Part 1 out of 2
This Etext was produced by Judy Boss, of Omaha, Nebraska
Far as the mariner on highest mast
Can see all around upon the calmed vast,
So wide was Neptune's hall . . .
THE main characteristic of this volume consists in
this, that all the stories composing it belong not only to the
same period but have been written one after another in the order
in which they appear in the book.
The period is that which follows on my connection with
Blackwood's Magazine. I had just finished writing "The End of
the Tether" and was casting about for some subject which could be
developed in a shorter form than the tales in the volume of
"Youth" when the instance of a steamship full of returning
coolies from Singapore to some port in northern China occurred to
my recollection. Years before I had heard it being talked about
in the East as a recent occurrence. It was for us merely one
subject of conversation amongst many others of the kind. Men
earning their bread in any very specialized occupation will talk
shop, not only because it is the most vital interest of their
lives but also because they have not much knowledge of other
subjects. They have never had the time to get acquainted with
them. Life, for most of us, is not so much a hard as an exacting
I never met anybody personally concerned in this affair, the
interest of which for us was, of course, not the bad weather but
the extraordinary complication brought into the ship's life at a
moment of exceptional stress by the human element below her deck.
Neither was the story itself ever enlarged upon in my hearing. In
that company each of us could imagine easily what the whole thing
was like. The financial difficulty of it, presenting also a
human problem, was solved by a mind much too simple to be
perplexed by anything in the world except men's idle talk for
which it was not adapted.
From the first the mere anecdote, the mere statement I might say,
that such a thing had happened on the high seas, appeared to me a
sufficient subject for meditation. Yet it was but a bit of a sea
yarn after all. I felt that to bring out its deeper significance
which was quite apparent to me, something other, something more
was required; a leading motive that would harmonize all these
violent noises, and a point of view that would put all that
elemental fury into its proper place.
What was needed of course was Captain MacWhirr. Directly I
perceived him I could see that he was the man for the situation.
I don't mean to say that I ever saw Captain MacWhirr in the
flesh, or had ever come in contact with his literal mind and his
dauntless temperament. MacWhirr is not an acquaintance of a few
hours, or a few weeks, or a few months. He is the product of
twenty years of life. My own life. Conscious invention had
little to do with him. If it is true that Captain MacWhirr never
walked and breathed on this earth (which I find for my part
extremely difficult to believe) I can also assure my readers that
he is perfectly authentic. I may venture to assert the same of
every aspect of the story, while I confess that the particular
typhoon of the tale was not a typhoon of my actual experience.
At its first appearance "Typhoon," the story, was classed by some
critics as a deliberately intended storm-piece. Others picked
out MacWhirr, in whom they perceived a definite symbolic
intention. Neither was exclusively my intention. Both the
typhoon and Captain MacWhirr presented themselves to me as the
necessities of the deep conviction with which I approached the
subject of the story. It was their opportunity. It was also my
opportunity; and it would be vain to discourse about what I made
of it in a handful of pages, since the pages themselves are here,
between the covers of this volume, to speak for themselves.
This is a belated reflection. If it had occurred to me before it
would have perhaps done away with the existence of this Author's
Note; for, indeed, the same remark applies to every story in this
volume. None of them are stories of experience in the absolute
sense of the word. Experience in them is but the canvas of the
attempted picture. Each of them has its more than one intention.
With each the question is what the writer has done with his
opportunity; and each answers the question for itself in words
which, if I may say so without undue solemnity, were written with
a conscientious regard for the truth of my own sensations. And
each of those stories, to mean something, must justify itself in
its own way to the conscience of each successive reader.
"Falk" -- the second story in the volume -- offended the delicacy
of one critic at least by certain peculiarities of its subject.
But what is the subject of "Falk"? I personally do not feel so
very certain about it. He who reads must find out for himself.
My intention in writing "Falk" was not to shock anybody. As in
most of my writings I insist not on the events but on their
effect upon the persons in the tale. But in everything I have
written there is always one invariable intention, and that is to
capture the reader's attention, by securing his interest and
enlisting his sympathies for the matter in hand, whatever it may
be, within the limits of the visible world and within the
boundaries of human emotions.
I may safely say that Falk is absolutely true to my experience of
certain straightforward characters combining a perfectly natural
ruthlessness with a certain amount of moral delicacy. Falk obeys
the law of self-preservation without the slightest misgivings as
to his right, but at a crucial turn of that ruthlessly preserved
life he will not condescend to dodge the truth. As he is
presented as sensitive enough to be affected permanently by a
certain unusual experience, that experience had to be set by me
before the reader vividly; but it is not the subject of the tale.
If we go by mere facts then the subject is Falk's attempt to get
married; in which the narrator of the tale finds himself
unexpectedly involved both on its ruthless and its delicate side.
"Falk" shares with one other of my stories ("The Return" in the
"Tales of Unrest" volume) the distinction of never having been
serialized. I think the copy was shown to the editor of some
magazine who rejected it indignantly on the sole ground that "the
girl never says anything." This is perfectly true. From first
to last Hermann's niece utters no word in the tale -- and it is
not because she is dumb, but for the simple reason that whenever
she happens to come under the observation of the narrator she has
either no occasion or is too profoundly moved to speak. The
editor, who obviously had read the story, might have perceived
that for himself. Apparently he did not, and I refrained from
pointing out the impossibility to him because, since he did not
venture to say that "the girl" did not live, I felt no concern at
All the other stories were serialized. The "Typhoon" appeared in
the early numbers of the Pall Mall Magazine, then under the
direction of the late Mr. Halkett. It was on that occasion, too,
that I saw for the first time my conceptions rendered by an
artist in another medium. Mr. Maurice Grieffenhagen knew how to
combine in his illustrations the effect of his own most
distinguished personal vision with an absolute fidelity to the
inspiration of the writer. "Amy Foster" was published in The
Illustrated London News with a fine drawing of Amy on her day out
giving tea to the children at her home, in a hat with a big
feather. "To-morrow" appeared first in the Pall Mall Magazine.
Of that story I will only say that it struck many people by its
adaptability to the stage and that I was induced to dramatize it
under the title of "One Day More"; up to the present my only
effort in that direction. I may also add that each of the four
stories on their appearance in book form was picked out on
various grounds as the "best of the lot" by different critics,
who reviewed the volume with a warmth of appreciation and
understanding, a sympathetic insight and a friendliness of
expression for which I cannot be sufficiently grateful.
1919. J. C.
CAPTAIN MACWHIRR, of the steamer Nan-Shan, had a physiognomy
that, in the order of material appearances, was the exact
counterpart of his mind: it presented no marked characteristics
of firmness or stupidity; it had no pronounced characteristics
whatever; it was simply ordinary, irresponsive, and unruffled.
The only thing his aspect might have been said to suggest, at
times, was bashfulness; because he would sit, in business offices
ashore, sunburnt and smiling faintly, with downcast eyes. When
he raised them, they were perceived to be direct in their glance
and of blue colour. His hair was fair and extremely fine,
clasping from temple to temple the bald dome of his skull in a
clamp as of fluffy silk. The hair of his face, on the contrary,
carroty and flaming, resembled a growth of copper wire clipped
short to the line of the lip; while, no matter how close he
shaved, fiery metallic gleams passed, when he moved his head,
over the surface of his cheeks. He was rather below the medium
height, a bit round-shouldered, and so sturdy of limb that his
clothes always looked a shade too tight for his arms and legs.
As if unable to grasp what is due to the difference of latitudes,
he wore a brown bowler hat, a complete suit of a brownish hue,
and clumsy black boots. These harbour togs gave to his thick
figure an air of stiff and uncouth smartness. A thin silver
watch chain looped his waistcoat, and he never left his ship for
the shore without clutching in his powerful, hairy fist an
elegant umbrella of the very best quality, but generally
unrolled. Young Jukes, the chief mate, attending his commander
to the gangway, would sometimes venture to say, with the greatest
gentleness, "Allow me, sir" -- and possessing himself of the
umbrella deferentially, would elevate the ferule, shake the
folds, twirl a neat furl in a jiffy, and hand it back; going
through the performance with a face of such portentous gravity,
that Mr. Solomon Rout, the chief engineer, smoking his morning
cigar over the skylight, would turn away his head in order to
hide a smile. "Oh! aye! The blessed gamp. . . . Thank 'ee,
Jukes, thank 'ee," would mutter Captain MacWhirr, heartily,
without looking up.
Having just enough imagination to carry him through each
successive day, and no more, he was tranquilly sure of himself;
and from the very same cause he was not in the least conceited.
It is your imaginative superior who is touchy, overbearing, and
difficult to please; but every ship Captain MacWhirr commanded
was the floating abode of harmony and peace. It was, in truth,
as impossible for him to take a flight of fancy as it would be
for a watchmaker to put together a chronometer with nothing
except a two-pound hammer and a whip-saw in the way of tools.
Yet the uninteresting lives of men so entirely given to the
actuality of the bare existence have their mysterious side. It
was impossible in Captain MacWhirr's case, for instance, to
understand what under heaven could have induced that perfectly
satisfactory son of a petty grocer in Belfast to run away to sea.
And yet he had done that very thing at the age of fifteen. It
was enough, when you thought it over, to give you the idea of an
immense, potent, and invisible hand thrust into the ant-heap of
the earth, laying hold of shoulders, knocking heads together, and
setting the unconscious faces of the multitude towards
inconceivable goals and in undreamt-of directions.
His father never really forgave him for this undutiful stupidity.
"We could have got on without him," he used to say later on, "but
there's the business. And he an only son, too!" His mother wept
very much after his disappearance. As it had never occurred to
him to leave word behind, he was mourned over for dead till,
after eight months, his first letter arrived from Talcahuano. It
was short, and contained the statement: "We had very fine weather
on our passage out." But evidently, in the writer's mind, the
only important intelligence was to the effect that his captain
had, on the very day of writing, entered him regularly on the
ship's articles as Ordinary Seaman. "Because I can do the work,"
he explained. The mother again wept copiously, while the remark,
"Tom's an ass," expressed the emotions of the father. He was a
corpulent man, with a gift for sly chaffing, which to the end of
his life he exercised in his intercourse with his son, a little
pityingly, as if upon a half-witted person.
