The Yellow Cat
by Wilbur Daniel
At least once in my life I have had the good fortune to board a
deserted vessel at sea. I say good fortune because it has left me the
memory of a singular impression. I have felt a ghost of the same thing
two or three times since then, when peeping through the doorway of an
Now that vessel was not dead. She was a good vessel, a sound vessel,
even a handsome vessel, in her blunt-bowed, coastwise way. She sailed
under four lowers across as blue and glittering a sea as I have ever
known, and there was not a point in her sailing that one could lay a
finger upon as wrong. And yet, passing that schooner at two miles, one
knew, somehow, that no hand was on her wheel. Sometimes I can imagine a
vessel, stricken like that, moving over the empty spaces of the sea,
carrying it off quite well were it not for that indefinable suggestion
of a stagger; and I can think of all those ocean gods, in whom no
landsman will ever believe, looking at one another and tapping their
foreheads with just the shadow of a smile.
I wonder if they all screamthese ships that have lost their souls?
Mine screamed. We heard her voice, like nothing I have ever heard
before, when we rowed under her counter to read her namethe
Marionnette it was, of Halifax. I remember how it made me shiver,
there in the full blaze of the sun, to hear her going on so, railing
and screaming in that stark fashion. And I remember, too, how our
footsteps, pattering through the vacant internals in search of that
haggard utterance, made me think of the footsteps of hurrying warders
roused in the night.
And we found a parrot in a cage; that was all. It wanted water. We
gave it water and went away to look things over, keeping pretty close
together, all of us. In the quarters the table was set for four. Two
men had begun to eat, by the evidences of the plates. Nowhere in the
vessel was there any sign of disorder, except one sea-chest broken out,
evidently in haste. Her papers were gone and the stern davits were
empty. That is how the case stood that day, and that is how it has
stood to this. I saw this same Marionnette a week later, tied up
to a Hoboken dock, where she awaited news from her owners; but even
there, in the midst of all the water-front bustle, I could not get rid
of the feeling that she was still very far awayin a sort of shippish
The thing happens now and then. Sometimes half a dozen years will go
by without a solitary wanderer of this sort crossing the ocean paths,
and then in a single season perhaps several of them will turn up:
vacant waifs, impassive and mysteriousa quarter-column of tidings
tucked away on the second page of the evening paper.
That is where I read the story about the Abbie Rose. I
recollect how painfully awkward and out-of-place it looked there,
cramped between ruled black edges and smelling of landsman's inkthis
thing that had to do essentially with air and vast coloured spaces. I
forget the exact words of the headingsomething like Abandoned Craft
Picked Up At Seabut I still have the clipping itself, couched in the
formal patter of the marine-news writer:
The first hint of another mystery of the sea came in to-day
when the schooner Abbie Rose dropped anchor in the
river, manned only by a crew of one. It appears that the
outbound freighter Mercury sighted the Abbie Rose
Block Island on Thursday last, acting in a suspicious
manner. A boat-party sent aboard found the schooner in
perfect order and condition, sailing under four lower sails,
the topsails being pursed up to the mastheads but not
stowed. With the exception of a yellow cat, the vessel was
found to be utterly deserted, though her small boat still
hung in the davits. No evidences of disorder were visible in
any part of the craft. The dishes were washed up, the stove
in the galley was still slightly warm to the touch,
everything in its proper place with the exception of the
vessel's papers, which were not to be found.
All indications being for fair weather, Captain Rohmer of
the Mercury detailed two of his company to bring the
back to this port, a distance of one hundred and fifteen
miles. The only man available with a knowledge of the
fore-and-aft rig was Stewart McCord, the second engineer. A
seaman by the name of Björnsen was sent with him. McCord
arrived this noon, after a very heavy voyage of five days,
reporting that Björnsen had fallen overboard while shaking
out the foretopsail. McCord himself showed evidence of the
hardships he has passed through, being almost a nervous
Stewart McCord! Yes, Stewart McCord would have a knowledge of the
fore-and-aft rig, or of almost anything else connected with the affairs
of the sea. It happened that I used to know this fellow. I had even
been quite chummy with him in the old daysthat is, to the extent of
drinking too many beers with him in certain hot-country ports. I
remembered him as a stolid and deliberate sort of a person, with an
amazing hodgepodge of learning, a stamp collection, and a theory about
the effects of tropical sunshine on the Caucasian race, to which I have
listened half of more than one night, stretched out naked on a
freighter's deck. He had not impressed me as a fellow who would be
bothered by his nerves.
