Part 2 out of 2
He pulled back the bolt: the heavy iron plate turned on its
hinges; and it was as though he had opened the door to the sounds
of the tempest. A gust of hoarse yelling met him: the air was
still; and the rushing of water overhead was covered by a tumult
of strangled, throaty shrieks that produced an effect of
desperate confusion. He straddled his legs the whole width of
the doorway and stretched his neck. And at first he perceived
only what he had come to seek: six small yellow flames swinging
violently on the great body of the dusk.
It was stayed like the gallery of a mine, with a row of
stanchions in the middle, and cross-beams overhead, penetrating
into the gloom ahead -- indefinitely. And to port there loomed,
like the caving in of one of the sides, a bulky mass with a
slanting outline. The whole place, with the shadows and the
shapes, moved all the time. The boatswain glared: the ship
lurched to starboard, and a great howl came from that mass that
had the slant of fallen earth.
Pieces of wood whizzed past. Planks, he thought, inexpressibly
startled, and flinging back his head. At his feet a man went
sliding over, open-eyed, on his back, straining with uplifted
arms for nothing: and another came bounding like a detached stone
with his head between his legs and his hands clenched. His
pigtail whipped in the air; he made a grab at the boatswain's
legs, and from his opened hand a bright white disc rolled against
the boatswain's foot. He recognized a silver dollar, and yelled
at it with astonishment. With a precipitated sound of trampling
and shuffling of bare feet, and with guttural cries, the mound of
writhing bodies piled up to port detached itself from the ship's
side and sliding, inert and struggling, shifted to starboard,
with a dull, brutal thump. The cries ceased. The boatswain heard
a long moan through the roar and whistling of the wind; he saw an
inextricable confusion of heads and shoulders, naked soles
kicking upwards, fists raised, tumbling backs, legs, pigtails,
"Good Lord!" he cried, horrified, and banged-to the iron door
upon this vision.
This was what he had come on the bridge to tell. He could not
keep it to himself; and on board ship there is only one man to
whom it is worth while to unburden yourself. On his passage back
the hands in the alleyway swore at him for a fool. Why didn't he
bring that lamp? What the devil did the coolies matter to
anybody? And when he came out, the extremity of the ship made
what went on inside of her appear of little moment.
At first he thought he had left the alleyway in the very moment
of her sinking. The bridge ladders had been washed away, but an
enormous sea filling the after-deck floated him up. After that
he had to lie on his stomach for some time, holding to a
ring-bolt, getting his breath now and then, and swallowing salt
water. He struggled farther on his hands and knees, too
frightened and distracted to turn back. In this way he reached
the after-part of the wheelhouse. In that comparatively
sheltered spot he found the second mate.
The boatswain was pleasantly surprised -- his impression being
that everybody on deck must have been washed away a long time
ago. He asked eagerly where the Captain was.
The second mate was lying low, like a malignant little animal
under a hedge.
"Captain? Gone overboard, after getting us into this mess." The
mate, too, for all he knew or cared. Another fool. Didn't
matter. Everybody was going by-and-by.
The boatswain crawled out again into the strength of the wind;
not because he much expected to find anybody, he said, but just
to get away from "that man." He crawled out as outcasts go to
face an inclement world. Hence his great joy at finding Jukes
and the Captain. But what was going on in the 'tween-deck was to
him a minor matter by that time. Besides, it was difficult to
make yourself heard. But he managed to convey the idea that the
Chinaman had broken adrift together with their boxes, and that he
had come up on purpose to report this. As to the hands, they
were all right. Then, appeased, he subsided on the deck in a
sitting posture, hugging with his arms and legs the stand of the
engine-room telegraph -- an iron casting as thick as a post.
When that went, why, he expected he would go, too. He gave no
more thought to the coolies.
Captain MacWhirr had made Jukes understand that he wanted him to
go down below -- to see.
"What am I to do then, sir?" And the trembling of his whole wet
body caused Jukes' voice to sound like bleating.
"See first . . . Boss'n . . . says . . . adrift."
"That boss'n is a confounded fool," howled Jukes, shakily.
The absurdity of the demand made upon him revolted Jukes. He was
as unwilling to go as if the moment he had left the deck the ship
were sure to sink.
"I must know . . . can't leave. . . ."
"They'll settle, sir."
"Fight . . . boss'n says they fight. . . . Why? Can't have . . .
fighting . . . board ship. . . . Much rather keep you here . . .
case . . . . I should . . . washed overboard myself. . . . Stop
it . . . some way. You see and tell me . . . through engine-room
tube. Don't want you . . . come up here . . . too often.
Dangerous . . . moving about . . . deck."
Jukes, held with his head in chancery, had to listen to what
seemed horrible suggestions.
"Don't want . . . you get lost . . . so long . . . ship isn't. .
. . . Rout . . . Good man . . . Ship . . . may . . . through
this . . . all right yet."
All at once Jukes understood he would have to go.
"Do you think she may?" he screamed.
But the wind devoured the reply, out of which Jukes heard only
the one word, pronounced with great energy ". . . . Always. . .
Captain MacWhirr released Jukes, and bending over the boatswain,
yelled, "Get back with the mate." Jukes only knew that the arm
was gone off his shoulders. He was dismissed with his orders --
to do what? He was exasperated into letting go his hold
carelessly, and on the instant was blown away. It seemed to him
that nothing could stop him from being blown right over the
stern. He flung himself down hastily, and the boatswain, who was
following, fell on him.
"Don't you get up yet, sir," cried the boatswain. "No hurry!"
A sea swept over. Jukes understood the boatswain to splutter
that the bridge ladders were gone. "I'll lower you down, sir, by
your hands," he screamed. He shouted also something about the
smoke-stack being as likely to go overboard as not. Jukes
thought it very possible, and imagined the fires out, the ship
helpless. . . . The boatswain by his side kept on yelling.
"What? What is it?" Jukes cried distressfully; and the other
repeated, "What would my old woman say if she saw me now?"
In the alleyway, where a lot of water had got in and splashed in
the dark, the men were still as death, till Jukes stumbled
against one of them and cursed him savagely for being in the way.
Two or three voices then asked, eager and weak, "Any chance for
"What's the matter with you fools?" he said brutally. He felt as
though he could throw himself down amongst them and never move
any more. But they seemed cheered; and in the midst of
obsequious warnings, "Look out! Mind that manhole lid, sir,"
they lowered him into the bunker. The boatswain tumbled down
after him, and as soon as he had picked himself up he remarked,
"She would say, 'Serve you right, you old fool, for going to
The boatswain had some means, and made a point of alluding to
them frequently. His wife -- a fat woman -- and two grown-up
daughters kept a greengrocer's shop in the East-end of London.
In the dark, Jukes, unsteady on his legs, listened to a faint
thunderous patter. A deadened screaming went on steadily at his
elbow, as it were; and from above the louder tumult of the storm
descended upon these near sounds. His head swam. To him, too,
in that bunker, the motion of the ship seemed novel and menacing,
sapping his resolution as though he had never been afloat before.
He had half a mind to scramble out again; but the remembrance of
Captain MacWhirr's voice made this impossible. His orders were
to go and see. What was the good of it, he wanted to know.
Enraged, he told himself he would see -- of course. But the
boatswain, staggering clumsily, warned him to be careful how he
opened that door; there was a blamed fight going on. And Jukes,
as if in great bodily pain, desired irritably to know what the
devil they were fighting for.
"Dollars! Dollars, sir. All their rotten chests got burst open.
Blamed money skipping all over the place, and they are tumbling
after it head over heels -- tearing and biting like anything. A
regular little hell in there."
Jukes convulsively opened the door. The short boatswain peered
under his arm.
One of the lamps had gone out, broken perhaps. Rancorous,
guttural cries burst out loudly on their ears, and a strange
panting sound, the working of all these straining breasts. A
hard blow hit the side of the ship: water fell above with a
stunning shock, and in the forefront of the gloom, where the air
was reddish and thick, Jukes saw a head bang the deck violently,
two thick calves waving on high, muscular arms twined round a
naked body, a yellow-face, open-mouthed and with a set wild
stare, look up and slide away. An empty chest clattered turning
over; a man fell head first with a jump, as if lifted by a kick;
and farther off, indistinct, others streamed like a mass of
rolling stones down a bank, thumping the deck with their feet and
flourishing their arms wildly. The hatchway ladder was loaded
with coolies swarming on it like bees on a branch. They hung on
the steps in a crawling, stirring cluster, beating madly with
their fists the underside of the battened hatch, and the headlong
rush of the water above was heard in the intervals of their
yelling. The ship heeled over more, and they began to drop off:
first one, then two, then all the rest went away together,
falling straight off with a great cry.