MacWhirr's visits to his home were necessarily rare, and in the
course of years he despatched other letters to his parents,
informing them of his successive promotions and of his movements
upon the vast earth. In these missives could be found sentences
like this: "The heat here is very great." Or: "On Christmas day
at 4 P. M. we fell in with some icebergs." The old people
ultimately became acquainted with a good many names of ships, and
with the names of the skippers who commanded them -- with the
names of Scots and English shipowners -- with the names of seas,
oceans, straits, promontories -- with outlandish names of
lumber-ports, of rice-ports, of cotton-ports -- with the names of
islands -- with the name of their son's young woman. She was
called Lucy. It did not suggest itself to him to mention whether
he thought the name pretty. And then they died.
The great day of MacWhirr's marriage came in due course,
following shortly upon the great day when he got his first
All these events had taken place many years before the morning
when, in the chart-room of the steamer Nan-Shan, he stood
confronted by the fall of a barometer he had no reason to
distrust. The fall -- taking into account the excellence of the
instrument, the time of the year, and the ship's position on the
terrestrial globe -- was of a nature ominously prophetic; but the
red face of the man betrayed no sort of inward disturbance.
Omens were as nothing to him, and he was unable to discover the
message of a prophecy till the fulfilment had brought it home to
his very door. "That's a fall, and no mistake," he thought.
"There must be some uncommonly dirty weather knocking about."
The Nan-Shan was on her way from the southward to the treaty port
of Fu-chau, with some cargo in her lower holds, and two hundred
Chinese coolies returning to their village homes in the province
of Fo-kien, after a few years of work in various tropical
colonies. The morning was fine, the oily sea heaved without a
sparkle, and there was a queer white misty patch in the sky like
a halo of the sun. The fore-deck, packed with Chinamen, was full
of sombre clothing, yellow faces, and pigtails, sprinkled over
with a good many naked shoulders, for there was no wind, and the
heat was close. The coolies lounged, talked, smoked, or stared
over the rail; some, drawing water over the side, sluiced each
other; a few slept on hatches, while several small parties of six
sat on their heels surrounding iron trays with plates of rice and
tiny teacups; and every single Celestial of them was carrying
with him all he had in the world -- a wooden chest with a ringing
lock and brass on the corners, containing the savings of his
labours: some clothes of ceremony, sticks of incense, a little
opium maybe, bits of nameless rubbish of conventional value, and
a small hoard of silver dollars, toiled for in coal lighters, won
in gambling-houses or in petty trading, grubbed out of earth,
sweated out in mines, on railway lines, in deadly jungle, under
heavy burdens -- amassed patiently, guarded with care, cherished
A cross swell had set in from the direction of Formosa Channel
about ten o'clock, without disturbing these passengers much,
because the Nan-Shan, with her flat bottom, rolling chocks on
bilges, and great breadth of beam, had the reputation of an
exceptionally steady ship in a sea-way. Mr. Jukes, in moments of
expansion on shore, would proclaim loudly that the "old girl was
as good as she was pretty." It would never have occurred to
Captain MacWhirr to express his favourable opinion so loud or in
terms so fanciful.
She was a good ship, undoubtedly, and not old either. She had
been built in Dumbarton less than three years before, to the
order of a firm of merchants in Siam -Messrs. Sigg and Son. When
she lay afloat, finished in every detail and ready to take up the
work of her life, the builders contemplated her with pride.
"Sigg has asked us for a reliable skipper to take her out,"
remarked one of the partners; and the other, after reflecting for
a while, said: "I think MacWhirr is ashore just at present." "Is
he? Then wire him at once. He's the very man," declared the
senior, without a moment's hesitation.
Next morning MacWhirr stood before them unperturbed, having
travelled from London by the midnight express after a sudden but
undemonstrative parting with his wife. She was the daughter of a
superior couple who had seen better days.
"We had better be going together over the ship, Captain," said
the senior partner; and the three men started to view the
perfections of the Nan-Shan from stem to stern, and from her
keelson to the trucks of her two stumpy pole-masts.
Captain MacWhirr had begun by taking off his coat, which he hung
on the end of a steam windless embodying all the latest
"My uncle wrote of you favourably by yesterday's mail to our good
friends -- Messrs. Sigg, you know -and doubtless they'll continue
you out there in command," said the junior partner. "You'll be
able to boast of being in charge of the handiest boat of her size
on the coast of China, Captain," he added.
"Have you? Thank 'ee," mumbled vaguely MacWhirr, to whom the
view of a distant eventuality could appeal no more than the
beauty of a wide landscape to a purblind tourist; and his eyes
happening at the moment to be at rest upon the lock of the cabin
door, he walked up to it, full of purpose, and began to rattle
the handle vigorously, while he observed, in his low, earnest
voice, "You can't trust the workmen nowadays. A brand-new lock,
and it won't act at all. Stuck fast. See? See?"
As soon as they found themselves alone in their office across the
yard: "You praised that fellow up to Sigg. What is it you see in
him?" asked the nephew, with faint contempt.
"I admit he has nothing of your fancy skipper about him, if
that's what you mean," said the elder man, curtly. "Is the
foreman of the joiners on the Nan-Shan outside? . . . Come in,
Bates. How is it that you let Tait's people put us off with a
defective lock on the cabin door? The Captain could see directly
he set eye on it. Have it replaced at once. The little straws,
Bates . . . the little straws. . . ."
The lock was replaced accordingly, and a few days afterwards the
Nan-Shan steamed out to the East, without MacWhirr having offered
any further remark as to her fittings, or having been heard to
utter a single word hinting at pride in his ship, gratitude for
his appointment, or satisfaction at his prospects.
With a temperament neither loquacious nor taciturn he found very
little occasion to talk. There were matters of duty, of course
-- directions, orders, and so on; but the past being to his mind
done with, and the future not there yet, the more general
actualities of the day required no comment -- because facts can
speak for themselves with overwhelming precision.
Old Mr. Sigg liked a man of few words, and one that "you could be
sure would not try to improve upon his instructions." MacWhirr
satisfying these requirements, was continued in command of the
Nan-Shan, and applied himself to the careful navigation of his
ship in the China seas. She had come out on a British register,
but after some time Messrs. Sigg judged it expedient to transfer
her to the Siamese flag.
At the news of the contemplated transfer Jukes grew restless, as
if under a sense of personal affront. He went about grumbling to
himself, and uttering short scornful laughs. "Fancy having a
ridiculous Noah's Ark elephant in the ensign of one's ship," he
said once at the engine-room door. "Dash me if I can stand it:
I'll throw up the billet. Don't it make you sick, Mr. Rout?"
The chief engineer only cleared his throat with the air of a man
who knows the value of a good billet.
The first morning the new flag floated over the stern of the
Nan-Shan Jukes stood looking at it bitterly from the bridge. He
struggled with his feelings for a while, and then remarked,
"Queer flag for a man to sail under, sir."
"What's the matter with the flag?" inquired Captain MacWhirr.
"Seems all right to me." And he walked across to the end of the
bridge to have a good look.
"Well, it looks queer to me," burst out Jukes, greatly
exasperated, and flung off the bridge.
Captain MacWhirr was amazed at these manners. After a while he
stepped quietly into the chart-room, and opened his International
Signal Code-book at the plate where the flags of all the nations
are correctly figured in gaudy rows. He ran his finger over
them, and when he came to Siam he contemplated with great
attention the red field and the white elephant. Nothing could be
more simple; but to make sure he brought the book out on the
bridge for the purpose of comparing the coloured drawing with the
real thing at the flagstaff astern. When next Jukes, who was
carrying on the duty that day with a sort of suppressed
fierceness, happened on the bridge, his commander observed:
"There's nothing amiss with that flag."
"Isn't there?" mumbled Jukes, falling on his knees before a
deck-locker and jerking therefrom viciously a spare lead-line.
"No. I looked up the book. Length twice the breadth and the
elephant exactly in the middle. I thought the people ashore
would know how to make the local flag. Stands to reason. You
were wrong, Jukes. . . ."
"Well, sir," began Jukes, getting up excitedly, "all I can say
--" He fumbled for the end of the coil of line with trembling
"That's all right." Captain MacWhirr soothed him, sitting
heavily on a little canvas folding-stool he greatly affected.
"All you have to do is to take care they don't hoist the elephant
upside-down before they get quite used to it."
Jukes flung the new lead-line over on the fore-deck with a loud
"Here you are, bo'ss'en -- don't forget to wet it thoroughly,"
and turned with immense resolution towards his commander; but
Captain MacWhirr spread his elbows on the bridge-rail
"Because it would be, I suppose, understood as a signal of
distress," he went on. "What do you think? That elephant there,
I take it, stands for something in the nature of the Union Jack
in the flag. . . ."
"Does it!" yelled Jukes, so that every head on the Nan-Shan's
decks looked towards the bridge. Then he sighed, and with sudden
resignation: "It would certainly be a dam' distressful sight," he
Later in the day he accosted the chief engineer with a
confidential, "Here, let me tell you the old man's latest."
Mr. Solomon Rout (frequently alluded to as Long Sol, Old Sol, or
Father Rout), from finding himself almost invariably the tallest
man on board every ship he joined, had acquired the habit of a
stooping, leisurely condescension. His hair was scant and sandy,
his flat cheeks were pale, his bony wrists and long scholarly
hands were pale, too, as though he had lived all his life in the
He smiled from on high at Jukes, and went on smoking and glancing
about quietly, in the manner of a kind uncle lending an ear to
the tale of an excited schoolboy. Then, greatly amused but
impassive, he asked:
"And did you throw up the billet?"
"No," cried Jukes, raising a weary, discouraged voice above the
harsh buzz of the Nan-Shan's friction winches. All of them were
hard at work, snatching slings of cargo, high up, to the end of
long derricks, only, as it seemed, to let them rip down
recklessly by the run. The cargo chains groaned in the gins,
clinked on coamings, rattled over the side; and the whole ship
quivered, with her long gray flanks smoking in wreaths of steam.
"No," cried Jukes, "I didn't. What's the good? I might just as
well fling my resignation at this bulkhead. I don't believe you
can make a man like that understand anything. He simply knocks
At that moment Captain MacWhirr, back from the shore, crossed the
deck, umbrella in hand, escorted by a mournful, self-possessed
Chinaman, walking behind in paper-soled silk shoes, and who also
carried an umbrella.