And there was another thing about the story which struck me as
rather queer. Perhaps it is a relic of my seafaring days, but I have
always been a conscientious reader of the weather reports; and I could
remember no weather in the past week sufficient to shake a man out of a
top, especially a man by the name of Björnsena thoroughgoing
I was destined to hear more of this in the evening, from the ancient
boatman who rowed me out on the upper river. He had been to sea in his
day. He knew enough to wonder about this thing, even to indulge in a
little superstitious awe about it.
No sir-ee. Something happened to them four chaps. And
I fancied I heard a sea-bird whining in the darkness overhead. A
shape moved out of the gloom ahead, passed to the left, lofty and
silent, and merged once more with the gloom behinda barge at anchor,
with the sea-grass clinging around her water-line.
Funny about that other chap, the old fellow speculated.
BjörnsenI b'lieve he called 'im. Now that story sounds to me kind
of He feathered his oars with a suspicious jerk and peered at me.
This McCord a friend of yourn? he inquired.
In a way, I said.
Hm-mwell He turned on his thwart to squint ahead. There she
is, he announced, with something of relief, I thought.
It was hard at that time of night to make anything but a black
blotch out of the Abbie Rose. Of course I could see that she was
pot-bellied, like the rest of the coastwise sisterhood. And that McCord
had not stowed his topsails. I could make them out, pursed at the
mastheads and hanging down as far as the cross-trees, like huge,
over-ripe pears. Then I recollected that he had found them soprobably
had not touched them since; a queer way to leave tops, it seemed to me.
I could see also the glowing tip of a cigar floating restlessly along
the farther rail. I called: McCord! Oh, McCord!
The spark came swimming across the deck. Hello! Hello, thereah
There was a note of querulous uneasiness there that somehow jarred with
my remembrance of this man.
Ridgeway, I explained.
He echoed the name uncertainly, still with that suggestion of
peevishness, hanging over the rail and peering down at us. Oh! By
gracious! he exclaimed, abruptly. I'm glad to see you, Ridgeway. I
had a boatman coming out before this, but I guesswell, I guess he'll
be along. By gracious! I'm glad
I'll not keep you, I told the gnome, putting the money in his palm
and reaching for the rail. McCord lent me a hand on my wrist. Then when
I stood squarely on the deck beside him he appeared to forget my
presence, leaned forward heavily on the rail, and squinted after my
Ahoyboat! he called out, sharply, shielding his lips with his
hand. His violence seemed to bring him out of the blank, for he fell
immediately to puffing strongly at his cigar and explaining in rather a
shame-voiced way that he was beginning to think his own boatman had
passed him up.
Come in and have a nip, he urged with an abrupt heartiness,
clapping me on the shoulder.
So you've I did not say what I had intended. I was thinking that
in the old days McCord had made rather a fetish of touching nothing
stronger than beer. Neither had he been of the shoulder-clapping sort.
So you've got something aboard? I shifted.
Dead men's liquor, he chuckled. It gave me a queer feeling in the
pit of my stomach to hear him. I began to wish I had not come, but
there was nothing for it now but to follow him into the after-house.
The cabin itself might have been nine feet square, with three bunks
occupying the port side. To the right opened the master's stateroom,
and a door in the forward bulkhead led to the galley.
I took in these features at a casual glance. Then, hardly knowing
why I did it, I began to examine them with greater care.
Have you a match? I asked. My voice sounded very small, as though
something unheard of had happened to all the air.
Smoke? he asked. I'll get you a cigar.
No. I took the proffered match, scratched it on the side of the
galley door, and passed out. There seemed to be a thousand pans there,
throwing my match back at me from every wall of the box-like
compartment. Even McCord's eyes, in the doorway, were large and round
and shining. He probably thought me crazy. Perhaps I was, a little. I
ran the match along close to the ceiling and came upon a rusty hook a
little aport of the centre.
There, I said. Was there anything hanging from thisersay a
parrotor something, McCord? The match burned my fingers and went
What do you mean? McCord demanded from the doorway. I got myself
back into the comfortable yellow glow of the cabin before I answered,
and then it was a question.
