grunted, as he turned
on his heel and swung away from me.
In the chart-room was Captain West, pulling on his long sea-boots.
That would have told me had there been no barometer, though the
barometer was eloquent enough of itself. The night before it had
stood at 30.10. It was now 28.64. Even in the pampero it had not
been so low as that.
"The usual Cape Horn programme," Captain West smiled to me, as he
stood up in all his lean and slender gracefulness and reached for his
long oilskin coat.
Still I could scarcely believe.
"Is it very far away?" I inquired.
He shook his head, and forebore in the act of speaking to lift his
hand for me to listen. The Elsinore rolled uneasily, and from
without came the soft and hollow thunder of sails emptying themselves
against the masts and gear.
We had chatted a bare five minutes, when again he lifted his head.
This time the Elsinore heeled over slightly and remained heeled over,
while the sighing whistle of a rising breeze awoke in the rigging.
"It's beginning to make," he said, in the good old Anglo-Saxon of the
And then I heard Mr. Pike snarling out orders, and in my heart
discovered a growing respect for Cape Horn--Cape Stiff, as the
sailors call it.
An hour later we were hove to on the port tack under upper-topsails
and foresail. The wind had come out of the south-west, and our
leeway was setting us down upon the land. Captain West gave orders
to the mate to stand by to wear ship. Both watches had been taking
in sail, so that both watches were on deck for the manoeuvre.
It was astounding, the big sea that had arisen in so short a time.
The wind was blowing a gale that ever, in recurring gusts, increased
upon itself. Nothing was visible a hundred yards away. The day had
become black-gray. In the cabin lamps were burning. The view from
the poop, along the length of the great labouring ship, was
magnificent. Seas burst and surged across her weather-rail and kept
her deck half filled, despite the spouting ports and gushing
On each of the two houses and on the poop the ship's complement, all
in oilskins, was in groups. For'ard, Mr. Mellaire had charge. Mr.
Pike took charge of the 'midship-house and the poop. Captain West
strolled up and down, saw everything, said nothing; for it was the
When Mr. Pike ordered the wheel hard up, he slacked off all the
mizzen-yards, and followed it with a partial slacking of the main-
yards, so that the after-pressures were eased. The foresail and
fore-lower- and-upper-topsails remained flat in order to pay the head
off before the wind. All this took time. The men were slow, not
strong, and without snap. They reminded me of dull oxen by the way
they moved and pulled. And the gale, ever snorting harder, now
snorted diabolically. Only at intervals could I glimpse the group on
top the for'ard-house. Again and again, leaning to it and holding
their heads down, the men on the 'midship-house were obliterated by
the drive of crested seas that burst against the rail, spouted to the
lower-yards, and swept in horizontal volumes across to leeward. And
Mr. Pike, like an enormous spider in a wind-tossed web, went back and
forth along the slender bridge that was itself a shaken thread in the
blast of the storm.
So tremendous were the gusts that for the time the Elsinore refused
to answer. She lay down to it; she was swept and racked by it; but
her head did not pay off before it, and all the while we drove down
upon that bitter, iron coast. And the world was black-gray, and
violent, and very cold, with the flying spray freezing to ice in
We waited. The groups of men, head down to it, waited. Mr. Pike,
restless, angry, his blue eyes as bitter as the cold, his mouth as
much a-snarl as the snarl of the elements with which he fought,
waited. The Samurai waited, tranquil, casual, remote. And Cape Horn
waited, there on our lee, for the bones of our ship and us.
And then the Elsinore's bow paid off. The angle of the beat of the
gale changed, and soon, with dreadful speed, we were dashing straight
before it and straight toward the rocks we could not see. But all
doubt was over. The success of the manoeuvre was assured. Mr.
Mellaire, informed by messenger along the bridge from Mr. Pike,
slacked off the head-yards. Mr. Pike, his eye on the helmsman, his
hand signalling the order, had the wheel put over to port to check
the Elsinore's rush into the wind as she came up on the starboard
tack. All was activity. Main- and mizzen-yards were braced up, and
the Elsinore, snugged down and hove to, had a lee of thousands of
miles of Southern Ocean.
