Moran of the Lady Letty
by Frank Norris
II. A NAUTICAL
III. THE LADY
V. A GIRL
VI. A SEA
VIII. A RUN FOR
IX. THE CAPTURE
X. A BATTLE
XI. A CHANGE IN
XIV. THE OCEAN
IS CALLING FOR
This is to be a story of a battle, at least one murder, and
several sudden deaths. For that reason it begins with a pink tea and
among the mingled odors of many delicate perfumes and the hale, frank
smell of Caroline Testout roses.
There had been a great number of debutantes "coming out" that
season in San Francisco by means of afternoon teas, pink, lavender,
and otherwise. This particular tea was intended to celebrate the fact
that Josie Herrick had arrived at that time of her life when she was
to wear her hair high and her gowns long, and to have a "day" of her
own quite distinct from that of her mother.
Ross Wilbur presented himself at the Herrick house on Pacific
Avenue much too early upon the afternoon of Miss Herrick's tea. As he
made, his way up the canvased stairs he was aware of a terrifying
array of millinery and a disquieting staccato chatter of feminine
voices in the parlors and reception-rooms on either side of the
hallway. A single high hat in the room that had been set apart for
the men's use confirmed him in his suspicions.
"Might have known it would be a hen party till six, anyhow," he
muttered, swinging out of his overcoat. "Bet I don't know one girl
in twenty down there now—all mamma's friends at this hour, and papa's
maiden sisters, and Jo's school-teachers and governesses and
music-teachers, and I don't know what all."
When he went down he found it precisely as he expected. He went
up to Miss Herrick, where she stood receiving with her mother and two
of the other girls, and allowed them to chaff him on his forlornness.
"Maybe I seem at my ease," said Ross Wilbur to them, "but really I
am very much frightened. I'm going to run away as soon as it is
decently possible, even before, unless you feed me."
"I believe you had luncheon not two hours ago," said Miss Herrick.
"Come along, though, and I'll give you some chocolate, and perhaps,
if you're good, a stuffed olive. I got them just because I knew you
liked them. I ought to stay here and receive, so I can't look after
you for long."
The two fought their way through the crowded rooms to the
luncheon-table, and Miss Herrick got Wilbur his chocolate and his
stuffed olives. They sat down and talked in a window recess for a
moment, Wilbur toeing-in in absurd fashion as he tried to make a lap
for his plate.
"I thought," said Miss Herrick, "that you were going on the
Ridgeways' yachting party this afternoon. Mrs. Ridgeway said she was
counting on you. They are going out with the 'Petrel.'"
"She didn't count above a hundred, though," answered Wilbur. "I
got your bid first, so I regretted the yachting party; and I guess
I'd have regretted it anyhow," and he grinned at her over his cup.
"Nice man," she said—adding on the instant, "I must go now,
"Wait till I eat the sugar out of my cup," complained Wilbur.
"Tell me," he added, scraping vigorously at the bottom of the cup
with the inadequate spoon; "tell me, you're going to the hoe-down
"If you mean the Assembly, yes, I am."
"Will you give me the first and last?"
"I'll give you the first, and you can ask for the last then."
"Let's put it down; I know you'll forget it." Wilbur drew a couple
of cards from his case.
"Programmes are not good form any more," said Miss Herrick.
"Forgetting a dance is worse."
He made out the cards, writing on the one he kept for himself,
"I must go back now," said Miss Herrick, getting up.
"In that case I shall run—I'm afraid of girls."
"It's a pity about you."
"I am; one girl, I don't say, but girl in the aggregate like
this," and he pointed his chin toward the thronged parlors. "It
"Good-by, until to-night, about—?"
"About nine, then."
Ross Wilbur made his adieu to Mrs. Herrick and the girls who were
receiving, and took himself away. As he came out of the house and
stood for a moment on the steps, settling his hat gingerly upon his
hair so as not to disturb the parting, he was not by any means an
ill-looking chap. His good height was helped out by his long coat and
his high silk hat, and there was plenty of jaw in the lower part of
his face. Nor was his tailor altogether answerable for his shoulders.
Three years before this time Ross Wilbur had pulled at No. 5 in his
varsity boat in an Eastern college that was not accustomed to athletic
"I wonder what I'm going to do with myself until supper time," he
muttered, as he came down the steps, feeling for the middle of his
stick. He found no immediate answer to his question. But the
afternoon was fine, and he set off to walk in the direction of the
town, with a half-formed idea of looking in at his club.
At his club he found a letter in his box from his particular chum,
who had been spending the month shooting elk in Oregon.
"Dear Old Man," it said, "will be back on the afternoon you
receive this. Will hit the town on the three o'clock boat. Get
seats for the best show going—my treat—and arrange to assimilate
nutriment at the Poodle Dog—also mine. I've got miles of talk in me
that I've got to reel off before midnight. Yours.
