Adventures of Captain Kettle by C.J. Cutcliffe Hyne
CHAPTER I: No. I--THE GUNS FOR CUBA
"THE shore part must lie entirely with you, sir," said Captain
Kettle. "It's mixed up with the Foreign Enlistment Act, and the
Alabama case, and a dozen other things which may mean anything
between gaol and confiscation, and my head isn't big enough to hold
it. If you'll be advised by me, sir, you'll see a real first-class
solicitor, and stand him a drink, and pay him down what he asks right
there on the bar counter, and get to know exactly how the law of this
business stands before you stir foot in it.
"The law here in England," said the little man with a reminiscent
sigh, "is a beastly thing to fall foul of: it's just wickedly
officious and interfering; it's never done kicking you, once it's got
a fair start; and you never know where it will shove out its ugly
hoof from next. No, Mr. Gedge, give me the States for nice
comfortable law where a man can buy it by the yard for paper money
down, and straight pistol shooting is always remembered in his
The young man who owned the SS. Sultan of Borneo tapped his
blotting paper impatiently. "Stick to the point, Kettle. We're in
England now, and have nothing whatever to do with legal matters in
America. As for your advice, I am not a fool; you can lay your ticket
on it I know to an inch how I stand. And I may tell you this: the
shipment is arranged for."
"I'd like to see us cleared," said Captain Kettle doubtfully.
"No one will interfere with the clearance. The Sultan of Borneo
will leave here in coal, consigned to the Havana. A private yacht
will meet her at sea, and tranship the arms out of sight of
"Tyne coal for Cuba? They'd get their coal there from Norfolk,
Virginia, or else Welsh steam coal from Cardiff or Newport."
"It seems not. This contract was placed long before a ship was
asked for to smuggle out the arms."
"Well it looks fishy, anyway."
"I can't help that," said Gedge irritably. "I'm telling you the
naked truth, and if truth as usual looks unlikely, it's not my fault.
Now have you got any more objections to make?"
"No, sir," said Captain Kettle, "none that I can see at
"Very well, then," said Gedge. "Do you care to sign on as master
for this cruise, or are you going to cry off?"
"They'll hang me if I'm caught," said Kettle.
"Not they. They'll only talk big, and the British Consul will get
you clear. You bet they daren't hang an Englishman for mere smuggling
in Cuba. And besides, aren't I offering to raise your screw from
twelve pound a month to fourteen so as to cover the risk? However,
you won't get caught. You'll find everything ready for you; you'll
slip the rifles ashore; and then you'll steam on to Havana and
discharge your coal in the ordinary hum-drum way of business. And
there's a ten pound bonus if you pull the thing off successfully. Now
then, captain, quick: you go or you don't?"
"I go," said Kettle gloomily. "I'm a poor man with a wife and
family, Mr. Gedge, and I can't afford to lose a berth. But it's that
coal I can't swallow. I quite believe in what you say about the
contract; only it doesn't look natural. And it's my belief the coal
will trip us up somewhere before we've done, and bring about
"Which of course you are quite a stranger to?" said Gedge
"Don't taunt me with it, sir," said Captain Kettle. "I quite well
know the kind of brute I am; trouble with a crew or any other set of
living men at sea is just meat and drink to me, and I'm bitterly
ashamed of the taste. Every time I sit underneath our minister in the
chapel here in South Shields I grow more ashamed. And if you heard
the beautiful poetical way that man talks of peace and green fields,
and golden harps, you'd understand."
"Yes, yes," said Gedge; "but I don't want any of your excellent
minister' sermons at second hand just now, Captain, or any of your
own poetry, thanks. I'm very busy. Good morning. Help yourself to a
cigar. You haul alongside the coal shoots at two o'clock, and I'll be
on board to see you at six. Good morning." And Mr. Gedge rang for the
clerk, and was busily dictating letters before Kettle was clear of
The little sailor went down the grim stairs and into the street,
and made towards the smelling Tyne. The black cigar rested unlit in
an angle of his mouth, and he gnawed savagely at the butt with his
eye-teeth. He cursed the Fates as he walked. Why did they use him so
evilly that he was forced into berths like these? As a bachelor, he
told himself with a sneer, he would have jumped at the excitement of
it. As the partner of Mrs. Kettle, and the father of her children, he
could have shuddered when he threw his eye over the future. For a
week or so she could draw his half-pay and live sumptuously at the
rate of seven pounds a month. But afterwards, if he got caught by
some angry Spanish war-steamer with the smuggled rifles under his
hatches, and shot, or hanged, or imprisoned, or otherwise debarred
from earning income at his craft, where would Mrs. Kettle be then?
Would Gedge do anything for her?
He drew the cigar from his lips, and spat contemptuously at the
bare idea. With the morality of the affair he troubled not one jot.
The Spanish Government and the Cuban rebels were two rival firms who
offered different rates of freight according to the risk and he was
employed as carrier by those who paid the higher price. If there was
any right or wrong about the question, it was a purely private matter
between Mr. Gedge and his God. He, Owen Kettle, was as impersonal in
the business as the ancient Sultan of Borneo herself; he was a mere
cog in some complex machinery; and if he was earning heaven, it was
by piety inside the chapel ashore, and not by professional exertions
(in the interests of an earthly employer) elsewhere.
He took ferry across the filthy Tyne, and walked down alleys and
squalid streets where coal dust formed the mud, and the air was sour
with foreign vapours. And as he walked he champed still at the unlit
cigar, and brooded over the angularity of his fate. But when he
passed between the gates of the dock companies premises, and
exchanged words with the policeman on guard, a change came over him.
He threw away the cigar stump, tightened his lips, and left all
thoughts of personal matters outside the door-sill. He was Mr.
Gedge's hired servant; his brain was devoted to furthering Gedge s
interests; and all the acid of his tongue was ready to spur on those
who did the manual work on Gedge's ship.
Within a minute of his arrival on her deck, the Sultan of Borneo
was being unmoored from the bollards on the quay; within ten, her
winches were clattering and bucking as they warped her across to the
black, straddling coal-shoots at the other side of the dock; and
within half an hour the cargo was roaring down her hatches as fast as
the railway waggons on the grimy trestle overhead could disgorge.
The halo of coal dust made day into dusk; the grit of it filled
every cranny, and settled as an amorphous scum on the water of the
dock; and labourers hired by the hour, toiled at piece-work pace
through sheer terror at their employer.
If his other failings could have been eliminated, the little
skipper, with the red-peaked beard, would certainly have been, from
an owner's point of view, the best commander sailing out of an
English port. No man ever wrenched such a magnificent amount of work
from his hands. But it was those other failings which kept him what
he was, the pitiful knockabout ship-master. Living from hand to
mouth, never certain of his berth from one month's end to
That afternoon Captain Kettle signed on his crew, got them on
board, and with the help of his two mates kicked the majority of them
into sobriety; he received a visit and final instructions from Mr.
Gedge at six o clock; and by night-fall he had filled in his papers,
warped out of dock, and stood anxiously on the bridge watching the
pilot as he took the steamboat down through the crowded shipping of
the river. His wife stood under the glow of an arc lamp on the dock
head and waved him good-bye through the gloom.
Captain Kettle received his first fright as he dropped his pilot
just outside the Tyne pier heads. A man of war's launch steamed up
out of the night, and the boarding officer examined his papers and
asked questions. The little captain, conscious of having no
contraband of war on board just then, was brutally rude; but the
naval officer remained stolid, and refused to see the insults which
were pitched at him. He had an unpalatable duty to perform; he quite
sympathised with Kettle's feelings over the matter; and he got back
to his launch thanking many stars that the affair had ended so
But Kettle rang on his engines again with very unpleasant
feelings. It was clear to him that the secret was oozing out
somewhere; that the Sultan of Borneo was suspected; that his course
to Cuba would be beset with many well-armed obstacles; and he
forthwith made his first ruse out of the long succession which were
He had been instructed by Gedge to steam off straight from the
Tyne to a point deep in the North Sea, where a yacht would meet him
to hand over the consignment of smuggled arms. But he felt the night
to be full of eyes, and for a Havana-bound ship to leave the usual
steam-lane which leads to the English Channel, was equivalent to a
confession of her purpose from the outset. So he took the parallel
rulers and pencilled off on his chart the stereotyped course, which
just clears Whitby and Flamboro' Head; and the Sultan of Borneo was
held steadily along this, steaming at her normal nine knots; and it
was not till she was out of sight of land off Humber mouth, and the
sea chanced to be desolate, that he starboarded his helm and stood
off for the ocean rendezvous.
A hand on the foretopsail yard picked up the yacht out of the grey
mists of dawn, and by eight bells they were lying hove-to in the
trough, with a hundred yards of cold grey water tumbling between
them. The transhipment was made in two lifeboats, and Kettle went
across and enjoyed an extravagant breakfast in the yacht's cabin. The
talk was all upon the Cuban revolution. Carnforth, the yacht's owner,
brimmed with it.
"If you can run the blockade, Captain," said he, "and land these
rifles, and the Maxims, and the cartridges, they'll be grateful
enough to put up a statue to you. The revolution will end in a snap.
The Spanish troops are half of them fever-ridden, and all of them
discouraged. With these guns you are carrying, the patriots can shoot
their enemies over the edges of the island into the Caribbean Sea.
And there is no reason why you should get stopped. There are
filibustering expeditions fitted out every week from Key West, and
Tampa, and the other Florida ports, and one or two have even started
from New York itself."
"But they haven't got through?" suggested Captain Kettle. "Not all
of them," Mr. Carnforth admitted. "But then you see they sailed in
schooners, and you have got steam. Besides, they started from the
States, where the newspapers knew all about them, and so their
arrival was cabled on to Cuba ahead; and you have the advantage of
sailing from an English port."
"I don't see where the pull comes in," said Kettle gloomily.
"There isn't a blessed country on the face of the globe more
interfering with her own people than England. A Yankee can do as he
darn well pleases in the filibustering line; but if a Britisher makes
a move that way, the blessed law here stretches out twenty hands and
plucks him back by the tail before he's half started. No, Mr.
Carnforth, I'm not sweet on the chances. I'm a poor man, and this
means a lot to me that's why I'm anxious. You're rich; you only stand
to lose the cost of the consignment; and if that gets confiscated it
won't mean much to you."
Carnforth grinned. "You pay my business qualities a poor
compliment, Captain. You an bet your life I had money down in hard
cash before I stirred foot in the matter. The weapons and the
ammunition were paid for at fifty per cent. above list prices, so as
to cover the trouble of secrecy, and I got a charter for the yacht to
bring the stuff out here which would astonish you if you saw the
figures. No, I'm clear on the matter from this moment, Captain, but
I'll not deny that I shall take an interest in your future adventures
with the cargo. Help yourself to a cigarette." (sic)
"Then it seems to me," said Kettle acidly, "that you'll look at me
just as a hare set on to run for your amusement?"
The yacht-owner laughed. "You put it brutally," he said, "but
that's about the size of it. And if you want further truths, here's
one: I shouldn't particularly mind if you were caught."
"Because, my dear skipper, if the Spanish captured this
consignment, the patriots would want another, and I should get the
order. Whereas, if you land the stuff safely, it will see them
through to the end of the war, and my chance of making further profit
will be at an end."
"You have a very clear way of putting it," said Captain
"Haven't I? Which will you take, green chartreuse or yellow?"
"And Mr. Gedge? Can you tell me, sir, how he stands over this
"Oh, you bet, Gedge knows when to come in out of the wet. He's got
the old Sultan underwritten by the insurance and by the Cuban agents
up to double her value, and nothing would suit his books better than
for a Spanish cruiser to drop upon you."
Captain Kettle got up, reached for his cap, and swung it
aggressively on to one side of his head.
"Very well," he said, "that's your side of the question. Now hear
mine. That cargo's going through, and those rebels or patriots, or
whatever they are, shall have their guns if half the Spanish navy was
there to try and stop me. You and Mr. Gedge have started about this
business the wrong way. Treat me on the square and I'm a man a child
might handle; but I'd not be driven by the Queen of England, no, not
with the Emperor of Germany to help her."
"Oh, look here, Captain," said Carnforth, "don't get your back
"I'll not trade with you," replied Kettle.
"You're a fool to your own interests."
"I know it," said the sailor grimly. "I've known it all my life.
If I'd not been that, I'd not have found myself in such shady company
as there is here now."
"Look here, you ruffian, if you insult me I'll kick you out of
this cabin, and over the side into your own boat."
"All right," said Kettle; "start in." Carnforth half rose from his
seat and measured Captain Kettle with his eye. Apparently the
scrutiny impressed him, for he sank back to his seat again with an
embarrassed laugh. "You're an ugly little fiend," he said.
"I'm all that," said Kettle.
"And I'm not going to play at rough and tumble with you here.
We've neither of us anything to gain by it. And I've a lot to lose. I
believe you'll run that cargo through now that you're put on your
mettle, but I guess there'll be trouble for somebody before it's
dealt out to the patriot troops. Gad, I'd like to be somewhere on
hand to watch you do it." "I don't object to an audience," said
"By Jove, I've half a mind to come with you."
"You'd better not," said the little sailor with glib contempt.
"You're not the sort that cares to risk his skin, and I can't be
bothered with dead-head passengers."
"That settles it," said Carnforth. "I'm coming with you to run
that blockade; and if the chance comes, my cantankerous friend, I'll
show you I can be useful. Always supposing, that is, we don't murder
one another before we get there."
A white mist shut the Channel sea into a ring, and the air was
noisy with the grunts and screams of steamers' syrens. Captain Kettle
was standing on the Sultan of Borneo's upper bridge, with his hand on
the engineroom telegraph, which was pointed at "Full speed astern";
Carnforth and the old second mate stood with their chins over the top
of the starboard dodger; and all three of them peered into the
opalescent banks of the fog.
They had reason for their anxiety. Not five minutes before, a long
lean torpedo-catcher had raced up out of the thickness, and slowed
down alongside with the Channel spindrift blowing over her low
super-structure in white hail storms. An officer on the upper bridge
in glistening oilskins had sent across a sharp authoritative hail,
and had been answered: "Sultan of Borneo; Kettle, master; from South
Shields to the Havana."
"What cargo?" came the next question.
"Then Mr. Tyne Coal for the Havana, just heave to whilst I send
away a boat to look at you. I fancy you will be the steamboat I'm
sent to find and fetch back."
The decks of the uncomfortable warship had hummed with men, a pair
of boat davits had swung outboard, and the boat had been armed and
manned with naval noise and quickness. But just then a billow of the
fog had driven down upon them, blanket-like in thickness, which
closed all human vision beyond the range of a dozen yards and Captain
Kettle jumped like a terrier on his opportunity. He sent his steamer
hard astern with a slightly ported helm, and whilst the torpedo
catcher's boat was searching for him towards the French shore, and
sending vain hails into the white banks of the mist, he was circling
slowly and silently round towards the English coast.
So long as the mist held, the Sultan of Borneo was as hard to find
as a needle in a cargo of hay. Did the air clear for so much as a
single instant, she would be noticed and stand self-confessed by her
attempt to escape; and as a result, the suspense was vivid enough to
make Carnforth feel physical nausea. He had not reckoned on this
complication. He was quite prepared to risk capture in Cuban waters,
where the clamour of distance and the dazzle of helping
insurrectionists would cast a glow of romance over whatever occurred.
But to be caught in the English Channel as a vulgar smuggler for the
sake of commercial profit, and to be haled back for hard labour in an
English gaol, was a different matter. He was a member of Parliament,
and he understood the details in all their niceties.
But Captain Kettle took the situation differently. The sight of
the torpedo-catcher stiffened all the doubt and limpness out of his
composition; his eye brightened and his lips grew stiff; the scheming
to escape acted on him like a tonic; and when an hour later the
Sultan of Borneo was steaming merrily down Channel at top speed
through the same impenetrable fog, the little skipper whistled dance
music on the upper bridge, and caught the notion for a most pleasing
sonnet. That evening the crew came aft in a state of mild mutiny, and
Kettle attended to their needs with gusto.
He prefaced his remarks by a slight exhibition of marksmanship. He
cut away the vane which showed dimly on the fore-topmast truck with a
single bullet, and then, after dexterously reloading his revolver,
lounged over the white rail of the upper bridge with the weapon in
He told the malcontents he was glad of the opportunity to give
them his views on matters generally. He informed them genially that
for their personal wishes he cared not one decimal of a jot. He
stated plainly that he had got them on board, and intended by their
help to carry out his owner's instructions whether they hated them or
not. And finally he gave them his candid assurance that if any cur
amongst them presumed to disobey the least of his orders, he would
shoot that man neatly through the head without further preamble.
This elegant harangue did not go home to all hands at once,
because being a British ship, the Sultan of Borneo's crew naturally
spoke in five different languages, and few of them had even a working
knowledge of English. But the look of Kettle's savage little face as
he talked, and the red torpedo beard which nagged beneath it,
conveyed to them the tone of his speech, and for the time they did
not require a more accurate translation. They had come off big with
the intention of forcing him (if necessary with violence) to run the
steamer there and then into an English port; they went forward again
like a pack of sheep, merely because one man had let them hear the
virulence of his bark, and had shown them with what accuracy he could
bite if necessary. "And that's the beauty of a mongrel crew," said
Kettle complacently. "If they'd been English, I'd have had to shoot
at least two of the beasts to keep my end up like that."
"You're a marvel." Carnforth admitted. "I'm a bit of a speaker
myself, but I never heard a man with a gift of tongue like you have
"I'm poisonous when I spread myself," said Kettle.
"I wish I was clear of you," said Carnforth, with an awkward
laugh. "Whatever possessed me to leave the yacht and come on this
cruise I can't think."
"Some people never do know when they're well off," said Kettle.
"Well, sir, you're in for it now, and you may see things which will
be of service to you afterwards. You ought to make your mark in
Parliament if you do get back from this trip. You'll have something
to talk about that men will like to listen to, instead of merely
chattering wind, which is what most of them are put to, so far as I
can see from the papers. And now, sir, here's the steward come to
tell us tea's ready. You go below and tuck in. I'll take mine on the
bridge here. It won't do for me to turn my back yet awhile, or else
those beasts forrard will jump on us from behind and murder the whole
lot whilst we aren't looking."
The voyage from that time onwards was for Captain Kettle a period
of constant watchfulness. It would not be true to say that he never
took off his clothes or never slept; but whether he was in pyjamas in
the chart-house, or whether he was sitting on an up-turned
ginger-beer case under the shelter of one of the upper bridge canvas
dodgers, with his tired eyes shut and the red peaked beard upon his
chest, it was always the same, he was ever ready instantly to spring
upon the alert.
One dark night an iron belaying-pin flew out of the blackness of
the forecastle and whizzed within an inch of his sleeping head; but
he roused so quickly that he was able to shoot the thrower through
the shoulder before he could dive back again through the forecastle
door. And another time when a pondering gale had kept him on the
bridge for forty-eight consecutive hours, and a deputation of the
deck hands raided him in the chart-house on the supposition that
exhaustion would have laid him out in a dead sleep, he woke before
their fingers touched him, broke the jaw of one with a camp-stool,
and so maltreated the others with the same weapon, that they were
glad enough to run away even with the exasperating knowledge that
they left their taskmaster undamaged behind them.
So, although this all-nation crew of the Sultan of Borneo dreaded
the Spaniards much, they feared Captain Kettle far more, and by the
time the steamer had closed up with the island of Cuba, they had
concluded to follow out their skipper's orders, as being the least of
the two evils which lay before them. Carnforth's way of looking at
the manner was peculiar. He had all a healthy man's appetite for
adventure, and all a prosperous man's distaste for being wrecked. He
had taken a strong personal liking for the truculent little skipper,
and, other things being equal, would have cheerfully helped him; but
on the other hand, he could not avoid seeing that it was to his own
interests that the crew should get their way, and keep the steamer
out of dangerous waters. And so, when finally he decided to stand by
non-interferent, he prided himself a good deal on his forbearance,
and said so to Kettle in as many words.
That worthy mariner quite agreed with him. "It's the very best
thing you could do, sir," he answered. "It would have annoyed me
terribly to have had to shoot you out of mischief's way, because
you've been kind enough to say you like my poetry, and because I've
come to see, sir, you're a gentleman."
They came to this arrangement on the morning of the day they
opened out the secluded bay in the southern Cuban shore where the
contraband of war was to be run. Kettle calculated his whereabouts
with niceness, and, after the midday observation, lay the steamer to
for a couple of hours, and himself supervised his engineers whilst
they gave a good overhaul to the machinery. Then he gave her steam
again, and made his landfall four hours after sunset.
They saw the coast first as a black line running across the dim
grey of the night. It rose as they neared it, and showed a crest
fringed with trees, and a foot steeped in white mist, from out of
which came the faint bellow of surf. Captain Kettle, after a cast of
two, picked up his marks and teamed in confidently, with his
side-lights dowsed, and three red lanterns in a triangle at his
foremast head. He was feeling pleasantly surprised with the easiness
of it all.
But when the steamer had got well into the bight of the bay, and
all the glasses on the bridge were peering at the shore in search of
answering lights, a blaze of radiance suddenly flickered on to her
from astern, and was as suddenly eclipsed, leaving them for a moment
blinded by its dazzle. It was a long truncheon of light which
sprouted from a glowing centre away between the heads of the bay, and
they watched it sweep past them over the surface of the water, and
then sweep back again. Finally, after a little more dalliance, it
settled on the steamer and lit her, and the ring of water on which
she swam, like a ship in a lantern picture.
Carnforth swore aloud, and Captain Kettle lit a fresh cigar. Those
of the mongrel crew who were on the deck went below to pack their
"Well, sir," said Kettle cheerfully, "here we are. That's a
Spanish gunboat with search light, all complete"--he screwed up his
eyes and gazed astern meditatively--"She's got the heels of us too;
by about five knots I should say. Just look at the flames coming out
of her funnels. Aren't they just giving her ginger down in the stoke
hold? Shooting will begin directly, and the other blackguards ashore
have apparently forgotten all about us. There isn't a light
"What are you going to do?" asked Carnforth.
"Follow out Mr. Gedge's instructions, sir, and put this cargo on
the beach. Whether the old Sultan goes there too, remains to be
"That gunboat will cut you off in a quarter of an hour if you keep
on this course."
"With that extra five knots she can do as she likes with us, so I
shan't shift my helm. It would only look suspicious."
"Good Lord!" said Carnforth, "as if our being here at all isn't
But Kettle did not answer. He had, to use his own expression, "got
his wits working under forced draught," and he could not afford time
for idle speculation and chatter. It was the want of the answering
signal ashore which upset him. Had that showed against the black
background of hills, he would have known what to do.
Meanwhile the Spanish warship was closing up with him hand over
fist, and a decision was necessary. Anyway, the choice was a poor
one. If he surrendered he would be searched, and with that damning
cargo of rifles and machine guns and ammunition under his hatches, it
was not at all improbable that his captors might string him up out of
hand. They would have right on their side for doing so.
The insurrectionists were not "recognized belligerents"; he would
stand as a filibuster confessed; and as such would be due to suffer
under that rough and ready martial law which cannot spare time to
feed and gaol prisoners.
On the other hand, if he refused to heave to, the result would be
equally simple; the warship would sink him with guns inside a dozen
minutes; and reckless dare-devil though he might be, Kettle knew
quite well there was no chance of avoiding this.
With another crew he might have been tempted to lay his old
steamer alongside and try to carry her by boarding an sheer hand to
hand fighting; but, excepting for those on watch in the stronghold,
his present set of men were all below packing their belongings into
portable shape, and he knew quite well that nothing would please them
better than to see him discomfited. Carnforth was neutral; he had
only his two mates, and the engineer officers to depend upon in all
the available world; and he recognised between draughts at his cigar
that he was in a very tight place.
Still the dark shore ahead remained unbeaconed, and the Spaniard
was racing up astern, lit for battle, with her crew at quarters; and
the guns run out and loaded. She leapt nearer by fathoms to the
second, till Kettle could hear the panting of her engines as she
chased him down. His teeth chewed on the cigar butt, and dark rings
grew under his eyes. He could have raged aloud at his impotence.
The war steamer ranged up alongside, slowed to some forty
revolutions so as to keep her place, and an officer on the top of her
chart-house hailed in Spanish.
"Gunboat ahoy," Kettle bawled back; "you must speak English or I
can't be civil to you."
"What ship is this?"
"Sultan of Borneo, Kettle, master. Out of Shields."
Promptly the query came back: "Then what are you doing in
Carnforth whispered a suggestion. "Fresh water, run out; condenser
water given all hands dysentery; put in here to fill up tanks."
"I thank you, sir," said Kettle in the same undertone, "I'm no
hand at lying myself, or I might have thought of that before." And he
shouted the excuse across to the spokesman on the chart-house
To his surprise they seemed to give weight to it. There was a
short consultation, and the steamers slipped along over the smooth
black waters of the bay on parallel courses.
"Have you got dysentery bad aboard?" came the next question.
Once more Carnforth prompted, and Kettle repeated his words: "Look
at my decks," said he. "All my crew are below. I've hardly a man to
stand by me."
There was more consultation among the gunboat's officers, and then
came the fatal inquiry: "What's your cargo, Captain?"
"Oh, coals," said Captain Kettle resignedly.
"What? You're bringing Tyne coal to the Havana?'
"Just coals," said Captain Kettle with a bitter laugh.
The tone of the Spaniard changed. "Heave to at once," he ordered,
"whilst I send a boat to search you. Refuse, and I'll blow you out of
On the Sultan of Borneo's upper bridge Carnforth swore. "Eh--ho,
Skipper," he said, "the game's up, and there's no way out of it. You
won't be a fool, will you, and sacrifice the ship and the whole lot
of us? Come, I say, man, ring off your engines, or that fellow will
shoot, and we shall all be murdered uselessly. I tell you, the
"By James!" said Kettle, "is it? Look there"--and he pointed with
outstretched arm to the hills on the shore ahead. "Three fires!" he
cried. "Two above one in a triangle, burning like Elswick furnaces
amongst the trees. They're ready for us over yonder, Mr. Carnforth,
and that's their welcome. Do you think I'm going to let my cargo be
stopped after getting it this far?" He turned to the Danish
quartermaster at the wheel, with his savage face close to the man's
"Starboard," he said. "Hard over, you bung-eyed Dutchman.
Starboard as far as she'll go."
The wheel engines clattered briskly in the house underneath, and
the Sultan of Borneo's head swung off quickly to port. For eight
seconds the officer commanding the gunboat did not see what was
happening, and that eight seconds was fatal to his vessel. When the
inspiration came, he bubbled with orders, he starboarded his own
helm, he rang "full speed ahead" to his engines, and ordered every
rifle and machine gun on his bridge to sweep the British steamer's
bridge. But the space of time was too small. The gunboat could not
turn with enough quickness; on so short a notice the engines could
not get her into stride again; and the shooting, though well
intentioned and prodigious in quantity, was poor in aim. The bullets
whisped through the air, and pelted on the plating like a hailstorm,
and one of them flicked out the brains of the Danish quartermaster on
the bridge; but Kettle took the wheel from his hands, and a moment
later the Sultan of Borneo's stem crashed into the gunboat's
unprotected side just abaft the sponson of her starboard quarter
The steamers thrilled like kicked biscuit-boxes, and a noise went
up into the hot night sky as of ten thousand boiler makers, all
heading up their rivets at once.
On both ships the propellers stopped as if by instinct, and then
in answer to the telegraph, the grimy collier backed astern. But the
war-steamer did not move. Her machinery was broken down. She had
already got a heavy list towards her wounded side, and every second
the list was increasing as the sea water poured in through the
shattered plates. Her crew was buzzing with disorder. It was evident
that the vessel had but a short time longer to swim, and their lives
were sweet to them. The had no thought of vengeance. Their weapons
lay deserted on the sloping decks. The grimy crews from the stoke
holds poured up from below, and one and all they clustered about the
boats with frenzied haste to see them floating in the water.
There was no more to be feared at their hands for the present.
Carnforth clapped Kettle on the shoulder in involuntary
admiration. "By George," he cried, "what a daring scoundrel you are.
Look here. I'm on your side now if I can be of any help. Can you give
me a job?"
"I'm afraid, sir" said Captain Kettle, "that the old Sultan's work
is about done. She's settling down by the head already. Didn't you
see those rats of men scuttling up from forrard directly after we'd
rammed the Don? I guess that was a bit of a surprise packet for them
anyway. They thought they'd get down there to be clear of the
shooting, and they found themselves in the most ticklish part of the
"There's humour in the situation," said Carnforth. "But the case
will keep. For the present it strikes me that this old steamboat is
"She's doing that," Kettle admitted. "She'll have a lot of plates
started forrard, I guess. But I think she's come out of it very
creditably, sir. I didn't spare her, and she's not exactly built for
"I suppose it's a case of putting her on the beach?"
"There's nothing else for it," said Kettle with a sigh. "I should
like to have carried those blessed coals into the Havana if it could
have been done, just to show people ours was a bona fide contract, as
Mr. Gedge said, in spite of its fishy look. But this old steamboat's
done her whack, and that's the square truth. It will take her all she
can manage to reach shore with her dry decks. Look, she's in now
nearly to her forecastle head. Lucky the shore's not steep to here,
From beneath there came a bump and a rattle, and the steamer for a
moment halted in her progress, and a white-crested wave surged past
her rusty flanks. Then she lifted again and swooped further in, with
the propeller still squattering astern; and then once more she
thundered down again into the sand; and so lifting and striking, made
her way in through the surf.
More than one of the hands was swept from her decks, and reached
the shore by swimming; but as the ebb made, the hungry seas left her
stranded dry under the morning's light, and a crowd of
insurrectionists waded out and climbed on board by ropes which were
thrown to them.
They were men of every tint, from the grey black of the pure negro
to the sallow lemon tint of the blue-blooded Spaniard. They were
streaked with wounds, thin as skeletons, and clad more with nakedness
than with rags; and so wolfish did they look that even Kettle,
callous little ruffian though he was, half regretted bringing arms
for such a crew to wreak vengeance on their neighbours.
But they gave him small time for sentiment of this brand. They
clustered round him with leaping hands, till the morning sea-fowl
fled affrighted from the beach. El Senor Capitan Inglese was the
saviour of Cuba, and let everyone remember it. Alone, with his
unarmed vessel, he had sunk a warship of their hated enemies; and
they prayed him (in their florid compliment) to stay on the island
and rule over them as king.
But the little sailor took them literally. "What's this?" he said;
"you want me to be your blooming king?"
"El rey!" they shouted. "El rey de los Cubaños!"
"By James," said Kettle, "I'll do it. I was never asked to be a
king before, and I'm just out of a berth right now, and England will
be too hot to hold me yet awhile. Yes, I'll stay and boss you, and if
you can act half as ugly as you look, we'll give the Dons a lively
time. Only remember there's no tomfoolery about me. If I'm king of
this show, I'm going to carry a full king's ticket, and if there's
any man tries to meddle without being invited, that man will go to
his own funeral before he can think twice. And now we'll just begin
business at once. Off with those hatches and break out that cargo.
I've been at some pains to run these guns out here, so be careful
carrying them up the beach. Jump lively now, you black-faced
Carnforth listened with staring eyes. What sort of broil was this
truculent little scamp going to mix in next? He knew enough of
Spanish character to understand clearly that the offer of the crown
was merely an empty civility; he understood enough of Kettle to be
sure he had not taken it as such, and would assert his rights to the
bitter end. And when he thought of what that end must inevitably be
he sighed over Owen Kettle's fate.
CHAPTER II--CROWN AND GARROTTE
"WE will garrotte el Señor Kettle with due form and
ceremony," said the mulatto, with an ugly smile. "The saints must
have sent us this machine on purpose." He threw away the cigarette
stump from his yellow fingers, and began to knot a running bowline on
the end of a raw hide rope. "I will do myself the honour of capturing
him. He covered me with that revolver of his this morning, and put me
to shame before the men. I have not forgotten."
"And the other Englishman?" said the ex-priest. "He fought well
for us in the morning. He is brave."
"And so is far too dangerous to be left alive, padre, after we
garrotte the sailor."
"My dear Cuchillo," said the ecclesiastic, "you are so abominably
bloodthirsty. But I suppose you are right. I will come with you, and
if the man shows trouble, I will shoot him where he sits." He and the
mulatto got up as he spoke, and the other men rose also, and the six
of them left the ingenio silently on the side away from the camp. The
jungle growths of the ruined plantation swallowed them out of sight.
They held along their way silently and confidently, like men well
skilled in woodcraft. With primitive cunning they had arranged to
make their attack from the rear.
The noise of their chatter ceased, and from the distance there
went up into the hot tropical night faint snatches of the "Swanee
River," sung by a Louisiana negro, who had grown delirious from a
In the meanwhile the two Englishmen were taking their tobacco
barely a couple of hundred yards away. They had built a small fire of
green wood, and were sitting in the alley of smoke as some refuge
from the swarming mosquitos; and the conversation ran upon themselves
and their own prospects.
"I don't want to mess about with a crown," Captain Kettle was
saying. "A cheese-cutter cap's good enough for me; or, seeing that
Cuba's hot, a pith helmet might be preferable, if we are going in for
luxury." He peered through the smoke wreaths at the camp of
revolutionists, a naked bivouac chopped from amongst the canes, and
strewn with sleeping men who moaned in their dreams. The ruined
ingenio at the further side had its white walls smeared with smoke.
The place ached with poverty and squalor.
"Not that there seems much luxury here," he went on. "These
beauties haven't a sound pair of breeches among them, and if it
wasn't for the rifles and ammunition we brought ashore from the poor
old Sultan, sir, I'd say they'd just starve to death before they
kicked the Spaniards out of the island. But if ugliness means pluck,
there should be none better as fighting men; and when we get to
bossing them properly, you'll see we shall just make this
revolutionary business hum. You are going to stay on and help, Mr.
The big man in the shooting coat gave a rueful laugh. "You've got
my promise, Kettle. I don't see any way of backing out of it."
"I thank you for that, sir," said the sailor with a bow. "When I
come to be formally made King of these Cubans, you shall find I am
not ungrateful. I am not a man to neglect either my friends or my
"You shall sign on as Prime Minister, Mr. Carnforth, when we get
the show regularly in commission, and I'll see you make a good thing
out of it. Don't you get the notion it'll be a bit like the dreary
business you were used to in Parliament in England. Empty talk is not
to my taste, and I'll not set up a Parliament here to encourage it.
I'm going to hold a full king's ticket myself, and it won't do for
any one to forget it."
"You seem very anxious for power, Captain."
"It's a fact, sir," said the other with a sigh. "I do like to have
the ordering of men. But don't you think that's the only reason I'm
taking on with this racket. I'm a man with an income to make, and I'm
out of a berth elsewhere. I'm a man with a family, sir."
"I am a bachelor," said Carnforth, "and I'm thanking heaven for it
this minute. Doesn't it strike you, Captain, that this is no sort of
a job for a married man? Can't you see it's far too risky?"
"Big pay, big risk; that's always the way, sir, and as I've faced
ugly places before and come out top side, there's no reason why I
shouldn't do it again here. Indeed, it's the thought of my wife
that's principally pushing me on. During all the time we've been
together, Mr. Carnforth, I've never been able to give Mrs. Kettle the
place I'd wish.
"She was brought up, sir, as the daughter of a minister of
religion, and splendidly educated; she can play the harmonium and do
crewel work; and, though I'll not deny I married her from behind a
bar, I may tell you she only took to business from a liking to see
society." He looked out dreamily through the smoke at the fireflies
which were winking across the black rim of the forest.
"I'd like to see her, Mr. Carnforth, with gold brooches and
chains, and a black satin dress, and a bonnet that cost twenty
shillings, sitting in Government House, with the British Consul on
the mat before her, waiting till she chose to ask him to take a chair
and talk She'd fill the position splendidly, and I've just got to
wade in and get it for her."
The little man broke off and stared out at the fireflies, and
Carnforth coughed the wood-smoke from his lungs and rammed fresh
tobacco into his pipe. He was a man with a fine sense of humour, and
he appreciated to the full the ludicrousness of Kettle's pretensions.
The sailor had run a cargo of much wanted contraband of war on to the
Cuban beach, had sunk a Spanish cruiser in the process, and had
received effusive thanks.
But he had taken the florid metaphor of the country to mean a
literal offer, and when in their complimentary phrase they shouted
that he should be king, a king from that moment he intended to be.
The comedy of the situation was irresistible.
But at the same time, Mr. Martin Carnforth was a man of wealth,
and a man (in England) of assured position; and he could not avoid
seeing that by his present association with Captain Owen Kettle, he
was flirting with ugly tragedy every moment that he lived. Yet here
he was pinned, not only to keep in the man's society, but to help him
in his mad endeavours.
He would gladly have forfeited half his fortune to be snugly back
in St. Stephen's, Westminster, clear of the mess; but escape was out
of the question; and, moreover, he knew quite well that trying to
make Kettle appreciate his true position would be like an attempt to
reason with the winds or the surf on an ocean beach. So he held his
tongue, and did as he was bidden. He was a man of physical bravery,
and the rush of actual fighting that morning had come pleasantly to
It was only when he thought of the certain and treacherous dangers
of the future, and the cosy niche that awaited him at home in
England, that his throat tickled with apprehension, and he caressed
with affectionate fingers the region of his carotids. And if he had
known that at that precise moment the ex-priest and the mulatto they
called el Cuchillo, and the others of the insurgent leaders, were
stalking him with a view to capture and execution, it is probable
that he would have felt even still more disturbed.
"We did well in that fight this morning," said Kettle presently,
as he drew his eyes away from the light-snaps of the fireflies, and
shut them to keep out the sting of the wood-smoke. "You've been shot
at before, sir?"
"Never," said Carnforth
"You couldn't have been cooler, sir, if you'd been at sea all your
life, and seen pins flying every watch. Do you know, I've been
thinking it over, and I'm beginning to fancy that perhaps our black
and yellow mongrels weren't quite such cowards as I said. I know they
did scuttle to the bushes like rabbits so soon as ever a gun was
fired; but then their business is to shoot these Spanish soldiers and
not get shot back, and so, perhaps, they were right to keep to their
"Anyway, we licked them, and that means getting on towards Mrs.
Kettle's being a queen. But that murdering the wounded afterwards was
more than I can stand, and It has got to be put a stop to."
"You didn't make yourself popular over it."
"I am not usually liked when I am captain," said Kettle
"Well, skipper, I don't, as a rule, agree with your methods, as
you know, but here I am with you all the way. Your excellent subjects
are a great deal too barbarous for my taste."
"They are holy brutes, and that's a fact," said Captain Kettle,
"and I expect a good many of them will be hurt whilst I'm teaching
them manners. But they've got to learn this lesson first of all:
they're to treat their prisoners decently, or else let them go, or
else shoot them clean and dead in the first instance whilst they're
still on the run. I am a man myself, Mr. Carnforth, that can do a
deal in hot blood; but afterwards, when the poor brutes are on the
ground, I want to go round with sticking plaster, and not a knife to
slit their throats."
"It will take a tolerable amount of trouble to drum that into this
crew. A Spaniard on the war-path is not merciful; an African is a
barbarian; but make a cross of the two (as you get here) and you turn
out the most unutterable savage on the face of the earth."
"They will not be taught by kindness alone," said Captain Kettle,
suggestively. "I've got heavy hands, and I shan't be afraid to use
them. It's a job," he added with a sigh, "which will not come new to
me. I've put to sea with some of the worst toughs that ever wrote
their crosses before a shipping master, and none of them can ever say
they got the top side of me yet."
He was about to say more, but at that moment speech was taken from
him. A long raw-hide rope suddenly flickered out into the air like a
slim, black snake; the noose at its end for an instant poised
open-mouthed above him; and then it descended around his elbows, and
was as simultaneously plucked taut by unseen hands behind the shelter
of the jungle. Captain Kettle struggled like a wild cat to release
himself, but four lithe, bony men threw themselves upon him, twisted
his arms behind his back, and made them fast there with other thongs
of raw hide.
Carnforth did nothing to help. At the first alarm, that burly
gentleman had looked up and discovered a rifle muzzle, not ten feet
off, pointing squarely at his breast. The voice of the ex-priest came
from behind the rifle, and assured him in mild, unctuous tones that
the least movement would secure him a quick and instant passage to
one or other of the next worlds. And Martin Carnforth surrendered
without terms. When the four men had finished their other business,
they came and roped him up also.
The mulatto strode out from the cover and flicked the ashes of a
cigarette into Kettle's face. "El rey," he said, "de los Cubanos must
have his power limited. He has come where he was not wanted, he has
done what was forbidden, and shortly he will taste the
"You gingerbread coloured beast," retorted Captain Kettle; "you
shame of your mother, I made a big mistake when I did not shoot you
in the morning."
The mulatto pressed the lighted end of his cigarette against
Kettle's forehead. "I will trouble you," he said, "to keep silence
for the present. At dawn you will be put upon trial, and then you may
speak. But till then (and the sun will not rise for another three
hours yet), if you talk, you will earn a painful burn for each
"You are a man accustomed to having your own way, Señor; I
am another; and, as at present I possess the upper hand, your will
has got to bend to mine. The process, I can well imagine, will be
distasteful to you. It was distasteful to me when I looked down your
revolver muzzle over the affair of those prisoners. But I do not
think you will be foolish enough to earn torture uselessly."
Kettle glared, but with an effort held his tongue. He understood
he was in a very tight place. And for the present the only thing
remaining for him was to bide his time. He quite recognised that he
was in dangerous hands. The mulatto was a man of education, who had
been brought up in an American college; and who had learned in the
States to hate his white father, and loathe his black mother with a
ferocity which nothing but that atmosphere could foster.
He was a fellow living on the borderland of the two primitive
colours, and his whole life was soured by the pigment in his skin. As
a white man he would have been a genius; as a black he would have
become a star; but as a mulatto he was merely a suave and brilliant
savage, thirsting for vengeance against the whole of the human race.
He had entered this Cuban revolution through no taint of patriotism,
but merely from the lust for cruelty. By sheer daring and ability he
had raised himself from the ranks to supreme command of the
revolutionists, and he was not likely to let the situation slip from
his fingers for even a few short hours, without exacting a bitter
Carnforth lifted up his voice in expostulation, but was quick
silenced by the promise of branding from the cigarette end if he did
not choose to hold his tongue. Quiet fell over the group. The only
sounds were scraps the "Swanee River," sung by the wounded negro in
his delirium from somewhere in the distance--
"Still longing for the old plantation.
And for the old folks at home."
came the words in a thin quavering tenor, and Carnforth, with a
sigh, thought how well he could endorse them.
The first glow of morning saw the camp aroused, and half an hour
later the Court was ranged. The self-styled judges sat under the
white-washed piazza of the ruined house; the motley troops faced them
in an irregular ring twenty yards away; and the two prisoners, with
an armed man to guard each, stood on the open ground between.
El Cuchillo was himself principal spokesman, and proceedings were
carried on in Spanish and English alternately. The crime of Captain
Kettle was set forth in a dozen words. He had stopped the rightful
execution of prisoners, and had let them go free.
"You had no place to gaol them," said Carnforth in defence.
The mulatto pointed a thin yellow finger at the sun-baked ground
in front of the piazza. "We have the earth," he said. "Give them to
the earth, and she will keep them gaoled so fast that they will never
fight against us more. It is a war here to the knife on both sides.
The Spanish troops kill us when they catch, and we do the like by
them; it is right that it should be so. We do not want quarter at
their hands; neither do we wish them to remain alive upon Cuba. Three
Spanish soldiers were ours a few hours ago. Our cause demanded that
their lives should have been taken away. And yet they were set
"Yes," broke in Kettle, "and, by James! that's a thing you ought
to sing small about. Here's you: six officers and a hundred and fifty
men, all armed. Here's me: a common low-down, foul-of-his-luck
Britisher, with a vinegar tongue and a thirty-shilling pistol. You
said the beggars should be hanged; I said they shouldn't; and, by
James! I scared the whole caboodle of you with just one-half an ugly
look, and got my own blessed way. Oh, I do say you are a holy
Carnforth stamped in anger. It seemed to him that this truculent
little sailor was deliberately inviting their captors to murder the
pair of them out of hand. He understood that Kettle was bitterly
disappointed at having his bubble about the kingship so ruthlessly
pricked, but with this recklessness which was snatching away their
only chance of escape, he could have no sympathy. He was unprepared,
however, for his comrade's next remark.
"Don't think I'd any help from Mr. Carnforth here. He's a Member
of Parliament in London, and is far too much of a gentleman to
concern himself with your fourpenny ha'penny matters here. He warned
me before I began, that being king of the whole of your rotten island
wasn't worth a dish of beans; but I wouldn't believe him till I'd
seen how it was for myself.
"I'm here now through my own fault; I ought to have remembered
that niggers, and yellow-bellies, and white men who have forgotten
their colour, could have no spark of gratitude. I'll not deny, too,
that I got to thinking about those fire-flies, and so wasn't keeping
a proper watch; but here I am, lashed up snug, and I guess you're
going to make the most of your chance. By James! though, if you
weren't a pack of cowards, you'd cast me adrift, and give me my gun
"Speaking as a man of peace," said the ex-priest, "I fancy you are
safest as you are, amigo."
"I'd be king of this crowd again inside three minutes if I was
loose," retorted Kettle.
El Cuchillo snapped his yellow fingers impatiently. "We are
wasting time," he said. "Captain Kettle seems still to dispute my
supreme authority. He shall taste of it within the next dozen
minutes; and if he can see his way to resisting it, and asserting his
own kingship, he has my full permission to do so. Here, you: go into
the ingenio, and bring out that machine."
A dozen ragged fellows detached themselves from the onlookers, and
went through a low stone doorway into a ruined sugar house. In a
couple of minutes they reappeared, dragging with noisy laughter a
dusty cumbersome erection, which they set down in the open space
before the piazza.
It was made up of a wooden platform on which was fastened a chair
and an upright. On the upright was a hinged iron ring immediately
above the chair. A screw passed through the upright into the ring,
with a long lever at its outside end, on either extremity of which
was a heavy sphere of iron. If once that lever was set on the twirl,
it would drive the screw's point into whatever the iron ring
contained with a force that was irresistible.
The mulatto introduced the machine with a wave of his yellow
fingers. "El garrotte," he said. "A mediæval survival which I
did not dream of finding here. Of its previous history I can form no
idea. Of its future use I can give a simple account. It will serve to
ease us of the society of this objectionable Captain Kettle."
"Great heavens, man," Carnforth broke out; "this is murder."
"Ah," said el Cuchillo, "I will attend to your case at the same
time. You shall have the honour of turning the screw which gives your
friend his exit. In that way we shall secure your silence afterwards
as to what has occurred."
"You foul brute," said Carnforth, with a shout, "do you think I am
an assassin like yourself?"
The mulatto took a long draught at his cigarette. "What a horrible
country England must be to live in, if all the people there have
tongues as long as you two. Señor, if you do not choose to
accept my suggestion for pinning you to silence, I can offer you
another. Refuse to take your place at the screw, and I promise that
you shall be stood up against the wall of this ingenio and be shot
inside the minute. The choice stands open before you."