And all this had been accomplished in the stamping ground of storm,
at the end of the world, by a handful of wretched weaklings, under
the drive of two strong mates, with behind them the placid will of
It had taken thirty minutes to wear ship, and I had learned how the
best of shipmasters can lose their ships without reproach. Suppose
the Elsinore had persisted in her refusal to payoff? Suppose
anything had carried away? And right here enters Mr. Pike. It is
his task ever to see that every rope and block and all the myriad
other things in the vast and complicated gear of the Elsinore are in
strength not to carry away. Always have the masters of our race
required henchmen like Mr. Pike, and it seems the race has well
supplied those henchmen.
Ere I went below I heard Captain West tell Mr. Pike that while both
watches were on deck it would be just as well to put a reef in the
foresail before they furled it. The mainsail and the crojack being
off, I could see the men black on the fore-yard. For half-an-hour I
lingered, watching them. They seemed to make no progress with the
reef. Mr. Mellaire was with them, having direct supervision of the
job, while Mr. Pike, on the poop, growled and grumbled and spat
endless blasphemies into the flying air.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"Two watches on a single yardarm and unable to put a reef in a
handkerchief like that!" he snorted. "What'll it be if we're off
here a month?"
"A month!" I cried.
"A month isn't anything for Cape Stiff," he said grimly. "I've been
off here seven weeks and then turned tail and run around the other
"Around the world?" I gasped.
"It was the only way to get to 'Frisco," he answered. "The Horn's
the Horn, and there's no summer seas that I've ever noticed in this
My fingers were numb and I was chilled through when I took a last
look at the wretched men on the fore-yard and went below to warm up.
A little later, as I went in to table, through a cabin port I stole a
look for'ard between seas and saw the men still struggling on the
The four of us were at table, and it was very comfortable, in spite
of the Elsinore's violent antics. The room was warm. The storm-
racks on the table kept each dish in its place. The steward served
and moved about with ease and apparent unconcern, although I noticed
an occasional anxious gleam in his eyes when he poised some dish at a
moment when the ship pitched and flung with unusual wildness.
And now and again I thought of the poor devils on the yard. Well,
they belonged there by right, just as we belonged here by right in
this oasis of the cabin. I looked at Mr. Pike and wagered to myself
that half-a-dozen like him could master that stubborn foresail. As
for the Samurai, I was convinced that alone, not moving from his
seat, by a tranquil exertion of will, he could accomplish the same
The lighted sea-lamps swung and leaped in their gimbals, ever
battling with the dancing shadows in the murky gray. The wood-work
creaked and groaned. The jiggermast, a huge cylinder of hollow steel
that perforated the apartment through deck above and floor beneath,
was hideously vocal with the storm. Far above, taut ropes beat
against it so that it clanged like a boiler-shop. There was a
perpetual thunder of seas falling on our deck and crash of water
against our for'ard wall; while the ten thousand ropes and gears
aloft bellowed and screamed as the storm smote them.
And yet all this was from without. Here, at this well-appointed
table, was no draught nor breath of wind, no drive of spray nor wash
of sea. We were in the heart of peace in the midmost centre of the
storm. Margaret was in high spirits, and her laughter vied with the
clang of the jiggermast. Mr. Pike was gloomy, but I knew him well
enough to attribute his gloom, not to the elements, but to the
inefficients futilely freezing on the yard. As for me, I looked
about at the four of us--blue-eyed, gray-eyed, all fair-skinned and
royal blond--and somehow it seemed that I had long since lived this,
and that with me and in me were all my ancestors, and that their
lives and memories were mine, and that all this vexation of the sea
and air and labouring ship was of old time and a thousand times
"How are you for a climb?" Margaret asked me, shortly after we had
left the table.
She stood challengingly at my open door, in oilskins, sou'wester, and
"I've never seen you with a foot above the deck since we sailed," she
went on. "Have you a good head?"
I marked my book, rolled out of my bunk in which I had been wedged,
and clapped my hands for Wada.
"Will you?" she cried eagerly.
"If you let me lead," I answered airily, "and if you will promise to
hold on tight. Whither away?"
"Into the top of the jigger. It's the easiest. As for holding on,
please remember that I have often done it. It is with you the doubt
"Very well," I retorted; "do you lead then. I shall hold on tight."
"I have seen many a landsman funk it," she teased. "There are no
lubber-holes in our tops."
"And most likely I shall," I agreed. "I've never been aloft in my
life, and since there is no hole for a lubber."
She looked at me, half believing my confession of weakness, while I
extended my arms for the oilskin which Wada struggled on to me.