The master of the Nan-Shan, speaking just audibly and gazing at
his boots as his manner was, remarked that it would be necessary
to call at Fu-chau this trip, and desired Mr. Rout to have steam
up to-morrow afternoon at one o'clock sharp. He pushed back his
hat to wipe his forehead, observing at the same time that he
hated going ashore anyhow; while overtopping him Mr. Rout,
without deigning a word, smoked austerely, nursing his right
elbow in the palm of his left hand. Then Jukes was directed in
the same subdued voice to keep the forward 'tween-deck clear of
cargo. Two hundred coolies were going to be put down there. The
Bun Hin Company were sending that lot home. Twenty-five bags of
rice would be coming off in a sampan directly, for stores. All
seven-years'-men they were, said Captain MacWhirr, with a
camphor-wood chest to every man. The carpenter should be set to
work nailing three-inch battens along the deck below, fore and
aft, to keep these boxes from shifting in a sea-way. Jukes had
better look to it at once. "D'ye hear, Jukes?" This chinaman
here was coming with the ship as far as Fu-chau -- a sort of
interpreter he would be. Bun Hin's clerk he was, and wanted to
have a look at the space. Jukes had better take him forward.
"D'ye hear, Jukes?"
Jukes took care to punctuate these instructions in proper places
with the obligatory "Yes, sir," ejaculated without enthusiasm.
His brusque "Come along, John; make look see" set the Chinaman in
motion at his heels.
"Wanchee look see, all same look see can do," said Jukes, who
having no talent for foreign languages mangled the very
pidgin-English cruelly. He pointed at the open hatch. "Catchee
number one piecie place to sleep in. Eh?"
He was gruff, as became his racial superiority, but not
unfriendly. The Chinaman, gazing sad and speechless into the
darkness of the hatchway, seemed to stand at the head of a
"No catchee rain down there -- savee?" pointed out Jukes.
"Suppose all'ee same fine weather, one piecie coolie-man come
topside," he pursued, warming up imaginatively. "Make so --
Phooooo!" He expanded his chest and blew out his cheeks.
"Savee, John? Breathe -- fresh air. Good. Eh? Washee him
piecie pants, chow-chow top-side -- see, John?"
With his mouth and hands he made exuberant motions of eating rice
and washing clothes; and the Chinaman, who concealed his distrust
of this pantomime under a collected demeanour tinged by a gentle
and refined melancholy, glanced out of his almond eyes from Jukes
to the hatch and back again. "Velly good," he murmured, in a
disconsolate undertone, and hastened smoothly along the decks,
dodging obstacles in his course. He disappeared, ducking low
under a sling of ten dirty gunny-bags full of some costly
merchandise and exhaling a repulsive smell.
Captain MacWhirr meantime had gone on the bridge, and into the
chart-room, where a letter, commenced two days before, awaited
termination. These long letters began with the words, "My
darling wife," and the steward, between the scrubbing of the
floors and the dusting of chronometer-boxes, snatched at every
opportunity to read them. They interested him much more than
they possibly could the woman for whose eye they were intended;
and this for the reason that they related in minute detail each
successive trip of the Nan-Shan.
Her master, faithful to facts, which alone his consciousness
reflected, would set them down with painstaking care upon many
pages. The house in a northern suburb to which these pages were
addressed had a bit of garden before the bow-windows, a deep
porch of good appearance, coloured glass with imitation lead
frame in the front door. He paid five-and-forty pounds a year
for it, and did not think the rent too high, because Mrs.
MacWhirr (a pretentious person with a scraggy neck and a
disdainful manner) was admittedly ladylike, and in the
neighbourhood considered as "quite superior." The only secret of
her life was her abject terror of the time when her husband would
come home to stay for good. Under the same roof there dwelt also
a daughter called Lydia and a son, Tom. These two were but
slightly acquainted with their father. Mainly, they knew him as a
rare but privileged visitor, who of an evening smoked his pipe in
the dining-room and slept in the house. The lanky girl, upon the
whole, was rather ashamed of him; the boy was frankly and utterly
indifferent in a straightforward, delightful, unaffected way
manly boys have.
And Captain MacWhirr wrote home from the coast of China twelve
times every year, desiring quaintly to be "remembered to the
children," and subscribing himself "your loving husband," as
calmly as if the words so long used by so many men were, apart
from their shape, worn-out things, and of a faded meaning.
The China seas north and south are narrow seas. They are seas
full of every-day, eloquent facts, such as islands, sand-banks,
reefs, swift and changeable currents -- tangled facts that
nevertheless speak to a seaman in clear and definite language.
Their speech appealed to Captain MacWhirr's sense of realities so
forcibly that he had given up his state-room below and
practically lived all his days on the bridge of his ship, often
having his meals sent up, and sleeping at night in the
chart-room. And he indited there his home letters. Each of
them, without exception, contained the phrase, "The weather has
been very fine this trip," or some other form of a statement to
that effect. And this statement, too, in its wonderful
persistence, was of the same perfect accuracy as all the others
Mr. Rout likewise wrote letters; only no one on board knew how
chatty he could be pen in hand, because the chief engineer had
enough imagination to keep his desk locked. His wife relished
his style greatly. They were a childless couple, and Mrs. Rout,
a big, high-bosomed, jolly woman of forty, shared with Mr. Rout's
toothless and venerable mother a little cottage near Teddington.
She would run over her correspondence, at breakfast, with lively
eyes, and scream out interesting passages in a joyous voice at
the deaf old lady, prefacing each extract by the warning shout,
"Solomon says!" She had the trick of firing off Solomon's
utterances also upon strangers, astonishing them easily by the
unfamiliar text and the unexpectedly jocular vein of these
quotations. On the day the new curate called for the first time
at the cottage, she found occasion to remark, "As Solomon says:
'the engineers that go down to the sea in ships behold the
wonders of sailor nature';" when a change in the visitor's
countenance made her stop and stare.
"Solomon. . . . Oh! . . . Mrs. Rout," stuttered the young man,
very red in the face, "I must say . . . I don't. . . ."
"He's my husband," she announced in a great shout, throwing
herself back in the chair. Perceiving the joke, she laughed
immoderately with a handkerchief to her eyes, while he sat
wearing a forced smile, and, from his inexperience of jolly
women, fully persuaded that she must be deplorably insane. They
were excellent friends afterwards; for, absolving her from
irreverent intention, he came to think she was a very worthy
person indeed; and he learned in time to receive without
flinching other scraps of Solomon's wisdom.
"For my part," Solomon was reported by his wife to have said
once, "give me the dullest ass for a skipper before a rogue.
There is a way to take a fool; but a rogue is smart and
slippery." This was an airy generalization drawn from the
particular case of Captain MacWhirr's honesty, which, in itself,
had the heavy obviousness of a lump of clay. On the other hand,
Mr. Jukes, unable to generalize, unmarried, and unengaged, was in
the habit of opening his heart after another fashion to an old
chum and former shipmate, actually serving as second officer on
board an Atlantic liner.
First of all he would insist upon the advantages of the Eastern
trade, hinting at its superiority to the Western ocean service.
He extolled the sky, the seas, the ships, and the easy life of
the Far East. The NanShan, he affirmed, was second to none as a
"We have no brass-bound uniforms, but then we are like brothers
here," he wrote. "We all mess together and live like
fighting-cocks. . . . All the chaps of the black-squad are as
decent as they make that kind, and old Sol, the Chief, is a dry
stick. We are good friends. As to our old man, you could not
find a quieter skipper. Sometimes you would think he hadn't
sense enough to see anything wrong. And yet it isn't that. Can't
be. He has been in command for a good few years now. He doesn't
do anything actually foolish, and gets his ship along all right
without worrying anybody. I believe he hasn't brains enough to
enjoy kicking up a row. I don't take advantage of him. I would
scorn it. Outside the routine of duty he doesn't seem to
understand more than half of what you tell him. We get a laugh
out of this at times; but it is dull, too, to be with a man like
this -- in the long-run. Old Sol says he hasn't much
conversation. Conversation! O Lord! He never talks. The other
day I had been yarning under the bridge with one of the
engineers, and he must have heard us. When I came up to take my
watch, he steps out of the chart-room and has a good look all
round, peeps over at the sidelights, glances at the compass,
squints upward at the stars. That's his regular performance.
By-and-by he says: 'Was that you talking just now in the port
alleyway?' 'Yes, sir.' 'With the third engineer?' 'Yes, sir.'
He walks off to starboard, and sits under the dodger on a little
campstool of his, and for half an hour perhaps he makes no sound,
except that I heard him sneeze once. Then after a while I hear
him getting up over there, and he strolls across to port, where I
was. 'I can't understand what you can find to talk about,' says
he. 'Two solid hours. I am not blaming you. I see people ashore
at it all day long, and then in the evening they sit down and
keep at it over the drinks. Must be saying the same things over
and over again. I can't understand.'
"Did you ever hear anything like that? And he was so patient
about it. It made me quite sorry for him. But he is
exasperating, too, sometimes. Of course one would not do
anything to vex him even if it were worth while. But it isn't.
He's so jolly innocent that if you were to put your thumb to your
nose and wave your fingers at him he would only wonder gravely to
himself what got into you. He told me once quite simply that he
found it very difficult to make out what made people always act
so queerly. He's too dense to trouble about, and that's the
Thus wrote Mr. Jukes to his chum in the Western ocean trade, out
of the fulness of his heart and the liveliness of his fancy.
He had expressed his honest opinion. It was not worthwhile
trying to impress a man of that sort. If the world had been full
of such men, life would have probably appeared to Jukes an
unentertaining and unprofitable business. He was not alone in
his opinion. The sea itself, as if sharing Mr. Jukes'
good-natured forbearance, had never put itself out to startle the
silent man, who seldom looked up, and wandered innocently over
the waters with the only visible purpose of getting food,
raiment, and house-room for three people ashore. Dirty weather he
had known, of course. He had been made wet, uncomfortable, tired
in the usual way, felt at the time and presently forgotten. So
that upon the whole he had been justified in reporting fine
weather at home. But he had never been given a glimpse of
immeasurable strength and of immoderate wrath, the wrath that
passes exhausted but never appeased -- the wrath and fury of the
passionate sea. He knew it existed, as we know that crime and
abominations exist; he had heard of it as a peaceable citizen in
a town hears of battles, famines, and floods, and yet knows
nothing of what these things mean -- though, indeed, he may have
been mixed up in a street row, have gone without his dinner once,
or been soaked to the skin in a shower. Captain MacWhirr had
sailed over the surface of the oceans as some men go skimming
over the years of existence to sink gently into a placid grave,
ignorant of life to the last, without ever having been made to
see all it may contain of perfidy, of violence, and of terror.
There are on sea and land such men thus fortunate -- or thus
disdained by destiny or by the sea.