"Mr. Carnforth," said Captain Kettle, "you mustn't be foolish. You
must officiate over me exactly as you are asked, or otherwise you'll
get shot uselessly. Gingerbread and his friends mean business. And if
you still think you're taking a liberty in handling the screw (in
spite of what I say) you may fine yourself a matter of ten shillings
weekly, and hand it across to Mrs. Kettle. I make no doubt she would
find that sum very useful."
"This is horrible," said Carnforth.
"It will be horrible for Mrs. Kettle and my youngsters, sir, if
you don't act sensibly and man the lever as Gingerbread asks. If you
get planted here alongside of me, I don't know any one at all likely
to give them a pension. It would afford me a great deal of pleasure
just now, Mr. Carnforth, if I knew my family could still keep to
windward of parish relief."
"Of course," said Carnforth with a white face, "I will see your
wife and children are all right if I get clear; but it is too ghastly
to think of purchasing even my life on these terms."
"You seem slow to make up your mind, Señor," broke in the
mulatto. "Allow me to hasten your decision." He gave some directions,
and the men who had brought out the garrotte took Captain Kettle and
sat him on the chair. They opened the iron ring, which screeched
noisily with its rusted hinge, and they clasped it, collar-fashion,
about his neck. Then they led Carnforth up to the back of the
upright, and cast off the lashing from his wrists.
"Now, Señor Carnforth," said the yellow man. "I want that
person garrotted. If you do it for me, I will give you a safe conduct
down to any sea-port in Cuba which you may choose. If I have to set
on one of my own men to do the work, you will not have sight to
witness it. I will stick you up against that white wall, yonder, and
have you shot, out of hand. Now, Señor, I have the honour to
ask for your decision."
"Come, sir, don't hesitate," said Captain Kettle. "If you don't
handle the screw, remember some one else will."
"That will be a flimsy excuse to remember afterwards."
"You will be paying a weekly fine, and can recollect that carries
a full pardon with it."
"Pah!" said Carnforth, "what is ten shillings a week?"
"Exactly," said Kettle. "Make it twelve, sir, and that will hold
you clear of everything."
"What feeble, dilatory people you English are," said el Cuchillo.
"I must trouble you to make up your mind at once, Señor
"He has made it up," said Kettle, "and I shall go smiling, because
I shall get my clearance at the hands of a decent man. I'd have taken
it as a disgrace to be shoved out of this world by a yellow beast
like you, you shame of your mother."
The mulatto blazed out with fury. "By heavens," he cried, "I've a
mind to take you out of that garrotte even now and have you
"And we should lose a pleasant little comedy," said the ex-priest.
"No, amigo; let us see the pair of them perform together."
"Go on," said the mulatto to Carnforth.
"Yes," said Kettle in a lower voice. "For God's sake go on and get
it over. It isn't very pleasant work for me, this waiting. And you
will make it twelve shillings a week, sir?"
"I will give your wife a thousand a year, my poor fellow. I will
give her five thousand. No; I am murdering her husband, and I will
give her all I have, and go away to start life afresh elsewhere. I
shall never dare to show my face again in England or carry my own
name." He gripped one of the iron spheres and threw his weight upon
the lever. The bar buckled and sprang under his effort, but the screw
did not budge.
"Quick, man, quick," said Kettle in a low, fierce voice. "This is
cruel. If you don't get me finished directly, I shall go white or
something, and those brutes will think I'm afraid."
Carnforth wrenched at the lever with a tremendous effort. One arm
of the bar bent slowly into a semi-circle, but the lethal screw
remained fast in its socket. It was glued there with the rust of
Carnforth flung away from the machine. "I have done my best," he
said sullenly to the men on the piazza, "and I can do no more. You
have the satisfaction of knowing that you have made me a murderer in
intent, if not in actual fact; and now, if you choose, you can stick
me up against that wall and have me shot. I'm sure I don't care I'm
sick of it all here."
"You shall have fair treatment," said el Cuchillo, "and neither
more nor less. You have tried to obey my orders, and Captain Kettle
is at present alive because of the garrotte's deficiency, and not by
your intention." He gave a command, and the men released the iron
collar from Kettle's neck. "I will have the machine repaired by my
armourer," he said, "and in the meanwhile you may await my pleasure
out of the sunshine."
He gave another order, and the men laid hands upon their shoulders
and led them away, and thrust them into a small arched room of
whitened stone, under the boiler-house of the ingenio. The window was
a mere arrow-slit; the door was a ponderous thing of Spanish oak,
barred with iron bolts which ran into the stone work; the place was
absolutely unbreakable. And there they waited, moodily taciturn.
The silence had lasted a dozen hours, although it was plain that
each of the prisoners was busily thinking. At last Kettle spoke.
"If I could only get a rhyme to 'brow,'" he said, "I believe I
could manage the rest."
"What?" asked Carnforth.
"I want a word to rhyme with 'brow,' sir, if you can help me."
"What in the world are you up to now?"
"I've been filling up time, sir, whilst we've been here, by
hammering out a bit of poetry about those fireflies. I got the idea
of it last night, when we saw them flashing in and out against the
black of the forest."
"You don't owe them much gratitude that I can see, skipper.
According to what you said, if you hadn't been looking at them, you'd
have been more on the watch, and wouldn't have got caught."
"Perfectly right, sir. And so this poem should be all the more
valuable when it's put together. I'm running it to the tune of
'Greenland's icy mountains,' my favourite air, Mr. Carnforth. I'm
trying to work a parallel between those fireflies switching their
lights in and out, and a soul, sir. Do you catch the idea?"
"I can't say I do quite."
Captain Kettle rubbed thoughtfully at his beard. "Well, I'm a
trifle misty about it myself," he admitted; "but it will make none
the worse poetry for being a bit that way, if I can get the rhymes
"'Plough' might suit you," Carnforth suggested.
"That's just the word I want, sir. 'The fields of heaven to
plough.' That would be the very occupation the soul of the man I'm
thinking about would delight in; something restful and in the
agricultural line. I wanted to give him a good time up there. He was
due for it," he added thoughtfully, and then he closed his eyes and
fell to making further poetry.
Martin Carnforth knew the little ruffian's taste for this form of
exercise, but it seemed to him jarringly out of place just then. "I
am in no mood for verse now," he commented with a frown.
"I am," said Kettle, and tapped out the metre of a new line with a
finger tip upon his knee. "It always takes a set-to with the hands,
or a gale of wind, or a tight-corner of some kind, to work me up to
poetry at all. And the worse the fix has been, the better I can
rhyme. I find it very restful and pleasant, sir, to send my thoughts
over a bit of a sonnet after times like these."
"Then you ought to turn out a masterpiece now," said Carnforth,
"and enjoy the making of it."
Kettle took him seriously. "I quite agree with you there, sir," he
said, and puckered his forehead and went on with his work.
Carnforth did not say any more, but turned again to brooding.
Every time he looked at the matter, the more he cursed himself for
leaving his snug pinnacle in England. The utmost boon he could have
gamed in Captain Kettle's society was not to be caught. Dangers,
hardships, and exposures he was discovering are much pleasanter to
hear of from a distance, or to read about in a well-stuffed chair by
a warm fireside. The actual items themselves had turned out terribly
squalid when viewed at first hand.
At last he broke out again. "Look here, skipper," he said, "I'm
fond enough of life, but I don't think I want to earn it by playing
executioner. I'd prefer to let this rebel fellow parade me and bring
out his platoon."
Kettle woke up from his work. "I'm not sweet on wearing the iron
collar again, and that's a fact. It's horrible work waiting to have
your backbone snapped without being able to raise a finger to
interfere. I'm not a coward, Mr. Carnforth, but I tell you it took
all the nerve I'd got to sit quiet in that chair without squirming
whilst you were getting ready the ceremonial.
"It's no new thing for me to expect being killed before the hour
was through. I've had trouble of all kinds with all sorts of crews,
but I've always had my hands free and been able to use them, and I
will say I've most always had a gun of some sort to help me. I might
even go so far as to tell you, sir (and you may kick me for saying it
if you like), I've felt a kind of joy regularly glow inside me during
some of those kind of scuffles. Yes, sir, that's the kind of animal I
am: in hot blood I think no more of being killed than a terrier dog
"If there was only a chance of being knocked on the head in hot
blood," said Carnforth, "I'd fight like a cornered thief till I got
"And Mrs. Kettle would lose her twelve shillings a week if---By
James! sir, here they come for us."
He leapt up from the bench on which he had sat, and whirled it
above his head. With a crash he brought it down against the whitened
wall of the cell, and the bench split down its length into two
staves. He gave one to Carnforth, and hefted the other himself like a
"Now, sir, you on one side of the door and me on the other. They
can't reach us from the outside there. And if they want us out of
here we've got to be fetched."
Carnforth took up his stand, and shifted his fingers knowingly
along his weapon. He was a big man and a powerful one, and the hunger
for fighting lit in his eye.
"Horatius Cockles and the other Johnnie holding the bridge," quoth
he. "We can bag the first two, and the others will fall over them if
they try a rush. What fools they were to untie our wrists and shins!
But our fun won't last long. As soon as they find we are awkward,
they will go round to the window-slit and shoot us down from
"We aren't shot yet," said Kettle grimly, "and I'm wanting to do a
lot of damage before they get me. Look out!"
The bolts grated back in the rusty staples, and the heavy door
screamed outwards on its hinges. A negro came in, whistling merrily.
The two halves of the bench flew down upon his head from either side
with a simultaneous crash.
A white man's skull would have crunched like an eggshell under
that impact, but the African cranium is stout. The fellow toppled to
the ground under the sheer tonnage of the blows, and he lay there
with the whistle half frozen on his lips, and such a ludicrous look
of surprise growing over his features that Carnforth burst into an
involuntary laugh. Kettle, however, was more businesslike. The negro
had a machete dangling from his hip, and the little sailor darted out
and snatched it from its sheath. He jumped back again to cover with
slim activity, and a couple of pistol bullets which followed him made
harmless grey splashes on the opposite wall. Then there was a pause
in the proceedings, and Carnforth felt his heart thumping noisily
against his watch as he waited.
Presently a brisk footstep made itself heard on the flagging
outside, and the voice of the mulatto leader spoke through the
"If you come out now, one of you shall be garotted, and the other
shall go free. If I have more trouble to fetch you, you shall both be
roasted to death over slow fires."
"If--if--if!" retorted Kettle. "If your mother had stuck to her
laundry work and married a nigger, she'd have kept a very great
rascal out of the world. If I'd the sense of a sheep I'd come to you
at once, and my poor wife would have twelve bob a week for life. If
you want to talk, you frightened lump of gingerbread, come in here
and do it, and don't squall out there like a cat on a garden
The suave voice of the ex-priest made a comment. "Saints deliver
us from these Englishmen's tongues. Truly they are not fit to live;
but why should we send our terriers into the rat pit? A little
careful shooting through the window yonder will soon limit their
capers, and if the shooting is carefully done, neither will be any
the worst as a roast."
El Cuchillo answered him savagely. "Then do you see to it. The big
man you may shoot as you please, but if you kill the sailor, look to
yourself. That man is in my debt, and I want him in my hands alive,
so that I may pay it."
"Amigo," said the unfrocked priest, "you may trust to my shooting.
I will pink him most scientifically in one leg and the right arm, and
I will guarantee that you shall get him in perfect condition to have
your satisfaction on."
"Do so," said the mulatto, and the other marched briskly away on
his rope-soled sandals. But in the meantime Kettle's active brain had
formed a plan, and in dumb show he had telegraphed it across to
Carnforth at the opposite flank of the doorway.
Of a sudden the pair of them rushed out simultaneously. Kettle
handed the machete to his companion, and sprang upon the yellow man
with greedy fingers. His feet he kicked away from beneath him, and at
the same instant grappled him by the throat. It was a trick he had
many a time before played upon mutinous seamen, and he had dragged
the mulatto back into the cell almost before the man had time to
struggle. Carnforth followed closely upon their heels leaving
signatures behind him written redly with the machete.
Captain Kettle bumped the mulatto's head against the wall as a way
of quieting him and keeping his way from dangerous weapons, and then
threw him on to the floor. He extracted a revolver and a knife from
the man's belt, and looked up to see the face of the ex-priest
staring at him from the window. Then he sat himself on the chest of
his prisoner, and prepared to treat for terms.
A shot rang out across the bivouac outside, and then another. The
man at the window-slit turned away his face. There was a minute's
pause, and then a dropping fire began, the sound of it coming from
two distinct quarters.
The ex-priest's head went out of sight. It was the last they ever
saw of him. Some one outside the doorway shouted "Los
Españoles!" and there was the scuffle of bare feet running
away and fading into the distance. And, meanwhile, outside the
windows the crackle of rifles grew more noisy, and cries rose up of
men in pain. The light in the vaulted room grew faintly blue, and the
air was soured with powder smoke.
"By James!" said Kettle, "the Spanish regular troops have raided
the camp, and the whole lot of them are fighting like a parcel of
cats. Hark to the racket. Here's a slice of luck."
"I don't see it," said Carnforth. "If we're out of the fire we're
into the frying-pan. Sinking that Spanish warship was an act of
piracy, and we shall be strung up if the Dons catch us, without the
prelude of a trial. Listen! There's a Maxim come into action. Listen!
I wonder which way the fight's going. They're making row enough over
it. I'm going to get to the window and have a look."
"It's tempting," said the little sailor wistfully, "but I think,
sir, you'd better not. If you're seen we shall be gastados, as they
say, anyway. Whereas, if the rebels are licked, the Dons may march
off again without knowing we are here. It's a chance. By James!
though, I'd like to have a look. Hark to that. They're at hand-grips
now. Hear 'em swear. And hear 'em scream."
"Some of them are beginning to run. Hark to that crashing as
they're making their way through the cane."
"And hark to those shouts. It's like a lot of cockneys at a
"These Dagos always yell blue murder when they're in a fight,"
said Kettle contemptuously.
"The Maxim's stopped," said Carnforth with a frown.
They listened on for awhile with straining ears, and then:
"Perhaps that means the rebels have rushed it."
"They may have run. But the Dons ought to be browning the cover if
they've cleared the camp. The fools! A Maxim would shoot through half
a mile of that cane-jungle."
"Short of ammunition," said Kettle, "or perhaps it's jammed." A
bugle shrilled out through the hot air, and its noise came to them
there in the hot, dark room. "That means cease fire, and the
Spaniards have won. Our mongrels had no bugles. Well, it's been a
quick thing I wonder what next!"
There was a dull murmur of many voices. Then orders were shouted,
and noise came as of moving men, and a few more scattered shots rang
out, most of them answered by cries or groans.
"Hullo?" said Kettle.
A weak voice from beneath him made explanation. "They are shooting
their prisoners, Señores--the men who were my comrades. It is
the custom--the custom of Cuba."
"So you have concluded to come to life again, have you?" asked the
little sailor. "I thought I'd bumped you harder. What do you expect
to be done with, eh?"
"I am in your hands," said the mulatto sullenly.
"That's no lie," said Kettle, "and I've a perfect right to kill
you if I wish. But I don't choose to dirty my hands further. You've
only acted according to your nature. And--when it came to me being
able to move, I've beaten you every time. But now we'll have silence,
please, for all hands. If those Spaniards are going to search this
old sugar house, they'll do it, and up on a string we go the three of
us; but there's no need to entice them here by chattering."
Their voices stopped, and the noises from without buzzed on. Of
all the trials he had gone through Carnforth felt that waiting to be
the most intolerable of all. The Spanish soldiery were looking to
their wounds and hunting through the bivouac. Some (to judge from
their talk) had gathered round the rusted garrotte and were examining
it with interest. And a few strolled up to the ruined ingenio, and
smoked their cigarettes under its piazza. Any moment the room beneath
the boiler house might be peeped upon.
The sun beat down upon the stonework and the heat grew. The voices
gradually drew away, till only the hum of the insects remained. And
so an hour passed.
Another hour came and went without disturbance, and still another;
and then there came the sound of a quavering tenor voice singing a
scrap from the "Swanee River" from close outside the walls!
"Oh, take me to my kind ole mudder! Dere let me live and die."
"That Yankee nigger," said Kettle, in a whisper. "He was wounded
and delirious before we came and he's been hidden amongst the cane.
They can't have seen him before; but, poor devil, they'll shoot him
But no quietening rifle-shot rang out, and wonder grew on the
faces of all three. They waited on with straining ears, and Carnforth
raised his eyebrows in an unspoken question. Kettle nodded, and the
big man rose gingerly to his feet, and peeped from the corner of the
window-slit. He turned round with rather a harsh laugh. "The place is
empty," he said. "I believe they've been gone these three hours."
Captain Kettle leapt to his feet and made for the door. "Quick,"
he cried, "or we shall have the rebels back again, and I'll own that
I don't want to fight the whole lot of them again just now. We'll
leave Gingerbread in here till his friends come to fetch him; and you
and I, sir, will slip down to the beach, and get off in one of the
old Sultan's quarter-boats."
They passed outside the door, and closed and bolted it after
"By the way," said Captain Kettle, "you couldn't happen to think
of a rhyme to 'gleam,' could you?"
"No," said Carnforth.
"Well, I'll hammer it out on the road down, and then I'll have
finished that sonnet, sir. But never mind poetry just now. I'll say
the piece to you when we've got to sea. For the present, Mr.
Carnforth, we must just pick up our feet and run."
And so they went off to the quarter-boat, and ten minutes later
they were running her down the beach and into the sea.
CHAPTER III--THE WAR-STEAMER OF DONNA CLOTILDE
I THINK it may be taken as one of the most remarkable attributes
of Captain Owen Kettle that, whatever circumstances might betide, he
was always neat and trim in his personal appearance. Even in most
affluent hours he had never been able to afford an expensive tailor;
indeed, it is much to be doubted if, during all his life, he ever
bought a scrap of raiment anywhere except at a ready-made
establishment; but in spite of this, his clothes were always
conspicuously well-fitting, carried the creases in exactly the right
place, and seemed to the critical onlooker to be capable of
improvement in no point whatsoever. He looked spruce even in oilskins
and thigh boots.
Of course, being a sailor, he was handy with his needle. I have
seen him take a white drill jacket, torn to ribands in a rough and
tumble with mutinous members his crew, and fine-draw the rents so
wonderfully that all traces of the disaster were completely lost. I
believe, too, he was capable of taking a roll of material and cutting
it out with his knife upon the deck-planks, and fabricating garments
ab initio; and though I never actually saw him do this with my own
eyes, I did hear that the clothes he appeared in at Valparaiso were
so made, and I marvelled at their neatness.
It was just after his disastrous adventure in Cuba; he trod the
streets in a state of utter pecuniary destitution; his cheeks were
sunk, and his eyes were haggard; but the red torpedo beard was as
trim as ever; his cap was spick and span; the white drill clothes
with their brass buttons were the usual miracle of perfection; and
even his tiny canvas shoes had not so much as a smudge upon their
pipe-clay Indeed, in the first instance I think it must have been
this spruceness, and nothing else, which made him find favour in the
eyes of so fastidious a person as Clotilde La Touche.
But be this as it may, it is a fact that Donna Clotilde just saw
the man from her carriage as he walked along the Paseo de Colon,
promptly asked his name, and, getting no immediate reply, dispatched
one of her admirers there and then to make his acquaintance. The
envoy was instructed to find out who he was, and contrive that Donna
Clotilde should meet the little sailor at dinner in the Café
of the Lion d'Or that very evening.
The dinner was given in the patio of the cafe where palm fronds
filtered the moonbeams, and fireflies competed with the electric
lights; and at a moderate computation the cost of the viands would
have kept Captain Kettle supplied with his average rations for ten
months or a year. He was quite aware of this, and appreciated the
entertainment none the worse in consequence. Even the champagne,
highly sweetened to suit the South American palate, came most
pleasantly to him. He liked champagne according to its lack of
dryness, and this was the sweetest wine that had ever passed his
The conversation during that curious meal ran in phases. With the
hors d'oeuvres came a course of ordinary civilities; then for a space
there rolled out an autobiographical account of some of Kettle's
exploits, skilfully and painlessly extracted by Donna Clotilde's
naïve questions; and then, with the cognac and cigarettes, a
spasm of politics shook the diners like an ague.
Of a sudden one of the men recollected himself, looked to this
side and that with a scared face, and rapped the table with his
"Ladies," he said imploringly, "and Señores, the heat is
great. It may be dangerous.
"Pah!" said Donna Clotilde, "we are talking in English."
"Which other people besides ourselves understand even in
"Let them listen," said Captain Kettle. "I hold the same opinions
on politics as Miss La Touche here, since she has explained to me how
things really are, and I don't care who knows that I think the
present Government, and the old system, rotten. I am not in the habit
of putting my opinions in words, Mr. Silva, and being frightened of
people hearing them."
"You," said the cautious man dryly, "have little to lose here,
Captain. Donna Clotilde has much. I should be very sorry to read in
my morning paper that she had died from apoplexy--the arsenical
variety--during the course of the preceding night."
"Pooh," said Kettle, "they could never do that."
"As a resident in Chili," returned Silva, "let me venture to
disagree with you, Captain. It is a disease to which the opponents of
President Quijarra are regularly addicted whenever they show any
marked political activity. The palm trees in this patio have a
reputation, too, for being phenomenally long-eared. So, if it pleases
you all, suppose we go out on the roof? The moon will afford us a
fine prospect--and--the air up there is reputed healthy."
He picked up Donna Clotilde's fan and mantilla. The other two
ladies rose to their feet; Donna Clotilde, with a slight frown of
reluctance, did the same; and they all moved off towards the stairway
Silva laid detaining fingers upon Captain Kettle's arm.
"Captain," he said, "if I may give you a friendly hint, slip away
now and go to your quarters."
"I fancy, sir," said Captain Kettle, "that Miss La Touche has
employment to offer me."
"If she has," retorted Silva, "which I doubt, it will not be
employment you will care about."
"I am what they call here 'on the beach,'" said Kettle, "and I
cannot afford to miss chances. I am a married man, Mr. Silva, with
children to think about."
"Ah!" the Chilian murmured thoughtfully. "I wonder if she knows
he's married? Well, Captain, if you will go up, come along, and I'm
sure I wish you luck."
The flat roof of the Café of the Lion d'Or is set out as a
garden, with orange trees growing against the parapets, and
elephants' ears and other tropical foliage plants stand here and
there in round green tubs. Around it are the other roofs of the city,
which, with the streets between, look like some white rocky plain cut
up by steep canons. A glow comes from these depths below, and with it
the blurred hum of people. But nothing articulate gets up to the Lion
d'Or, and in the very mistiness of the noise there is something
Moreover, it is a place where the fireflies of Valparaiso most do
congregate. Saving for the lamps of heaven, they have no other
lighting on that roof. The owners (who are Israelites) pride
themselves on this: it gives the garden an air of mystery; it has
made it the natural birthplace of plots above numbering; and it has
brought them profit almost beyond belief. Your true plotter, when his
ecstasy comes upon him, is not the man to be niggardly with the
purse. He is alive and glowing then; he may very possibly be dead
to-morrow; and in the meanwhile money is useless, and the things that
money can buy--and the very best of their sort--are most
One more whispered hint did Mr. Silva give to Captain Kettle as
they made their way together up the white stone steps.
"Do you know who and what our hostess is?" he asked.
"A very nice young lady," replied the mariner promptly, "with a
fine taste in suppers."
"She is all that," said Silva; "but she also happens to be the
richest woman in Chili. Her father owned mines innumerable, and when
he came by his end in our last revolution, he left every dollar he
had at Donna Clotilde's entire disposal. By some unfortunate
oversight, personal fear has been left out of her composition, and
she seems anxious to add it to the list of her acquirements."
Captain Kettle puckered his brows. "I don't seem to understand
you," he said.
"I say this," Silva murmured, "because there seems no other way to
explain the keenness with which she hunts after personal danger. At
present she is intriguing against President Quijarra's Government.
Well, we all know that Quijarra is a brigand, just as his predecessor
was before him. The man who succeeds him in the Presidency of Chili
will be a brigand also. It is the custom of my country. But
interfering with brigandage is a ticklish operation, and Quijarra is
always scrupulous to wring the necks of any one whom he thinks at all
likely to interfere with his peculiar methods."
"I should say that from his point of view," said Kettle, "he was
acting quite rightly, sir."
"I thought you'd look at it sensibly," said Silva. "Well, Captain,
here we are at the top of the stair. Don't you think you had better
change your mind, and slip away now, and go back to your
"Why, no, sir," said Captain Kettle. "From what you tell me, it
seems possible that Miss La Touche may shortly be seeing trouble, and
it would give me pleasure to be near and ready to bear a hand. She is
a lady for whom I have got considerable regard. That supper, sir,
which we have just eaten, and the wine, are things which will live in
He stepped out on to the roof, and Donna Clotilde came to meet
him. She linked her fingers upon his arm, and led him apart from the
rest. At the further angle of the gardens they leant their elbows
upon the parapet, and talked, whilst the glow from the street below
faintly lit their faces, and the fireflies winked behind their
"I thank you, Captain, for your offer," she said at length, "and I
accept it as freely as it was given. I have had proposals of similar
service before, but they came from the wrong sort. I wanted a Man,
and I found out that you were that before you had been at the
dinner-table five minutes."
Captain Kettle bowed to the compliment. "But," said he, "if I am
that, I have all of a man's failings."
"I like them better," said the lady, "than a half-man's virtues.
And as a proof I offer you command of my navy.
"Your navy, Miss?"
"It has yet to be formed," said Donna Clotilde, "and you must form
it. But once we make the nucleus other ships of the existing force
will desert to us, and with those we must fight and beat the rest.
Once we have the navy, we can bombard the ports into submission till
the country thrusts out President Quijarra of its own accord, and
sets me up in his place."
"Oh," said Kettle, "I didn't understand. Then you want to be Queen
"But a President is a man, isn't he?"
"Why? Answer me that."
"Because--well, because they always have been, Miss."
"Because men up to now have always taken the best things to
themselves. Well, Captain, all that is changing; the world is moving
on; and women are forcing their way in, and taking their proper
place. You say that no State has yet had a woman-president. You are
quite right. I shall be the first."
Captain Kettle frowned a little, and looked thoughtfully down into
the lighted street beneath. But presently he made up his mind, and
"I'll accept your offer, Miss, to command the navy, and I'll do
the work well. You may rely on that. Although I say it myself, you'd
find it hard to get a better man. I know the kind of brutes one has
to ship as seamen along this South American coast, and I'm the sort
of brute to handle them. By James! yes, and you shall see me make
them do most things, short of miracles.
"But there's one other thing, Miss, I ought to say, and I must
apologise for mentioning it, seeing that you're not a business
person, I must have my twelve pound a month, and all found. I know
it's a lot, and I know you'll tell me wages are down just now. But I
couldn't do it for less, Miss. Commanding a navy's a strong order
and, besides, there's considerable risk to be counted in as
Donna Clotilde took his hand in both hers.
"I thank you, Captain," she said, "for your offer, and I begin to
see success ahead from this moment. You need have no fear on the
question of remuneration."
"I hope you didn't mind my mentioning it," said Kettle nervously.
"I know it's not a thing generally spoken of to ladies. But you see,
Miss, I'm a poor man, and feel the need of money sometimes. Of
course, twelve pound a month is high, but--"
"My dear Captain," the lady broke in, "what you ask is moderation
itself; and, believe me, I respect you for it, and will not forget.
Knowing who I am, no other man in Chili would have hesitated to
ask"--she had on her tongue to say "a hundred times as much," but
suppressed that and said--"more. But in the meantime," said she,
"will you accept this hundred-pound note for any current expenses
which may occur to you?"
A little old green-painted barque lay hove-to under sail,
disseminating the scent of guano through the sweet tropical day.
Under her square counter the name El Almirante Cochrane appeared in
clean, white lettering. The long South Pacific swells lifted her
lazily from hill to valley of the blue water, to the accompaniment of
squealing gear and a certain groaning of fabric. The Chilian coast
lay afar off, as a white feathery line against one fragment of the
The green-painted barque was old. For many a weary year had she
carried guano from rainless Chilian islands to the ports of Europe;
and though none of that unsavoury cargo at present festered beneath
her hatches, though, indeed, she was in shingle ballast, and had her
holds scrubbed down and fitted with bunks for men, the aroma of it
had entered into the very soul of her fabric, and not all the
washings of the sea could remove it.
A white whaleboat lay astern, riding to a grass-rope painter, and
Señor Carlos Silva, whom the whaleboat had brought off from
the Chilian beach, sat in the barque's deckhouse talking to Captain
"The Señorita will be very disappointed," said Silva.
"I can imagine her disappointment," returned the sailor. "I can
measure it by my own. I can tell you, sir, when I saw this filthy,
stinking old windjammer waiting for me in Callao, I could have sat
down right where I was and cried. I'd got my men together, and I
guess I'd talked big about El Almirante Cochrane, the fine new
armoured cruiser we were to do wonders in. The only thing I knew
about her was her name, but Miss La Touche had promised me the finest
ship that could be got, and I only described what I thought a really
fine ship would be. And then, when the agent stuck out his finger and
pointed out this foul old violet-bed, I tell you it was a bit of a
"There's been some desperate robbery somewhere," said Silva.
"It didn't take me long to guess that," said Kettle, "and I
concluded the agent was the thief, and started in to take it out of
him without further talk. He hadn't a pistol, so I only used my hands
to him, but I guess I fingered him enough in three minutes to stop
his dancing for another month. He swore by all the saints he was
innocent, and that he was only the tool of other men; and perhaps
that was so. But he deserved what he got for being in such shady
"Still, that didn't procure you another ship?"
"Hammering the agent couldn't make him do an impossibility, sir.
There wasn't such a vessel as I wanted in all the ports of Peru. So I
just took this nosegay that was offered, lured my crew aboard, and
put out past San Lorenzo island, and got to sea. It's a bit of a come
down, sir, for a steamer-sailor like me," the little man added with a
sigh, "to put an old wind-jammer through her gymnastics again. I
thought I'd done with 'main-sail haul' and raw hide chafing gear, and
all the white wings nonsense for good and always."
"But, Captain, what did you come out for? What earthly good can
you do with an old wreck like this?"
"Why, sir, I shall carry out what was arranged with La Touche. I
shall come up with one of President Quijarra's Government vessels,
capture her, and then start in to collar the rest. There's no
alteration in the programme. It's only made more difficult, that's
"I rowed out here to the rendezvous to tell you the Cancelario is
at moorings in Tampique Bay, and that the Señorita would like
to see you make your beginning upon her. But what's the good of that
news, now? The Cancelario is a fine new warship of 3,000 tons. She's
fitted with everything modern in guns and machinery; she's three
hundred men of a crew, and she lays always with steam up and an armed
watch set. To go near her in this clumsy little barque would be to
make yourself a laughing-stock. Why, your English Cochrane wouldn't
have done it."
"I know nothing about Lord Cochrane, Mr. Silva. He was dead before
my time but whatever people may have done to him, I can tell any one
who cares to hear, that the man who's talking to you now is a bit of
an awkward handful to laugh at. No, sir, I expect there'll be trouble
over it, but you may tell Miss La Touche we shall have the
Cancelario, if she'll stay in Tampique Bay till I can drive this old
lavender box up to her."
For a minute Silva stared in silent wonder. "Then, Captain," said
he, "all I can think is, you must have enormous trust in your
Captain Kettle bit the end from a fresh cigar. "You should go and
look at them for yourself," said he, "and hear their talk, and then
you'd know. The beasts are fit to eat me already."
"How did you get them on board?"
"Well, you see, sir, I collected them by promises--fine pay, fine
ship, fine cruise, fine chances, and so on; and when I'd only this
smelling bottle here to show them, they hung back a bit. If there'd
been only twenty of them, I don't say but what I could have hustled
them on board with a gun and some ugly words. But sixty were too many
to tackle; so I just said to them that El Almirante Cochrane was only
a ferry to take us across to a fine war steamer that was lying out of
sight elsewhere; and they swallowed the yarn, and stepped in over the
"I can't say they've behaved like lambs since. The grub's not been
to their fancy, and I must say the biscuit was crawling; and it seems
that, as a bedroom, the hold hurt their delicate noses; and, between
one thing and another, I've had to shoot six of them before they
understood I was skipper here. You see, sir, they were most of them
living in Callao before they shipped, because there's no extradition
there; and so they're rather a toughish crowd to handle."
"What a horrible time you must have had!"
"There has been no kid-glove work for me, sir, since I got to sea
with this rose garden; and I must say it would have knocked the
poetry right out of most men. But, personally, I can't say it has
done that to me you'd hardly believe it, sir, but once or twice, when
the whole lot of the brutes have been raging against me, I've been
very nearly happy. And afterwards, when I've got a spell of rest,
I've picked up pen and paper, and knocked off one or two of the
prettiest sonnets a man could wish to see in print. If you like, sir,
I'll read you a couple before you go back to your whale-boat."
"I thank you, skipper, but not now. Time is on the move, and Donna
Clotilde is waiting for me. What am I to tell her?"
"Say, of course, that her orders are being carried out, and her
pay being earned."
"My poor fellow," said Silva, with a sudden gush of remorse, "you
are only sacrificing yourself uselessly. What can you, in a small
sailing vessel like this, do with your rifles against a splendidly
armed vessel like the Cancelario?"
"Not much in the shooting line, that's certain," said Kettle,
cheerfully. "That beautiful agent sold us even over the ammunition.
There were kegs put on board marked 'cartridges,' but when I came to
break one or two so as to serve out a little ammunition, for practice
be hanged if the kegs weren't full of powder. And it wasn't the stuff
for guns even; it was blasting powder, same as they use in the mines.
Oh, sir, that agent was the holiest kind of fraud."
Silva wrung his hands. "Captain," he cried, "you must not go on
with this mad cruise. It would be sheer suicide for you to find the
"You shall give me news of it again after I've met her," said
Captain Kettle. "For the present, sir, I follow out Miss La Touche's
orders, and earn my £12 a month. But if you're my friend, Mr.
Silva, and want to do me a good turn, you might hint that, if things
go well, I could do with a rise to £14 a month when I'm sailing
the Cancelario for her."
The outline of Tampique Bay stood out clearly in bright moonshine,
and the sea down the path of the moon's rays showed a canal of
silver, cut through rolling fields of purple. The green-painted
barque was heading into the bay on the port tack; and at moorings,
before the town, in the curve of the shore, the grotesque spars of a
modern warship showed in black silhouette against the moonbeams. A
slate-coloured naphtha-launch was sliding out over the swells towards
Captain Kettle came up from below, and watched the naphtha-launch
with throbbing interest. He had hatched a scheme for capturing the
Cancelario, and had made his preparations; and here was an
interruption coming which might very well upset anything most
ruinously. Nor was he alone in his regard. The barque's topgallant
rail was lined with faces; all her complement were wondering who
these folk might be who were so confidently coming out to meet
A Jacob's ladder was thrown over the side; the slate-coloured
launch swept up, and emitted--a woman. Captain Kettle started, and
went down into the waist to meet her. A minute later he was wondering
whether he dreamed, or whether he was really walking his quarter deck
in company with Donna Clotilde La Touche. But meanwhile the barque
held steadily along her course.
The talk between them was not for long.
"I must beseech you, Miss, to go back from where you came," said
Kettle. "You must trust me to carry out this business without your
"Is your method very dangerous?" she asked.
"I couldn't recommend it to an Insurance Company," said Kettle,
"Tell me your scheme."
Kettle did so in some forty words. He was pithy, and Donna
Clotilde was cool. She heard him without change of colour.
"Ah," she said, "I think you will do it."
"You will know one way or another within an hour from now, Miss.
But I must ask you to take your launch to a distance. As I tell you,
I have made all my own boats so that they won't swim; but, if your
little craft was handy, my crew would jump overboard and risk the
sharks, and try to reach her in spite of all I could do to stop them.
They won't be anxious to fight that Cancelario when the time comes,
if there's any way of wriggling out of it."
"You are quite right, Captain; the launch must go; only I do not.
I must be your guest here till you can put me on the Cancelario."
Captain Kettle frowned. "What's coming is no job for a woman to be
in at, Miss."
"You must leave me to my own opinion about that. You see, we
differ upon what a woman should do, Captain. You say a woman should
not be president of a republic; you think a woman should not be
sharer in a fight; I am going to show you how a woman can be both."
She leant her shoulders over the rail, and hailed the naphtha-launch
with a sharp command. A man in the bows cast off the line with which
it towed; the man aft put over his tiller, and set the engines
a-going; and, like a slim, grey ghost, the launch slid quietly away
into the gloom. "You see," she said, "I'm bound to stay with you
now," and she looked upon him with a burning glance.
But Kettle replied coldly. "You are my owner, Miss," he said, "and
can do as you wish. It is not for me now to say that you are foolish.
Do I understand you still wish me to carry out my original plan?"
"Yes," she said curtly.
"Very well, Miss, then we shall be aboard of that war-steamer in
less than fifteen minutes." He bade his second mate call aft the
crew; but instead of remaining to meet them, he took a keen glance at
the barque's canvas, another at her wake, another at the moored
cruiser ahead, and then, after peering thoughtfully at the clouds
which sailed in the sky, he went to the companion-way and dived
below. The crew trooped aft and stood at the break of the
quarterdeck, waiting for him. And in the meanwhile they feasted their
eyes with many different thoughts on Donna Clotilde La Touche.
Presently Captain Kettle returned to deck, aggressive and
cheerful, and faced the men with hands in his jacket pockets. Each
pocket bulged with something heavy, and the men, who by this time had
come to understand Captain Kettle's ways, began to grow quiet and
nervous. He came to the point without any showy oratory.
"Now, my lads," said he, "I told you when you shipped aboard this
lavender-box in Callao, that she was merely a ferry to carry you to a
fine war-steamer which was lying elsewhere. Well, there's the
steamer, just off the starboard bow yonder. Her name's the
Cancelario, and at present she seems to belong to President
Quijarra's Government. But Miss La Touche here (who is employing both
me and you, just for the present) intends to set up a Government of
her own; and, as a preliminary, she wants that ship. We've to grab it
Captain Kettle broke off, and for a full minute there was silence.
Then some one amongst the men laughed, and a dozen others joined
"That's right," said Kettle. "Cackle away, you scum. You'd be
singing a different tune if you knew what was beneath you."
A voice from the gloom--an educated voice--answered him. "Don't be
foolish, skipper. We're not going to ram our heads against a brick
wall like that. We set some value on our lives."
"Do you?" said Kettle. "Then pray that this breeze doesn't drop
(as it seems likely to do) or you'll lose them. Shall I tell you what
I was up to below just now? You remember those kegs of blasting
powder? Well, they're in the lazaret, where some of you stowed them;
but they're all of them unheaded, and one of them carries the end of
a fuse. That fuse is cut to burn just twenty minutes, and the end's
"Wait a bit. It's no use going to try and douse it. There's a
pistol fixed to the lazaret hatch, and if you try to lift it that
pistol will shoot into the powder, and we'll all go up together
without further palaver. Steady, now, there, and hear me out. You
can't lower away boats, and get clear that way. The boat's bottoms
will tumble away so soon as you try to hoist them off the skids. I
saw to that last night. And you can't require any telling to know
there are far too many sharks about to make a swim healthy
The men began to rustle and talk.
"Now, don't spoil your only chance," said Kettle, "by singing out.
If on the cruiser yonder they think there's anything wrong, they'll
run out a gun or two, and blow us out of the water before we can come
near them. I've got no arms to give you; but you have your knives,
and I guess you shouldn't want more. Get in the shadow of the rail
there, and keep hid till you hear her bump. Then jump on board, knock
everybody you see over the side, and keep the rest below."
"They'll see us coming," whimpered a voice. "They'll never let us
"They'll hear us," the Captain retorted, "if you gallows-ornaments
bellow like that, and then all we'll have to do will be to sit tight
where we are till that powder blows us like a thin kind of spray up
against the stars. Now, get to cover with you, all hands, and not
another sound. It's your only chance."
The men crept away, shaking, and Captain Kettle himself took the
wheel, and appeared to drowse over it. He gave her half a spoke at a
time, and by invisible degrees the barque fell off till she headed
dead on for the cruiser. Save for the faint creaking of her gear, no
sound came from her, and she slunk on through the night like some
patched and tattered phantom. Far down in her lazaret the glowing end
of the fuse crept nearer to the powder barrels, and in imagination
every mind on board was following its race.
Nearer and nearer she drew to the Cancelario, and ever nearer. The
waiting men felt as though the hearts of them would leap from their
breasts. Two of them fainted. Then came a hail from the cruiser:
"Barque, ahoy, are you all asleep there?"
Captain Kettle drowsed on over the wheel. Donna Clotilde, from the
shadow of the house, could see him nodding like a man in deep
"Carrajo! you barque, there! Put down your helm. You'll be aboard
of us in a minute."
Kettle made no reply: his hands sawed automatically at the spokes,
and the glow from the binnacle fell upon close, shut eyes. It was a
fine bit of acting.
The Chilians shouted but they could not prevent the collision, and
when it came, there broke out a yell as though the gates of the Pit
had been suddenly unlocked.
The barque's crew of human refuse, mad with terror, rose up in a
flock from behind the bulwarks. As one man they clambered over the
cruiser's side and spread about her decks.
Ill provided with weapons though they might be, the Chilians were
scarcely better armed. A sentry squibbed off his rifle, but that was
the only shot fired. Knives did the greater part of the work, knives
and belaying-pins, and whatever else came to hand. Those of the watch
on deck who did not run below were cleared into the sea; the berth
deck was stormed; and the waking men surrendered to the pistol
A couple of desperate fellows went below, and cowed the fireman
and engineer on watch. The mooring was slipped, steam was given to
the engines, and whilst her former crew were being drafted down into
an empty hold, the Cancelario was standing out at a sixteen-knot
speed towards the open sea under full command of the raiders. Then
from behind them came the roar of an explosion and a spurt of
dazzling light, and the men shuddered to think of what they had so
narrowly missed. And as it was, some smelling fragments of the old
guano barque lit upon the after deck, as they fell headlong from the
dark sky above.
Donna Clotilde went on to the upper bridge, and took Captain
Kettle by the hand.
"My friend," she said, "I shall never forget this." And she looked
at him with eyes that spoke of more than admiration for his
"I am earning my pay," said Kettle.
"Pah!" she said, "don't let money come between us. I cannot bear
to think of you in connection with sordid things like that. I put you
on a higher plane. Captain," she said, and turned her head away, "I
shall choose a man like you for my husband."
"Heaven mend your taste, Miss," said Kettle; "but--there may be
others like me."
"There are not."
"Then you must be content with the nearest you can get."
Donna Clotilde stamped her foot upon the planking of the
"You are dull," she cried.
"No," he said, "I have got clear sight, Miss. Won't you go below
now and get a spell of sleep? Or will you give me your orders
"No," she answered, "I will not. We must settle this matter first.
You have a wife in England, I know, but that is nothing. Divorce is
simple here. I have influence with the Church; you could be set free
in a day. Am I not the woman you would choose?"
"Miss La Touche, you are my employer."
"Answer my question."
"Then, Miss, if you will have it, you are not."
"But why? Why? Give me your reasons? You are brave. Surely I have
shown courage too? Surely you must admire that?"
"I like men for men's work, Miss."
"But that is an exploded notion. Women have got to take their
place. They must show themselves the equals of men in
"But you see, Miss," said Kettle, "I prefer to be linked to a lady
who is my superior--as I am linked at present. If it pleases you, we
had better end this talk."
"No," said Donna Clotilde, "it has got to be settled one way or
the other. You know what I want. Marry me as soon as you are set
free, and there shall be no end of your power. I will make you rich;
I will make you famous. Chili shall be at our feet; the world shall
bow to us."
"It could be done," said Kettle with a sigh.
"Then marry me."
"With due respect, I will not," said the little man.
"You know you are speaking to a woman who is not accustomed to be
Captain Kettle bowed.
"Then you will either do as I wish, or leave this ship. I give you
an hour to consider it in."
"You will find my second mate the best navigating officer left,"
said Kettle, and Donna Clotilde, without further words, left the
The little shipmaster waited for a decent interval, and then
sighed, and gave orders. The men on deck obeyed him with quickness. A
pair of boat davits were swung out-board, and the boat plentifully
victualled and its water-breakers filled. The Cancelario's engines
were stopped, and the tackles screamed as the boat was lowered to the
water, and rode there at the end of its painter. Captain Kettle left
the bridge in charge of his first officer, and went below. He found
the lady sitting in the commander's cabin, with head pillowed upon
"You still wish me to go, Miss?" he said.
"If you will not accept what is offered."
"I am sorry," said the little sailor, "very sorry. If I'd met you,
Miss, before I saw Mrs. Kettle, and if you'd been a bit different, I
believe I could have liked you. But as it is--"
She leapt to her feet, with eyes that blazed.
"Go!" she cried. "Go, or I will call upon some of those fellows to
"They will do it cheerfully, if you ask them," said Kettle, and
did not budge.
She sank down on the sofa again with a wail.
"Oh, go," she cried. "If you are a man, go, and never let me see
Captain Kettle bowed, and went on deck.
A little later he was alone in the quarter-boat. The Cancelario
was drawing fast away from him into the night, and the boat danced in
the cream of her wake.
"Ah, well," he said to himself, "there's another good chance gone
for good and always. What a cantankerous beggar I am." And then for a
moment his thoughts went elsewhere, and he got out paper and a stump
of pencil, and busily scribbled an elegy to some poppies in a
cornfield. The lines had just flitted gracefully across his mind, and
they seemed far too comely to be allowed a chance of escape. It was a
movement characteristic of his queerly ordered brain. After the more
ugly moments of his life, Captain Owen Kettle always turned to the
making of verse as an instinctive relief.
CHAPTER IV--THE PILGRIM SHIP
EVEN before he left Jeddah, Captain Kettle was quite aware that by
shipping pilgrims on the iron decks of the Saigon for transit across
the Red Sea, he was transgressing the laws of several nations,
especially those of Great Britain and her Dependencies. But what else
could the poor man do? Situated as he was, with such a tempting
opportunity ready to his hand, he would have been less than human if
he had neglected to take the bargain which was offered. And though
the list of things that has been said against Captain Owen Kettle is
both black and long, I am not aware that any one has yet alleged that
the little sailor was anything more or less than human in all his
Cortolvin came to the chart-house and put this matter of
illegality to him in plain words when the engines chose to break down
two days out of Jeddah, and the Saigon lolled helpless in the blazing
Red Sea heat.
Cortolvin up to that time had not made himself remarked. He had
marched on board from the new Jeddah quay where the railway is, and
posed as an Arab of the Sahara who was glorying in the newly-acquired
green turban of a Hadji; he was nicked on the mate's tally as a
"nigger," along with some three hundred and forty other dark-skinned
followers of the Prophet; and he had spent those two days upon an
orthodox square of ragged carpet, spread on the rusted iron plating
of the lower fore deck.
When the pilgrims had mustered for victualling, he had filed in
with the rest, and held out a brass lotah for his ration of water,
and a tattered square of canvas for his dole of steamed rice. You
could count his ribs twenty yards away; but he'd the look of a
healthy man; and when on mornings he helped to throw overboard those
of his fellow-pilgrims who had died during the night, it was plain to
see that he was a fellow of more than ordinary muscular strength.
