The ship’s head was laid to clear Eimeo to the north, and the captain sat down in the cabin, with a chart, a ruler, and an epitome.
‘East a half no’the,’ said he, raising his face from his labours. ‘Mr Hay, you’ll have to watch your dead reckoning; I want every yard she makes on every hair’s-breadth of a course. I’m going to knock a hole right straight through the Paumotus, and that’s always a near touch. Now, if this South East Trade ever blew out of the S.E., which it don’t, we might hope to lie within half a point of our course. Say we lie within a point of it. That’ll just about weather Fakarava. Yes, sir, that’s what we’ve got to do, if we tack for it. Brings us through this slush of little islands in the cleanest place: see?’ And he showed where his ruler intersected the wide-lying labyrinth of the Dangerous Archipelago. ‘I wish it was night, and I could put her about right now; we’re losing time and easting. Well, we’ll do our best. And if we don’t fetch Peru, we’ll bring up to Ecuador. All one, I guess. Depreciated dollars down, and no questions asked. A remarkable fine institootion, the South American don.’
Tahiti was already some way astern, the Diadem rising from among broken mountains — Eimeo was already close aboard, and stood black and strange against the golden splendour of the west — when the captain took his departure from the two islands, and the patent log was set.
Some twenty minutes later, Sally Day, who was continually leaving the wheel to peer in at the cabin clock, announced in a shrill cry ‘Fo’bell,’ and the cook was to be seen carrying the soup into the cabin.
‘I guess I’ll sit down and have a pick with you,’ said Davis to Herrick. ‘By the time I’ve done, it’ll be dark, and we’ll clap the hooker on the wind for South America.’
In the cabin at one corner of the table, immediately below the lamp, and on the lee side of a bottle of champagne, sat Huish. ‘What’s this? Where did that come from?’ asked the captain.
‘It’s fizz, and it came from the after-‘old, if you want to know,’ said Huish, and drained his mug.
‘This’ll never do,’ exclaimed Davis, the merchant seaman’s horror of breaking into cargo showing incongruously forth on board that stolen ship. ‘There was never any good came of games like that.’
‘You byby!’ said Huish. ‘A fellow would think (to ‘ear him) we were on the square! And look ‘ere, you’ve put this job up ‘ansomely for me, ‘aven’t you? I’m to go on deck and steer while you two sit and guzzle, and I’m to go by nickname, and got to call you “sir” and “mister.” Well, you look here, my bloke: I’ll have fizz ad lib., or it won’t wash. I tell you that. And you know mighty well, you ain’t got any man-of-war to signal now.’
Davis was staggered. ‘I’d give fifty dollars this had never happened,’ he said weakly.
‘Well, it ‘as ‘appened, you see,’ returned Huish. ‘Try some; it’s devilish good.’
The Rubicon was crossed without another struggle. The captain filled a mug and drank.
‘I wish it was beer,’ he said with a sigh. ‘But there’s no denying it’s the genuine stuff and cheap at the money. Now, Huish, you clear out and take your wheel.’
The little wretch had gained a point, and he was gay. ‘Ay, ay, sir,’ said he, and left the others to their meal.
‘Pea soup!’ exclaimed the captain. ‘Blamed if I thought I should taste pea soup again!’
Herrick sat inert and silent. It was impossible after these months of hopeless want to smell the rough, high-spiced sea victuals without lust, and his mouth watered with desire of the champagne. It was no less impossible to have assisted at the scene between Huish and the captain, and not to perceive, with sudden bluntness, the gulf where he had fallen. He was a thief among thieves. He said it to himself. He could not touch the soup. If he had moved at all, it must have been to leave the table, throw himself overboard, and drown — an honest man.
‘Here,’ said the captain, ‘you look sick, old man; have a drop of this.’
The champagne creamed and bubbled in the mug; its bright colour, its lively effervescence, seized his eye. ‘It is too late to hesitate,’ he thought; his hand took the mug instinctively; he drank, with unquenchable pleasure and desire of more; drained the vessel dry, and set it down with sparkling eyes.
‘There is something in life after all!’ he cried. ‘I had forgot what it was like. Yes, even this is worth while. Wine, food, dry clothes — why, they’re worth dying, worth hanging, for! Captain, tell me one thing: why aren’t all the poor folk foot-pads?’
‘Give it up,’ said the captain.
‘They must be damned good,’ cried Herrick. ‘There’s something here beyond me. Think of that calaboose! Suppose we were sent suddenly back.’ He shuddered as though stung by a convulsion, and buried his face in his clutching hands.
‘Here, what’s wrong with you?’ cried the captain. There was no reply; only Herrick’s shoulders heaved, so that the table was shaken. ‘Take some more of this. Here, drink this. I order you to. Don’t start crying when you’re out of the wood.’