OBSERVING the steady fall of the barometer, Captain MacWhirr
thought, "There's some dirty weather knocking about." This is
precisely what he thought. He had had an experience of moderately
dirty weather -- the term dirty as applied to the weather
implying only moderate discomfort to the seaman. Had he been
informed by an indisputable authority that the end of the world
was to be finally accomplished by a catastrophic disturbance of
the atmosphere, he would have assimilated the information under
the simple idea of dirty weather, and no other, because he had no
experience of cataclysms, and belief does not necessarily imply
comprehension. The wisdom of his county had pronounced by means
of an Act of Parliament that before he could be considered as fit
to take charge of a ship he should be able to answer certain
simple questions on the subject of circular storms such as
hurricanes, cyclones, typhoons; and apparently he had answered
them, since he was now in command of the Nan-Shan in the China
seas during the season of typhoons. But if he had answered he
remembered nothing of it. He was, however, conscious of being
made uncomfortable by the clammy heat. He came out on the
bridge, and found no relief to this oppression. The air seemed
thick. He gasped like a fish, and began to believe himself
greatly out of sorts.
The Nan-Shan was ploughing a vanishing furrow upon the circle of
the sea that had the surface and the shimmer of an undulating
piece of gray silk. The sun, pale and without rays, poured down
leaden heat in a strangely indecisive light, and the Chinamen
were lying prostrate about the decks. Their bloodless, pinched,
yellow faces were like the faces of bilious invalids. Captain
MacWhirr noticed two of them especially, stretched out on their
backs below the bridge. As soon as they had closed their eyes
they seemed dead. Three others, however, were quarrelling
barbarously away forward; and one big fellow, half naked, with
herculean shoulders, was hanging limply over a winch; another,
sitting on the deck, his knees up and his head drooping sideways
in a girlish attitude, was plaiting his pigtail with infinite
languor depicted in his whole person and in the very movement of
his fingers. The smoke struggled with difficulty out of the
funnel, and instead of streaming away spread itself out like an
infernal sort of cloud, smelling of sulphur and raining soot all
over the decks.
"What the devil are you doing there, Mr. Jukes?" asked Captain
This unusual form of address, though mumbled rather than spoken,
caused the body of Mr. Jukes to start as though it had been
prodded under the fifth rib. He had had a low bench brought on
the bridge, and sitting on it, with a length of rope curled about
his feet and a piece of canvas stretched over his knees, was
pushing a sail-needle vigorously. He looked up, and his surprise
gave to his eyes an expression of innocence and candour.
"I am only roping some of that new set of bags we made last trip
for whipping up coals," he remonstrated, gently. "We shall want
them for the next coaling, sir."
"What became of the others?"
"Why, worn out of course, sir."
Captain MacWhirr, after glaring down irresolutely at his chief
mate, disclosed the gloomy and cynical conviction that more than
half of them had been lost overboard, "if only the truth was
known," and retired to the other end of the bridge. Jukes,
exasperated by this unprovoked attack, broke the needle at the
second stitch, and dropping his work got up and cursed the heat
in a violent undertone.
The propeller thumped, the three Chinamen forward had given up
squabbling very suddenly, and the one who had been plaiting his
tail clasped his legs and stared dejectedly over his knees. The
lurid sunshine cast faint and sickly shadows. The swell ran
higher and swifter every moment, and the ship lurched heavily in
the smooth, deep hollows of the sea.
"I wonder where that beastly swell comes from," said Jukes aloud,
recovering himself after a stagger.
"North-east," grunted the literal MacWhirr, from his side of the
bridge. "There's some dirty weather knocking about. Go and look
at the glass."
When Jukes came out of the chart-room, the cast of his
countenance had changed to thoughtfulness and concern. He caught
hold of the bridge-rail and stared ahead.
The temperature in the engine-room had gone up to a hundred and
seventeen degrees. Irritated voices were ascending through the
skylight and through the fiddle of the stokehold in a harsh and
resonant uproar, mingled with angry clangs and scrapes of metal,
as if men with limbs of iron and throats of bronze had been
quarrelling down there. The second engineer was falling foul of
the stokers for letting the steam go down. He was a man with arms
like a blacksmith, and generally feared; but that afternoon the
stokers were answering him back recklessly, and slammed the
doors with the fury of despair. Then the noise ceased suddenly,
and the second engineer appeared, emerging out of the stokehold
streaked with grime and soaking wet like a chimney-sweep coming
out of a well. As soon as his head was clear of the fiddle he
began to scold Jukes for not trimming properly the stokehold
ventilators; and in answer Jukes made with his hands deprecatory
soothing signs meaning: "No wind -- can't be helped -- you can
see for yourself." But the other wouldn't hear reason. His
teeth flashed angrily in his dirty face. He didn't mind, he
said, the trouble of punching their blanked heads down there,
blank his soul, but did the condemned sailors think you could
keep steam up in the God-forsaken boilers simply by knocking the
blanked stokers about? No, by George! You had to get some
draught, too -- may he be everlastingly blanked for a swab-headed
deck-hand if you didn't! And the chief, too, rampaging before
the steam-gauge and carrying on like a lunatic up and down the
engine-room ever since noon. What did Jukes think he was stuck
up there for, if he couldn't get one of his decayed,
good-for-nothing deck-cripples to turn the ventilators to the
The relations of the "engine-room" and the "deck" of the Nan-Shan
were, as is known, of a brotherly nature; therefore Jukes leaned
over and begged the other in a restrained tone not to make a
disgusting ass of himself; the skipper was on the other side of
the bridge. But the second declared mutinously that he didn't
care a rap who was on the other side of the bridge, and Jukes,
passing in a flash from lofty disapproval into a state of
exaltation, invited him in unflattering terms to come up and
twist the beastly things to please himself, and catch such wind
as a donkey of his sort could find. The second rushed up to the
fray. He flung himself at the port ventilator as though he meant
to tear it out bodily and toss it overboard. All he did was to
move the cowl round a few inches, with an enormous expenditure of
force, and seemed spent in the effort. He leaned against the
back of the wheelhouse, and Jukes walked up to him.
"Oh, Heavens!" ejaculated the engineer in a feeble voice. He
lifted his eyes to the sky, and then let his glassy stare descend
to meet the horizon that, tilting up to an angle of forty
degrees, seemed to hang on a slant for a while and settled down
slowly. "Heavens! Phew! What's up, anyhow?"
Jukes, straddling his long legs like a pair of compasses, put on
an air of superiority. "We're going to catch it this time," he
said. "The barometer is tumbling down like anything, Harry. And
you trying to kick up that silly row. . . ."
The word "barometer" seemed to revive the second engineer's mad
animosity. Collecting afresh all his energies, he directed Jukes
in a low and brutal tone to shove the unmentionable instrument
down his gory throat. Who cared for his crimson barometer? It
was the steam -- the steam -- that was going down; and what
between the firemen going faint and the chief going silly, it was
worse than a dog's life for him; he didn't care a tinker's curse
how soon the whole show was blown out of the water. He seemed on
the point of having a cry, but after regaining his breath he
muttered darkly, "I'll faint them," and dashed off. He stopped
upon the fiddle long enough to shake his fist at the unnatural
daylight, and dropped into the dark hole with a whoop.
When Jukes turned, his eyes fell upon the rounded back and the
big red ears of Captain MacWhirr, who had come across. He did
not look at his chief officer, but said at once, "That's a very
violent man, that second engineer."
"Jolly good second, anyhow," grunted Jukes. "They can't keep up
steam," he added, rapidly, and made a grab at the rail against
the coming lurch.
Captain MacWhirr, unprepared, took a run and brought himself up
with a jerk by an awning stanchion.
"A profane man," he said, obstinately. "If this goes on, I'll
have to get rid of him the first chance."
"It's the heat," said Jukes. "The weather's awful. It would make
a saint swear. Even up here I feel exactly as if I had my head
tied up in a woollen blanket."
Captain MacWhirr looked up. "D'ye mean to say, Mr. Jukes, you
ever had your head tied up in a blanket? What was that for?"
"It's a manner of speaking, sir," said Jukes, stolidly.
"Some of you fellows do go on! What's that about saints
swearing? I wish you wouldn't talk so wild. What sort of saint
would that be that would swear? No more saint than yourself, I
expect. And what's a blanket got to do with it -- or the weather
either. . . . The heat does not make me swear -- does it? It's
filthy bad temper. That's what it is. And what's the good of
your talking like this?"
Thus Captain MacWhirr expostulated against the use of images in
speech, and at the end electrified Jukes by a contemptuous snort,
followed by words of passion and resentment: "Damme! I'll fire
him out of the ship if he don't look out."
And Jukes, incorrigible, thought: "Goodness me! Somebody's put a
new inside to my old man. Here's temper, if you like. Of course
it's the weather; what else? It would make an angel quarrelsome
-- let alone a saint."
All the Chinamen on deck appeared at their last gasp.
At its setting the sun had a diminished diameter and an expiring
brown, rayless glow, as if millions of centuries elapsing since
the morning had brought it near its end. A dense bank of cloud
became visible to the northward; it had a sinister dark olive
tint, and lay low and motionless upon the sea, resembling a solid
obstacle in the path of the ship. She went floundering towards
it like an exhausted creature driven to its death. The coppery
twilight retired slowly, and the darkness brought out overhead a
swarm of unsteady, big stars, that, as if blown upon, flickered
exceedingly and seemed to hang very near the earth. At eight
o'clock Jukes went into the chart-room to write up the ship's
He copies neatly out of the rough-book the number of miles, the
course of the ship, and in the column for "wind" scrawled the
word "calm" from top to bottom of the eight hours since noon. He
was exasperated by the continuous, monotonous rolling of the
ship. The heavy inkstand would slide away in a manner that
suggested perverse intelligence in dodging the pen. Having
written in the large space under the head of "Remarks" "Heat very
oppressive," he stuck the end of the penholder in his teeth, pipe
fashion, and mopped his face carefully.
"Ship rolling heavily in a high cross swell," he began again, and
commented to himself, "Heavily is no word for it." Then he
wrote: "Sunset threatening, with a low bank of clouds to N. and
E. Sky clear overhead."
Sprawling over the table with arrested pen, he glanced out of the
door, and in that frame of his vision he saw all the stars flying
upwards between the teakwood jambs on a black sky. The whole lot
took flight together and disappeared, leaving only a blackness
flecked with white flashes, for the sea was as black as the sky
and speckled with foam afar. The stars that had flown to the
roll came back on the return swing of the ship, rushing downwards
in their glittering multitude, not of fiery points, but enlarged
to tiny discs brilliant with a clear wet sheen.