He came to Captain Kettle in the chart-house to report that the
pilgrims contemplated seizing the Saigon so soon as ever the engines
were once more put in running order. "They've declared a Jehad
against you, if you know what that is," said Cortolvin.
"A holy war, or some such skittles, isn't it?" said Kettle.
"That's about the size of it," said the Hadji. "You'll have to
look out if you intend to remain master of this steamboat."
"I don't require any teaching of my business from passengers,"
said Captain Kettle stiffly.
"All right," said Cortolvin, "have it your own way. But I think
you might be decently grateful. I've risked my life by coming to give
you news of what was in the wind. And you can't pretend that the
information is not useful. You've a coolie crew who will be
absolutely foolish if trouble comes--these Lascars always are that
way. You've just your two white engineers and two white mates to back
you up, and the five of you wouldn't have a show. You've three
hundred and forty fanatics to deal with, who are all fighting bred,
and fighting fit. They're all well armed, and they wouldn't a bit
object to die scrimmaging in such a cause.
"You know it's part of their creed that if they peg out whilst
fighting giaours, they go slick to paradise by lightning express.
That wily old camel-driver of Mecca painted his heaven as just the
sort of dandy place to suit this kind of cattle, and as most of them
have a beast of a time on this earth, they're anxious to move along
upstairs whenever a decent opportunity offers to get there."
"They'll be an ugly crowd to tackle: I grant that."
"They are so, and don't you forget it. I might point out, Captain,
that, personally speaking, I'd have been a lot safer if I'd stayed
down on the lower foredeck yonder, and held my tongue. They'd have
got you to an absolute certainty if they'd ambushed you as was
intended, and I could have kept out of the actual throat-cutting and
preserved a sound skin. They've all got profound respect for me; I'm
a very holy man."
"And as it is?"
Hadji Cortolvin shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, I chip in with
"Will you tell me why?"
"Cousinship of the skin, I suppose. You're white by birth, and I
believe I should turn out to be white also if I kept out of the sun
for awhile, and had several Turkish baths. Of course I've a
snuff-coloured hide on me now, and during this last two years I've
been living with men of colour, and following their ways, and
thinking their thoughts. Funny, isn't it? I come across you; I don't
know you from Adam; I can't say I particularly like what I've seen of
you; and yet here am I, rounding on my former mates, and chipping in
with you, on the clear knowledge that I shall probably get killed
during the next few hours for my pains."
"May I ask your name?" said Kettle. "I believe, sir," he added
with a bow, "that you are a gentleman."
The Hadji laughed. "So far as I recollect, I was that once,
Captain. Sorry I haven't a card on me, but my name's W.H. Cortolvin,
and I lived near Richmond in Yorkshire before I was idiot enough to
go wandering off the Cook's tourist routes into the middle of
"I'm Welsh myself," said Kettle, "but I've known men from
Yorkshire. Shake hands, sir, please. Will you have a whisky peg?"
"Pour it out, Captain. I haven't tasted a Christian drink for
thirty weary months. And you've got a chattie hung up in the draught
of a port! Cool water, ye gods! Bismillah! But it is good to be alive
Captain Kettle looked with distaste at the Hadji's attire.
"Won't you sling that filthy nightgown thing of yours overboard,"
he asked, "and have a wash? I can rig you out with some pyjamas from
the slop chest."
But Cortolvin would not change his dirt and squalor just then. He
had worn it too long to be affected by it; "and," said he, "I don't
want to advertise the fact that I'm an Englishman just at present. If
my dear friends down yonder on the lower deck knew it, they'd not
wait for the engines to be repaired. They'd fizzle up just like
gunpowder there and then, and the whole lot of us white men would be
pulled into tassels before we'd time to think."
"I don't know about that," said Kettle. "I've faced some of the
ugliest crowds that have floated on the seas before this, and they
thought they were going to have it all their own way; but they found
that when it came to shooting, that I could keep my end up very
He waved his guest to a deck chair, placed a box of cheroots
hospitably open on the chart-table, and then he went outside the
chart--house, and leant over the bridge-deck rail. The awning above
him threw a clean-cut shade which swung to and fro as the Saigon
rolled over the faint oily swell; and outside its shelter the sun's
rays fell like molten brass, and the metal-work was hot enough to
raise a blister. The air was motionless and stagnant, and greasy with
the smell of humanity. The whole fabric of the steamer shimmered in
the dancing heat.
For the dense mass of pilgrims below, the situation approached the
intolerable. Left to itself, the rusted iron deck beneath their bare
skins would have grown hot enough to char them. Nothing but a
constant sluicing with water made it in any way to be endured. And as
the water from alongside came up to them as warm as tea, it did but
little to refresh.
The African can withstand most temperatures which are thrown from
above on to the face of this planet, but even the African can at
times die from heat as glibly as his betters. Even as Kettle watched,
one of the pilgrims, a grizzled headed Hafisa from the Western
Soudan, was contorted with heat apoplexy; breathed stertorously for a
minute or so; and then lay still, and immediately became a prey to
flies innumerable. Two of his nearest comrades bestirred themselves
to look at him, pronounced that life was extinct, stood up, and with
an effort carried the body out of the press, and heaved it over the
hot iron bulwark into the oily sea beneath. It is not good that the
dead should remain with the quick even for minutes in circumstances
such as those.
And whilst the bearers carried him away, an old white-haired negro
from Sokoto stood upon his feet swaying to the roll of the ship, and
faced the heat-blurred East with bowed head. Aloud he bore witness
that God was great; and that Mahomet was the Prophet of God; and that
of mortals, each man's fate was writ big upon his forehead. And then
the rest of the pilgrims bent their foreheads to the torturing deck
plates, and made profession of the faith following his words.
Captain Kettle, from his stand against the rail of the bridge
deck, pitied the heathen, and thought with a complacent sigh of a
certain obscure chapel in South Shields; but at the same time he
could not avoid being impressed by the heathens' constancy. They
might die, but they forbore to curse God in doing it, and the
omission gave him an insight into the workings of fatalism which made
him think more of what Cortolvin had said.
Every man amongst the pilgrims had sword or spear, or mace, or
rifle within grip of his fist; and as a fighting force--with fatalism
to back them he began to realise that they could make a very ugly
company to manoeuvre against. A regulation of the pilgrim trade
requires that all weapons shall be taken from this class of
passengers during the voyage, but Kettle had omitted to disarm them
through sheer contempt for what they could do. If they choose to
fight amongst themselves, that was their own concern; it never even
occurred to him as they came off Jeddah quay, noisy and odorous, that
they would dare to contend against his imperial will; but now he
sincerely wished that the means of serious offence were not so handy
to their fingers.
I do not say that he was afraid, for, knowing him well, I honestly
believe that the little ruffian has never yet feared man that was
born of woman; but the safety of the Saigon was a matter just then
very near to his heart, and he had forebodings as to what might
happen to her.
He went back again inside the chart-house, sat himself upon the
sofa, and ran a finger round inside the collar of his white drill
"Do you like the cheroots, sir?" he said to his tattered guest
"Nice cheroots," said Cortolvin: "wonder how many I'll smoke.
Those True Believers are a pretty tough crowd, aren't they. There's
one Soudanese fellow in a Darfur suit of mail. Did you notice him?
He's been a big war sheik in his day. He helped to smash up Hicks
Pasha's army, and commanded a thousand men at the storming of
Khartoum; but he got sick of Mahdiism about a year back, and set out
to perform the Hadji. When it comes to fighting, you'll see that man
"He shall have my first shot," said Kettle.
"It surprises me," said Cortolvin, "that you ever went in for this
pilgrim-carrying business at all. You must have been pretty hard
"Hard wasn't the word for it," said the shipmaster with a sigh. "I
met misfortune, sir, in Chili. I disagreed with my employer, who was
a lady, and went off cruising in a boat by myself. A tea steamer
picked me up and put me in Colombo. I got from there to Bombay as
second mate of a tramp, but I couldn't stand the old man's tongue,
and went ashore without my wages. I guess, sir, I'm no good except in
command; I can't take an order civilly.
"Well, in Bombay I'd a regular nip gut time of it. I bummed round
the agent's offices till I almost blushed to look at their
punkah-coolies; but I'd no papers to show that would do me any good;
and none of them would give me a ship the size of a rice mat.
"At last, when I was getting desperate, and pretty near put to
going to sea before the mast, a Cardiff man I once knew came to the
lodgings, and gave me a tip. He'd been master of a country steamer:
he'd been sacked (he didn't deny it) for drunkenness; he'd not drawn
a sober breath for months, and didn't see any prospect of changing
his habits; and there was the berth vacant, and I might have it for
"The pay wasn't much; only 100 rupees a month and percentage on
profits; and the owner was a Parsee. I'd never been low enough down
to sign on under a black man before, but I guess I was past being
very nice in my tastes just then. The owner was fat and oldish, and
wore a thing on his head like a top hat turned upside down, and I
will say I did not give him much politeness. But he knew his place;
he sahib'd me quite respectful; and he said he'd be honoured if I'd
take his steamer under my charge. 'She was all he'd got,' he said;
'he loved her like his life, and he'd not trust her to any one except
a pukka sahib.'
"Of course he lied a good deal--all natives do that--and he fixed
up our bargain so that I'd little to win and he'd a good deal, which
is those Parsees' way. But I will say he was always most respectful,
and in the matter of victualling he really surprised me. Why, he
actually put Bass's ale on board at four annas the bottle!
"We cleared from Bombay in corn, and cottons, and earthenware,
consigned to Jeddah, and the owner told me I'd have no trouble in
getting a cargo of dates and coffee to bring back. But the Jeddah
merchants seemed to think different. I cut down freights to near
vanishing point, but they wouldn't look at them anyhow. I couldn't
get a ton of cargo on board for any spot in the known globe--no, not
if I offered to carry it for nothing. The Saigon might have swung
there at moorings till the bottom rotted out of her; and expenses
were running up all the time.
"The climate was sickly too; I'd lost my serang before I'd been
there a week, and two more of the coolies died in the next ten days.
So when this cargo of pilgrims offered, I tell you I just jumped at
it. Of course this old wreck was not fitted for the trade. She's
small, she's iron decks, she's only two boats, and she's not near
enough water tanks. There'd be big penalties if she was caught. But I
shipped a second rice steamer and signed that charter-party
"It wasn't as if I'd got to go through the Ditch to one of the
Morocco ports; the pilgrims had only to be taken across to Kosseir;
and squaring an Egyptian custom officer is only a case of how much
"You do know your trade," said Cortolvin.
"The under side of it," said Kettle, with a sigh. "A man with luck
like mine has to. He never gets on with the decent steamboat lines,
where everything is square and above board. He can only get the
little hole and corner owners, who you've got to make dividends for
somehow and no questions asked, or else just up and take the dirty
"I'm a man," he added, with a frown, "that can do the job well,
and they know it, and keep me to it. But I despise myself all the
time. It isn't in my nature, Mr. Cortolvin. Put me ashore, give me a
farm, and let me bend yellow gaiters and a large-pattern coat, and
there wouldn't be a straighter, sweeter-natured man between here and
The Hadji swept the perspiration from his forehead with the back
of a grimy knuckle.
"There's no accounting for taste, Captain. I'm the owner of acres
near Richmond, and if I chose I could ride about my park, and see the
farms, and live the life of a country gentleman just in the way you
think you'd like. But I tired of it."
"Perhaps you have no wife, sir," suggested the sailor. His guest
gave a short laugh.
"Oh, Lord, yes," he said. "I've a wife."
He paused a minute, and then threw his half-smoked cheroot
savagely out into the sunshine.
"You can take it from me that I have a wife, Captain. But--well,
you see, I've always been an Arabic scholar, and I thought I'd come
out to the Hedjaz to study dialects for a year or so. It would be a
pleasant change after the milk and honey of a country life. I don't
seem to have got killed, and I think I've liked it on the whole. It's
been exciting, and I know more about bastard Arabic than any European
living now that poor Palmer's dead, if that's any satisfaction. If I
chose to go home now, I could pose as no end of a big boss in that
line. The only thing is, I can't quite make my mind up whether to
risk it. By God, yes," he added, with a stare out into the baking
sunshine beyond the doorway; "oh, yes, I've a wife."
Captain Kettle did not quite follow all this, so he said politely
and vaguely: "Well, of course, you know your own affairs best, sir."
Then he took a long and steady look at his guest. "You'll excuse me,
sir, but your name seems familiar. I wonder if you'd got that beard
and some of your hair off whether I should recognise you."
"I fancy not."
"Cortolvin," the little man mused. "I'm sure I've seen that name
The Hadji laughed. "I am afraid that neither I nor any of my
people have been celebrated enough to have come into public notice,
skipper; but we had a namesake some years back who was famous. A
horse named Cortolvin won the Grand National in '67. That's what
you'll have got in your mind."
Captain Kettle stiffened. "I beg your pardon, sir," he said, with
acid politeness, "but I don't see you've earned a right to insult me.
When I am at sea I am what circumstances make me. When I am ashore in
England, I would have you know I am a different person. I am a
regular attender at chapel, and a man who (outside business matters)
tries to keep entirely straight. In England, sir, I take an interest
in neither pocket-picking, horse-racing, nor sacrilege; and I have it
on the word of a minister I sit under that there is very little to
choose between the three."
Cortolvin faced the situation with ready tact. That this truculent
little ruffian, who could flirt with homicide without a second
thought, should so strongly resent the imputation of being interested
in a horse-race, did not surprise him much He had met others of the
breed before. And he smoothed down Captain Kettle's ruffled feelings
with the easy glibness of a man of the world. But the needs of the
moment were again recurring to him with violence, and he broke off
artistically to refer to them.
"Don't you think," he said, "my fellow pilgrims will bear a little
attention now, skipper?"
"I will be off and make up a bit of a surprise packet for them,"
said Kettle. "Excuse me, sir, for two minutes, whilst I go and give
instructions to my chief."
And he swung on his pith helmet and left the charthouse.
The sun climbed higher into the fleckless sky, and lolled above
the Saigon in insolent cruelty. The Red Sea heat grew, if anything,
yet more dreadful. The men's veins stood out in ropes upon their
streaming bodies, and it scorched them to draw in a breath. Drink,
too, was scarce. The Hedjaz is a region almost waterless; the desert
at the back drains up all the moisture; and the Saigon had left
Jeddah with her tanks only half filled. She had to depend upon her
condenser, and this was small. And in the tropics, condenser-water
must be dealt out in a sparing ration, or a dozen hours may easily
see a whole ship's company down with raging dysentery.
The Saigon carried a spar-deck amidships, and the pilgrims were
grouped in two bodies forward and aft of this, on the iron plating of
the fore and main decks. The spar-deck was officially reached from
these lower levels by a couple of slender iron ladders; but it was
not unscaleable to a fairly active climber. There was an alley-way
passing beneath the spar-deck, but this could easily be closed by the
iron doors in the two bulk-heads, which fastened inside with heavy
The chief engineer came into the chart-house, and hitched up his
grimy pyjamas, and mopped his face with a wad of cotton waste. He
looked meaningly at the whisky-bottle, but Kettle ignored his
"Well, Mr. McTodd?" said he.
"I'm a' ready for the pagans, sir, when ye're willing to gi' the
"What are your engines like now?"
"A wee bittee less fit for the scrap-heap than they were a dozen
hours back, but no' very much to boast of." Mr. McTodd spat out into
the sunshine. "They're the rottenist engines ever I fingered," said
he, "and that's what I think of them. A man ought to have double my
pay to be near them. They're just heartbreaking."
"You knew she wasn't the P. and O. when you signed on."
"We're neither of us here, Captain Kettle, because we were offered
Kettle frowned. "I'll trouble you, Mr. McTodd, to attend to the
matter in hand. You have those steam-pipes ranged?"
"Both forrard and aft."
"Commanding both ladders?"
"Just like that."
"And you've plenty of steam?"
"Ye can hear it burring through the escape this minute if ye'll
use your ears. It's been vera exhausting work toiling down yonder in
that a'ful heat."
"Well, Mr. Cortolvin here assures me that the niggers will begin
to play up the minute we get under weigh, so you see we know where we
are, and must be ready for them. I shall want you and the second
engineer on deck, of course, so you must arrange for one of your crew
to run the engines till we've got the business settled."
"I've a greaser down yonder who can open the throttle," said
McTodd gloomily; "but he's got no notion of nursing sick engines like
these, and as like as not he'll drive them off their bed-plates in a
score of revolutions. Ye'd better let me keep the engine-room myself,
Captain. I'm a sick man, and I'm no fit for fighting with my throat
as dry as it is now."
Captain Kettle poured out a liberal two fingers of whisky and
handed it across. "Now, Mac," said he, "wet your neck, and let's have
no more of this nonsense. You'll have to fight for your life inside
ten minutes, and you'll do it better sober."
The engineer eyed the whisky and poured it slowly down its
"Mon," he said, "ye've an a'ful poor opinion o' my capaacity. I'll
just be off and give yon coolie greaser some instructions, and get my
side-arms, and be with you again in forty clock-ticks."
"I pity the nigger that comes to hand grips with McTodd," said
Kettle, when the grimy man in the grey pyjamas had left the
chart-house. "He's an ugly beggar to handle when he's sober as he is
now. We'll get ready now, sir, if you please. You go to the after end
of the bridge deck with McTodd and the second mate, and I'll look
after the forrard end with the old mate and the second engineer. When
they try to rush the ladder, McTodd will give them the steam, and
they'll never be able to face it. All you and the second mate have to
do is to see they don't climb up over the rail."
"I wish it could be avoided," said Cortolvin sadly. "That high
pressure steam will scald some of them horribly."
"It will do more than that," said Kettle. "It will strip the meat
clean off their bones."
"I have lived amongst those men or their sort for two solid years,
and many of them have shown me kindnesses."
"You should have thought of that, sir, before you came to me here
in the chart-house."
"I did think of it; but I couldn't be a renegade to my colour; and
so I came. But, Captain, will you let me speak to them? Will you let
me tell them that their scheme is known and prepared for? Will you
let me explain to them what they will have to face if they start an
Captain Kettle frowned. "You will understand that I am not
frightened of the beasts?" he said.
"I quite know that," said Cortolvin, "and I am sorry to spoil a
fight. But it is their lives I am begging for."
"Very well," said Kettle, "you can fire away. I don't speak their
bat, and it's as well they should know from some one what they have
to look forward to. Here's a life-preserver which you may find
useful. It's the only weapon I have to offer you. My own pistol is
the only gun we have in the ship."
The pair of them went outside the chart-house and walked to the
head of the forward ladder. A newly-fitted steam-pipe, with the
joints all greasy with white lead, lay on the deck planks, and the
second engineer stood beside it with thumbs in his waist-strap On the
deck below, the pilgrims no longer squatted on their carpets, but
stood together in knots, and talked excitedly. Cortolvin clapped his
hands, and the sea of savage faces turned towards him.
There were representatives in that mob from half the Mahommedan
peoples of Northern Africa. There were lean Arab camel-breeders of
the desert, jet-black farmers from the Great Lakes and the Upper
Nile, Haûsas from the Western Soudan, limp Fellaheen from Lower
Egypt, an Egba who had served in the British Police Force at Lagos,
merchants from the back of the Barbary States, workers in metal from
Sokoto, and weavers from Timbukhtu.
They were not all holders of the title of Hadji; for though by
Mahommedan law every male must make the Mecca pilgrimage at least
once in a lifetime, unless debarred by poverty or lameness, the
journey may be done by deputy. And these deputies, fierce, truculent
ruffians, who had lived their lives amongst incessant wars and
travel, were perhaps the most dangerous of all the lot.
The black men listened to their late associate with a momentary
hush of surprise. He spoke to them in fluent Arabic. He did not
appeal to their better feelings; he knew his audience. He said it was
written that if they tried this thing, if they attempted to capture
the steamer, they should surely fail; that all things were prepared
to give them battle; and that a horrible death awaited those who
persisted in their design.
And then he tried to point out the nature of the Saigon's
defences, but there he failed. It is ill work to explain the
properties of high pressure steam to savages. A murmur rose amongst
them; which grew. They let out their voices, and roared defiance. And
then the great black mass of them rushed for the iron ladder.
Captain Kettle clapped a whistle to his lips and blew it
"Now then, Mr. Cortolvin," he cried, "away with you aft to help
McTodd. These cattle here want something more than talk, and I'm
going to give it them."
In answer to his whistle, steam had been turned on from below. The
second engineer unhitched his thumbs from his waist-belt, took a lump
of waste in each grimy hand, and lifted the iron pipe. It was well
jointed, and moved easily, and he turned the nozzle of it to sweep
the ladder. In that baking air, the steam did not condense readily;
it travelled three yards from the nozzle of the pipe before it became
even thinly visible; and it impinged upon the black naked bodies, and
burned horribly without being seen.
At first they did not flinch. With a dreadful valour they faced
the torment, and fought with each other to be first upon the rungs,
and then when those in front would have held back, the mob behind
pressed them irresistibly onwards. In a moment or so the first rank
began to go down before that withering blast, and then others trod on
them and fell also, till the hill of writhing black humanity grew to
half the height of the iron ladder. And in the meantime others of the
pilgrims were trying to storm the bridge deck at other points; but on
the port side, the gray-headed old mate fighting baresark with an
axe, and to starboard, Captain Kettle, with pistol and
knuckle-duster, battled like wild cats to keep the sacred planking
What was going on at the after end of the Saigon, they could not
tell. From behind them came the roar of the fighting Haûsa, and
the savage war-cries of the desert, just as they rose up from before
their faces. But in its first flush, the fight was too close for any
man's thoughts to wander from his own immediate adversaries.
It seemed, however, that the battle was over first in the after
part of the steamer, and whether this was because the attack there
was less heartful, or because Mr. McTodd's artillery was more
terrible cannot now be known. The question was debated much
afterwards without coming to a decision. But, anyway, by the time
Captain Kettle's adversaries had ceased to rage against him,
Cortolvin was free to come and stand by his side as interpreter.
The wounded lay sprawling and writhing about the iron decks; below
them the survivors--and scarcely one of these was without his
scald--huddled against the doors of the forecastle; and the grimy
second engineer held the belching steam pipe upwards, so that a grey
pall hung between the Saigon and the sun.
"Now, sir," said Kettle, "kindly translate for me. Tell those
animals to chuck all their hardware over the side, or I'll cook the
whole lot of them like so many sausages."
Cortolvin lifted up his voice in sonorous Arabic.
"It was written," he cried, "that the giaour should prevail. It is
written also that those amongst you having wit shall cast your
weapons into the sea. It is written, moreover, that those others of
you who do not on this instant disarm, shall taste again the
scorching breath of Eblis."
A stream of weapons leapt up through the air and fell into the
swells alongside with tinkling splashes.
"It would be a weariness to guard you," Cortolvin went on. "Swear
by the beard of the Prophet to make no further attempt against this
ship, or we shall gaol you fast in death."
A forest of trembling black hands shot up before him.
"We swear!" they cried.
"Then it is written that you keep your vow," said Cortolvin. "God
is great! See now to your sick." He turned to Kettle and touched his
ragged turban, after the manner of an officer reporting. "The mutiny
is ended, sir," he said.
Captain Kettle swung himself lightly on to the upper bridge and
telegraphed "Full speed ahead" to the engine; the propeller swirled
in the oily swells; and the Saigon gathered way. Sullen and
trembling, the pilgrims began to tend their hurts, and presently
McTodd with a large copper kettle in his hand descended amongst them,
and distributed oil and surgical advice.
"There was none actually killed at my end," said Cortolvin.
"I dropped four," said Kettle. "I had to. It was either me or
them. And my old mate axed half a dozen before they let him be. We'd
a tight time here whilst it lasted."
"It will require a good lump of backshish to explain it all
satisfactorily at Kosseir."
"Oh, I can't go near there now after this. No custom house for me,
sir. I shall just run in-shore a dozen miles short of it, and put the
beggars on the beach in my boats, and let them get into Kosseir as
best they can. I suppose you'll come back with me?"
"I suppose so. Anyway, I can't go on with them. It is the first
time any of them have discovered I was not a genuine Arab."
"I can imagine," said Kettle drily, "they'd give you a lively
time, if they had you to themselves for five minutes. The Sons of the
Prophet don't admire having Europeans messing about the Kaaba. But I
owe you something, sir, and I shall be happy to go out of my way to
serve you. I will drop you at Suakim, or at Aden, or at Perim, where
I am going to coal, whichever you please."
"But what about yourself?"
"Oh, I shall be all right. I am seldom in need of a nursery-maid,
"But if this affair gets into the newspapers, inquiries will be
made, and you'll very possibly find yourself in an ugly hole."
"It won't get into the newspapers," said Kettle thoughtfully. "The
pilgrims can't tell, my officers daren't for their own sakes, and you
leave me to see my coolies don't. Newspapers," he repeated dreamily;
"queer the hint should have come like that."
"What hint? What are you talking about?"
"I remembered then where I'd seen your name, sir. It was in the
Times of India's general news column."
"What was said?"
"Well, sir, I suppose you'd better be told. But you must hold up
for a hardish knock. Will you come into the chart house for a minute,
and have a peg?"
"No, get along, man, get along."
"I think it was about your wife, sir. Does she hunt?"
"All the season."
"Then it will be her. I remember now it said Richmond in
Yorkshire, and the name was Mrs. W.H. Cortolvin. She's broken her
Cortolvin clutched at the white rail of the bridge. "My God!" he
cried, "dead! Julia dead! is that all, Captain?"
"It was only a two-line paragraph. You'll please understand how
sorry I am to carry such sad news, Mr. Cortolvin."
"Thanks, skipper, thanks." He turned away and walked to the end of
the bridge and stayed there for a while, leaning against an awning
stanchion, and staring at the baking levels of the Red Sea which were
slipping past the Saigon's rusty flanks. And then he came back again
and stood at Kettle's side, looking down at the Pilgrims anointing
their scalds below.
"I've learned to be something of a fatalist, Captain," he said,
"when I was amongst these people. This is how I sum up the situation.
'It was written that my wife should die whilst I was away. It was
written also that I should live. God ordered it all. God is
Captain Kettle gripped his hand in sympathy. "I'm sorry for you,
sir; believe me, I am truly sorry. If you think a bit of poetry about
the occasion would help you at all, just you say, and I'll do it. I'm
in the mood for poetry now. All things put together, we've been
through a pretty heavy time during these last few hours."
"Thanks, skipper, thanks," said Cortolvin. "I know you mean well.
And now if you don't mind I'll leave you. I think I'd like to be
alone for a bit."
"You do, sir. Go and lie down on my bunk. I'll have you a
beautiful elegy written by the time you're back on deck again. It
will comfort you."
CHAPTER V--FORTUNES ADRIFT
CORTOLVIN came out under the bridge deck awning up through the
baking heat of the companion way, and dropped listlessly into a deck
chair. He was dressed in slop chest pyjamas of a vivid pattern, and
had a newly-shaven chin, which stood out refreshingly white against
the rest of his sun-darkened countenance.
"Well," said Captain Kettle, as he shoved across the box of
cheroots, "are we any nearer getting under way?"
"I looked in at the engine room as I came past," said the tall man
with a laugh, "and the chief had a good deal to say. I gathered it
was his idea that the fellow who last had charge of those engines
ought to die a cruel and lingering death."
"It's a sore point with McTodd when she breaks down. But did he
say how long it would be before he could give her steam again? I'm a
bit anxious. The glass is tumbling hand over fist; and what with
that, and this heat, there's small doubt but what we'll have a
tornado clattering about our ears directly. There's the shore close
aboard, as you can see for yourself, and if the wind comes away
anywhere from the east'ard, it'll blow this old steamboat half way
into the middle of Africa before we can look round us. It's a bad
season just now for tornadoes."
The clattering of iron boot-plates made itself heard on the
brass-bound steps of the companion way. "That'll be the chief coming
to answer for himself," said Cortolvin.
Mr. Neil Angus McTodd always advertised his calling in the attire
of his outward man, and the eye of an expert could tell with sureness
at any given moment whether Mr. McTodd was in employment or not, and,
if so, what type of steamboat he was on, what was his official
position, what was his pay and what was the last bit of work on which
he had been employed.
The present was the fourth occasion on which the Saigon's
machinery had chosen to break down during Captain Kettle's two months
of command, and after his herculean efforts in making repairs with
insufficient staff and materials, Mr. McTodd was unpleasant both to
look upon and associate with. He was attired in moist black boots,
grey flannel pyjama trousers stuffed into his socks, a weird garment
of flannel upon his upper man, a clout round his neck, and a peaked
cap upon his grizzled red hair, anointed with years of spraying oil.
His elbows and his forehead shone like dull mirrors of steel, and he
carried one of his thumbs wrapped up in a grimy, crimson rug. His
conversation was full of unnecessary adjectives, and he was inclined
to take a cantankerous view of the universe.
"They'd disgrace the scrap-heap of any decent yard, would the
things they miscall engines on this rotten tub," said he, by way of
"They are holy engines, and that's a fact," said Kettle. "How long
can you guarantee them for this time?"
The engineer mopped his neck with a wad of cotton waste. "Ten
revolutions, if you wish me to be certain. It's a verra dry ship,
"And how many more? We shall want them. There's a tornado coming
"I'm no' anxious to perjure mysel', Captain, but they might run on
for a full minute, or they might run on for a day. There's a
capreciousness about the rattle-traps that might amuse some people,
but it does not appeal to me. I'm in fear of my life every minute I
stand on the foot-plates."
"I'd not have taken you for a frightened man."
"I'm no' that as a usual thing, but the temperature of yon
engine-room varies between a hundred and twenty and a hundred and
thirty of the Fahrenheit scale, and it's destroying to the nerves.
All the aqueous vapour leaves the system, and I'm verra badly in need
of a tonic. Is yon whusky in the black bottle, Captain?"
"Take a peg, Mac."
"I'll just have a sma' three fingers now ye mention it." He laid
the thickest part of his knotty knuckles against the side of the
tumbler, and poured out some half a gill of spirit. "Weel," said he,
"may we get as good whusky where we are going to," and enveloped the
dose with a dextrous turn of the wrist. After which ambiguous toast,
he wiped his lips with the cotton waste, and took himself off again
to the baking regions below; and presently a dull rumbling, and a
tremor of her fabric, announced that the Saigon was once more under
The little steamer had coaled at Perim Island, in the southern
mouth of the Red Sea, had come out into the Indian Ocean through the
Straits of Bah-el-Mandeb, had rounded Cape Guardafui, and was on her
way down to Zanzibar in response to the cabled orders of her Parsee
owner in Bombay. Cortolvin was still on board as passenger. His
excuse was that he wanted to inspect the Island and City of Zanzibar
before returning to England and respectability; his real reason was
that he had taken a fancy to the little ruffian of a slipper, and
wished to see more of him.
"Cheerful toast, that of McTodd's," said Cortolvin.
"Those engines are enough to discourage any man," said Kettle,
"and the heat down there would sour the temper of an archangel."
Cortolvin loosened a couple more buttons of his pyjamas, and bared
his chest. "It's hard to breathe even here, and I thought I'd learnt
what heat was out in those Arabian deserts. There's a tornado coming
on, that's certain."
"It will clear the air," said Kettle. "But it will be a sneezer
when we get it. Mr. Murgatroyd!" he called.
The old, grizzled-headed mate thrust down a purple face from the
head of the upper bridge ladder--"Ay, aye?"
"Get all the awnings off her," the shipmaster ordered; "put extra
grips on the boats, and see everything lashed fast that a steam crane
could move. We're in for a bad breeze directly."
"Ay, aye," mumbled the mate, and clapped a leaden whistle to his
mouth, and blew it shrilly. A minute later he reported; "A big
steamer lying-to just a point or two off the starboard bow, Captain.
I haven't seen her before because of the haze." He examined her
carefully through the bridge binoculars, and gave his observations
with heavy deliberation. "She's square-rigged forrard, and has a
black funnel with a red band--no, two red bands. Seems to me like one
of the German mail boats, and I should say she was broke down."
Captain Kettle rose springily from his deck chair, and swung
himself on to the upper bridge. Cortolvin followed.
A mist of heat shut the sea into a narrow ring. Overhead was a
heavy, purply darkness, impenetrable as a ceiling of brick. The only
light that crept in came from the mysterious unseen plain of the
horizon. From every point of the compass uneasy thunder gave forth
now and then a stifled bellow; and, though the lightning splashes
never showed, sudden thinnings of the gloom would hint at their
nearness. The air shimmered and danced with the baking heat, and,
though lurid greys and pinks predominated, the glow which filled it
was constantly changing in hue.
The scene was terrifying, but Kettle regarded it with a satisfied
smile. The one commercial prayer of the shipmaster is to meet with a
passenger steamer at sea, broken down, and requiring a tow, and here
was one of the plums of the ocean ready to his hand and anxious to be
plucked. The worse the weather, the greater would be the salvage, and
Captain Kettle could have hugged himself with joy when he thought of
the tropical hurricane's nearness.
He had changed the Saigon's course the instant he came on the
bridge, and had pulled the syren string and hooted cheerfully into
the throbbing air to announce his coming. The spectral steamer grew
every moment more clear, and presently a string of barbaric colours
jerked up to the wire span between her masts. There was no breath of
wind to make the flags blow out; they hung in dejected cowls, but to
Kettle they read like the page of an open book.
"Urgent signal H.B.!" he cried, and clapped the binoculars back in
the box, and snapped down the lid. "H.B., Mr. Cortolvin, and don't
you forget having seen it. 'Want immediate assistance,' that
"You seem to know it by heart," said Cortolvin.
"There's not a steamboat officer on all the seas that doesn't.
When things are down with us, we take out the signal book, and hunt
up H.B. amongst the urgent signals, and tell ourselves that some day
we may come across a Cunarder with a broken tail-shaft, and be able
to give up the sea and be living politely on £200 a year well
invested, within the fortnight. It's the steamboat officer's dream,
sir, but there's few of us it ever comes true for."
"Skipper," said Cortolvin, "I needn't tell you how pleased I'll be
if you come into a competence over this business. In the meanwhile if
there's anything I can do, from coal-trimming upwards, I'm your most
"I thank you, sir," said Kettle. "And if you'd go and carry the
news to the chief, I'll be obliged. I know he'll say his engines
can't hold out. Tell him they must. Tell him to use up anything he
has sooner than get another breakdown. Tell him to rip up his soul
for struts and backstays if he thinks it'll keep them running. It's
the one chance of my life, Mr. Cortolvin, and the one chance of his,
and he's got to know it, and see we aren't robbed of what is put
before us. Show him where the siller comes in, sir, and then stand
by, and you'll see Mr. McTodd work miracles."
Cortolvin went below, and Kettle turned to the old mate. "Mr.
Murgatroyd," said he, "get a dozen hands to rouse up that new manilla
out of the store. I take you from the foredeck, and give you the
afterdeck to yourself. I'll have to bargain with that fellow over
there before we do anything, and there'll be little enough time left
after we've fixed upon prices. So have everything ready to begin to
tow. We'll use their wire."
"Ay, aye," said the mate. "But it won't do to tow with wire,
Captain, through what's coming. There's no give in wire. A wire
hawser would jerk the guts out of her in fifteen minutes."
Kettle tightened his lips. "Mr. Murgatroyd," said he, "I am not a
blame' fool. Neither do I want dictation from my officers. I told you
to rouse up the manilla. You will back the wire with a double bridle
"Ay, aye," grunted the mate; "but what am I to make fast to? Them
bollards aft might be stepped in putty for all the use they are.
They'd not tow a rowboat through what's coming. I believe they'd draw
if they'd a fishing-line made fast to them."
"I should have thought you'd been long enough at sea to have known
your business by this time," said Kettle unpleasantly. "D'ye think
that every steamboat that trades is a bran new 'Harland and
"Well," said the mate sullenly, "I'm waiting to be taught."
"Pass the manilla round the coaming of the after hatch, and you
won't come and tell me that's drawn while this steamboat stays on the
"Ay, aye," said the mate, and stepped into his slippers and
shuffled away. Captain Kettle walked briskly to the centre of the
upper bridge and laid a hand on the telegraph. He gave crisp orders
to the Lascar at the wheel, and the Saigon moved in perfect obedience
to his will.
Ahead of him the great slate-coloured liner lay motionless on the
oily sea. Her rail was peopled with the anxious faces of passengers.
Busy deck-hands were stripping away the awnings. On the high upper
bridge were three officers in peaked caps and trim uniform of white
drill, talking together anxiously.
The little Saigon curved up from astern, stopped her engines, and
then, with reversed propeller, brought up dead, so that the bridges
of the two steamers were level, and not more than twenty yards apart.
It was smartly done, and (as Kettle had intended) the Germans noticed
it, and commented. Then began the barter of words.
"Howdy, Captain," said Kettle, "I hope it's not a funeral you've
brought up for? This heat's been very great. Has it knocked over one
of your passengers?"
A large-bearded man made reply: "We haf seen a slight mishap mit
der machinery, Captain. My ingeneers will mend."
"Oh, that's all right. Thought it might be worse. Well, I wish you
luck, Captain. But I'd hurry and get steam on her again if I were
you. The breeze may come away any minute now, and you've the shore
close aboard, and you'll be on it if you don't get your steamboat
under command again by then, and have a big loss of life. If you get
on the beach it'll surprise me if you don't drown all hands."
Captain Kettle put a hand on the telegraph as though to ring on
his engines again, but the bearded German, after a preliminary stamp
of passion, held up his hand for further parley. But for the moment
the opportunity of speech was taken from him. The passengers were
either English, or for the most part understood that tongue when
spoken; and they had drunk in every word that was said, as Kettle had
intended; and now they surged in a writhing, yelling mob at the foot
of the two bridge ladders, and demanded that assistance should be
hired, let that cost what it might.
There was no making a hail carry above that frightened uproar, and
the German shipmaster raved, and explained, and reasoned for full a
dozen moments before he quelled it. Then, panting, he came once more
to the end of his; bridge, and addressed the other steamer.
"Dose bassengers vas nervous," said he, "because dey thought dere
might come some leetle rain squall; so I ask you how mooch vould you
take my rope und tow me to Aden or Perim?"
"Phew!" said Kettle "Aden! That's wrong way for me, Captain. Red
Sea's where I've come from, and my owner cabled me to hurry and get
"Vell, how mooch?"
"We'll say £100,000 as your passengers seem so anxious."
"Hondred tousand teufeuls? Herr Gott, I haf not Rhodes on der
"Well, Captain take the offer or leave it. I'm not a tow-boot, and
I'm in a hurry to make my passage. If you keep me waiting here five
minutes longer, it will cost you £120,000 to be plucked in
The shipmaster on the other bridge went into a frenzy of
expostulation; he appealed to all Captain Kettle's better feelings;
he dared him to do his worst; he prayed him to do his best. But
Kettle gazed upon the man's gesticulating arms, and listened to his
frantic oratory unmoved. He lit a cheroot, and leant his elbows on
the white railing of the bridge, and did not reply by so much as a
When the other halted through breathlessness, even then he did not
speak. He waved his hand towards the fearsome heavens with their
lurid lights, and pointed to the bumping thunder, which made both
steamers vaguely tremble, and he let those argue for him. The clamour
of the passengers rose again in the breathless, baking air, and the
Captain of the liner had to yield. He threw up his arms in token of
surrender, and a hush fell upon the scene like the silence of
"My gompany shall pay you hondred tousand pound, Captain, und--you
haf der satisfaction dot you make me ruined man."
"I have been ruined myself," said Kettle, "heaps of times, and my
turn for the other thing seems to be come now. I'll run down closer
to you, Captain, or do you bid your hands heave me a line from the
fo'c's'le head as I come past. You've cut it pretty fine. You've no
time left to get a boat in the water. The wind may come away any
Captain Kettle was changing into another man. All the insouciance
had gone from him. He gave his orders with crispness and decision,
and the mates and the Lascars jumped to obey them. The horrible
danger that was to come lay as an open advertisement, and they knew
that their only way to pass safely through it--and even then the
chances were slim--was to obey the man who commanded them to the
The connection between the steamers had been made, the shaky
steel-wire hawser had been hauled in through a stern fair-lead by the
Saigon's winch, and the old mate stood ready with the shackle which
would link it on to the manilla.
The heavens yielded up an overture like the echo of a Titan's
groan. "Hurry there, you slow-footed dogs!" came Kettle's voice from
The Lascars brought up the eye of the hawser, and Murgatroyd
threaded it on the pin of the shackle. Then he cried "All fast," and
picked up a spike, and screwed home the pin in its socket. Already
the engines were on the move again, and the Saigon was steaming ahead
on the tow-line. It was a time for hurry.
The air thickened and grew for the moment if anything more hot,
and the tornado raced down upon them as a black wall stretching far
across the sea, with the white water gleaming and churning at its
foot. It hit the steamers like a solid avalanche, and the spindrift
in it cut the faces of the men who tried to withstand it, as though
whips had lashed them.
The coolie quartermaster clung on to the Saigon's wheel-spokes, a
mere wisp of limp humanity, incapable of steering or of doing
anything else that required a modicum of rational thought. The little
steamer fell away before the blast like a shaving in a dry street;
the tonnage of the tornado heeled her till her lee scuppers spouted
green water in-board; and she might well have been overturned at the
very outset. But Kettle beat the helpless Lascar from his hold; and
spoked the wheel hard up, and the engines, working strongly, brought
her round again in a wallowing circle to face the torrent of
She took five minutes to make that recovery, and when she was
steaming on again, head to the thunderous gusts, the tale of what she
had endured was written in easy lettering. On both fore and main
decks, the bulwarks were gone level with the covering boards; the
raffle of crates, harness casks, gang planks, and so on, that a small
trader carries in view to the sky, had departed beyond the ken of
man; and, indeed, those lower decks were scoured clean to the naked
rusted iron. The port life-boat hung stove from bent davits, and
three of the coolie crew had been swept from life into the grip of
the eternal sea.
Cortolvin fought his way up on to the upper bridge step by step
against the frantic beating of the wind, and, without being bidden,
relieved at the lee spokes of the wheel. Captain Kettle nodded his
thanks. The Saigon had no steam steering-gear, and in some of the
heavier squalls the wheel threatened to take charge, and pitch the
little shipmaster clean over the spokes.
Amid the bellowing roar of the tornado, speech, of course, was
impossible, and vision, too, was limited. No human eye could look
into the wind, and even to let it strike the face was a torture. The
sea did not get up. The crest of any wave which tried to rise was cut
off remorselessly by the knives of the hurricane, and spread as a
stinging mist throughout the wind. It was hard indeed to tell where
ocean ceased and air began. The whole sea was spread in a blurr of
white and green.
The big helpless liner astern plucked savagely at the Saigon's
tail, and the pair of them were moving coastwards with speed. Left to
herself, and steaming full speed into the gale, the little Saigon
would have been able to maintain her position, neither losing ground
nor gaining any. With the heavy tow in charge, she was being driven
towards the roaring surf of the African beach with perilous
It was possible to see dimly down the wind, and when Cortolvin
turned his face away from the stinging blast of the tornado, he could
understand with clearness their exact position. Close astern was the
plunging German liner, with her decks stripped and deserted, and only
the bridge officers exposed. Beyond was cotton-white sea; and beyond
again were great leaping fountains of whiteness where the tortured
ocean roared against the yellow beach.
Thirty minutes passed, each second of them brimmed with frenzied
struggle for both man and machinery. The tornado raged, and boomed,
and roared, and the backward drift was a thing which could be
measured with the eye.
Then the old mate heaved himself up the bridge ladder by laborious
inches. His clothes were whipping from him in tattered ribbons; his
hat was gone; and the grizzled hair stood out from the back of his
head like the bristles of a broom. He clawed his way along the rail,
and put his great red face close to Kettle's ear. "We can't hold
her," he roared. "She is taking us ashore. We shall be there in a
dozen minutes, and then it will be 'Jones' for the lot of us."
Captain Kettle glared, but made no articulate reply. If he could
have spared a hand from the wheel-spokes, it is probable that Mr.
Murgatroyd would have felt the weight of it.
The old fellow bawled at him again. "The hands know it as well as
me, and they say they're not going to be drowned for anybody. They
say they're going to cast off the hawser."
This time Captain Kettle yelled back a reply. "You thing!" he
cried. "You putty man, get back to your post! If you want to live,
keep those niggers' fingers off the shackle. By James, if that tow is
cast off I'll turn the Saigon for the beach, and drown the whole crew
of you inside three minutes. By James! yes, and you know me, and you
know I'll do it too. You ham-faced jelly-fish, away aft with you, and
save your blooming life!"
The man winced under the little Captain's tongue, and went away,
and Captain Kettle looked across the wheel at his assistant.
Cortolvin shrugged his shoulders, and glanced backward at the
beach, and nodded. Kettle leant across and shouted:
"I know it, sir, as well as you do. I know it as well as they do.
But I've got a fortune in tow yonder, and I'd rather die than set it
adrift. It isn't one fortune either; it's a dozen fortunes, and I
have just got to grab one of them. I'm a married man, sir, with a
family, and I've known what it wa to watch and see 'em hungry. You'll
stand by me, Mr. Cortolvin?"
"It seems I promised. You know I've been long enough with
Mohammedans, skipper, to be somewhat a fatalist. So I say: 'God is
great! And our fates are written on our foreheads, and no man can
change by an inch the path which is foreordained he should tread.'
But they are queer fates some of them. I went away from England
because of my wife; I step out of the middle of Arabia, and stumble
across you, and hear that he is dead, I look forward to going home
and living a peaceful country life; and now it appears I'm to be
drowned obscurely, out of the touch of newspapers. However, I'll be
consistent. I won't grumble, and you may hear me say it aloud: 'La
Allah illah Allah!'"
Captain Kettle made no reply. Through the infernal uproar of the
tornado he did not hear much of what was said, and part of what did
reach his ears was beyond his comprehension. Besides, his mind was
not unnaturally occupied with more selfish considerations.
Astern of him, in the German liner, were some thousand passengers,
who were all assets for salvage. The detail of human life did not
enter much into his calculations. He had been brought up in a school
where life is cheap, and not so pleasant and savoury a thing that it
is set much store on. The passengers were part of the ship, just as
much as were her engines, and the bullion which he hoped she
The company which owned her was responsible for all; their credit
would be damaged if all or a part of her was lost, and he, Owen
Kettle, would reap a proportionate reward if he could drag her into
any civilised port. And when he thought of the roaring beach so
terribly close astern, he bit his beard in an agony of apprehension
lest the fates should steal this fortune from him.
And, meanwhile, the line of surf was growing ever nearer. So
close, indeed, were they to the hateful shore that, when for a moment
the fountains of white water subsided where the breakers raged upon
the beach, they could see dimly beyond through the sea smoke, palm
trees, and ceibas and great silk cotton woods, whipping and crashing
before the insane blast of the tornado.
All hands on the Saigon's deck had many minutes before given
themselves up for as good as dead. Their only chance of salvation lay
in casting off the tow rope, and no one dare touch the linking
shackle. They quite knew that their savage little skipper would
fulfil his threat if they disobeyed his orders. Indeed, old
purple-faced Murgatroyd himself sat on the hatch-coaming with an
opened clasp-knife, and vowed death on any one who tampered with
either shackle or manilla. The clumsy mate had swallowed rough words
once, but he preferred drowning to living on and hearing Captain
Kettle address him as a coward.