On the poop it was magnificent, and terrible, and sombre. The
universe was very immediately about us. It blanketed us in storming
wind and flying spray and grayness. Our main deck was impassable,
and the relief of the wheel came aft along the bridge. It was two
o'clock, and for over two hours the frozen wretches had laid out upon
the fore-yard. They were still there, weak, feeble, hopeless.
Captain West, stepping out in the lee of the chart-house, gazed at
them for several minutes.
"We'll have to give up that reef," he said to Mr. Pike. "Just make
the sail fast. Better put on double gaskets."
And with lagging feet, from time to time pausing and holding on as
spray and the tops of waves swept over him, the mate went for'ard
along the bridge to vent his scorn on the two watches of a four-
masted ship that could not reef a foresail.
It is true. They could not do it, despite their willingness, for
this I have learned: THE MEN DO THEIR WEAK BEST WHENEVER THE ORDER
IS GIVEN TO SHORTEN SAIL. It must be that they are afraid. They
lack the iron of Mr. Pike, the wisdom and the iron of Captain West.
Always, have I noticed, with all the alacrity of which they are
capable, do they respond to any order to shorten down. That is why
they are for'ard, in that pigsty of a forecastle, because they lack
the iron. Well, I can say only this: If nothing else could have
prevented the funk hinted at by Margaret, the sorry spectacle of
these ironless, spineless creatures was sufficient safeguard. How
could I funk in the face of their weakness--I, who lived aft in the
Margaret did not disdain the aid of my hand as she climbed upon the
pin-rail at the foot of the weather jigger-rigging. But it was
merely the recognition of a courtesy on her part, for the next moment
she released her mittened hand from mine, swung boldly outboard into
the face of the gale, and around against the ratlines. Then she
began to climb. I followed, almost unaware of the ticklishness of
the exploit to a tyro, so buoyed up was I by her example and by my
scorn of the weaklings for'ard. Where men could go, I could go.
What men could do, I could do. And no daughter of the Samurai could
Yet it was slow work. In the windward rolls against the storm-gusts
one was pinned helplessly, like a butterfly, against the rigging. At
such times, so great was the pressure one could not lift hand nor
foot. Also, there was no need for holding on. As I have said, one
was pinned against the rigging by the wind.
Through the snow beginning to drive the deck grew small beneath me,
until a fall meant a broken back or death, unless one landed in the
sea, in which case the result would be frigid drowning. And still
Margaret climbed. Without pause she went out under the overhanging
platform of the top, shifted her holds to the rigging that went aloft
from it, and swung around this rigging, easily, carelessly, timing
the action to the roll, and stood safely upon the top.
I followed. I breathed no prayers, knew no qualms, as I presented my
back to the deck and climbed out under the overhang, feeling with my
hands for holds I could not see. I was in an ecstasy. I could dare
anything. Had she sprung into the air, stretched out her arms, and
soared away on the breast of the gale, I should have unhesitatingly
As my head outpassed the edge of the top so that she came into view,
I could see she was looking at me with storm-bright eyes. And as I
swung around the rigging lightly and joined her, I saw approval in
her eyes that was quickly routed by petulance.
"Oh, you've done this sort of thing before," she reproached, calling
loudly, so that I might hear, her lips close to my ear.
I shook a denial with my head that brightened her eyes again. She
nodded and smiled, and sat down, dangling her sea-boots into snow-
swirled space from the edge of the top. I sat beside her, looking
down into the snow that hid the deck while it exaggerated the depth
out of which we had climbed.
We were all alone there, a pair of storm petrels perched in mid air
on a steel stick that arose out of snow and that vanished above into
snow. We had come to the tip of the world, and even that tip had
ceased to be. But no. Out of the snow, down wind, with motionless
wings, driving fully eighty or ninety miles an hour, appeared a huge
albatross. He must have been fifteen feet from wing-tip to wing-tip.
He had seen his danger ere we saw him, and, tilting his body on the
blast, he carelessly veered clear of collision. His head and neck
were rimed with age or frost--we could not tell which--and his bright
bead-eye noted us as he passed and whirled away on a great circle
into the snow to leeward.
Margaret's hand shot out to mine.
"It alone was worth the climb!" she cried. And then the Elsinore
flung down, and Margaret's hand clutched tighter for holding, while
from the hidden depths arose the crash and thunder of the great west
wind drift upon our decks.