Jukes watched the flying big stars for a moment, and then wrote:
"8 P.M. Swell increasing. Ship labouring and taking water on
her decks. Battened down the coolies for the night. Barometer
still falling." He paused, and thought to himself, "Perhaps
nothing whatever'll come of it." And then he closed resolutely
his entries: "Every appearance of a typhoon coming on."
On going out he had to stand aside, and Captain MacWhirr strode
over the doorstep without saying a word or making a sign.
"Shut the door, Mr. Jukes, will you?" he cried from within.
Jukes turned back to do so, muttering ironically: "Afraid to
catch cold, I suppose." It was his watch below, but he yearned
for communion with his kind; and he remarked cheerily to the
second mate: "Doesn't look so bad, after all -- does it?"
The second mate was marching to and fro on the bridge, tripping
down with small steps one moment, and the next climbing with
difficulty the shifting slope of the deck. At the sound of
Jukes' voice he stood still, facing forward, but made no reply.
"Hallo! That's a heavy one," said Jukes, swaying to meet the
long roll till his lowered hand touched the planks. This time
the second mate made in his throat a noise of an unfriendly
He was an oldish, shabby little fellow, with bad teeth and no
hair on his face. He had been shipped in a hurry in Shanghai,
that trip when the second officer brought from home had delayed
the ship three hours in port by contriving (in some manner
Captain MacWhirr could never understand) to fall overboard into
an empty coal-lighter lying alongside, and had to be sent ashore
to the hospital with concussion of the brain and a broken limb or
Jukes was not discouraged by the unsympathetic sound. "The
Chinamen must be having a lovely time of it down there," he said.
"It's lucky for them the old girl has the easiest roll of any
ship I've ever been in. There now! This one wasn't so bad."
"You wait," snarled the second mate.
With his sharp nose, red at the tip, and his thin pinched lips,
he always looked as though he were raging inwardly; and he was
concise in his speech to the point of rudeness. All his time off
duty he spent in his cabin with the door shut, keeping so still
in there that he was supposed to fall asleep as soon as he had
disappeared; but the man who came in to wake him for his watch on
deck would invariably find him with his eyes wide open, flat on
his back in the bunk, and glaring irritably from a soiled pillow.
He never wrote any letters, did not seem to hope for news from
anywhere; and though he had been heard once to mention West
Hartlepool, it was with extreme bitterness, and only in
connection with the extortionate charges of a boarding-house. He
was one of those men who are picked up at need in the ports of
the world. They are competent enough, appear hopelessly hard up,
show no evidence of any sort of vice, and carry about them all
the signs of manifest failure. They come aboard on an emergency,
care for no ship afloat, live in their own atmosphere of casual
connection amongst their shipmates who know nothing of them, and
make up their minds to leave at inconvenient times. They clear
out with no words of leavetaking in some God-forsaken port other
men would fear to be stranded in, and go ashore in company of a
shabby sea-chest, corded like a treasure-box, and with an air of
shaking the ship's dust off their feet.
"You wait," he repeated, balanced in great swings with his back
to Jukes, motionless and implacable.
"Do you mean to say we are going to catch it hot?" asked Jukes
with boyish interest.
"Say? . . . I say nothing. You don't catch me," snapped the
little second mate, with a mixture of pride, scorn, and cunning,
as if Jukes' question had been a trap cleverly detected. "Oh,
no! None of you here shall make a fool of me if I know it," he
mumbled to himself.
Jukes reflected rapidly that this second mate was a mean little
beast, and in his heart he wished poor Jack Allen had never
smashed himself up in the coal-lighter. The far-off blackness
ahead of the ship was like another night seen through the starry
night of the earth -- the starless night of the immensities
beyond the created universe, revealed in its appalling stillness
through a low fissure in the glittering sphere of which the earth
is the kernel.
"Whatever there might be about," said Jukes, "we are steaming
straight into it."
"You've said it," caught up the second mate, always with his back
to Jukes. "You've said it, mind -- not I."
"Oh, go to Jericho!" said Jukes, frankly; and the other emitted a
triumphant little chuckle.
"You've said it," he repeated.
"And what of that?"
"I've known some real good men get into trouble with their
skippers for saying a dam' sight less," answered the second mate
feverishly. "Oh, no! You don't catch me."
"You seem deucedly anxious not to give yourself away," said
Jukes, completely soured by such absurdity. "I wouldn't be afraid
to say what I think."
"Aye, to me! That's no great trick. I am nobody, and well I
The ship, after a pause of comparative steadiness, started upon a
series of rolls, one worse than the other, and for a time Jukes,
preserving his equilibrium, was too busy to open his mouth. As
soon as the violent swinging had quieted down somewhat, he said:
"This is a bit too much of a good thing. Whether anything is
coming or not I think she ought to be put head on to that swell.
The old man is just gone in to lie down. Hang me if I don't speak
But when he opened the door of the chart-room he saw his captain
reading a book. Captain MacWhirr was not lying down: he was
standing up with one hand grasping the edge of the bookshelf and
the other holding open before his face a thick volume. The lamp
wriggled in the gimbals, the loosened books toppled from side to
side on the shelf, the long barometer swung in jerky circles, the
table altered its slant every moment. In the midst of all this
stir and movement Captain MacWhirr, holding on, showed his eyes
above the upper edge, and asked, "What's the matter?"
"Swell getting worse, sir."
"Noticed that in here," muttered Captain MacWhirr. "Anything
Jukes, inwardly disconcerted by the seriousness of the eyes
looking at him over the top of the book, produced an embarrassed
"Rolling like old boots," he said, sheepishly.
"Aye! Very heavy -- very heavy. What do you want?"
At this Jukes lost his footing and began to flounder. "I was
thinking of our passengers," he said, in the manner of a man
clutching at a straw.
"Passengers?" wondered the Captain, gravely. "What passengers?"
"Why, the Chinamen, sir," explained Jukes, very sick of this
"The Chinamen! Why don't you speak plainly? Couldn't tell what
you meant. Never heard a lot of coolies spoken of as passengers
before. Passengers, indeed! What's come to you?"
Captain MacWhirr, closing the book on his forefinger, lowered his
arm and looked completely mystified. "Why are you thinking of the
Chinamen, Mr. Jukes?" he inquired.
Jukes took a plunge, like a man driven to it. "She's rolling her
decks full of water, sir. Thought you might put her head on
perhaps -- for a while. Till this goes down a bit -- very soon,
I dare say. Head to the eastward. I never knew a ship roll like
He held on in the doorway, and Captain MacWhirr, feeling his grip
on the shelf inadequate, made up his mind to let go in a hurry,
and fell heavily on the couch.
"Head to the eastward?" he said, struggling to sit up. "That's
more than four points off her course."
"Yes, sir. Fifty degrees. . . . Would just bring her head far
enough round to meet this. . . ."
Captain MacWhirr was now sitting up. He had not dropped the
book, and he had not lost his place.
"To the eastward?" he repeated, with dawning astonishment. "To
the . . . Where do you think we are bound to? You want me to
haul a full-powered steamship four points off her course to make
the Chinamen comfortable! Now, I've heard more than enough of
mad things done in the world -- but this. . . . If I didn't know
you, Jukes, I would think you were in liquor. Steer four points
off. . . . And what afterwards? Steer four points over the
other way, I suppose, to make the course good. What put it into
your head that I would start to tack a steamer as if she were a
"Jolly good thing she isn't," threw in Jukes, with bitter
readiness. "She would have rolled every blessed stick out of her
"Aye! And you just would have had to stand and see them go,"
said Captain MacWhirr, showing a certain animation. "It's a dead
calm, isn't it?"
"It is, sir. But there's something out of the common coming, for
"Maybe. I suppose you have a notion I should be getting out of
the way of that dirt," said Captain MacWhirr, speaking with the
utmost simplicity of manner and tone, and fixing the oilcloth on
the floor with a heavy stare. Thus he noticed neither Jukes'
discomfiture nor the mixture of vexation and astonished respect
on his face.
"Now, here's this book," he continued with deliberation, slapping
his thigh with the closed volume. "I've been reading the chapter
on the storms there."
This was true. He had been reading the chapter on the storms.
When he had entered the chart-room, it was with no intention of
taking the book down. Some influence in the air -- the same
influence, probably, that caused the steward to bring without
orders the Captain's sea-boots and oilskin coat up to the
chart-room -had as it were guided his hand to the shelf; and
without taking the time to sit down he had waded with a conscious
effort into the terminology of the subject. He lost himself
amongst advancing semi-circles, left- and right-hand quadrants,
the curves of the tracks, the probable bearing of the centre, the
shifts of wind and the readings of barometer. He tried to bring
all these things into a definite relation to himself, and ended
by becoming contemptuously angry with such a lot of words, and
with so much advice, all head-work and supposition, without a
glimmer of certitude.
"It's the damnedest thing, Jukes," he said. "If a fellow was to
believe all that's in there, he would be running most of his time
all over the sea trying to get behind the weather."
Again he slapped his leg with the book; and Jukes opened his
mouth, but said nothing.
"Running to get behind the weather! Do you understand that, Mr.
Jukes? It's the maddest thing!" ejaculated Captain MacWhirr,
with pauses, gazing at the floor profoundly. "You would think an
old woman had been writing this. It passes me. If that thing
means anything useful, then it means that I should at once alter
the course away, away to the devil somewhere, and come booming
down on Fu-chau from the northward at the tail of this dirty
weather that's supposed to be knocking about in our way. From
the north! Do you understand, Mr. Jukes? Three hundred extra
miles to the distance, and a pretty coal bill to show. I
couldn't bring myself to do that if every word in there was
gospel truth, Mr. Jukes. Don't you expect me. . . ."
And Jukes, silent, marvelled at this display of feeling and
"But the truth is that you don't know if the fellow is right,
anyhow. How can you tell what a gale is made of till you get it?
He isn't aboard here, is he? Very well. Here he says that the
centre of them things bears eight points off the wind; but we
haven't got any wind, for all the barometer falling. Where's his
"We will get the wind presently," mumbled Jukes.
"Let it come, then," said Captain MacWhirr, with dignified
indignation. "It's only to let you see, Mr. Jukes, that you
don't find everything in books. All these rules for dodging
breezes and circumventing the winds of heaven, Mr. Jukes, seem to
me the maddest thing, when you come to look at it sensibly."
He raised his eyes, saw Jukes gazing at him dubiously, and tried
to illustrate his meaning.
"About as queer as your extraordinary notion of dodging the ship
head to sea, for I don't know how long, to make the Chinamen
comfortable; whereas all we've got to do is to take them to
Fu-chau, being timed to get there before noon on Friday. If the
weather delays me -- very well. There's your log-book to talk
straight about the weather. But suppose I went swinging off my
course and came in two days late, and they asked me: 'Where have
you been all that time, Captain?' What could I say to that?