The shore lay steep-to, but the back-wash creamed far out into the
sea. Already the stern of the German liner was plunging in the
whitened water, and destruction seemed a question of seconds.
Then a strange thing happened. It seemed as though the Finger of
God had touched the wind; it abated by visible graduations, and the
drift of the steamers grew more slow; it eased to a mere gale, and
they held their place on the lip of the boiling surf; and then with a
gasp it sank into quietude, and a great oily swell rose up as if by
magic from the bowels of the deep, and the little Saigon forged ahead
and drew the helpless passenger liner away from the perilous beach.
Those tropical hurricanes of the Eastern Seas progress in circles,
and this one had spurned them from its clutch, and let them float on
a charmed ring of calm.
Cortolvin bowed over the wheel in silent thankfulness, but the
shipmaster rejoiced aloud.
"How's that, umpire?" said he. "By James! wasn't it worth hanging
on for? I've got a wife, sir, and kids, and I'm remembering this
moment that they'll always have full bellies from now onwards, and
good clothes, and no more cheap lodgings, but a decent house
semi-detached, and money to plank down on the plate when they go to
chapel on Sundays. The skipper of that Dutchman will be ruined over
this last half-hour's job, but I can't help that. It's myself I have
to think of first; one has to in this world, or no one else will;
and, Mr. Cortolvin, I'm a made man. Thanks to McTodd---"
From below there came a sudden whirr of machinery as though the
engines had momentarily gone mad, and then a bumping and a banging
which jarred every plate of the Saigon's fabric, and then a silence,
broken only by the thin distant scream of a hurt man. Presently the
boom of steam broke out from the escape pipe beside the funnel, and a
minute later the chief engineer made his way leisurely up on to the
He was bleeding from a cut on the forehead and another gash showed
red amongst the grime on his stubbly cheek. He was shredding tobacco
with a clasp-knife as he walked, and seemed from his manner to be a
man quite divorced from all responsible occupations. He halted a
minute at the head of the bridge ladder, replaced a tobacco cake in
the pocket of his pyjama coat, and rolled up the shreddings in the
palms of his crackled hands. Then he filled a short briar pipe, lit
it, and surveyed the available universe.
"Yon'll be the tornado, 'way ahead there, I'm thinking," said
"Are those blame' engines broke down again?" asked Kettle
"Aye, ye may put it they're broke down."
"Then away with you below again, Mr. McTodd, and get them running
again. You may smoke when we bring up in Aden."
McTodd puffed twice more at his pipe, and spat on the wheel
"By James!" said Kettle, "do you hear me?"
"My lugs are a bit muzzy, but I can hear ye for a' that, Captain.
Only thing is, I can't do as you'd like."
Captain Kettle stiffened ominously. "Mr. McTodd," he said, "if you
force me to take you in hand, and show you how to set about your
work, you'll regret it."
"Man," said the engineer, "I can do some kind of impossibeelities.
Ye've seen me do them. Ye've seen me keep them palsied rattle-traps
running all through that blow. But if ye ask me to make a new
propeller out of rod iron and packing cases, I'll have to tell you
that yon kind of meeracle's beyond me."
"My great James!" said Kettle, "you don't mean to tell me the
"Either that, or else all the blades have stripped off the boss.
If ye'd been below on my foot-plates, ye'd have kenned it fine. When
it went those puir engines raced like an auld cab-horse tryin' to
gallop, and they just got tied in knots, and tumbled down, and
sprawled fifteen ways at once. I was on the platform, oiling, when
they jumped, and that second of mine tried to get at the throttle to
close her down."
"Well, get on, man, get on."
"Weel, he didn't, that's all; he's lying in the lowpressure crank
pit this minute, and the top of his skull'll be to seek somewhere by
the ash lift. Mon, I tell ye, yon second o' mine's an uncanny sight.
So I had to do his work for him, and then I blew off my boilers and
came up here.
"It would have been verra comforting to my professional conscience
if I could have steamed her into Aden. But I'm no' as sorry as I
might be for what's happened. I have it in mind that yon Parsee owner
of ours in Bombay'll lose siller over this breakdown, and I want that
beggar punishing for all the work he's given me to do on a small
wage. Mr. Cortolvin, ha' ye a match?"
A hail came from the liner astern.
"Saigon ahoy! Keep our hawser taut."
"You're all right for the present," Kettle shouted back.
"Der vind might return onless you get in the middle of him."
"Then if it does," retorted Kettle, "you'd better tell your
passengers to say their prayers You'll get no further help from me.
I'm broken down myself. Lost my propeller, if you want to know."
"Her lieber Got!"
"I shouldn't swear if I were you," said Kettle. "If the breeze
comes this way again, you'll be toeing the mark in the other place
inside five minutes." He turned and gave an order: "After deck,
there. Mr. Murgatroyd, you may cast off their rope; we've done
Now after this, a variety of things might have happened. Amongst
them it was quite possible that both steamers, and all in them, might
have been spewed up as battered refuse high upon the African beach.
But as Providence ordered it, the tornado circled down on them no
more; a light air came off the shore which filled their scanty
canvas, and gave them just steerage way; and they rode over the
swells in company, as dry as a pair of bridge-pontoons, and about as
helpless. All immediate danger was swept away; nothing but another
steamer could relieve them; and in the meantime it was a time for
Captain Kettle did not grumble; his fortune was once more adrift
and beyond his grasp; the Parsee in Bombay would for a certainty
dismiss him from employment; and Mrs. Kettle and her family must
continue to drag along on such scanty doles as he could contrive to
send them. All these were distressing thoughts, but they were things
not to be remedied; and he took down the accordion and made sweet
music, which spread far over the moving plains of ocean.
But Mr. McTodd had visions of more immediate profit. He washed
with soap until his face was brilliant, put on a full suit of
slop-chest serge, took boat, and rowed over to the rolling German
liner. It was midnight when he returned, affluent in pocket and
rather deep in liquor. He went into the chart-house, without
invitation, smiled benignly, and took a camp-stool.
"They thought they would get me down into the mess-room over
yonder," said he, "and I'll no' deny it was a temptation. I could ha'
telled those Dutch engineers a thing or two. But I'm a' for business
first when there is siller ahead. So I went aft to the saloon. They
were at dinner, and there were puir appetites among them. But some
one spied me standing by the door and lugged me into a seat, and gave
me meat and drink--champagne, no less!--and set me on to talk. Lord!
once I got my tongue wagging, you should have seen them. There was no
more eating done. They wanted to know how near death they'd been, and
I telled 'em; and there was the Old Man and all the beautiful
brass-edged officers at the ends of the tables fit to eat me for
giving the yarn away. But a (hic) fat lot I cared. I set on the
music, and they sent round the hat. Losh! There was twenty-four pound
English when they handed it over to me. Skipper, you should go and
try it for yourself."
"Mr. McTodd," said the little sailor, "I am not a dashed
The engineer stared with a boiled eye, and swayed on his
camp-stool. He had not quite grasped the remark.
"I'm Scotch mysel'!" exclaimed he, at length.
"Same thing," said Kettle; "I'm neither. I'm a common, low-down
Englishman, with the pride of the Prince of Wales, and a darned ugly
tongue; and don't you forget it either."
McTodd pulled a charred cigar stump from his waist-coat pocket and
lit it with care. He nodded to the accordion.
"Go on with your noise," said he.
Captain Kettle's fingers began to twitch suggestively; and
Cortolvin, in order to keep the peace, offered to escort McTodd to
"I thank ye," said the engineer; "it's the climate. I have malaria
in the system, and it stays there in spite of all that drugs can do,
and effects the perambulatory muscles of the lower extremities.
Speaking of which, ye'll na doot have seen for yoursel'---"
"Oh, you'd better come along to bed," said Cortolvin.
"Bide a wee, sonny," said the man in the blue serge solemnly.
"There's a thought come to me that I've a message to give. Do ye ken
anybody called Calvert?"
"Archie Calvert, by any chance?"
"'Erchie' was the name he gave. He said he kenned ye weel."
"We were at Cambridge together."
"Cambridge, were ye? Weel, I should have been a D.V. of A-berdeen
mysel' if I'd done as my father wished He was a Free Kirk meenister
"Yes, but about Calvert?"
"Ou ay, Calvert! Erchie Calvert, as ye say. Weel, I said we'd you
aboard, and this Calvert--Erchie Calvert--said he'd news for you
about your wife."
"All right, never mind that now. She's dead, I know, poor woman.
Let me help you down to your bunk."
"Dinna be so offensive, man, and bide a wee to hear ma news. Ye're
no a widow after all--widowman, that is. Your guid wife didna dee as
ye think. She'd a fall from a horse, which'll probably teach her to
leave horse-riding alone to men in the future; and it got in the
papers she was killed; but it seems a shaking was all she earned.
And, talking of horses, now, when I was a bairn in
Cortolvin shook him savagely by the arm. "My God!" he cried; "do
you mean to say she's not dead?"
"Aren't I telling you?"
Cortolvin passed a hand wearily over his eyes. "And a minute ago,"
he whispered, "I thought I was going home." His hand dropped limply
to his side, and his head slid to the chart-house deck in a dead
McTodd swayed on the camp-stool and regarded him with a puzzled
eye. "Losh!" he said, "here's him drunk as well as me. Two of us, and
I never kenned it. It's a sad, immoral world, skipper. Vera sad,
skipper, I say. Here's Mr. Cortolvin been--Oh, Lord, and he isn't
Captain Kettle had gone out of the chart-house. The thud of a
propeller had fallen upon his ear, and he leant over the Saigon's
rail, and sadly watched a triangle of lights draw up through the
cool, purple night. A cargo steamer freighted with rails for the
Beira railway was coming gleefully towards them from out of the
north, to pick up the rich gleanings which the ocean offered.
CHAPTER VI--THE ESCAPE
"YOU'VE struck the wrong man," said Captain Kettle. "I'm most
kinds of idiot, but I'm not the sort to go ramming my head against
the French Government for the mere sport of the thing."
"I was told," said Carnegie wearily, "that you were a man that
feared nothing on this earth, or I would not have asked you to call
"You were told right," said Kettle. "But those that spoke about me
should have added that I'm not a man who'll take a ticket to land
myself in an ugly mess unless someone pays my train fare, and gives
me something to spend at the other end. I'm a sailor, sir, by trade
or profession, whichever you like to name it, and on a steamboat,
when a row has been started, I'll not say but what I've seen it
through more than once out of sheer delight in wrestling with an ugly
scrape. Yes, sir, that's the kind of brute I am at sea.
"But what you propose is different; it's out of my line; it's
gaol-breaking, no less; with a spell of seven years in the jug, if I
don't succeed, and no kind of credit to wear, or dollars to jingle,
if I do carry it through as you wish. And may I ask, sir, why I
should interest myself in this Mr. Clare? I never heard of him till I
came in this room half an hour ago in answer to your
"He is unjustly condemned," Carnegie repeated, as though he were
quoting from a lesson. "He is suffering imprisonment in this
pestilential place--er--Cayenne, for a fault which some one else has
committed; and unless he is rescued he will die there horribly. I am
appealing to your humanity, Captain. Would you see a
"I have only to look in the glass for that," retorted Kettle.
"Most people's kicks come to me when I am anywhere within hail. And
you'll kindly observe, sir, that I have nothing but your bare word to
go on for Mr. Clare's innocence. The French Courts and the French
people, by your own admitting, took a very different view of the
matter. They said with clearness that he did sell those plans of
fortresses to the Germans, and, knowing their way of looking at such
a matter, it only surprises me he wasn't guillotined out of
"It is my daughter who is sure of his guiltlessness in the
matter," said Carnegie with a flush. "And," he added, "I may say that
she is the chief person who wishes for his escape."
Captain Kettle bowed, and fingered the tarnished badge on his cap.
He had a chivalrous respect for the other sex.
"And it was she who made me advertise vaguely for a seafaring man
who had got daring and the skill to carry out so delicate a matter.
We had two hundred answers in four posts: can you credit such a
"Easily," said Kettle. "I am not the only poor devil of a skipper
who's out of a job. But a hundred pounds is not enough, and that's
the beginning and the end of it. There's two ways of doing this
business, I guess, and one of them's fighting, and the other's
bribery. Well, sir, a man can't collect much of an army for twenty
five-pun' notes; and as for bribery, why it's hardly enough to buy up
a deputy Customs inspector in the ordinary way of business, let alone
a whole squad of Cayenne warders with a big idea of their own value
"Then there's getting out to French Guiana, and getting back, and
steamer fare for the pair of us would come to more than a couple of
postage stamps. And then where do I come in? You say I can pocket the
balance. But I'm hanged if I see where the balance is going to be
squeezed from. No, sir; a hundred pounds is mere foolishness, and the
kindest thing I can do is to go away without further talk. By James!
sir, I can say that if you'd given me this precious scheme as your
own, there's a man in this room who would have had a smashed face for
his impudence; but, as you tell me there's a lady in the case, I'll
say no more."
Captain Kettle stood up, thrust out his chin aggressively, and
swung on his cap. Then he took it off again, and coughed with
politeness. The door opened, and the girl they had been speaking
about came into the room. She stepped quickly across and took his
"Captain Kettle," she said, "I could not leave you alone with my
father any longer. I just had to come in and thank you for myself. I
knew you would be the man to help us in our trouble. I knew it from
The little sailor coughed again, and reddened slightly under the
tan. "I'm afraid, miss," he said, "I am useless. As I was explaining
to your--Mr. Carnegie, before you came in, the job is a bit outside
my weight. You see, when I answered that advertisement, I thought it
was something with a steamboat that was wanted, and for that sort of
thing, with any kind of crew that signs on, I am fitted and no man
better. But this---"
"Oh, do not say it is beyond you. Other prisoners have escaped
from the French penal settlements. It only requires a strong,
determined man to arrange matters from the outside, and the thing is
Kettle fidgetted with the badge on his cap. "With respect, miss,"
said he, "what any other man could do, I would not shy at; but the
thing you've got here's impossible; and the gentleman will just have
to stay where he is and serve out the time he's earned."
"But, sir," the girl broke out passionately, "he has not earned
it. He was accused unjustly. He was condemned as a scapegoat to
shield others. They were powerful--he was without interest; and all
France was shrieking for a victim. Mr. Clare was a subordinate in a
Government office through which these plans of fortresses had passed.
He was by birth half an Englishman, and so it was very easy to raise
suspicion against him. They forged great sheaves of evidence; they
drew off attention from the real thieves; they shamed him horribly;
and then they sent him off to those awful Isles de Salut for life.
Yes, for life--till age or the diseases of the place should free him
by death. Can you think of anything more frightful?"
"Mr. Clare is fortunate in having such a friend."
"A friend!" she repeated. "Has not my father told you? I am his
promised wife. Fancy the irony of it? We were to have been married
the very day he was condemned. It was my money and my father's which
defended him at the trial, and it nearly beggared us. And now I will
spend the last penny I can touch to get him free again."
Captain Kettle coughed once more. "It was upon a question of money
that Mr. Carnegie and I split, miss. I said to him a hundred pounds
would not work it, and there's the naked truth."
"But it must," she cried; "it must! You think us mean--niggardly.
But it is not that; we can raise no more. We are at the end of our
funds. Look around at this room; does this look like riches?"
It did not. They were in a grimy Newcastle lodging, au troisieme,
and at one side of the room the flank of a bedstead showed itself in
outline against a curtain. The paper was torn and the carpet was
absent, and from the shaft of the stairway came that mingled scent of
clothes and fried onion which is native to this type of dwelling.
Carnegie himself was a faded man of fifty. His daughter carried
the recent traces of beauty, but anxiety had lined her face, and the
pinch of res augustæ had frayed her gown. All went to advertise
the truth of what the girl had been saying, and Kettle's heart warmed
towards her. He knew right well the nip of poverty himself. But
still, he did not see his way to perform impossibilities, and he
lifted up his voice and said so with glum frankness.
"I am not remembering for a minute, miss," he explained, "that I
am a fellow with a wife and children dependent on my earnings; I am
looking at the matter as though I might be Mr. Clare's relative, and
I have got nothing new to tell you. A hundred pounds will not do it,
and that is the end of the matter."
The girl wrung her hands, and looked pitifully across at her
"Well," said Carnegie with a heavy sigh, "I will scrape up a
hundred and twenty, though that will force us to go hungry. And that
is final, Captain. If my own neck depended upon it, I could not lay
hands on more."
Captain Owen Kettle's face wore a look of pain. He was a man of
chivalrous instincts; it irked him to disoblige a lady; but the means
they offered him were so terribly insufficient. He did not repeat his
refusal aloud, but his face spoke with eloquent sympathy.
The girl sank into one of the shabby chairs despairingly. "If you
fail me, sir," she said, "then I have no hope."
Kettle turned away, still fingering the tarnished badge on his
cap, and stared drearily through the dingy window panes. A silence
filled the room. Carnegie broke it.
"Other men answered the advertisement," he suggested.
"I know they did," his daughter said; "and I read their letters,
and I read Captain Kettle's, and if there is one man who could help
us out of all those that answered, he is here now in this room. My
heart went out to him at once when I saw his application. I have
never heard of him before, but, when I read the few pages he sent, it
came to me that I knew him intimately from then onwards, and that he
and no other in all the world could do the service which we want.
Sir," she said, addressing the little sailor directly, "I learnt from
that letter that you made poetry, and I felt that the romance of this
matter would carry you on where any other man with merely commercial
instincts would fail."
"Then you like poetry, miss?"
"I write it," she said, "for the magazines, and sometimes it gets
"Would you mind shaking hands with me?" asked Captain Kettle.
"I want to do so," she answered, "if you will let that mean the
signing of our contract."
Captain Kettle held out his fist. "Put it there, miss," said he.
"The French Government is a lumping big concern, but I've bucked
against a Government before and come out top side, and, by James!
I'll do it again. You stay at home, miss, and write poetry, and get
the magazines to print it, instead of those rotten adventure yarns
they're so fond of, and you'll be doing Great Britain a large
service. What the people in this country need is nice rural poetry to
tell them what sunsets are like, and how corn grows, and all that,
and not cut-throat stories they might fill out for themselves from
the morning newspapers if they only knew the men and the ground.
"If I can only know you're at home here, miss, doing that, I can
set about this other matter with a cheerful heart I don't think the
money will be of much good; but you may trust me to get out to French
Guiana somehow, even if I have to work my way there before the mast;
and I'll collar hold of Mr. Clare for you and deliver him on board a
British ship in the best repair which circumstances will permit. You
mustn't expect me to do impossibilities, miss; but I'm working now
for a lady who writes poetry for the magazines, and you'll see me go
that near to them you'll probably be astonished."
Turn now to another scene. There is a certain turtle-backed isle
in the Caribbean Sea sufficiently small and naked to be nameless on
the charts. The Admiralty hydrographers mark it merely by a tiny
black dot; the American chart-maker has gone further and branded it
as "shoal," which seems to hint (and quite incorrectly) that there is
water over it at least during spring tides.
The patch of land, which is egg-shaped, measures some 180 yards
across its longer diameter, and, although no green seas can roll
across its face, it is sufficiently low in the water for the
spindrift to whip every inch of its surface during even the mildest
of gales. On these occasions the wind lifts great layers of sand from
off the roof of the isle, but ever the sea spews up more sand against
the beaches; and so the bulk of the place remains a constant
quantity, although the material whereof it is built is no two months
As a residence the place is singularly undesirable, and it is
probable that, until Captain Owen Kettle scraped for himself a
shelter-trench in the middle of the turtle back of sand, the isle has
been left severely alone by man throughout all the centuries.
Still human breath was hourly drawn in the immediate
neighbourhood, and when the airs blew towards the isle, or the
breezes lay stagnant, sharp human cries fell dimly on Kettle's ear to
tell him that men near at hand were alive, and awake, and plying
their appointed occupations. The larger wooded island, which lay a
long rifle shot away, was part of the French penal settlement of
Cayenne; and the cries were the higher notes of its tragic opera. But
they affected Captain Kettle not at all. He was there on business; he
had been at much pains to arrive at his present situation, and had
earned a bullet sear across the temple during the process; and, as
some time was to elapse before his next move became due, he was
filling up the intervening hours by the absorbing pursuit of
He squatted on the floor of his sandpit, with his teeth set in the
butt of a cold cigar, and rapped out the lines of sonnets, and
transferred them to a sheet of sea-stained paper. He used the stubby
bullet of a revolver cartridge from lack of more refined pencil, and
his muse worked with lusty pace--as, indeed, it was always wont to do
when the world went more than usually awry with him.
To even catalogue the little scamp's adventures since his parting
with Miss Carnegie in the Tyneside lodging, would be to write a
lengthy book; and they are omitted here in toto, because to detail
them would of necessity compromise worthy men, both French and
English, who do not wish their traffic with Kettle to be publicly
Suffice it to say, then, that he made his way out to French Guiana
by ways best known to himself; pervaded Cayenne under an alias, which
the local gendarmerie laid bare; exchanged pistol shots with those in
authority to avoid arrest; and, in fact, put the entire penal colony,
from the governor down to the meanest convict, into a fever of unrest
entirely on his especial behalf. He was put to making temporary
head-quarters in a mangrove swamp, and completing his preparations
from there, and, to say the least of it, matters went hardly with
him. But at last he got his preliminaries settled, and left his
bivouac among the maddening mosquitoes, and the slime, and the snaky
tree roots, and took to the seas again in a lugsail boat, which he
annexed by force of arms from its four original owners.
A cold minded person might say that the taking of that boat was an
act of glaring piracy; but Kettle told himself that, so far as the
French of Cayenne were concerned, he was a "recognised belligerent,"
and so all the manoeuvres of war were candidly open to him. He had no
more qualms in capturing that lugsail boat from a superior force than
Nelson once had about taking large ships from the French in the Bay
He had a depôt of tinned meats cachéd by one of his
agents up a mangrove creek, and under cover of night he sailed up and
got these on board, and built them in tightly under the thwarts of
his boat so that they would not shift in the seaway. And finally,
again cloaked by friendly darkness, he ran on to the beach of the
turtle-backed isle, hid his boat in a gully of the sand, scooped out
a personal residence where he would be visible only to God and the
sea-fowl and sat himself down to wait for an appointed hour.
By day the sun grilled him, by night the sea mists drenched him to
the skin, and at times gales lifted the surface from the Caribbean
and sent it whistling across the roof of the isle in volleys of
stinging spindrift. Moreover, he was constantly pestered by that
local ailment, chills-and-fever, partly as a result of two or three
trifling wounds bestowed by the gendarmerie, and partly as payment
for residence in the miasmatic mangrove swamps; so that, on the
whole, life was not very tolerable to him, and he might have been
pardoned had he cursed Miss Carnegie for sending him on so
troublesome an errand. But he did not do this. He remembered that she
was occupying herself at home in Newcastle with the creation of
poetry for the British magazines according to their agreement, and he
forgot his discomforts in the glow of a Mæcenas. It was the
first time he had been a bona fide patron of letters, and the
pleasure of it intoxicated him.
A fortnight passed by--he had given Clare a fortnight in the
message he smuggled into the convict station for him to make certain
preparations--and at the end of that space of time Captain Kettle
rolled his MS. inside an oilskin cover, and addressed it to Miss
Carnegie--in case of accidents. He put beckets on the top of his cap,
slipped his revolver into these, and put the cap on his head; and
then, stripping to the buff, he left his form and got up on to the
sand, and walked down its milk-warm surface to the water's edge.
The ripples rang like a million of the tiniest bells upon the fine
shingle, and the stars in the velvet night above were reflected in
the water. It was far too still a night for his purpose--far too
dangerously clear. He would have preferred rain, or even half a gale
of wind. But he had fixed his appointment, and he was not the man to
let any detail of added danger make him break a tryst. So he waded
down into the lonely sea, and struck out at a steady breast stroke
for the Isle de Salut, which loomed in low black outline across the
waters before him.
A more hazardous business than this part of the man's expedition
it would be hard to conceive. There were no prisoners in the world
more jealously guarded than those in the pestilential settlement
ahead of him. They were forgers, murderers, or what the French hate
still more, traitors and foreign spies; and once they stepped ashore
upon the beach they were there for always. They were all
life-sentence men. Until ferocious labour or the batterings of the
climate sent them to rest below the soil, they were doomed to pain
with every breath they drew.
Desperate gaoling like this makes desperate men, and did any of
the prisoners--even the most cowardly of them--see the glimmer of a
chance to escape, he would leap to take it even though he knew that a
certain hailstorm of lead would pelt along his trail. And as a
consequence the rim of the isle bristled with armed warders, all of
them marksmen, who shot at anything that moved, and who had as little
compunction in dropping a prisoner as any other sportsman would have
in knocking over a partridge.
To add to Captain Kettle's tally of dangers, the phosphorescence
that night was peculiarly vivid; the sea glowed where he breasted it;
his wake was lit with streams of silver fire; his whole body stood
out like a smoulder of flame on a cloth of black velvet. His presence
moved upon the face of the waters as an open advertisement. He was an
illuminated target for every rifle that chose to sight him, and, far
worse, he was a fiery bait bright enough to draw every shark in the
Caribbean. And sharks swarmed there. His limbs crept as he swam with
To move fast was to increase the phosphorescence; to move slow was
to linger in that horrible suspense; and I think it is one of the
highest testimonials to Kettle's indomitable courage when I can say
that not once during that ghastly voyage did he either hurry, or
scurry, or splash. He was a prey to the most abominable dread; he
expended an hour and a half over an hour's swim, and it seemed to him
a space of years; and when he grounded on the beach of the Isle de
Salut he was almost fainting from the strain of his emotions, and for
awhile lay on the sand sobbing like a hysterical schoolgirl.
But a sound revived him and sent full energy into his limbs again
without a prelude. From the distance there came to him the noise of
shod feet crunching with regulation tread along the shingle. He was
lying in the track of a sentry's beat.
By instinct his hand dragged the revolver from its beckets on his
cap, and then he rose to his feet and darted away like some slim pink
ghost across the beach into the shelter of the thickets. He lay there
holding his breath, and watched the sentry pace up on his patrol. It
was evident that the man had not seen him; the fellow neither glanced
towards the cover nor searched the beach for foot-tracks; and yet he
carried his rifle in the crook of his arm ready for a snap shot, and
flickered his eyes to this side and to that like a man habitually
trained to sudden alarms and a quick trigger finger. His every
movement was eloquent of the care with which the Isle de Salut was
Kettle waited till the man had gone off into the dark again and
the soundless distance, and then stepped out from his ambush, and ran
at speed along the dim, starlit beach. The sand-pats sprang backwards
from his flying toes, and the birds in the forest rim moved uneasily
as he passed. The little man was sea-bred first and last; he had no
knowledge of woodcraft; a silent stalk was a flight far beyond him;
and he raced along his way, revolver in hand, confident that he could
shoot any intruding sentry before a rifle could be brought to
Of course, the discharge of weapons would have waked the isle, and
brought the whole wasps' nest about his ears. But this was a state of
things he could have faced out brazenly. Throughout all his stormy
life he had never yet shirked a melée, and perhaps immunity
from serious harm had given him an overestimate of the percentage of
bullets which go astray. At any rate, the thrill of brisk fighting
was a pleasure he well knew, and he never went far out of his way to
But, as it was, he sped along his path unnoticed. The blunders of
chance threaded him through the shadows and the chain of sentries so
that no living soul picked up the alarm, till at last he pulled up
panting at the edge of the open space which edged in the grim convict
And now began a hateful tedium of waiting. The day he had fixed
with Clare was the right one; the hour of the rendezvous was vague.
He had said "as near midnight as maybe" in his message; but he was
only able to guess at the time himself, and he expected that Clare
was in a similar plight. Anyway, the man was not there, and Kettle
gnawed his fingers with impatience as he awaited him.
The night under the winking stars was full of noise. In the forest
trees the jarflies and the tree-crickets and the katydids kept up
their maddening chorus. The drumming mosquitoes scented the naked man
from afar, and put every inch of his body to the torment. The moist,
damp heat of the place made him pant to get his breath. The prison
itself was full of the uneasy rustling of men sleeping in discomfort,
and at regular intervals some crazy wretch within the walls cried
out, "Dieu, Dieu, Dieu!" as though he were a human cuckoo clock
condemned to chime after stated lapses of minutes.
An hour passed, and still the uneasy night dozed on without notice
that a prisoner was trying to escape. Another hour went by, and
Captain Kettle began to contemplate the possibilities of attacking
the grim building with his own itching fingers, and dragging Clare
forth in the teeth of whatever opposition might befall. "Dieu, Dieu,
Dieu!" rang out the tormented man within the walls, and then from
round the further angle of the place a figure came running, who
stared wildly about him as though in search of some one.
Kettle stepped out from his nook of concealment, a clear, pale
mark in the starlight. The runner swerved, stopped, and hesitated.
Kettle beckoned him, and the man threw away his doubt and raced up.
The little sailor stretched out a moist hand. "You'll be Mr. Clare,
sir, I presume?"
"I am very pleased to have the honour of meeting you. I'm Captain
Kettle, that was asked as a favour by Miss Carnegie---"
"Let us get away quick. They will be after me directly, and if
they catch me I shall be shot. Mr. Kettle, quick, where is your
But the little naked man did not budge. "I am accustomed, sir," he
said stiffly, "to having my title."
"I don't understand. Oh, afterwards; but let us get away now at
"Captain Kettle, sir."
"Captain Kettle, certainly. But this waiting may cost us our
"I am not anxious to take root here, sir, but as for the boat,
you've a good swim ahead of you before we reach that." And he told of
the way he had come. "There was no other plan for it, Mr. Clare. It
would have been sheer foolishness to have brought my boat to this
island with all these busy people with guns prowling about. I had
just got to leave her at my head-quarters, and you must make up your
mind to swim and risk the sharks if you wish to join her."
"I am open to risking anything," said Clare. "It's neck or nothing
with me after what I did five minutes back in that hell over yonder.
One of the warders---" He broke off and dragged a hand across his
eyes. "Look here, Captain, we are bound to be seen if we go round by
the beach. Come with me and I'll show you a track through the
He started off into the cover without waiting for a reply, and
Kettle with a frown turned and followed at his heels. Captain Kettle
preferred to do the ordering himself, and this young man seemed apt
to assert command. However, the moment was one for hurry. The night
was beginning to thin. So he got up speed again, and the trees and
the undergrowth closed behind him.
"Dieu, Dieu, Dieu!" cried out the tormented prisoner within the
walls as a parting benediction.
Some men, like the historical Dr. Fell, have the knack, unknown to
themselves, of inspiring dislike in others, and Clare had this effect
on Captain Owen Kettle. The little sailor's dislike was born at the
first moment of their meeting. It grew as he ran through the forest
of the Isle de Salut; and even when Clare fell upon a sentry and beat
the sense out of him as neatly as he could have done it himself,
Kettle failed to admire or sympathise with him.
On the return swim to the turtle-backed island he came very near
to wishing that a shark would get the man, although such a calamity
would have meant his own almost certain destruction; and when they
lay together, packed like a pair of sardines in the shelter pit,
under the intolerable sunshine of the succeeding day, it was with
difficulty he could keep his hands off this fellow whom he had gone
through so much to help.
Clare put in what talking was done; the sailor preserved a sour,
glum silence. He felt that if he gave his vinegary tongue the freedom
it wished for, nothing could prevent a collision.
He argued out with himself the cause for this dislike during the
succeeding night. They had got the boat in the water, had mastheaded
the lug, and were running north-west before a snoring breeze towards
the British West Indian Islands. He himself, with mainsheet in one
hand, and tiller in the other, was in solitary command. Clare was
occupied in baling back the seas to their appointed place.
For a long time the utmost he could discover against the man was
that on occasions he "was too bossy," and with bitter satire he
ridiculed himself for a childish weakness. But then another thought
drifted into his mind, and he picked it up, and weighed it, and
balanced it, and valued it, till under the fostering care it grew,
and the little sailor felt with a growl and a tightening of the lips
that he had now indeed a legitimate cause for hate.
What mention had this fellow Clare made of Miss Carnegie?
Practically none. He, Kettle, had stated by whom he was sent to the
rescue, and Clare had received the news with a casual "Oh!" and a
yawn. He had offered further information (when the first scurry of
the escape was over, and they were cachéd in the sandpit) upon
Miss Carnegie's movements, and her condition as last viewed in
Newcastle, and Clare had pleaded tiredness and suggested another hour
for the recital. Was this the proper attitude for a lover? It was
not. Was this meet behaviour for the future husband of such a woman
as Miss Carnegie, who was not only herself, but who also wrote poetry
for the magazines? Ten thousand times over, it was not.
He sheeted home the lug a couple of inches in response to a shift
of the breeze, and opened his lips in speech.
"Miss Carnegie, sir," he began, "is a lady I esteem very
"She is a nice girl," assented the man with the baler.
"She is willing to beggar herself to do you service, sir."
"Yes. I know she is very fond of me."
"And I should like to know if you are equally fond of her?"
"Steady, Captain, steady. I don't quite see what you have got to
do with it." He paused and looked at the sailor curiously. "Look
here, I say, you seem to talk a deuce of a deal about Miss Carnegie.
Are you sweet on her yourself?"
Captain Kettle glared, and it is probable that, if such an action
would not have swamped the boat, he would have dropped the tiller and
left the marks of his displeasure upon Clare's person without further
barter of words. But, as it was, he deigned to speak.
"You dog!" he said, "if you make a suggestion like that again,
I'll kill you. You've no right to say such a thing. I just honour
Miss Carnegie as though she were the Queen, or even more, because she
writes verse for the magazines, and the Queen only writes diaries.
And besides, there could be nothing more between us: I'm a married
man, sir, with a family. But about this other matter. It seems to me
I'm the party that kind of holds your fate just at present, young
man. If I shove this tiller across, the boat'll broach to and swamp,
and, whatever happens to me--and I don't vastly care--it's a sure
thing you will go to the place where there's weeping and gnashing of
teeth. How'd you like that?"
"Not a bit. I want to live. I've gone through the worst time a
human being can endure on that ghastly island astern there, and I'm
due for a great lot of the sweets of life to make up for it. And if
it interests you to know it, Captain--I do owe you something
personally, I suppose, and you have some right to be in my
confidence--if it interests you to hear such a thing, I may tell you
I shall probably marry Miss Carnegie as soon as I get back to
"Then you do love her?"
"I don't quite know what love is. But I like her well enough, if
that will do for you. Hadn't we better take down a reef in the lug? I
can hardly keep the water under."
"By James! you leave me to sail this boat," said Kettle, "and
attend to your blessed baling, or I'll knock you out of her."
The conversation languished for some hours after this, and Kettle,
with every nerve on the strain, humoured the boat as she raced before
the heavy following seas, whilst the ex-convict scooped back the
water which eternally slopped in green streams over her gunwale. It
was Clare who set up the talk again.
"Did she know anything about those plans of the French
"Miss Carnegie had the most definite ideas on the subject."
"I suppose she'd found out by that time that I really did get hold
of them out of the office myself, and sell them to the Germans?"
For one of the few times in his life Captain Kettle lied. "She
knew the old yarn from start to finish."
"Well, I was a fool to muddle it. With any decent luck I ought to
have brought off the coup without anybody being the wiser. I could
have lain quiet a year or two till the fuss blew over, and then had a
tidy fortune to go upon, and been able to marry whom I pleased, or
not marry at all. Eh--well, skipper, that bubble's cracked, and I
suppose the best thing I can do now is to marry old Carnegie's girl
"Then you've quite made up your mind to marry this lady?"
"That's what you say," retorted Kettle. "Now you hear me. Miss
Carnegie thinks you are in love with her, and you are not that by
many a long fathom; so there goes item the first. In the second
place, she thought you were sent to Cayenne unjustly, whereas, by
your own showing, you're a dirty thief, and deserved all you got.
And, thirdly, I don't approve of squeezing fathers-in-law as an
industry for young men newly out of gaol."
"You truculent little ruffian, do you dare to threaten me?"
"I'd threaten the Emperor of Germany if I was close to him and
didn't like what he was doing. Here you! Don't you lift that baler at
me, or I'll slip some lead through your mangy hide before you can
wink. Now you'll just understand; for the rest of this cruise, till
we make our port, you stay forrard, and I'm on the quarter deck. If
you move aft I'll shoot you dead, and thank you for giving me the
chance. But if you get ashore all in one piece, I'll spike your guns
in another way."
"How?" asked the man sullenly.
"You'll find out when you get there," said Kettle grimly. "And now
don't you speak to me again. You aren't wholesome. Get on with your
baling. D'you hear me, there? Get on with that baling: I don't want
my boat to be swamped through your cursed laziness."
* * * * * *
Now, to which port it was of the British West India Islands that
the lugsail boat and its occupants arrived I never quite made out,
and indeed the method in which Captain Kettle "spiked" Mr. Clare's
"guns" was hidden from me till quite recently. A week ago, however, a
letter of his drifted into my hands, and, as it seems to explain all
that is necessary, I give it here exactly as it left his pen.
"WEST INDIA ISLANDS.
"TO MISS CARNEGIE.
"HONOURED MADAM,--Am pleased to report have carried out part of yr
esteemed commands. Went to Cayenne, as per instructions, and took Mr.
Clare away from French Government, they not consenting. Landed him in
good condition at this place. Having learnt that he did steal those
plans, and, moreover, he saying he did not care for you the way he
ought, have taken the liberty to guard lest he should trouble you in
future. To do this, found old coloured washer-woman here (widow) who
was proud to have white husband. Him objecting, I swore to tell
French Consul if he did not marry, and get him sent back to Cayenne.
So he married. She weighs 250 lbs. I enclose copy of their marriage
lines, so you can see all is correct.
"Trust you will excuse liberty. He has made one escape; you have
"The weather is very sultry here, but they say there is fine
"Shall get English magazines some day, when things blow over a
bit, and I can come that way again, to look for your poetry.
"Hoping this finds you in good health as it leaves me at
CHAPTER VII--THE PEARL-POACHERS
"NO, Mr. Carnforth," said Kettle; "it would be lying if I was to
say I knew anything about pearl-fishing. I've heard of it, of course;
who hasn't? And, for the matter of that, I've had on a diving-suit
myself, and gone down and examined a ship's bottom to see if the
diver that had been sent down to look at some started plates had
brought up a true report. But I've never done more than pass through
those North Australian seas. They tell me the pearl-fishing's worked
from small luggers of some ten or fourteen tons, sailing out of
"It is," said the big man. "And---"
"Well, sir, you'd better get another captain. I'm a steamer sailor
by bringing up, and on a steamer I know my business, and can do it
with any other man alive. But you'd not find me much good on a little
windjammer like a Thursday Island pearler. I'm a hard-up man, Mr.
Carnforth, and desperately in want of a berth; I hope, too, you'll
not think it undue familiarity when I say that I like you personally;
but, honestly, I don't think you'd better engage me as your skipper
for this trip. You could get a so much better man for your
Carnforth laughed. "My dear Kettle," he said, "I don't think I
ever came across a fellow with less real notion of looking after his
own interests. As you are aware, I know your peculiar qualifications
pretty thoroughly; I'm an eminently practical business man; I offer
you a handsome salary with both eyes open; and yet you refuse because
you are afraid of robbing me of my money."
"Mr. Carnforth," said the little sailor stiffly, "I have my own
ideas of what's right. You have seen me at sea using violence and
ugly words. But you will kindly remember that I was in service of an
employer then, and was earning his pay by driving his crew. It's
another thing now; we are ashore here, and I would have you know that
ashore I am a strict chapel member, with a high-pressure conscience,
and a soul that requires careful looking after. I could never forgive
myself if I thought I was taking your pay without earning it
"If you'll let me get a word in edgeways," said the other
irritably, "and not be so beastly cocksure that you can rob me--which
you could no more do than fly--perhaps you'd understand what I'm
offering, and not sneeze at a good chance. The lugger is your own
invention, and so is the idea that I'm merely going pearl-fishing in
the ordinary way. My notion is to go pearl-poaching, which is a very
different matter; to get rich quick, and take the risks and climb
over them; and to go at the business in a steamer with a strong
enough crew to--ar--do what's needful."
"And you're already a rich man," said Kettle, "with a fine
position in the country, and a seat in Parliament. Some people never
do know when they're well off."
"Some people don't," said Carnforth, "and you're another of them,
skipper. For myself, I do a mad thing now and again because--oh,
because I like the excitement and flurry of it. But you!--You go and
refuse a profitable billet that would fit you down to the boots,
merely for the sake of a whim. A quarter of an hour ago you told me
you were practically destitute--ar--'on the streets' your own words
were; and here you are chucking up a certain twenty pounds a month,
and a possible ninety, when it's ready to your hand."
"I didn't know about the steamer," said Kettle, "and that's a
"Well, I'm telling you now, Captain, and if you don't take charge
of her upper bridge, it will be your own fault. Why, man, there isn't
a job between here and New Jerusalem that would suit you better! and
besides, I'm keen to go there myself, and you are the one man in the
world I want to have as a shipmate, and I ask you to come as a
personal favour. I'm sick of this smug, orderly, frock-coated life
here. Nature intended me for a pirate, and fate has made me a
successful manufacturer. I've tasted the wild unregenerate life of
the open air once under your auspices, and rubbed against men who
were men, and I want to be there again. I'm tired of fiddling amongst
men and women who are merely dollar-millers and dress-pegs. I'm sick
of what they call success. I'm sick of the whole blessed
Captain Kettle thought of Mrs. Kettle and her children in the
squalid house in South Shields, with the slender income and the slim
prospects, and he sighed drearily. But he did not utter those
thoughts aloud. He said, instead, that he was very grateful to Mr.
Carnforth for his magnificent offer, and would do his best to earn
thoroughly the lavish income which was held out to him.
Carnforth reached out and gripped his hand. "Thanky, Kettle," he
said; "and mind, I'm going to try and lug you into a competency over
this. You might just as well have given way before. I always get my
own way over this sort of thing. And now probably you'd like to hear
a bit more about the poaching ground?"
"If you please, sir."
"Well, I can't quote you latitude and longitude off hand, but I'll
show you the whereabouts of the place marked on the chart afterwards.
It's Japan way, and the Japs have chosen to claim all the bits of
reef thereabouts, and to proclaim a sort of close season against all
foreign pearlers. Now the place I've got news of is in their area,
but so far it has never been fished. It's enormously rich, and it's
absolutely virgin. Why, man, if we can put in six months' work there
undisturbed, we can easily carry off a million pounds' worth of shell
"Six months!" said Kettle. "That's a big order. I've no doubt that
with a decent steamer and a few rifles we could beat off one of their
gunboats when we get there, and do, say, a week's fishing. But if
that gunboat steams back to Nagasaki, or wherever her port is, and
brings out a whole blessed navy at her heels, we may find the
contract outside our size. Of course, if you are going to fit out a
real big steamboat, with a gun or two, and a hundred men---"
Carnforth laughed. "Wait a bit," said he. "You're going ahead too
fast. There's no question of fighting a whole navy. In fact we
mustn't fight at all if there's any means of wriggling out of it. I
believe fighting would amount to piracy, and piracy's too lively even
for my tastes. Besides, if we got very noisy, we'd have some cruiser
of the British China Squadron poking her ugly nose in, and that's a
thing we couldn't afford to risk at any price."
"Then how are you going to manage it?"
"What we must hope for is to be left undisturbed. There's every
chance of it. The reef is out of all the steam-lanes and circle
tracks, and the Jap's gunboat patrol is not very close. In fact the
place has only been newly charted. It was found quite by accident by
the skipper of a sea-sealing schooner, and he missed the plum because
he happened to have been a brute to one of his hands."
"But I thought you said this reef was out of all ship tracks?"
"Don't hustle me. The schooner had been sealing off the Commander
Islands. She was coming home and got into heavy weather. She was
blown away three days by a gale, and picked up the surf of this reef
one morning at daybreak, ran down into the lee, and lay there till
the breeze was over. The reef wasn't charted, and the skipper, who
was 'on the make,' wondered how he could gather dividends out of it.
In the off-sealing season he was in the Thursday Island trade, and
his thoughts naturally ran upon pearls and shell. He'd a diving suit
on board, and he rowed into the lagoon, made one of his crew put on
the suit, and sent him down.
"Now observe the result," said Carnforth with sly relish, "of
being too severe on one's hands. This sailor, who was sent down in
the diving-suit, had been having a dog's time of it on the sealing
schooner, and when he got on the floor of the lagoon and saw the
place round him literally packed with shell that had never been
touched by human fingers, he made up his mind that the time had come
to repay old scores. So when he came up out of the water again, he
said, sulkily enough, that there was nothing below but seaweed and
mud; and the boat rowed back out of the lagoon; and the schooner let
draw her forestay-sail sheet and ran away on her course.
"The skipper reported the new reef, and in due course it got on
the charts; and the sailor kept holding his tongue till he could find
a market for his information. He didn't find one at once; he had to
wait two years, in fact; and then he found me. I guess that skipper
would be easier on his hands in future if he only knew what he'd
lost, eh, Kettle?"
The sailor frowned.
"A shipmaster, sir, has to get the full amount of work out of his
hands, or he's neglecting his duty. I can picture that schooner, Mr.
Carnforth, and I picture her Old Man hearing what he's missed, and
still carrying on the driving game. The things we have to ship as
sailors are beasts, and you have to treat them as such; and if you
can show me a master who's popular in the fore-castle, I can show you
a man who's letting his hands shirk work, and not earning his owner's
"H'm!" said Carnforth. "I've seen you handle a crew, and I know
your theories and little ways, and I know also that you're far too
obstinate an animal to change your opinions in a hurry. I've a pretty
strong will myself, and so I can sympathise with you. However, we'll
let that matter of ethics slide for the present, and go into the
question of ways and means"--and on the dry detail of this they
talked till far into the night.
Here, however, the historian may for awhile withhold his pen,
since those in the shipping interest can fill the gap for themselves,
whilst to all others these small questions of ways and means would be
The yacht's voyage out to Japanese waters may also be omitted. The
English papers announced its commencement in one of the usual formal
paragraphs: "Mr. Martin Carnforth, M.P. for the Munro division of
Yorkshire, has started in his fine steam yacht the Vestris for a
lengthened tour in China seas to study Oriental questions on the
spot, and will probably he absent some considerable time."
The official log kept on board was meagre and scanty being
confined to arid statements of distances run, and the ordinary
meteorological happenings of the ocean; and towards the latter
entries, even these were skilfully fictitious. Indeed, when the
vessel neared the scene of action, her yellow funnel changed to black
with a crimson band, a couple of squarish yards were crossed on her
foremast, her dainty gaff sails vanished and were replaced by
serviceable trysails, and the midship house was soiled by the
addition of a coat of crude white lead above the trimly polished
teak, and straddled over by a clumsy iron bridge defended by
ill-fitting canvas dodgers and awnings.
There was no making the expert believe, of course that she was a
mere trader that had always been a trader. But to the nautical eye
she was unsuspicious; she looked one of those ex-yachts that have
been sold out of the petticoat-cruising service of Cowes, and been
adapted to the more homely needs of the mercantile marine; and in the
Mediterranean, the Australian seas, and China waters, there are many
of this breed of craft making a humble living for their owners. A
couple of weeks neglect will make any brasswork look un-yachtlike,
and a little withholding of the paint brush soon makes all small
traders wonderfully kin.