‘I’m not crying,’ said Herrick, raising his face and showing his dry eyes. ‘It’s worse than crying. It’s the horror of that grave that we’ve escaped from.’
‘Come now, you tackle your soup; that’ll fix you,’ said Davis kindly. ‘I told you you were all broken up. You couldn’t have stood out another week.’
‘That’s the dreadful part of it!’ cried Herrick. ‘Another week and I’d have murdered someone for a dollar! God! and I know that? And I’m still living? It’s some beastly dream.’
‘Quietly, quietly! Quietly does it, my son. Take your pea soup. Food, that’s what you want,’ said Davis.
The soup strengthened and quieted Herrick’s nerves; another glass of wine, and a piece of pickled pork and fried banana completed what the soup began; and he was able once more to look the captain in the face.
‘I didn’t know I was so much run down,’ he said.
‘Well,’ said Davis, ‘you were as steady as a rock all day: now you’ve had a little lunch, you’ll be as steady as a rock again.’
‘Yes,‘was the reply, ‘I’m steady enough now, but I’m a queer kind of a first officer.’
‘Shucks!’ cried the captain. ‘You’ve only got to mind the ship’s course, and keep your slate to half a point. A babby could do that, let alone a college graduate like you. There ain’t nothing TO sailoring, when you come to look it in the face. And now we’ll go and put her about. Bring the slate; we’ll have to start our dead reckoning right away.’
The distance run since the departure was read off the log by the binnacle light and entered on the slate.
‘Ready about,’ said the captain. ‘Give me the wheel, White Man, and you stand by the mainsheet. Boom tackle, Mr Hay, please, and then you can jump forward and attend head sails.’
‘Ay, ay, sir,’ responded Herrick.
‘All clear forward?’ asked Davis.
‘All clear, sir.’
‘Hard a-lee!’ cried the captain. ‘Haul in your slack as she comes,’ he called to Huish. ‘Haul in your slack, put your back into it; keep your feet out of the coils.’ A sudden blow sent Huish flat along the deck, and the captain was in his place. ‘Pick yourself up and keep the wheel hard over!’ he roared. ‘You wooden fool, you wanted to get killed, I guess. Draw the jib,’ he cried a moment later; and then to Huish, ‘Give me the wheel again, and see if you can coil that sheet.’
But Huish stood and looked at Davis with an evil countenance. ‘Do you know you struck me?’ said he.
‘Do you know I saved your life?’ returned the other, not deigning to look at him, his eyes travelling instead between the compass and the sails. ‘Where would you have been, if that boom had swung out and you bundled in the clack? No, SIR, we’ll have no more of you at the mainsheet. Seaport towns are full of mainsheet-men; they hop upon one leg, my son, what’s left of them, and the rest are dead. (Set your boom tackle, Mr Hay.) Struck you, did I? Lucky for you I did.’
‘Well,’ said Huish slowly, ‘I daresay there may be somethink in that. ‘Ope there is.’ He turned his back elaborately on the captain, and entered the house, where the speedy explosion of a champagne cork showed he was attending to his comfort.
Herrick came aft to the captain. ‘How is she doing now?’ he asked.
‘East and by no’the a half no’the,’ said Davis. ‘It’s about as good as I expected.’
‘What’ll the hands think of it?’ said Herrick.
‘Oh, they don’t think. They ain’t paid to,’ says the captain.
‘There was something wrong, was there not? between you and —’ Herrick paused.
‘That’s a nasty little beast, that’s a biter,’ replied the captain, shaking his head. ‘But so long as you and me hang in, it don’t matter.’
Herrick lay down in the weather alleyway; the night was cloudless, the movement of the ship cradled him, he was oppressed besides by the first generous meal after so long a time of famine; and he was recalled from deep sleep by the voice of Davis singing out: ‘Eight bells!’
He rose stupidly, and staggered aft, where the captain gave him the wheel.
‘By the wind,’ said the captain. ‘It comes a little puffy; when you get a heavy puff, steal all you can to windward, but keep her a good full.’
He stepped towards the house, paused and hailed the forecastle.
‘Got such a thing as a concertina forward?’ said he. ‘Bully for you, Uncle Ned. Fetch it aft, will you?’
The schooner steered very easy; and Herrick, watching the moon-whitened sails, was overpowered by drowsiness. A sharp report from the cabin startled him; a third bottle had been opened; and Herrick remembered the Sea Ranger and Fourteen Island Group. Presently the notes of the accordion sounded, and then the captain’s voice:
‘O honey, with our pockets full of money,
We will trip, trip, trip, we will trip it on the quay,
And I will dance with Kate, and Tom will dance with Sall,
When we’re all back from South Amerikee.’