'Went around to dodge the bad weather,' I would say. 'It must've
been dam' bad,' they would say. 'Don't know,' I would have to
say; 'I've dodged clear of it.' See that, Jukes? I have been
thinking it all out this afternoon."
He looked up again in his unseeing, unimaginative way. No one
had ever heard him say so much at one time. Jukes, with his arms
open in the doorway, was like a man invited to behold a miracle.
Unbounded wonder was the intellectual meaning of his eye, while
incredulity was seated in his whole countenance.
"A gale is a gale, Mr. Jukes," resumed the Captain, "and a
full-powered steam-ship has got to face it. There's just so much
dirty weather knocking about the world, and the proper thing is
to go through it with none of what old Captain Wilson of the
Melita calls 'storm strategy.' The other day ashore I heard him
hold forth about it to a lot of shipmasters who came in and sat
at a table next to mine. It seemed to me the greatest nonsense.
He was telling them how he outmanœuvred, I think he said, a
terrific gale, so that it never came nearer than fifty miles to
him. A neat piece of head-work he called it. How he knew there
was a terrific gale fifty miles off beats me altogether. It was
like listening to a crazy man. I would have thought Captain
Wilson was old enough to know better."
Captain MacWhirr ceased for a moment, then said, "It's your watch
below, Mr. Jukes?"
Jukes came to himself with a start. "Yes, sir."
"Leave orders to call me at the slightest change," said the
Captain. He reached up to put the book away, and tucked his legs
upon the couch. "Shut the door so that it don't fly open, will
you? I can't stand a door banging. They've put a lot of
rubbishy locks into this ship, I must say."
Captain MacWhirr closed his eyes.
He did so to rest himself. He was tired, and he experienced that
state of mental vacuity which comes at the end of an exhaustive
discussion that has liberated some belief matured in the course
of meditative years. He had indeed been making his confession of
faith, had he only known it; and its effect was to make Jukes, on
the other side of the door, stand scratching his head for a good
Captain MacWhirr opened his eyes.
He thought he must have been asleep. What was that loud noise?
Wind? Why had he not been called? The lamp wriggled in its
gimbals, the barometer swung in circles, the table altered its
slant every moment; a pair of limp sea-boots with collapsed tops
went sliding past the couch. He put out his hand instantly, and
Jukes' face appeared in a crack of the door: only his face, very
red, with staring eyes. The flame of the lamp leaped, a piece of
paper flew up, a rush of air enveloped Captain MacWhirr.
Beginning to draw on the boot, he directed an expectant gaze at
Jukes' swollen, excited features.
"Came on like this," shouted Jukes, "five minutes ago . . . all
of a sudden."
The head disappeared with a bang, and a heavy splash and patter
of drops swept past the closed door as if a pailful of melted
lead had been flung against the house. A whistling could be
heard now upon the deep vibrating noise outside. The stuffy
chart-room seemed as full of draughts as a shed. Captain
MacWhirr collared the other sea-boot on its violent passage along
the floor. He was not flustered, but he could not find at once
the opening for inserting his foot. The shoes he had flung off
were scurrying from end to end of the cabin, gambolling playfully
over each other like puppies. As soon as he stood up he kicked
at them viciously, but without effect.
He threw himself into the attitude of a lunging fencer, to reach
after his oilskin coat; and afterwards he staggered all over the
confined space while he jerked himself into it. Very grave,
straddling his legs far apart, and stretching his neck, he
started to tie deliberately the strings of his sou'-wester under
his chin, with thick fingers that trembled slightly. He went
through all the movements of a woman putting on her bonnet before
a glass, with a strained, listening attention, as though he had
expected every moment to hear the shout of his name in the
confused clamour that had suddenly beset his ship. Its increase
filled his ears while he was getting ready to go out and confront
whatever it might mean. It was tumultuous and very loud -- made
up of the rush of the wind, the crashes of the sea, with that
prolonged deep vibration of the air, like the roll of an immense
and remote drum beating the charge of the gale.
He stood for a moment in the light of the lamp, thick, clumsy,
shapeless in his panoply of combat, vigilant and red-faced.
"There's a lot of weight in this," he muttered.
As soon as he attempted to open the door the wind caught it.
Clinging to the handle, he was dragged out over the doorstep, and
at once found himself engaged with the wind in a sort of personal
scuffle whose object was the shutting of that door. At the last
moment a tongue of air scurried in and licked out the flame of
Ahead of the ship he perceived a great darkness lying upon a
multitude of white flashes; on the starboard beam a few amazing
stars drooped, dim and fitful, above an immense waste of broken
seas, as if seen through a mad drift of smoke.
On the bridge a knot of men, indistinct and toiling, were making
great efforts in the light of the wheelhouse windows that shone
mistily on their heads and backs. Suddenly darkness closed upon
one pane, then on another. The voices of the lost group reached
him after the manner of men's voices in a gale, in shreds and
fragments of forlorn shouting snatched past the ear. All at once
Jukes appeared at his side, yelling, with his head down.
"Watch -- put in -- wheelhouse shutters -- glass -afraid -- blow
Jukes heard his commander upbraiding.
"This -- come -- anything -- warning -- call me."
He tried to explain, with the uproar pressing on his lips.
"Light air -- remained -- bridge -- sudden -- north-east -- could
turn -- thought -- you -- sure -- hear."
They had gained the shelter of the weather-cloth, and could
converse with raised voices, as people quarrel.
"I got the hands along to cover up all the ventilators. Good job
I had remained on deck. I didn't think you would be asleep, and
so . . . What did you say, sir? What?"
"Nothing," cried Captain MacWhirr. "I said -- all right."
"By all the powers! We've got it this time," observed Jukes in a
"You haven't altered her course?" inquired Captain MacWhirr,
straining his voice.
"No, sir. Certainly not. Wind came out right ahead. And here
comes the head sea."
A plunge of the ship ended in a shock as if she had landed her
forefoot upon something solid. After a moment of stillness a
lofty flight of sprays drove hard with the wind upon their faces.
"Keep her at it as long as we can," shouted Captain MacWhirr.
Before Jukes had squeezed the salt water out of his eyes all the
stars had disappeared.
JUKES was as ready a man as any half-dozen young mates that may
be caught by casting a net upon the waters; and though he had
been somewhat taken aback by the startling viciousness of the
first squall, he had pulled himself together on the instant, had
called out the hands and had rushed them along to secure such
openings about the deck as had not been already battened down
earlier in the evening. Shouting in his fresh, stentorian voice,
"Jump, boys, and bear a hand!" he led in the work, telling
himself the while that he had "just expected this."
But at the same time he was growing aware that this was rather
more than he had expected. From the first stir of the air felt
on his cheek the gale seemed to take upon itself the accumulated
impetus of an avalanche. Heavy sprays enveloped the Nan-Shan
from stem to stern, and instantly in the midst of her regular
rolling she began to jerk and plunge as though she had gone mad
Jukes thought, "This is no joke." While he was exchanging
explanatory yells with his captain, a sudden lowering of the
darkness came upon the night, falling before their vision like
something palpable. It was as if the masked lights of the world
had been turned down. Jukes was uncritically glad to have his
captain at hand. It relieved him as though that man had, by
simply coming on deck, taken most of the gale's weight upon his
shoulders. Such is the prestige, the privilege, and the burden
Captain MacWhirr could expect no relief of that sort from any one
on earth. Such is the loneliness of command. He was trying to
see, with that watchful manner of a seaman who stares into the
wind's eye as if into the eye of an adversary, to penetrate the
hidden intention and guess the aim and force of the thrust. The
strong wind swept at him out of a vast obscurity; he felt under
his feet the uneasiness of his ship, and he could not even
discern the shadow of her shape. He wished it were not so; and
very still he waited, feeling stricken by a blind man's
To be silent was natural to him, dark or shine. Jukes, at his
elbow, made himself heard yelling cheerily in the gusts, "We must
have got the worst of it at once, sir." A faint burst of
lightning quivered all round, as if flashed into a cavern -- into
a black and secret chamber of the sea, with a floor of foaming
It unveiled for a sinister, fluttering moment a ragged mass of
clouds hanging low, the lurch of the long outlines of the ship,
the black figures of men caught on the bridge, heads forward, as
if petrified in the act of butting. The darkness palpitated down
upon all this, and then the real thing came at last.
It was something formidable and swift, like the sudden smashing
of a vial of wrath. It seemed to explode all round the ship with
an overpowering concussion and a rush of great waters, as if an
immense dam had been blown up to windward. In an instant the men
lost touch of each other. This is the disintegrating power of a
great wind: it isolates one from one's kind. An earthquake, a
landslip, an avalanche, overtake a man incidentally, as it were
-- without passion. A furious gale attacks him like a personal
enemy, tries to grasp his limbs, fastens upon his mind, seeks to
rout his very spirit out of him.
Jukes was driven away from his commander. He fancied himself
whirled a great distance through the air. Everything disappeared
-- even, for a moment, his power of thinking; but his hand had
found one of the rail-stanchions. His distress was by no means
alleviated by an inclination to disbelieve the reality of this
experience. Though young, he had seen some bad weather, and had
never doubted his ability to imagine the worst; but this was so
much beyond his powers of fancy that it appeared incompatible
with the existence of any ship whatever. He would have been
incredulous about himself in the same way, perhaps, had he not
been so harassed by the necessity of exerting a wrestling effort
against a force trying to tear him away from his hold. Moreover,
the conviction of not being utterly destroyed returned to him
through the sensations of being half-drowned, bestially shaken,
and partly choked.
It seemed to him he remained there precariously alone with the
stanchion for a long, long time. The rain poured on him, flowed,
drove in sheets. He breathed in gasps; and sometimes the water
he swallowed was fresh and sometimes it was salt. For the most
part he kept his eyes shut tight, as if suspecting his sight
might be destroyed in the immense flurry of the elements. When
he ventured to blink hastily, he derived some moral support from
the green gleam of the starboard light shining feebly upon the
flight of rain and sprays. He was actually looking at it when
its ray fell upon the uprearing sea which put it out. He saw the
head of the wave topple over, adding the mite of its crash to the
tremendous uproar raging around him, and almost at the same
instant the stanchion was wrenched away from his embracing arms.
After a crushing thump on his back he found himself suddenly
afloat and borne upwards. His first irresistible notion was that
the whole China Sea had climbed on the bridge. Then, more
sanely, he concluded himself gone overboard. All the time he was
being tossed, flung, and rolled in great volumes of water, he
kept on repeating mentally, with the utmost precipitation, the
words: "My God! My God! My God! My God!"