Quickly as the snow-squall had come, it passed with the same sharp
quickness, and as in a flash we could see the lean length of the ship
beneath us--the main deck full with boiling flood, the forecastle-
head buried in a bursting sea, the lookout, stationed for very life
back on top the for'ard-house, hanging on, head down, to the wind-
drive of ocean, and, directly under us, the streaming poop and Mr.
Mellaire, with a handful of men, rigging relieving tackles on the
tiller. And we saw the Samurai emerge in the lee of the chart-house,
swaying with casual surety on the mad deck, as he spoke what must
have been instructions to Mr. Pike.
The gray circle of the world had removed itself from us for several
hundred yards, and we could see the mighty sweep of sea. Shaggy
gray-beards, sixty feet from trough to crest, leapt out of the
windward murky gray, and in unending procession rushed upon the
Elsinore, one moment overtoppling her slender frailness, the next
moment splashing a hundred tons of water on her deck and flinging her
skyward as they passed beneath and foamed and crested from sight in
the murky gray to leeward. And the great albatrosses veered and
circled about us, beating up into the bitter violence of the gale and
sweeping grandly away before it far faster than it blew.
Margaret forbore from looking to challenge me with eloquent,
questioning eyes. With numb fingers inside my thick mitten, I drew
aside the ear-flap of her sou'wester and shouted:
"It is nothing new. I have been here before. In the lives of all my
fathers have I been here. The frost is on my cheek, the salt bites
my nostrils, the wind chants in my ears, and it is an old happening.
I know, now, that my forbears were Vikings. I was seed of them in
their own day. With them I have raided English coasts, dared the
Pillars of Hercules, forayed the Mediterranean, and sat in the high
place of government over the soft sun-warm peoples. I am Hengist and
Horsa; I am of the ancient heroes, even legendary to them. I have
bearded and bitten the frozen seas, and, aforetime of that, ere ever
the ice-ages came to be, I have dripped my shoulders in reindeer
gore, slain the mastodon and the sabre-tooth, scratched the record of
my prowess on the walls of deep-buried caves--ay, and suckled she-
wolves side by side with my brother-cubs, the scars of whose fangs
are now upon me."
She laughed deliciously, and a snow-squall drove upon us and cut our
cheeks, and the Elsinore flung over and down as if she would never
rise again, while we held on and swept through the air in a dizzying
arc. Margaret released a hand, still laughing, and pressed aside my
"I don't know anything about it," she cried. "It sounds like poetry.
But I believe it. It has to be, for it has been. I have heard it
aforetime, when skin-clad men sang in fire-circles that pressed back
the frost and night."
"And the books?" she queried maliciously, as we prepared to descend.
"They can go hang, along with all the brain-sick, world-sick fools
that wrote them," I replied.
Again she laughed deliciously, though the wind tore the sound away as
she swung out into space, muscled herself by her arms while she
caught footholds beneath her which she could not see, and passed out
of my sight under the perilous overhang of the top.
"What price tobacco?" was Mr. Mellaire's greeting, when I came on
deck this morning, bruised and weary, aching in every bone and muscle
from sixty hours of being tossed about.
The wind had fallen to a dead calm toward morning, and the Elsinore,
her several spread sails booming and slatting, rolled more miserably
than ever. Mr. Mellaire pointed for'ard of our starboard beam. I
could make out a bleak land of white and jagged peaks.
"Staten Island, the easterly end of it," said Mr. Mellaire.
And I knew that we were in the position of a vessel just rounding
Staten Island preliminary to bucking the Horn. And, yet, four days
ago, we had run through the Straits of Le Maire and stolen along
toward the Horn. Three days ago we had been well abreast of the Horn
and even a few miles past. And here we were now, starting all over
again and far in the rear of where we had originally started.
The condition of the men is truly wretched. During the gale the
forecastle was washed out twice. This means that everything in it
was afloat and that every article of clothing, including mattresses
and blankets, is wet and will remain wet in this bitter weather until
we are around the Horn and well up in the good-weather latitudes.
The same is true of the 'midship-house. Every room in it, with the
exception of the cook's and the sail-makers' (which open for'ard on
Number Two hatch), is soaking. And they have no fires in their rooms
with which to dry things out.
I peeped into Charles Davis's room. It was terrible. He grinned to
me and nodded his head.