So it went to its quaint air; and the watch below lingered and listened by the forward door, and Uncle Ned was to be seen in the moonlight nodding time; and Herrick smiled at the wheel, his anxieties a while forgotten. Song followed song; another cork exploded; there were voices raised, as though the pair in the cabin were in disagreement; and presently it seemed the breach was healed; for it was now the voice of Huish that struck up, to the captain’s accompaniment —
‘Up in a balloon, boys,
Up in a balloon,
All among the little stars
And round about the moon.’
A wave of nausea overcame Herrick at the wheel. He wondered why the air, the words (which were yet written with a certain knack), and the voice and accent of the singer, should all jar his spirit like a file on a man’s teeth. He sickened at the thought of his two comrades drinking away their reason upon stolen wine, quarrelling and hiccupping and waking up, while the doors of the prison yawned for them in the near future. ‘Shall I have sold my honour for nothing?’ he thought; and a heat of rage and resolution glowed in his bosom — rage against his comrades — resolution to carry through this business if it might be carried; pluck profit out of shame, since the shame at least was now inevitable; and come home, home from South America — how did the song go? —‘with his pockets full of money’:
‘O honey, with our pockets full of money,
We will trip, trip, trip, we will trip it on the quay:’
so the words ran in his head; and the honey took on visible form, the quay rose before him and he knew it for the lamplit Embankment, and he saw the lights of Battersea bridge bestride the sullen river. All through the remainder of his trick, he stood entranced, reviewing the past. He had been always true to his love, but not always sedulous to recall her. In the growing calamity of his life, she had swum more distant, like the moon in mist. The letter of farewell, the dishonourable hope that had surprised and corrupted him in his distress, the changed scene, the sea, the night and the music — all stirred him to the roots of manhood. ‘I WILL win her,’ he thought, and ground his teeth. ‘Fair or foul, what matters if I win her?’
‘Fo’ bell, matey. I think um fo’ bell’— he was suddenly recalled by these words in the voice of Uncle Ned.
‘Look in at the clock, Uncle,’ said he. He would not look himself, from horror of the tipplers.
‘Him past, matey,’ repeated the Hawaiian.
‘So much the better for you, Uncle,’ he replied; and he gave up the wheel, repeating the directions as he had received them.
He took two steps forward and remembered his dead reckoning. ‘How has she been heading?’ he thought; and he flushed from head to foot. He had not observed or had forgotten; here was the old incompetence; the slate must be filled up by guess. ‘Never again!’ he vowed to himself in silent fury, ‘never again. It shall be no fault of mine if this miscarry.’ And for the remainder of his watch, he stood close by Uncle Ned, and read the face of the compass as perhaps he had never read a letter from his sweetheart.
All the time, and spurring him to the more attention, song, loud talk, fleering laughter and the occasional popping of a cork, reached his ears from the interior of the house; and when the port watch was relieved at midnight, Huish and the captain appeared upon the quarter-deck with flushed faces and uneven steps, the former laden with bottles, the latter with two tin mugs. Herrick silently passed them by. They hailed him in thick voices, he made no answer, they cursed him for a churl, he paid no heed although his belly quivered with disgust and rage. He closed-to the door of the house behind him, and cast himself on a locker in the cabin — not to sleep he thought — rather to think and to despair. Yet he had scarce turned twice on his uneasy bed, before a drunken voice hailed him in the ear, and he must go on deck again to stand the morning watch.
The first evening set the model for those that were to follow. Two cases of champagne scarce lasted the four-and-twenty hours, and almost the whole was drunk by Huish and the captain. Huish seemed to thrive on the excess; he was never sober, yet never wholly tipsy; the food and the sea air had soon healed him of his disease, and he began to lay on flesh. But with Davis things went worse. In the drooping, unbuttoned figure that sprawled all day upon the lockers, tippling and reading novels; in the fool who made of the evening watch a public carouse on the quarter-deck, it would have been hard to recognise the vigorous seaman of Papeete roads. He kept himself reasonably well in hand till he had taken the sun and yawned and blotted through his calculations; but from the moment he rolled up the chart, his hours were passed in slavish self-indulgence or in hoggish slumber. Every other branch of his duty was neglected, except maintaining a stern discipline about the dinner table. Again and again Herrick would hear the cook called aft, and see him running with fresh tins, or carrying away again a meal that had been totally condemned. And the more the captain became sunk in drunkenness, the more delicate his palate showed itself. Once, in the forenoon, he had a bo’sun’s chair rigged over the rail, stripped to his trousers, and went overboard with a pot of paint. ‘I don’t like the way this schooner’s painted,’ said he, ‘and I’ve taken a down upon her name.’ But he tired of it in half an hour, and the schooner went on her way with an incongruous patch of colour on the stern, and the word Farallone part obliterated and part looking through. He refused to stand either the middle or the morning watch. It was fine-weather sailing, he said; and asked, with a laugh, ‘Who ever heard of the old man standing watch himself?’ To the dead reckoning which Herrick still tried to keep, he would pay not the least attention nor afford the least assistance.