All at once, in a revolt of misery and despair, he formed the
crazy resolution to get out of that. And he began to thresh
about with his arms and legs. But as soon as he commenced his
wretched struggles he discovered that he had become somehow mixed
up with a face, an oilskin coat, somebody's boots. He clawed
ferociously all these things in turn, lost them, found them
again, lost them once more, and finally was himself caught in the
firm clasp of a pair of stout arms. He returned the embrace
closely round a thick solid body. He had found his captain.
They tumbled over and over, tightening their hug. Suddenly the
water let them down with a brutal bang; and, stranded against the
side of the wheelhouse, out of breath and bruised, they were left
to stagger up in the wind and hold on where they could.
Jukes came out of it rather horrified, as though he had escaped
some unparalleled outrage directed at his feelings. It weakened
his faith in himself. He started shouting aimlessly to the man
he could feel near him in that fiendish blackness, "Is it you,
sir? Is it you, sir?" till his temples seemed ready to burst.
And he heard in answer a voice, as if crying far away, as if
screaming to him fretfully from a very great distance, the one
word "Yes!" Other seas swept again over the bridge. He received
them defencelessly right over his bare head, with both his hands
engaged in holding.
The motion of the ship was extravagant. Her lurches had an
appalling helplessness: she pitched as if taking a header into a
void, and seemed to find a wall to hit every time. When she
rolled she fell on her side headlong, and she would be righted
back by such a demolishing blow that Jukes felt her reeling as a
clubbed man reels before he collapses. The gale howled and
scuffled about gigantically in the darkness, as though the entire
world were one black gully. At certain moments the air streamed
against the ship as if sucked through a tunnel with a
concentrated solid force of impact that seemed to lift her clean
out of the water and keep her up for an instant with only a
quiver running through her from end to end. And then she would
begin her tumbling again as if dropped back into a boiling
cauldron. Jukes tried hard to compose his mind and judge things
The sea, flattened down in the heavier gusts, would uprise and
overwhelm both ends of the Nan-Shan in snowy rushes of foam,
expanding wide, beyond both rails, into the night. And on this
dazzling sheet, spread under the blackness of the clouds and
emitting a bluish glow, Captain MacWhirr could catch a desolate
glimpse of a few tiny specks black as ebony, the tops of the
hatches, the battened companions, the heads of the covered
winches, the foot of a mast. This was all he could see of his
ship. Her middle structure, covered by the bridge which bore
him, his mate, the closed wheelhouse where a man was steering
shut up with the fear of being swept overboard together with the
whole thing in one great crash -- her middle structure was like a
half-tide rock awash upon a coast. It was like an outlying rock
with the water boiling up, streaming over, pouring off, beating
round -- like a rock in the surf to which shipwrecked people
cling before they let go--only it rose, it sank, it rolled
continuously, without respite and rest, like a rock that should
have miraculously struck adrift from a coast and gone wallowing
upon the sea.
The Nan-Shan was being looted by the storm with a senseless,
destructive fury: trysails torn out of the extra gaskets,
double-lashed awnings blown away, bridge swept clean,
weather-cloths burst, rails twisted, light-screens smashed -- and
two of the boats had gone already. They had gone unheard and
unseen, melting, as it were, in the shock and smother of the
wave. It was only later, when upon the white flash of another
high sea hurling itself amidships, Jukes had a vision of two
pairs of davits leaping black and empty out of the solid
blackness, with one overhauled fall flying and an iron-bound
block capering in the air, that he became aware of what had
happened within about three yards of his back.
He poked his head forward, groping for the ear of his commander.
His lips touched it -- big, fleshy, very wet. He cried in an
agitated tone, "Our boats are going now, sir."
And again he heard that voice, forced and ringing feebly, but
with a penetrating effect of quietness in the enormous discord of
noises, as if sent out from some remote spot of peace beyond the
black wastes of the gale; again he heard a man's voice -- the
frail and indomitable sound that can be made to carry an infinity
of thought, resolution and purpose, that shall be pronouncing
confident words on the last day, when heavens fall, and justice
is done -- again he heard it, and it was crying to him, as if
from very, very far -- "All right."
He thought he had not managed to make himself understood. "Our
boats -- I say boats -- the boats, sir! Two gone!"
The same voice, within a foot of him and yet so remote, yelled
sensibly, "Can't be helped."
Captain MacWhirr had never turned his face, but Jukes caught some
more words on the wind.
"What can -- expect -- when hammering through -such -- Bound to
leave -- something behind -- stands to reason."
Watchfully Jukes listened for more. No more came. This was all
Captain MacWhirr had to say; and Jukes could picture to himself
rather than see the broad squat back before him. An impenetrable
obscurity pressed down upon the ghostly glimmers of the sea. A
dull conviction seized upon Jukes that there was nothing to be
If the steering-gear did not give way, if the immense volumes of
water did not burst the deck in or smash one of the hatches, if
the engines did not give up, if way could be kept on the ship
against this terrific wind, and she did not bury herself in one
of these awful seas, of whose white crests alone, topping high
above her bows, he could now and then get a sickening glimpse --
then there was a chance of her coming out of it. Something
within him seemed to turn over, bringing uppermost the feeling
that the Nan-Shan was lost.
"She's done for," he said to himself, with a surprising mental
agitation, as though he had discovered an unexpected meaning in
this thought. One of these things was bound to happen. Nothing
could be prevented now, and nothing could be remedied. The men
on board did not count, and the ship could not last. This
weather was too impossible.
Jukes felt an arm thrown heavily over his shoulders; and to this
overture he responded with great intelligence by catching hold of
his captain round the waist.
They stood clasped thus in the blind night, bracing each other
against the wind, cheek to cheek and lip to ear, in the manner of
two hulks lashed stem to stern together.
And Jukes heard the voice of his commander hardly any louder than
before, but nearer, as though, starting to march athwart the
prodigious rush of the hurricane, it had approached him, bearing
that strange effect of quietness like the serene glow of a halo.
"D'ye know where the hands got to?" it asked, vigorous and
evanescent at the same time, overcoming the strength of the wind,
and swept away from Jukes instantly.
Jukes didn't know. They were all on the bridge when the real
force of the hurricane struck the ship. He had no idea where they
had crawled to. Under the circumstances they were nowhere, for
all the use that could be made of them. Somehow the Captain's
wish to know distressed Jukes.
"Want the hands, sir?" he cried, apprehensively.
"Ought to know," asserted Captain MacWhirr. "Hold hard."
They held hard. An outburst of unchained fury, a vicious rush of
the wind absolutely steadied the ship; she rocked only, quick and
light like a child's cradle, for a terrific moment of suspense,
while the whole atmosphere, as it seemed, streamed furiously past
her, roaring away from the tenebrous earth.
It suffocated them, and with eyes shut they tightened their
grasp. What from the magnitude of the shock might have been a
column of water running upright in the dark, butted against the
ship, broke short, and fell on her bridge, crushingly, from on
high, with a dead burying weight.
A flying fragment of that collapse, a mere splash, enveloped them
in one swirl from their feet over their heads, filling violently
their ears, mouths and nostrils with salt water. It knocked out
their legs, wrenched in haste at their arms, seethed away swiftly
under their chins; and opening their eyes, they saw the piled-up
masses of foam dashing to and fro amongst what looked like the
fragments of a ship. She had given way as if driven straight in.
Their panting hearts yielded, too, before the tremendous blow;
and all at once she sprang up again to her desperate plunging, as
if trying to scramble out from under the ruins.
The seas in the dark seemed to rush from all sides to keep her
back where she might perish. There was hate in the way she was
handled, and a ferocity in the blows that fell. She was like a
living creature thrown to the rage of a mob: hustled terribly,
struck at, borne up, flung down, leaped upon. Captain MacWhirr
and Jukes kept hold of each other, deafened by the noise, gagged
by the wind; and the great physical tumult beating about their
bodies, brought, like an unbridled display of passion, a profound
trouble to their souls. One of those wild and appalling shrieks
that are heard at times passing mysteriously overhead in the
steady roar of a hurricane, swooped, as if borne on wings, upon
the ship, and Jukes tried to outscream it.
"Will she live through this?"
The cry was wrenched out of his breast. It was as unintentional
as the birth of a thought in the head, and he heard nothing of it
himself. It all became extinct at once -- thought, intention,
effort -- and of his cry the inaudible vibration added to the
tempest waves of the air.
He expected nothing from it. Nothing at all. For indeed what
answer could be made? But after a while he heard with amazement
the frail and resisting voice in his ear, the dwarf sound,
unconquered in the giant tumult.
It was a dull yell, more difficult to seize than a whisper. And
presently the voice returned again, half submerged in the vast
crashes, like a ship battling against the waves of an ocean.
"Let's hope so!" it cried -- small, lonely and unmoved, a
stranger to the visions of hope or fear; and it flickered into
disconnected words: "Ship. . . . . This. . . . Never -- Anyhow .
. . for the best." Jukes gave it up.
Then, as if it had come suddenly upon the one thing fit to
withstand the power of a storm, it seemed to gain force and
firmness for the last broken shouts:
"Keep on hammering . . . builders . . . good men. . . . . And
chance it . . . engines. . . . Rout . . . good man."
Captain MacWhirr removed his arm from Jukes' shoulders, and
thereby ceased to exist for his mate, so dark it was; Jukes,
after a tense stiffening of every muscle, would let himself go
limp all over. The gnawing of profound discomfort existed side
by side with an incredible disposition to somnolence, as though
he had been buffeted and worried into drowsiness. The wind would
get hold of his head and try to shake it off his shoulders; his
clothes, full of water, were as heavy as lead, cold and dripping
like an armour of melting ice: he shivered -- it lasted a long
time; and with his hands closed hard on his hold, he was letting
himself sink slowly into the depths of bodily misery. His mind
became concentrated upon himself in an aimless, idle way, and
when something pushed lightly at the back of his knees he nearly,
as the saying is, jumped out of his skin.
In the start forward he bumped the back of Captain MacWhirr, who
didn't move; and then a hand gripped his thigh. A lull had come,
a menacing lull of the wind, the holding of a stormy breath --
and he felt himself pawed all over. It was the boatswain. Jukes
recognized these hands, so thick and enormous that they seemed to
belong to some new species of man.
