Man Overboard! by F. Marion Crawford
YES--I have heard "Man over-board!" a good many times since I was
a boy, and once or twice I have seen the man go. There are more men
lost in that way than passengers on ocean steamers ever learn of. I
have stood looking over the rail on a dark night, when there was a
step beside me, and something flew past my head like a big black
bat--and then there was a splash! Stokers often go like that. They go
mad with the heat, and they slip up on deck and are gone before
anybody can stop them, often without being seen or heard. Now and
then a passenger will do it, but he generally has what he thinks a
pretty good reason. I have seen a man empty his revolver into a crowd
of emigrants forward, and then go over like a rocket. Of course, any
officer who respects himself will do what he can to pick a man up, if
the weather is not so heavy that he would have to risk his ship; but
I don't think I remember seeing a man come back when he was once
fairly gone more than two or three times in all my life, though we
have often picked up the life-buoy, and sometimes the fellow's cap.
Stokers and passengers jump over; I never knew a sailor to do that,
drunk or sober. Yes, they say it has happened on hard ships, but I
never knew a case myself. Once in a long time a man is fished out
when it is just too late, and dies in the boat before you can get him
aboard, and--well, I don't know that I ever told that story since it
happened--I knew a fellow who went over, and came back dead. I didn't
see him after he came back; only one of us did, but we all knew he
No, I am not giving you "sharks." There isn't a shark in this
story, and I don't know that I would tell it at all if we weren't
alone, just you and I. But you and I have seen things in various
parts, and maybe you will understand. Anyhow, you know that I am
telling what I know about, and nothing else; and it has been on my
mind to tell you ever since it happened, only there hasn't been a
It's a long story, and it took some time to happen; and it began a
good many years ago, in October, as well as I can remember. I was
mate then; I passed the local Marine Board for master about three
years later. She was the Helen B. Jackson, of New York, with lumber
for the West Indies, four-masted schooner, Captain Hackstaff. She was
an old-fashioned one, even then--no steam donkey, and all to do by
hand. There were still sailors in the coasting trade in those days,
you remember. She wasn't a hard ship, for the old man was better than
most of them, though he kept to himself and had a face like a
monkey-wrench. We were thirteen, all told, in the ship's company; and
some of them afterwards thought that might have had something to do
with it, but I had all that nonsense knocked out of me when I was a
boy. I don't mean to say that I like to go to sea on a Friday, but I
have gone to sea on a Friday, and nothing has happened; and twice
before that we have been thirteen, because one of the hands didn't
turn up at the last minute, and nothing ever happened either--nothing
worse than the loss of a light spar or two, or a little canvas.
Whenever I have been wrecked, we had sailed as cheerily as you
please--no thirteens, no Fridays, no dead men in the hold. I believe
it generally happens that way.
I dare say you remember those two Benton boys that were so much
allke? It is no wonder, for they were twin brothers. They shipped
with us as boys on the old Boston Belle, when you were mate and I was
before the mast. I never was quite sure which was which of those two,
even then; and when they both had beards it was harder than ever to
tell them apart. One was Jim, and the other was Jack; James Benton
and John Benton. The only difference I ever could see was, that one
seemed to be rather more cheerful and inclined to talk than the
other; but one couldn't even be sure of that. Perhaps, they had
moods. Anyhow, there was one of them that used to whistle when he was
alone. He only knew one tune, and that was "Nancy Lee," and the other
didn't know any tune at all; but I may be mistaken about that, too.
Perhaps they both knew it.
Well, those two Benton boys turned up on board the Helen B.
Jackson. They had been on half a dozen ships since the Boston Belle,
and they had grown up and were good seamen. They had reddish beards
and bright blue eyes and freckled faces; and they were quiet fellows,
good workmen on rigging, pretty willing, and both good men at the
wheel. They managed to be in the same watch--it was the port watch on
the Helen B., and that was mine, and I had great confidence in them
both. If there was any job aloft that needed two hands, they were
always the first to jump into the rigging; but that doesn't often
happen on a fore-and-aft schooner. If it breezed up, and the
jibtopsail was to be taken in, they never minded a wetting, and they
would be out at the bowsprit end before there was a hand at the
downhaul. The men liked them for that, and because they didn't blow
about what the could do. I remember one day in a reefing job, the
downhaul parted and came do on deck from the peak of the spanker.
When the weather moderated, and we shook the reefs out, the downhaul
was forgotten until we happened to think we might soon need it again.
There was some sea on, and the boom was off and the gaff was
slamming. One of those Benton boys was at the wheel, and before I
knew what he was doing, the other was out on the gaff with the end of
the new downhaul, trying to reeve it through its block. The one who
was steering watched him, and got as white as cheese. The other one
was swinging about on the gaff end, and every time she rolled to
leeward he brought up with a jerk that would have sent anything but a
monkey flying into space. But he didn't leave it until he had rove
the new rope, and he got back all right. I think it was Jack at the
wheel; the one that seemed more cheerful, the one that whistled
"Nancy Lee." He had rather have been doing the job himself than watch
his brother do it, and he had a scared look; but he kept her as
steady as he could in the swell, and he drew a long breath when Jim
had worked his way back to the peak-halliard block, and had something
to hold on to. I think it was Jim.
They had good togs, too, and they were neat and clean men in the
forecastle. I knew they had nobody belonging to them ashore,--no
mother, no sisters, and no wives; but somehow they both looked as if
a woman overhauled them now and then. I remember that they had one
ditty bag between them, and they had a woman's thimble in it. One of
the men said something about it to them, and they looked at each
other; and one smiled, but the other didn't. Most of their clothes
were alike, but they had one red guernsey between them. For some time
I used to think it was always the same one that wore it, and I
thought that might be a way to tell them apart. But then I heard one
asking the other for it, and saying that the other had worn it last.
So that was no sign either. The cook was a West Indiaman, called
James Lawley; his father had been hanged for putting lights in
cocoanut [sic] trees where they didn't belong. But he was a good
cook, and knew his business; and it wasn't soup-and-bully and
dog's-body every Sunday. That's what I meant to say. On Sunday the
cook called both those boys Jim, and on week-days he called them
Jack. He used to say he must be right sometimes if he did that,
because even the hands on a painted clock point right twice a
What started me to trying for some way of telling the Bentons
apart was this. I heard them talking about a girl. It was at night,
in our watch, and the wind had headed us off a little rather
suddenly, and when we had flattened in the jibs, we clewed down the
topsails, while the two Benton boys got the spanker sheet aft. One of
them was at the helm. I coiled down the mizzen-topsail downhaul
myself, and was going aft to see how she headed up, when I stopped to
look at a light, and leaned against the deck-house. While I was
standing there I heard the two boys talking. It sounded as if they
had talked of the same thing before, and as far as I could tell, the
voice I heard first belonged to the one who wasn't quite so cheerful
as the other,--the one who was Jim when one knew which he was.
"Does Mamie know?" Jim asked.
"Not yet," Jack answered quietly. He was at the wheel. "I mean to
tell her next time we get home."
That was all I heard, because I didn't care to stand there
listening while they were talking about their own affairs; so I went
aft to look into the binnacle, and I told the one at the wheel to
keep her so as long as she had way on her, for I thought the wind
would back up again before long, and there was land to leeward. When
he answered, his voice, somehow, didn't sound like the cheerful one.
Perhaps his brother had relieved the wheel while they had been
speaking, but what I had heard set me wondering which of them it was
that had a girl at home. There's lots of time for wondering on a
schooner in fair weather.
After that I thought I noticed that the two brothers were more
silent when they were together. Perhaps they guessed that I had
overheard something that night, and kept quiet when I was about. Some
men would have amused themselves by trying to chaff them separately
about the girl at home, and I suppose whichever one it was would have
let the cat out of the bag if I had done that. But, somehow, I didn't
like to. Yes, I was thinking of getting married myself at that time,
so I had a sort of fellow-feeling for whichever one it was, that made
me not want to chaff him.
They didn't talk much, it seemed to me; but in fair weather, when
there was nothing to do at night, and one was steering, the other was
everlastingly hanging round as if he were waiting to relieve the
wheel, though he might have been enjoying a quiet nap for all I cared
in such weather. Or else, when one was taking his turn at the
lookout, the other would be sitting on an anchor beside him. One kept
near the other, at night more than in the daytime. I noticed that.
They were fond of sitting on that anchor, and they generally tucked
away their pipes under it for the Helen B. was a dry boat in most
weather, and like most fore-and-afters was better on a wind than
going free. With a beam sea we sometimes shipped a little water aft.