‘What do we want of dead reckoning?’ he asked. ‘We get the sun all right, don’t we?’
‘We mayn’t get it always though,’ objected Herrick. ‘And you told me yourself you weren’t sure of the chronometer.’
‘Oh, there ain’t no flies in the chronometer!’ cried Davis.
‘Oblige me so far, captain,’ said Herrick stiffly. ‘I am anxious to keep this reckoning, which is a part of my duty; I do not know what to allow for current, nor how to allow for it. I am too inexperienced; and I beg of you to help me.’
‘Never discourage zealous officer,’ said the captain, unrolling the chart again, for Herrick had taken him over his day’s work and while he was still partly sober. ‘Here it is: look for yourself; anything from west to west no’the-west, and anyways from five to twenty-five miles. That’s what the A’m’ralty chart says; I guess you don’t expect to get on ahead of your own Britishers?’
‘I am trying to do my duty, Captain Brown,’ said Herrick, with a dark flush, ‘and I have the honour to inform you that I don’t enjoy being trifled with.’
‘What in thunder do you want?’ roared Davis. ‘Go and look at the blamed wake. If you’re trying to do your duty, why don’t you go and do it? I guess it’s no business of mine to go and stick my head over the ship’s rump? I guess it’s yours. And I’ll tell you what it is, my fine fellow, I’ll trouble you not to come the dude over me. You’re insolent, that’s what’s wrong with you. Don’t you crowd me, Mr Herrick, Esquire.’
Herrick tore up his papers, threw them on the floor, and left the cabin.
‘He’s turned a bloomin’ swot, ain’t he?’ sneered Huish.
‘He thinks himself too good for his company, that’s what ails Herrick, Esquire,’ raged the captain. ‘He thinks I don’t understand when he comes the heavy swell. Won’t sit down with us, won’t he? won’t say a civil word? I’ll serve the son of a gun as he deserves. By God, Huish, I’ll show him whether he’s too good for John Davis!’
‘Easy with the names, cap’,’ said Huish, who was always the more sober. ‘Easy over the stones, my boy!’
‘All right, I will. You’re a good sort, Huish. I didn’t take to you at first, but I guess you’re right enough. Let’s open another bottle,’ said the captain; and that day, perhaps because he was excited by the quarrel, he drank more recklessly, and by four o’clock was stretched insensible upon the locker.
Herrick and Huish supped alone, one after the other, opposite his flushed and snorting body. And if the sight killed Herrick’s hunger, the isolation weighed so heavily on the clerk’s spirit, that he was scarce risen from table ere he was currying favour with his former comrade.
Herrick was at the wheel when he approached, and Huish leaned confidentially across the binnacle.
‘I say, old chappie,’ he said, ‘you and me don’t seem to be such pals somehow.’
Herrick gave her a spoke or two in silence; his eye, as it skirted from the needle to the luff of the foresail, passed the man by without speculation. But Huish was really dull, a thing he could support with difficulty, having no resources of his own. The idea of a private talk with Herrick, at this stage of their relations, held out particular inducements to a person of his character. Drink besides, as it renders some men hyper-sensitive, made Huish callous. And it would almost have required a blow to make him quit his purpose.
‘Pretty business, ain’t it?’ he continued; ‘Dyvis on the lush? Must say I thought you gave it ‘im A1 today. He didn’t like it a bit; took on hawful after you were gone. —”‘Ere,” says I, “‘old on, easy on the lush,” I says. “‘Errick was right, and you know it. Give ‘im a chanst,” I says. —“Uish,” sezee, “don’t you gimme no more of your jaw, or I’ll knock your bloomin’ eyes out.” Well, wot can I do, ‘Errick? But I tell you, I don’t ‘arf like it. It looks to me like the Sea Rynger over again.’
Still Herrick was silent.
‘Do you )ear me speak?’ asked Huish sharply. ‘You’re pleasant, ain’t you?’
‘Stand away from that binnacle,’ said Herrick.