"It's just as well O'Sullivan wasn't here, sir," he said. "He'd a-
drowned in the lower bunk. And I want to tell you I was doing some
swimmin' before I could get into the top one. And salt water's bad
for my sores. I oughtn't to be in a hole like this in Cape Horn
weather. Look at the ice, there, on the floor. It's below freezin'
right now in this room, and my blankets are wet, and I'm a sick man,
as any man can tell that's got a nose."
"If you'd been decent to the mate you might have got decent treatment
in return," I said.
"Huh!" he sneered. "You needn't think you can lose me, sir. I can
grow fat on this sort of stuff. Why, sir, when I think of the court
doin's in Seattle I just couldn't die. An' if you'll listen to me,
sir, you'll cover the steward's money. You can't lose. I'm advisin'
you, sir, because you're a sort of decent sort. Anybody that bets on
my going over the side is a sure loser."
"How could you dare ship on a voyage like this in your condition?" I
"Condition?" he queried with a fine assumption of innocence. "Why,
that is why I did ship. I was in tiptop shape when I sailed. All
this come out on me afterward. You remember seem' me aloft, an' up
to my neck in water. And I trimmed coal below, too. A sick man
couldn't do it. And remember, sir, you'll have to testify to how I
did my duty at the beginning before I took down."
"I'll bet with you myself if you think I'm goin' to die," he called
Already the sailors show marks of the hardship they are enduring. It
is surprising, in so short a time, how lean their faces have grown,
how lined and seamed. They must dry their underclothing with their
body heat. Their outer garments, under their oilskins, are soggy.
And yet, paradoxically, despite their lean, drawn faces, they have
grown very stout. Their walk is a waddle, and they bulge with
seaming corpulency. This is due to the amount of clothing they have
on. I noticed Larry, to-day, had on two vests, two coats, and an
overcoat, with his oilskin outside of that. They are elephantine in
their gait for, in addition to everything else, they have wrapped
their feet, outside their sea-boots, with gunny sacking.
It IS cold, although the deck thermometer stood at thirty-three to-
day at noon. I had Wada weigh the clothing I wear on deck. Omitting
oilskins and boots, it came to eighteen pounds. And yet I am not any
too warm in all this gear when the wind is blowing. How sailors,
after having once experienced the Horn, can ever sign on again for a
voyage around is beyond me. It but serves to show how stupid they
I feel sorry for Henry, the training-ship boy. He is more my own
kind, and some day he will make a henchman of the afterguard and a
mate like Mr. Pike. In the meantime, along with Buckwheat, the other
boy who berths in the 'midship-house with him, he suffers the same
hardship as the men. He is very fair-skinned, and I noticed this
afternoon, when he was pulling on a brace, that the sleeves of his
oil-skins, assisted by the salt water, have chafed his wrists till
they are raw and bleeding and breaking out in sea-boils. Mr.
Mellaire tells me that in another week there will be a plague of
these boils with all hands for'ard.
"When do you think we'll be up with the Horn again?" I innocently
queried of Mr. Pike.
He turned upon me in a rage, as if I had insulted him, and positively
snarled in my face ere he swung away without the courtesy of an
answer. It is evident that he takes the sea seriously. That is why,
I fancy, he is so excellent a seaman.
The days pass--if the interval of sombre gray that comes between the
darknesses can be called day. For a week, now, we have not seen the
sun. Our ship's position in this waste of storm and sea is
conjectural. Once, by dead reckoning, we gained up with the Horn and
a hundred miles south of it. And then came another sou'west gale
that tore our f ore-topsail and brand new spencer out of the belt-
ropes and swept us away to a conjectured longitude east of Staten
Oh, I know now this Great West Wind that blows for ever around the
world south of 55. And I know why the chart-makers have capitalized
it, as, for instance, when I read "The Great West Wind Drift." And I
know why the Sailing Directions advise: "WHATEVER YOU DO, MAKE
WESTING! MAKE WESTING!"
And the West Wind and the drift of the West Wind will not permit the
Elsinore to make westing. Gale follows gale, always from the west,
and we make easting. And it is bitter cold, and each gale snorts up
with a prelude of driving snow.
In the cabin the lamps burn all day long. No more does Mr. Pike run
the phonograph, nor does Margaret ever touch the piano. She
complains of being bruised and sore. I have a wrenched shoulder from
being hurled against the wall. And both Wada and the steward are
limping. Really, the only comfort I can find is in my bunk, so
wedged with boxes and pillows that the wildest rolls cannot throw me
out. There, save for my meals and for an occasional run on deck for
exercise and fresh air, I lie and read eighteen and nineteen hours
out of the twenty-four. But the unending physical strain is very
How it must be with the poor devils for'ard is beyond conceiving.