We were by the stern, anyhow, on that voyage, and that is one reason
why we lost the man.
We fell in with a southerly gale, southeast at first; and then the
barometer began to fall while you could watch it, and a long swell
began to come up from the south'ard. A couple of months earlier we
might have been in for a cyclone, but it's "October all over" in
those waters, as you know better than I. It was just going to blow,
and then it was going to rain, that was all; and we had plenty of
time to make everything snug before it breezed up much. It blew
harder after sunset, and by the time it was quite dark it was a full
gale. We had shortened sail for it, but as we were by the stern we
were carrying the spanker close reefed instead of the storm trysail.
She steered better so, as long as we didn't have to heave to. I had
the first watch with the Benton boys, and we had not been on deck an
hour when a child might have seen that the weather meant
The old man came up on deck and looked round, and in less than a
minute he told us to give her the trysail. That meant heaving to, and
I was glad of it; for though the Helen B. was a good vessel enough,
she wasn't a new ship by a long way, and it did her no good to drive
her in that weather. I asked whether I should call all hands, but
just then the cook came aft, and the old man said he thought we could
manage the job without waking the sleepers, and the trysail was handy
on deck already, for we hadn't been expecting anything better. We
were all in oilskins, of course, and the night was as black as a coal
mine, with only a ray of light from the slit in the binnacle shield,
and you couldn't tell one man from another except by his voice. The
old man took the wheel; we got the boom amidships, and he jammed her
into the wind until she had hardly any way. It was blowing now, and
it was all that I and two others could do to get in the slack of the
downhaul, while the others lowered away at the peak and throat, and
we had our hands full to get a couple of turns round the wet sail.
It's all child's play on a fore-and-after compared with reefing
topsails in anything like weather, but the gear of a schooner
sometimes does unhandy things that you don't expect, and those
everlasting long halliards get foul of everything if they get adrift.
I remember thinking how unhandy that particular job was. Somebody
unhooked the throat-halliard block, and thought he had hooked it into
the head-cringle of the trysail, and sang out to hoist away, but he
had missed it in the dark, and the heavy block went flying into the
lee rigging, and nearly killed him when it swung back with the
weather roll. Then the old man got her up in the wind until the jib
was shaking like thunder; then he held her off, and she went off as
soon as the head-sails filled, and he couldn't get her back again
without the spanker. Then the Helen B. did her favourite trick, and
before we had time to say much we had a sea over the quarter and were
up to our waists, with the parrels of the trysail only half becketed
round the mast, and the deck so full of gear that you couldn't put
your foot on a plank, and the spanker beginning to get adrift again,
being badly stopped, and the general confusion and hell's delight
that you can only have on a fore-and-after when there's nothing
really serious the matter. Of course, I don't mean to say that the
old man couldn't have steered his trick as well as you or I or any
other seaman; but I don't believe he had ever been on board the Helen
B. before, or had his hand on her wheel till then; and he didn't know
her ways. I don't mean to say that what happened was his fault. I
don't know whose fault it was. Perhaps nobody was to blame. But I
knew something happened somewhere on board when we shipped that sea,
and you'll never get it out of my head. I hadn't any spare time
myself, for I was becketing the rest of the trysail to the mast. We
were on the starboard tack, and the throat-halliard came down to port
as usual, and I suppose there were at least three men at it, hoisting
away, while I was at the beckets.
Now I am going to tell you something. You have known me, man and
boy, several voyages; and you are older than I am; and you have
always been a good friend to me. Now, do you think I am the sort of
man to think I hear things where there isn't anything to hear, or to
think I see things when there is nothing to see? No, you don't. Thank
you. Well now, I had passed the last becket, and I sang out to the
men to sway away, and I was standing on the jaws of the spanker-gaff,
with my left hand on the bolt-rope of the trysail, so that I could
feel when it was board-taut, and I wasn't thinking of anything except
being glad the job was over, and that we were going to heave her to.
It was as black as a coal-pocket, except that you could see the
streaks on the seas as they went by, and abaft the deck-house I could
see the ray of light from the binnacle on the captain's yellow
oilskin as he stood at the wheel--or rather I might have seen it if I
had looked round at that minute. But I didn't look round. I heard a
man whistling. It was "NancyLee," and I could have sworn that the man
was right over my head in the crosstrees. Only somehow I knew very
well that if anybody could have been up there, and could have
whistled a tune, there were no living ears sharp enough to hear it on
deck then. I heard it distinctly, and at the same time I heard the
real whistling of the wind in the weather rigging, sharp and clear as
the steam-whistle on a Dago's peanut-cart in New York. That was all
right, that was as it should be; but the other wasn't right; and I
felt queer and stiff, as if I couldn't move, and my hair was curling
against the flannel lining of my sou'wester, and I thought somebody
had dropped a lump of ice down my back.
I said that the noise of the wind in the rigging was real, as if
the other wasn't, for I felt that it wasn't, though I heard it. But
it was, all the same; for the captain heard it, too. When I came to
relieve the wheel, while the men were clearing up decks, he was
swearing. He was a quiet man, and I hadn't heard him swear before,
and I don't think I did again, though several queer things happened
after that. Perhaps he said all he had to say then; I don't see how
he could have said anything more. I used to think nobody could swear
like a Dane, except a Neapolitan or a South American; but when I had
heard the old man I changed my mind. There's nothing afloat or ashore
that can beat one of your quiet American skippers, if he gets off on
that tack. I didn't need to ask him what was the matter, for I knew
he had heard "Nancy Lee," as I had, only it affected us
He did not give me the wheel, but told me to go forward and get
the second bonnet off the staysail, so as to keep her up better. As
we tailed on to the sheet when it was done, the man next me knocked
his sou'wester off against my shoulder, and his face came so close to
me that I could see it in the dark. It must have been very white for
me to see it, but I only thought of that afterwards. I don't see how
any light could have fallen upon it, but I knew it was one of the
Benton boys. I don't know what made me speak to him. "Hullo, Jim! Is
that you?" I asked. I don't know why I said Jim, rather than
"I am Jack," he answered.
We made all fast, and things were much quieter.
"The old man heard you whistling 'Nancy Lee,' just now," I said,
"and he didn't like it."
It was as if there were a white light inside his face, and it was
ghastly. I know his teeth chattered. But he didn't say anything, and
the next minute he was somewhere in the dark trying to find his
sou'wester at the foot of the mast.
When all was quiet, and she was hove to, coming to and falling off
her four points as regularly as a pendulum, and the helm lashed a
little to the lee, the old man turned in again, and I managed to
light a pipe in the lee of the deckhouse, for there was nothing more
to be done till the gale chose to moderate, and the ship was as easy
as a baby in its cradle. Of course the cook had gone below, as he
might have done an hour earlier; so there were supposed to be four of
us in the watch. There was a man at the lookout, and there was a hand
by the wheel, though there was no steering to be done, and I was
having my pipe in the lee of the deck-house, and the fourth man was
somewhere about decks, probably having a smoke too. I thought some
skippers I had sailed with would have called the watch aft, and given
them a drink after that job, but it wasn't cold, and I guessed that
our old man wouldn't be particularly generous in that way. My hands
and feet were red-hot, and it would be time enough to get into dry
clothes when it was my watch below; so I stayed where I was, and
smoked. But by and by, things being so quiet, I began to wonder why
nobody moved on deck; just that sort of restless wanting to know
where every man is that one sometimes feels in a gale of wind on a
dark night. So when I had finished my pipe I began to move about. I
went aft, and there was a man leaning over the wheel, with his legs
apart and both hands hanging down in the light from the binnacle, and
his sou'wester over his eyes. Then I went forward, and there was a
man at the lookout, with his back against the foremast, getting what
shelter he could from the staysail. I knew by his small height that
he was not one of the Benton boys. Then I went round by the weather
side, and poked about in the dark, for I began to wonder where the
other man was. But I couldn't find him, though I searched the decks
until I got right aft again. It was certainly one of the Benton boys
that was missing, but it wasn't like either of them to go below to
change his clothes in such warm weather. The man at the wheel was the
other, of course. I spoke to him.
"Jim, what's become of your brother?"
"I am Jack, sir."
"Well, then, Jack, where's Jim? He's not on deck."
"I don't know, sir."
When I had come up to him he had stood up from force of instinct,
and had laid his hands on the spokes as if he were steering, though
the wheel was lashed; but he still bent his face down, and it was
half hidden by the edge of his sou'wester, while he seemed to be
staring at the compass. He spoke in a very low voice, but that was
natural, for the captain had left his door open when he turned in, as
it was a warm night in spite of the storm, and there was no fear of
shipping any more water now.