The clerk looked at him, long and straight and black; his figure seemed to writhe like that of a snake about to strike; then he turned on his heel, went back to the cabin and opened a bottle of champagne. When eight bells were cried, he slept on the floor beside the captain on the locker; and of the whole starboard watch, only Sally Day appeared upon the summons. The mate proposed to stand the watch with him, and let Uncle Ned lie down; it would make twelve hours on deck, and probably sixteen, but in this fair-weather sailing, he might safely sleep between his tricks of wheel, leaving orders to be called on any sign of squalls. So far he could trust the men, between whom and himself a close relation had sprung up. With Uncle Ned he held long nocturnal conversations, and the old man told him his simple and hard story of exile, suffering, and injustice among cruel whites. The cook, when he found Herrick messed alone, produced for him unexpected and sometimes unpalatable dainties, of which he forced himself to eat. And one day, when he was forward, he was surprised to feel a caressing hand run down his shoulder, and to hear the voice of Sally Day crooning in his ear: ‘You gootch man!’ He turned, and, choking down a sob, shook hands with the negrito. They were kindly, cheery, childish souls. Upon the Sunday each brought forth his separate Bible — for they were all men of alien speech even to each other, and Sally Day communicated with his mates in English only, each read or made believe to read his chapter, Uncle Ned with spectacles on his nose; and they would all join together in the singing of missionary hymns. It was thus a cutting reproof to compare the islanders and the whites aboard the Farallone. Shame ran in Herrick’s blood to remember what employment he was on, and to see these poor souls — and even Sally Day, the child of cannibals, in all likelihood a cannibal himself — so faithful to what they knew of good. The fact that he was held in grateful favour by these innocents served like blinders to his conscience, and there were times when he was inclined, with Sally Day, to call himself a good man. But the height of his favour was only now to appear. With one voice, the crew protested; ere Herrick knew what they were doing, the cook was aroused and came a willing volunteer; all hands clustered about their mate with expostulations and caresses; and he was bidden to lie down and take his customary rest without alarm.
‘He tell you tlue,’ said Uncle Ned. ‘You sleep. Evely man hae he do all light. Evely man he like you too much.’
Herrick struggled, and gave way; choked upon some trivial words of gratitude; and walked to the side of the house, against which he leaned, struggling with emotion.
Uncle Ned presently followed him and begged him to lie down.
‘It’s no use, Uncle Ned,’ he replied. ‘I couldn’t sleep. I’m knocked over with all your goodness.’
‘Ah, no call me Uncle Ned no mo’!’ cried the old man. ‘No my name! My name Taveeta, all-e-same Taveeta King of Islael. Wat for he call that Hawaii? I think no savvy nothing — all-e- same Wise-a-mana.’
It was the first time the name of the late captain had been mentioned, and Herrick grasped the occasion. The reader shall be spared Uncle Ned’s unwieldy dialect, and learn in less embarrassing English, the sum of what he now communicated. The ship had scarce cleared the Golden Gates before the captain and mate had entered on a career of drunkenness, which was scarcely interrupted by their malady and only closed by death. For days and weeks they had encountered neither land nor ship; and seeing themselves lost on the huge deep with their insane conductors, the natives had drunk deep of terror.
At length they made a low island, and went in; and Wiseman and Wishart landed in the boat.
There was a great village, a very fine village, and plenty Kanakas in that place; but all mighty serious; and from every here and there in the back parts of the settlement, Taveeta heard the sounds of island lamentation. ‘I no savvy TALK that island,’ said he. ‘I savvy hear um CLY. I think, Hum! too many people die here!’ But upon Wiseman and Wishart the significance of that barbaric keening was lost. Full of bread and drink, they rollicked along unconcerned, embraced the girls who had scarce energy to repel them, took up and joined (with drunken voices) in the death wail, and at last (on what they took to be an invitation) entered under the roof of a house in which was a considerable concourse of people sitting silent. They stooped below the eaves, flushed and laughing; within a minute they came forth again with changed faces and silent tongues; and as the press severed to make way for them, Taveeta was able to perceive, in the deep shadow of the house, the sick man raising from his mat a head already defeatured by disease. The two tragic triflers fled without hesitation for their boat, screaming on Taveeta to make haste; they came aboard with all speed of oars, raised anchor and crowded sail upon the ship with blows and curses, and were at sea again — and again drunk — before sunset. A week after, and the last of the two had been committed to the deep. Herrick asked Taveeta where that island was, and he replied that, by what he gathered of folks’ talk as they went up together from the beach, he supposed it must be one of the Paumotus. This was in itself probable enough, for the Dangerous Archipelago had been swept that year from east to west by devastating smallpox; but Herrick thought it a strange course to lie from Sydney. Then he remembered the drink.
‘Were they not surprised when they made the island?’ he asked.
‘Wise-a-mana he say “dam! what this?”’ was the reply.
‘O, that’s it then,’ said Herrick. ‘I don’t believe they knew where they were.’
‘I think so too,’ said Uncle Ned. ‘I think no savvy. This one mo’ betta,’ he added, pointing to the house where the drunken captain slumbered: ‘Take-a-sun all-e-time.’