Re-christening of course is but a clumsy device, and one which is
(the gentle novelist notwithstanding) most seldom used. A ship at her
birth is given a name, and endowed with a passport in the shape of
"papers." Without her papers she cannot enter a civilised port; she
could not "clear" at any custom house; and to attempt doing so would
be a blatant confession of "something wrong." So when the paint
brushes went round, and the name Vestris on counter, boats, and
lifebuoys were exchanged for Governor L. C. Walthrop (which seemed to
carry a slight American flavour) a half sigh went up from some of the
ship's company, and a queer little thrill passed through the rest,
according to their temperaments. They were making themselves sea
pariahs from that moment onwards, until they should deem fit to
discard the alias.
Captain Kettle himself finished lettering the last of the
lifebuoys and put down his brush, and shook his head.
Carnforth was watching him from a deck chair. "You don't like it?"
"I never did such a thing before," said Kettle; "and I never heard
of it being done and come to any good. We're nobodies now, and it's
every one's business to meddle with a nobody. If you're a somebody,
only the proper people can interfere."
"I can't help it," said Carnforth. "The Vestris is well known at
home, and I'm well known too; and we've just got to see this business
through one way or the other, under purser's names. She's the
Governor L. C. Walthrop, and I'm Mr. Martin, and you can be what you
"I'll still use my own name, sir. I've carried it a good many
years now, through most kinds of weather; and it's had so many stones
thrown at it that a few more won't hurt. If we get through with this
little game, all right: if we get interrupted, I guess the only thing
left will be to attend our own funerals. I'm not going to taste the
inside of a Japanese gaol at any price."
"I never saw such a fellow as you for looking at the gloomy side
of things," said Carnforth, irritably.
"It's the gloomy side that's mostly come my way, sir."
"I wish to goodness I'd never been idiot enough to come out here
on this hairbrained scheme."
"Why!" said Kettle in surprise, "you've got the remedy to your
hand. You give your orders, Mr. Carnforth, and I'll bout-ship this
minute and take you home."
"And don't you want to go through with it, skipper?"
"I don't see my tastes need be mentioned," said the sailor,
stiffly. "You're my owner, sir. I'm here to do as I'm bid."
"Captain Owen Kettle," said the other, with a laugh that had got
some sour earnest at the back of it, "you're a cantankerous little
beggar. I sailed with you before, and found you the most delightful
of shipmates. I sail with you now, and you keep me always at
boat-hook's length away from you. Be hanged if I see what I've done
to stiffen you."
"Sir," said Kettle, "on the Sultan of Borneo you were my guest; on
this yacht you are my owner: there's all the difference in the
"You wish to point out, I suppose, that a shipmaster looks upon an
owner as his natural enemy, as he does the Board of Trade. Still I
don't think I personally have deserved that."
"I am as I have been made, sir, and I suppose I can't help
"You are a man with some wonderfully developed weaknesses.
However, as to turning back, I'm not going to stultify myself by
doing that now. We'll see the thing through now, whatever
Martin Carnforth nodded curtly, and got up and walked the deck. He
was conscious of a fine sense of disappointment and disillusionment.
He had started off on this expedition filled with a warm glow of
romance. He had been grubbing along at distasteful business pursuits
for the larger part of his life, and adventure, as looked at from the
outside, had always lured him strongly. Once in Kettle's company he
had tasted of the realities of adventure amongst Cuban
revolutionists; had got back safely, and settled down to business
again for a time: and then once more had grown restless. He had the
virus of adventure in his blood, and he was beginning to learn that
it was a cumulative poison.
So, once more he had started off, but this time he was being
chilled from the outside. Properly treated, the prospects of the trip
would have been rosy enough. Handled by Captain Owen Kettle, the
whole affair was made to assume the aspect of a commercial
speculation of more than doubtful sanity. And, as he walked, he
cursed Kettle from his inmost heart for bringing him to earth and
keeping him there amongst sordid considerations.
The little mariner himself was seated in a deck-chair under an
awning, turning in the frayed sleeve of a white drill jacket. His
sewing tackle stood in a pictured tin biscuit box on the deck beside
him. He unripped the old stitches with a pocket knife, and re-sewed
the sleeve with exquisite accuracy and neatness. His fierce eyes were
intent on the work. To look at his nimble fingers, one would think
that they had never held anything more deadly than the ordinary
utensils of tailoring. Carnforth broke off his walk, and stood for a
moment beside him.
"Skipper," he said, "you're a queer mixture. You've lived one of
the most exciting lives any man's ever gone through, and yet you seem
to turn your more peaceful moments to tailoring or poetry
indifferently, and enjoy them with gusto."
"Mr. Carnforth," said the little sailor, "I guess we're all
discontented animals. We always like most what we get least of."
"Well, I suppose that's intended to sum up my character as well as
your own," said Carnforth, and sat down and watched the sewing.
The mate on the yacht's upper bridge picked up the reef with his
glasses that evening a couple of hours after sundown. The night was
velvet black, with only a few stars showing. A sullen ground swell
rolled the seas into oily hills and valleys, and the reefs ahead
showed themselves in a blaze of phosphorescence where the swell broke
into thunderous surf. It seemed as though the yacht was steaming
towards the glow and din of some distant marine volcano. The watch
below were all on deck, drawn there by curiosity, and along one
bulwark the watch on duty were handling the deep sea lead. At
intervals came the report, trolled in a minor key, of "No
The engines were running half speed ahead, and presently they
stopped, and the order was given for the yacht to lay-to where she
was till daybreak. A light breeze had sprung up, bringing with it a
queer, slender taint into the sweet, sea air.
For a long time Carnforth had been snuffling diligently. "I'm sure
I smell something," he said at last.
"It's there," said Kettle. "Have you ever been in a north country
Norwegian port, sir?"
"By Jove! yes, skipper. It's just the same. Decaying fish."
"There's not another stink like it on this earth. You know what it
"I suppose some other fellows are in the lagoon before us, and
they're rotting out shell."
"That's it," said Kettle; "and we're going to have our work cut
out to get a cargo. But we'll do it, Mr. Carnforth, never you fear. I
suppose there'll be trouble, but that'll have to be got over. We've
not come all this way to go back with empty holds."
Carnforth looked at the little man slily. Here was a very
different Captain Kettle from the fellow who had been mending the
white drill coat half a dozen hours before. He was rubbing his hands,
his eye was bright, his whole frame had stiffened. He was whistling a
jaunty tune, and was staring keenly out at the phosphorescent blaze
of the breakers, as though he could see what was behind them, and was
planning to overcome all obstacles. An hour before, Martin Carnforth
had been cursing the tedium of his expedition. A little chill went
through him now. Before many more hours were past he had a strong
notion he would be scared at its liveliness. He had seen Captain
Kettle's methods before when things went contrary to his plans and
Slowly the night dragged through, and by degrees the blackness
thinned. The Eastern waters grew grey, and the sky above them changed
to dull sulphur yellow. Then a coal of crimson fire burned out on the
horizon, and grew quickly to a great half-dish of scarlet; and then
the rest of the sun was shot up, as an orange pip is slipped from the
fingers; and it was brilliant, staring, tropical day.
For full an hour the yacht had been under weigh at half steam with
lead going, circling round the noisy reefs. The place was alive with
the shouts of breakers and the scream of sea-fowl. Inside, beyond the
hedge of spouting waters, were three small turtle-backs of yellow
sand, and a lugger at anchor.
The water outside was clear as bottle-green glass, and of enormous
depth. The only entrance to the lagoon was a narrow canal between the
reefs, shown up vividly by the gap in the ring of creaming surf. It
was not likely that any one from the lugger would lend a hand for
pilotage--or be trusted if they offered. So Kettle steamed the yacht
to some half-mile off the entrance, called away the whale-boat, and
went off in her himself with a crew and a couple of leadsmen to
survey the channel. He did it with all deliberation; returned; took
his perch in the forecrosstress, where he could see the coral floor
through the clear water beneath, and conned the yacht in himself.
Carnforth leant over the bridge-end and watched.
The coral floor with its wondrous growths came up towards him out
of the deep water. The yacht rolled into the pass on the backs of the
great ocean swells, and the reef-ends on either side boomed like a
salute of heavy guns. The white froth of the surges spewed up against
her sides, and the spindrift pattered in showers upon her deck
planks. The stink of the place grew stronger every minute.
Then she shot through into a mirror of still, smooth water, slowed
to half-speed, and with hand lead going diligently, steamed up to an
anchorage in sixteen fathoms off one of the sandy islets. A white
whale-boat put off from the lugger, rowed by three Kanakas, and by
the time the yacht's cable was bitted a man from her had stepped up
the accommodation ladder, and was looking about him on deck.
He was a biggish man in striped pyjamas, bare-footed,
roughly-bearded, and wearing a crumpled pith helmet well-down on the
back of his head. His face was burnt to a fine mahogany colour by the
sun, and, dangling over his chest at the end of a piece of fine
sinnet, was a gold-rimmed eye-glass which glittered like a diamond
when it caught the sun. He touched his helmet to Kettle. "You've
brought a fine day with you, Captain," said he.
"Rather warm," said Kettle. "I haven't looked at the glass this
morning. I hope it's going to keep steady."
The visitor glanced round and sized up the yacht and its
resources. "Oh, I should say it's likely to for the present. You've a
nice little boat here and a likely looking lot of men. You'll be
having ten of a crew, all told, Captain, eh?"
"Thirteen," said Kettle.
"Humph, it's an unlucky number. Well, Captain, if I were you I
wouldn't stay here too long. The weather's a bit uncertain, you know,
in these seas."
"We want some pearls and shell before we go."
"I might have guessed that. Well, it's a nuisance from our point
of view, because we thought we'd the lagoon to ourselves, and
intended to skim it clear ourselves if the Japs didn't interrupt.
But, take the tip, Captain, and don't be too greedy. If you stay too
long, the glass may fall suddenly and---"
"Take care, my lad," snapped Kettle; "I'm a man that accepts
threats from no man living."
"Oh, all right," said the stranger carelessly. "But who have we
here?" And he stuck the glass into his eye and whistled.
Captain Kettle made a formal introduction. "My owner, sir, Mr.
Martin, of New York."
"Humph," said the visitor; "you used to be Carnforth up at
Cambridge, didn't you? M. Carnforth, I remember, and M. might
possibly stand for Martin."
Captain Kettle smiled grimly, and Carnforth swore.
"Bit of a surprise to find you pearl-poaching, Carnforth. I see
your name in the Australian papers now and again, and got a notion
you were something big at home. Had a bust up?"
"No," said Carnforth. "I'm all right there. Come below and have a
drink and a talk. By the way it's awfully rude of me; I haven't
tumbled yet to who you are."
"Never mind my name," said the visitor coolly. "I don't suppose
you'd remember me. I was a reading man up there and you weren't. You
did your best to torment my life out. I took a big degree and made a
fizzle of after life. You got ploughed and became a commercial
success. So you see we've little enough in common; and, besides, I
was here first, and I resent your coming."
"Oh, rubbish, man! Come below and have a cocktail."
"Thanks, no. I prefer not to be under the tie of bread and salt
with--er--trade rivals." He dropped his eye-glass, and walked to the
head of the accommodation ladder. "Look here, Master Carnforth," he
said. "I'll give you a useful tip. Clear out!" Then he went down into
his whale-boat, and the brown men pulled him back to the lugger.
"Curse that beggar's impudence," said Carnforth hotly. "I wonder
who the deuce he is?"
"Maybe we'll find out," said Kettle. "I tried to catch your eye
whilst he was speaking. If I had my way, he'd be on board now, kept
snug till we were through with our business here. He'd have been a
lot safer that way."
"Oh, no!" said Carnforth. "We couldn't have done the high-handed
like that on the little he said. Wonder who he can be, though? Some
poor beggar whose corns I trod on up at Cambridge. Well, anyway,
twenty years and that beard have completely changed him out of
memory. However, if he chooses to come round and be civil, he can;
and if he doesn't, I won't worry. And now, Captain--pearls. The
sooner we get to work, the more chance we have of getting a cargo
under hatches and slipping away undisturbed."
"Right-o," said Captain Kettle. "They've got the other two
sandbanks, and, by the stink, they're doing a roaring business. We'll
bag this empty one near us, and set about fishing this very hour, and
plant our shell to rot there. It'll smell a bit different to a rose
garden, Mr. Carnforth, but it'll be a sight more valuable."
Then began a period of frantic toil and labour. Every man on board
was "on shares," for it had pleased Carnforth's whim to use this old
buccaneer's incentive. Half of the profits went to the ship, and the
rest to the crew. Each man had so many shares, according to his
rating. Carnforth himself, in addition to his earnings as owner,
earned also as an ordinary seaman, and sweated and strained like any
of the hands. From an hour before daybreak to an hour after sunset he
was away in the boats, under the dews of morn and eve, or the blazing
torrent of midday sunshine. Every night he tumbled into his bed-place
dog-tired, and exulting in his tiredness. Every morning he woke eager
for the fierce toil. He was unshaven, sunburnt, blood-smeared from
the scratches of the shell, filthy with rank sea mud. But withal he
was entirely happy.
Kettle toiled with equal vigour, working violently himself, and
violently exhorting the others. Neither his arms nor his tongue were
ever tired. But he was always neat, and seldom unclean. Dirt seemed
to have an antipathy for the man, and against his dishevelled owner
he looked like a park dandy beside a rag-picker.
At the other side of the lagoon the white man from Cambridge, and
a white friend, and their crew of ten Kanakas, worked with similar
industry. The ring of the lagoon was some half mile in diameter, with
lanes of deep water running through its floor where divers could not
work. There was no clashing of the two parties. One of these water
lanes seemed to set out a natural boundary, and neither transgressed
it. On each submarine territory there was enough shell to work on for
the present, and each party toiled with the same frantic energy, and
spread out the shell on the sun-baked sandbanks and poisoned Heaven
with the scent of decay. But there was no further intercourse between
the two bodies of men, nor indeed any attempt at it. How the others
were doing, the yacht's party neither knew nor cared. Theirs was a
race against time for wealth, and not one striver amongst them all
had leisure to be curious about his neighbours.
In a nicer life, the smells of the place would have offended them
monstrously; here they were a matter for congratulation. The more the
putrefaction, the more the profit. They ripped the shells from the
sea, and spread them upon the beaches. The roasting sun beat upon the
spread-out shell-fish, and melted away their soft tissues in horrible
The value was all a gamble. There might be merely so much
mother-o'-pearl for inlay work; or seed pearls, such as the Chinese
grind up for medicine; or larger pearls of any size and colour and
shape, from the humble opalescent sphere worth its meagre
half-a-crown, to the black pearl worth its score of pounds, or the
great pear-shaped pink pearl worth a prince's ransom. It was all a
gamble, but none the less fascinating for that. Carnforth was mad
over the work; Kettle, with all his nonchalance gone, was nearly as
But the process of realising their wealth was none too fast, and,
in fact, seemed to them tedious beyond words. Every filled shell,
with its latent possibilities of treasure lying out there upon the
sand, was so much capital left in a perilously insecure investment.
They were so bitterly afraid of interruptions. The dark shadow of
Japan was always before their eyes.
Still at last came the first moment of realisation. They had
toiled a month, and they had collected that day the fruits of their
first day's labour. The mother-o'-pearl shell was packed in the hold;
the little crop of pearls stood in a basin on the cabin table, and
they gloated over them as they supped.
Carnforth stirred them lovingly with the butt of his fork. "Pretty
little peas, aren't they, skipper?"
"For those they amuse, though I like to see a bit more colour in a
woman's ornaments myself."
"Matter of taste and matter of fashion. Pearls are all the rage
just now. Diamonds are slightly commonplace; but women will spend
their money on something, and so the price of pearls is up."
"So much the better for us, sir. It's a pity, though, that some of
them seem a bit off colour, like that big grey chap for
"Grey, man! Why, that's a black pearl, and probably worth any ten
of the rest put together."
"Well," said Kettle, "I don't set up for being a pearl merchant.
Poaching them's trouble enough for me."
"Pass the biscuit, will you?" said Carnforth, yawning, "I suppose
that little lot--is worth--worth--anything over--a thousand pounds,"
and with that he dropped back dead asleep in his chair with a forkful
of food in mid-air. Captain Kettle finished his meal, but he, too,
man of wire though he was, suddenly tumbled forward and went to sleep
with his head on the table. It was no new thing for them to do. They
had dropped off like this into unconsciousness more than once during
that month of savage toil.
The next day they had a smaller crop ready to glean--a bare five
hundred pounds' worth, in fact. But they did not lament. There would
be an enormous quantity ready for the morrow.
That further realisation of their wealth, however, never came.
During the night another lugger sailed into the lagoon, and upset all
their plans. She was the consort of the lugger commanded by the
Cambridge man, and she had taken away to a safe place their first
crop of pearls and shell. Further, she was manned by fourteen whites,
all armed, and all quite ready to defend what they considered their
poachers' monopoly. As a consequence, they pulled across to the yacht
some two hours before daybreak, and Carnforth and Captain Kettle
found themselves waked by three men who carried Marlin repeating
rifles, and were quite ready to use them if pressed.
But the little sailor was not easily cowed. "By James!" he cried,
"this is piracy!"
"It'll be a funeral," said the man with the eye-glass, "if you
don't bring your hand out from under that pillow, and bring it out
empty. Now, don't risk it, skipper. I'm a good snap shot myself, and
this is only a two-pound trigger."
Captain Kettle did not chuck his life away uselessly. He let go
his revolver and drew out his hand. "Well," he said, "what are you
grimy pirates going to do next? By the look of you, you've come here
to steal our soap and hair brushes."
"Carnforth," shouted the man with the eye-glass, "come in here and
be told what's going to happen. I say, you fellows, bring Carnforth
into the skipper's room."
Martin Carnforth came into Kettle's room sullenly enough, with his
hands in his pockets.
"Now I'll give you the whole case packed small," said the
spokesman. "A crowd of us found this place, and discovered the pearls
and the shell. We were all badly in want of a pile, and we took the
risks, and started in to get it. Most of us went away with the first
cargo, and only two white men were left with a few Kanakas. Then you
came. You were told you're not wanted, but you gently hinted at force
majeure, and were allowed to stay. Finally the rest of our crowd
comes back, and ***** it's force majeure on the other side, and now
you've got to go. If you've the sense of oysters, you'll go
peacefully. There isn't enough for all of us; at any rate we don't
intend to share."
"Mr. Carnforth," said Kettle, "I told you we'd better have bottled
that dirty man with the window-pane eye who's been talking."
"Look here," said Carnforth hotly. "This is all nonsense. We've
got as much right here as you."
"Right!" said the pearler. "Right had better not enter into the
question. We're all a blooming lot of poachers, if it comes to that.
You know that, Mr. Martin, or Carnforth, or whatever you choose to
call yourself for the time being. You come here under a purser's
name; your yacht is guyed out like a Mediterranean tunny fisher; and
I guess you look upon the thing much as you did bagging knockers and
brass doorplates in the old days at Cambridge--half the fun's in
dodging the bobby."
"You're taking the wrong sort of tone," interrupted Carnforth.
"I'm not used to being hectored at like this."
"I can believe it," said the pearler drily. "You are a successful
"And let me tell you this. You've got the upper hand for the
present, that I admit. You may even force us out of the lagoon. But
what then? I guess the account would not be closed; and when a man
chooses to make me his enemy, I always see that he gets payment in
full sooner or later."
"All right," said the man with the eye-glass--"pay away. Don't
"A hint at one of the Japanese ports as to what was going on would
soon upset your little game."
"Not being fools," said the pearler coolly, "of course we've
thought of that. We've---"
A hail came down from the saloon sky-light outside, from the deck
above. "Scoot, boys, scoot! The Philistines be upon us."
"What's that?" shouted the man with the eye-glass.
"Well, it's one of those confounded Jap gunboats, if you want to
know. Hurry, and we shall just get off. We'll leave these fools to
pay the bill."
"Hmnph!" said the pearler, "that settles the matter another way. I
must go, and I suppose you'll try to hook it too. Ta, ta, skipper;
you're a good sort--I like you. By-bye, Carnforth, can't recommend
the Jap gaols. Hope you get caught, and that'll square up for your
giving me a bad time at Cambridge."
He followed the others out on deck, and a moment later their
whale-boat was pulling hard for where the luggers rode lazily at
their anchors. Carnforth and Kettle went after him, and the engineers
and the yacht's crew, who had been held down in the forecastle at
rifle's muzzle, came on deck also.
It did not require any pressing to get the engine-room staff to
their work. The boilers were cold; but never were fires lit quicker.
Parrafin, wood, small coal, grease, anything that would burn, was
coaxed into the furnace door. The cold gauges began to quiver, but as
every man on board well knew, no human means could get a working
steam pressure under half an hour.
On deck the crew had run the boats up to davits, had hove short by
hand, and then stood like men on the drop, waiting their fate. The
luggers had mastheaded their yards, and were beating down the lagoon
against a spanking breeze. One after the other they tumbled out
through the passage, and swung on the outer swell; and then, with
their lugs goose-winged, fled like some scared sea-fowl out over the
blue sun-scorched waters.
But though the yacht had canvas, Kettle knew that she could not
beat to windward, and so dare not break his anchor out of the ground
till the engineers had given her steam. There was nothing for it but
to wait with what patience they could.
The Japanese gunboat had been sighted far enough off, and, as she
was coming up from the farther side of the ring of reefs, she had to
circle round them before she could gain the only entrance. Moreover,
her utmost paper pace was eight knots, and she happened to be foul,
and so her advance was slow. But still, to the watching men it seemed
that she raced up like a Western Ocean greyhound.
The sun rose higher. The stink of the rotting shellfish came to
them in poisonous whiffs. At another time it would have spoken of
wealth in sweet abundance. But now they disregarded it. Prison and
disgrace were the only things before them, and these filled the
Then the chief engineer called up to the bridge through the
voice-tube that he could give her enough steam for steerage way in
"Foredeck there!" cried Kettle. "Break out that anchor! By hand!"
and the men laboured with the handgear, so as to save the precious
steam. Then a thought flashed across Captain Kettle's brain, and he
quickly gave it to Carnforth. "It's only a beggarly chance, sir, but
we'd better try it, I suppose?"
"Yes," said Carnforth.
"If only we hadn't painted out those names, we might have done it
more safely. As it is, we must risk it. Off with you below, sir, and
get into some decent clothes. You'd give the whole show away if you
stayed up on the bridge here in those filthy rags. You may be a yacht
owner, sir, but, by James! you look far more like an out-of-work
Carnforth ran down the ladder, and Kettle gave crisp orders to the
hands on deck, who disappeared also, and presently came back dressed
as spruce yachtsmen, in white trousers, white drill jumpers, and
straw hats; and by that time the yacht was under way, and steaming
slowly to the pass.
The gunboat was coming in with her crew at quarters, officers with
swords on, and everything cleared for action. The Japanese flag ran
up to her peak.
Promptly an English royal yacht club burgee broke out at the
poacher's main truck, and a British blue ensign fluttered up to her
poopstaff, and dipped three times in salute.
Carnforth came up on to the bridge. "Now, sir," said Kettle, "you
must do the talking. I guess it's got to be lies, and lying's a thing
I can't do."
"What shall I say?"
"Say what's needed," replied Kettle concisely; "and don't say it
wrong. Remember, sir, you're lying for your liberty. It's neck or
nothing. She's got two big guns trained on us, and a shot from either
would send us to Jones before we could get in a smack in return."
"What ship's that?" came the hail in perfect English.
"Steam yacht Vestris. Lord Martin owner," said Carnforth, who knew
the value of titles on the foreigners. "I'm Lord Martin."
"What are you doing in here?"
"Been watching those poachers."
"Heave to and explain."
"I shall do nothing of the sort, and if you dare to fire on me I
will bring the British fleet about your ears."
The Japanese spokesman gasped and consulted with a superior, and
the steamers drew abreast.
"But you must heave to."
"I shall do nothing of the kind."
"But you are in forbidden waters."
"Then you should put up a notice to say so. I shall report this to
my Admiralty in London."
"Go it," said Kettle, sotto voce. "For blooming cheek, give me an
"But you must stop," said the Japanese, "or I shall be compelled
"You can do as you please," said Carnforth. "I shall report you to
your commander-in-chief at Nagasaki. I never came across such
insolence. You heard my name--Lord Martin. You'll hear more of it
Steam was rising in the gauges, and the yacht was getting into her
stride of twelve knots. She sped out through the passage, and rolled
in the trough of the glistening swells beyond. The crew of the
warship still stood to their guns, but the officers were in a
dilemma. These pestilential Britishers always did make such a row if
any of their vessels were fired on; and this apparently was a yacht,
though grotesquely unkempt, and tricked out with a black and red
funnel; and, moreover, she was owned by a peer of the realm.
A last despairing howl came over the waters: "Are you noble?"
"Yes, haven't I told you? Lord Martin. You'll know it better when
you're next in port."
And that was the last word. The gunboat turned and steamed out
after them, but her turning circle was large and her speed slow. By
midday she was hull down astern; by evening her mast trucks were
under the water.
Carnforth strutted the deck complacently. "Rather a gorgeous
bluff, eh, skipper?" he said at last.
"You're the only man on the ship that could have done it," said
Kettle admiringly. "It takes a parliamentary education to lie like
Again the silence grew between them, and then Carnforth said
musingly: "I wonder who that Cambridge man was?"
"He seemed to hate you pretty tenderly."
"He did that. I suppose I must have played some practical joke on
him. Well, I know I used to be up to all sorts of larks in those
days, skipper, but that's long enough ago, now, and all that sort of
foolishness is past."
Captain Kettle laughed. "Have you done with pearl-poaching, sir?
Or are you going to have another try at it? But don't paint out the
name of your ship next time. If that Jap had had the eyes of a mole
he'd have seen the change, and he'd have taken his chances and fired.
Governor L.C. Walthrop is no name for an English milord's yacht."
CHAPTER VIII--THE LINER AND THE ICEBERG
CAPTAIN KETTLE had been thanking Carnforth for getting him command
of the Atlantic liner Armenia. "But," he went on, "qualifications,
sir, are all my eye. Interest's the thing that shoves a shipmaster
along. Yes, Mr. Carnforth, interest and luck. I've got qualifications
by the fathom, and you know pretty well what they've ever done for
me. But you're a rich man and an M.P.; you've got interest; you come
up and give me a good word with an owner, and look, the thing's
"Well, I sincerely wish you a long reign," said Carnforth. "The
Armenia's the slowest and oldest ship on the line, but she was the
best I could get the firm to give you. It's seldom they change their
captains, and they promote from the bottom, upwards. You've got all
the line before you, Kettle, and the rest must depend on yourself.
I'd sincerely like to see you commodore of the firm's fleet, but
you'll have to do the climbing to that berth by your own wit. I've
done all I can."
"You've done more for me, sir, than any other creature living's
done, and believe me, I'm a very grateful fellow. And you can bet I
shall do my best to stick to a snug berth now I've got it. I'm a
married man, Mr. Carnforth, with children; I've them always at the
back of my memory; and I've known what it is to try all the wretched
jobs that the knockabout shipmaster's put to if he doesn't choose his
belongings to starve. The only thing I've got to be frightened of now
is luck, and that's a thing which is outside my hands, and outside
yours, and outside the hands of every one else on this earth. I guess
that God above keeps the engineering of luck as His own private
department; and He deals it out according to his good pleasure; and
we get what's best for us."
Now the S.S. Armenia, or the old Atrocity, as she was more
familiarly named, with other qualifying adjectives according to
taste, was more known than respected in the Western Ocean passenger
trade. In her day she had been a flier, and had cut a record; but her
day was past. Ship-building and engine-building are for ever on the
improve, and with competition, and the rush of trade, the older
vessels are constantly getting outclassed in speed and economy.
So heavy stoke-hold crews and extravagant coal consumption no
longer made the Armenia tremble along at her topmost speed. The firm
had built newer and faster boats to do the showy trips which got
spoken about in the newspapers; and in these they carried the
actresses, and the drummers, and the other people who run up heavy
wine bills and insist on expensive staterooms; and they had
lengthened the Armenia's scheduled time of passage between ports to
what was most economical for coal consumption, and made her other
arrangements to match. They advertised first-class bookings from
Liverpool to New York for £11 and upwards, and passengers who
economised and bought £11 tickets, fondly imagining that they
were going to cross in one of the show boats, were wont to find
themselves consigned to berths in inside cabins on the Armenia.
The present writer (before Captain Kettle took over command) knew
the Armenia well. A certain class of passenger had grown native to
her. On outward trips she was a favourite boat for Mormon
missionaries and their converts. The saints themselves voyaged
first-class, and made a very nasty exhibition of manners; their wives
were in the second cabin; and the ruck of the converts--Poles, Slavs,
Armenians, and other noisesome riff-raff--reposed in stuffy barracks
far below the water-line, and got the best that could be given them
for their contract transport price of three-pound-ten a head. Besides
the Mormons (and shunning them as oil does water) there were
civilised passengers who shipped by the Armenia either because the
cheap tariff suited their purses, or because an extra couple of days
at sea did not matter to them, and they preferred her quiet regime to
the hurry and noise, and dazzle, and vibration of the crowded and
more popular greyhounds.
On to the head of this queer family party, then, Captain Owen
Kettle was pitchforked by the Fates and Mr. Carnforth, and at first
he found the position bewilderingly strange. He was thirty-seven
years of age, and it was his debut as an officer on a passenger boat.
The whole routine was new to him. Even the deck hands were of a class
strange to his experience, and did as they were bidden smartly and
efficiently, and showed no disposition to simmer to a state of
constant mutiny. But newest of all, he came for the first time in
contact with an official called a Purser (in the person of one Mr.
Reginald Horrocks) at whose powers and position he was inclined to
look very much askance.
It was Mr. Horrocks who welcomed him on board, and the pair of
them sized one another up with diligence. Kettle was suspicious,
brusque, and inclined to assert his position. But the Purser was more
a man of the world, and, besides, he was by profession urbane, and a
cultivator of other people's likings. He made it his boast that he
could in ten minutes get on terms of civility with the sourest
passenger who was ever put into an undesirable room; and he was
resolved to get on a footing of geniality with the new skipper if his
art could manage it. Mr. Horrocks had sailed on bad terms with a
captain once in the days of his novitiate, and he did not wish to
repeat the experience.
But Kettle was by nature an autocrat, and could not shake down
into the new order of things all at once. The Armenia was in dock,
noisy with stevedores working cargo, when the new Captain paid his
first preliminary visit of inspection. Horrocks was in attendance,
voluble and friendly, and they went through every pelt of her, from
the sodden shaft-tunnel to the glory-hole where the stewards live.
The Purser was all affability, but Kettle resented his tone, and at
last, when they had ended their excursion, and walked together into
the chart-house on the lower bridge, the little sailor turned round
and faced the other, and put the case to him significantly.
"You will kindly remember that I am Captain of this ferry," he
"You're Captain all the way, sir," said Horrocks genially. "My
department is the care of the passengers as your deputy, and the
receiving in of stores from the superintendent purser ashore; and I
wish to handle them all according to your orders."
"Oh," said Kettle, "you'll have a pretty free hand here. I don't
mind telling you I'm new to this hotel-keeping business. I've been in
cargo boats up to now."
"Well, of course, Captain, a Purser's work is a profession to
itself, and the details are not likely to have come in your way. I
suppose I'd better run things on much as before to start with, and
when you see a detail you want changed, you tell me, and I'll see it
changed right away. That's where I come in; I'm a very capable man at
carrying out orders. And there's another thing, Captain; I know my
place: I'm just your assistant."
Captain Kettle pressed the bell. "Purser," said he, "I believe we
shall get on well. I hope we shall; it's most comfortable that way."
A bare-headed man in a short jacket knocked, and came in through the
chart-house door. "Steward, bring a bottle of whisky, and put my name
on it, and keep it in the rack yonder; and bring some fresh water and
two glasses--Purser, you'll have a drink with me?"
"Well, here's plenty of cargo," said Kettle, when the whisky
"Here's plenty of passengers and a popular ship," said the
But if Mr. Horrocks was civil and submissive in words on the
Armenia, it was because he had mastered the art of only saying those
things which are profitable, and keeping his private thoughts for
disclosure on more fitting occasions. When he sat at tea that night
with his wife across in their little house in New Brighton, he
mentioned that the new captain did not altogether meet with his
august approval. "He's a queer savage they've got hold of, and no
mistake this time," said he; "a fellow that's lived on cargo boats
all his life, and never seen a serviette, and doesn't know what to do
with his entertainment money."
"Tell the firm," suggested Mrs. Horrocks.
"Not much. At least, not yet. He's new, and so naturally they
think he's a jewel. I'm not going to make myself unpopular by
complaining too soon. Give this new old man string enough, and he'll
hang himself neatly without my help."
"Like the last?"
"Oh, this one's worse than him. In fact I'm beginning to be sorry
I ever did get our last old man the push. He was all right so long as
I didn't make my perquisites too big. But as for this one, I don't
suppose he'll understand I've a right to perquisites at all."
"But," said Mrs. Horrocks, "you're Purser. What does he suppose
you live on? He must know that the pay don't go far."
"Well he didn't seem to know what a Purser was, and when I tried
to hint it to him, he just snapped out that he was Captain of this
Mr. Horrocks shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, I agreed right away. May
as well tickle a fool as tease him, my dear. He thinks because he's a
splendid seaman--and he may be that, I'll admit--he's fit to skipper
a Western Ocean passenger boat. He's a lot to learn yet, and I'm the
man that's going to educate him."
Now the exasperating part of it was, that not only did this
process of "education" promptly begin, but Captain Kettle knew it.
Never before had he had any one beneath him on board ship who had
dared to dispute his imperial will, and done it successfully. There
was no holding this affable purser, no pinning him down to a specific
offence. If he mapped out a plan of action, and Captain Kettle
objected to it, he was all civility, and would give it up without
argument. "Certainly, sir," he would say. "You're Captain on this
boat, as you say, and I'm Purser, and I just know my place." And then
afterwards would invariably come a back thrust which Captain Kettle
could never parry.
There were three long tables in the saloon headed by the Captain,
the Purser and the Doctor; and when the passengers came on board at
Liverpool or New York, it was Mr. Horrocks who arranged their meal
places. He had a nice discrimination, this Purser, and from long
habit could sum up a passenger's general conversational qualities at
a glance. He knew also Captain Kettle's tastes and limitations, and
when that redoubtable mariner had been making things unpleasant, he
rewarded him with dinner companions for the next run who kept him in
a state of subdued frenzy. It was quite an easy thing to do, and
managed craftily, it was a species of torture impossible to
In fact it may be owned at once that as a conversational head to a
liner's table, Captain Kettle did not shine. The situation was new
and strange to him. Up till then he had fought his way about the seas
in cargo tramps, with only here and there a stray passenger; and, at
table, professional topics had made up the talk, or, what, was more
common, glum, scowling silence had prevailed.
Here, on this steam hotel, he suddenly found himself looked up to
as a head of society. His own real reminiscences of the sea he kept
back: he felt them to be vastly impolite; he never dreamed that they
might be interesting.
His power of extracting sweet music from the accordion he kept
rigidly in the background. Accordions seemed out of place somehow
with these finicking passengers. He felt that his one genteel taste
was for poetry, but only once did he let it slip out. It was half-way
across the Atlantic on a homeward trip, and conversation had lagged.
The Purser's and the Doctor's tables were in a rattle of cheerful
talk: Kettle's was in state of boredom. In desperation he brought out
his sacred topic.
At once every ear within range started to listen: he saw that at
once. But he mistook the motive. The men around him--they were mostly
American--thought that the whole thing was an effort of humour. It
never occurred to them that this vinegary-faced little sailor
actually himself made the sentimental rhymes he quoted to them: and
when it dawned upon them that this was no joke, and the man was
speaking in sober, solemn earnest, the funniness of it swept over
them like a wave. The table yelped with inextinguishable
Of a sudden Captain Kettle realised that he was his passengers'
butt, and sat back in his chair as though he was getting ready for a
In his first torrent of rage he could with gusto have shot the lot
of them; but to begin with he was unarmed; and, in the second place,
passengers are not crew: and moreover, after the first explosion, the
laughter began to die away. One by one the diners looked at the grim,
savage, little face glaring at them from the end of the table, and
their mirth seemed to chill. The laughter ended, and an uncomfortable
silence grew, and remained to the finish of the meal.
During the succeeding meals, moreover, up till the end of the
voyage, that silence was very little encroached upon at the Captain's
end of the middle table. Any one who ventured to speak had the
benefit of Captain Kettle's full gaze, and found it disconcerting.
Even to passengers on a modern steam ferry the Captain is a person of
some majesty, and this one had a look about him that did not invite
That batch of passengers dispersed to the four corners of the
earth from Queenstown and Liverpool, and the Armenia saw them no
more; but news of the fracas somehow or another reached the
head-quarters' office, and a kindly hint was given to Captain Kettle
that such scenes would be better avoided for the future.
"I quite know that passengers are awkward cattle to deal with,"
said the partner who put it to him, "but you see, Captain, we make
our living by carrying them, and we can't afford to have our boats
made unpopular. You should use more tact, my dear skipper. Tact;
that's what you want. Stand 'em champagne out of your entertainment
allowance, and they'll stand it back, and run up bigger bills with
the wine steward. It all means profit, Captain, and those are the
ways you must get it for us. We aren't asking you to drum round for
cargo now. Your game is to make the boat cheery and comfortable for
passengers, so that they'll spend a lot of money on board, and like
it, and come again and spend some more. Tumble?"
The captain of the Armenia heard, and intended to conform. But,
admirer of his though I must conscientiously write myself, I cannot
even hope that in time he would have shaken down fitly into the
berth; for, to tell the truth, I do not think a more unsuitable man
to govern one of these modern steam hotels could be found on the seas
of either hemisphere. However, as it happened, the concession was not
demanded of him. His luck, that cruel, evil fortune, got up and hit
him again, and his ship was cast away, and he saw himself once more
that painful thing, a shipmaster without employ. More cruel still, he
found himself at the same time in intimate touch with a great
The fatal voyage was from New York home, and it was in the cold,
raw spring-time when passenger lists are thin. The day before sailing
a letter addressed "Captain Kettle, S.S. Armenia," made its
appearance on the chart-house table. How it got there no one seemed
to know, but with the crowd of stevedores and others working cargo,
it would have been very easy for a messenger from the wharf to slip
it on board unobserved. The letter was type-written, and carried the
address of an obscure saloon in the Bowery. It said:
"There is a matter of $50,000 (£10,000) waiting for you to
earn with a little pluck and exertion. You can either take the game
or leave it, but if you conclude to hear more, come here and ask the
barman for a five-dollar cocktail, and he will show you right inside.
It you are frightened, don't come. We've got no use for frightened
men. We can easy find a man with more sand in him somewhere
The little sailor considered over this precious document for the
full of an hour. "Some smuggling lay," was his first conclusion, but
the sum of money appeared too big for this; then he was half-minded
to put down the whole thing as a joke; then as a lure to rob him. The
final paragraph and the address given, which was in the worst part of
New York city, seemed to point shrewdly to this last. And I believe
the prospect of a scrimmage was really the thing that in the end sent
him off. But any way, that evening he went, and after some difficulty
found the ruffianly drinking shop to which he had been directed.
He went inside and looked inquiringly across the bar.
The shirt-sleeved barman shifted his cigar. "Well, mister, what
can I fix up for you?"
"You're a bit proud of your five-dollar cocktails here, aren't
The man lowered his voice. "Say, are you Captain Cuttle?"
"Kettle! confound you."
"Same thing, I guess. Walk right through that door yonder, and up
Captain Kettle patted a jacket pocket that bulged with the outline
of a revolver. "If any one thinks they are going to play larks on me
here, I pity 'em."
The barman shrugged his shoulders. "Don't blame you for coming
'heeled,' boss. Guess a gun sometimes chips in handy round here. But
I think the gents upstairs mean square biz."
"Well," said Kettle, "I'm going to see," and opened the door and
stumped briskly up the stairway.
He stepped into a room, barely furnished, and lit by one grimy
window. There was no one to receive him, so he drummed the table to
make his presence known.
Promptly a voice said to him:
"Hawdy, Captain? Will ye mind shuttin' the door?"
Now Kettle was not a man given to starting, but he started then.
The place was in the worst slum of New York. Except for a flimsy
table and two battered chairs, the room was stark empty, and this
voice seemed to come from close beside him. Instinctively his fingers
gripped on the weapon in his jacket pocket.
He slewed sharply round to make sure he was alone, and even kicked
his foot under the table to see that there was no jugglery about
that, and then the voice spoke to him again, with Irish brogue and
Yankee idiom quaintly intermingled.
"Sure, Captain, I have to ask yer pardon for keepin' a brick wall
right here between us. But I've me health to consider, an' I reckon
our biz will be safest done this way."
The little sailor's grim face relaxed into a smile. His eye had
caught the end of a funnel which lay flush with the wall.
"Ho!" he said. "That's your game, is it? A speaking tube. Then I
suppose you've got something to say you are ashamed of?"
"Faith, I'm proud of it. A pathriot is never ashamed of his
"Get to business," said Kettle. "My time's short, and this
waiting-room of yours is not over savoury."
"It's just a little removal we wish you to undertake for us,
Captain. You have gotten a Mr. Grimshaw on your passenger list for
this run to Liverpool."
"It's so. He's one of the big bosses of your British
"Well, supposing I have?"
"He's been out here as a sort of commissioner, and he's found out
more than is good for him. He sails by the Armenia to-morrow, and if
you can--well--so contrive that he doesn't land at the other side, it
means you are set up for life."
Captain Kettle's face stiffened, and he was about to break out
with something sharp. But he restrained himself and asked instead:
"What's the figure?"
"$50,000--say 10,000 of your English sovereigns."
"And how do I know that I should get paid?"
The answer was somewhat astounding. "You can pocket the money
here, right now," said the voice.
"And once I got paid what hold would you have on me? How do you
know I'd shove this Grimshaw over the side? That I suppose is what
The voice chuckled. "We've agents everywhere, Captain. We'd have
you removed pretty sharp if you tried to diddle us."
"Oh, would you?" snapped Kettle. "I've bucked against some
tolerably ugly toughs in my time and come out top side, and shouldn't
mind tackling your crowd for the sheer sport of the thing. But look
here, Mr. Paddy Fenian, you've got hold of the wrong man when you
came to me. By James! yes, you skulking, cowardly swine! You face
behind a wall! Come out here and talk. I won't lift my hands. I'll
use my feet to you and kick your backbone through your hat. You'd
dare to ask me to murder a man, would you?"
Captain Kettle's eloquence had an unlooked-for effect. The voice
from the speaking tube laughed.
The sailor went on afresh and spoke of the unseen one's ancestors
on both sides of the house, his personal habits, and probable future.
He had acquired a goodly flow of this kind of vituperation during his
professional career, and had been compelled to keep it bottled up
before the passengers on the liner. He felt a kind of gusto in
letting his tongue run loose again, and had the proud consciousness
that each of his phrases would cut like the lash of a whip.
But the unseen man apparently heard him unruffled. "Blow off
steam, skipper," said he; "don't mind me."
Kettle looked round the empty room dejectedly. "You thing!" he
said. "I could make a man with more spirit than you out of
"Of course you could, skipper," said the voice with the brogue;
"of course you could. I don't really exist. I'm only a name, as your
beastly Saxon papers say when they abuse me. But I can hit, as they
know, and I can draw cheques, as you can find out if you choose. You
can have your pay yet if you see fit to change your mind, and
'remove' spy Grimshaw between here and Liverpool. We've plenty of
money, and you may as well have it as any one else. It's got to be
"I'd give a lot to wring your neck," said Kettle. He tapped at the
wall to test its thickness.
"You tire me," said the voice "Why can't you drop that? You can't
get at me; and if you go outside and set on all the police in New
York city, you'll do no good. The police in this city know which side
their bread's margarined. I'm the man with the cheque-book, sonny,
and you bet they are not the sample of fools that'd go and try to
snuff me out."
"This is no place for me," said Kettle. "It seems I can't lug you
out of the drain where you live, and if I stay in touch of your
breath any longer, I shall be poisoned. I've told you who I consider
your mother to be. Don't forget." And the little bearded sailor
strode off down the stair again and into the street. He had no
inclination to go to the police, having a pious horror of the law,
and so he got a trolley car which took him down to the East River,
and a ferry which carried him across to his ship.
The time was 2 a.m. and the glow of the arc lamps and the rattle
of winch chains, and the roar of working cargo went up far into the
night. But noise made little difference to him, and even the episode
he had just gone through was not sufficient to keep him awake.
The master of a Western Ocean ferry gets little enough of sleep
when he is on the voyage, and so on the night before sailing he
stores up as much as may be.
As it chanced, Mr. Grimshaw took steps to impress himself on
Captain Kettle's notice at an early stage of the next day's
proceedings. The ship was warping out of dock with the help of a
walking-beam tug, and a passenger attempted to pass the quartermaster
at the foot of the upper bridge ladder. The sailor was stubborn, but
the passenger was imperative, and at last pushed his way up, and was
met by Kettle himself at the head of the ladder.
"Well, sir?" said that official. "I've come to see you take your
steamer out into New York Bay, Captain."
"Oh, have you?" said Kettle. "Are you the Emperor of Germany by
"I am Mr. Robert Grimshaw."
"Same thing. Neither you nor he is Captain here. I am. So I'll
trouble you to get to Halifax out of this before you're put.
Quartermaster, I'll log you for neglect of duty."
Grimshaw turned and went down the ladder with a flushed cheek.
"Thank you, Captain," he said, over his shoulder. "I've got influence
with your owners. I'll not neglect to use it."
It chanced also that Captain Kettle had been cutting down his
Purser's perquisites more ruthlessly than usual in New York, and that
worthy man thirsted for revenge. He had taken Mr. Grimshaw's measure
pretty accurately at first sight, and was tolerably sure that eight
days of his conversation would irritate his skipper into a state of
approaching frenzy. So he portioned off the commissioner to the end
right hand chair at the Captain's table, and promised himself
pleasant revenge in overlooking the result.
Captain Kettle worked the Armenia outside the bar and came down to
dinner. Horrocks whispered in his ear as he came down the companion.
"Mr. Grimshaw's the man on your right, sir. Had to give him to you.
He's some sort of a big bug in the government at home, been over in
New York inquiring into the organisation of those Patlander
Kettle nodded curtly and went on to his seat. The meal began and
went on. Mr. Grimshaw made no allusion to the previous encounter. He
had made up his mind to exact retaliation in full, and started at
once to procure it. He had the reputation in London of being a "most
superior person," and he possessed in a high degree the art of being
courteously offensive. He was a clever man with his tongue, and never
overstepped the bounds of suavity.
How the wretched Kettle sat through that meal he did not know.
Under this polished attack he was impotent of defence. Not a chance
was given him for retort, and all the thrusts went home. He retired
from the dinner table with a moist perspiration on his face, and an
earnest prayer that the Armenia would carry foul weather with her all
the way up to Prince's landing stage, so that he might be forced to
spend the next seven or eight days on the chilly eminence of the
And now we come to the story of how Captain Owen Kettle's luck
again buffeted him.