Do you happen to know anything about this craft's personal
No. What are you talking about! Why?
Well, I do, I offered. For one thing, she's changed her name. And
it happens this isn't the first time she'sWell, damn it all, fourteen
years ago I helped pick up this whatever-she-is off the Virginia
Capesin the same sort of condition. There you are! I was yapping
like a nerve-strung puppy.
McCord leaned forward with his hands on the table, bringing his face
beneath the fan of the hanging-lamp. For the first time I could mark
how shockingly it had changed. It was almost colourless. The jaw had
somehow lost its old-time security and the eyes seemed to be loose in
their sockets. I had expected him to start at my announcement; he only
blinked at the light.
I am not surprised, he remarked at length. After what I've seen
and heard He lifted his fist and brought it down with a sudden crash
on the table. Manlet's have a nip!
He was off before I could say a word, fumbling out of sight in the
narrow stateroom. Presently he reappeared, holding a glass in either
hand and a dark bottle hugged between his elbows. Putting the glasses
down, he held up the bottle between his eyes and the lamp, and its
shadow, falling across his face, green and luminous at the core, gave
him a ghastly looklike a mutilation or an unspeakable birthmark. He
shook the bottle gently and chuckled his Dead men's liquor again.
Then he poured two half-glasses of the clear gin, swallowed his
portion, and sat down.
A parrot, he mused, a little of the liquor's colour creeping into
his cheeks. No, this time it was a cat, Ridgeway. A yellow cat. She
Was? I caught him up. What's happenedwhat's become of
Vanished. Evaporated. I haven't seen her since night before last,
when I caught her trying to lower the boat
Stop it! It was I who banged the table now, without any of
the reserve of decency. McCord, you're drunkdrunk, I tell
you. A cat! Let a cat throw you off your head like this!
She's probably hiding out below this minute, on affairs of her own.
Hiding? He regarded me for a moment with the queer superiority of
the damned. I guess you don't realize how many times I've been over
this hulk, from decks to keelson, with a mallet and a foot-rule.
Or fallen overboard, I shifted, with less assurance. Like this
fellow Björnsen. By the way, McCord I stopped there on account of
the look in his eyes.
He reached out, poured himself a shot, swallowed it, and got up to
shuffle about the confined quarters. I watched their restless
circuitmy friend and his jumping shadow. He stopped and bent forward
to examine a Sunday-supplement chromo tacked on the wall, and the two
heads drew together, as though there were something to whisper. Of a
sudden I seemed to hear the old gnome croaking, Now that story sounds
to me kind of
McCord straightened up and turned to face me.
What do you know about Björnsen? he demanded.
Wellonly what they had you saying in the papers, I told him.
Pshaw! He snapped his fingers, tossing the affair aside. I found
her log, he announced in quite another voice.
You did, eh? I judged, from what I read in the paper, that there
wasn't a sign.
No, no; I happened on this the other night, under the mattress in
there. He jerked his head toward the stateroom. Wait! I heard him
knocking things over in the dark and mumbling at them. After a moment
he came out and threw on the table a long, cloth-covered ledger, of the
common commercial sort. It lay open at about the middle, showing close
script running indiscriminately across the column ruling.
When I said 'log,' he went on, I guess I was going it a little
strong. At least, I wouldn't want that sort of log found around my
vessel. Let's call it a personal record. Here's his picture,
somewhere He shook the book by its back and a common kodak
blue-print fluttered to the table. It was the likeness of a solid man
with a paunch, a huge square beard, small squinting eyes, and a bald
head. What do you make of hima writing chap?
From the nose down, yes, I estimated. From the nose up, he will
'tend to his own business if you will 'tend to yours, strictly.
McCord slapped his thigh. By gracious! that's the fellow! He hates
the Chinaman. He knows as well as anything he ought not to put down in
black and white how intolerably he hates the Chinaman, and yet he must
sneak off to his cubby-hole and suck his pencil, andhow is it
Stevenson has it?the 'agony of composition,' you remember. Can you
imagine the fellow, Ridgeway, bundling down here with the fever on
About the Chinaman, I broke in. I think you said something about
Yes. The cook, he must have been. I gather he wasn't the master's
pick, by the reading-matter here. Probably clapped on to him by the
ownersshifted from one of their others at the last moment; a queer
trick. Listen. He picked up the book and, running over the pages with
a selective thumb, read:
August second.First part, moderate southwesterly
and so fortherbut here he comes to it:
Anything can happen to a man at sea, even a funeral. In
special to a Chinyman, who is of no account to social
welfare, being a barbarian as I look at it.