"What put it into your head to whistle like that, Jack? You've
been at sea long enough to know better."
He said something, but I couldn't hear the words; it sounded as if
he were denying the charge.
"Somebody whistled," I said.
He didn't answer, and then, I don't know why, perhaps because the
old man hadn't given us a drink, I cut half an inch off the plug of
tobacco I had in my oilskin pocket, and gave it to him. He knew my
tobacco was good, and he shoved it into his mouth with a word of
thanks. I was on the weather side of the wheel.
"Go forward and see if you can find Jim," I said.
He started a little, and then stepped back and passed behind me,
and was going along the weather side. Maybe his silence about the
whistling had irritated me, and his taking it for granted that
because we were hove to and it was a dark night, he might go forward
any way he pleased. Anyhow, I stopped him, though I spoke
"Pass to leeward, Jack," I said.
He didn't answer, but crossed the deck between the binnacle and
the deckhouse to the lee side. She was only falling off and coming
to, and riding the big seas as easily as possible, but the man was
not steady on his feet and reeled against the corner of the deckhouse
and then against the lee rail. I was quite sure he couldn't have had
anything to drink, for neither of the brothers were the kind to hide
rum from their shipmates, if they had any, and the only spirits that
were aboard were locked up in the captain's cabin. I wondered whether
he had been hit by the throat-halliard block and was hurt.
I left the wheel and went after him, but when I got to the corner
of the deck-house I saw that he was on a full run forward, so I went
back. I watched the compass for a while, to see how far she went off,
and she must have come to again half a dozen times before I heard
voices, more than three or four, forward; and then I heard the little
West Indies cook's voice, high and shrill above' the rest:--
There wasn't anything to be done, with the ship hove-to and the
wheel lashed. If there was a man overboard, he must be in the water
right alongside. I couldn't imagine how it could have happened, but I
ran forward instinctively. I came upon the cook first, half-dressed
in his shirt and trousers, just as he had tumbled out of his bunk. He
was jumping into the main rigging, evidently hoping to see the man,
as if any one could have seen anything on such a night, except the
foam-streaks on the black water, and now and then the curl of a
breaking sea as it went away to leeward. Several of the men were
peering over the rail into the dark. I caught the cook by the foot,
and asked who was gone.
"It's Jim Benton," he shouted down to me. "He's not aboard this
There was no doubt about that Jim Benton was gone; and I knew in a
flash that he had been taken off by that sea when we were setting the
storm trysail. It was nearly half an hour since then; she had run
like wild for a few minutes until we got her hove-to, and no swimmer
that ever swam could have lived as long as that in such a sea. The
men knew it as well as I, but still they stared into the foam as if
they had any chance of seeing the lost man. I let the cook get into
the rigging and joined the men, and asked if they had made a thorough
search on board, though I knew they had and that it could not take
long, for he wasn't on deck, and there was only the forecastle
"That sea took him over, sir, as sure as you're born," said one of
the men close beside me.
We had no boat that could have lived in that sea, of course, and
we all knew it. I offered to put one over, and let her drift astern
two or three cable's-lengths by a line, if the men thought they could
haul me aboard again; but none of them would listen to that, and I
should probably have been drowned if I had tried it, even with a
life-belt; for it was a breaking sea. Besides, they all knew as well
as I did that the man could not be right in our wake. I don't know
why I spoke again.
"Jack Benton, are you there? Will you go if I will?"
"No, sir," answered a voice; and that was all.
By that time the old man was on deck, and I felt his hand on my
shoulder rather roughly, as if he meant to shake me.
"I'd reckoned you had more sense, Mr. Torkeldsen," he said. "God
knows I would risk my ship to look for him, if it were any use; but
he must have gone half an hour ago."
He was a quiet man, and the men knew he was right, and that they
had seen the last of Jim Benton when they were bending the
trysail--if anybody had seen him then. The captain went below again,
and for some time the men stood around Jack, quite near him, without
saying anything, as sailors do when they are sorry for a man and
can't help him; and then the watch below turned in again, and we were
three on deck.
Nobody can understand that there can be much consolation in a
funeral, unless he has felt that blank feeling there is when a man's
gone overboard whom everybody likes. I suppose landsmen think it
would be easier if they didn't have to bury their fathers and mothers
and friends; but it wouldn't be. Somehow the funeral keeps up the
idea of something beyond. You may believe in that something just the
same; but a man who has gone in the dark, between two seas, without a
cry, seems much more beyond reach than if he were still lying on his
bed, and had only just stopped breathing. Perhaps Jim Benton knew
that, and wanted to come back to us. I don't know, and I am only
telling you what happened, and you may think what you like.
Jack stuck by the wheel that night until the watch was over. I
don't know whether he slept afterwards, but when I came on deck four
hours later, there he was again, in his oilskins, with his sou'wester
over his eyes, staring into the binnacle. We saw that he would rather
stand there, and we left him alone. Perhaps it was some consolation
to him to get that ray of light when everything was so dark. It began
to rain, too, as it can when a southerly gale is going to break up,
and we got every bucket and tub on board, and set them under the
booms to catch the fresh water for washing our clothes. The rain made
it very thick, and I went and stood under the lee of the staysail,
looking out. I could tell that day was breaking, because the foam was
whiter in the dark where the seas crested, and little by little the
black rain grew grey and steamy, and I couldn't see the red glare of
the port light on the water when she went off and rolled to leeward.
The gale had moderated considerably, and in another hour we should be
under way again. I was still standing there when Jack Benton came
forward. He stood still a few minutes near me. The rain came down in
a solid sheet, and I could see his wet beard and a corner of his
cheek, too, grey in the dawn. Then he stooped down and began feeling
under the anchor for his pipe. We had hardly shipped any water
forward, and I suppose he had some way of tucking the pipe in, so
that the rain hadn't floated it off. Presently he got on his legs
again, and I saw that he had two pipes in his hand. One of them had
belonged to his brother, and after looking at them a moment I suppose
he recognised his own, for he put it in his mouth, dripping with
water. Then he looked at the other fully a minute without moving.
When he had made up his mind, I suppose, he quietly chucked it over
the lee rail, without even looking round to see whether I was
watching him. I thought it was a pity, for it was a good wooden pipe,
with a nickel ferrule, and somebody would have been glad to have it.
But I didn't like to make any remark, for he had a right to do what
he pleased with what had belonged to his dead brother. He blew the
water out of his own pipe, and dried it against his jacket, putting
his hand inside his oilskin; he filled it, standing under the lee of
the foremast, got a light after wasting two or three matches, and
turned the pipe upside down in his teeth, to keep the rain out of the
bowl. I don't know why I noticed everything he did, and remember it
now; but somehow I felt sorry for him, and I kept wondering whether
there was anything I could say that would make him feel better. But I
didn't think of anything, and as it was broad daylight I went aft
again, for I guessed that the old man would turn out before long and
order the spanker set and the helm up. But he didn't turn out before
seven bells, just as the clouds broke and showed blue sky to
leeward--"the Frenchman's barometer," you used to call it.
Some people don't seem to be so dead, when they are dead, as
others are. Jim Benton was like that. He had been on my watch, and I
couldn't get used to the idea that he wasn't about decks with me. I
was always expecting to see him, and his brother was so exactly like
him that I often felt as if I did see him and forgot he was dead, and
made the mistake of calling Jack by his name; though I tried not to,
because I knew it must hurt. If ever Jack had been the cheerful one
of the two, as I had always supposed he had been, he had changed very
much, for he grew to be more silent than Jim had ever been.
One fine afternoon I was sitting on the main-hatch, overhauling
the clockwork of the taffrail-log, which hadn't been registering very
well of late, and I had got the cook to bring me a coffeecup to hold
the small screws as I took them out, and a saucer for the sperm-oil I
was going to use. I noticed that he didn't go away, but hung round
without exactly watching what I was doing, as if he wanted to say
something to me. I thought if it were worth much he would say it
anyhow, so I didn't ask him questions; and sure enough he began of
his own accord before long. There was nobody on deck but the man at
the wheel, and the other man away forward.
"Mr. Torkeldsen," the cook began, and then stopped.
I supposed he was going to ask me to let the watch break out a
barrel of flour, or some salt horse.
"Well, doctor?" I asked, as he didn't go on.
"Well, Mr. Torkeldsen," he answered, "I somehow want to ask you
whether you think I am giving satisfaction on this ship, or not?"