The Armenia was steaming along through the night, to the
accompaniment of deep and dismal hootings from the syren. A fog
spread over the Atlantic and the bridge telegraph pointed to
"Half-speed ahead," as the Board of Trade directs. The engine-room,
however, had private instructions as usual, and kept up the normal
On the forecastle head four look-out men peered solemnly into the
fog, and knew that for all the practical good they were doing they
might just as well be in their bunks.
On the bridge, in glistening oilskins, Kettle and two mates stared
before them into the thickness, but could not see as far as the
foremast. And the Armenia surged along at her comfortable fourteen
knots, with the five hundred people asleep beneath her deck. The
landsman fancies that on these occasions steamships slow down or
stop; the liner captain knows that if once he did so he would have
little chance of taking his ship across the Atlantic again. A day
lost to one of these ocean ferries means in coal and food, and wages,
and so on, a matter of £1,000 or so out of the pockets of her
owners, and this is a little sum they do not care to forfeit without
strong reason. They expect their captains to drive the boats along as
usual, and make up for the added risk by increased watchfulness and
precaution, and a keen noting of the thermometer for any sudden fall
which should foretell the neighbourhood of ice.
Now the Armenia was skirting the edge of the Banks, on the
recognised steam-lane to the Eastward, which differs from that
leading West; and by all the laws of navigation there should have
been nothing in the way. Nothing, that is, except fishing schooners,
which do not matter, as they are the only sufferers if they haven't
the sense to get out of the way.
But, suddenly, through the fog ahead there loomed out a vast
shape, and almost before the telegraph rung its message to the
engine-room, and certainly before steam could be shut off, the
Armenia's bow was clashing and clanging and ripping and buckling as
though it had charged full tilt against a solid cliff.
The engines stopped, and the awful tearing noises ceased, save for
a tinkling rattle as of a cascade of glass, and: "There goes my
blooming ticket," said Kettle bitterly. "Who'd have thought of an
iceberg as far south as here this time of year!" But he was prompt to
act on the emergency.
"Now, Mr. Mate, away forward with you, and get the carpenter, and
go down and find out how big the damage is." The crew were crowding
out on deck. "All hands to boat-stations. See all clear for lowering
away, and then hold on all. Now, keep your heads, men. There's no
damage, and if there was damage there's no hurry. Put a couple of
hands at each of the companion-ways, and keep all passengers below.
We can't have them messing round here yet awhile."
The Purser was standing at the bottom of the upper bridge ladder
half-clad, cool, and expectant. "Ah, Mr. Horrocks, come here."
The Armenia had slipped back from the berg by this time and lay
still, with the fog dense all around her. "Now it's all up with the
old Atrocity, Purser: look how she's by the head already. Get your
crew of stewards together, and victual the boats. Keep 'em in hand
well, or else we shall have a stampede and a lot of drowning. I'll
have the boats in the water by the time you're ready, and then you
must hand up the passengers, women first."
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Wait a minute. If any one won't do as he's bid, shoot. We must
The Purser showed a pistol. "I put that in my pocket," said he,
"when I heard her hit. Good-bye, skipper; I'm sorry I haven't been a
better shipmate to you."
"Good-bye, Purser," said Kettle; "you aren't a bad sort."
Mr. Horrocks ran off below, and the chief officer came back with
his report, which he whispered quietly in the shipmaster's ear. "It's
fairly scratched the bottom off her. There's sixty feet gone, clean.
Collision bulkhead's nowhere. There's half the Atlantic on board
"How long will she swim?"
"The carpenter said twenty minutes, but I doubt it."
"Well, away with you, Mr. Mate, and stand by your boat. Take
plenty of rockets and distress lights, and if the fog lifts we ought
to get picked up by the Georgic before morning. She's close on our
heels somewhere. If you miss her and get separated, make for St.
"Ay, aye, sir."
"So long, Mr. Mate. Good luck to you."
"Good-bye, skipper. Get to the inquiry if you can. I'll swear till
all's blue that it wasn't your fault, and you may save your ticket
"All right, Matey, I see what you mean. But I'm not going to shoot
myself this journey. I've got the missis and the kids to think
The Mate ran off down the ladder, and Kettle had the upper bridge
to himself. The decks of the steamer glowed with flares and blue
lights. A continuous stream of rockets spouted from her
superstructure far into the inky sky. The main fore-deck was already
flush with the water, and on the hurricane deck aft, thrust up high
into the air, frightened human beings bustled about like the
inhabitants of some disturbed ant-hill.
Pair by pair the davit tackles screamed out, and the liner's boats
kissed the water, rode there for a minute to their painters as they
were loaded with the dense human freight, and then pushed off out of
suction reach, and lay to. Dozen by dozen the passengers left the
luxurious steam hotel, and got into the frail open craft which danced
so dangerously in the clammy fog of that Atlantic night. Deeper the
Armenia's fore part sank beneath the cold waters as her forward
From far beneath him in the hull, Kettle could hear the hum of the
bilge pumps as they fought the in-coming sluices; and then at last
those stopped, and a gush of steam burred from the twin funnels to
tell that the engineers had been forced to blow off their boilers to
save an explosion.
A knot of three men stood at the head of port gangway ladder
shouting for Kettle. He went gloomily down and joined them. They were
the purser, the second mate, and Mr. Grimshaw.
Kettle turned with a blaze of fury on his suave tormentor. "Into
the boat with you, sir. How do you dare to disobey my orders and stay
behind when the passengers were ordered to go? Into the boat with
you, or, by James! I'll throw you there."
Mr. Robert Grimshaw opened his lips for speech.
"If you answer me back," said Kettle, "I'll shoot you dead."
Mr. Grimshaw went. He had a tolerable knowledge of men, and he
understood that this ruined shipmaster would be as good as his word.
He picked his way down the swaying ladder to where the white-painted
lifeboat plunged beneath, finding footsteps with clumsy landsman's
diffidence. He reached the grating at the foot of the ladder, and
paused. The lifeboat surged up violently towards him over a sea, and
then swooped down again in the trough.
"Jump, you blame' fool," the second mate yelled in his ear, "or
the steamer will be down under us." And Grimshaw jumped, cannoned
heavily against the boat's white gunwale, and sank like a stone into
the black water.
At a gallop there flashed through Captain Kettle's brain a string
of facts. He was offered £10,000 if this man did not reach
Liverpool; he himself would be out of employ, and back on the streets
again; his wife and children would go hungry. Moreover, he had
endured cruel humiliation from this man, and hated him poisonously.
Even by letting him passively drown he would procure revenge and
future financial easement. But then the memory of that Irish-American
at the speaking tube in the Bowery came back to him, and the thought
of obliging a cowardly assassin like that drove all other thoughts
from his mind. He thrust Horrocks and the second mate aside, and
dived into the waters after this passenger.
It is no easy thing to find a man in a rough sea and in an inky
night like that, and for long enough neither returned to the surface.
The men in the lifeboat, fearing that the Armenia would founder and
drag them down in her wash, were beginning to shove off, when the two
bodies showed on the waves, and were dragged on board with
Both were insensible, and in the press of the moment were allowed
to remain so on the bottom gratings of the boat. Oars straggled out
from her sides, frantically labouring, and the boat fled over the
seas like some uncouth insect.
But they were not without a mark to steer for. Rockets were
streaming up out of another part of the night, and presently, as they
rode on over that bleak watery desert, the outline of a great steamer
shone out, lit up like some vast stage picture. The other boats had
delivered up their freights, and been sent adrift. The second mate's
boat rowed to the foot of her gangway ladder.
"This is the Georgic," said a smart officer, who received them.
"You are the last boat. We've got all your other people unless you've
"No," said the second mate. "We're all right. That's the Old Man
down there with his fingers in that passenger's hair."
"No, I saw 'em both move as we came alongside."
"Well, pass 'em up and let's get 'em down to our doctor. Hurry
now. We wanted to break the record this passage, and we've lost a lot
of time already over you."
"Right-o," said the Armenia's second mate drearily, "though I
don't suppose our poor old skipper will thank us for keeping him
alive. After piling up the old Atrocity, he isn't likely to ever get
"Man has to take luck as he finds it at sea," said the Georgic's
officer, and shouted to the rail above him "All aboard, sir."
"Cast off that boat!" "Up gangway," came the orders, and the
Georgic continued her race to the East.
CHAPTER IX--THE RAIDING OF DONNA CLOTILDE
IF anyone had announced in the Captains' Room at Hallett's that a
man could leave that sanctum shortly before turning-out time, and be
forthwith kidnapped in the open streets of South Shields, every
master mariner within hearing would have put him down contemptuously
as a gratuitous liar. All opinions in the Captains' Room were
expressed strongly, and with due maritime force of language.
The place seemed to its frequenters the embodiment of homeliness
and security. There was a faint smell of varnish in the atmosphere,
and always had been within the memory of the oldest habitué,
and shipmasters came back to the odour with a sigh of pleasure, as
men do return to the neighbourhood of an old and unobtrusive friend.
Captains met in that room who traded to all parts of the globe,
talked, and soon found acquaintances in common. It was a sort of
informal club, with no subscription, and an unlimited membership. The
holding of a master's "ticket" was the only entrance qualification,
and it was not considered polite to ask your neighbour whether he was
at that moment in or out of employment.
If you were a genuine master mariner, but of an unclubable
disposition, you did not go to the Captains' Room at Hallett's a
second time, and always made a point of getting rather red and
speaking of it contemptuously when the place was mentioned
afterwards. If you did not hold a master's ticket, even if you were
that dashing thing, a newly-fledged mate, the bar-maiden on guard
spotted you on the instant, and said "that door was private," and
directed you to the smoke-room down the passage.
Into this exclusive chamber Captain Owen Kettle had made his way
that day after tea, and over two modest half pints of bitter beer had
done his share in the talk and the listening from 8 till 10.30 of the
clock. He had exchanged views with other shipmasters on cargoes,
crews, insurances, climates, and those other professional matters
which the profane world (not in the shipping interest) finds so
dreary; and had been listened to with deference. He was a man who
commanded attention, and though you might not like what he said, you
would not dream of refusing to hear it.
That special night, however, Captain Kettle's personal views on
maritime affairs were listened to with even more deference than
usual. A large, red-haired man swung into the Captains' Room some few
minutes after Kettle had seated himself, and, after ordering his
beverage and a cigar, nodded with a whimsical smile in Kettle's
direction, and asked him how he liked the neighbourhood of Valparaiso
as a residence.
"I forget," said the little sailor, drily enough.
"All right, Captain," said the red-haired man, "don't you mind me.
I never remember too much myself either. Only you did me a good turn
out there, although you probably don't know it, and I'd be proud if
you'd have a drink or a smoke with me now in remembrance."
"You're very polite, Captain."
"Don't mention it, Captain," said the red-haired man, and struck
the bell. "Same? Half a pint of bitter, please, miss, and one of your
best fourpenny smokes."
The general talk of the Captains' Room, which had halted for the
moment, went on again. One worthy mariner had recently failed to show
a clean bill of health in Barcelona, and had been sent to do twenty
days' penance at the quarantine station, which is in Port Mahon,
Minorca. As a natural consequence, he wanted to give his views on
Spain and Spanish government with length and bitterness, but somehow
the opportunity was denied him. The red-haired man put in a sentence
or two, and a question, and it was Kettle's opinion on the matter to
which the Captains' Room found itself listening.
A salvage point was brought up by a stout gentleman in the Baltic
timber trade who was anxious to air his sentiments; but the
red-haired man skilfully intervened, and "Kettle on Salvage" was
asked for and heard. And so on all through the evening. The
red-haired man did his work cleverly, and no one resented it.
Now, Kettle was a man who liked being listened to, and there was
no doubt that his vanity was tickled by all this deference from his
professional equals. There is no doubt also that the smug security of
Hallett's lulled his usual sense of wariness, which may in part
account for what happened afterwards. And so, without further excuse
for him, it is my painful duty to record that an hour after he left
the Captains' Room, the little sailor was entrapped and kidnapped by
what to a man of his knowledge, was one of the most vulgar of
He emptied his tumbler, stood up, and said he must be going. The
red-haired man looked at the round cabin clock on the wall, and
mentioned that it was his time also; and together they went outside
into the damp, dark main street of South Shields.
"Going back to your ship, Captain?" asked the big stranger.
"Why, no, Captain," said Kettle. "I live here, and I'm off
"Then I suppose I must say good-night. Hope to meet you again,
though. What boat are you on now, Captain?"
"Well, I'm putting in a bit of a spell ashore just now, Captain.
Fact is, I haven't come across any employment quite to my taste
lately. 'Tisn't every shipowner I care to serve under."
"No," said the red-haired man. "They are brutes, most of them.
But, look here, Captain, there'd be no offence in my getting you the
refusal of a berth, would there?"
Kettle flushed. "Captain," he said, "you're very good. You see,
I'm married, with children, and I've never earned enough to put
anything by. Between men, I don't mind telling you I'm on my beam
ends. If I can't get hold of an advance note this week, it will mean
going to the pawnshop for Mrs. Kettle's next Sunday's dinner."
The red-haired man sighed. "Well, Captain," he said, "you needn't
thank me. It's just my duty to my employers to put this thing in your
way. But we'll not speak of it here in the open. Come along off to my
"Right," said Kettle. "Where have you got her?"
"She's lying at a buoy in the river. We can get a boat from the
Nothing much more was said between them. The big red-haired man
seemed indisposed for further talk, and Kettle was too proud to ask
questions. Together they walked with their short seaman's stride down
the wet, new streets of the seaport, and Captain Kettle made his
brain ache by hoping that this would not be another item to add to
his long list of disappointments. He had not earned a day's wage for
six months, and he was in such straits for want of money that he was
They got down to the steps and took a waterman's boat. They turned
up the piece of plank which lay in the stern sheets, and sat on the
dry side, and then pushed off into the dark river. The red-haired man
picked up the yoke lines, and steered the boat amongst the dense
shipping: past tiers of coasting schooners, and timber droghers, and
out-of-work clinker-built tugs; past ungainly iron steam tramps,
fishing craft, dredgers, and the other resting traffic of the Tyne;
and finally rounded up under a frieze of sterns, and ran alongside
the gangway of a 200 ton steam yacht.
"Hullo," said Kettle, "pleasure?"
"Well, hardly that," said the red-haired man. "Step aboard,
Captain, and I'll pay off the waterman."
"He'd better wait to take me ashore again."
"No, let him go. We may have a long talk. I'll put you ashore in
one of my own boats when you go. Now, Captain, here we are. Come
below to my room."
"You've got steam up, I see," said Kettle, as they walked aft
along the white, wet decks.
"My orders," said the red-haired man.
"May start any minute. We never know. My owner's a rare one for
changing his mind."
"Huh," said Kettle, "might be a woman."
"Devilish like a woman," said the red-haired man, drily. He opened
a door at the foot of the companionway, and turned an electric light
switch. "This is my room, Captain. Step right in. A drop of whisky
would be a good thing to keep out the cold whilst we talk. Excuse me
a minute while I go and get a couple of tumblers. I guess the
steward's turned in."
Kettle seated himself on a velvet-covered sofa, and looked round
at the elaborate fittings of the cabin. "Satin-wood panels," he
commented, "nickel battens to put the charts on, glass backed book
case, and silk bunk curtains: no expense spared anywhere. Lord! who
wouldn't sell a farm and go to sea? But the old man said she wasn't
pleasure! I wonder what the game is? Contraband, I guess: many a
yacht's great on that. Well, anyway, I've got to hear."
The red-haired man came back with two half-filled tumblers and a
water-jug. "Here's the poison," said he; "mix it according to your
"That's rather more than my usual whack," said Kettle, eyeing the
tumbler; "but it's a cold, wet night, so here's--By the way, Captain,
I'm afraid I've forgotten your name?"
"My name?" said the red-haired man. "Oh, yes. I'm Douglas--Captain
"Captain Douglas," said Kettle, thoughtfully. "No, I can't say I
recall it at present. Well, sir, anyway, here's your very good health
"Same," said the red-haired man, and absorbed his whisky and water
with the dexterity of an artist. Out of politeness Captain Kettle
finished his tumbler also; there is an etiquette about these
Silence filled the cabin for a minute or so, broken only by the
distant clatter of a shovel on a fire-bar, and Kettle looked at the
cabin clock. It was half-past eleven, and Mrs. Kettle would be
expecting him home. "Hullo," he said, "firing up? Oh, I suppose
you've got to keep steam in the donkey boiler, whilst you're in
harbour, to run your dynamo. By the way, you were talking about some
employment you could put in my way, Captain?" he added
"Employment!" said Douglas uneasily. "Oh, was I? Employment! Yes,
to be sure. Well, you see, Captain, it was my owner I was speaking
for, and I've been thinking it over, and perhaps on the whole you'd
better see her for yourself."
"Her?" said Kettle. "Is there a woman at the head of this
"A lady, call her. But look here, Captain, you're getting sleepy.
Why not turn in here for the night, and see her yourself in the
Kettle yawned, and his head nodded. "I am sleepy, and that's a
fact, though I don't know why I should be. But it wouldn't do for me
to turn in here for the night. Mrs. Kettle's expecting me at home,
and I've never broken word to her since I was married. I should take
it as kind, Captain, if you could give me some notion about this
piece of employment now, so that I could see whether it's worth---"
He yawned again, and struggled with his heavy eyelids--"You must
understand, please, Captain, that time is scarce with me; I must get
employment at once. I can't stand by and see my missus and youngsters
Captain Douglas swore, and hit the table with his fist. "It's
beastly hard," he said, "and I hate myself for bringing you
"What's that noise overhead?" said Kettle. "What are your crew
doing on deck? He tried to rise, but fell back stupidly on the sofa.
A harsh bell clanged from somewhere beneath, and the slop-slop of
water came to him through the yacht's side.
"She's swinging round in the stream, and someone's rung 'stand by'
to the engine room."
"Sounds like it," the red-haired man admitted.
Again Kettle tried to rise, and with an immense effort tottered to
his feet; but he had been given a drug too powerful for even his iron
will to fight against; and he swayed, and then pitched helplessly
sideways on to the carpet.
Tue last flickering gleams of consciousness were passing away from
him, but the truth of what had happened had flashed upon him at last.
"Shanghaied," he murmured; "by James! yes, Shanghaied, that's what
this means. Well, I pity the man--that shanghaied me.
By--James--yes." He breathed stertorously a time or two more, as
though trying to get out other words, and then dropped off into a
Then the door of the state-room creaked slyly open, and the
red-haired man started violently. He turned and saw a tall, dark
woman just crossing the threshold. "Donna Clotilde!" he said
nervously. "I thought you were ashore. Then it was by your
"That the yacht was got under way? Si, Señor. I saw you
come on board with the man we have been hunting for these last two
years, and as soon as the pair of you got below, I sent word to the
mate to call all hands, and get out of the Tyne as soon as the pilot
could manage it." She knelt beside Kettle's prostrate body, and
passed her hand caressingly over his damp forehead. "You are sure you
have not overdone it?" she asked.
"I am sure of nothing like that," he answered grimly. "But I gave
him the dose you measured out yourself, so what's done is your own
affair. I only added enough whisky to drown the taste, and the poor
little beggar drank it all down at one mouthful."
"I don't see that you need pity him much. He will be all right
when he wakes."
"When he wakes it will be at sea, and I have heard him speak of
his wife and kids. That's why I pity him, Donna Clotilde.
Incidentally I'm a bit sorry for myself." He stooped over the
prostrate man, and took a revolver from the back pocket of his
trousers. "Look there! You see the fellow took a gun with him even to
Hallett's. It's grown to be a habit with him. He's a dead shot, too,
and doesn't mind shooting."
"I didn't think you were a coward."
"You know quite well I'm not, Señorita. But this Captain
Kettle will remember that I was the fellow that decoyed him on board,
and he'll be pretty anxious to square up the account when he
"You are well paid on purpose to cover all risks," said the woman
with some contempt.
"And I shall be earning my pay," said the red-haired man doggedly.
"This small person here's a holy terror. Well, I must be getting on
deck to see the pilot take her down the river. Here, I'll put him on
the bed before I go. He'll sleep it off more comfortably there."
"You shall not touch him," said Donna Clotilde. "I will do all
that's needful. I have waited for this moment for three long
"You must be pretty keen on him if you can sit by him when he does
not know you."
"I have loved him since the first moment we met and he knows it;
and I do not mind who else knows it also. I am entirely without shame
in the matter: I glory in it. I am not one of your cold-blooded
"Well," he said, "you're paying me to run this yacht, and I must
be off up to see the pilot take her out of the river without losing
us any paint." And he went out of his room, and left Donna Clotilde
La Touche alone with this man by whom she was so fiercely
The yacht steamed out between Tyne pier heads, and the pilot left
her in the coble which had been towing stern first alongside. Her
destination was the Mediterranean, but she did not port her helm at
once. Instead, she held on straight out into the North Sea, and then
turned off to make the Mediterranean, North about; that is, through
the Pentland and round Scotland. She kept clear of Ireland also,
making a course for herself through the deeper wilderness of the
North Atlantic, avoiding the North-and-South traffic of the Bay, and
in fact sighting scarcely a single vessel till the red-haired man at
last starboarded his helm and put her East for the Straits.
The voyage was not one of monotony. Captain Kettle lay for the
first twenty-four hours in a state of snoring unconsciousness, and
when he did come to his wits again, found himself in a cabin alone.
He got up and stretched. His limbs were heavy and languid, but he was
not conscious of having received any hurt. He clapped a hand to the
region of his loins and nodded his grim head significantly. His
pistol was missing.
He looked in the glass and saw that his face above the red torpedo
beard was drawn and white, and that his eyes were framed in black,
dissipated-looking rings. There was an evil taste in his mouth too,
which even a bottleful of water did not allay. However, all of these
were minor details; they might be repaired afterwards. His first
requirement was revenge on the man who had lured him aboard.
His natural instincts of tidiness made him go through the ceremony
of toilette, and then he put on his cap, and, spruce and pale, went
out through the luxurious cabin and passageways of the yacht, and
found his way on deck.
The time was night; the cold air was full of moonshine; and
fortune favoured him insomuch that the red-haired man whom he sought
was himself standing a watch. He walked up to him without any
concealment, and then, swift as light, slung out his right fist,
sending every ounce of his weight after it, and caught the red-haired
man squarely on the peak of the jaw.
The fellow went down as if he had been pole-axed, and Kettle was
promptly on top of him. The three other hands of the watch on deck
were coming fast to their big captain's assistance, and Kettle made
the most of his time. He had been brought up in a school where he was
taught to hit hard, and hit first, and keep on hitting, and moreover
he was anatomically skilled enough to know where to hit with most
effect. He had no time then for punctilious fighting; he intended to
mark his man in return for value received; and he did it. Then the
three lusty deck hands of the watch came up and wrenched him off, and
held him for their officer in turn to take vengeance on.
Kettle stood in their grip, panting and pale, and exultant.
"You great ugly red-polled beggar!" he said, "I've made your face
match your head, but you needn't thank me for it. You'd dare to
Shanghai me, would you? By James! I'll make your ship a perfect hell
till I'm off it."
"You hit a man when he's not looking."
"Liar!" said Kettle. "You saw me plain enough. If you were half a
sailor you'd never have been hit."
"You're half my size. I couldn't fight you."
"Tell your hands to set me adrift, and try."
The big man was tempted, but he swallowed down his inclination. He
ordered the men who were holding Captain Kettle to set him free and
go away forward again, and then he thrust his own fists resolutely in
"Now," he said, when they were alone, "I own up to having earned
what you've given me, and I hope that'll suit you, for if it doesn't,
I'll shoot you like a rat with your own gun. You've handled me in a
way no other man has done before, and so you can tickle your pride
with that, and simmer down. If you want to know, I was a man like
yourself, hard up; and I was paid to kidnap you, and I'd have
kidnapped the devil for money just then."
"I know nothing about the devil," said Kettle acidly; "but you've
got me, and you couldn't very well find a worse bargain. If you are
not a fool, you will set me ashore at once."
"I shall act entirely by my owner's orders."
"Then trot out your owner, and I'll pass the time of day with him
next. I'm not particular. I'll kill the whole blooming ship's company
if I don't get my own way."
"Man, don't you be a fool. You can't hit a woman."
"Yes, I told you before--Donna Clotilde. You know her well
"Donna Clotilde who?"
The stiffening seemed suddenly to go out of the little man. He
stepped wearily across the deck, and leant his elbows on the yacht's
polished topgallant rail. "By James!" he murmured to the purple arch
of the night. "By James! that--that woman. What a ruddy mess." And
then he broke off into dreary musing. He had known this Donna
Clotilde La Touche before; had entered her employ in Valparaiso; had
helped her revolutionary schemes by capturing a warship for her. In
return she had conceived a mad infatuation for him.
But all the while he regarded her merely as his employer. In the
end he had been practically set adrift at sea in an open boat as a
penance for not divorcing his own wife and marrying her. And now she
was come to add to his other troubles by beginning to persecute him
again. It was hard, bitterly hard.
By some subtle transference of thought, the woman in her berth
below became conscious of his regard, grew restless, woke, got more
restless, dressed, came on deck, and saw this man with whom she was
so fiercely enamoured, staring gloomily over the bulwarks. With her
lithe, silent walk she stepped across the dewy decks under the
moonlight, and, without his hearing her, leant on the rail at his
side and flung an arm across his shoulders.
Captain Kettle woke from his musing with a start, stepped coldly
aside, and saluted formally. He had an eye for a good-looking woman,
and this one was deliciously handsome. He was always chivalrous
towards the other sex, whatever might be their characters; but the
fact of his own kidnapping at the moment of Mrs. Kettle's pressing
need, made him almost as hard as though a man stood before him as his
"Miss La Touche," he said, "do you wish me to remember you with
"I do not wish you to have need to remember me at all. As you
know, I wish you to stay with me always."
"That, as I have told you before, miss, is impossible, for more
reasons than one. You have done me infinite mischief already. I might
have found employment by this time had I stayed in South Shields, and
meanwhile my wife and children are hungry. Be content with that, and
set me ashore."
"I repeat the offer I made you in South America. Come with me, get
a divorce, and your wife shall have an income such as she never
dreamed of, and such as you never could have got her in all your life
otherwise. You know I am not boasting. As you must know by this, I am
one of the richest women in the world."
"Thank you; but I do not accept the terms. Money is not
"And meanwhile remember, I keep you on board here, whether you
like it or not; and, until you give way to what I want, your wife may
starve. So if she and your children are in painful straits, you must
recollect that it is entirely your fault."
"Quite so," said Kettle. "She will be content to starve when she
knows the reason."
Donna Clotilde's eyes began to glitter.
"There are not many men who would refuse if I offered them
"Then, miss, I must remain curious."
She stamped her foot. "I have hungered for you all this time, and
I will not give you up for mere words. You will come to love me in
time as I love you. I tell you you will, you must, you shall. I have
got you now, and I will not let you go again."
"Then, miss," said Kettle grimly, "I shall have to show you that I
am too hot to hold."
She faced him with heaving breast. "We will see who wins," she
"Probably," said Captain Kettle, and took off his cap.
"Good-night, miss, for the present. We know how we stand: the game
appears to begin between us from now." He turned deliberately away
from her, walked forward, and went below; and, after a little
waiting, Donna Clotilde shivered, and went back to her own luxurious
But if she was content to spend the rest of the night in mere
empty longing, Captain Kettle was putting his time to more practical
use. He was essentially a man of action.
Cautiously he found his way to the steward's storeroom, filled a
case with meat tins and biscuit, and then coming on deck again,
stowed it away in the lifeboat, which hung in davits out-board,
without being noticed. With equal success he took the boat's beaker
forward, filled it from a water tank, and got it fixed on its chocks
again, still without being seen. The moon was behind clouds, and the
darkness favoured him. He threw down the coils of the davit falls on
deck, cast off one from where it was belayed, took a turn and carried
the bight to the other davit so that he could lower away both tackles
But he was not allowed to get much further. The disused blocks
screamed like a parcel of cats as the ropes rendered through them;
there was a shrill whistle from the officer of the watch; and half a
dozen men from various parts of the deck came bounding along to
Captain Kettle let go both falls to overhaul as they chose, picked
up a greenheart belaying-pin out of the pin rail, and stood on the
defensive. But the forward fall kinked and jammed, and though the
little man fought like a demon to keep off the watch till he got it
clear, they were too many for him, and drove him to the deck by sheer
weight of numbers. He had cracked one man's forearm in the scuffle,
laid open another's face, and smashed in the front teeth of a third,
and they were rather inclined to treat him roughly, but the
red-haired skipper came up, and by sheer superior strength picked him
up, kicking and struggling, and hustled him off below whether he
liked it or no.
The lifeboat dangled half-swamped from the forward davit tackle,
and all hands had to be piped before they could get her on board
again; and by the time they had completed this job, there was another
matter handy to occupy their attention A fireman came up from below,
white-faced and trembling:
"The yacht's half full of water," he said.
Now that their attention was called to it, they noticed the
sluggish way she rode the water.
"She must have started a plate or something," the fireman went on
excitedly. "We've got both bilge pumps running and they won't look at
it. The water's coming in like a sluice."
"Carpenter," sang out the red-haired man, "come below with me and
see if we can find anything," and he led the way to the companion.
Between decks they could hear the water slopping about under the
flooring. It seemed a bad, an almost hopeless case.
Instinctively the red-haired man went to his own room to pocket
his valuables, and by chance he was moved to lift up the door in the
floor which covered the bath beneath it. Ah, there was the mischief.
The sea cock which filled the bath was turned on to the full, and the
iron tub was gushing water on every side. The next state-room was
empty, but the bath cock there was also turned on to the full; and
after going round the ship, and finally entering Kettle's room (and
covering him with a revolver), and turning off his water supply, he
found that the sea had been pouring inboard from no fewer than eight
"And this is your work, you little fiend, I suppose?" said the
red-haired man savagely.
"Certainly," said Captain Kettle. "Shoot me if you like, put me
ashore if you choose, but don't grumble if you find me a deuced ugly
passenger. I'm not in the habit of being made to travel where I don't
That afternoon Kettle contrived to set the yacht afire in three
separate places, and a good deal of damage was done (and night had
fallen again) before the scared crew managed to extinguish the
flames; and this time Donna Clotilde intervened. She asked for
Kettle's parole that he would attempt no further mischief; and when
this was flatly refused, incontinently put him in irons. The lady was
somewhat tigerish in her affections.
A second time Captain Kettle managed to get the yacht in a blaze,
at the imminent peril of immolating himself, and then, from lack of
further opportunity to make himself obnoxious, lay quiet in his lair
till such time as the yacht would of necessity go into harbour to
coal. The exasperated crew would cheerfully have murdered him if they
had been given the chance, but Donna Clotilde would not permit him to
be harmed. She was a young woman who, up to this, had always
contrived to have her own way, and she firmly believed that she would
tame Kettle in time.
When the yacht passed the Straits she had only four days' more
coal on board, and the executive (and Kettle) expected that she would
go into Gibraltar and lay alongside a hulk to rebunker. But Donna
Clotilde had other notions. She had the yacht run down the Morocco
coast, and brought to an anchor. So long as she had Captain Kettle in
her company upon the waters, she did not vastly care whether she was
moving or at a standstill.
"You cannot escape me here," she said to him when the cable had
roared from the hawse pipe, and the dandy steamer had swung to a
rest. "The yacht is victualled for a year, and I can stay here as
long as you choose. You had far better be philosophical and give in.
Marry me now, and liking will come afterwards."
Kettle looked at the tigerish love and resentment which blazed
from her black eyes, and answered with cold politeness that time
would show what happened: though, to tell the truth, indomitable
though he was as a general thing, he was at that time feeling that
escape was almost impossible. And so for the while he more or less
resigned himself to captivity.
Under the baking blue of a Mediterranean sky this one-sided
courtship progressed, Donna Clotilde alternating her ecstasies of
fierce endearment by paroxysms of invective, and Kettle enduring both
with equal coldness and immobility. The crew of the yacht looked on,
stolidly non-interferent, and were kept by their officers at cleaning
and painting, as necessary occupiers to the mind. But one or other of
them, of their own free will, always kept an eye on their guest,
whether he was on deck or below. He had given them a wholesale taste
of his quality, and they had an abject dread of what he might be up
to next if he was left alone. They quite understood that he would
destroy the yacht and all hands if, by doing so, he could regain his
But others, it seems, besides those already mentioned in this
narrative, were taking a lively interest in the smart yacht and her
people. She was at anchor in the bay of the Riff coast, and the
gentry who inhabited the beach villages, and the villages in the
hills behind the beach, had always looked upon anybody and anything
they could grab as their just and lawful prey. The Sultan of Morocco,
the war-ships of France, Spain and elsewhere, and the emissaries of
other Powers had time after time endeavoured to school them in the
science of civilisation without effect, and so they still remain
today, the only regularly practicing pirates in the Western
The yacht was sighted first from the hills; was reported to the
beach villages; and was reconnoitred under cover of night by a tiny
fishing-boat. The report was pleasing, and word went round. Bearded
brown men collected at an appointed spot, each with the arms to which
he was best accustomed; and when darkness fell, four large boats were
run dawn to the feather edge of the surf. There was no indecent
hurry. They did their work with method and carefulness, like men who
are used to it; and they arrived alongside the yacht at 3 a.m.,
confidently expecting to take her by surprise.
But the crew of the yacht, thanks to Captain Kettle's vagaries,
were not in the habit of sleeping over soundly; they never knew what
piece of dangerous mischief their little captive might turn his
willing hand to next; and, as a consequence, when the anchor watch
sang out his first alarm, not many seconds elapsed before every hand
aboard was on deck. The yacht was well supplied with revolvers and
cutlasses, and half a minute sufficed to get these up from below and
distributed, so that when the Riffians attempted to board, the
defenders were quite ready to give them battle.
Be this how it may, however, there is no doubt as to which side
got the first advantage. The yacht's low freeboard made but a small
obstacle to a climber from the large boats alongside, and neither the
deck hands nor the stokehold crew were any of them trained fighting
men. In their 'prentice hands the kicking revolvers threw high, and
were only useful as knuckledusters, and till they had thrown them
down, and got their cutlasses into play, they did hardly any
execution to speak about. The Riff men, on the other hand, had been
bred and born in an atmosphere of skirmish, and made ground
At an early point of the scuffle, Captain Kettle came on deck with
a cigar in his mouth, and hands in his pockets, and looked on upon
matters with a critical interest, but did not offer to interfere one
way or the other. It was quite a new sensation to him, to watch an
active fight, without being called upon to assist or arbitrate.
And then up came from below Donna Clotilde La Touche, dressed and
weaponed, and without a bit of hesitation, flung herself into the
turmoil She saw Kettle standing on one side, but neither besought nor
commanded him. She would have died sooner than ask for his help then,
and be met with a refusal.
Into the mêlée she went, knife and pistol, and there
is no doubt that her example, and the fury of her rush, animated the
yacht's crew, and made them stronger to drive the wall of their
assailants back. To give Donna Clotilde her due, she was as brave as
the bravest man, and, moreover, she was a certain shot at moderate
range. But, after her revolver was empty and the press closed round
her, it was not long before an expert hand twisted the knife from her
grasp, and then the end came quickly. An evil-smelling man noted her
glorious beauty, and marked her out as his special loot. He clapped a
couple of sinewy arms around her, and bore her away towards the
bulwarks and his boat.
Some one had switched on the electric deck lights, and the fight
was in a glow of radiance. Everything was to be clearly seen. Donna
Clotilde was being dragged resisting along the decks, and Kettle
looked on placidly smoking his cigar. She was heaved up on the
bulwarks; in another moment she would be gone from his path for
Still her lips made no sound, though her great, black eyes were
full of wild entreaty. But the eyes were more than Kettle could
stand. He stooped and picked up a weapon from amongst the litter on
deck, and rushed forward and gave a blow, and the Riffian dropped
limply, and Donna Clotilde stood by the yacht's bulwark breathless
"Now you get away below," he ordered curtly. "I'll soon clear this
rabble over the side."
He watched to see her obey him, and she did it meekly. Then he
gave his attention to the fight. He broke a packet of cartridges
which lay on the deck planks, picked up and loaded a revolver, and
commenced to make himself useful to the yacht's crew; and from that
moment the fortune of the battle turned.
Captain Owen Kettle was (and is) a beautiful fighter, and this was
just his fight. Against his cool-headed ferocity the Riffians gave
way like sand before waves. He did not miss a blow, he did not waste
a shot; all his efforts went home with the deadliest effect. His
voice, too, was a splendid ally. The yacht's crew had been doing
their utmost already: they had been fighting for their bare lives.
But with Kettle's poisonous tongue to lash them, they did far more;
they raged like wild beasts at the brown men who had invaded their
sacred decking, and drove them back with resistless fury.
"Hump yourselves, you lazy dogs!" Kettle shouted. "Keep them on
the move. Drive them over the bows. Murder those you can reach. Am I
to do all this job myself? Come on, you mongrels."
The red cutlasses stabbed and hacked, and the shrieks and yells
and curses of the fight grew to a climax; and then the Riffians with
a sudden panic gave way, and ran for the side, and tumbled over into
their boats. There was no quarter asked or given. The exasperated
yachtsmen cut down all they could reach even whilst they were
escaping; and when the sound had gone, they threw after them the
killed and wounded, to be rescued or lost as they chose. Afterwards,
having a moment's respite, they picked up their revolvers again,
loaded them, and kept up a spattering, ill-aimed fire till the boats
were out of reach. Then when they turned to look to their own killed
and hurt, they found a new crisis awaiting them.
Captain Kettle was on the top of the deck-house which served as a
navigating bridge, ostentatiously closing up the breach of the
revolver after reloading it. He wished for a hearing, and after what
they had seen of his deadly marksmanship, they gave it to him without
demur. His needs were simple. He wanted steam as soon as the
engineers could give it him, and he intended to take the yacht into
Gibraltar right away. Had anybody an objection to raise?
The red-haired man made himself spokesman. "We should have to go
to Gib. anyway," said he. "Some of us want a doctor badly, and three
of us want a parson to read the funeral service. Whether you can get
ashore once we do run into Gib., Captain, is your own concern."
"You can leave that to me safely," said Captain Kettle. "It will
be something big that stops me from having my own way now."
The men dispersed about their duties, the decks were hosed down,
and the deck lights switched off. After awhile Donna Clotilde came
gliding up out of the darkness, and stepped up the ladder to the top
of the deck-house. Kettle regarded her uneasily.
To his surprise she knelt down, took his hand, and smothered it
with burning kisses. Then she went back to the head of the ladder.
"My dear," she said, "I will never see you again. I made you hate me,
and yet you saved my life. I wish I thought I could ever forget
"Miss La Touche," said Kettle, "you will find a man in your own
station one of these days to make you a proper husband, and then you
will look back at this cruise and think how lucky it was you so soon
sickened, and kicked me away from you."
She shook her head and smiled through her tears. "You are
generous," she said. "Good-bye. Goodbye, my darling. Good-bye." Then
she went down the ladder, and Kettle never saw her again.
A quartermaster came up and took the wheel. The windlass engine
had been clacking, and the red-haired man called out from forward,
"Quartermaster," said Kettle.
"Yessir," said the quartermaster.
"Nor' nor' west and by west."
"Nor' no' west n'b' west it is, sir," said the quartermaster
CHAPTER X--MR. GEDGE'S CATSPAW
CAPTAIN OWEN KETTLE folded the letter-card, put it in his pocket,
and re-lit his cigar. He drew paper towards him, and took out a stub
of pencil and tried to make verse, which was his habit when things
were shaping themselves awry, but the rhymes refused to come. He
changed the metre: he gave up labouring to fit the words to the air
of "Swanee River," and started fresh lines which would go to the tune
of "Greenland's Icy Mountains," a rhythm with which at other times he
had been notoriously successful. But it failed him now. He could not
get the jingle; spare feet bristled at every turn; and the field of
poppies on which his muse was engaged became every moment more and
It was no use. He put down the pencil and sighed, and then,
frowning at himself for his indecision, took out the letter-card
again, and deliberately re-read it, front and back.
Captain Kettle was a man who made up his mind over most matters
with the quickness of a pistol shot; and once settled, rightly or
wrongly, he always stuck to his decision. But here, on the letter
card, was a matter he could not get the balance of at all; it refused
to be dismissed, even temporarily, from his mind; it involved
interests far too large to be hazarded by a hasty verdict either one
way or the other; and the difficulty in coming to any satisfactory
conclusion irritated him heavily.
The letter-card was anonymous, and seemed to present no clue to
its authorship. It was type-written; it was posted, as the stamp
showed, in Newcastle; it committed its writer in no degree whatever.
But it made statements which, if true, ought to have sent somebody to
penal servitude; and it threw out hints which, true or untrue, made
Captain Kettle heir to a whole world of anxiety and trouble.
It is an excellent academic rule entirely to disregard anonymous
letters, but it is by no means always an easy rule to follow. And
there are times when a friendly warning must be conveyed anonymously
or not at all. But Kettle did not worry his head about the ethics of
anonymous letter writing as a profession; his attention was taken up
by this type-written card from "Wellwisher," which he held in his
"Your ship goes to see never to reach port. There is an insurance
robbery cleverly rigged. You think yourself very smart, I know, but
this time you are being made a common gull of, or, if you like it
better, a catspaw."
And the writer wound up by saying: "I can't give you any hint of
how it's going to be done. Only I know the game's fixed. So keep your
weather eye skinned, and take the Sultan of Labuan safely out and
back, and maybe you'll get something more solid than a drink.
Captain Kettle was torn, as he read, by many conflicting
sentiments. Loyalty to Mr. Gedge, his owner, was one of them. Gedge
had sold him before, but that was in a way condoned by this present
appointment to the Sultan of Labuan. And he wanted very much to know
what were Mr. Gedge's wishes over the matter.
His own code of morality on this subject was peculiar. Ashore in
South Shields he was as honest as a bishop; he was a strict chapel
member; he did not even steal matches from the Captains' Room at
Hallett's, his house of call, which has always been a recognised
peculation. At sea he conceived himself to be bought, body and soul,
by his owner for the time being, and was perfectly ready to risk body
and soul in earning his pay.
But the question was, how was this pay to be earned?
Up till then he would have said: "By driving the Sultan of Labuan
over the seas as fast as could be done on a given coal consumption;
by ruthlessly keeping down expense; and, in fact, by making the
steamer earn the largest possible dividend in the ordinary way of
commerce." But this type written letter card hinted at other
purposes, which he knew were quite within the bounds of possibility,
and if he was being made into a catspaw---
He hit the unfinished poems on the table a blow with his fist. "By
James!" he muttered, "a catspaw? I didn't think of it in that light
before. Well, we'd better have a clear understanding about the
He got up, crammed the blue letter-card into his pocket, and took
"My dear!" he called down to Mrs. Kettle, who was engaged on the
family wash in the kitchen below, "I've got to run up to the office
to see Mr. Gedge. I don't think I quite understand his wishes about
running the boat. Get your tea when it's ready. I don't want to keep
you and the youngsters waiting."
Captain Kettle thought out many things as he journeyed from South
Shields to the grimy office of his employer in Newcastle, but his
data were insufficient, and he was unable to get hold of any scheme
by which he could safely approach what was, to say the very least of
it, a very delicate subject. Mr Gedge had hired him as captain of the
Sultan of Labuan, had said no word about losing her, and how was he
to force the man's confidence? It looked the most unpromising
enterprise in the world. Moreover, although in the outer world he was
as brave a fellow as ever lived, he had all a shipmaster's timidity
at tackling a shipowner in his lair, and this, of course, handicapped
In this mood, then, he was ushered upon Gedge in his office, and
saw him signing letters and casting occasional sentences to a young
woman who flicked them down in shorthand.
The shipowner frowned. He was very busy. "Well Captain," he said,
"what is it? Talk ahead. I can listen whilst I sign these
"It's a private question I'd like to ask you about running the
"Want Miss Payne to go out?"
"If I might trouble her so far."
Gedge jerked his head towards the door. "Type out what you've
got," he said. The shorthand writer went out and closed the glass
door after her. "Now, Kettle?"
Captain Kettle hesitated. It was an awkward subject to begin
"Now then, Captain, out with it quick. I'm in the devil of a
"I wish you'd let me know a little more exactly--in confidence, of
course--how you wish me to run this steamboat. Do you want me to--I
"Well, get on, get on."
"When do you want her back?"
Gedge leant back in his chair, tapped his teeth with the end of
his pen. "Look here, Gaptain," he said, "you didn't come here to talk
rot like this. You've had your orders already. You aren't a drinking
man, or I'd say you were screwed. So there's something else behind.
Come, out with it."
"I hardly know how to begin."
"I don't want rhetoric. If you've got a tale, tell it, if not---"
Mr. Gedge leant over his desk again and went on signing his
Captain Kettle stood the rudeness without so much as a flush. He
sighed a little, and then, after another few moments' thought, took
the letter-card from his pocket and laid it on his employer's table.
After Gedge had conned through and signed a couple more sheets, he
took the card up in his fingers and skimmed it over.
As he read, the colour deepened in his face, and Kettle saw that
he was moved, but said nothing. For a moment there was silence
between them, and Gedge tapped his teeth and was apparently lost in
thought. Then he said, "Where did you get this?"
"Through the post."
"And why did you bring it to me?"
"I thought you might have something to say about it."
"Shown it to anyone else?"
"No, sir; I'm in your service, and earning your pay."
"Yes; I pulled you out of the gutter again quite recently, and you
said you'd be able to get your wife's clothes out of pawn with your
"I'm very grateful to you for giving me the berth, sir, and I
shall be a faithful servant to you as long as I'm in your employ. But
if there's anything on, I'd like to be in your confidence. I know she
isn't an old ship, but---"
"She's uneconomical. Her engines are old-fashioned. It wouldn't
pay to fit her with triple expansions and new boilers."
"I see. You appear to know a lot about the ship, Captain--more
than I do myself, in fact. I know you're a small tin saint when
you're within hail of that Ebenezer, or Bethel, or whatever you call
it here ashore, but at sea you've got the name for not being
"At sea," said the little sailor with a sigh, "I am what I have to
be. But I couldn't do that. I'm a poor man, sir; I'm pretty nearly a
desperate man; but there are some kinds of things that are beyond me.
I know it's done often enough, but--you'll have to excuse me. I can't
lose her for you."
"Who's asking you?" said Gedge cheerily. "I'm not. Don't jump at
conclusions, man. I don't want the Sultan of Labuan lost. She's not
my best ship, I'll grant: but I can run her at a profit for all that;
and even if I couldn't, I am not the sort of man to try and make my
dividends out of Lloyd's. No, not by any means, Captain; I've got my
name to keep up."
Captain Kettle brought up a sigh of relief. "Glad to hear it, sir;
I'm glad to hear it. But I thought it best to have it out with you.
That beastly letter upset me."
Gedge laughed slily. "Well, if you want to know who wrote the
letter, I did myself."
Kettle started. He was obviously incredulous.