Something of a philosopher, you see. And did you get the reserve in
that 'even a funeral'? An artist, I tell you. But wait: let me catch
him a bit wilder. Here:
I'll get that mustard-coloured [This is back a couple
of days.] Never can hear the coming, in them carpet
slippers. Turned round and found him standing right to my
back this morning. Could have stuck a knife into me easy.
'Look here!' says I, and fetched him a tap on the ear that
will make him walk louder next time, I warrant. He could
have stuck a knife into me easy.
A clear case of moral funk, I should say. Can you imagine the
Yes; oh, yes. I was ready with a phrase of my own. A man
handicapped with an imagination. You see he can't quite understand this
'barbarian,' who has him beaten by about thirty centuries of
civilizationand his imagination has to have something to chew on,
something to hita 'tap on the ear,' you know.
By gracious! that's the ticket! McCord pounded his knee. And now
we've got another chap going to piecesPeters, he calls him. Refuses
to eat dinner on August the third, claiming he caught the Chink making
passes over the chowder-pot with his thumb. Can you believe it,
Ridgewayin this very cabin here? Then he went on with a suggestion
of haste, as though he had somehow made a slip. Well, at any rate, the
disease seems to be catching. Next day it's Bach, the second seaman,
who begins to feel the gaff. Listen:
Bach he comes to me to-night, complaining he's being
watched. He claims the has got the evil eye. Says he
can see you through a two-inch bulkhead, and the like. The
Chink's laying in his bunk, turned the other way. 'Why don't
you go aboard of him?' says I. The Dutcher says nothing, but
goes over to his own bunk and feels under the straw. When he
comes back he's looking queer. 'By God!' says he, 'the devil
has swiped my gun!' ... Now if that's true there is going to
be hell to pay in this vessel very quick. I figure I'm still
master of this vessel.
The evil eye, I grunted. Consciences gone wrong there somewhere.
Not altogether, Ridgeway. I can see that yellow man peeking. Now
just figure yourself, say, eight thousand miles from home, out on the
water alone with a crowd of heathen fanatics crazy from fright, looking
around for guns and so on. Don't you believe you'd keep an eye around
the corners, kind ofeh? I'll bet a hat he was taking it all in, lying
there in his bunk, 'turned the other way.' Eh? I pity the poor
cussWell, there's only one more entry after that. He's good and mad.
Now, by God! this is the end. My gun's gone, too; right out
from under lock and key, by God! I been talking with Bach
this morning. Not to let on, I had him in to clean my lamp.
There's more ways than one, he says, and so do I.
McCord closed the book and dropped it on the table. Finis, he
said. The rest is blank paper.
Well! I will confess I felt much better than I had for some time
past. There's one 'mystery of the sea' gone to pot, at any
rate. And now, if you don't mind, I think I'll have another of your
He pushed my glass across the table and got up, and behind his back
his shadow rose to scour the corners of the room, like an incorruptible
sentinel. I forgot to take up my gin, watching him. After an uneasy
minute or so he came back to the table and pressed the tip of a
forefinger on the book.
Ridgeway, he said, you don't seem to understand. This particular
'mystery of the sea' hasn't been scratched yetnot even scratched, Ridgeway. He sat down and leaned forward, fixing me with a didactic
finger. What happened?
Well, I have an idea the 'barbarian' got them, when it came to the
And let theremains over the side?
I should say.
And they came back and got the 'barbarian' and let him over
the side, eh? There were none left, you remember.
Oh, good Lord, I don't know! I flared with a childish resentment
at this catechizing of his. But his finger remained there, challenging.
I do, he announced. The Chinaman put them over the side, as we
have said. And then, after that, he diedof wounds about the head.
So? I had still sarcasm.
You will remember, he went on, that the skipper did not happen to
mention a cat, a yellow cat, in his confessions.
McCord, I begged him, please drop it. Why in thunder should
he mention a cat?
True. Why should he mention a cat? I think one of the
reasons why he should not mention a cat is because there did not
happen to be a cat aboard at that time.