"So far as I know, you are, doctor. I haven't heard any complaints
from the forecastle, and the captain has said nothing, and I think
you know your business, and the cabin-boy is bursting out of his
clothes. That looks as if you are giving satisfaction. What makes you
think you are not?"
I am not good at giving you that West Indies talk, and sha'n't
try; but the doctor beat about the bush awhile, and then he told me
he thought the men were beginning to play tricks on him, and he
didn't like it, and thought he hadn't deserved it, and would like his
discharge at our next port. I told him he was a d--d fool, of course,
to begin with; and that men were more apt to try a joke with a chap
they liked than with anybody they wanted to get rid of; unless it was
a bad joke, like flooding his bunk, or filling his boots with tar.
But it wasn't that kind of practical joke. The doctor said that the
men were trying to frighten him, and he didn't like it, and that they
put things in his way that frightened him. So I told him he was a
d--d fool to be frightened, anyway, and I wanted to know what things
they put in his way. He gave me a queer answer. He said they were
spoons and forks, and odd plates, and a cup now and then, and such
I set down the taffrail-log on the bit of canvas I had put under
it, and looked at the doctor. He was uneasy, and his eyes had a sort
of hunted look, and his yellow face looked grey. He wasn't trying to
make trouble. He was in trouble. So I asked him questions.
He said he could count as well as anybody, and do sums without
using his fingers, but that when he couldn't count any other way he
did use his fingers, and it always came out the same. He said that
when he and the cabin-boy cleared up after the men's meals there were
more things to wash than he had given out. There'd be a fork more, or
there'd be a spoon more, and sometimes there'd be a spoon and a fork,
and there was always a plate more. It wasn't that he complained of
that. Before poor Jim Benton was lost they had a man more to feed,
and his gear to wash up after meals, and that was in the contract,
the doctor said. It would have been if there were twenty in the
ship's company; but he didn't think it was right for the men to play
tricks like that. He kept his things in good order, and he counted
them, and he was responsible for them, and it wasn't right that the
men should take more things than they needed when his back was
turned, and just soil them and mix them up with their own, so as to
make him think--
He stopped there, and looked at me, and I looked at him. I didn't
know what he thought, but I began to guess. I wasn't going to humour
any such nonsense as that, so I told him to speak to the men himself,
and not come bothering me about such things.
"Count the plates and forks and spoons before them when they sit
down to table, and tell them that's all they'll get; and when they
have finished, count the things again, and if the count isn't right,
find out who did it. You know it must be one of them. You're not a
green hand; you've been going to sea ten or eleven years, and don't
want any lesson about how to behave if the boys play a trick on
"If I could catch him," said the cook, "I'd have a knife into him
before he could say his prayers."
Those West India men are always talking about knives, especially
when they are badly frightened. I knew what he meant, and didn't ask
him, but went on cleaning the brass cogwheels of the patent log and
oiling the bearings with a feather. "Wouldn't it be better to wash it
out with boiling water, sir?" asked the cook, in an insinuating tone.
He knew that he had made a fool of himself, and was anxious to make
it right again.
I heard no more about the odd platter and gear for two or three
days, though I thought about his story a good deal. The doctor
evidently believed that Jim Benton had come back, though he didn't
quite like to say so. His story had sounded silly enough on a bright
afternoon, in fair weather, when the sun was on the water, and every
rag was drawing in the breeze, and the sea looked as pleasant and
harmless as a cat that has just eaten a canary. But when it was
toward the end of the first watch, and the waning moon had not risen
yet, and the water was like still oil, and the jibs hung down flat
and helpless like the wings of a dead bird--it wasn't the same then.
More than once I have started then, and looked round when a fish
jumped, expecting to see a face sticking up out of the water with its
eyes shut. I think we all felt something like that at the time.
One afternoon we were putting a fresh service on the
jib-sheet-pennant. It wasn't my watch, but I was standing by looking
on. Just then Jack Benton came up from below, and went to look for
his pipe under the anchor. His face was hard and drawn, and his eyes
were cold like steel balls. He hardly ever spoke now, but he did his
duty as usual and nobody had to complain of him, though we were all
beginning to wonder how long his grief for his dead brother was going
to last like that. I watched him as he crouched down, and ran his
hand into the hidingplace for the pipe. When he stood up, he had two
pipes in his hand.
Now, I remembered very well seeing him throw one of those pipes
away, early in the morning after the gale; and it came to me now, and
I didn't suppose he kept a stock of them under the anchor. I caught
sight of his face, and it was greenish white, like the foam on
shallow water, and he stood a long time looking at the two pipes. He
wasn't looking to see which was his, for I wasn't five yards from him
as he stood, and one of those pipes had been smoked that day, and was
shiny where his hand had rubbed it, and the bone mouthpiece was
chafed white where his teeth had bitten it. The other was
water-logged. It was swelled and cracking with wet, and it looked to
me as if there were a little green weed on it.
Jack Benton turned his head rather stealthily as I looked away,
and then he hid the thing in his trousers pocket, and went aft on the
lee side, out of sight. The men had got the sheet pennant on a
stretch to serve it, but I ducked under it and stood where I could
see what Jack did, just under the forestaysail. He couldn't see me,
and he was looking about for something. His hand shook as he picked
up a bit of half-bent iron rod, about a foot long, that had been used
for turning an eyebolt, and had been left on the mainhatch. His hand
shook as he got a piece of marline out of his pocket, and made the
water-logged pipe fast to the iron. He didn't mean it to get adrift,
either, for he took his turns carefully, and hove them taut and then
rode them, so that they couldn't slip, and made the end fast with two
half-hitches round the iron, and hitched it back on itself. Then he
tried it with his hands, and looked up and down the deck furtively,
and then quietly dropped the pipe and iron over the rail, so that I
didn't even hear the splash. If anybody was playing tricks on board,
they weren't meant for the cook.
I asked some questions about Jack Benton, and one of the men told
me that he was off his feed, and hardly ate anything, and swallowed
all the coffee he could lay his hands on, and had used up all his own
tobacco and had begun on what his brother had left.
"The doctor says it ain't so, sir," said the man, looking at me
shyly, as if he didn't expect to be believed; "the doctor says
there's as much eaten from breakfast to breakfast as there was before
Jim fell overboard, though there's a mouth less and another that eats
nothing. I says it's the cabin-boy that gets it. He's bu'sting."
I told him that if the cabin-boy ate more than his share, he must
work more than his share, so as to balance things. But the man
laughed queerly, and looked at me again.
"I only said that, sir, just like that. We all know it ain't
"Well, how is it?"
"How is it?" asked the man, half-angry all at once. "I don't know
how it is, but there's a hand on board that's getting his whack along
with us as regular as the bells."
"Does he use tobacco?" I asked, meaning to laugh it out of him,
but as I spoke I remembered the water-logged pipe.
"I guess he's using his own still," the man answered, in a queer,
low voice. "Perhaps he'll take some one else's when his is all
It was about nine o'clock in the morning, I remember, for just
then the captain called to me to stand by the chronometer while he
took his fore observation. Captain Hackstaff wasn't one of those old
skippers who do everything themselves with a pocket watch, and keep
the key of the chronometer in their waistcoat pocket, and won't tell
the mate how far the dead reckoning is out. He was rather the other
way, and I was glad of it, for he generally let me work the sights he
took, and just ran his eye over my figures afterwards. I am bound to
say his eye was pretty good, for he would pick out a mistake in a
logarithm, or tell me that I had worked the "Equation of Time" with
the wrong sign, before it seemed to me that he could have got as far
as "half the sum, minus the altitude." He was always right, too, and
besides he knew a lot about iron ships and local deviation, and
adjusting the compass, and all that sort of thing. I don't know how
he came to be in command of a fore-and-aft schooner. He never talked
about himself, and maybe he had just been mate on one of those big
steel square-riggers, and something had put him back. Perhaps he had
been captain, and had got his ship aground, through no particular
fault of his, and had to begin over again. Sometimes he talked just
like you and me, and sometimes he would speak more like books do, or
some of those Boston people I have heard. I don't know. We have all
been shipmates now and then with men who have seen better days.
Perhaps he had been in the Navy, but what makes me think he couldn't
have been, was that he was a thorough good seaman, a regular old
wind-jammer, and understood sail, which those Navy chaps rarely do.
Why, you and I have sailed with men before the mast who had their
master's certificates in their pockets,--English Board of Trade
certificates, too,--who could work a double altitude if you would
lend them a sextant and give them a look at the chronometer, as well
as many a man who commands a big square-rigger. Navigation ain't
everything, nor seamanship, either. You've got to have it in you, if
you mean to get there.