The boatswain had arrived on the bridge, crawling on all fours
against the wind, and had found the chief mate's legs with the
top of his head. Immediately he crouched and began to explore
Jukes' person upwards with prudent, apologetic touches, as became
He was an ill-favoured, undersized, gruff sailor of fifty,
coarsely hairy, short-legged, long-armed, resembling an elderly
ape. His strength was immense; and in his great lumpy paws,
bulging like brown boxinggloves on the end of furry forearms, the
heaviest objects were handled like playthings. Apart from the
grizzled pelt on his chest, the menacing demeanour and the hoarse
voice, he had none of the classical attributes of his rating.
His good nature almost amounted to imbecility: the men did what
they liked with him, and he had not an ounce of initiative in his
character, which was easy-going and talkative. For these reasons
Jukes disliked him; but Captain MacWhirr, to Jukes' scornful
disgust, seemed to regard him as a first-rate petty officer.
He pulled himself up by Jukes' coat, taking that liberty with the
greatest moderation, and only so far as it was forced upon him by
"What is it, boss'n, what is it?" yelled Jukes, impatiently.
What could that fraud of a boss'n want on the bridge? The
typhoon had got on Jukes' nerves. The husky bellowings of the
other, though unintelligible, seemed to suggest a state of lively
There could be no mistake. The old fool was pleased with
The boatswain's other hand had found some other body, for in a
changed tone he began to inquire: "Is it you, sir? Is it you,
sir?" The wind strangled his howls.
"Yes!" cried Captain MacWhirr.
ALL that the boatswain, out of a superabundance of yells, could
make clear to Captain MacWhirr was the bizarre intelligence that
"All them Chinamen in the fore 'tween deck have fetched away,
Jukes to leeward could hear these two shouting within six inches
of his face, as you may hear on a still night half a mile away
two men conversing across a field. He heard Captain MacWhirr's
exasperated "What? What?" and the strained pitch of the other's
hoarseness. "In a lump . . . seen them myself. . . . Awful
sight, sir . . . thought . . . tell you."
Jukes remained indifferent, as if rendered irresponsible by the
force of the hurricane, which made the very thought of action
utterly vain. Besides, being very young, he had found the
occupation of keeping his heart completely steeled against the
worst so engrossing that he had come to feel an overpowering
dislike towards any other form of activity whatever. He was not
scared; he knew this because, firmly believing he would never see
another sunrise, he remained calm in that belief.
These are the moments of do-nothing heroics to which even good
men surrender at times. Many officers of ships can no doubt
recall a case in their experience when just such a trance of
confounded stoicism would come all at once over a whole ship's
company. Jukes, however, had no wide experience of men or storms.
He conceived himself to be calm -- inexorably calm; but as a
matter of fact he was daunted; not abjectly, but only so far as a
decent man may, without becoming loathsome to himself.
It was rather like a forced-on numbness of spirit. The long, long
stress of a gale does it; the suspense of the interminably
culminating catastrophe; and there is a bodily fatigue in the
mere holding on to existence within the excessive tumult; a
searching and insidious fatigue that penetrates deep into a man's
breast to cast down and sadden his heart, which is incorrigible,
and of all the gifts of the earth -- even before life itself
-aspires to peace.
Jukes was benumbed much more than he supposed. He held on -- very
wet, very cold, stiff in every limb; and in a momentary
hallucination of swift visions (it is said that a drowning man
thus reviews all his life) he beheld all sorts of memories
altogether unconnected with his present situation. He remembered
his father, for instance: a worthy business man, who at an
unfortunate crisis in his affairs went quietly to bed and died
forthwith in a state of resignation. Jukes did not recall these
circumstances, of course, but remaining otherwise unconcerned he
seemed to see distinctly the poor man's face; a certain game of
nap played when quite a boy in Table Bay on board a ship, since
lost with all hands; the thick eyebrows of his first skipper; and
without any emotion, as he might years ago have walked listlessly
into her room and found her sitting there with a book, he
remembered his mother -- dead, too, now -- the resolute woman,
left badly off, who had been very firm in his bringing up.
It could not have lasted more than a second, perhaps not so much.
A heavy arm had fallen about his shoulders; Captain MacWhirr's
voice was speaking his name into his ear.
He detected the tone of deep concern. The wind had thrown its
weight on the ship, trying to pin her down amongst the seas.
They made a clean breach over her, as over a deep-swimming log;
and the gathered weight of crashes menaced monstrously from afar.
The breakers flung out of the night with a ghostly light on their
crests -- the light of sea-foam that in a ferocious, boiling-up
pale flash showed upon the slender body of the ship the toppling
rush, the downfall, and the seething mad scurry of each wave.
Never for a moment could she shake herself clear of the water;
Jukes, rigid, perceived in her motion the ominous sign of
haphazard floundering. She was no longer struggling
intelligently. It was the beginning of the end; and the note of
busy concern in Captain MacWhirr's voice sickened him like an
exhibition of blind and pernicious folly.
The spell of the storm had fallen upon Jukes. He was penetrated
by it, absorbed by it; he was rooted in it with a rigour of dumb
attention. Captain MacWhirr persisted in his cries, but the wind
got between them like a solid wedge. He hung round Jukes' neck
as heavy as a millstone, and suddenly the sides of their heads
"Jukes! Mr. Jukes, I say!"
He had to answer that voice that would not be silenced. He
answered in the customary manner: ". . . Yes, sir."
And directly, his heart, corrupted by the storm that breeds a
craving for peace, rebelled against the tyranny of training and
Captain MacWhirr had his mate's head fixed firm in the crook of
his elbow, and pressed it to his yelling lips mysteriously.
Sometimes Jukes would break in, admonishing hastily: "Look out,
sir!" or Captain MacWhirr would bawl an earnest exhortation to
"Hold hard, there!" and the whole black universe seemed to reel
together with the ship. They paused. She floated yet. And
Captain MacWhirr would résumé his shouts. ". . . . Says . . .
whole lot . . . fetched away. . . . Ought to see . . . what's
Directly the full force of the hurricane had struck the ship,
every part of her deck became untenable; and the sailors, dazed
and dismayed, took shelter in the port alleyway under the bridge.
It had a door aft, which they shut; it was very black, cold, and
dismal. At each heavy fling of the ship they would groan all
together in the dark, and tons of water could be heard scuttling
about as if trying to get at them from above. The boatswain had
been keeping up a gruff talk, but a more unreasonable lot of men,
he said afterwards, he had never been with. They were snug
enough there, out of harm's way, and not wanted to do anything,
either; and yet they did nothing but grumble and complain
peevishly like so many sick kids. Finally, one of them said that
if there had been at least some light to see each other's noses
by, it wouldn't be so bad. It was making him crazy, he declared,
to lie there in the dark waiting for the blamed hooker to sink.
"Why don't you step outside, then, and be done with it at once?"
the boatswain turned on him.
This called up a shout of execration. The boatswain found
himself overwhelmed with reproaches of all sorts. They seemed to
take it ill that a lamp was not instantly created for them out of
nothing. They would whine after a light to get drowned by --
anyhow! And though the unreason of their revilings was patent --
since no one could hope to reach the lamp-room, which was forward
-- he became greatly distressed. He did not think it was decent
of them to be nagging at him like this. He told them so, and was
met by general contumely. He sought refuge, therefore, in an
embittered silence. At the same time their grumbling and sighing
and muttering worried him greatly, but by-and-by it occurred to
him that there were six globe lamps hung in the 'tween-deck, and
that there could be no harm in depriving the coolies of one of
The Nan-Shan had an athwartship coal-bunker, which, being at
times used as cargo space, communicated by an iron door with the
fore 'tween-deck. It was empty then, and its manhole was the
foremost one in the alleyway. The boatswain could get in,
therefore, without coming out on deck at all; but to his great
surprise he found he could induce no one to help him in taking
off the manhole cover. He groped for it all the same, but one of
the crew lying in his way refused to budge.
"Why, I only want to get you that blamed light you are crying
for," he expostulated, almost pitifully.
Somebody told him to go and put his head in a bag. He regretted
he could not recognize the voice, and that it was too dark to
see, otherwise, as he said, he would have put a head on that son
of a sea-cook, anyway, sink or swim. Nevertheless, he had made
up his mind to show them he could get a light, if he were to die
Through the violence of the ship's rolling, every movement was
dangerous. To be lying down seemed labour enough. He nearly
broke his neck dropping into the bunker. He fell on his back,
and was sent shooting helplessly from side to side in the
dangerous company of a heavy iron bar -- a coal-trimmer's slice
probably -- left down there by somebody. This thing made him as
nervous as though it had been a wild beast. He could not see it,
the inside of the bunker coated with coal-dust being perfectly
and impenetrably black; but he heard it sliding and clattering,
and striking here and there, always in the neighbourhood of his
head. It seemed to make an extraordinary noise, too -- to give
heavy thumps as though it had been as big as a bridge girder.
This was remarkable enough for him to notice while he was flung
from port to starboard and back again, and clawing desperately
the smooth sides of the bunker in the endeavour to stop himself.
The door into the 'tween-deck not fitting quite true, he saw a
thread of dim light at the bottom.
Being a sailor, and a still active man, he did not want much of a
chance to regain his feet; and as luck would have it, in
scrambling up he put his hand on the iron slice, picking it up as
he rose. Otherwise he would have been afraid of the thing
breaking his legs, or at least knocking him down again. At first
he stood still. He felt unsafe in this darkness that seemed to
make the ship's motion unfamiliar, unforeseen, and difficult to
counteract. He felt so much shaken for a moment that he dared
not move for fear of "taking charge again." He had no mind to get
battered to pieces in that bunker.
He had struck his head twice; he was dazed a little. He seemed to
hear yet so plainly the clatter and bangs of the iron slice
flying about his ears that he tightened his grip to prove to
himself he had it there safely in his hand. He was vaguely
amazed at the plainness with which down there he could hear the
gale raging. Its howls and shrieks seemed to take on, in the
emptiness of the bunker, something of the human character, of
human rage and pain -- being not vast but infinitely poignant.
And there were, with every roll, thumps, too -- profound,
ponderous thumps, as if a bulky object of five-ton weight or so
had got play in the hold. But there was no such thing in the
cargo. Something on deck? Impossible. Or alongside? Couldn't
He thought all this quickly, clearly, competently, like a seaman,
and in the end remained puzzled. This noise, though, came
deadened from outside, together with the washing and pouring of
water on deck above his head. Was it the wind? Must be. It
made down there a row like the shouting of a big lot of crazed
men. And he discovered in himself a desire for a light, too -if
only to get drowned by -- and a nervous anxiety to get out of
that bunker as quickly as possible.