Oh, all right! I reached out and pulled the bottle to my side of
the table. Then I took out my watch. If you don't mind, I suggested,
I think we'd better be going ashore. I've got to get to my office
rather early in the morning. What do you say?
He said nothing for the moment, but his finger had dropped. He
leaned back and stared straight into the core of the light above, his
He would have been from the south of China, probably. He seemed to
be talking to himself. There's a considerable sprinkling of the belief
down there, I've heard. It's an uncanny businessthis transmigration
Personally, I had had enough of it. McCord's fingers came groping
across the table for the bottle. I picked it up hastily and let it go
through the open companionway, where it died with a faint gurgle, out
somewhere on the river.
Now, I said to him, shaking the vagrant wrist, either you come
ashore with me or you go in there and get under the blankets. You're
drunk, McCorddrunk. Do you hear me?
Ridgeway, he pronounced, bringing his eyes down to me and speaking
very slowly. You're a fool, if you can't see better than that. I'm not
drunk. I'm sick. I haven't slept for three nightsand now I can't. And
you sayyou He went to pieces very suddenly, jumped up, pounded the
legs of his chair on the decking, and shouted at me: And you say that,
youyou landlubber, you office coddler! You're so comfortably sure
that everything in the world is cut and dried. Come back to the water
again and learn how to wonderand stop talking like a damn fool. Do
you know whereIs there anything in your municipal budget to tell me
where Björnsen went? Listen! He sat down, waving me to do the same,
and went on with a sort of desperate repression.
It happened on the first night after we took this hellion. I'd
stood the wheel most of the afternoonoff and on, that is, because she
sails herself uncommonly well. Just put her on a reach, you know, and
she carries it off pretty well
I know, I nodded.
Well, we mugged up about seven o'clock. There was a good deal of
canned stuff in the galley, and Björnsen wasn't a bad hand with a
kettlea thoroughgoing Square-head he wastall and lean and
yellow-haired, with little fat, round cheeks and a white moustache. Not
a bad chap at all. He took the wheel to stand till midnight, and I
turned in, but I didn't drop off for quite a spell. I could hear his
boots wandering around over my head, padding off forward, coming back
again. I heard him whistling now and thenan outlandish air.
Occasionally I could see the shadow of his head waving in a block of
moonlight that lay on the decking right down there in front of the
stateroom door. It came from the companion; the cabin was dark because
we were going easy on the oil. They hadn't left a great deal, for some
reason or other.
McCord leaned back and described with his finger where the
illumination had cut the decking.
There! I could see it from my bunk, as I lay, you understand. I
must have almost dropped off once when I heard him fiddling around out
here in the cabin, and then he said something in a whisper, just to
find out if I was still awake, I suppose. I asked him what the matter
was. He came and poked his head in the door.
'The breeze is going out,' says he. 'I was wondering if we couldn't
get a little more sail on her.' Only I can't give you his fierce
Square-head tang. 'How about the tops?' he suggested.
I was so sleepy I didn't care, and I told him so. 'All right,' he
says, 'but I thought I might shake out one of them tops.' Then I heard
him blow at something outside. 'Scat, you !' Then: 'This cat's
going to set me crazy, Mr. McCord,' he says, 'following me around
everywhere.' He gave a kick, and I saw something yellow floating across
the moonlight. It never made a soundjust floated. You wouldn't have
known it ever lit anywhere, just like
McCord stopped and drummed a few beats on the table with his fist,
as though to bring himself back to the straight narrative.
I went to sleep, he began again. I dreamed about a lot of things.
I woke up sweating. You know how glad you are to wake up after a dream
like that and find none of it is so? Well, I turned over and settled to
go off again, and then I got a little more awake and thought to myself
it must be pretty near time for me to go on deck. I scratched a match
and looked at my watch. 'That fellow must be either a good chap or
asleep,' I said to myself. And I rolled out quick and went above-decks.
He wasn't at the wheel. I called him: 'Björnsen! Björnsen!' No answer.
McCord was really telling a story now. He paused for a long moment,
one hand shielding an ear and his eyeballs turned far up.