I don't know how our captain heard that there was trouble forward.
The cabin-boy may have told him, or the men may have talked outside
his door when they relieved the wheel at night. Anyhow, he got wind
of it, and when he had got his sight that morning he had all hands
aft, and gave them a lecture. It was just the kind of talk you might
have expected from him. He said he hadn't any complaint to make, and
that so far as he knew everybody on board was doing his duty, and
that he was given to understand that the men got their whack, and
were satisfied. He said his ship was never a hard ship, and that he
liked quiet, and that was the reason he didn't mean to have any
nonsense, and the men might just as well understand that, too. We'd
had a great misfortune, he said, and it was nobody's fault. We had
lost a man we all liked and respected, and he felt that everybody in
the ship ought to be sorry for the man's brother, who was left
behind, and that it was rotten lubberly childishness, and unjust and
unmanly and cowardly, to be playing schoolboy tricks with forks and
spoons and pipes, and that sort of gear. He said it had got to stop
right now, and that was all, and the men might go forward. And so
It got worse after that, and the men watched the cook, and the
cook watched the men, as if they were trying to catch each other; but
I think everybody felt that there was something else. One evening, at
supper-time, I was on deck, and Jack came aft to relieve the wheel
while the man who was steering got his supper. He hadn't got past the
main-hatch on the lee side, when I heard a man running in slippers
that slapped on the deck, and there was a sort of a yell and I saw
the coloured cook going for Jack, with a carving-knife in his hand. I
jumped to get between them, and Jack turned round short, and put out
his hand. I was too far to reach them, and the cook jabbed out with
his knife. But the blade didn't get anywhere near Benton. The cook
seemed to be jabbing it into the air again and again, at least four
feet short of the mark. Then he dropped his right hand, and I saw the
whites of his eyes in the dusk, and he reeled up against the
pin-rail, and caught hold of a belaying-pin with his left. I had
reached him by that time, and grabbed hold of his knife-hand and the
other too, for I thought he was going to use the pin; but Jack Benton
was standing staring stupidly at him, as if he didn't understand. But
instead, the cook was holding on because he couldn't stand, and his
teeth were chattering, and he let go of the knife, and the point
stuck into the deck.
"He's crazy!" said Jack Benton, and that was all he said and he
When he was gone, the cook began to come to, and he spoke quite
low, near my ear.
"There were two of them! So help me God, there were two of
I don't know why I didn't take him by the collar, and give him a
good shaking; but I didn't. I just picked up the knife and gave it to
him, and told him to go back to his galley, and not to make a fool of
himself. You see, he hadn't struck at Jack, but at something he
thought he saw, and I knew what it was, and I felt that same thing,
like a lump of ice sliding down my back, that I felt that night when
we were bending the trysail.
When the men had seen him running aft, they jumped up after him,
but they held off when they saw that I had caught him. By and by, the
man who had spoken to me before told me what had happened. He was a
stocky little chap, with a red head.
"Well," he said, "there isn't much to tell. Jack Benton had been
eating his supper with the rest of us. He always sits at the after
corner of the table, on the port side. His brother used to sit at the
end, next him. The doctor gave him a thundering big piece of pie to
finish up with, and when he had finished he didn't stop for a smoke,
but went off quick to relieve the wheel. Just as he had gone, the
doctor came in from the galley, and when he saw Jack's empty plate he
stood stock still staring at it; and we all wondered what was the
matter, till we looked at the plate. There were two forks in it, sir,
lying side by side. Then the doctor grabbed his knife, and flew up
through the hatch like a rocket. The other fork was there all right,
Mr. Torkeldsen, for we all saw it and handled it; and we all had our
own. That's all I know."
I didn't feel that I wanted to laugh when he told me that story;
but I hoped the old man wouldn't hear it, for I knew he wouldn't
believe it, and no captain that ever sailed likes to have stories
like that going round about his ship. It gives her a bad name. But
that was all anybody ever saw except the cook, and he isn't the first
man who has thought he saw things without having any drink in him. I
think, if the doctor had been weak in the head as he was afterwards,
he might have done something foolish again, and there might have been
serious trouble. But he didn't. Only, two or three times I saw him
looking at Jack Benton in a queer, scared way, and once, I heard him
talking to himself.
"There's two of them! So help me God, there's two of them!"
He didn't say anything more about asking for his discharge, but I
knew well enough that if he got ashore at the next port we should
never see him again, if he had to leave his kit behind him, and his
money, too. He was scared all through, for good and all; and he
wouldn't be right again till he got another ship. It's no use to talk
to a man when he gets like that, any more than it is to send a boy to
the main truck when he has lost his nerve.
Jack Benton never spoke of what happened that evening. I don't
know whether he knew about the two forks, or not; or whether he
understood what the trouble was. Whatever he knew from the other men,
he was evidently living under a hard strain. He was quiet enough, and
too quiet; but his face was set, and sometimes it twitched oddly when
he was at the wheel, and he would turn his head round sharp to look
behind him. A man doesn't do that naturally, unless there's a vessel
that he thinks is creeping up on the quarter. When that happens, if
the man at the wheel takes a pride in his ship, he will almost always
keep glancing over his shoulder to see whether the other fellow is
gaining. But Jack Benton used to look round when there was nothing
there; and what is curious, the other men seemed to catch the trick
when they were steering. One day the old man turned out just as the
man at the wheel looked behind him.
"What are you looking at?" asked the captain.
"Nothing, sir," answered the man.
"Then keep your eye on the mizzenroyal," said the old man, as if
he were forgetting that we weren't a squarerigger.
"Ay, ay, sir," said the man.
The captain told me to go below and work up the latitude from the
dead-reckoning, and he went forward of the deckhouse and sat down to
read, as he often did. When I came up, the man at the wheel was
looking round again, and I stood beside him and just asked him
quietly what everybody was looking at, for it was getting to be a
general habit. He wouldn't say anything at first, but just answered
that it was nothing. But when he saw that I didn't seem to care, and
just stood there as if there were nothing more to be said, he
naturally began to talk.
He said that it wasn't that he saw anything, because there wasn't
anything to see except the spanker sheet just straining a little, and
working in the sheaves of the blocks as the schooner rose to the
short seas. There wasn't anything to be seen, but it seemed to him
that the sheet made a queer noise in the blocks. It was a new manilla
sheet; and in dry weather it did make a little noise, something
between a creak and a wheeze. I looked at it and looked at the man,
and said nothing; and presently he went on. He asked me if I didn't
notice anything peculiar about the noise. I listened awhile, and said
I didn't notice anything. Then he looked rather sheepish, but said he
didn't think it could be his own ears, because every man who steered
his trick heard the same thing now and then,--sometimes once in a
day, sometimes once in a night, sometimes it would go on a whole
"It sounds like sawing wood," I said, just like that.
"To us it sounds a good deal more like a man whistling 'NancyLee."
He started nervously as he spoke the last words. "There, sir, don't
you hear it?" he asked suddenly.
I heard nothing but the creaking of the manilla sheet. It was
getting near noon, and fine, clear weather in southern waters,--just
the sort of day and the time when you would least expect to feel
creepy. But I remembered how I had heard that same tune overhead at
night in a gale of wind a fortnight earlier, and I am not ashamed to
say that the same sensation came over me now, and I wished myself
well out of the Helen B., and aboard of any old cargo-dragger, with a
windmill on deck, and an eighty-nine-forty-eighter for captain, and a
fresh leak whenever it breezed up.
Little by little during the next few days life on board that
vessel came to be about as unbearable as you can imagine. It wasn't
that there was much talk, for I think the men were shy even of
speaking to each other freely about what they thought. The whole
ship's company grew silent, until one hardly ever heard a voice,
except giving an order and the answer. The men didn't sit over their
meals when their watch was below, but either turned in at once or sat
about on the forecastle smoking their pipes without saying a word. We
were all thinking of the same thing. We all felt as if there were a
hand on board, sometimes below, sometimes about decks, sometimes
aloft, sometimes on the boom end; taking his full share of what the
others got, but doing no work for it. We didn't only feel it, we knew
it. He took up no room, he cast no shadow, and we never heard his
footfall on deck; but he took his whack with the rest as regular as
the bells, and he whistled "Nancy Lee." It was like the worst sort of
dream you can imagine; and I dare say a good many of us tried to
believe it was nothing else sometimes, when we stood looking over the
weather rail in fine weather with the breeze in our faces; but if we
happened to turn round and look into each other's eyes, we knew it
was something worse than any dream could be; and we would turn away
from each other with a queer, sick feeling, wishing that we could
just for once see somebody who didn't know what we knew.