The implied last touch completed Herrick’s picture of the life and death of his two predecessors; of their prolonged, sordid, sodden sensuality as they sailed, they knew not whither, on their last cruise. He held but a twinkling and unsure belief in any future state; the thought of one of punishment he derided; yet for him (as for all) there dwelt a horror about the end of the brutish man. Sickness fell upon him at the image thus called up; and when he compared it with the scene in which himself was acting, and considered the doom that seemed to brood upon the schooner, a horror that was almost superstitious fell upon him. And yet the strange thing was, he did not falter. He who had proved his incapacity in so many fields, being now falsely placed amid duties which he did not understand, without help, and it might be said without countenance, had hitherto surpassed expectation; and even the shameful misconduct and shocking disclosures of that night seemed but to nerve and strengthen him. He had sold his honour; he vowed it should not be in vain; ‘it shall be no fault of mine if this miscarry,’ he repeated. And in his heart he wondered at himself. Living rage no doubt supported him; no doubt also, the sense of the last cast, of the ships burned, of all doors closed but one, which is so strong a tonic to the merely weak, and so deadly a depressant to the merely cowardly.
For some time the voyage went otherwise well. They weathered Fakarava with one board; and the wind holding well to the southward and blowing fresh, they passed between Ranaka and Ratiu, and ran some days north-east by east-half-east under the lee of Takume and Honden, neither of which they made. In about 14 degrees South and between 134 and 135 degrees West, it fell a dead calm with rather a heavy sea. The captain refused to take in sail, the helm was lashed, no watch was set, and the Farallone rolled and banged for three days, according to observation, in almost the same place. The fourth morning, a little before day, a breeze sprang up and rapidly freshened. The captain had drunk hard the night before; he was far from sober when he was roused; and when he came on deck for the first time at half-past eight, it was plain he had already drunk deep again at breakfast. Herrick avoided his eye; and resigned the deck with indignation to a man more than half-seas over.
By the loud commands of the captain and the singing out of fellows at the ropes, he could judge from the house that sail was being crowded on the ship; relinquished his half-eaten breakfast; and came on deck again, to find the main and the jib topsails set, and both watches and the cook turned out to hand the staysail. The Farallone lay already far over; the sky was obscured with misty scud; and from the windward an ominous squall came flying up, broadening and blackening as it rose.
Fear thrilled in Herrick’s vitals. He saw death hard by; and if not death, sure ruin. For if the Farallone lived through the coming squall, she must surely be dismasted. With that their enterprise was at an end, and they themselves bound prisoners to the very evidence of their crime. The greatness of the peril and his own alarm sufficed to silence him. Pride, wrath, and shame raged without issue in his mind; and he shut his teeth and folded his arms close.
The captain sat in the boat to windward, bellowing orders and insults, his eyes glazed, his face deeply congested; a bottle set between his knees, a glass in his hand half empty. His back was to the squall, and he was at first intent upon the setting of the sail. When that was done, and the great trapezium of canvas had begun to draw and to trail the lee-rail of the Farallone level with the foam, he laughed out an empty laugh, drained his glass, sprawled back among the lumber in the boat, and fetched out a crumpled novel.
Herrick watched him, and his indignation glowed red hot. He glanced to windward where the squall already whitened the near sea and heralded its coming with a singular and dismal sound. He glanced at the steersman, and saw him clinging to the spokes with a face of a sickly blue. He saw the crew were running to their stations without orders. And it seemed as if something broke in his brain; and the passion of anger, so long restrained, so long eaten in secret, burst suddenly loose and shook him like a sail. He stepped across to the captain and smote his hand heavily on the drunkard’s shoulder.
‘You brute,’ he said, in a voice that tottered, ‘look behind you!’
‘Wha’s that?’ cried Davis, bounding in the boat and upsetting the champagne.
‘You lost the Sea Ranger because you were a drunken sot,’ said Herrick. ‘Now you’re going to lose the Farallone. You’re going to drown here the same way as you drowned others, and be damned. And your daughter shall walk the streets, and your sons be thieves like their father.’
For the moment, the words struck the captain white and foolish. ‘My God!’ he cried, looking at Herrick as upon a ghost; ‘my God, Herrick!’
‘Look behind you, then!’ reiterated the assailant.
The wretched man, already partly sobered, did as he was told, and in the same breath of time leaped to his feet. ‘Down staysail!’ he trumpeted. The hands were thrilling for the order, and the great sail came with a run, and fell half overboard among the racing foam. ‘Jib topsail-halyards! Let the stays’l be,’ he said again.