That was the first time I really went over the hulk, he ran on. I
got out a lantern and started at the forward end of the hold, and I
worked aft, and there was nothing there. Not a sign, or a stain, or a
scrap of clothing, or anything. You may believe that I began to feel
funny inside. I went over the decks and the rails and the house
itselfinch by inch. Not a trace. I went out aft again. The cat sat on
the wheel-box, washing her face. I hadn't noticed the scar on her head
before, running down between her earsrather a new scarthree or four
days old, I should say. It looked ghastly and blue-white in the flat
moonlight. I ran over and grabbed her up to heave her over the
sideyou understand how upset I was. Now you know a cat will squirm
around and grab something when you hold it like that, generally
speaking. This one didn't. She just drooped and began to purr and
looked up at me out of her moonlit eyes under that scar. I dropped her
on the deck and backed off. You remember Björnsen had kicked
herand I didn't want anything like that happening to
The narrator turned upon me with a sudden heat, leaned over and
shook his finger before my face.
There you go! he cried. You, with your stout stone buildings and
your policemen and your neighbourhood churchyou're so damn sure. But
I'd just like to see you out there, alone, with the moon setting, and
all the lights gone tall and queer, and a shipmate He lifted his
hand overhead, the finger-tips pressed together and then suddenly
separated as though he had released an impalpable something into the
Go on, I told him.
I felt more like you do, when it got light again, and warm and
sunshiny. I said 'Bah!' to the whole business. I even fed the cat, and
I slept awhile on the roof of the houseI was so sure. We lay dead
most of the day, without a streak of air. But that night! Well, that
night I hadn't got over being sure yet. It takes quite a jolt, you
know, to shake loose several dozen generations. A fair, steady breeze
had come along, the glass was high, she was staying herself like a
doll, and so I figured I could get a little rest, lying below in the
bunk, even if I didn't sleep.
I tried not to sleep, in case something should come upa squall or
the like. But I think I must have dropped off once or twice. I remember
I heard something fiddling around in the galley, and I hollered 'Scat!'
and everything was quiet again. I rolled over and lay on my left side,
staring at that square of moonlight outside my door for a long time.
You'll think it was a dreamwhat I saw there.
Go on, I said.
Call this table-top the spot of light, roughly, he said. He placed
a finger-tip at about the middle of the forward edge and drew it slowly
toward the centre. Here, what would correspond with the upper side of
the companionway, there came down very gradually the shadow of a tail.
I watched it streaking out there across the deck, wiggling the
slightest bit now and then. When it had come down about half-way across
the light, the solid part of the animalits shadow, you
understandbegan to appear, quite big and round. But how could she
hang there, done up in a ball, from the hatch?
He shifted his finger back to the edge of the table and puddled it
around to signify the shadowed body.
I fished my gun out from behind my back. You see, I was feeling
funny again. Then I started to slide one foot over the edge of the
bunk, always with my eyes on that shadow. Now I swear I didn't make the
sound of a pin dropping, but I had no more than moved a muscle when
that shadowed thing twisted itself around in a flashand there on the
floor before me was the profile of a man's head, upside down,
listeninga man's head with a tail of hair.
McCord got up hastily and stepped over in front of the stateroom
door, where he bent down and scratched a match.
See, he said, holding the tiny flame above a splintered scar on
the boards. You wouldn't think a man would be fool enough to shoot at
He came back and sat down.
It seemed to me all hell had shaken loose. You've no idea,
Ridgeway, the rumpus a gun raises in a box like this. I found out
afterward the slug ricochetted into the galley, bringing down a couple
of pansand that helped. Oh, yes, I got out of here quick enough. I
stood there, half out of the companion, with my hands on the hatch and
the gun between them, and my shadow running off across the top of the
house shivering before my eyes like a dry leaf. There wasn't a whisper
of sound in the worldjust the pale water floating past and the sails
towering up like a pair of twittering ghosts. And everything that crazy
Well, in a minute I saw it, just abreast of the mainmast, crouched
down in the shadow of the weather rail, sneaking off forward very
slowly. This time I took a good long sight before I let go. Did you
ever happen to see black-powder smoke in the moonlight? It puffed out
perfectly round, like a big, pale balloon, this did, and for a second
something was bounding through itwithout a sound, you
understandsomething a shade solider than the smoke and big as a cow,
it looked to me. It passed from the weather side to the lee and ducked
behind the sweep of the mainsail like that McCord snapped his
thumb and forefinger under the light.
Go on, I said. What did you do then?