"Well, to be accurate, I did it by deputy. You hae yer doots, eh?
Hang it, man; what an unbelieving Jew you are." He pressed one of the
electric pushes by the side of his desk, and the shorthand writer
came in and stood at the doorway.
"Miss Payne, you typed this letter-card, didn't you?" he asked,
and Miss Payne dutifully answered "Yes."
"Thank you. That'll do. Well, Kettle, I hope you're satisfied now?
I sent this blessed card because I wanted to see how deep this shore
going honesty of yours went, which I've heard so much about; and now
I know, and you may take it from me that you'll profit by it
financially in the very near future. The shipmasters I've had to do
with have been mostly rogues, and when I get hold of a straight man I
know how to appreciate him. Now, good-bye, Captain, and a prosperous
voyage to you. If you catch the mid-night mail to-night from here,
you'll just get down to Newport tomorrow in time to see her come into
dock. Take her over at once, you know; we can't have any time wasted.
Here, good-bye. I'm frantically busy."
But, busy though he might be, Mr. Gedge did not immediately return
to signing his letters after Captain Kettle's departure. Instead, he
took out a handkerchief and wiped his forehead and wiped his hands,
which for some reason seemed to have grown unaccountably clammy: and
for awhile he lay back in his writing chair like a man who feels
Captain Kettle, however, went his ways humming a cheerful air, and
as the twelve o'clock mail roared out that night across the
high-level bridge, he settled himself to sleep in his corner of a
third-class carriage, and to dream the dreams of a man who, after
many vicissitudes, has at last found righteous employment. It was a
new experience for him and he permitted himself the luxury of
enjoying it to the full.
A train clattered him into Monmouthshire some twelve hours later,
and he stepped out on Newport platform into a fog raw and fresh from
the Bristol Channel. His small, worn portmanteau he could easily have
carried in his hand, but there is an etiquette about these matters
which even hard-up shipmasters, to whom a shilling is a financial
rarity, must observe; and so he took a four-wheeler down to the
agent's office, and made himself known. The Sultan of Labuan, it
seemed, had come up the Usk and gone into dock barely an hour before,
and so Kettle, obedient to his orders, went down at once to take her
It was not a pleasant operation, this ousting another man from his
livelihood, and as Kettle had been supplanted a weary number of times
himself, he thought he knew pretty well the feelings of the man whom
he had come to replace. His reception, however, surprised him.
Williams, the former master of the Sultan of Labuan, handed over his
charge with an air of obvious and sincere relief, and Kettle felt
that he was being eyed with a certain embarrassing curiosity. The man
was not disposed to be verbally communicative.
"You look knocked up," said Kettle.
"Might well be," retorted Captain Williams. "I haven't had a
blessed wink of sleep since I pulled my anchors out of Thames
"Not had bad weather, had you?"
"No, weather's been right enough. Bit thickish, that's all."
"What's kept you from having a watch below, then?"
"'Fraid of losing the ship, Captain. I never been up before the
Board of Trade yet, and don't want to try what it feels like."
"Oh!" said Kettle, with a sigh, "it's horrible; they're brutes. I
know. I have been there."
"So I might have guessed," said Williams drily.
"Look here," said Kettle, "what are you driving at?"
"No offence, Captain, no offence. I'll just shut my head now.
Guess I've been talking too much already. Result of being over-tired,
I suppose. Let's get on with the ship's papers. They are all in this
"But I'd rather you said out what you got to say."
"Thanks, Captain, but no. This is the first time we've met, I
"So far as I remember."
"Well, there you are then; personally you no doubt are a very nice
pleasant gentleman, but still there's no getting over the fact that
you're a stranger to me; and anyway, you're in Gedge's employ, and
I'm not; and there's a law of libel in this country which gets up and
hits you whether you are talking truth or lies."
"English laws are beastly, and that's a fact."
"Reading about them in the paper's quite enough for me. Now,
Captain, suppose we go ashore with these papers, and I can sign off
and you can sign on. Afterwards we'll have a drop of whisky together,
if you like, just to show there's no ill-will."
"You are very polite, Captain," said Kettle. "I'm sure I don't
like the notion of stepping in to take away your employment. But if
it hadn't been me, he'd have got someone else."
The other turned on him quickly.
"Don't think you're doing me a bad turn, Captain, because you
aren't. I was never so pleased to step out of a chart-house in my
life. Only thing is, I hope I aren't doing you a bad turn by letting
you step in."
"By James!" said Kettle, "do speak plain, Captain; don't go on
hinting like this."
"I am maundering on too much, Captain, and that's a fact. Result
of being about tired out, I suppose. But you must excuse me speaking
further: there's that confounded libel law to think about. Now,
Captain, here's the key of the chart-house door, and if you'll let
me, I'll go out first and you can lock it behind you. You'll find one
of the tumblers beside the water-bottle broken; it fell out of my
hand this morning just after I'd docked her; but all the rest is
according to the inventory; and I'll knock off three-pence for the
tumbler when we square up."
They plunged straightway into the aridities of business, and kept
at it till the captaincy had been formally laid down and handed over,
and then the opportunity for further revelations was gone.
Captain Williams was clearly worn out with weariness;
responsibility had kept him going till then, but now that
responsibility had ended he was like a man in a trance. His eyes
drooped; his knees failed drunkenly; he was past speech; and if
Kettle had not by main force dragged him off to a bed at a temperance
hotel, he would have toppled down incontinently and slept in the
gutter like one dead. As it was he lay on the counterpane in the
heaviest of sleep, the picture of a strong man worn out with watching
and labour, and for a minute or so Kettle stood beside the bed and
gazed upon him thoughtfully.
"By James!" he muttered, "if I could make you speak, Captain, I
believe you could tell a queerish tale."
But Kettle did not loiter by this taciturn bedside. He had signed
on as master of the Sultan of Labuan; he was in Mr. Gedge's employ,
and earning Mr. Gedge's pay; and every minute wasted on a steamer
means money lost. He went briskly across to the South dock and set
the machinery of business to work without delay. There was grumbling
from mates, engineers, and crew that they had been given leisure for
scarcely a breath of shore air, but Kettle was not a man who courted
popularity with his underlings by offering them indulgences. He
stated that their duty was to get the water ballast out and the coal
under hatches in the shortest time on record, and mentioned that he
was the man who would see it done.
The men grumbled, of course; behind their driver's back they
swore; two deck hands and three of the stokehold crew deserted,
leaving their wages, and were replaced by others from the shipping
office; and still the work went remorselessly on, under the grey glow
of the fog so long as the daylight lasted, and then under the glare
of raw electric arc lamps. The air was full of gritty dust and the
roar of falling coal. A waggon was shunted up, dandled aloft in
hydraulic arms, ignominiously emptied end first, and then put to
ground again and petulantly sent away to find a fresh load, whilst
its successor was being nursed and relieved. Two hundred tons to the
hour was what the hydraulic staith could handle, but for all that it
did not break the coal unduly.
In the forehold the trimmers gasped and choked as they steered the
black avalanches into place; and presently another of the huge
staithes crawled up along the dock wall, and with a gasping tank-loco
and a train of waggons in attendance, and then the Sultan of Labuan
was being loaded through the after hatch also. It was a triumph of
machinery and organisation, and tired men in a dozen departments
cursed Kettle for keeping them at such a remoreless pressure over
Down to her fresh-water Plimsol the steamer was sunk, and then the
loading ceased. Even Kettle did not dare to overload. He knew quite
well that there were the jealous eyes of a Seaman and Fireman's Union
official watching him from somewhere on the quays, and if she was
trimmed an inch above her marks the Sultan of Labuan would never be
let go through the outer dock-gate. So the burden was limited to its
legal bounds; and Kettle got his clearance papers with the same
fierce, business-like bustle; and came back and stepped lightly up on
to the tramp's upper bridge.
The pilot was there waiting for him, half admiring, half repelled;
the old blue-faced mate and the carpenter were on the
forecastle-head; the second mate was aft; the chief himself and the
third engineer were at the throttle and the reversing gear below. The
ship's entire complement had quite surrendered to the sway of this
new task-master, and stood in their coal-grime and their tiredness
ready to jump at his bidding.
Bristol Channel tides are high, and the current of the Usk is
swift. It was going to be quick work if they did not miss the tide,
and the pilot, who had no special stake in the matter, said it could
not be done. Kettle, however, thought otherwise, and the pilot in
consequence saw some seamanship which gave him chills down the
"By gum! Captain," he said, when they were fairly out of the
river, "you can handle her."
"Wait till I know her, pilot, and then I'll show you."
"Haven't got nerves enough. Look you, Captain, you'll be having a
bad crumple-up if you bustle a big loaded steamboat about docks at
"Never bent a plate in my life."
"Well, I hope you never will. Look you, now, you're a little tin
wonder in the way of seamanship."
"Quartermaster," said Kettle, "tell my steward to bring two goes
of whisky up here on the bridge. Pilot, if you say such things to me,
you'll make me feel like a girl with a new dress, and I want a drop
of Dutch courage to keep my blushes back."
"Well," said the pilot when the whisky came, "here's lots of
cargo, Captain, and good bonuses."
"Here's deep-draught steamers for you, pilot, and plenty of water
The whisky drained down its appointed channels, and the pilot
said: "By the bye, I've this for you, Captain," and brought out a
"Typewritten address," said Kettle. "No postmark on the stamp.
Who's it from?"
"Man I came across. Look you, though, I didn't know him; but he
said there was a useful tip in the letter which it would please you
to have after you sailed."
Kettle tore off the perforated edges, and looked inside the card.
Here was another anonymous communication, also from "Well-wisher,"
and, as before, warning him against the machinations of Gedge. "Got
no idea who the man was who gave it you?" he asked.
"Well, I did have a bit of talk with him and a drink, and I rather
gathered he might have had something to do with insurance; but he
didn't say his name. Why, isn't he a friend of yours?"
"I rather think he is," said Kettle; "but I can't be quite sure
yet." He did not add that the anonymous writer guaranteed him a
present of £50 if the Sultan of Labuan drew no insurance money
till he had moored her in Port Said.
From the very outset the voyage of the Sultan of Labuan was
unpropitious. Before she was clear of the Usk it was found that three
more of her crew had managed to slip away ashore, and so were gone
beyond replacement. Whilst she was still in the brown, muddy waters
of the Bristol Channel, there were two several breakdowns in the
engine-room which necessitated stoppages and anxious repairs. The
engines of the Sultan of Labuan were her weak spot, for otherwise her
hull was sound enough. But these machines were old, and wasteful in
steam, and made all the difference in economy which divides a profit
from a loss in these modern days of fierce sea competition.
With Murgatroyd, the old blue-faced mate, Kettle had been
shipmates before, and there existed between the two men a strong
dislike and a certain mutual esteem. They interviewed over duty
matters when the pilot left. "Mr. Murgatroyd," said the little
skipper, "you'll keep hatches off, and do everything for ventilation.
This Welsh coal's as gassy as petroleum."
"Ay, aye," rumbled the mate; "but how about when heavy weather
comes, and the decks are full of water?"
"You'll have fresh orders from me before then. Get hoses to work
now and sluice down. The ship's a pig-stye!"
"Ay, aye; but the hands are dog-tired."
"Then it's your place to drive them. I should have thought you'd
been long enough at sea to know that. But if you aren't up to your
business, just say, and I'll swop you over with the second mate right
The old mate's face grew purpler. "If you want a driver," he said,
"you shall have one;" and with that he went his ways and roused the
tired deck-hands to work, after the time-honoured methods.
But if Captain Kettle did not spare his crew, he was equally hard
on himself. He was at sea now and wearing his sea-going conscience,
which was an entirely different piece of mental mechanism from that
which regulated his actions ashore. He had received Mr. Gedge's
precise instructions to run the coal boat in the ordinary method, and
he intended to do it relentlessly and to the letter.
He had had his doubts about Mr. Gedge's real wishes before, and
even the episode of Miss Payne, the typewriter, had not altogether
deceived him; but the second letter from "Well-wisher," which the
pilot brought on board, cleared the matter up beyond a doubt. There
was not the faintest chance that Gedge had written that; there was
not the faintest reason to disbelieve now that Gedge wished his
uneconomical steamboat off his hands, and had arranged for her never
again to come into port.
Now, properly approached--say with sealed orders to be opened only
at sea--I think there is very little doubt but what Captain Kettle
would have undertaken to carry out this piece of nefarious business
himself. The average mariner thinks no more of "making the insurance
pay" than the average traveller does of robbing his fellow countrymen
by the importation of Belgian cigars and Tauchnitz novels from a
Channel packet. And with Kettle, too, loyalty to an employer, so long
as that employer treated him squarely, ranked high. But for a second
time "Well-wisher" had repeated the word "catspaw," and for his
purpose he could not have used a better spur. The little captain s
face grew grim as he read it. "By James!" he muttered, "if that's the
game he's trying to play, I'll make him rue it."
However, though at the beginning of a voyage it may be easy to
make a resolve like this, it is not so easy to carry it into
practical effect. If the machinery was on board, human or otherwise,
for making the Sultan of Labuan fail to reach port, it was not at all
probable that Kettle would find it before he saw it in working order.
When arrangements for a bit of barratry of this kind are gone about
nowadays, they are performed with shrewdness. Your ingenious
gentleman, who makes a devil of clockwork and guncotton to blow out a
steamer's bottom, or makes a compact with one of her crew to open the
bilge-cocks, is dexterous enough to cover up his trail very
completely, having a wholesome awe of the law of the land, and a
large distaste for penal servitude.
Moreover, Captain Owen Kettle was not the man to receive
gratuitous information on such a point from his underlings. To begin
with, he was the Sultan of Labuan's captain, and, by the immemorial
etiquette of the sea, a ship's captain is always a man socially
apart. He is a dictator for the time being, with supreme power of
life and death; is addressed as "Sir"; and would be regarded with
social awe and coldness by his own brother, if the said brother were
on board as one of the mates or one of the assistant engineers.
With the chief engineer alone, although he does not sit at meat
with him, may a merchant captain unbend, and with the chief of the
Sultan of Labuan Kettle had picked a difference over a commission on
bunkering not ten minutes after he had first stepped on board. He had
the undoubted knack of commanding men; he could look exactly after
his employer's property; but he had an unfortunate habit for making
himself hated in the process.
Over that initial episode of washing the coal-grime from the
ships' outer fabric, he had already come into intimate contact with
his crew. The tired deck-hands had refused duty; clumsy old
Murgatroyd had endeavoured to force them into it in his usual way,
and had been knocked down in the scuffle and trampled on; when up
came Kettle, already spruce and clean, and laid impartially into the
whole grimy gang of them with a deck-scrubber. They were new to their
little skipper's virtues, and thought at first that they would treat
him as they had already treated the fat old mate, and as a
consequence bleeding faces and cracked heads were plentiful, and
curses went up, bitter and deep, in half the tongues of Europe. But
Kettle still remained spruce and clean, and aggressive and
It takes some art thoroughly to thrash a dozen savage full-grown
men with a light broom without breaking the stick or knocking off the
head, and the crew of the Sultan of Labuan were not slow to recognise
their Captain's ability. But at the same time they were not inspired
with any overpowering love for him.
In the course of that night an iron belaying-pin whisked out of
the darkness, and knocked off his cap as he stood on the upper
bridge, and just before the dawn a chunk of coal whizzed up and
smashed itself into splinters on the wheelhouse wall, not an inch
from his ear. But as Kettle replied to the first of these compliments
by three prompt revolver shots almost before the thrower had time to
think, and rushed out and caught the second assailant by the
neck-scruff and forced him to eat up every scrap of coal that had
been thrown, the all-nation crew decided that he was too ugly to
tackle usefully, and tacitly agreed to let him alone for the future,
and to do their lawful work. The which, of course, was exactly what
By this time the Sultan of Labuan had run down the Cornish coast,
had rounded Land's End, and was standing off on a course which would
make Finisterre her next land-fall. The glass was sinking steadily;
the seascape was made up of blacks and whites and lurid greys; but
though the air was cold and raw, the weather was not any worse than
need have been expected for the time of year. The hatches were off,
and a good strong smell of coal-gas billowed up from below and
mingled with the sea scents.
With all a northern sailor's distrust for a "Dago," Kettle had
spotted his spruce young Italian second mate as Gedge's probable
tool, and watched him like the apple of his eye. No man's actions
could have been more innocent and normal, and this, of course, made
things all the more suspicious. The engineer staff, who had access to
the bilge-cocks, and could arrange disasters to machinery, were
likewise, ex-officio, suspicious persons, but as it was quite
impossible to overlook them at all hours and on all occasions, he had
regretfully to take them very largely on trust.
Blundering, incompetent old Murgatroyd, the mate, was the only man
on board in whose honesty Kettle had the least faith, simply because
he considered him too stupid to be intrusted with any operation so
delicate as barratry, and to Murgatroyd he more or less confided his
"I hear there's a scheme on board to scuttle this steamboat," he
said, "because she's too expensive to run. Well, Mr. Gedge, the
owner, gave me orders to run her, and he told me he made a profit on
her. I'm going by Mr. Gedge's words, and I'm going to take her to
Port Said. And let me tell you this: if she stops anywhere on the
road, and goes down, all hands go down with her, even if I have to
shoot them myself. So they'd better hear what's in the wind, and have
a chance to save their own skins. You understand what I mean?"
"Ay," grunted the mate.
"Well, just let word of it slip out--in the right way, you
"Ay, aye. Hadn't we better get the hatches on and battened down?
She's shipping it green pretty often now, and the weather's
worsening. There's a good slop of water getting down below, and they
say it's all the bilge pumps can do to keep it under."
"Mr. Meddle Murgatroyd," Kettle snapped, "are you master of this
blamed ship, or am I? You leave me to give my orders when I think
fit, and get down off this bridge."
"Ay," grunted the mate, and waddled clumsily down below.
The old man's suggestion about the hatches had touched upon a sore
point. Kettle knew quite well that it was dangerous to leave the
great gaps in the deck undefended by planking and tarpaulin. A high
sea was running, and the heavily-laden coal-boat rode both deep and
sodden. Already he had put her a point and a half to westward of her
course, so as to take the on-coming seas more fairly on the bow.
But still he hung on to the open hatches. The coal below was gassy
to a degree, and if the ventilation was stopped it would be terribly
liable to explosion. The engine and boiler rooms were bulkheaded off,
and there was no danger from these; but the subtle coal gas would
spread over all the rest of the vessel's living quarters--as the
smell hinted--and a carelessly lit match might very comfortably send
the whole of her decks hurtling into the air. Kettle had no wish to
meet Mr. Gedge's unspoken wishes by an accident of this sort.
However, it began to be plain that as they drew nearer to the Bay
the weather worsened steadily, and at last it came to be a choice
between battening down the hatches both forward and aft, or being
incontinently swamped. Hour after hour Kettle in his glistening
oilskins had been stumping backwards and forwards across the upper
bridge, watching his steamboat like a cat, and holding on with his
order to the very furthest moment. But at last he gave the command to
batten down, and both watches rushed to help the carpenter carry it
out. The men were horribly frightened. It seemed to them that in that
gale, and with that sea running, it was insane not to have battened
her down long before.
The hands clustered on the lurching iron decks with the water
swirling against them waist-high, and shipped the heavy hatch covers,
and got the tarpaulins over; and then the Norwegian carpenter keyed
all fast with the wedges, working dike some amphibious animal half
his time under water.
The Sultan of Labuan carried no cowl ventilators to her holds, and
even if these had been fitted they would have been carried away. So
from the moment of battening down, the gas which oozed from the coal
mixed with the air till the whole ship became one huge explosive
bomb, which the merest spark would touch off. Captain Kettle called
his mate to him and gave explicit orders.
"You know what a powder hulk is like, Mr. Mate?"
"Ay," said Murgatroyd.
"Well, this ship is a sight more dangerous, and we have got to
take care if we do not want to go to Heaven quick. It's got to be
'all lights out' aboard this ship till the weather eases and we can
get hatches off again. Go round now and see it done yourself, Mr.
Murgatroyd, please. Watch the doctor dowse the galley fire, and then
go and take away all the forecastle matches so the men can't smoke.
Put out the side lights, the masthead light, and the binnacle lamps.
Quartermasters must steer as best they can from the unlit card."
"Ay, aye. But you don't mean the side lights, too, do ye? There's
a big lot of shipping here in the Bay, and we might easy get run
down"--"The old man caught an ugly look from Kettle's face and broke
off. And grumbling some ancient saw about "obeying orders if you
break owners," he shuffled off down the ladder.
Heavier and heavier grew the squalls, carrying with them spindrift
which beat like gravel against the two oil-skinned tenants of the
collier's upper bridge; worse and worse grew the sea. Great green
waves reared up like walls, crashed on board, and filled the lower
decks with boiling, yeasty surge. The funnel-stays and the scanty
rigging hummed like harp strings to the gale.
Deep though she was in the water, there were times when her stern
heaved up clear, and the propeller raced in a noisy catherine wheel
of fire and foam. On every side, ahead, abeam, and astern, were
nodding yellow lights, jerked about by unseen ships over thunderous,
unseen waves. It was a regular Biscay gale, such as all vessels may
count on in that corner of the seas one voyage out of eight, a gale
with heavy seas in the midst of a dense crowd of shipping. But there
was nothing in it which seamanship under ordinary circumstances could
Captain Kettle hung on hour after hour under shelter of the
dodgers on the upper bridge, a small, wind-brushed figure in yellow
oilskins and black rubber thigh boots. About such a "breeze" in an
ordinary way he would have thought little. Taking his vessel through
it with the minimum of danger was only part of the daily mechanical
routine. But he stood there, a prey to the liveliest anxiety.
The thousand and one dangers in the Bay appeared before him
magnified. If the ship for any sudden and unavoidable reason went
down, the odds were that he himself and all hands would be drowned;
but at the same time Gedge would be gratified in so easily touching
the coveted insurance money. The fear of death did not worry the
little skipper in the very least degree whatever, but he had a most
thorough objection to being in any way Mr. Gedge's catspaw.
Twice they had near escapes from being run down. The first time
was from a sudden blundering Cardiff ore steamer, which was driving
north through the thick of it, with very little of herself showing
except two stumpy masts and a brine-washed smokestack. She would have
obviously drowned out any look-out on her fore deck, and the bridge
officers got too much spindrift in their eyes to see with any
clearness. But time is money, and even Cardiff ore steamers must make
passages, and so her master drove her blindly ahead full steam,
slap-slop-wallow, and trusted that other people would get out of his
Kettle's keen eyes picked her up out of the sea mists just in
time, and ported his own helm, and missed her sheering bow with the
Sultan of Labuan's quarter by a short two fathoms. A touch in that
insane turmoil of sea would have sent both steamers down to the
shells and the flickering weed below; but there was no touch, and so
each went her way with merely a perfunctory interchange of curses,
which were blown into nothingness by the gale. Escapes on these
occasions don't count, and it is etiquette not to speak about them
The second shave was from a big white-painted Cape liner, which
came up from astern, lit like a theatre, and almost defying the very
gale itself. Her look-outs and officers were on the watch for lights.
But the unlit collier, which was half her time masked by the seas
like a half-tide rock, never struck their notice.
Kettle, with all a shipmaster's sturdy dislike for shifting his
helm when he legally had the right of the road, held on till the
great knife-like bow was not a score yards from his taffrail. But
then he gave way, roared out an order to the quartermaster at the
wheel, and the Sultan of Labuan fell away to starboard. As if the
coal-boat had been a magnet, the Cape liner followed, drawing nearer
hand over fist.
Changing direction further was as dangerous as keeping on as he
was, so Kettle bawled to the quartermaster to "Steady on that," and
then the great, white steam-hotel suddenly seemed to wake to her
danger, and swerved off on her old course again. So close were they,
that Kettle fancied he could hear the quick, agitated rattle of her
wheel engines as they gave her a "hard down" helm. And he certainly
saw officers on her high upper-bridge peering at him through the
drifting sea-smoke with a curiosity that was more than pleasant.
"Trying to pick out the old tub's name," he mused grimly, "so as
to report me for carrying no lights. By James, I wish some of those
dandy passenger-boat officers could try this low-down end of the
tramping trade for a bit."
Night went and day came, grey, and wet, and desolate. The heavier
squalls had passed away, but a whole gale still remained, and the sea
was, if anything, heavier. The coal-boat rarely showed all of herself
at once above the waters. Her progress was a succession of dives, her
decoration (when she was visible) a fringe of spouting scuppers.
Watch had succeeded watch with the dogged patience of sailor-men; but
watch after watch Kettle hung on behind the canvas dodgers at the
weather end of the bridge. He was red-eyed and white-cheeked, his
torpedo beard was foul with sea salt, he was unpleasant to look upon,
but he was undeniably very much awake, and when the accident came
(which he concluded was Mr. Gedge's effort to realise the coal-boat's
insurance), he was quite ready to cope with emergencies.
From somewhere in the bowels of the ship there came the muffled
boom of an explosion; the bridge buckled up beneath his feet, so that
he was very nearly wrenched from his hold; and the iron main deck,
which at that moment happened to be free of water, rippled and heaved
like a tin biscuit-box moves when it is kicked. There was a tinkle of
broken glass as some blown-out skylights crashed back upon the
He looked forward and he looked aft, and to his surprise he saw
that both hatches were still in place, and that very little actual
damage was visible, and then he had his attention occupied by another
matter. From the stokehold, from the forecastle and from the
engine-room the frightened crew poured out into the open, and some
scared wretch cried out to "lower away zem boats."
Here was a situation that needed dealing with at once, and Kettle
was the man to do it. From beneath his oilskins he lugged out the
revolver which they knew so painfully already, and showed it with
ostentation. "By James!" he shouted, "do you want to be taught who's
captain here? I'll give cheap lessons if you ask."
His words reached them above the hooting and brawl of the gale,
and they were cowed into sullen obedience.
"Carpenter, take a couple of men and away below with you and see
what's broke. You blessed split-trousered mechanics, away down to
your engine-room or I'll come and kick you there. The second mate and
his watch get tarpaulins over those broken skylights. Where's Mr.
Murgatroyd? In his bunk, I suppose, as usual: not his watch: no
affair of his if the ship's blown to Heaven when he's off duty. Here,
steward, go and turn out Mr. Murgatroyd."
The men bustled about after their errands, and the engines, which
had stopped for a minute, began to rumble on again. Captain Kettle
paraded the swaying bridge and awaited developments.
Presently the bare-headed steward fought his way up the
bridge-ladder against the tearing wind, an bawled out some startling
news. "It's Mr. Murgatroyd's room that's been blown up, sir. 'E's
made a 'orrid mess of. Chips says 'e picked up 'is lighted pipe in
the alley way, sir, ant it must 'a' been 'im that fired the gas."
"The blamed old thickhead," said Kettle savagely.
"'E was arskin' for you, sir, was the mate, though we couldn't
rightly make out what 'e said."
"He won't be pleased to see me. Smoking, by James! was he!"
"The mate's burnt up like a piece of coke," said the steward
persuasively. "'E cawn't last long."
The carpenter came up on the bridge. "Dose blowup vas not so bad
for der old ship, sir. She nod got any plates started dot I can see.
Dey have der bilge-pumps running, but dere's nod much water. Und der
mate, sir. He say he vould like to see you. He's in ver' bad
"All right," said Kettle, "I'll go and see him." He called up the
Italian second mate on to the bridge and gave over charge of the ship
to him, and then went below.
The author of all the mischief, the stupid old man, who through
sheer crass ignorance had gone to bed and smoked a pipe in this
powder mine, lay horribly injured in the littered alley-way, with a
burst straw cushion under the shocking remnants of his head. Most of
his injuries were plain to the eye, and it was a marvel that he
lingered on at all. It was very evident that he could not live for
long, and it was clear, too, that he wanted to speak.
Kettle's resentment died at the sight of this poor charred cinder
of humanity, and he knelt on the litter and listened. The sea noises
and the ship noises without almost drowned the words, and the old
mate's voice was very weak. It was only here and there he could pick
up a sentence.
"Nearly got to wind'ard of you, skipper ... It was me ... Gedge
paid me fifty pound for the job ... scuttle her ... after Gib...
would 'a' done it, too ... in spite of your blooming teeth."
The old fellow broke off, and Kettle leant near to him. "How were
you going to scuttle her?" he asked.
There was no answer. A second time he repeated the question, and
then again a third time. The mate heard him. The sea roared outside,
the wind boomed overhead, the cluttered wreckage clanged about the
alley-way. The old man was past speech, but he opened an eye, his one
remaining eye, and slowly and solemnly winked.
It was his one recorded attempt at humour during a lifetime, and
the effort was his last. His jaw dropped, wagging to the thud of the
ship, his eye opened in a glassy, unseeing stare, and he was as dead
a thing as the iron deck he lay upon.
"Well, matey," said Kettle, apostrophising the poor charred form,
"we've been shipmates before, but I never liked you. But, by James!
you had your points. You shall be buried by a pukka parson in Gib.,
and have a stone put over your ugly old head, if I have to pay for it
myself. I think I can hammer out a bit of verse, too, which'll make
that stone a thing people will remember.
"By James! though, won't Gedge be mad over this! Gedge will think
I spotted the game you were plotting for him, and murdered you out of
hand. Well that's all right, and it won't hurt you, matey. I want
Gedge to understand I'm a man that's got to be dealt straight with. I
want Mr. Blessed Gedge to understand that I'm not the kind of lamb to
make into a catspaw by any manner of means. I bet he does tumble to
that, too. But I bet also that he sacks me from this berth before
I've got the coals over into the lighters at Port Said. By James!
yes, Gedge is a man that sticks to his plans, and as he can't lose
the Sultan of Labuan with me as her skipper, he'll jerk another old
man into the chart-house on the end of a wire, who'll do the job more
to his satisfaction."
The Norwegian carpenter came up, and asked a question.
"No, no, Chips; put the canvas away. I want you to knock up some
sort of a box for the poor old Mate, and we'll take him to Gib., and
plant him there in style. I owe him a bit. We'll all get safe enough
to Port Said now."
CHAPTER XI--THE SALVING OF THE "DUNCANSBY HEAD"
"THE boat's an old P. and O. lifeboat," said Mr. McTodd,
"diagonal-built of teak, and quite big enough for the purpose. Of
course something with steam in her would be better, because we're
both steamermen; but that's out of the question. That would mean too
many to share. So the thing is, can you buy this lifeboat and victual
her for the trip? I'm no' what ye might call a capitalist myself just
for the moment."
Captain Kettle eyed the grimy serge of his companion with
disfavour. "You don't look it," he said. "That last engine-room you
got sacked from must have been a mighty filthy place."
"'Twas," said McTodd. "But as it happened, I didn't get the sack.
I ran from her here in Gib., because I'd no wish to get back to
England and have this news useless in my pocket. And, of course, I
had to let slide the eight pound in wages that was due to me."
"By James! it's beginning to look like business when a Scottie
runs away from siller that he's righteously earned."
"Well, I'm no' denying it was a speculation. It's a bit of a
speculation, if ye come to reckon up, asking a newly-sacked
sea-captain to join in such a venture."
Kettle's face hardened. "See here," he said, "keep a civil tongue
in your head or go out of this lodging. I'm to be treated with
respect, or I don't deal with you."
"Then let my clothes alone and be civil yourself. It's a mighty
dry shop this, Captain."
"I've no whisky in the place nor spare money to buy it. If we're
to go on with this plan of yours, we shall want every dollar that can
"That's true, and neither me nor 'Tonio have ten shillings between
Kettle gave up pacing the room and sat himself on the edge of the
table and frowned. "I don't see the use of taking either Antonio, if
that's his name, or your other Dago. I don't like the breed of them.
You and I would be quite enough to handle an open boat, and quite
able to take care of ourselves. If the wreck's got the money on her,
and we finger it, we'll promise to bring them back their share all
right; and if the thing's a fizzle, as it's very likely to be, well,
they'll be saved a very unpleasant boat cruise."
"It's no go," said the engineer, "and you may make up your mind to
have them as shipmates, Captain, or sit here on your tail where you
are. D'ye think I've any appetite for Dagos myself? No, sir, no more
than you. I don't trust them no more than a stripped thread. And they
don't trust me. They wouldn't trust you. They would no' trust the
Provost of Edinboro' if he was to make similar proposals to
"Then have you no idea where this steamboat was put on the
"Man, I've telled ye 'no' already."
"Seems to me you don't know much, Mr. McTodd."
"I don't. What I know is this: I came ashore here after a vera
exhausting trip down the Mediterranean, just for a drink to fortify
the system against the chills on the run home. I went to a little
dark shebeen, where I kenned the cut-throat in charge, and gave the
name of the ship I wanted sending back to, in case sleep overcame me,
and settled down for an afternoon's enjoyment. Ye'll ken what I
"I know you're a drunken beast when you get the chance for an
"I have my weaknesses, Captain, or maybe I'd no have left
Ballindrochater, where my father was Free Kirk Meenister. We both
have our weaknesses, Captain Owen Kettle, and it's they that have
brought us to what we are."
"If you don't leave me alone and get on with your yarn," said
Kettle acidly, "you'll find yourself in the street."
"Oh, I like your hospitality fine, and I'll stay, thanks. Weel,
I'd just settled myself down to a good square drink at this
Spaniard's shebeen, when out of a dark corner comes 'Tonio and the
other Dago, bowing and taking off their hats as polite as though I'd
been an archbishop at the very least.
"I'd met 'Tonio in Lagos. He was greaser on a branch boat there,
and I was her second engineer. He's some English, and he did the
talking. The other Dago knew nothing but his own unrighteous tongue,
and just said see-see when 'Tonio explained to him what was going on,
and grinned like a bagful of monkeys. I give 'Tonio credit: he spat
out his tale like a man. He and his mate were in the stokehold of a
Dago steamboat coming from the River Plate to Genoa, and calling at
some of the Western Islands en route. One night they were just going
off watch, and were leaning over the rail to get a breath of cool air
before turning in. They were steaming past some rocky islands, and
there in plain sight of them was a vessel hard and fast ashore. There
was no mistake about it: they both saw her: a steamboat of some
fifteen hundred tons. And what was more, the other Portugee, 'Tonio's
friend, said he knew her. According to him she was the Duncansby
Head. He'd served in her stokehold three voyages, and he said he'd
know her anywhere."
"A Dago's word isn't worth much for a thing like that," said
"Wait a bit. The pair of them stayed where they were and looked at
the rest of the watch on deck. The second mate on the bridge was
stating ahead sleepily; the quarter-master at the wheel was nodding
and blinking at the binnacle; the look-out on the forecastle was
seated on a fife-rail, snoring; no one of these had seen the wreck.
And so they themselves didn't talk. Their boat was running short of
coal, and so she put into Gib. here to rebunker; and from another
Dago on the coal-hulk, who came abroad to help trim, they got some
news. The Duncansby Head had shifted her cargo at sea, had picked up
heavy weather and got unmanageable, and had been left by her crew in
the boats. The mate's boat and the second mate's boat were picked up;
the old nnan's boat had not been heard of. It was supposed that the
Duncansby Head herself had foundered immediately after she was
"Yes, all that's common gossip on the Rock. Mulready was her
skipper: J.R. Mulready: I'd known him years."
"Weel, poor deevil, it's perhaps good for him he's drowned."
"Yes, I suppose it is. He's saved a sight of trouble. D'ye know,
Mac, Jimmy Mulready and I passed for mate the same day, and went to
sea with our bran-new tickets in the same ship, him as mate, me as
"The sea's an awful poor profession for all, except a shipowner
that lives ashore."
"'Tis. Yes, that's a true word. It is. And so Antonio and his mate
told the other Dago that they'd seen the wreck?"
"Not much. They kept their heads shut. There was money in the idea
if it could only be worked, and a Portugee likes dollars as much as a
white man. So there you have the whole yarn, except that they got to
know that the Duncansby was on her way home after a long spell of
tramping when she got into trouble, and carried all the money she'd
earned in good solid gold in the chart-house drawer."
"It sounds a soft thing, I'll not deny," said Kettle. "But why
should Mr. Antonio and his friend come to you?"
"They ran from their ship here in Gib., and laid low till she had
sailed. It was the natural thing for them to do. But when they began
to look round them in cold blood, they found themselves a bit on the
beach. They'd no money; there's such a shady crowd here in Gib. that
everything's well watched, and they couldn't steal; and so there was
nothing for it but to take a partner into the concern. Of course,
being Dagos, they weren't likely to trust one of their own sort."
"Not much. And so they came to you?"
"They knew me," said the engineer. "And I came to you because I
knew you, Captain. I'm no navigator myself, though I can make shift
to handle a sail boat, so a navigator was wanted. I said to myself
the man in all creation for this job is Captain Kettle, and then what
should I do but run right up against you."
"Thank you, Mac."
"But there's one other thing you'll have to do, and that's buy,
beg, borrow or steal the ship to carry the expedition, because the
rest of us can't raise a blessed shilling amongst us. It needn't be a
big outlay. That old P. and O. lifeboat which I was talking about
would carry us fine, and I think three five pound notes would buy
"Very well," said Kettle. "And now let's get a move on us. There's
been enough time spent in talk, and the sooner we're on that wreck
the less chance there is of any one else getting there to overhaul
her before us."
It would be unprofitable to follow in detail the fitting out of
this wrecking expedition upon insufficient capital, and so be it
briefly stated that the old lifeboat (which had passed through many
hands since she was cast from the P. and O. service) was purchased by
dint of haggling for an absurdly small sum, and victualled and
watered for eighteen days. The Portuguese, who still refused to
disclose the precise location of the wreck, said that it might take a
fortnight to reach her, and prudence would have suggested that it was
advisable to take at least a month's provisions. But the meagreness
of their capital flatly forbade this, and they were only able to
furnish the boat with what would spin out to eighteen days on an
uncomfortably short ration. They trusted that what pickings they
might find in the storerooms of the wreck herself would provide them
for the return voyage.
With this slender equipment then, they sailed forth from Gibraltar
Bay, an obvious party of adventurers. They were bombarded by the
questions and the curious stares of all the shipping interest on the
Rock; they were flatly given to understand by a naval busybody (who
had been bidden carry his inquisitiveness to the deuce) that they had
earned official suspicion, and would be watched accordingly; and if
ever ill-wishes could sink a craft, that ancient P. and O. lifeboat
was full to her marks.
The voyage did not begin with prosperity. There is always a strong
surface current running in through the Straits, and just then the
breezes were light. The lifeboat was a dull sailer, and her people in
consequence had the mortification of keeping Carnero Point and the
frowning Rock behind in sight for three baking days. The two
Portuguese were first profane, then sullen, then frightened; some
saint's day, it appeared, had been violated by the start; and they
began first to hint at, and then to insist, on a return. To which
Kettle retorted that he was going to see the matter through now, if
he had to hang in the Straits for the whole eighteen days, and
subsist for the rest of the trip upon dew and their belts; and in
this McTodd backed him up.
Once started and away from the whisky bottle, there was nothing
very yielding about Mr. McTodd. Only one compromise did Kettle offer
to make. He would stand across and drop his Portuguese partners on
the African shore if they on their part would disclose the
whereabouts of the wreck; and in due time, when the dividends were
gathered, he faithfully promised them their share. But to this they
would not consent. In fact, there was a good deal of mutual distrust
between the two parties.
At last, however, a kindly slant of wind took the lifeboat in
charge, and hustled her wetly out into broad Atlantic; and when they
had run the shores of Europe and Africa out of sight, and there was
nothing round them but the blue heaving water, with here and there a
sail and a steamer's smoke, then Senhor Antonio saw fit to give
Captain Kettle a course.
"We was steamin' froma Teneriffe to Madeira when we saw thosea
rocks with Duncansby Head asho'."
"H'm," said Kettle. "Those'll be the Salvage Islands."
"Steamah was pile up on de first. 'Nother island we pass
"That's Piton Island, if I remember. Let's have a look at the
chart." He handed over the tiller to McTodd, took a tattered
Admiralty chart from one of the lockers, and spread it on the damp
floor gratings. The two Portuguese helped with their brown paws to
keep it from fluttering away. "Yes, either Little Piton or Great
Piton. Which side did you pass it on?"
Antonio thumped a gunwale of the lifeboat.
"Kept it on the port hand going North, did you? Then that'll be
Great Piton, and a sweet shop it is for reefs according to this
chart. I wish I'd a Directory. It will be a regular cat's dance
getting in. But I say, young man, isn't there a light there?"
"Lighta? I not understand."
"You savvy--lighthouse--faro--show-mark-light in dark?"
"Oh, yes, lighta-house. I got there. No, no lighta-house."
"Well, there's one marked here as 'projected,' and I was afraid it
might have come. I forgot the Canaries were Spanish, and Madeira was
Portugee, and that these rocks which lie halfway would be a sort of
slack cross between the pair of them. Mañana's the motto,
isn't it, 'Tonio? Never do to-day what you hope another flat will do
for you to-morrow."
"Si, si, mañana," said the Portuguese, who had not
understood one word in ten of all this. "Mañana we find rich,
plenty too--much rich. God sava Queen!"
"Those Canary fishing schooners land on the Salvages sometimes,"
said McTodd, "so I heard once in Las Palmas."
"Then there'll be fleas on the islands whatever else there is,"
said Kettle. "I guess we got to take our chances, Mac. If the old
wreck's been overhauled before we get there, it's our bad luck; if
she hasn't been skimmed clean, we'll take what there is, and I fancy
we shall be men enough to stick to it. It isn't as if she was piled
up on some civilised beach, with coastguards to take possession and
all the rest of it. The islands are either Spanish or Portugee. They
belong to a pack of thieves anyway; and we've just as much right to
help ourselves as anyone else has. What we've got to do at present is
to shove this old ruin of a lifeboat along as though she were a
racing yacht. At the shortest we've got seven hundred miles of blue
water ahead of us."
Open-boat voyaging in the broad Atlantic may have its pleasures,
but these, such as they were, did not appeal to either Kettle or his
companions. They were thorough-going steamer sailors; they despised
sails; and the smallness of their craft gave them qualms, both mental
and physical. By day the sun scorched them with intolerable glare and
violence; by night the clammy sea mists drenched them to the
For a larger vessel the weather would have been accounted
favourable; for their cockle-shell it was once or twice terrific. In
two squalls that they ran into, breaking combers filled the lifeboat
to the thwarts, and they had to bale for their bare lives. They were
cramped and sore from their constrained position and want of
exercise; they got sea sores on their wrists and salt-grime on every
inch of their persons: they were growing gaunt on the scanty rations;
and, in fact, a better presentation of a boat full of desperate
castaways it would be hard to hit upon. Flotillas of iridescent,
pink-sailed nautilus scudded constantly beside them, dropping as
constantly astern; and these made their only company. Except for the
nautilus, the sea seemed desolate.
In this guise, then, they ended their voyage, which had spun out
to nigh upon a thousand miles through contrary winds and the
necessity for incessant tacking; and in the height of one blazing
afternoon there rose the tops of the islands out of a twinkling
These appeared at first as mere dusty black rocks sticking up out
of the calm blue--Great Salvage Island to the northward, and Great
Piton to the south and beyond--but they grew as the boat neared them,
and presently appeared to be built upon a frieze of dazzling feather
whiteness. The lifeboat swept on to reach them, climbing and diving
over the rollers. She had canvas decks, quartermast high, contrived
to throw off the sprays; and over these the faces of her people
peered ahead, wild and guant, salt-crusted and desperate.
Great Salvage Island grew abeam and passed away astern. Great
Piton lay close ahead now, fringed with a thousand reefs, each with
its spouting breakers. The din of the surf came to them loudly up the
wind. A flock of sea-fowl, screaming and circling, sailed out to
escort them in; and ahead, behind the banks of breakers, drawing them
on as water will draw a choking man, was the rusted smokestack and
stripped masts of a derelict merchant steamer.
There is a yarn about an open boat, which had voyaged twelve
hundred miles over the lonely Pacific, coming upon a green atoll, and
being sailed recklessly in through the surf, and drowning every soul
on board; and the yarn is easy believable. Captain Kettle and his
companions had undergone horrible privations; here, at last, was the
isle of their hopes and the treasure (as it seemed) in full view;
but, by some intolerable fate, they were barred from it by relentless
walls of surf. Kettle ran in as close as he dared, and then flattened
in his sheets, and sailed the lifeboat close-hauled along the noisy
line of the breakers to the Norrard, looking for an opening.
The two Portuguese grumbled openly, and when not a ghost of a
landing-place showed, and Kettle put her about to sail back again,
even the cautious McTodd put up his word to "run in and risk it."
But Kettle, though equally sick as they were of the boat and her
voyage, had all a sailor's dislike for losing his ship, whatever she
might be, and cowed them all with voice and threats; and at last his
forbearance was rewarded. A slim passage through the reefs showed
itself at the southern end of the island; and down it they dodged,
trimming their sheets six times a minute, with an escort of dangers
always close on either hand; and finally ran into a rocky bay which
held comparatively smooth water.
There was no place to beach the boat; they had to anchor her off;
but with a whip on the cable they were able to step ashore on a ledge
of stone, and then haul the boat off again out of harm's way.
It may be thought that they capered with delight at treading on
dry land again; but there was nothing of this. With their cramped
limbs and disused joints, it was as much as they could do to hobble,
and every step was a wrench. But the lure ahead of them was great
enough to triumph over minor difficulties. Half a mile away along the
rocks was the Duncansby Head, and for her they raced at the top of
their crippled gait. And the sea-fowl screamed curiously above their
They scratched and tore themselves in this frantic progress over
the sharp volcanic rocks, they choked with thirst, they panted with
their labour; but none of these things mattered.
The deserted steamer, when they came to her, was lying off from
the shore on the other side of a lake of deep water. But they were
fit for no more waiting, and each, as he came opposite her, waded in
out of his depth, and swam off with eager strokes. Davit-falls
trailing in the water gave them an entrance way, and up these they
climbed with the quickness of apes; and then, with one accord, they
made for the pantry and the steward's store-room. The gold which had
lured them was forgotten; the immediate needs of their famished
bodies were the only things they remembered. They found a cheese, a
box of musty biscuits, and a filter full of stale and tepid water;
and they gorged till they were filled, and swore they had never sat
to so delicious a meal.
With repletion came the thoughts of fortune again, and off they
went to the chart-house to finger the coveted gold. But here was a
disappointment ready and waiting for them. They had gone up in a
body, neither nationality trusting the other, and together they
ransacked the place with thoroughness. There were papers in
abundance, there were clothes furry with mildew, there was a broken
box of cheap cigars; but of money there was not so much as a bronze
"Eh, well," said Kettle, sitting back on the musty bedclothes, "we
have had our trouble for nothing. Some one's been here first and
skimmed the place clean."
McTodd pounced upon the ruffled blanket and caught something which
he held between his black thumb and finger.
"Look," he said, "that's not a white man's flea. That's Spanish or
Portugee. And neither 'Tonio nor his mate brought it here, because
they have been washed clean on the trip. You remember what I said
about fishing schooners from Las Palmas, skipper? We have had our
trouble for nothing. Some one's been here first, and skimmed the
"By James! yes. And look on the floor there. See those cigarette
ends! They're new and dry. If the old man had been a cigarette
smoker, he wouldn't have chucked his butts on his chart-house deck;
and even if he had done, they'd have been washed to bits when she was
hove down on her beam ends. You can see by the decks outside that
she's been pretty clean swept. No, it's those fishermen, as you say,
who have been here before us."