But before it was well uttered, the squall shouted aloud and fell, in a solid mass of wind and rain commingled, on the Farallone; and she stooped under the blow, and lay like a thing dead. From the mind of Herrick reason fled; he clung in the weather rigging, exulting; he was done with life, and he gloried in the release; he gloried in the wild noises of the wind and the choking onslaught of the rain; he gloried to die so, and now, amid this coil of the elements. And meanwhile, in the waist up to his knees in water — so low. the schooner lay — the captain was hacking at the foresheet with a pocket knife. It was a question of seconds, for the Farallone drank deep of the encroaching seas. But the hand of the captain had the advance; the foresail boom tore apart the last strands of the sheet and crashed to leeward; the Farallone leaped up into the wind and righted; and the peak and throat halyards, which had long been let go, began to run at the same instant.
For some ten minutes more she careered under the impulse of the squall; but the captain was now master of himself and of his ship, and all danger at an end. And then, sudden as a trick change upon the stage, the squall blew by, the wind dropped into light airs, the sun beamed forth again upon the tattered schooner; and the captain, having secured the foresail boom and set a couple of hands to the pump, walked aft, sober, a little pale, and with the sodden end of a cigar still stuck between his teeth even as the squall had found it. Herrick followed him; he could scarce recall the violence of his late emotions, but he felt there was a scene to go through, and he was anxious and even eager to go through with it.
The captain, turning at the house end, met him face to face, and averted his eyes. ‘We’ve lost the two tops’ls and the stays’l,’ he gabbled. ‘Good business, we didn’t lose any sticks. I guess you think we’re all the better without the kites.’
‘That’s not what I’m thinking,’ said Herrick, in a voice strangely quiet, that yet echoed confusion in the captain’s mind.
‘I know that,’ he cried, holding up his hand. ‘I know what you’re thinking. No use to say it now. I’m sober.’
‘I have to say it, though,’ returned Herrick.
‘Hold on, Herrick; you’ve said enough,’ said Davis. ‘You’ve said what I would take from no man breathing but yourself; only I know it’s true.’
‘I have to tell you, Captain Brown,’ pursued Herrick, ‘that I resign my position as mate. You can put me in irons or shoot me, as you please; I will make no resistance — only, I decline in any way to help or to obey you; and I suggest you should put Mr Huish in my place. He will make a worthy first officer to your captain, sir.’ He smiled, bowed, and turned to walk forward.
‘Where are you going, Herrick?’ cried the captain, detaining him by the shoulder.
‘To berth forward with the men, sir,’ replied Herrick, with the same hateful smile. ‘I’ve been long enough aft here with you — gentlemen.
‘You’re wrong there,’ said Davis. ‘Don’t you be too quick with me; there ain’t nothing wrong but the drink — it’s the old story, man! Let me get sober once, and then you’ll see,’ he pleaded.
‘Excuse me, I desire to see no more of you,’ said Herrick.
The captain groaned aloud. ‘You know what you said about my children?’ he broke out.
‘By rote. In case you wish me to say it you again?’ asked Herrick.
‘Don’t!’ cried the captain, clapping his hands to his ears. ‘Don’t make me kill a man I care for! Herrick, if you see me put glass to my lips again till we’re ashore, I give you leave to put bullet through me; I beg you to do it! You’re the only man aboard whose carcase is worth losing; do you think I don’t know that? do you think I ever went back on you? I always knew you were in the right of it — drunk or sober, I knew that. What do you want? — an oath? Man, you’re clever enough to see that this is sure-enough earnest.’
‘Do you mean there shall be no more drinking?’ asked Herrick, ‘neither by you nor Huish? that you won’t go on stealing my profits and drinking my champagne that I gave my honour for? and that you’ll attend to your duties, and stand watch and watch, and bear your proper share of the ship’s work, instead of leaving it all on the shoulders of a landsman, and making yourself the butt and scoff of native seamen? Is that what you mean? If it is, be so good as to say it categorically.’
‘You put these things in a way hard for a gentleman to swallow,’ said the captain. ‘You wouldn’t have me say I was ashamed of myself? Trust me this once; I’ll do the square thing, and there’s my hand on it.’
‘Well, I’ll try it once,’ said Herrick. ‘Fail me again. . .’
‘No more now!’ interrupted Davis. ‘No more, old man! Enough said. You’ve a riling tongue when your back’s up, Herrick. Just be glad we’re friends again, the same as what I am; and go tender on the raws; I’ll see as you don’t repent it. We’ve been mighty near death this day — don’t say whose fault it was! — pretty near hell, too, I guess. We’re in a mighty bad line of life, us two, and ought to go easy with each other.’
He was maundering; yet it seemed as if he were maundering with some design, beating about the bush of some communication that he feared to make, or perhaps only talking against time in terror of what Herrick might say next. But Herrick had now spat his venom; his was a kindly nature, and, content with his triumph, he had now begun to pity. With a few soothing words, he sought to conclude the interview, and proposed that they should change their clothes.