McCord regarded me for an instant from beneath his lids, uncertain.
His fist hung above the table. You're He hesitated, his lips
working vacantly. A forefinger came out of the fist and gesticulated
before my face. If you're laughing, why, damn me, I'll
Go on, I repeated. What did you do then?
I followed the thing. He was still watching me sullenly. I got up
and went forward along the roof of the house, so as to have an eye on
either rail. You understand, this business had to be done with. I kept
straight along. Every shadow I wasn't absolutely sure of I made
sure ofpoint-blank. And I rounded the thing up at the very
sternsitting on the butt of the bowsprit, Ridgeway, washing her
yellow face under the moon. I didn't make any bones about it this time.
I put the bad end of that gun against the scar on her head and squeezed
the trigger. It snicked on an empty shell. I tell you a fact; I was
almost deafened by the report that didn't come.
She followed me aft. I couldn't get away from her. I went and sat
on the wheel-box and she came and sat on the edge of the house, facing
me. And there we stayed for upward of an hour, without moving. Finally
she went over and stuck her paw in the water-pan I'd set out for her;
then she raised her head and looked at me and yawled. At sundown
there'd been two quarts of water in that pan. You wouldn't think a cat
could get away with two quarts of water in
He broke off again and considered me with a sort of weary defiance.
What's the use? He spread out his hands in a gesture of
hopelessness. I knew you wouldn't believe it when I started. You
couldn't. It would be a kind of blasphemy against the sacred
institution of pavements. You're too damn smug, Ridgeway. I can't shake
you. You haven't sat two days and two nights, keeping your eyes open by
sheer teeth-gritting, until they got used to it and wouldn't shut any
more. When I tell you I found that yellow thing snooping around the
davits, and three bights off the boat-fall loosened out, plain on
deckyou grin behind your collar. When I tell you she padded off
forward and evaporatedflickered back to hell and hasn't been seen
since, thenwhy, you explain to yourself that I'm drunk. I tell you
He jerked his head back abruptly and turned to face the companionway,
his lips still apart. He listened so for a moment, then he shook
himself out of it and went on:
I tell you, Ridgeway, I've been over this hulk with a foot-rule.
There's not a cubic inch I haven't accounted for, not a plank I
This time he got up and moved a step toward the companion, where he
stood with his head bent forward and slightly to the side. After what
might have been twenty seconds of this he whispered, Do you hear?
Far and far away down the reach a ferry-boat lifted its
infinitesimal wail, and then the silence of the night river came down
once more, profound and inscrutable. A corner of the wick above my head
sputtered a littlethat was all.
Hear what? I whispered back. He lifted a cautious finger toward
The man's faculties must have been keyed up to the pitch of his
nerves, for to me the night remained as voiceless as a subterranean
cavern. I became intensely irritated with him; within my mind I cried
out against this infatuated pantomime of his. And then, of a sudden,
there was a soundthe dying rumour of a ripple, somewhere in the
outside darkness, as though an object had been let into the water with
I nodded. The ticking of the watch in my vest pocket came to my
ears, shucking off the leisurely seconds, while McCord's finger-nails
gnawed at the palms of his hands. The man was really sick. He wheeled
on me and cried out, My God! Ridgewaywhy don't we go out?
I, for one, refused to be a fool. I passed him and climbed out of
the opening; he followed far enough to lean his elbows on the hatch,
his feet and legs still within the secure glow of the cabin.
You see, there's nothing. My wave of assurance was possibly a
Over there, he muttered, jerking his head toward the shore lights.
I moved to the corner of the house and listened.
River thieves, I argued. The place is full of
Ridgeway. Look behind you!
Perhaps it is the pavementsbut no matter; I am not ordinarily a
jumping sort. And yet there was something in the quality of that voice
beyond my shoulder that brought the sweat stinging through the pores of
my scalp even while I was in the act of turning.
A cat sat there on the hatch, expressionless and immobile in the
I did not say anything. I turned and went below. McCord was there
already, standing on the farther side of the table. After a moment or
so the cat followed and sat on her haunches at the foot of the ladder
and stared at us without winking.
I think she wants something to eat, I said to McCord.
He lit a lantern and went out into the galley. Returning with a
chunk of salt beef, he threw it into the farther corner. The cat went
over and began to tear at it, her muscles playing with convulsive
shadow-lines under the sagging yellow hide.