Jukes was confounded. The boatswain, with gruff anxiety, begged
him, "Don't you go in there, sir."
The whole place seemed to twist upon itself, jumping incessantly
the while; and when the ship rose to a sea Jukes fancied that all
these men would be shot upon him in a body. He backed out, swung
the door to, and with trembling hands pushed at the bolt. . . .
As soon as his mate had gone Captain MacWhirr, left alone on the
bridge, sidled and staggered as far as the wheelhouse. Its door
being hinged forward, he had to fight the gale for admittance,
and when at last he managed to enter, it was with an
instantaneous clatter and a bang, as though he had been fired
through the wood. He stood within, holding on to the handle.
The steering-gear leaked steam, and in the confined space the
glass of the binnacle made a shiny oval of light in a thin white
fog. The wind howled, hummed, whistled, with sudden booming
gusts that rattled the doors and shutters in the vicious patter
of sprays. Two coils of lead-line and a small canvas bag hung on
a long lanyard, swung wide off, and came back clinging to the
bulkheads. The gratings underfoot were nearly afloat; with every
sweeping blow of a sea, water squirted violently through the
cracks all round the door, and the man at the helm had flung down
his cap, his coat, and stood propped against the gear-casing in a
striped cotton shirt open on his breast. The little brass wheel
in his hands had the appearance of a bright and fragile toy. The
cords of his neck stood hard and lean, a dark patch lay in the
hollow of his throat, and his face was still and sunken as in
Captain MacWhirr wiped his eyes. The sea that had nearly taken
him overboard had, to his great annoyance, washed his sou'-wester
hat off his bald head. The fluffy, fair hair, soaked and
darkened, resembled a mean skein of cotton threads festooned
round his bare skull. His face, glistening with sea-water, had
been made crimson with the wind, with the sting of sprays. He
looked as though he had come off sweating from before a furnace.
"You here?" he muttered, heavily.
The second mate had found his way into the wheelhouse some time
before. He had fixed himself in a corner with his knees up, a
fist pressed against each temple; and this attitude suggested
rage, sorrow, resignation, surrender, with a sort of concentrated
unforgiveness. He said mournfully and defiantly, "Well, it's my
watch below now: ain't it?"
The steam gear clattered, stopped, clattered again; and the
helmsman's eyeballs seemed to project out of a hungry face as if
the compass card behind the binnacle glass had been meat. God
knows how long he had been left there to steer, as if forgotten
by all his shipmates. The bells had not been struck; there had
been no reliefs; the ship's routine had gone down wind; but he
was trying to keep her head north-north-east. The rudder might
have been gone for all he knew, the fires out, the engines broken
down, the ship ready to roll over like a corpse. He was anxious
not to get muddled and lose control of her head, because the
compass-card swung far both ways, wriggling on the pivot, and
sometimes seemed to whirl right round. He suffered from mental
stress. He was horribly afraid, also, of the wheelhouse going.
Mountains of water kept on tumbling against it. When the ship
took one of her desperate dives the corners of his lips twitched.
Captain MacWhirr looked up at the wheelhouse clock. Screwed to
the bulk-head, it had a white face on which the black hands
appeared to stand quite still. It was half-past one in the
"Another day," he muttered to himself.
The second mate heard him, and lifting his head as one grieving
amongst ruins, "You won't see it break," he exclaimed. His
wrists and his knees could be seen to shake violently. "No, by
God! You won't. . . ."
He took his face again between his fists.
The body of the helmsman had moved slightly, but his head didn't
budge on his neck, -- like a stone head fixed to look one way
from a column. During a roll that all but took his booted legs
from under him, and in the very stagger to save himself, Captain
MacWhirr said austerely, "Don't you pay any attention to what
that man says." And then, with an indefinable change of tone,
very grave, he added, "He isn't on duty."
The sailor said nothing.
The hurricane boomed, shaking the little place, which seemed
air-tight; and the light of the binnacle flickered all the time.
"You haven't been relieved," Captain MacWhirr went on, looking
down. "I want you to stick to the helm, though, as long as you
can. You've got the hang of her. Another man coming here might
make a mess of it. Wouldn't do. No child's play. And the hands
are probably busy with a job down below. . . . Think you can?"
The steering-gear leaped into an abrupt short clatter, stopped
smouldering like an ember; and the still man, with a motionless
gaze, burst out, as if all the passion in him had gone into his
lips: "By Heavens, sir! I can steer for ever if nobody talks to
"Oh! aye! All right. . . ." The Captain lifted his eyes for the
first time to the man, ". . . Hackett."
And he seemed to dismiss this matter from his mind. He stooped to
the engine-room speaking-tube, blew in, and bent his head. Mr.
Rout below answered, and at once Captain MacWhirr put his lips to
With the uproar of the gale around him he applied alternately his
lips and his ear, and the engineer's voice mounted to him, harsh
and as if out of the heat of an engagement. One of the stokers
was disabled, the others had given in, the second engineer and
the donkey-man were firing-up. The third engineer was standing
by the steam-valve. The engines were being tended by hand. How
was it above?
"Bad enough. It mostly rests with you," said Captain MacWhirr.
Was the mate down there yet? No? Well, he would be presently.
Would Mr. Rout let him talk through the speaking-tube? -- through
the deck speaking-tube, because he -- the Captain -- was going
out again on the bridge directly. There was some trouble amongst
the Chinamen. They were fighting, it seemed. Couldn't allow
fighting anyhow. . . .
Mr. Rout had gone away, and Captain MacWhirr could feel against
his ear the pulsation of the engines, like the beat of the ship's
heart. Mr. Rout's voice down there shouted something distantly.
The ship pitched headlong, the pulsation leaped with a hissing
tumult, and stopped dead. Captain MacWhirr's face was impassive,
and his eyes were fixed aimlessly on the crouching shape of the
second mate. Again Mr. Rout's voice cried out in the depths, and
the pulsating beats recommenced, with slow strokes -- growing
Mr. Rout had returned to the tube. "It don't matter much what
they do," he said, hastily; and then, with irritation, "She takes
these dives as if she never meant to come up again."
"Awful sea," said the Captain's voice from above.
"Don't let me drive her under," barked Solomon Rout up the pipe.
"Dark and rain. Can't see what's coming," uttered the voice.
"Must -- keep -- her -- moving -- enough to steer -- and chance
it," it went on to state distinctly.
"I am doing as much as I dare."
"We are -- getting -- smashed up -- a good deal up here,"
proceeded the voice mildly. "Doing -- fairly well -- though. Of
course, if the wheelhouse should go. . . ."
Mr. Rout, bending an attentive ear, muttered peevishly something
under his breath.
But the deliberate voice up there became animated to ask: "Jukes
turned up yet?" Then, after a short wait, "I wish he would bear
a hand. I want him to be done and come up here in case of
anything. To look after the ship. I am all alone. The second
mate's lost. . . ."
"What?" shouted Mr. Rout into the engine-room, taking his head
away. Then up the tube he cried, "Gone overboard?" and clapped
his ear to.
"Lost his nerve," the voice from above continued in a
matter-of-fact tone. "Damned awkward circumstance."
Mr. Rout, listening with bowed neck, opened his eyes wide at
this. However, he heard something like the sounds of a scuffle
and broken exclamations coming down to him. He strained his
hearing; and all the time Beale, the third engineer, with his
arms uplifted, held between the palms of his hands the rim of a
little black wheel projecting at the side of a big copper pipe.
He seemed to be poising it above his head, as though it were a
correct attitude in some sort of game.
To steady himself, he pressed his shoulder against the white
bulkhead, one knee bent, and a sweat-rag tucked in his belt
hanging on his hip. His smooth cheek was begrimed and flushed,
and the coal dust on his eyelids, like the black pencilling of a
make-up, enhanced the liquid brilliance of the whites, giving to
his youthful face something of a feminine, exotic and fascinating
aspect. When the ship pitched he would with hasty movements of
his hands screw hard at the little wheel.