There's not much more to tell about the Helen B. Jackson so far as
I am concerned. We were more like a shipload of lunatics than
anything else when we ran in under Morro Castle, and anchored in
Havana. The cook had brain fever and was raving mad in his delirium;
and the rest of the men weren't far from the same state. The last
three or four days had been awful, and we had been as near to having
a mutiny on board as I ever want to be. The men didn't want to hurt
anybody; but they wanted to get away out of that ship, if they had to
swim for it; to get away from that whistling, from that dead shipmate
who had come back, and who filled the ship with his unseen self. I
know that if the old man and I hadn't kept a sharp lookout the men
would have put a boat over quietly on one of those calm nights, and
pulled away, leaving the captain and me and the mad cook to work the
schooner into harbour. We should have done it somehow, of course, for
we hadn't far to run if we could get a breeze; and once or twice I
found myself wishing that the crew were really gone, for the awful
state of fright in which they lived was beginning to work on me too.
You see I partly believed and partly didn't; but anyhow I didn't mean
to let the thing get the better of me, whatever it was. I turned
crusty, too, and kept the men at work on all sorts of jobs, and drove
them to it until they wished I was overboard, too. It wasn't that the
old man and I were trying to drive them to desert without their pay,
as I am sorry to say a good many skippers and mates do, even now.
Captain Hackstaff was as straight as a string, and I didn't mean
those poor fellows should be cheated out of a single cent; and I
didn't blame them for wanting to leave the ship, but it seemed to me
that the only chance to keep everybody sane through those last days
was to work the men till they dropped. When they were dead tired they
slept a little, and forgot the thing until they had to tumble up on
deck and face it again. That was a good many years ago. Do you
believe that I can't hear "Nancy Lee" now, without feeling cold down
my back? For I heard it too, now and then, after the man had
explained why he was always looking over his shoulder. Perhaps it was
imagination. I don't know. When I look back it seems to me that I
only remember a long fight against something I couldn't see, against
an appalling presence, against something worse than cholera or Yellow
Jack or the plague--and goodness knows the mildest of them is bad
enough when it breaks out at sea. The men got as white as chalk, and
wouldn't go about decks alone at night, no matter what I said to
them. With the cook raving in his bunk the forecastle would have been
a perfect hell, and there wasn't a spare cabin on board. There never
is on a fore-and-after. So I put him into mine, and he was more quiet
there, and at last fell into a sort of stupor as if he were going to
die. I don't know what became of him, for we put him ashore alive and
left him in the hospital.
The men came aft in a body, quiet enough, and asked the captain if
he wouldn't pay them off, and let them go ashore. Some men wouldn't
have done it, for they had shipped for the voyage, and had signed
articles. But the captain knew that when sailors get an idea into
their heads they're no better than children; and if he forced them to
stay aboard he wouldn't get much work out of them, and couldn't rely
on them in a difficulty. So he paid them off, and let them go. When
they had gone forward to get their kits, he asked me whether I wanted
to go too, and for a minute I had a sort of weak feeling that I might
just as well. But I didn't, and he was a good friend to me
afterwards. Perhaps he was grateful to me for sticking to him.
When the men went off he didn't come on deck; but it was my duty
to stand by while they left the ship. They owed me a grudge for
making them work during the last few days, and most of them dropped
into the boat without so much as a word or a look, as sailors will.
Jack Benton was the last to go over the side, and he stood still a
minute and looked at me, and his white face twitched. I thought he
wanted to say something.
"Take care of yourself, Jack," said I. "So long!"
It seemed as if he couldn't speak for two or three seconds; then
his words came thick.
"It wasn't my fault, Mr. Torkeldsen. I swear it wasn't my
That was all; and he dropped over the side, leaving me to wonder
what he meant.
The captain and I stayed on board, and the ship-chandler got a
West India boy to cook for us.
That evening, before turning in, we were standing by the rail
having a quiet smoke, watching the lights of the city, a quarter of a
mile off, reflected in the still water. There was music of some sort
ashore, in a sailors' dance-house, I dare say; and I had no doubt
that most of the men who had left the ship were there, and already
full of jiggy-jiggy. The music played a lot of sailors' tunes that
ran into each other, and we could hear the men's voices in the chorus
now and then. One followed another, and then it was "Nancy Lee," loud
and clear, and the men singing "Yo-ho, heave-ho!"
"I have no ear for music," said Captain Hackstaff, "but it appears
to me that's the tune that man was whistling the night we lost the
man overboard. I don't know why it has stuck in my head, and of
course it's all nonsense; but it seems to me that I have heard it all
the rest of the trip."
I didn't say anything to that, but I wondered just how much the
old man had understood. Then we turned in, and I slept ten hours
without opening my eyes.
I stuck to the Helen B. Jackson after that as long as I could
stand a fore-and-after; but that night when we lay in Havana was the
last time I ever heard "Nancy Lee" on board of her. The spare hand
had gone ashore with the rest, and he never came back, and he took
his tune with him; but all those things are just as clear in my
memory as if they had happened yesterday. After that I was in deep
water for a year or more, and after I came home I got my certificate,
and what with having friends and having saved a little money, and
having had a small legacy from an uncle in Norway, I got the command
of a coastwise vessel, with a small share in her. I was at home three
weeks before going to sea, and Jack Benton saw my name in the local
papers, and wrote to me.
He said that he had left the sea, and was trying farming, and he
was going to be married, and he asked if I wouldn't come over for
that, for it wasn't more than forty minutes by train; and he and
Mamie would be proud to have me at the wedding. I remembered how I
had heard one brother ask the other whether Mamie knew. That meant,
whether she knew, he wanted to marry her, I suppose. She had taken
her time about it, for it was pretty nearly three years then since we
had lost Jim Benton overboard.
I had nothing particular to do while we were getting ready for
sea; nothing to prevent me from going over for a day, I mean; and I
thought I'd like to see Jack Benton, and have a look at the girl he
was going to marry. I wondered whether he had grown cheerful again,
and had got rid of that drawn look he had when he told me it wasn't
his fault. How could it have been his fault, anyhow? So I wrote to
Jack that I would come down and see him married; and when the day
came I took the train, and got there about ten o'clock in the
morning. I wish I hadn't. Jack met me at the station, and he told me
that the wedding was to be late in the afternoon, and that they
weren't going off on any silly wedding trip, he and Mamie, but were
just going to walk home from her mother's house to his cottage. That
was good enough for him, he said. I looked at him hard for a minute
after we met. When we had parted I had a sort of idea that he might
take to drink, but he hadn't. He looked very respectable and
well-to-do in his black coat and high city collar; but he was thinner
and bonier than when I had known him, and there were lines in his
face, and I thought his eyes had a queer look in them, half shifty,
half scared. He needn't have been afraid of me, for I didn't mean to
talk to his bride about the Helen B. Jackson.
He took me to his cottage first, and I could see that he was proud
of it. It wasn't above a cable's-length from highwater mark, but the
tide was running out, and there was already a broad stretch of hard
wet sand on the other side of the beach road. Jack's bit of land ran
back behind the cottage about a quarter of a mile, and he said that
some of the trees we saw were his. The fences were neat and well
kept, and there was a fair-sized barn a little way from the cottage,
and I saw some nice-looking cattle in the meadows; but it didn't look
to me to be much of a farm, and I thought that before long Jack would
have to leave his wife to take care of it, and go to sea again. But I
said it was a nice farm, so as to seem pleasant, and as I don't know
much about these things I dare say it was, all the same. I never saw
it but that once. Jack told me that he and his brother had been born
in the cottage, and that when their father and mother died they
leased the land to Mamie's father, but had kept the cottage to live
in when they came home from sea for a spell. It was as neat a little
place as you would care to see: the floors as clean as the decks of a
yacht, and the paint as fresh as a man-o'-war. Jack always was a good
painter. There was a nice parlour on the ground floor, and Jack had
papered it and had hung the walls with photographs of ships and
foreign ports, and with things he had brought home from his voyages:
a boomerang, a South Sea club, Japanese straw hats and a Gibraltar
fan with a bull-fight on it, and all that sort of gear. It looked to
me as if Miss Mamie had taken a hand in arranging it. There was a
bran-new polished iron Franklin stove set into the old fireplace, and
a red table-cloth from Alexandria, embroidered with those outlandish
Egyptian letters. It was all as bright and homelike as possible, and
he showed me everything, and was proud of everything, and I liked him
the better for it. But I wished that his voice would sound more
cheerful, as it did when we first sailed in the Helen B., and that
the drawn look would go out of his face for a minute. Jack showed me
everything, and took me upstairs, and it was all the same: bright and
fresh and ready for the bride. But on the upper landing there was a
door that Jack didn't open. When we came out of the bedroom I noticed
that it was ajar, and Jack shut it quickly and turned the key.