The forecastle has been washed out several times, and everything is
soaking wet. Besides, they have grown weaker, and two watches are
required to do what one ordinary watch could do. Thus, they must
spend as many hours on the sea-swept deck and aloft on the freezing
yards as I do in my warm, dry bunk. Wada tells me that they never
undress, but turn into their wet bunks in their oil-skins and sea-
boots and wet undergarments.
To look at them crawling about on deck or in the rigging is enough.
They are truly weak. They are gaunt-cheeked and haggard-gray of
skin, with great dark circles under their eyes. The predicted plague
of sea-boils and sea-cuts has come, and their hands and wrists and
arms are frightfully afflicted. Now one, and now another, and
sometimes several, either from being knocked down by seas or from
general miserableness, take to the bunk for a day or so off. This
means more work for the others, so that the men on their feet are not
tolerant of the sick ones, and a man must be very sick to escape
being dragged out to work by his mates.
I cannot but marvel at Andy Fay and Mulligan Jacobs. Old and fragile
as they are, it seems impossible that they can endure what they do.
For that matter, I cannot understand why they work at all. I cannot
understand why any of them toil on and obey an order in this freezing
hell of the Horn. Is it because of fear of death that they do not
cease work and bring death to all of us? Or is it because they are
slave-beasts, with a slave-psychology, so used all their lives to
being driven by their masters that it is beyond their mental power to
refuse to obey?
And yet most of them, in a week after we reach Seattle, will be on
board other ships outward bound for the Horn. Margaret says the
reason for this is that sailors forget. Mr. Pike agrees. He says
give them a week in the south-east trades as we run up the Pacific
and they will have forgotten that they have ever been around the
Horn. I wonder. Can they be as stupid as this? Does pain leave no
record with them? Do they fear only the immediate thing? Have they
no horizons wider than a day? Then indeed do they belong where they
They ARE cowardly. This was shown conclusively this morning at two
o'clock. Never have I witnessed such panic fear, and it was fear of
the immediate thing--fear, stupid and beast-like. It was Mr.
Mellaire's watch. As luck would have it, I was reading Boas's Mind
of Primitive Man when I heard the rush of feet over my head. The
Elsinore was hove to on the port tack at the time, under very short
canvas. I was wondering what emergency had brought the watch upon
the poop, when I heard another rush of feet that meant the second
watch. I heard no pulling and hauling, and the thought of mutiny
flashed across my mind.
Still nothing happened, and, growing curious, I got into my sea-
boots, sheepskin coat, and oilskin, put on my sou'wester and mittens,
and went on deck. Mr. Pike had already dressed and was ahead of me.
Captain West, who in this bad weather sleeps in the chart-room, stood
in the lee doorway of the house, through which the lamplight streamed
on the frightened faces of the men.
Those of the 'midship-house were not present, but every man Jack of
the forecastle, with the exception of Andy Fay and Mulligan Jacobs,
as I afterwards learned, had joined in the flight aft. Andy Fay, who
belonged in the watch below, had calmly remained in his bunk, while
Mulligan Jacobs had taken advantage of the opportunity to sneak into
the forecastle and fill his pipe.
"What is the matter, Mr. Pike?" Captain West asked.
Before the mate could reply, Bert Rhine snickered:
"The devil's come aboard, sir."
But his snicker was palpably an assumption of unconcern he did not
possess. The more I think over it the more I am surprised that such
keen men as the gangsters should have been frightened by what had
occurred. But frightened they were, the three of them, out of their
bunks and out of the precious surcease of their brief watch below.
So fear-struck was Larry that he chattered and grimaced like an ape,
and shouldered and struggled to get away from the dark and into the
safety of the shaft of light that shone out of the chart-house.
Tony, the Greek, was just as bad, mumbling to himself and continually
crossing himself. He was joined in this, as a sort of chorus, by the
two Italians, Guido Bombini and Mike Cipriani. Arthur Deacon was
almost in collapse, and he and Chantz, the Jew, shamelessly clung to
each other for support. Bob, the fat and overgrown youth, was
sobbing, while the other youth, Bony the Splinter, was shivering and
chattering his teeth. Yes, and the two best sailors for'ard, Tom
Spink and the Maltese Cockney, stood in the background, their backs
to the dark, their faces yearning toward the light.