"Gone crazy," began the Captain's voice suddenly in the tube.
"Rushed at me. . . . Just now. Had to knock him down. . . .
This minute. You heard, Mr. Rout?"
"The devil!" muttered Mr. Rout. "Look out, Beale!"
His shout rang out like the blast of a warning trumpet, between
the iron walls of the engine-room. Painted white, they rose high
into the dusk of the skylight, sloping like a roof; and the whole
lofty space resembled the interior of a monument, divided by
floors of iron grating, with lights flickering at different
levels, and a mass of gloom lingering in the middle, within the
columnar stir of machinery under the motionless swelling of the
cylinders. A loud and wild resonance, made up of all the noises
of the hurricane, dwelt in the still warmth of the air. There
was in it the smell of hot metal, of oil, and a slight mist of
steam. The blows of the sea seemed to traverse it in an
unringing, stunning shock, from side to side.
Gleams, like pale long flames, trembled upon the polish of metal;
from the flooring below the enormous crank-heads emerged in their
turns with a flash of brass and steel -- going over; while the
connecting-rods, big-jointed, like skeleton limbs, seemed to
thrust them down and pull them up again with an irresistible
precision. And deep in the half-light other rods dodged
deliberately to and fro, crossheads nodded, discs of metal rubbed
smoothly against each other, slow and gentle, in a commingling of
shadows and gleams.
Sometimes all those powerful and unerring movements would slow
down simultaneously, as if they had been the functions of a
living organism, stricken suddenly by the blight of languor; and
Mr. Rout's eyes would blaze darker in his long sallow face. He
was fighting this fight in a pair of carpet slippers. A short
shiny jacket barely covered his loins, and his white wrists
protruded far out of the tight sleeves, as though the emergency
had added to his stature, had lengthened his limbs, augmented his
pallor, hollowed his eyes.
He moved, climbing high up, disappearing low down, with a
restless, purposeful industry, and when he stood still, holding
the guard-rail in front of the starting-gear, he would keep
glancing to the right at the steam-gauge, at the water-gauge,
fixed upon the white wall in the light of a swaying lamp. The
mouths of two speakingtubes gaped stupidly at his elbow, and the
dial of the engine-room telegraph resembled a clock of large
diameter, bearing on its face curt words instead of figures. The
grouped letters stood out heavily black, around the pivot-head of
the indicator, emphatically symbolic of loud exclamations: AHEAD,
ASTERN, SLOW, Half, STAND BY; and the fat black hand pointed
downwards to the word FULL, which, thus singled out, captured the
eye as a sharp cry secures attention.
The wood-encased bulk of the low-pressure cylinder, frowning
portly from above, emitted a faint wheeze at every thrust, and
except for that low hiss the engines worked their steel limbs
headlong or slow with a silent, determined smoothness. And all
this, the white walls, the moving steel, the floor plates under
Solomon Rout's feet, the floors of iron grating above his head,
the dusk and the gleams, uprose and sank continuously, with one
accord, upon the harsh wash of the waves against the ship's side.
The whole loftiness of the place, booming hollow to the great
voice of the wind, swayed at the top like a tree, would go over
bodily, as if borne down this way and that by the tremendous
"You've got to hurry up," shouted Mr. Rout, as soon as he saw
Jukes appear in the stokehold doorway.
Jukes' glance was wandering and tipsy; his red face was puffy, as
though he had overslept himself. He had had an arduous road, and
had travelled over it with immense vivacity, the agitation of his
mind corresponding to the exertions of his body. He had rushed
up out of the bunker, stumbling in the dark alleyway amongst a
lot of bewildered men who, trod upon, asked "What's up, sir?" in
awed mutters all round him; -- down the stokehold ladder, missing
many iron rungs in his hurry, down into a place deep as a well,
black as Tophet, tipping over back and forth like a see-saw. The
water in the bilges thundered at each roll, and lumps of coal
skipped to and fro, from end to end, rattling like an avalanche
of pebbles on a slope of iron.
Somebody in there moaned with pain, and somebody else could be
seen crouching over what seemed the prone body of a dead man; a
lusty voice blasphemed; and the glow under each fire-door was
like a pool of flaming blood radiating quietly in a velvety
A gust of wind struck upon the nape of Jukes' neck and next
moment he felt it streaming about his wet ankles. The stokehold
ventilators hummed: in front of the six fire-doors two wild
figures, stripped to the waist, staggered and stooped, wrestling
with two shovels.
"Hallo! Plenty of draught now," yelled the second engineer at
once, as though he had been all the time looking out for Jukes.
The donkeyman, a dapper little chap with a dazzling fair skin and
a tiny, gingery moustache, worked in a sort of mute transport.
They were keeping a full head of steam, and a profound rumbling,
as of an empty furniture van trotting over a bridge, made a
sustained bass to all the other noises of the place.
"Blowing off all the time," went on yelling the second. With a
sound as of a hundred scoured saucepans, the orifice of a
ventilator spat upon his shoulder a sudden gush of salt water,
and he volleyed a stream of curses upon all things on earth
including his own soul, ripping and raving, and all the time
attending to his business. With a sharp clash of metal the
ardent pale glare of the fire opened upon his bullet head,
showing his spluttering lips, his insolent face, and with another
clang closed like the white-hot wink of an iron eye.
"Where's the blooming ship? Can you tell me? blast my eyes!
Under water -- or what? It's coming down here in tons. Are the
condemned cowls gone to Hades? Hey? Don't you know anything --
you jolly sailor-man you . . . ?"
Jukes, after a bewildered moment, had been helped by a roll to
dart through; and as soon as his eyes took in the comparative
vastness, peace and brilliance of the engine-room, the ship,
setting her stern heavily in the water, sent him charging head
down upon Mr. Rout.
The chief's arm, long like a tentacle, and straightening as if
worked by a spring, went out to meet him, and deflected his rush
into a spin towards the speaking-tubes. At the same time Mr.
Rout repeated earnestly:
"You've got to hurry up, whatever it is."
Jukes yelled "Are you there, sir?" and listened. Nothing.
Suddenly the roar of the wind fell straight into his ear, but
presently a small voice shoved aside the shouting hurricane
"You, Jukes? -- Well?"
Jukes was ready to talk: it was only time that seemed to be
wanting. It was easy enough to account for everything. He could
perfectly imagine the coolies battened down in the reeking
'tween-deck, lying sick and scared between the rows of chests.
Then one of these chests -- or perhaps several at once --
breaking loose in a roll, knocking out others, sides splitting,
lids flying open, and all these clumsy Chinamen rising up in a
body to save their property. Afterwards every fling of the ship
would hurl that tramping, yelling mob here and there, from side
to side, in a whirl of smashed wood, torn clothing, rolling
dollars. A struggle once started, they would be unable to stop
themselves. Nothing could stop them now except main force. It
was a disaster. He had seen it, and that was all he could say.
Some of them must be dead, he believed. The rest would go on
fighting. . . .
He sent up his words, tripping over each other, crowding the
narrow tube. They mounted as if into a silence of an enlightened
comprehension dwelling alone up there with a storm. And Jukes
wanted to be dismissed from the face of that odious trouble
intruding on the great need of the ship.
HE WAITED. Before his eyes the engines turned with slow labour,
that in the moment of going off into a mad fling would stop dead
at Mr. Rout's shout, "Look out, Beale!" They paused in an
intelligent immobility, stilled in mid-stroke, a heavy crank
arrested on the cant, as if conscious of danger and the passage
of time. Then, with a "Now, then!" from the chief, and the sound
of a breath expelled through clenched teeth, they would
accomplish the interrupted revolution and begin another.
There was the prudent sagacity of wisdom and the deliberation of
enormous strength in their movements. This was their work -- this
patient coaxing of a distracted ship over the fury of the waves
and into the very eye of the wind. At times Mr. Rout's chin
would sink on his breast, and he watched them with knitted
eyebrows as if lost in thought.
The voice that kept the hurricane out of Jukes' ear began: "Take
the hands with you . . . ," and left off unexpectedly.
"What could I do with them, sir?"
A harsh, abrupt, imperious clang exploded suddenly. The three
pairs of eyes flew up to the telegraph dial to see the hand jump
from FULL to STOP, as if snatched by a devil. And then these
three men in the engineroom had the intimate sensation of a check
upon the ship, of a strange shrinking, as if she had gathered
herself for a desperate leap.