"That lock's no good," he said, half to himself. "The door is
I didn't pay much attention to what he said, but as we went down
the short stairs, freshly painted and varnished so that I was almost
afraid to step on them, he spoke again.
"That was his room, sir. I have made a sort of store-room of
"You may be wanting it in a year or so," I said, wishing to be
"I guess we won't use his room for that," Jack answered in a low
Then he offered me a cigar from a fresh box in the parlour, and he
took one, and we lit them, and went out; and as we opened the front
door there was Mamie Brewster standing in the path as if she were
waiting for us. She was a fine-looking girl, and I didn't wonder that
Jack had been willing to wait three years for her. I could see that
she hadn't been brought up on steam-heat and cold storage, but had
grown into a woman by the sea-shore. She had brown eyes, and fine
brown hair, and a good figure.
"This is Captain Torkeldsen," said Jack. "This is Miss Brewster,
captain; and she is glad to see you."
"Well, I am," said Miss Mamie, "for Jack has often talked to us
about you, captain."
She put out her hand, and took mine and shook it heartily, and I
suppose I said something, but I know I didn't say much.
The front door of the cottage looked toward the sea, and there was
a straight path leading to the gate on the beach road. There was
another path from the steps of the cottage that turned to the right,
broad enough for two people to walk easily, and it led straight
across the fields through gates to a larger house about a quarter of
a mile away. That was where Mamie's mother lived, and the wedding was
to be there. Jack asked me whether I would like to look round the
farm before dinner, but I told him I didn't know much about farms.
Then he said he just wanted to look round himself a bit, as he
mightn't have much more chance that day; and he smiled, and Mamie
"Show the captain the way to the house, Mamie," he said. "I'll be
along in a minute."
So Mamie and I began to walk along the path, and Jack went up
toward the barn.
"It was sweet of you to come, captain," Miss Mamie began, "for I
have always wanted to see you."
"Yes," I said, expecting something more.
"You see, I always knew them both," she went on. "They used to
take me out in a dory to catch codfish when I was a little girl, and
I liked them both," she added thoughtfully. "Jack doesn't care to
talk about his brother now. That's natural. But you won't mind
telling me how it happened, will you? I should so much like to
Well, I told her about the voyage and what happened that night
when we fell in with a gale of wind, and that it hadn't been
anybody's fault, for I wasn't going to admit that it was my old
captain's, if it was. But I didn't tell her anything about what
happened afterwards. As she didn't speak, I just went on talking
about the two brothers, and how like they had been, and how when poor
Jim was drowned and Jack was left, I took Jack for him. I told her
that none of us had ever been sure which was which.
"I wasn't always sure myself," she said, "unless they were
together. Leastways, not for a day or two after they came home from
sea. And now it seems to me that Jack is more like poor Jim, as I
remember him, than he ever was, for Jim was always more quiet, as if
he were thinking."
I told her I thought so, too. We passed the gate and went into the
next field, walking side by side. Then she turned her head to look
for Jack, but he wasn't in sight. I sha'n't forget what she said
"Are you sure now?" she asked.
I stood stock-still, and she went on a step, and then turned and
looked at me. We must have looked at each other while you could count
five or six.
"I know it's silly," she went on, "it's silly, and it's awful,
too, and I have got no right to think it, but sometimes I can't help
it. You see it was always Jack I meant to marry."
"Yes," I said stupidly, "I suppose so."
She waited a minute, and began walking on slowly before she went
"I am talking to you as if you were an old friend, captain, and I
have only known you five minutes. It was Jack I meant to marry, but
now he is so like the other one."
When a woman gets a wrong idea into her head, there is only one
way to make her tired of it, and that is to agree with her. That's
what I did, and she went or, talking the same way for a little while,
and I kept on agreeing and agreeing until she turned round on me.
"You know you don't believe what you say," she said, and laughed.
"You know that Jack is Jack, right enough; and it's Jack I am going
"Of course I said so, for I didn't care whether she thought me a
weak creature or not. I wasn't going to say a word that could
interfere with her happiness, and I didn't intend to go back on Jack
Benton; but I remembered what he had said when he left the ship in
Havana: that it wasn't his fault.
"All the same," Miss Mamie went on, as a woman will, without
realising what she was saying, "all the same, I wish I had seen it
happen. Then I should know."
Next minute she knew that she didn't mean that, and was afraid
that I would think her heartless, and began to explain that she would
really rather have died herself than have seen poor Jim go overboard.
Women haven't got much sense, anyhow. All the same, I wondered how
she could marry Jack if she had a doubt that he might be Jim after
all. I suppose she had really got used to him since he had given up
the sea and had stayed ashore, and she cared for him.
Before long we heard Jack coming up behind us, for we had walked
very slowly to wait for him.
"Promise not to tell anybody what I said, captain," said Mamie, as
girls do as soon as they have told their secrets.
Anyhow, I know I never did tell any one but you. This is the first
time I have talked of all that, the first time since I took the train
from that place. I am not going to tell you all about the day. Miss
Mamie introduced me to her mother, who was a quiet, hard-f aced old
New England farmer's widow, and to her cousins and relations; and
there were plenty of them too at dinner, and there was the parson
besides. He was what they call a Hard-shell Baptist in those parts,
with a long, shaven upper lip and a whacking appetite, and a sort of
superior look, as if he didn't expect to see many of us
hereafter--the way a New York pilot looks round, and orders things
about when he boards an Italian cargo-dragger, as if the ship weren't
up to much anyway, though it was his business to see that she didn't
get aground. That's the way a good many parsons look, I think. He
said grace as if he were ordering the men to sheet home the
topgallant-sail and get the helm up. After dinner we went out on the
piazza, for it was warm autumn weather; and the young folks went off
in pairs along the beach road, and the tide had turned and was
beginning to come in. The morning had been clear and fine, but by
four o'clock it began to look like a fog, and the damp came up out of
the sea and settled on everything. Jack said he'd go down to his
cottage and have a last look, for the wedding was to be at five
o'clock, or soon after, and he wanted to light the lights, so as to
have things look cheerful.
"I will just take a last look," he said again, as we reached the
house. We went in, and he offered me another cigar, and I lit it and
sat down in the parlour. I could hear him moving about, first in the
kitchen and then upstairs, and then I heard him in the kitchen again;
and then before I knew anything I heard somebody moving upstairs
again. I knew he couldn't have got up those stairs as quick as that.
He came into the parlour, and he took a cigar himself, and while he
was lighting it I heard those steps again overhead. His hand shook,
and he dropped the match.
"Have you got in somebody to help?" I asked.
"No," Jack answered sharply, and struck another match.
"There's somebody upstairs, Jack," I said. "Don't you hear
"It's the wind, captain," Jack answered; but I could see he was
"That isn't any wind, Jack," I said; "it's still and foggy. I'm
sure there's somebody upstairs."
"If you are so sure of it, you'd better go and see for yourself,
captain," Jack answered, almost angrily.
He was angry because he was frightened. I left him before the
fireplace, and went upstairs. There was no power on earth that could
make me believe I hadn't heard a man's footsteps over--head. I knew
there was somebody there. But there wasn't. I went into the bedroom,
and it was all quiet, and the evening light was streaming in, reddish
through the foggy air; and I went out on the landing and looked in
the little back room that was meant for a servant girl or a child.
And as I came back again I saw that the door of the other room was
wide open, though I knew Jack had locked it. He had said the lock was
no good. I looked in. It was a room as big as the bedroom, but almost
dark, for it had shutters, and they were closed. There was a musty
smell, as of old gear, and I could make out that the floor was
littered with sea chests, and that there were oilskins and such stuff
piled on the bed. But I still believed that there was somebody
upstairs, and I went in and struck a match and looked round. I could
see the four walls and the shabby old paper, an iron bed and a
cracked looking-glass, and the stuff on the floor. But there was
nobody there. So I put out the match, and came out and shut the door
and turned the key. Now, what I am telling you is the truth. When I
had turned the key, I heard footsteps walking away from the door
inside the room. Then I felt queer for a minute, and when I went
downstairs I looked behind me, as the men at the wheel used to look
behind them on board the Helen B.