‘Not right yet,’ said Davis. ‘There’s another thing I want to tell you first. You know what you said about my children? I want to tell you why it hit me so hard; I kind of think you’ll feel bad about it too. It’s about my little Adar. You hadn’t ought to have quite said that — but of course I know you didn’t know. She — she’s dead, you see.’
‘Why, Davis!’ cried Herrick. ‘You’ve told me a dozen times she was alive! Clear your head, man! This must be the drink.’
“No, SIR,’ said Davis. ‘She’s dead. Died of a bowel complaint. That was when I was away in the brig Oregon. She lies in Portland, Maine. “Adar, only daughter of Captain John Davis and Mariar his wife, aged five.” I had a doll for her on board. I never took the paper off’n that doll, Herrick; it went down the way it was with the Sea Ranger, that day I was damned.’
The Captain’s eyes were fixed on the horizon, he talked with an extraordinary softness but a complete composure; and Herrick looked upon him with something that was almost terror.
‘Don’t think I’m crazy neither,’ resumed Davis. ‘I’ve all the cold sense that I know what to do with. But I guess a man that’s unhappy’s like a child; and this is a kind of a child’s game of mine. I never could act up to the plain-cut truth, you see; so I pretend. And I warn you square; as soon as we’re through with this talk, I’ll start in again with the pretending. Only, you see, she can’t walk no streets,’ added the captain, ‘couldn’t even make out to live and get that doll!’
Herrick laid a tremulous hand upon the captain’s shoulder.
‘Don’t do that” cried Davis, recoiling from the touch. ‘Can’t you see I’m all broken up the way it is? Come along, then; come along, old man; you can put your trust in me right through; come along and get dry clothes.’
They entered the cabin, and there was Huish on his knees prising open a case of champagne.
“Vast, there!’ cried the captain. ‘No more of that. No more drinking on this ship.’
‘Turned teetotal, ‘ave you?’ inquired Hu’sh. ‘I’m agreeable. About time, eh? Bloomin’ nearly lost another ship, I fancy.’ He took out a bottle and began calmly to burst the wire with the spike of a corkscrew.
‘Do you hear me speak?’ cried Davis.
‘I suppose I do. You speak loud enough,’ said Huish. ‘The trouble is that I don’t care.’
Herrick plucked the captain’s sleeve. ‘Let him free now,’ he said. ‘We’ve had all we want this morning.’
‘Let him have it then,’ said the captain. ‘It’s his last.’
By this time the wire was open, the string was cut, the head of glided paper was torn away; and Huish waited, mug in hand, expecting the usual explosion. It did not follow. He eased the cork with his thumb; still there was no result. At last he took the screw and drew it. It came out very easy and with scarce a sound.
“Illo!‘said Huish. “Ere’s a bad bottle.’
He poured some of the wine into the mug; it was colourless and still. He smelt and tasted it.
‘W’y, wot’s this?’ he said. ‘It’s water!’
If the voice of trumpets had suddenly sounded about the ship in the midst of the sea, the three men in the house could scarcely have been more stunned than by this incident. The mug passed round; each sipped, each smelt of it; each stared at the bottle in its glory of gold paper as Crusoe may have stared at the footprint; and their minds were swift to fix upon a common apprehension. The difference between a bottle of champagne and a bottle of water is not great; between a shipload of one or the other lay the whole scale from riches to ruin.
A second bottle was broached. There were two cases standing ready in a stateroom; these two were brought out, broken open, and tested. Still with the same result: the contents were still colourless and tasteless, and dead as the rain in a beached fishing-boat.
‘Crikey!’ said Huish.
‘Here, let’s sample the hold!’ said the captain, mopping his brow with a back-handed sweep; and the three stalked out of the house, grim and heavy-footed.
All hands were turned out; two Kanakas were sent below, another stationed at a purchase; and Davis, axe in hand, took his place beside the coamings.
‘Are you going to let the men know?’ whispered Herrick.
‘Damn the men!’ said Davis. ‘It’s beyond that. We’ve got to know ourselves.’
Three cases were sent on deck and sampled in turn; from each bottle, as the captain smashed it with the axe, the champagne ran bubbling and creaming.
‘Go deeper, can’t you?’ cried Davis to the Kanakas in the hold.
The command gave the signal for a disastrous change. Case after case came up, bottle after bottle was burst and bled mere water. Deeper yet, and they came upon a layer where there was scarcely so much as the intention to deceive; where the cases were no longer branded, the bottles no longer wired or papered, where the fraud was manifest and stared them in the face.
‘Here’s about enough of this foolery!’ said Davis. ‘Stow back the cases in the hold, Uncle, and get the broken crockery overboard. Come with me,’ he added to his co-adventurers, and led the way back into the cabin.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00