"Stop her!" bellowed Mr. Rout.
Nobody -- not even Captain MacWhirr, who alone on deck had caught
sight of a white line of foam coming on at such a height that he
couldn't believe his eyes -nobody was to know the steepness of
that sea and the awful depth of the hollow the hurricane had
scooped out behind the running wall of water.
It raced to meet the ship, and, with a pause, as of girding the
loins, the Nan-Shan lifted her bows and leaped. The flames in
all the lamps sank, darkening the engine-room. One went out.
With a tearing crash and a swirling, raving tumult, tons of water
fell upon the deck, as though the ship had darted under the foot
of a cataract.
Down there they looked at each other, stunned.
"Swept from end to end, by God!" bawled Jukes.
She dipped into the hollow straight down, as if going over the
edge of the world. The engine-room toppled forward menacingly,
like the inside of a tower nodding in an earthquake. An awful
racket, of iron things falling, came from the stokehold. She
hung on this appalling slant long enough for Beale to drop on his
hands and knees and begin to crawl as if he meant to fly on all
fours out of the engine-room, and for Mr. Rout to turn his head
slowly, rigid, cavernous, with the lower jaw dropping. Jukes had
shut his eyes, and his face in a moment became hopelessly blank
and gentle, like the face of a blind man.
At last she rose slowly, staggering, as if she had to lift a
mountain with her bows.
Mr. Rout shut his mouth; Jukes blinked; and little Beale stood up
"Another one like this, and that's the last of her," cried the
He and Jukes looked at each other, and the same thought came into
their heads. The Captain! Everything must have been swept away.
Steering-gear gone -- ship like a log. All over directly.
"Rush!" ejaculated Mr. Rout thickly, glaring with enlarged,
doubtful eyes at Jukes, who answered him by an irresolute glance.
The clang of the telegraph gong soothed them instantly. The
black hand dropped in a flash from STOP to FULL.
"Now then, Beale!" cried Mr. Rout.
The steam hissed low. The piston-rods slid in and out. Jukes
put his ear to the tube. The voice was ready for him. It said:
"Pick up all the money. Bear a hand now. I'll want you up here."
And that was all.
"Sir?" called up Jukes. There was no answer.
He staggered away like a defeated man from the field of battle.
He had got, in some way or other, a cut above his left eyebrow --
a cut to the bone. He was not aware of it in the least:
quantities of the China Sea, large enough to break his neck for
him, had gone over his head, had cleaned, washed, and salted that
wound. It did not bleed, but only gaped red; and this gash over
the eye, his dishevelled hair, the disorder of his clothes, gave
him the aspect of a man worsted in a fight with fists.
"Got to pick up the dollars." He appealed to Mr. Rout, smiling
pitifully at random.
"What's that?" asked Mr. Rout, wildly. "Pick up . . . ? I don't
care. . . ." Then, quivering in every muscle, but with an
exaggeration of paternal tone, "Go away now, for God's sake. You
deck people'll drive me silly. There's that second mate been
going for the old man. Don't you know? You fellows are going
wrong for want of something to do. . . ."
At these words Jukes discovered in himself the beginnings of
anger. Want of something to do -- indeed. . . . Full of hot
scorn against the chief, he turned to go the way he had come. In
the stokehold the plump donkeyman toiled with his shovel mutely,
as if his tongue had been cut out; but the second was carrying on
like a noisy, undaunted maniac, who had preserved his skill in
the art of stoking under a marine boiler.
"Hallo, you wandering officer! Hey! Can't you get some of your
slush-slingers to wind up a few of them ashes? I am getting
choked with them here. Curse it! Hallo! Hey! Remember the
articles: Sailors and firemen to assist each other. Hey! D'ye
Jukes was climbing out frantically, and the other, lifting up his
face after him, howled, "Can't you speak? What are you poking
about here for? What's your game, anyhow?"
A frenzy possessed Jukes. By the time he was back amongst the
men in the darkness of the alleyway, he felt ready to wring all
their necks at the slightest sign of hanging back. The very
thought of it exasperated him. He couldn't hang back. They
The impetuosity with which he came amongst them carried them
along. They had already been excited and startled at all his
comings and goings -- by the fierceness and rapidity of his
movements; and more felt than seen in his rushes, he appeared
formidable -busied with matters of life and death that brooked no
delay. At his first word he heard them drop into the bunker one
after another obediently, with heavy thumps.
They were not clear as to what would have to be done. "What is
it? What is it?" they were asking each other. The boatswain
tried to explain; the sounds of a great scuffle surprised them:
and the mighty shocks, reverberating awfully in the black bunker,
kept them in mind of their danger. When the boatswain threw open
the door it seemed that an eddy of the hurricane, stealing
through the iron sides of the ship, had set all these bodies
whirling like dust: there came to them a confused uproar, a
tempestuous tumult, a fierce mutter, gusts of screams dying away,
and the tramping of feet mingling with the blows of the sea.
For a moment they glared amazed, blocking the doorway. Jukes
pushed through them brutally. He said nothing, and simply darted
in. Another lot of coolies on the ladder, struggling suicidally
to break through the battened hatch to a swamped deck, fell off
as before, and he disappeared under them like a man overtaken by
The boatswain yelled excitedly: "Come along. Get the mate out.
He'll be trampled to death. Come on."
They charged in, stamping on breasts, on fingers, on faces,
catching their feet in heaps of clothing, kicking broken wood;
but before they could get hold of him Jukes emerged waist deep in
a multitude of clawing hands. In the instant he had been lost to
view, all the buttons of his jacket had gone, its back had got
split up to the collar, his waistcoat had been torn open. The
central struggling mass of Chinamen went over to the roll, dark,
indistinct, helpless, with a wild gleam of many eyes in the dim
light of the lamps.
"Leave me alone -- damn you. I am all right," screeched Jukes.
"Drive them forward. Watch your chance when she pitches.
Forward with 'em. Drive them against the bulkhead. Jam 'em up."
The rush of the sailors into the seething 'tween-deck was like a
splash of cold water into a boiling cauldron. The commotion sank
for a moment.
The bulk of Chinamen were locked in such a compact scrimmage
that, linking their arms and aided by an appalling dive of the
ship, the seamen sent it forward in one great shove, like a solid
block. Behind their backs small clusters and loose bodies
tumbled from side to side.
The boatswain performed prodigious feats of strength. With his
long arms open, and each great paw clutching at a stanchion, he
stopped the rush of seven entwined Chinamen rolling like a
boulder. His joints cracked; he said, "Ha!" and they flew apart.
But the carpenter showed the greater intelligence. Without
saying a word to anybody he went back into the alleyway, to fetch
several coils of cargo gear he had seen there -- chain and rope.
With these life-lines were rigged.
There was really no resistance. The struggle, however it began,
had turned into a scramble of blind panic. If the coolies had
started up after their scattered dollars they were by that time
fighting only for their footing. They took each other by the
throat merely to save themselves from being hurled about.
Whoever got a hold anywhere would kick at the others who caught
at his legs and hung on, till a roll sent them flying together
across the deck.
The coming of the white devils was a terror. Had they come to
kill? The individuals torn out of the ruck became very limp in
the seamen's hands: some, dragged aside by the heels, were
passive, like dead bodies, with open, fixed eyes. Here and there
a coolie would fall on his knees as if begging for mercy;
several, whom the excess of fear made unruly, were hit with hard
fists between the eyes, and cowered; while those who were hurt
submitted to rough handling, blinking rapidly without a plaint.
Faces streamed with blood; there were raw places on the shaven
heads, scratches, bruises, torn wounds, gashes. The broken
porcelain out of the chests was mostly responsible for the
latter. Here and there a Chinaman, wild-eyed, with his tail
unplaited, nursed a bleeding sole.
They had been ranged closely, after having been shaken into
submission, cuffed a little to allay excitement, addressed in
gruff words of encouragement that sounded like promises of evil.
They sat on the deck in ghastly, drooping rows, and at the end
the carpenter, with two hands to help him, moved busily from
place to place, setting taut and hitching the life-lines. The
boatswain, with one leg and one arm embracing a stanchion,
struggled with a lamp pressed to his breast, trying to get a
light, and growling all the time like an industrious gorilla.