Jack was already outside on the steps, smoking. I have an idea
that he didn't like to stay inside alone.
"Well?" he asked, trying to seem careless.
"I didn't find anybody," I answered, "but I heard somebody moving
"I told you it was the wind," said Jack, contemptuously. "I ought
to know, for I live here, and I hear it often."
There was nothing to be said to that, so we began to walk down
toward the beach. Jack said there wasn't any hurry, as it would take
Miss Mamie some time to dress for the wedding. So we strolled along,
and the sun was setting through the fog, and the tide was coming in.
I knew the moon was full, and that when she rose the fog would roll
away from the land, as it does sometimes. I felt that Jack didn't
like my having heard that noise, so I talked of other things, and
asked him about his prospects, and before long we were chatting as
pleasantly as possible. I haven't been at many weddings in my life,
and I don't suppose you have, but that one seemed to me to be all
right until it was pretty near over; and then, I don't know whether
it was part of the ceremony or not, but Jack put out his hand and
took Mamie's and held it a minute, and looked at her, while the
parson was still speaking.
Mamie turned as white as a sheet and screamed. It wasn't a loud
scream, but just a sort of stifled little shriek, as if she were half
frightened to death; and the parson stopped, and asked her what was
the matter, and the family gathered round.
"Your hand's like ice," said Mamie to Jack, "and it's all
She kept looking at it, as she got hold of herself again.
"It don't feel cold to me," said Jack, and he held the back of his
hand against his cheek. "Try it again."
Mamie held out hers, and touched the back of his hand, timidly at
first, and then took hold of it.
"Why, that's funny," she said.
"She's been as nervous as a witch all day," said Mrs. Brewster,
"It is natural," said the parson, "that young Mrs. Benton should
experience a little agitation at such a moment."
Most of the bride's relations lived at a distance, and were busy
people, so it had been arranged that the dinner we'd had in the
middle of the day was to take the place of a dinner afterwards, and
that we should just have a bite after the wedding was over, and then
that everybody should go home, and the young couple would walk down
to the cottage by themselves. When I looked out I could see the light
burning brightly in Jack's cottage, a quarter of a mile away. I said
I didn't think I could get any train to take me back before half-past
nine, but Mrs. Brewster begged me to stay until it was time, as she
said her daughter would want to take off her wedding dress before she
went home; for she had put on something white with a wreath, that was
very pretty, and she couldn't walk home like that, could she?
So when we had all had a little supper the party began to break
up, and when they were all gone Mrs. Brewster and Mamie went
upstairs, and Jack and I went out on the piazza to have a smoke, as
the old lady didn't like tobacco in the house.
The full moon had risen now, and it was behind me as I looked down
toward Jack's cottage, so that everything was clear and white, and
there was only the light burning in the window. The fog had rolled
down to the water's edge, and a little beyond, for the tide was high,
or nearly, and was lapping up over the last reach of sand, within
fifty feet of the beach road.
Jack didn't say much as we sat smoking, but he thanked me for
coming to his wedding, and I told him I hoped he would be happy; and
so I did. I dare say both of us were thinking of those footsteps
upstairs, just then, and that the house wouldn't seem so lonely with
a woman in it. By and by we heard Mamie's voice talking to her mother
on the stairs, and in a minute she was ready to go. She had put on
again the dress she had worn in the morning, and it looked black at
night, almost as black as Jack's coat.
Well, they were ready to go now. It was all very quiet after the
day's excitement, and I knew they would like to walk down that path
alone now that they were man and wife at last. I bade them
good-night, although Jack made a show of pressing me to go with them
by the path as far as the cottage, instead of going to the station by
the beach road. It was all very quiet, and it seemed to me a sensible
way of getting married; and when Mamie kissed her mother good-night I
just looked the other way, and knocked my ashes over the rail of the
piazza. So they started down the straight path to Jack's cottage, and
I waited a minute with Mrs. Brewster, looking after them, before
taking my hat to go. They walked side by side, a little shyly at
first, and then I saw Jack put his arm round her waist. As I looked
he was on her left, and I saw the outline of the two figures very
distinctly against the moonlight on the path; and the shadow on
Mamie's right was broad and black as ink, and it moved along,
lengthening and shortening with the unevenness of the ground beside
I thanked Mrs. Brewster, and bade her good-night; and though she
was a hard New England woman her voice trembled a little as she
answered, but being a sensible person she went in and shut the door
behind her as I stepped out on the path. I looked after the couple in
the distance a last time, meaning to go down to the road, so as not
to overtake them; but when I had made a few steps I stopped and
looked again, for I knew I had seen something queer, though I had
only realised it afterwards. I looked again, and it was plain enough
now; and I stood stock-still, staring at what I saw. Mamie was
walking between two men. The second man was just the same height as
Jack, both being about a half ahead taller than she; Jack on her left
in his black tail-coat and round hat, and the other man on her
right--well, he was a sailor-man in wet oilskins. I could see the
moonlight shining on the water that ran down him, and on the little
puddle that had settled where the flap of his sou'wester was turned
up behind: and one of his wet, shiny arms was round Mamie's waist,
just above Jack's. I was fast to the spot where I stood, and for a
minute I thought I was crazy. We'd had nothing but some cider for
dinner, and tea in the evening, otherwise I'd have thought something
had got into my head, though I was never drunk in my life. It was
more like a bad dream after that.
I was glad Mrs. Brewster had gone in. As for me, I couldn't help
following the three, in a sort of wonder to see what would happen, to
see whether the sailorman in his wet togs would just melt away into
the moonshine. But he didn't.
I moved slowly, and I remembered afterwards that I walked on the
grass, instead of on the path, as if I were afraid they might hear me
coming. I suppose it all happened in less than five minutes after
that, but it seemed as if it must have taken an hour. Neither Jack
nor Mamie seemed to notice the sailor. She didn't seem to know that
his wet arm was round her, and little by little they got near the
cottage, and I wasn't a hundred yards from them when they reached the
door. Something made me stand still then. Perhaps it was fright, for
I saw everything that happened just as I see you now.
Mamie set her foot on the step to go up, and as she went forward I
saw the sailor slowly lock his arm in Jack's, and Jack didn't move to
go up. Then Mamie turned round on the step, and they all three stood
that way for a second or two. She cried out then,--I heard a man cry
like that once, when his arm was taken off by a steam-crane,--and she
fell back in a heap on the little piazza.
I tried to jump forward, but I couldn't move, and I felt my hair
rising under my hat. The sailor turned slowly where he stood, and
swung Jack round by the arm steadily and easily, and began to walk
him down the pathway from the house. He walked him straight down that
path, as steadily as Fate; and all the time I saw the moonlight
shining on his wet oilskins. He walked him through the gate, and
across the beach road, and out upon the wet sand, where the tide was
high. Then I got my breath with a gulp, and ran for them across the
grass, and vaulted over the fence, and stumbled across the road. But
when I felt the sand under my feet, the two were at the water's edge;
and when I reached the water they were far out, and up to their
waists; and I saw that Jack Benton's head had fallen forward on his
breast, and his free arm hung limp beside him, while his dead brother
steadily marched him to his death. The moonlight was on the dark
water, but the fog-bank was white beyond, and I saw them against it;
and they went slowly and steadily down. The water was up to their
armpits, and then up to their shoulders, and then I saw it rise up to
the black rim of Jack's hat. But they never wavered; and the two
heads went straight on, straight on, till they were under, and there
was just a ripple in the moonlight where Jack had been.
It has been on my mind to tell you that story, whenever I got a
chance. You have known me, man and boy, a good many years; and I
thought I would like to hear your opinion. Yes, that's what I always
thought. It wasn't Jim that went overboard; it was Jack, and Jim just
let him go when he might have saved him; and then Jim passed himself
off for Jack with us, and with the girl. If that's what happened, he
got what he deserved. People said the next day that Mamie found it
out as they reached the house, and that her husband just walked out
into the sea, and drowned himself; and they would have blamed me for
not stopping him if they'd known that I was there. But I never told
what I had seen, for they wouldn't have believed me. I just let them
think I had come too late.
When I reached the cottage and lifted Mamie up, she was raving
mad. She got better afterwards, but she was never right in her head
Oh, you want to know if they found Jack's body? I don't know
whether it was his, but I read in a paper at a Southern port where I
was with my new ship that two dead bodies had come ashore in a gale
down East, in pretty bad shape. They were locked together, and one
was a skeleton in oilskins.