"Weel," said McTodd, rubbing his thumb tightly into his finger's
end, "if I were a swearer I could say a deal."
"The Dagos are swearing enough for the whole crowd of us, to judge
by the splutter of them. The money's gone clean. It's vexing, but
that's a fact. Still, I don't like to go back empty-handed."
"I'm as keen as yoursel'. There's that eight pound of my wages I
left when I ran in Gib. that's got to be made up somehow. What's
wrong with getting off the hatches and seeing how her cargo's made
"She's loaded with hides. I saw it on the manifest. There was
Jimmy Mulready's scrawl at the foot of it. That photo there above the
bed-foot will be his wife. Poor old Jimmy! He got religion before I
did, and started his insurance, too, and, if he's kept them both up,
he and his widow ought be all right--By James! did you feel
McTodd stared round him.
"What?" he asked.
"I took it for sure she was on the ground."
"So did I. But she isn't. There, you can feel her lift again."
They went out on deck. The sun was already dipping in the western
sea behind the central hill of the island, and in another few minutes
it would be dark. There is little twilight so far south. So they took
cross bearings on the shore, and watched intently. Yes, there was not
a doubt about it. The Duncansby Head floated, and she was moving
across the deep-water lake that held her.
"Mon!" said the engineer enthusiastically, "ye've a great head,
and a great future before you. I'd never have guessed it."
"I took it for granted she'd beaten her bottom out in getting
here; but she's blundered in through the reefs without touching; and,
if she's come in, she can get out again, and we're the fellows to
"With engines, yes. If she's badly broken down in the hardware
shop, we're done. I'd forgotten the machinery, and that's a fact.
We'll find a lantern, and I'll go down with you, Mac, and give them
The two Portuguese had already sworn themselves to a standstill,
and had gone below and found bunks; but the men from the little
island in the North had more energy in their systems, and they
expended it tirelessly. McTodd overhauled every nut, every bearing,
every valve, every rod of the engines with an expert's criticism, and
found nothing that would prevent active working; Kettle rummaged the
rest of the ship; and far into the morning they foregathered again in
the chart-house and compared results.
She had been swept, badly swept; everything movable on deck was
gone; cargo had shifted, and then shifted back again till she had
lost all her list and was in proper trim; the engines were still
workable if carefully nursed; and in fact, though battered, she was
entirely seaworthy. And while with tired gusto they were comparing
these things, weariness at last got the better of them, and first one
and then the other incontinently dropped off into the deadest of
That the Duncansby Head had come in unsteered and unscathed
through the reefs, and therefore under steam and control could be got
out again, was on the face of it a very simple and obvious theory to
propound; but to discover a passage through the rocks to make this
practicable was quite another matter. For three days the old P and O.
lifeboat plied up and down outside the reefs, and had twenty narrow
escapes from being smashed into staves. It looked as if Nature had
performed a miracle, and taken the steamer bodily into her arms and
lifted her over at least a dozen black walls of stone.
The two Portuguese were already sick to death of the whole
business, but for their feelings neither Kettle nor McTodd had any
concern whatever. They were useful in the working of the boat, and
therefore they were taken along, and when they refused duty or did it
with too much listlessness to please, they were cuffed into activity
again. There was no verbal argument about the matter. "Work or
Suffer" was the simple motto the two islanders went upon, and it
answered admirably. They knew the breed of the Portuguese of old.
At last, by dint of daring and toil, the secret of the pass
through the noisy spouting reefs was won; it was sounded carefully
and methodically for sunken rocks, and noted in all possible ways;
and the P. and O lifeboat was hoisted on the Duncansby's davits. The
Portuguese were driven down into the stokehold to represent the
double watches of a dozen men and make the requisite steam; McTodd
fingered the rusted engines like an artist; and Kettle took his stand
alone with the team wheels on the upper bridge.
They had formally signed articles, and apportioned themselves pay,
Kettle as Master, McTodd as Chief Engineer, and the Portuguese as
firemen, because salvage is apportioned pro rata, and the more pay a
man is getting, the larger is his bonus. On which account (at
McTodd's suggestion) they awarded themselves paper stipends which
they could feel proud of, and put down the Portuguese for the
ordinary fireman's wages then paid out of Gibraltar, neither more nor
less. For, as the engineer said: "There was a fortune to be divided
up somehow, and it would be a pity for a pair of unclean Dagos to
have more than was absolutely necessary, seeing that they would not
know what to do with it."
Captain Kettle felt it to be one of the supreme moments of his
life when he rang on the Duncansby's bridge telegraph to "Half speed
ahead." Here was a bid for fortune such as very rarely came in any
shipmaster's way; not getting salvage, the larger part of which an
owner would finger, for mere assistance, but taking to port a vessel
which was derelict and deserted--the greatest and the rarest plum
that the seas could offer. It was a thought that thrilled him.
But he had not much time for sentimental musings in this strain. A
terribly nervous bit of pilotage lay ahead of him; the motive power
of his steamer was feeble and uncertain; and it would require all his
skill and resourcefulness to bring her out into deep blue water.
Slowly she backed or went ahead, dodging round to get a square
entrance to the fairway, and then with a slam Kettle rang on the
telegraph to "Full speed ahead" so as to get her under the fullest
She darted out into the narrow winding lane between the walls of
broken water and the roar of the surf closed round her. Rocks sprang
up out of the deep--hungry black rocks, as deadly as explosive
torpedoes. With a full complement of hands and a pilot for years
acquainted with the place, it would have been an infinitely dangerous
piece of navigation; with a half power steamer, which had only one
man all told upon her decks, and he almost a stranger to the place,
it was a miracle how she got out unscathed. But it was a miracle
assisted by the most brilliant skill. Kettle had surveyed the channel
in the lifeboat, and mapped every rock in his head; and when the test
came, he was equal to it. It would be hard to come across a man of
more iron nerve.
Backing and going ahead, to get round right-angled turns of the
fairway, shaving reefs so closely that the wash from them creamed
over her rail, the battered old tramp steamer faced a million dangers
for every fathom of her onward way; but never once did she actually
touch and in the end she shot out into the clear, deep water, and
gaily hit diamonds from the wave tops into the sunshine.
It is possible for a man to concentrate himself so deeply upon one
thing that he is deaf to all else in the world, and until he had
worked the Duncansby Head out into the open, Captain Kettle was in
this condition. He was dimly conscious of voices hailing him but he
had no leisure to give them heed. But when the strain was taken off,
then there was no more disregarding the cries. He turned his head,
and saw a hall-sunk raft, which seven men with clumsy paddles were
frantically labouring towards him along the outer edge of the
Without a second thought he rang off engines, and the steamer lost
her way and fell into the trough and waited for them. From the first
he had a foreboding as to who they were: but the men were obviously
castaways: and he was bound to rescue them.
Ponderously the raft paddled up and got under the steamer's
Kettle came down off the bridge and threw them the end of a
halliard, and eagerly enough they scrambled up the rusted plating,
and clambered over the rail. They looked around them with curiosity,
but with an obvious familiarity. "I left my pipe stuck behind that
stanchion," said one, "and, by gum, it's there still."
"Fo'c's'le door's stove in," said another; "I wonder if they've
scoffed my chest."
"You Robinson Crusoes seem to be making yourselves at home," said
One of the men knuckled his shock of hair. "We was on her, sir,
when she happened her accident. We got off in the Captain's boat, and
she was smashed to bits landing on Great Salvage yonder. We've been
living there ever since on rabbits and gulls and cockles till we
built that raft and ferried over here. It was tough living, but I
guess we were better off than the poor beggars that were swamped in
the other boats."
"The other two boats got picked up."
"Did they, though? Then I call it beastly hard luck on us."
"Captain Mulready was master, wasn't he? Did he get drowned when
your boat went ashore?"
The sailor shrugged his shoulders. "No, sir. Captain Mulready's on
the raft down yonder. He feels all crumpled up to find the old ship's
afloat, and that you've got her out. She'd a list on when we left her
that would have scared Beresford, but she's chucked that straight
again; and who's to believe it was ever there?"
Kettle grated his teeth. "Thank you, my lad," he said. "I quite
see. Now get below and find yourself something to eat, and then you
go forrard and turn to." Then, leaning his head over the bulwark, he
called down: "Jimmy!"
The broken man on the raft looked up. "Hullo, Kettle, that
"Yes. Come aboard."
"No, thanks. I'm off back to the island. I'll start a picnic there
on my own. Good luck, old man."
"If you don't come aboard willingly, I'll send and have you
fetched. Quit fooling."
"Oh, if you're set on it," said the other tiredly, and scrambled
up the rope. He looked round with a drawn face. "To think she should
have lost that list and righted herself like this! I thought she
might turn turtle any minute when we quitted her; and I'm not a scary
"I know you aren't. Come into the chart-house and have a drop of
whisky. There's your missis's photo stuck up over the bed-foot. How's
"Dead, I hope. It will save her going to the workhouse."
"Oh, rats! It's not as bad as that."
"If you'll tell me, why not? I shall lose my ticket over this job,
sure, when it comes before the Board of Trade; and what owner's
likely to give me another ship?"
"Well, Jimmy, you'll have to sail small, and live on your
"I dropped that years ago, and drew out what there was. Had
to--with eight kids, you know. They take a lot of feeding."
"Eight kids, by James!"
"Yes, eight kids, poor little beggars, and the missus and me all
to go hungry from now onwards. But they do say workhouses are very
comfortable nowadays. You'll look in and see us sometimes--won't you,
Kettle?" He lifted the glass which had been handed him. "Here's luck
to you, old man, and you deserve it. I bought that whisky from a
chandler in Rio. It's a drop of right, isn't it?"
"Here, chuck it," said Kettle.
"I'm sorry," said Captain Mulready, "but you shouldn't have had me
on board. I should have been better picnicking by myself on Great
Piton yonder. I can't make cheerful shipmate for you, old man."
"Brace up," said Kettle.
"By the Lord, if I'd only been a day earlier with that raft," said
the other musingly, "I could have taken her out, as you have done,
and brought her home, and I believe the firm would have kept me on.
There need have been no inquiry; only 'delayed' that's all; no one
cares so long as a ship turns up some time."
"It wouldn't have made any difference," said Kettle, frowning.
"Some of those lousy Portuguese have been on board and scoffed all
"Why, what she'd earned. What there was here in the chart-house
The dishevelled man gave a tired chuckle. "Oh, that's all right. I
put in at Las Palmas, and transferred it to the bank there, and sent
home the receipt by the B. and A. mailboat to Liverpool. No, I'm
pleased enough about the money. But it's this other thing I made the
bungle of, just being a day too late with that raft."
Kettle heard a sound, and sharply turned his head. He saw a grimy
man in the doorway. "Mr. McTodd," he said, "who the mischief gave you
leave to quit your engine-room? Am I to understand you've been
standing there in that doorway to listen?"
"Her own engineer's come back, so I handed her over to him and
came on deck for a spell. As for listening, I've heard every word
that's been said. Captain Mulready, you have my very deepest
"Mr. McTodd," said Kettle with a sudden blaze of fury, "I'm
captain of this ship, and you're intruding. Get to Hamlet out of
here." He got up and strode furiously out of the door, and McTodd
retreated before him.
"Now keep your hands off me," said the engineer. "I'm as mad about
the thing as yourself, and I don't mind blowing off a few pounds of
temper. I don't know Captain Mulready, and you do, but I'd hate to
see any man all crumpled up like that if I could help it."
"He could be helped by giving him back his ship, and I'd do it if
I was by myself. But I've got a Scotch partner, and I'm not going to
try for the impossible."
"Dinna abuse Scotland," said McTodd, wagging a grimy forefinger.
"It's your ain wife and bairns ye're thinking about."
"I ought to be, Mac, but, God help me! I'm not."
"Varra weel," said McTodd; "then, if that's the case, skipper,
just set ye doon here and we'll have a palaver."
"I'll hear what you've got to say," said Kettle more civilly, and
for the next half-hour the pair of them talked as earnestly as only
poor men can talk when they are deliberately making up their minds to
resign a solid fortune which is already within their reach. And at
the end of that talk, Captain Kettle put out his hand and took the
engineer's in a heavy grip. "Mac," he said, "you're Scotch, but
you're a gentleman right through under you're clothes."
"I was born to that estate, skipper, and I no more wanted to see
yon puir deevil pulled down to our level than you do. Better go and
give him the news, and I'll get our boat in the water again, and
"No," said Kettle, "I can't stand by and be thanked. You go. I'll
see to the boat."
"Be hanged if I do!" said the engineer. "Write the man a letter.
You're great on the writing line: I've seen you at it."
And so in the tramp's main cabin below, Captain Kettle penned this
"To Captein J.R. Mulready.
"DEAR JIMMY,--Having concluded not to take trouble to work
Duncansby Head home, have pleasure in leaving her to your charge. We,
having other game on hand, have now taken French leave, and shall now
bear up for Western Islands. You've no call to say anything about our
being on board at all. Spin your own yarn, it will never be
"O. KETTLE (Master).
"p.p. W.A. McTODD (Chief
"P.S.--We taken along these two Dagos. If you had them they might
talk when you got them home. We having them, they will not talk. So
you've only your own crowd to keep from talking. Good luck, old
Which letter was sealed and nailed up in a conspicuous place
before the lifeboat left en route for Grand Canary.
It was the two Portuguese who felt themselves principally
aggrieved men. They had been made to undergo a great deal of work and
hardship; they had been defrauded of much plunder which they quite
considered was theirs, for the benefit of an absolute stranger in
whom they took not the slightest interest; and, finally, they were
induced "not to talk" by processes which jarred upon them most
They did not talk, and in the fulness of time they returned to the
avocation of shovelling coal on steam vessels. But when they sit down
to think, neither Antonio nor his friend (whose honoured name I never
learned) regard with affection those little islands in the Northern
Sea, which produced Captain Owen Kettle and his sometime partner, Mr.
Neil Angus McTodd.
CHAPTER XII--THE WRECK OF THE CATTLE-BOAT
THERE was considerable trouble and risk in bringing the lifeboat
up alongside, but it must be granted that she was very unhandy.
The gale that had blown them out into the Atlantic had moderated,
certainly, though there was still a considerable breeze blowing, but
the sea was running as high as ever, and all Captain Kettle's skill
was required to prevent the boat from being incontinently swamped.
McTodd and the two Portuguese baled incessantly, but the boat was
always half water-logged. In fact, from constitutional defects she
had made very wet weather of it all through the blow.
It was the part of the steamer to have borne down and given the
lifeboat a lee in which she could have been more readily handled, and
three times the larger vessel made an attempt to do this, but without
avail. Three times she worked round in a wallowing circle, got to
windward, and distributed a smell of farmyard over the rugged furrows
of ocean, and then lost her place again before she could drift down
and give the smaller craft shelter. Three times did the crew of the
lifeboat, with maritime point and fluency, curse the incompetence of
the rust-streaked steamer and all her complement.
"By James!" said Kettle savagely, after the third attempt, "are
they all farmers on that ship? I've had a nigger steward that knew
more about handling a vessel."
"She's an English ship," said McTodd, "and delicate. They're
nursing her in the engine-room. Look at the way they throttle her
down when she races."
"The fools on her upper bridge are enough for me to look at,"
Kettle retorted. "Why didn't they put a sailorman aboard of her
before she was kicked out of port? By James! if we'd a week's water
and victual with us in the lifeboat here, I'd beat back for the
Canaries as we are, and keep clear of that tin farmyard for bare
"We haven't a crumb nor a drink left," said the engineer, "and I'd
not recommend this present form of conveyance to the insurance
companies." A wave-top came up from the tireless grey sea, and
slapped green and cold about his neck and shoulders. "Gosh! there
comes more of the Atlantic to bale back into place. Mon, this is no'
the kind of navigation I admire."
Meanwhile the clumsy tramp-steamer had gone round in a jagged
circle of a mile's diameter, and was climbing back to position again
over the hills and dales of ocean. She rolled, and she pitched, and
she wallowed amongst the seas, and to the lay mind she would have
seemed helplesness personified; but to the expert eye she showed
defects in her handling with every sheer she took among the angry
waste of waters.
"Old man and the mates must be staying down below out of the wet,"
said Kettle, contemptuously as he gazed. "Looks as if they've left
some sort of cheap Dutch quartermaster on the upper bridge to run
her. Don't tell me there's an officer holding an English ticket in
command of that steamer. They aren't going to miss us this time,
though if they know it."
"Looks like as if they were going to soss down slap on top of us,"
said McTodd, and set to taking off his coat and boots.
But the cattle-steamer, if not skilfully handled, at any rate this
time had more luck. She worked her way up to windward again, and then
fell off into the trough, squattering down almost out of sight one
minute, and, in fact, showing little of herself except a couple of
stumpy, untidy masts and a brine-washed smokestack above the
seascape, and being heaved up almost clear the next second, a picture
of rust streaks and yellow spouting scuppers.
Both craft drifted to leeward before the wind, but the steamer
offered most surface, and moved the quicker, which was the object of
the manoeuvre. It seemed to those in the lifeboat that they were not
going to be missed this time, and so they lowered away their sodden
canvas, shipped tholepins, and got out their oars. The two Portuguese
firemen did not assist at first, preferring to sit in a semi-dazed
condition on the wet floor gratings; but McTodd and Kettle thumped
them about the head, after the time-honoured custom, till they turned
to, and so presently the lifeboat, under three straining oars, was
holding up towards her would-be deliverer.
A man on the cattle-boat's upper bridge was exhibiting himself as
a very model of nervous incapacity, and two at any rate of the
castaways in the lifeboat were watching him with grim scorn.
"Keeping them on the dance in the engine-room, isn't he?" said
McTodd. "He's rung that telegraph bell fifteen different ways this
"That man isn't fit to skipper anything that hasn't got a tow-rope
made fast ahead," said Kettle, contemptuously. "He hasn't the nerve
of a pound of putty."
"I'm thinking we shall lose the boat. They'll never get her aboard
in one piece."
"If we get among their cow pens with our bare lives we shall be
lucky. They're going to heave us a line. Stand by to catch it
The line was thrown and caught. The cattle-steamer surged up over
a huge rolling sea, showing her jagged bilge-chocks clear; and then
she squelched down again, dragging the lifeboat close in a murderous
cuddle, which smashed in one of her sides as though it had been made
from egg-shell. Other lines were thrown by the hands who stood
against the rail above, and the four men in the swamping boat each
seized an end.
Half climbing, half hoisted from above, they made their way up the
rusted plating, and the greedy waves from underneath sucked and
clamoured at their heels. It was quite a toss-up even then whether
they would be dragged from their hold; but human muscles can put
forth desperate efforts in these moments of desperate stress; and
they reached the swaying deck planks, bruised and breathless and
gasping, but for the time being safe.
The cattle-boat's mate, who had been assisting their arrival,
sorted them into castes with ready perception. "Now, you two Dagos,"
he said to the Portuguese, "get away forrard--port side--and bid some
of our firemen to give you a bunk. I'll tell the steward to bring you
along a tot of rum directly." He clapped a friendly hand on McTodd's
shoulder. "Bo's'n," he said, "take this gentleman down to the
mess-room, and pass the word to one of the engineers to come and give
him a welcome." And then he turned as to an equal, and shook Kettle
by the hand. "Very glad to welcome you aboard, old fellow--beg
pardon, 'Captain' I should have said; didn't see the lace on your
sleeve before. Come below with me, Captain, and I'll fix you up with
some dry things outside, and some wet things in, before we have any
"Mr. Mate," said Kettle, "you're very polite, but hadn't I better
go up on the bridge and say 'howdy' to the skipper first?"
The mate of the cattle-boat grinned and tucked his arm inside
Captain Kettle's and dragged him off with kindly force towards the
companion-way. "Take the synch from me, Captain, and don't. The old
man's in such a mortal fear for the ship, that he's fair cryin' with
it. If he'd had his way, I don't fancy he'd have seen your boat at
all. He said it was suicide to try and pick you up with such a sea
running. But the second mate and I put in some ugly talk, and so he
just had to do it. Here's the companion. Step inside, and I'll shut
"Pretty sort of Captain to let his mates boss him."
"Quite agree with you, Captain; quite agree with you all the way.
But that's what's done on this ship, and there's no getting over it.
It's not to my liking either--I'm an old Conway boy, and was brought
up to respect discipline. However, I daresay, you'll see for yourself
how things run before we dump you back on dry mud again. Now, here we
are at my room, and there's a change of clothes in that drawer
beneath the bed, and underwear below the settee here. You and I are
much of a build, and the kit's quite at your service till your own is
The mate was back again in ten minutes--dripping, cheerful,
hospitable. "Holy tailors!" said he, "how you do set off clothes!
Those old duds came out of a slop-chest once, and I've been ashamed
of their shabbiness more years than I care to think about; but you've
a way of carrying them that makes them look well fitting and quite
new. Well, I tell you I'm pleased to see a spruce man on this ship.
Come into the cabin now and peck a bit. I ordered you a meal, and I
saw the steward as I came past the door trying to hold it down in the
fiddles. The old girl can roll a bit, can't she?"
"I should say your farmyard's getting well churned up."
"You should just go into those cattle decks and see. It's just
Hades for the poor brutes. We're out of the River Plate, you know,
and we've carried bad weather with us ever since we got our anchors.
The beasts were badly stowed, and there were too many of them put
aboard. The old man grumbled, but the shippers didn't take any notice
of him. They'd signed for the whole ship, and they just crammed as
many sheep and cows into her as she'd hold."
"You'll have the Cruelty to Animals people on board of you before
you're docked, and then your skipper had better look out."
"He knows that, Captain, quite as well as you do, and there isn't
a man more sorry for himself in all the Western Ocean. He'll be fined
heavily, and have his name dirtied, so sure as ever he sets a foot
ashore. Legally, I suppose, he's responsible; but really he's no more
to blame than you. He is part of the ship, just as the engines, or
the mates, or the tablespoons are; and the whole bag o' tricks was
let by wire from Liverpool to a South American Dago. If he'd talked,
he'd have got the straight kick out from the owners, and no further
argument. You see they are little bits of owners."
"They're the worst sort."
"It doesn't matter who they are. A skipper has got to do as he's
"Yes," said Kettle with a sigh, "I know that."
"Well," said the mate, "you may thank your best little star that
you're only here as a passenger. The grub's beastly, the ship stinks,
the cook's a fool, and everything's as uncomfortable as can be. But
there's one fine amusement ahead of you, and that's try and cheer up
the other passenger."
"No, bonâ fide passenger, if you can imagine any one being
mug enough to book a room on a foul cattle-loaded tramp like this.
But I guess it was because she was hard up. She was a governess, or
something of that sort, in Buenos Ayres, lost her berth, and wanted
to get back again cheap. I guess we could afford to cut rates and
make a profit there."
"I've not seen much of her myself. The second mate and I are most
of the crew of this ship (as the old man objects to our driving the
regular deck hands), and when we're not at work, we're asleep. I
can't stop and introduce you. You must chum on. Her name's
"Miss Carnegie," Kettle repeated, "that sounds familiar. Does she
The mate yawned. "Don't know. Never asked her. But perhaps she
does. She looks ill enough."
The mate went off to his room then, turned in, all standing, and
was promptly asleep. Kettle, with memories of the past refreshed,
took paper and a scratchy pen, and fell to concocting verse.
He wondered, and at the same time he half dreaded, whether this
was the same Miss Carnegie whom he had known before. In days past she
had given him a commission to liberate her lover from the French
penal settlement of Cayenne. With infinite danger and difficulty he
had wrenched the man free from his warders, and when, finding him a
worthless fellow, had by force married him to an old Jamaican
negress, and sent the girl their marriage lines as a token of her
release. He had had no word or sign from her since, and was in some
dread now lest she might bitterly resent the liberty he had taken in
meddling so far with her affairs.
However, like it or not, there was no avoiding the meeting now,
and so he went on--somewhat feverishly--with his writing.
The squalid meal entitled tea came on, and he had to move his
papers. A grimy steward spread a dirty cloth, wetted it liberally
with water, and shipped fiddles to try and induce the table-ware to
keep in place despite the rolling. The steward mentioned that none of
the officers would be down, that the two passengers would meal
together, and in fact did his best to be affable; but Kettle listened
with cold inattention, and the steward began to wish him over the
side whence he had come.
The laying of the table was ended at last. The steward put on his
jacket, clanged the bell in the alley-way, and then came back and
stood swaying in the middle of the cabin, armed with a large tin
tea-pot, all ready to commence business. So heavy was the roll, that
at times he had to put his hand on the floor for support.
Captain Kettle watched the door with a haggard face. He was
beginning to realise that an emotion was stirred within him that
should have no place in his system. He told himself sternly that he
was a married man with a family; that he had a deep affection for
both his wife and children; that, in cold fact, he had seen Miss
Carnegie in the flesh but once before. But there was no getting over
the memory that she made poetry, a craft that he adored; and he could
not forget that she had already lived in his mind for more months
than he dared count.
His conscience took him by the ear, and sighed out the word Love.
On the instant, all his pride of manhood was up in arms, and he
rejected the imputation with scorn; and then, after some thought,
formulated his liking for the girl in the term Interest. But he knew
full well that his sentiment was something deeper than that. His
chest heaved when he thought of her.
Then, in the distance, he heard her approaching. He wiped the
moisture from his face with the mate's pocket-handkerchief. Above the
din of the seas, and the noises from the crowded cattle pens outside,
he could make out the faint rustle of draperies, and the uncertain
footsteps of some one painfully making a way along hand over hand
against the bulkheads. A bunch of fingers appeared round the jamb of
the door, slender white fingers, one of them decked with a queer old
ring, which he had seen just once before, and had pictured a thousand
times since. And then the girl herself stepped out into the cabin,
swaying to the roll of the ship.
She nodded to him with instant recognition. "It was you they
picked up out of the boat? Oh, I am so glad you are safe."
Kettle strode out towards her on his steady sea legs, and stood
before her, still not daring to take her hand. "You have forgiven
me?" he murmured. "What I did was a liberty, I know, but if I had not
liked you so well, I should not have dared to do it."
She cast down her eyes and flushed. "You are the kindest man I
ever met," she said. "The very kindest." She took his hand in both
hers, and gripped it with nervous force. "I shall never forget what
you did for me, Captain."
The grimy steward behind them coughed and rattled the teapot lid,
and so they sat themselves at the table, and the business of tea
began. All of the ship s officers were either looking after the work
entailed by the heavy weather on deck, or sleeping the sleep of utter
exhaustion in their bunks. And so none joined them at the meal. But
the steward incessantly hovered at their elbows, and it was only
during his fitful absences that their talk was anything like
"You said you liked poetry," the girl whispered shyly when the
first of those opportunities came. "I wrote the most heartfelt verses
that ever came from me over that noble thing you tried to do for a
poor stranger like me."
Captain Kettle blushed like a maid. "For one of the magazines?" he
She shook her head sadly. "It was not published when I left
England, and it had been sent back to me from four magazine offices.
That was nothing new. They never would take any of my stuff."
Kettle's fingers twitched suggestively. "I'd like to talk a minute
or so with some of those editors. I'd make them sit up."
"That wouldn't make them print my poems."
"Wouldn't it, miss? Well, perhaps you know best there. But I'd
guarantee it'd hinder them from printing anything else for awhile,
the inky-fingered brutes. The twaddling stories those editors set up
in type about lowdown pirates and detective bugs are enough to make
It appeared that Miss Carnegie's father had died since she and
Kettle had last met, and the girl had found herself left almost
destitute. She had been lured out to Buenos Ayres by an
advertisement, but without finding employment, and, sick at heart,
had bought with the last of her scanty store of money a cheap passage
home in this cattle-boat.
She would land in England entirely destitute; and although she did
not say this, spoke cheerfully of the future, in fact, Kettle was
torn with pity for her state. But what, be asked himself with fierce
scorn, could he do? He was penniless himself; he had a wife and
family depending on him; and who was he to take this young unmarried
girl under his charge?
They talked long on that and other days, always avoiding vital
questions; and, meanwhile, the reeking cattle-boat wallowed north
carrying with her, as it seemed, a little charmed circle of evil
weather as her constant companion.
Between times, when he was not in attendance on Miss Carnegie,
Kettle watched the life of the steamer with professional interest,
and all a strong man's contempt for a weak commander. The 'tween
decks was an Aceldama. In the heavy weather the cattle pens smashed,
the poor beasts broke their legs, gored one another, and were surged
about in horrible melées. The cattle-men were half incapable,
wholly mutinous. They dealt out compressed hay and water when the
gangways were cleared, and held to it that this was the beginning and
end of their duty. To pass down the winch chain, and haul out the
dead and wounded, was a piece of employment that they flatly refused
to tamper with. They said the deck hands could do it.
The deck hands, scenting a weak commander, said they had been
hired as sailor-men, and also declined to meddle; and, as a
consequence, this necessary sepulture business was done by the
In Kettle's first and only interview with the cattleboat's captain
he saw this operation going on through a hatchway before his very
face. The mate and the second mate clambered down by the battens, and
went along the filthy gangway below, dragging the winch chain after
them. The place was cluttered with carcases and jammed with broken
pens, all surging together to the roll of the ship. The lowings and
the groans of the cattle were awful. But at last a bight of rope was
made fast round a dead beast's horns, and the word was given to haul.
The winch chattered and the chain drew. The two men below, jumping to
this side and that for their lives, handspiked the carcase free of
obstacles, and at last it came up the hatch, almost
A mob of men, sulky, sullen, and afraid, stood round the hatch,
and one of these, when the poor remains came up, and swung to the
roll of the ship over the side, cut the bow-line with his knife, and
let the carcase plop into the racing seas. The chain clashed back
again down between the iron coamings of the hatch, and the two mates
below went on with their work. No one offered to help them. Not one,
as Kettle grimly noted, was made to do so.
"Do your three mates run this ship, Captain?" asked Kettle at
"They are handy fellows."
"If you ask me, I should call them poor drivers. What for do they
put in all the work themselves, when there are that mob of deck hands
and cattle-hands standing round doing the gentleman as though they
were in the gallery of a theatre?"
"There was some misunderstanding when the crew were shipped. They
say they never signed on to handle dead cattle."
"I've seen those kind of misunderstandings before, Captain, and
I've started in to smooth them away."
"Well?" said the Captain of the cattle-boat.
"Oh, with me!" said Kettle truculently, "they straightened out so
soon as ever I began to hit. If your mates know their business,
they'd soon have that crew in hand again."
"I don't allow my mates to knock the men about. To give them their
due, they wanted to; they were brought up in a school which would
probably suit you, Captain, all three of them; but I don't permit
that sort of thing. I am a Christian man, and I will not order my
fellow men to be struck. If the fellows refuse their duty, it lies
between them and their consciences."
"As if an old sailor had a conscience!" murmured Kettle to
himself. "Well, Captain, I'm no small piece of a Christian myself,
but I was taught that whatever my hand findeth to do to do it with
all my might, and I guess bashing a lazy crew comes under that
"I don't want either your advice or your theology."
"If I wasn't a passenger here," said Kettle, "I'd like to tell you
what I thought of your seamanship, and your notion of making a
master's ticket respected. But I'll hold my tongue on that. As it is,
I think I ought just to say I don't consider this ship's safe, run
the way she is."
The captain of the cattle-boat flushed darkly. He jerked his head
towards the ladder. "Get down off this bridge," he said.
"You hear me. Get down off my bridge. If you've learnt anything
about your profession, you must know this is private up here, and no
place for blooming passengers."
Kettle glared and hesitated. He was not used to receiving orders
of this description, and the innovation did not please him. But for
once in his life he submitted. Miss Carnegie was sitting under the
lee of the deckhouse aft, watching him, and somehow or other he did
not choose to have a scene before her. It was all part of this
strange new feeling which had come over him.
He gripped his other impulses tight, and went and sat beside her.
She welcomed him cordially. She made no secret of her pleasure at his
presence. But her talk just now jarred upon him. Like other people
who see the ocean and its traffic merely from the amateur's view, she
was able to detect romance beneath her present discomforts, and she
was pouring into his ear her scheme for making it the foundation of
her most ambitious poem.
In Kettle's mind, to build an epic on such a groundwork was
nothing short of profanation. He viewed the sea, seamen, and sea
duties with an intimate eye; to him they were common and unclean to
the furthest degree; no trick of language could elevate their
meanness. He pointed out how she would prostitute her talent by
laying hold of such an unsavoury subject and extolled the beauty of
his own ideal.
"Tackle a cornfield, Miss," he would say again and again, "with
its butter-yellow colour, and its blobs of red poppies, and the green
hedges all round. You write poetry such as I know you can about a
cornfield, and farmers, and farm buildings with thatched roofs, and
you'll wake one of these mornings (like all poets hope to do some
day) and find yourself famous. And because why, you want to know?
Well, Miss, it is because cornfields and the country and all that are
what people want to hear about, and dream they've got handy to their
own back door-step. They're so peaceful, so restful. You take it from
me, no one would even want to read four words about this beastly
cruel sea and the brutes of men who make their living by driving
ships across it. No, by Ja---No, Miss, you take it from a man who
knows, they'd just despise it." And so they argued endlessly at the
point, each keeping an unchanged opinion.
Perhaps of all the human freight that the cattle-boat carried, Mr.
McTodd was the only one person entirely happy. He had no watch to
keep, no work to do; the mess-room was warm, stuffy, and entirely to
his taste; liquor was plentiful; and the official engineers of the
ship were Scotch and argumentative. He never came on deck for a whiff
of fresh air, never knew a moment's tedium; he lived in a pleasant
atmosphere of broad dialect, strong tobacco, and toasting oil, and
thoroughly enjoyed himself; though when the moment of trial came, and
his thews and energies were wanted for the saving of human life, he
quickly showed that this Capua had in no way sapped his
The steamer had, as has been said, carried foul weather with her
all the way across the Atlantic from the River Plate, as though it
were a curse inflicted for the cruelty of her stevedores. The crew
forgot what it was like to wear dry clothes, the afterward lived in a
state of bone-weariness. A harder captain would have still contrived
to keep them up to the mark; but the man who was in supreme command
was feeble and undecided, and there is no doubt that vigilance was
A fog, too, which came down to cover the sea, stopped out all view
of the sun, and compelled them for three days to depend on a dead
reckoning; and (after the event) it was said a strong current set the
steamer unduly to the westward.
Anyway, be the cause what it may, Kettle was pitched violently out
of his bunk in the deep of one night, just after two bells, and from
the symptoms which loudly advertised themselves, it required no
expert knowledge to tell that the vessel was beating her bottom out
on rocks, to the accompaniment of a murderously heavy sea. The
engines stopped, steam began to blow off noisily from the escapes,
and what with that, and the cries of men, and the clashing of seas,
and the beating of iron, and the beast cries from the cattle-decks,
the din was almost enough to split the ear. And then the steam syren
burst into one vast bellow of pain, which drowned all the other
noises as though they had been children's whispers.
Kettle slid on coat and trousers over his pyjamas, and went and
thumped at a door at the other side of the alleyway.
"I am dressing, Captain."
"Get finished with it, and then wait. I'll come for you when it's
It is all very well to be cool on these occasions, but sometimes
the race is to the prompt. Captain Kettle made his way up on deck
against a green avalanche of water which was cascading down the
companion-way. No shore was in sight. The ship had backed off after
she had struck, and was now rolling heavily in a deep trough. She was
low in the water, and every second wave swept her.
No one seemed to be in command. The dim light showed Kettle one
lifeboat wrecked in davits, and a disorderly mob of men trying to
lower the other. But some one let go the stern fall so that the boat
shot down perpendicularly, and the next wave smashed the lower half
of it into splinters. The frenzied crowd left it to try the port
quarter-boat, and Kettle raced them across the streaming decks and
got first to the davits. He plucked a greenheart belaying pin from
the rail, and laid about him viciously.
"Back, you scum!" he shouted: "get back, or I'll smash in every
face amongst you. Good Lord, isn't there a mate or a man left on this
stinking farmyard? Am I to keep off all this two-legged cattle by
They fought on; the black water swirling waist deep amongst them
with every roll, the syren bellowing for help overhead, and the ship
sinking under their feet; and gradually, with the frenzy of despair,
the men drove Kettle back against the rail, whilst others of them
cast off the falls of the quarter-boat's tackles preparatory to
letting her drop. But then, out of the darkness, up came McTodd and
the steamer's mate, both shrewd hitters, and men not afraid to use
their skill, and once more the tables were turned.
The other quarter-boat had been lowered and swamped; this boat was
the only one remaining.
"Now, Mac," said Kettle, "help the mate take charge, and murder
every one that interferes. Get the boat in the water, and fend off.
I'll be off below and fetch up Miss Carnegie. We must put some hurry
in it. The old box hasn't much longer to swim. Take the lady ashore,
and see she comes to no harm."
"Oh, ay," said McTodd, "and we'll keep a seat for yerself,
"You needn't bother," said Kettle. "I take no man's place in this
sort of tea-party." He splashed off across the streaming decks, and
found the cattle-boat's captain sheltering under the lee of the
companion, wringing his hands. "Out, you blitherer," he shouted, "and
save your mangy life! Your ship's gone now: you can't play hash with
her any more." After which pleasant speech he worked his way below,
half swimming, half wading, and once more beat against Miss
Carnegie's door. Even in this moment of extremity he did not dream of
going in unasked.
She came out to him in the half swamped alley-way, fully dressed.
"Is there any hope?" she asked.
"We'll get you ashore, don't you fear." He clapped an arm round
her waist, and drew her strongly on through the dark and the swirling
water towards the foot of the companion. "Excuse me, Miss," he said;
"this is not familiarity. But I have got the firmer sea-legs, and we
They pressed up the stair, battling with great green cascades of
water, and gamed the dreadful turmoil on deck. A few weak stars
gleamed out above the wind, and showed the black wave tops dimly.
Already some of the cattle had been swept overboard, and were
swimming about like the horned beasts of a night-mare. The din of
surf came to them amongst the other noises, but no shore was visible.
The steamer had backed off the reef on which she had struck, and was
foundering in deep water. It was indeed a time for hurry. It was
plain she had very few more minutes to swim.
Each sea now made a clean breach over her, and a passage about the
decks was a thing of infinite danger. But Kettle was resourceful and
strong, and he had a grip round Miss Carnegie and a hold on something
solid when the waters drenched on him, and he contrived never to be
wrested entirely from his hold.
But when he had worked his way aft, a disappointment was there
ready for him. The quarter-boat was gone. McTodd stood against one of
the davits, cool and philosophical as ever.
"You infernal Scotchman, you've let them take away the boat from
you," Kettle snarled. "I should have thought you could have kept your
end up with a mangy crowd like that."
"Use your eyes," said the engineer. "The boat's in the wash below
there at the end of the tackles with her side stove in. She drowned
the three men that were lowered in her because they'd no' sense
enough to fend off."
"That comes of setting a lot of farmers and firemen to work a
"Aweel," said McTodd, "steamers have been lost before, and I have
it in mind, Captain, that you've helped."
"By James! if you don't carry a civil tongue, you drunken Geordie,
I'll knock you some teeth down to cover it.
"Oh, I owed you that," said McTodd, "but now we're quits. I bided
here, Captain Kettle, because I thought you'd maybe like to swim the
lady off to the shore, and at that I can bear a useful hand."
"Mac," said Kettle, "I take back what I said about your being
Scotch. You're a good soul." He turned to the girl, still shouting to
make his voice carry above the clash of the seas and the bellow of
the syren, and the noises of the dying ship: "It's our only chance,
Miss--swimming. The life-buoys from the bridge are all gone--I
looked. The hands will have taken them. There'll be a lot of timber
floating about when she goes down, and we'll be best clear of that.
Will you trust to us?"
"I trust you in everything," she said.
Deeper and deeper the steamer sank in her wallow. The lower decks
were swamped by this, and the miserable cattle were either drowned in
their stalls or washed out of her. There was no need for the three to
jump--they just let go their hold, and the next incoming wave swept
them clear of the steamer's spar deck, and spurned them a hundred
yards from her side.
They found themselves amongst a herd of floating cattle, some
drowned, some swimming frenziedly; and with the inspiration of the
moment laid hold of a couple of the beasts which were tangled
together by a halter, and so supported themselves without further
exertion. It was no use swimming for the present. They could not tell
which way the shore lay. And it behoved them to reserve all their
energies for the morning, so well as the numbing cold of the water
would let them.
Of a sudden the bellow of the steamer's syren ceased, and a pang
went through them as though they had lost a friend. Then came a dull
muffled explosion. And then a huge, ragged shape loomed up through
the night, like some vast monument, and sank swiftly straight
downwards out of sight beneath the black, tumbled sea.
"Poor old girl!" said McTodd, spitting out the sea water; "they'd
a fine keg of whisky down in her mess room."
"Poor devil of a skipper!" said Kettle; "it's to be hoped he's
drowned out of harm's way, or it'll take lying to keep him any rags
of his ticket."
The talk died out of them after that, and the miseries of the
situation closed in. The water was cold, but the air was piercing and
so they kept their bodies submerged, each holding on to the bovine
raft, and each man sparing a few fingers to keep a grip on the girl.
One of the beasts they clung to quickly drowned; the other, strange
to say, kept its nostrils above water, swimming strongly, and in the
end came alive to the shore, the only four-footed occupant of the
steamer to be saved.
At the end of each minute it seemed to them that they were too
bruised and numbed to hang on another sixty seconds; and yet the next
minute found them still alive and dreading its successor. The sea
moaned around them, mourning the dead; the fleet of drowned cattle
surged helplessly to this way and to that, bruising them with rude
collisions; and the chill bit them to the bone, mercifully numbing
their pain and anxiety. Long before the dawn the girl had sunk into a
stupor, and was only held from sinking by the nervous fingers of the
men; and the men themselves were merely automata, completing their
task with a legacy of will.
When from somewhere out of the morning mists a fisher boat sailed
up manned by ragged, kindly Irish, all three were equally lost to
consciousness, and all three were hauled over the gunwale in one
continuous, dripping string. The grip of the men's fingers had
endured too long to be loosened for a sudden call such as that.
They were taken ashore and tended with all the care poor homes
could give; and the men, used to hardships, recovered with a dose of
warmth and sleep.
Miss Carnegie took longer to recover, and, in fact, for a week lay
very near to death. Kettle stayed on in the village, making almost
hourly inquiries for her. He ought to have gone away to seek fresh
employment. He ought to have gone back to his wife and children, and
he upbraided himself bitterly for his neglect of these duties. But
still he could not tear himself away. For the future--Well, he
dreaded to think what might happen in the future.
But at last the girl was able to sit up and see him, and he
visited her, showing all the deference an ambassador might offer to a
queen I may go so far as to say that he went into the cottage quite
infatuated. He came out of it disillusioned.
She listened to his tale of the wreck with interest and surprise.
She was almost startled to hear that others, including the captain
and two of the mates, were saved from the disaster besides
themselves, but at the same time unfeignedly pleased. And she was
pleased also to hear that Kettle was subpoenaed to give evidence
before the forthcoming inquiry.
"I am glad of that," she said, "because I know you will speak with
a free mind. You have told me so many times how incompetent the
captain was, and now you will be able to tell it to the proper
Kettle looked at her blankly. "But that was different," he said.
"I can't say to them what I said to you."
"Why not? Look what misery and suffering and loss of life the man
has caused. He isn't fit to command a ship."
"But Miss," said Kettle, "it's his living. He's been brought up to
seafaring, and he isn't fit for anything else. You wouldn't have me
send out the man to starve? Besides, I'm a shipmaster myself, and you
wouldn't have me try to take away another master's ticket? The
cleverest captain afloat might meet with misfortune, and he's always
got to think of that when he's put up to give evidence against his
"Well, what are you going to do then?"
"Oh, we've got together a tale, and when the old man is put upon
his trial, the mates and I will stick to it through thick and thin.
You can bet that we are not going to swear away his ticket."
"Yes; his master's certificate--his means of livelihood."
"I think it's wrong," she said excitedly; "criminally wrong. And
besides, you said you didn't like the man."
"I don't; I dislike him cordially. But that's nothing to do with
the case. I've my own honour to think of, Miss. How'd I feel if I
went about knowing I'd done my best to ruin a brother captain for
good and always?"
"You are wrong," she repeated vehemently. "The man is incompetent
by your own saying, and therefore he should suffer."
Kettle's heart chilled.
"Miss Carnegie," he said "I am disappointed in you. I thought from
your poetry that you had feelings; I thought you had charity; but I
find you are cold."
"And you!" she retorted, "you that I have set up for myself as an
ideal of most of the manly virtues, do you think I feel no
disappointment when I hear that you are deliberately proposing to be
"I am no liar," he said sullenly. "I have most faults, but not
that. This is different; you do not understand. It is not lying to
defend one's fellow shipmaster before an Inquiry Board."
The girl turned to the pillow in her chair and hid her face. "Oh,
go!" she said, "go! I wish I had never met you. I thought you were so
good, and so brave, and so honest, and when it comes to the pinch,
you are just like the rest! Go, go! I wish I thought I could ever
"You say you don't understand," said Kettle. "I think you
deliberately won't understand, Miss. You remember that I said I was
disappointed in you, and I stick to that now. You make me remember
that I have got a wife and family that I am fond of. You make me
ashamed I have not gone to them before."
He went to the door and opened it. "But I do not think I shall
ever forget," he said, "how much I cared for you once. Good-bye,
"Good-bye," she sobbed from her pillow; "I wish I could think you
are right, but perhaps it is best as it is."
In the village street outside was Mr. McTodd, clothed in rasping
serge, and inclined to be sententious. "They've whisky here," he said
with a jerk of the thumb--"Irish whisky, that's got a smoky taste
that's rather alluring when you've got over the first dislike. I'm
out o' siller mysel' or I'd stand ye a glass, but if ye're in funds I
could guide ye to the place."
Kettle was half tempted. But with a wrench he said "No," adding
that if he once started he might not know when to stop.
"Quite right," said the engineer, "you're quite (hic) right,
skipper. A man with an inclination to level himself with the beasts
that perish should always be abstemious." He sat against a wayside
fence and prepared for sleep.
"Like me," he added solemnly, and shut his eyes.
"No," said Kettle to himself; "I won't forget it that way. I guess
I can manage without. She pretty well cured me herself. But a sight
of the missis will do the rest."
* * * * * *
And so Captain Owen Kettle went home to where Mrs. Kettle kept
house in the bye-street in South Shields, that unlovely town on the
busy Tyneside; and a worrying time he had of it with that estimable
woman, his wife, before the explanations which he saw fit to give
were passed as entirely satisfactory. In fact, he was not quite
forgiven for his escapade with Miss Carnegie, or for that other
involuntary excursion with Donna Clotilde La Touche, till such time
as he had acquired fortune from a venture on the seas, and was able
to take Mrs. Kettle away from her unsavoury surroundings, to settle
down in comfort in a small farmstead on the Yorkshire moors, with a
hired maid to assist at the housework. But that was not until some
considerable time after he was wrecked with Mr. McTodd on the Irish
coast; and between the two dates he assisted to make a good deal more
history, as is (or will be) elsewhere related.