The figures of seamen stooped repeatedly, with the movements of
gleaners, and everything was being flung into the bunker:
clothing, smashed wood, broken china, and the dollars, too,
gathered up in men's jackets. Now and then a sailor would
stagger towards the doorway with his arms full of rubbish; and
dolorous, slanting eyes followed his movements.
With every roll of the ship the long rows of sitting Celestials
would sway forward brokenly, and her headlong dives knocked
together the line of shaven polls from end to end. When the wash
of water rolling on the deck died away for a moment, it seemed to
Jukes, yet quivering from his exertions, that in his mad struggle
down there he had overcome the wind somehow: that a silence had
fallen upon the ship, a silence in which the sea struck
thunderously at her sides.
Everything had been cleared out of the 'tween-deck -- all the
wreckage, as the men said. They stood erect and tottering above
the level of heads and drooping shoulders. Here and there a
coolie sobbed for his breath. Where the high light fell, Jukes
could see the salient ribs of one, the yellow, wistful face of
another; bowed necks; or would meet a dull stare directed at his
face. He was amazed that there had been no corpses; but the lot
of them seemed at their last gasp, and they appeared to him more
pitiful than if they had been all dead.
Suddenly one of the coolies began to speak. The light came and
went on his lean, straining face; he threw his head up like a
baying hound. From the bunker came the sounds of knocking and
the tinkle of some dollars rolling loose; he stretched out his
arm, his mouth yawned black, and the incomprehensible guttural
hooting sounds, that did not seem to belong to a human language,
penetrated Jukes with a strange emotion as if a brute had tried
to be eloquent.
Two more started mouthing what seemed to Jukes fierce
denunciations; the others stirred with grunts and growls. Jukes
ordered the hands out of the 'tweendecks hurriedly. He left last
himself, backing through the door, while the grunts rose to a
loud murmur and hands were extended after him as after a
malefactor. The boatswain shot the bolt, and remarked uneasily,
"Seems as if the wind had dropped, sir."
The seamen were glad to get back into the alleyway. Secretly each
of them thought that at the last moment he could rush out on deck
-- and that was a comfort. There is something horribly repugnant
in the idea of being drowned under a deck. Now they had done
with the Chinamen, they again became conscious of the ship's
Jukes on coming out of the alleyway found himself up to the neck
in the noisy water. He gained the bridge, and discovered he
could detect obscure shapes as if his sight had become
preternaturally acute. He saw faint outlines. They recalled not
the familiar aspect of the Nan-Shan, but something remembered -an
old dismantled steamer he had seen years ago rotting on a
mudbank. She recalled that wreck.
There was no wind, not a breath, except the faint currents
created by the lurches of the ship. The smoke tossed out of the
funnel was settling down upon her deck. He breathed it as he
passed forward. He felt the deliberate throb of the engines, and
heard small sounds that seemed to have survived the great uproar:
the knocking of broken fittings, the rapid tumbling of some piece
of wreckage on the bridge. He perceived dimly the squat shape of
his captain holding on to a twisted bridge-rail, motionless and
swaying as if rooted to the planks. The unexpected stillness of
the air oppressed Jukes.
"We have done it, sir," he gasped.
"Thought you would," said Captain MacWhirr.
"Did you?" murmured Jukes to himself.
"Wind fell all at once," went on the Captain.
Jukes burst out: "If you think it was an easy job --"
But his captain, clinging to the rail, paid no attention.
"According to the books the worst is not over yet."
"If most of them hadn't been half dead with seasickness and
fright, not one of us would have come out of that 'tween-deck
alive," said Jukes.
"Had to do what's fair by them," mumbled MacWhirr, stolidly.
"You don't find everything in books."
"Why, I believe they would have risen on us if I hadn't ordered
the hands out of that pretty quick," continued Jukes with warmth.
After the whisper of their shouts, their ordinary tones, so
distinct, rang out very loud to their ears in the amazing
stillness of the air. It seemed to them they were talking in a
dark and echoing vault.
Through a jagged aperture in the dome of clouds the light of a
few stars fell upon the black sea, rising and falling confusedly.
Sometimes the head of a watery cone would topple on board and
mingle with the rolling flurry of foam on the swamped deck; and
the Nan-Shan wallowed heavily at the bottom of a circular cistern
of clouds. This ring of dense vapours, gyrating madly round the
calm of the centre, encompassed the ship like a motionless and
unbroken wall of an aspect inconceivably sinister. Within, the
sea, as if agitated by an internal commotion, leaped in peaked
mounds that jostled each other, slapping heavily against her
sides; and a low moaning sound, the infinite plaint of the
storm's fury, came from beyond the limits of the menacing calm.
Captain MacWhirr remained silent, and Jukes' ready ear caught
suddenly the faint, longdrawn roar of some immense wave rushing
unseen under that thick blackness, which made the appalling
boundary of his vision.
"Of course," he started resentfully, "they thought we had caught
at the chance to plunder them. Of course! You said -- pick up
the money. Easier said than done. They couldn't tell what was
in our heads. We came in, smash -- right into the middle of them.
Had to do it by a rush."
"As long as it's done . . . ," mumbled the Captain, without
attempting to look at Jukes. "Had to do what's fair."
"We shall find yet there's the devil to pay when this is over,"
said Jukes, feeling very sore. "Let them only recover a bit, and
you'll see. They will fly at our throats, sir. Don't forget,
sir, she isn't a British ship now. These brutes know it well,
too. The damned Siamese flag."
"We are on board, all the same," remarked Captain MacWhirr.
"The trouble's not over yet," insisted Jukes, prophetically,
reeling and catching on. "She's a wreck," he added, faintly.
"The trouble's not over yet," assented Captain MacWhirr, half
aloud. . . . "Look out for her a minute."
"Are you going off the deck, sir?" asked Jukes, hurriedly, as if
the storm were sure to pounce upon him as soon as he had been
left alone with the ship.
He watched her, battered and solitary, labouring heavily in a
wild scene of mountainous black waters lit by the gleams of
distant worlds. She moved slowly, breathing into the still core
of the hurricane the excess of her strength in a white cloud of
steam -- and the deeptoned vibration of the escape was like the
defiant trumpeting of a living creature of the sea impatient for
the renewal of the contest. It ceased suddenly. The still air
moaned. Above Jukes' head a few stars shone into a pit of black
vapours. The inky edge of the cloud-disc frowned upon the ship
under the patch of glittering sky. The stars, too, seemed to
look at her intently, as if for the last time, and the cluster of
their splendour sat like a diadem on a lowering brow.
Captain MacWhirr had gone into the chart-room. There was no light
there; but he could feel the disorder of that place where he used
to live tidily. His armchair was upset. The books had tumbled
out on the floor: he scrunched a piece of glass under his boot.
He groped for the matches, and found a box on a shelf with a deep
ledge. He struck one, and puckering the corners of his eyes,
held out the little flame towards the barometer whose glittering
top of glass and metals nodded at him continuously.
It stood very low -- incredibly low, so low that Captain MacWhirr
grunted. The match went out, and hurriedly he extracted another,
with thick, stiff fingers.
Again a little flame flared up before the nodding glass and metal
of the top. His eyes looked at it, narrowed with attention, as
if expecting an imperceptible sign. With his grave face he
resembled a booted and misshapen pagan burning incense before the
oracle of a Joss. There was no mistake. It was the lowest
reading he had ever seen in his life.
Captain MacWhirr emitted a low whistle. He forgot himself till
the flame diminished to a blue spark, burnt his fingers and
vanished. Perhaps something had gone wrong with the thing!
There was an aneroid glass screwed above the couch. He turned
that way, struck another match, and discovered the white face of
the other instrument looking at him from the bulkhead, meaningly,
not to be gainsaid, as though the wisdom of men were made
unerring by the indifference of matter. There was no room for
doubt now. Captain MacWhirr pshawed at it, and threw the match
The worst was to come, then -- and if the books were right this
worst would be very bad. The experience of the last six hours
had enlarged his conception of what heavy weather could be like.
"It'll be terrific," he pronounced, mentally. He had not
consciously looked at anything by the light of the matches except
at the barometer; and yet somehow he had seen that his
waterbottle and the two tumblers had been flung out of their
stand. It seemed to give him a more intimate knowledge of the
tossing the ship had gone through. "I wouldn't have believed
it," he thought. And his table had been cleared, too; his
rulers, his pencils, the inkstand -- all the things that had
their safe appointed places -- they were gone, as if a
mischievous hand had plucked them out one by one and flung them
on the wet floor. The hurricane had broken in upon the orderly
arrangements of his privacy. This had never happened before, and
the feeling of dismay reached the very seat of his composure.