More than all other contemptible things in this world there are two
that I loathe and despise: hysteria in a woman; fear and cowardice
in a man. The first turns me to ice. I cannot sympathize with
hysteria. The second turns my stomach. Cowardice in a man is to me
positively nauseous. And this fear-smitten mass of human animals on
our reeling poop raised my gorge. Truly, had I been a god at that
moment, I should have annihilated the whole mass of them. No; I
should have been merciful to one. He was the Faun. His bright,
pain-liquid, and flashing-eager eyes strained from face to face with
desire to understand. He did not know what had occurred, and, being
stone-deaf, had thought the rush aft a response to a call for all
I noticed Mr. Mellaire. He may be afraid of Mr. Pike, and he is a
murderer; but at any rate he has no fear of the supernatural. With
two men above him in authority, although it was his watch, there was
no call for him to do anything. He swayed back and forth in balance
to the violent motions of the Elsinore and looked on with eyes that
were amused and cynical.
"What does the devil look like, my man?" Captain West asked.
Bert Rhine grinned sheepishly.
"Answer the captain!" Mr. Pike snarled at him.
Oh, it was murder, sheer murder, that leapt into the gangster's eyes
for the instant, in acknowledgment of the snarl. Then he replied to
"I didn't wait to see, sir. But it's one whale of a devil."
"He's as big as a elephant, sir," volunteered Bill Quigley. "I
seen'm face to face, sir. He almost got me when I run out of the
"Oh, Lord, sir!" Larry moaned. "The way he hit the house, sir. It
was the call to Judgment."
"Your theology is mixed, my man," Captain West smiled quietly, though
I could not help seeing how tired was his face and how tired were his
wonderful Samurai eyes.
He turned to the mate.
"Mr. Pike, will you please go for'ard and interview this devil?
Fasten him up and tie him down and I'll take a look at him in the
"Yes, sir," said Mr. Pike; and Kipling's line came to me:
"Woman, Man, or God or Devil, was there anything we feared?"
And as I went for'ard through the wall of darkness after Mr. Pike and
Mr. Mellaire along the freezing, slender, sea-swept bridge--not a
sailor dared to accompany us--other lines of "The Galley Slave"
drifted through my brain, such as:
"Our bulkheads bulged with cotton and our masts were stepped in gold
We ran a mighty merchandise of niggers in the hold. . . "
"By the brand upon my shoulder, by the gall of clinging steel,
By the welts the whips have left me, by the scars that never heal . .
"Battered chain-gangs of the orlop, grizzled draughts of years gone
by . . . "
And I caught my great, radiant vision of Mr. Pike, galley slave of
the race, and a driver of men under men greater than he; the faithful
henchman, the able sailorman, battered and grizzled, branded and
galled, the servant of the sweep-head that made mastery of the sea.
I know him now. He can never again offend me. I forgive him
everything--the whiskey raw on his breath the day I came aboard at
Baltimore, his moroseness when sea and wind do not favour, his
savagery to the men, his snarl and his sneer.
On top the 'midship-house we got a ducking that makes me shiver to
recall. I had dressed too hastily properly to fasten my oilskin
about my neck, so that I was wet to the skin. We crossed the next
span of bridge through driving spray, and were well upon the top of
the for'ard-house when something adrift on the deck hit the for'ard
wall a terrific smash.
"Whatever it is, it's playing the devil," Mr. Pike yelled in my ear,
as he endeavoured to locate the thing by the dry-battery light-stick
which he carried.
The pencil of light travelled over dark water, white with foam, that
churned upon the deck.
"There it goes!" Mr. Pike cried, as the Elsinore dipped by the head
and hurtled the water for'ard.
The light went out as the three of us caught holds and crouched to a
deluge of water from overside. As we emerged, from under the
forecastle-head we heard a tremendous thumping and battering. Then,
as the bow lifted, for an instant in the pencil of light that
immediately lost it, I glimpsed a vague black object that bounded
down the inclined deck where no water was. What became of it we
could not see.
Mr. Pike descended to the deck, followed by Mr. Mellaire. Again, as
the Elsinore dipped by the head and fetched a surge of sea-water from
aft along the runway, I saw the dark object bound for'ard directly at
the mates. They sprang to safety from its charge, the light went
out, while another icy sea broke aboard.