And now it was she who listened, to something beyond the reach of
even McCord's faculties, her neck stiff and her ears flattened. I
looked at McCord and found him brooding at the animal with a sort of
listless malevolence. Quick! She has kittens somewhere about.
I shook his elbow sharply. When she starts, now
You don't seem to understand, he mumbled. It wouldn't be any
She had turned now and was making for the ladder with the soundless
agility of her race. I grasped McCord's wrist and dragged him after me,
the lantern banging against his knees. When we came up the cat was
already amidships, a scarcely discernible shadow at the margin of our
lantern's ring. She stopped and looked back at us with her luminous
eyes, appeared to hesitate, uneasy at our pursuit of her, shifted here
and there with quick, soft bounds, and stopped to fawn with her back
arched at the foot of the mast. Then she was off with an amazing
suddenness into the shadows forward.
Lively now! I yelled at McCord. He came pounding along behind me,
still protesting that it was of no use. Abreast of the foremast I took
the lantern from him to hold above my head.
You see, he complained, peering here and there over the
illuminated deck. I tell you, Ridgeway, this thing But my eyes were
in another quarter, and I slapped him on the shoulder.
An engineeran engineer to the core, I cried at him. Look aloft,
Our quarry was almost to the cross-trees, clambering up the shrouds
with a smartness no sailor has ever come to, her yellow body, cut by
the moving shadows of the ratlines, a queer sight against the mat of
the night. McCord closed his mouth and opened it again for two words:
By gracious! The following instant he had the lantern and was after
her. I watched him go up above my heada ponderous, swaying climber
into the skycome to the cross-trees, and squat there with his knees
clamped around the mast. The clear star of the lantern shot this way
and that for a moment, then it disappeared, and in its place there
sprang out a bag of yellow light, like a fire-balloon at anchor in the
heavens. I could see the shadows of his head and hands moving
monstrously over the inner surface of the sail, and muffled
exclamations without meaning came down to me. After a moment he drew
out his head and called: All rightthey're here. Heads! there below!
I ducked at his warning, and something spanked on the planking a
yard from my feet. I stepped over to the vague blur on the deck and
picked up a slippera slipper covered with some woven straw stuff and
soled with a matted felt, perhaps a half-inch thick. Another struck
somewhere abaft the mast, and then McCord reappeared above and began to
stagger down the shrouds. Under his left arm he hugged a curious
assortment of litter, a sheaf of papers, a brace of revolvers, a gray
kimono, and a soiled apron.
Well, he said when he had come to deck, I feel like a man who has
gone to hell and come back again. You know I'd come to the place where
I really believed that about the cat. When you think of itBy
gracious! we haven't come so far from the jungle, after all.
We went aft and below and sat down at the table as we had been.
McCord broke a prolonged silence.
I'm sort of glad he got awaypoor cuss! He's probably climbing up
a wharf this minute, shivering and scared to death. Over toward the
gas-tanks, by the way he was swimming. By gracious! now that the
world's turned over straight again, I feel I could sleep a solid week.
Poor cuss! can you imagine him, Ridgeway
Yes, I broke in. I think I can. He must have lost his nerve when
he made out your smoke and shinnied up there to stow away, taking the
ship's papers with him. He would have attached some profound importance
to themremember, the 'barbarian,' eight thousand miles from home.
Probably couldn't read a word. I suppose the cat followed himthe
traditional source of food. He must have wanted water badly.
I should say! He wouldn't have taken the chances he did.
Well, I announced, at any rate, I can say it nowthere's another
'mystery of the sea' gone to pot.
McCord lifted his heavy lids.
No, he mumbled. The mystery is that a man who has been to sea all
his life could sail around for three days with a man bundled up in his
top and not know it. When I think of him peeking down at meand
playing off that damn catprobably without realizing itscared to
deathby gracious! Ridgeway, there was a pair of funks aboard this
craft, eh? WowyowI could sleep
I should think you could.
McCord did not answer.
By the way, I speculated. I guess you were right about Björnsen,
McCordthat is, his fooling with the foretop. He must have been caught
all of a bunch, eh?
Again McCord failed to answer. I looked up mildly surprised, and
found his head hanging back over his chair and his mouth opened wide.
He was asleep.
[C] Reprinted by permission of the author and Messrs. Harper &