And the worst was to come yet! He was glad the trouble in the
'tween-deck had been discovered in time. If the ship had to go
after all, then, at least, she wouldn't be going to the bottom
with a lot of people in her fighting teeth and claw. That would
have been odious. And in that feeling there was a humane
intention and a vague sense of the fitness of things.
These instantaneous thoughts were yet in their essence heavy and
slow, partaking of the nature of the man. He extended his hand
to put back the matchbox in its corner of the shelf. There were
always matches there -- by his order. The steward had his
instructions impressed upon him long before. "A box . . . just
there, see? Not so very full . . . where I can put my hand on
it, steward. Might want a light in a hurry. Can't tell on board
ship what you might want in a hurry. Mind, now."
And of course on his side he would be careful to put it back in
its place scrupulously. He did so now, but before he removed his
hand it occurred to him that perhaps he would never have occasion
to use that box any more. The vividness of the thought checked
him and for an infinitesimal fraction of a second his fingers
closed again on the small object as though it had been the symbol
of all these little habits that chain us to the weary round of
life. He released it at last, and letting himself fall on the
settee, listened for the first sounds of returning wind.
Not yet. He heard only the wash of water, the heavy splashes,
the dull shocks of the confused seas boarding his ship from all
sides. She would never have a chance to clear her decks.
But the quietude of the air was startlingly tense and unsafe,
like a slender hair holding a sword suspended over his head. By
this awful pause the storm penetrated the defences of the man and
unsealed his lips. He spoke out in the solitude and the pitch
darkness of the cabin, as if addressing another being awakened
within his breast.
"I shouldn't like to lose her," he said half aloud.
He sat unseen, apart from the sea, from his ship, isolated, as if
withdrawn from the very current of his own existence, where such
freaks as talking to himself surely had no place. His palms
reposed on his knees, he bowed his short neck and puffed heavily,
surrendering to a strange sensation of weariness he was not
enlightened enough to recognize for the fatigue of mental stress.
From where he sat he could reach the door of a washstand locker.
There should have been a towel there. There was. Good. . . .
He took it out, wiped his face, and afterwards went on rubbing
his wet head. He towelled himself with energy in the dark, and
then remained motionless with the towel on his knees. A moment
passed, of a stillness so profound that no one could have guessed
there was a man sitting in that cabin. Then a murmur arose.
"She may come out of it yet."
When Captain MacWhirr came out on deck, which he did brusquely,
as though he had suddenly become conscious of having stayed away
too long, the calm had lasted already more than fifteen minutes
-- long enough to make itself intolerable even to his
imagination. Jukes, motionless on the forepart of the bridge,
began to speak at once. His voice, blank and forced as though he
were talking through hard-set teeth, seemed to flow away on all
sides into the darkness, deepening again upon the sea.
"I had the wheel relieved. Hackett began to sing out that he was
done. He's lying in there alongside the steering-gear with a
face like death. At first I couldn't get anybody to crawl out
and relieve the poor devil. That boss'n's worse than no good, I
always said. Thought I would have had to go myself and haul out
one of them by the neck."
"Ah, well," muttered the Captain. He stood watchful by Jukes'
"The second mate's in there, too, holding his head. Is he hurt,
"No -- crazy," said Captain MacWhirr, curtly.
"Looks as if he had a tumble, though."
"I had to give him a push," explained the Captain.
Jukes gave an impatient sigh.
"It will come very sudden," said Captain MacWhirr, "and from over
there, I fancy. God only knows though. These books are only
good to muddle your head and make you jumpy. It will be bad, and
there's an end. If we only can steam her round in time to meet
it. . . ."
A minute passed. Some of the stars winked rapidly and vanished.
"You left them pretty safe?" began the Captain abruptly, as
though the silence were unbearable.
"Are you thinking of the coolies, sir? I rigged lifelines all
ways across that 'tween-deck."
"Did you? Good idea, Mr. Jukes."
"I didn't . . . think you cared to . . . know," said Jukes -- the
lurching of the ship cut his speech as though somebody had been
jerking him around while he talked -- "how I got on with . . .
that infernal job. We did it. And it may not matter in the
"Had to do what's fair, for all -- they are only Chinamen. Give
them the same chance with ourselves -- hang it all. She isn't
lost yet. Bad enough to be shut up below in a gale --"
"That's what I thought when you gave me the job, sir,"
interjected Jukes, moodily.
"-- without being battered to pieces," pursued Captain MacWhirr
with rising vehemence. "Couldn't let that go on in my ship, if I
knew she hadn't five minutes to live. Couldn't bear it, Mr.
A hollow echoing noise, like that of a shout rolling in a rocky
chasm, approached the ship and went away again. The last star,
blurred, enlarged, as if returning to the fiery mist of its
beginning, struggled with the colossal depth of blackness hanging
over the ship -- and went out.
"Now for it!" muttered Captain MacWhirr. "Mr. Jukes."
The two men were growing indistinct to each other.
"We must trust her to go through it and come out on the other
side. That's plain and straight. There's no room for Captain
Wilson's storm-strategy here."
"She will be smothered and swept again for hours," mumbled the
Captain. "There's not much left by this time above deck for the
sea to take away -- unless you or me."
"Both, sir," whispered Jukes, breathlessly.
"You are always meeting trouble half way, Jukes," Captain
MacWhirr remonstrated quaintly. "Though it's a fact that the
second mate is no good. D'ye hear, Mr. Jukes? You would be left
alone if. . . ."
Captain MacWhirr interrupted himself, and Jukes, glancing on all
sides, remained silent.
"Don't you be put out by anything," the Captain continued,
mumbling rather fast. "Keep her facing it. They may say what
they like, but the heaviest seas run with the wind. Facing it --
always facing it -- that's the way to get through. You are a
young sailor. Face it. That's enough for any man. Keep a cool
"Yes, sir," said Jukes, with a flutter of the heart.
In the next few seconds the Captain spoke to the engine-room and
got an answer.
For some reason Jukes experienced an access of confidence, a
sensation that came from outside like a warm breath, and made him
feel equal to every demand. The distant muttering of the
darkness stole into his ears. He noted it unmoved, out of that
sudden belief in himself, as a man safe in a shirt of mail would
watch a point.
The ship laboured without intermission amongst the black hills of
water, paying with this hard tumbling the price of her life. She
rumbled in her depths, shaking a white plummet of steam into the
night, and Jukes' thought skimmed like a bird through the
engine-room, where Mr. Rout -- good man -- was ready. When the
rumbling ceased it seemed to him that there was a pause of every
sound, a dead pause in which Captain MacWhirr's voice rang out
"What's that? A puff of wind?" -- it spoke much louder than
Jukes had ever heard it before -- "On the bow. That's right.
She may come out of it yet."
The mutter of the winds drew near apace. In the forefront could
be distinguished a drowsy waking plaint passing on, and far off
the growth of a multiple clamour, marching and expanding. There
was the throb as of many drums in it, a vicious rushing note, and
like the chant of a tramping multitude.
Jukes could no longer see his captain distinctly. The darkness
was absolutely piling itself upon the ship. At most he made out
movements, a hint of elbows spread out, of a head thrown up.
Captain MacWhirr was trying to do up the top button of his
oilskin coat with unwonted haste. The hurricane, with its power
to madden the seas, to sink ships, to uproot trees, to overturn
strong walls and dash the very birds of the air to the ground,
had found this taciturn man in its path, and, doing its utmost,
had managed to wring out a few words. Before the renewed wrath
of winds swooped on his ship, Captain MacWhirr was moved to
declare, in a tone of vexation, as it were: "I wouldn't like to
He was spared that annoyance.
ON A bright sunshiny day, with the breeze chasing her smoke far
ahead, the Nan-Shan came into Fu-chau. Her arrival was at once
noticed on shore, and the seamen in harbour said: "Look! Look at
that steamer. What's that? Siamese -- isn't she? Just look at
She seemed, indeed, to have been used as a running target for the
secondary batteries of a cruiser. A hail of minor shells could
not have given her upper works a more broken, torn, and
devastated aspect: and she had about her the worn, weary air of
ships coming from the far ends of the world -- and indeed with
truth, for in her short passage she had been very far; sighting,
verily, even the coast of the Great Beyond, whence no ship ever
returns to give up her crew to the dust of the earth. She was
incrusted and gray with salt to the trucks of her masts and to
the top of her funnel; as though (as some facetious seaman said)
"the crowd on board had fished her out somewhere from the bottom
of the sea and brought her in here for salvage." And further,
excited by the felicity of his own wit, he offered to give five
pounds for her -- "as she stands."
Before she had been quite an hour at rest, a meagre little man,
with a red-tipped nose and a face cast in an angry mould, landed
from a sampan on the quay of the Foreign Concession, and
incontinently turned to shake his fist at her.
A tall individual, with legs much too thin for a rotund stomach,
and with watery eyes, strolled up and remarked, "Just left her --
eh? Quick work."
He wore a soiled suit of blue flannel with a pair of dirty
cricketing shoes; a dingy gray moustache drooped from his lip,
and daylight could be seen in two places between the rim and the
crown of his hat.
"Hallo! what are you doing here?" asked the exsecond-mate of the
Nan-Shan, shaking hands hurriedly.
"Standing by for a job -- chance worth taking -- got a quiet
hint," explained the man with the broken hat, in jerky, apathetic
The second shook his fist again at the Nan-Shan. "There's a
fellow there that ain't fit to have the command of a scow," he
declared, quivering with passion, while the other looked about
But he caught sight on the quay of a heavy seaman's chest,
painted brown under a fringed sailcloth cover, and lashed with
new manila line. He eyed it with awakened interest.
"I would talk and raise trouble if it wasn't for that damned
Siamese flag. Nobody to go to -- or I would make it hot for him.
The fraud! Told his chief engineer -- that's another fraud for
you -- I had lost my nerve. The greatest lot of ignorant fools
that ever sailed the seas. No! You can't think . . ."
"Got your money all right?" inquired his seedy acquaintance
"Yes. Paid me off on board," raged the second mate. "'Get your
breakfast on shore,' says he."
"Mean skunk!" commented the tall man, vaguely, and passed his
tongue on his lips. "What about having a drink of some sort?"
"He struck me," hissed the second mate.
"No! Struck! You don't say?" The man in blue began to bustle
about sympathetically. "Can't possibly talk here. I want to
know all about it.
Struck -- eh? Let's get a fellow to carry your chest. I know a
quiet place where they have some bottled beer. . . ."
Mr. Jukes, who had been scanning the shore through a pair of
glasses, informed the chief engineer afterwards that "our late
second mate hasn't been long in finding a friend. A chap looking
uncommonly like a bummer. I saw them walk away together from the
The hammering and banging of the needful repairs did not disturb
Captain MacWhirr. The steward found in the letter he wrote, in a
tidy chart-room, passages of such absorbing interest that twice
he was nearly caught in the act. But Mrs. MacWhirr, in the
drawing-room of the forty-pound house, stifled a yawn -- perhaps
out of self-respect -- for she was alone.
She reclined in a plush-bottomed and gilt hammockchair near a
tiled fireplace, with Japanese fans on the mantel and a glow of
coals in the grate. Lifting her hands, she glanced wearily here
and there into the many pages. It was not her fault they were so
prosy, so completely uninteresting -- from "My darling wife" at
the beginning, to "Your loving husband" at the end. She couldn't
be really expected to understand all these ship affairs. She was
glad, of course, to hear from him, but she had never asked
herself why, precisely.
". . . They are called typhoons . . . The mate did not seem to
like it . . . Not in books . . . Couldn't think of letting it
go on. . . ."
The paper rustled sharply. ". . . . A calm that lasted more
than twenty minutes," she read perfunctorily; and the next words
her thoughtless eyes caught, on the top of another page, were:
"see you and the children again. . . ." She had a movement of
impatience. He was always thinking of coming home. He had never
had such a good salary before. What was the matter now?
It did not occur to her to turn back overleaf to look. She would
have found it recorded there that between 4 and 6 A. M. on
December 25th, Captain MacWhirr did actually think that his ship
could not possibly live another hour in such a sea, and that he
would never see his wife and children again. Nobody was to know
this (his letters got mislaid so quickly) -- nobody whatever but
the steward, who had been greatly impressed by that disclosure.
So much so, that he tried to give the cook some idea of the
"narrow squeak we all had" by saying solemnly, "The old man
himself had a dam' poor opinion of our chance."
"How do you know?" asked, contemptuously, the cook, an old
soldier. "He hasn't told you, maybe?"
"Well, he did give me a hint to that effect," the steward
brazened it out.
"Get along with you! He will be coming to tell me next," jeered
the old cook, over his shoulder.
Mrs. MacWhirr glanced farther, on the alert. ". . . Do what's
fair. . . . Miserable objects . . . . Only three, with a broken
leg each, and one . . . Thought had better keep the matter quiet
. . . hope to have done the fair thing. . . ."
She let fall her hands. No: there was nothing more about coming
home. Must have been merely expressing a pious wish. Mrs.
MacWhirr's mind was set at ease, and a black marble clock, priced
by the local jeweller at £3 18s. 6d., had a discreet
The door flew open, and a girl in the long-legged, short-frocked
period of existence, flung into the room.
A lot of colourless, rather lanky hair was scattered over her
shoulders. Seeing her mother, she stood still, and directed her
pale prying eyes upon the letter.
"From father," murmured Mrs. MacWhirr. "What have you done with
The girl put her hands up to her head and pouted.
"He's well," continued Mrs. MacWhirr languidly. "At least I think
so. He never says." She had a little laugh. The girl's face
expressed a wandering indifference, and Mrs. MacWhirr surveyed
her with fond pride.
"Go and get your hat," she said after a while. "I am going out
to do some shopping. There is a sale at Linom's."
"Oh, how jolly!" uttered the child, impressively, in unexpectedly
grave vibrating tones, and bounded out of the room.
It was a fine afternoon, with a gray sky and dry sidewalks.
Outside the draper's Mrs. MacWhirr smiled upon a woman in a black
mantle of generous proportions armoured in jet and crowned with
flowers blooming falsely above a bilious matronly countenance.
They broke into a swift little babble of greetings and
exclamations both together, very hurried, as if the street were
ready to yawn open and swallow all that pleasure before it could
Behind them the high glass doors were kept on the swing. People
couldn't pass, men stood aside waiting patiently, and Lydia was
absorbed in poking the end of her parasol between the stone
flags. Mrs. MacWhirr talked rapidly.
"Thank you very much. He's not coming home yet. Of course it's
very sad to have him away, but it's such a comfort to know he
keeps so well." Mrs. MacWhirr drew breath. "The climate there
agrees with him," she added, beamingly, as if poor MacWhirr had
been away touring in China for the sake of his health.
Neither was the chief engineer coming home yet. Mr. Rout knew too
well the value of a good billet.
"Solomon says wonders will never cease," cried Mrs. Rout joyously
at the old lady in her armchair by the fire. Mr. Rout's mother
moved slightly, her withered hands lying in black half-mittens on
The eyes of the engineer's wife fairly danced on the paper.
"That captain of the ship he is in -- a rather simple man, you
remember, mother? -- has done something rather clever, Solomon
"Yes, my dear," said the old woman meekly, sitting with bowed
silvery head, and that air of inward stillness characteristic of
very old people who seem lost in watching the last flickers of
life. "I think I remember."
Solomon Rout, Old Sol, Father Sol, the Chief, "Rout, good man" --
Mr. Rout, the condescending and paternal friend of youth, had
been the baby of her many children -- all dead by this time. And
she remembered him best as a boy of ten -- long before he went
away to serve his apprenticeship in some great engineering works
in the North. She had seen so little of him since, she had gone
through so many years, that she had now to retrace her steps very
far back to recognize him plainly in the mist of time. Sometimes
it seemed that her daughter-in-law was talking of some strange
Mrs. Rout junior was disappointed. "H'm. H'm." She turned the
page. "How provoking! He doesn't say what it is. Says I
couldn't understand how much there was in it. Fancy! What could
it be so very clever? What a wretched man not to tell us!"
She read on without further remark soberly, and at last sat
looking into the fire. The chief wrote just a word or two of the
typhoon; but something had moved him to express an increased
longing for the companionship of the jolly woman. "If it hadn't
been that mother must be looked after, I would send you your
passage-money to-day. You could set up a small house out here.
I would have a chance to see you sometimes then. We are not
growing younger. . . ."
"He's well, mother," sighed Mrs. Rout, rousing herself.
"He always was a strong healthy boy," said the old woman,
But Mr. Jukes' account was really animated and very full. His
friend in the Western Ocean trade imparted it freely to the other
officers of his liner. "A chap I know writes to me about an
extraordinary affair that happened on board his ship in that
typhoon -- you know -- that we read of in the papers two months
ago. It's the funniest thing! Just see for yourself what he
says. I'll show you his letter."
There were phrases in it calculated to give the impression of
light-hearted, indomitable resolution. Jukes had written them in
good faith, for he felt thus when he wrote. He described with
lurid effect the scenes in the 'tween-deck. ". . . It struck me
in a flash that those confounded Chinamen couldn't tell we
weren't a desperate kind of robbers. 'Tisn't good to part the
Chinaman from his money if he is the stronger party. We need have
been desperate indeed to go thieving in such weather, but what
could these beggars know of us? So, without thinking of it twice,
I got the hands away in a jiffy. Our work was done -- that the
old man had set his heart on. We cleared out without staying to
inquire how they felt. I am convinced that if they had not been
so unmercifully shaken, and afraid -- each individual one of them
-- to stand up, we would have been torn to pieces. Oh! It was
pretty complete, I can tell you; and you may run to and fro
across the Pond to the end of time before you find yourself with
such a job on your hands."
After this he alluded professionally to the damage done to the
ship, and went on thus:
"It was when the weather quieted down that the situation became
confoundedly delicate. It wasn't made any better by us having
been lately transferred to the Siamese flag; though the skipper
can't see that it makes any difference -- 'as long as we are on
board' -he says. There are feelings that this man simply hasn't
got -- and there's an end of it. You might just as well try to
make a bedpost understand. But apart from this it is an
infernally lonely state for a ship to be going about the China
seas with no proper consuls, not even a gunboat of her own
anywhere, nor a body to go to in case of some trouble.
"My notion was to keep these Johnnies under hatches for another
fifteen hours or so; as we weren't much farther than that from
Fu-chau. We would find there, most likely, some sort of a
man-of-war, and once under her guns we were safe enough; for
surely any skipper of a man-of-war -- English, French or Dutch
-would see white men through as far as row on board goes. We
could get rid of them and their money afterwards by delivering
them to their Mandarin or Taotai, or whatever they call these
chaps in goggles you see being carried about in sedan-chairs
through their stinking streets.
"The old man wouldn't see it somehow. He wanted to keep the
matter quiet. He got that notion into his head, and a steam
windlass couldn't drag it out of him. He wanted as little fuss
made as possible, for the sake of the ship's name and for the
sake of the owners -- 'for the sake of all concerned,' says he,
looking at me very hard.
It made me angry hot. Of course you couldn't keep a thing like
that quiet; but the chests had been secured in the usual manner
and were safe enough for any earthly gale, while this had been an
altogether fiendish business I couldn't give you even an idea of.
"Meantime, I could hardly keep on my feet. None of us had a
spell of any sort for nearly thirty hours, and there the old man
sat rubbing his chin, rubbing the top of his head, and so
bothered he didn't even think of pulling his long boots off.
"'I hope, sir,' says I, 'you won't be letting them out on deck
before we make ready for them in some shape or other.' Not, mind
you, that I felt very sanguine about controlling these beggars if
they meant to take charge. A trouble with a cargo of Chinamen is
no child's play. I was dam' tired, too. 'I wish,' said I, 'you
would let us throw the whole lot of these dollars down to them
and leave them to fight it out amongst themselves, while we get a
"'Now you talk wild, Jukes,' says he, looking up in his slow way
that makes you ache all over, somehow. 'We must plan out
something that would be fair to all parties.'
"I had no end of work on hand, as you may imagine, so I set the
hands going, and then I thought I would turn in a bit. I hadn't
been asleep in my bunk ten minutes when in rushes the steward and
begins to pull at my leg.
"'For God's sake, Mr. Jukes, come out! Come on deck quick, sir.
Oh, do come out!'
"The fellow scared all the sense out of me. I didn't know what
had happened: another hurricane -- or what. Could hear no wind.
"'The Captain's letting them out. Oh, he is letting them out!
Jump on deck, sir, and save us. The chief engineer has just run
below for his revolver.'
"That's what I understood the fool to say. However, Father Rout
swears he went in there only to get a clean pocket-handkerchief.
Anyhow, I made one jump into my trousers and flew on deck aft.
There was certainly a good deal of noise going on forward of the
bridge. Four of the hands with the boss'n were at work abaft. I
passed up to them some of the rifles all the ships on the China
coast carry in the cabin, and led them on the bridge. On the way
I ran against Old Sol, looking startled and sucking at an
"'Come along,' I shouted to him.
"We charged, the seven of us, up to the chart-room. All was over.
There stood the old man with his sea-boots still drawn up to the
hips and in shirt-sleeves -got warm thinking it out, I suppose.
Bun Hin's dandy clerk at his elbow, as dirty as a sweep, was
still green in the face. I could see directly I was in for
"'What the devil are these monkey tricks, Mr. Jukes?' asks the
old man, as angry as ever he could be. I tell you frankly it made
me lose my tongue. 'For God's sake, Mr. Jukes,' says he, 'do
take away these rifles from the men. Somebody's sure to get hurt
before long if you don't. Damme, if this ship isn't worse than
Bedlam! Look sharp now. I want you up here to help me and Bun
Hin's Chinaman to count that money. You wouldn't mind lending a
hand, too, Mr. Rout, now you are here. The more of us the
"He had settled it all in his mind while I was having a snooze.
Had we been an English ship, or only going to land our cargo of
coolies in an English port, like Hong-Kong, for instance, there
would have been no end of inquiries and bother, claims for
damages and so on. But these Chinamen know their officials
better than we do.
"The hatches had been taken off already, and they were all on
deck after a night and a day down below. It made you feel queer
to see so many gaunt, wild faces together. The beggars stared
about at the sky, at the sea, at the ship, as though they had
expected the whole thing to have been blown to pieces. And no
wonder! They had had a doing that would have shaken the soul out
of a white man. But then they say a Chinaman has no soul. He
has, though, something about him that is deuced tough. There was
a fellow (amongst others of the badly hurt) who had had his eye
all but knocked out. It stood out of his head the size of half a
hen's egg. This would have laid out a white man on his back for
a month: and yet there was that chap elbowing here and there in
the crowd and talking to the others as if nothing had been the
matter. They made a great hubbub amongst themselves, and
whenever the old man showed his bald head on the foreside of the
bridge, they would all leave off jawing and look at him from
"It seems that after he had done his thinking he made that Bun
Hin's fellow go down and explain to them the only way they could
get their money back. He told me afterwards that, all the coolies
having worked in the same place and for the same length of time,
he reckoned he would be doing the fair thing by them as near as
possible if he shared all the cash we had picked up equally among
the lot. You couldn't tell one man's dollars from another's, he
said, and if you asked each man how much money he brought on
board he was afraid they would lie, and he would find himself a
long way short. I think he was right there. As to giving up the
money to any Chinese official he could scare up in Fu-chau, he
said he might just as well put the lot in his own pocket at once
for all the good it would be to them. I suppose they thought so,
"We finished the distribution before dark. It was rather a
sight: the sea running high, the ship a wreck to look at, these
Chinamen staggering up on the bridge one by one for their share,
and the old man still booted, and in his shirt-sleeves, busy
paying out at the chartroom door, perspiring like anything, and
now and then coming down sharp on myself or Father Rout about one
thing or another not quite to his mind. He took the share of
those who were disabled himself to them on the No. 2 hatch.
There were three dollars left over, and these went to the three
most damaged coolies, one to each. We turned-to afterwards, and
shovelled out on deck heaps of wet rags, all sorts of fragments
of things without shape, and that you couldn't give a name to,
and let them settle the ownership themselves.
"This certainly is coming as near as can be to keeping the thing
quiet for the benefit of all concerned. What's your opinion, you
pampered mail-boat swell? The old chief says that this was
plainly the only thing that could be done. The skipper remarked
to me the other day, 'There are things you find nothing about in
books.' I think that he got out of it very well for such a