"I've got a stand of horns for you, Ross, that are Glory
"Well, I can't go," murmured Wilbur, as he remembered the Assembly
that was to come off that night and his engaged dance with Jo
Herrick. He decided that it would be best to meet Jerry as he came
off the boat and tell him how matters stood. Then he resolved, since
no one that he knew was in the club, and the instalment of the Paris
weeklies had not arrived, that it would be amusing to go down to the
water-front and loaf among the shipping until it was time for Jerry's
Wilbur spent an hour along the wharves, watching the great grain
ships consigned to "Cork for orders" slowly gorging themselves with
whole harvests of wheat from the San Joaquin Valley; lumber vessels
for Durban and South African ports settling lower and lower to the
water's level as forests of pine and redwood stratified themselves
along their decks and in their holds; coal barges discharging from
Nanaimo; busy little tugs coughing and nuzzling at the flanks of the
deep-sea tramps, while hay barges and Italian whitehalls came and went
at every turn. A Stockton River boat went by, her stern wheel
churning along behind, like a huge net-reel; a tiny maelstrom of
activity centred about an Alaska Commercial Company's steamboat that
would clear for Dawson in the morning.
No quarter of one of the most picturesque cities in the world had
more interest for Wilbur than the water-front. In the mile or so of
shipping that stretched from the docks where the China steamships
landed, down past the ferry slips and on to Meiggs's Wharf, every
maritime nation in the world was represented. More than once Wilbur
had talked to the loungers of the wharves, stevedores out of work,
sailors between voyages, caulkers and ship chandlers' men looking—not
too earnestly—for jobs; so that on this occasion, when a little,
undersized fellow in dirty brown sweater and clothes of Barbary coast
cut asked him for a match to light his pipe, Wilbur offered a cigar
and passed the time of day with him. Wilbur had not forgotten that he
himself was dressed for an afternoon function. But the incongruity of
the business was precisely what most amused him.
After a time the fellow suggested drinks. Wilbur hesitated for a
moment. It would be something to tell about, however, so, "All
right, I'll drink with you," he said.
The brown sweater led the way to a sailors' boarding-house hard
by. The rear of the place was built upon piles over the water. But
in front, on the ground floor, was a barroom.
"Rum an' gum," announced the brown sweater, as the two came in and
took their places at the bar.
"Rum an' gum, Tuck; wattle you have, sir?"
"Oh—I don't know," hesitated Wilbur; "give me a mild Manhattan."
While the drinks were being mixed the brown sweater called
Wilbur's attention to a fighting head-dress from the Marquesas that
was hung on the wall over the free-lunch counter and opposite the bar.
Wilbur turned about to look at it, and remained so, his back to the
barkeeper, till the latter told them their drinks were ready.
"Well, mate, here's big blocks an' taut hawse-pipes," said the
brown sweater cordially.
"Your very good health," returned Wilbur.
The brown sweater wiped a thin mustache in the hollow of his palm,
and wiped that palm upon his trouser leg.
"Yessir," he continued, once more facing the Marquesas head-dress.
"Yessir, they're queer game down there."
"In the Marquesas Islands, you mean?" said Wilbur.
"Yessir, they're queer game. When they ain't tattoin' theirselves
with Scripture tex's they git from the missionaries, they're pullin'
out the hairs all over their bodies with two clam-shells. Hair by
hair, y' understan'?"
"Pull'n out 'er hair?" said Wilbur, wondering what was the matter
with his tongue.
"They think it's clever—think the women folk like it."
Wilbur had fancied that the little man had worn a brown sweater
when they first met. But now, strangely enough, he was not in the
least surprised to see it iridescent like a pigeon's breast.
"Y' ever been down that way?" inquired the little man next.
Wilbur heard the words distinctly enough, but somehow they refused
to fit into the right places in his brain. He pulled himself
together, frowning heavily.
"What—did—you—say?" he asked with great deliberation, biting
off his words. Then he noticed that he and his companion were no
longer in the barroom, but in a little room back of it. His
personality divided itself. There was one Ross Wilbur—who could not
make his hands go where he wanted them, who said one word when he
thought another, and whose legs below the knee were made of solid
lead. Then there was another Ross Wilbur—Ross Wilbur, the alert, who
was perfectly clear-headed, and who stood off to one side and watched
his twin brother making a monkey of himself, without power and without
even the desire of helping him.
This latter Wilbur heard the iridescent sweater say:
"Bust me, if y' a'n't squiffy, old man. Stand by a bit an' we'll
have a ball."
"Can't have got—return—exceptionally—and the round table—pull
out hairs wi' tu clamsh'ls," gabbled Wilbur's stupefied double; and
Wilbur the alert said to himself: "You're not drunk, Ross Wilbur,
that's certain; what could they have put in your cocktail?"
The iridescent sweater stamped twice upon the floor and a trap-
door fell away beneath Wilbur's feet like the drop of a gallows. With
the eyes of his undrugged self Wilbur had a glimpse of water below.
His elbow struck the floor as he went down, and he fell feet first
into a Whitehall boat. He had time to observe two men at the oars and
to look between the piles that supported the house above him and catch
a glimpse of the bay and a glint of the Contra Costa shore. He was
not in the least surprised at what had happened, and made up his mind
that it would be a good idea to lie down in the boat and go to sleep.
Suddenly—but how long after his advent into the boat he could not
tell—his wits began to return and settle themselves, like wild birds
flocking again after a scare. Swiftly he took in the scene. The blue
waters of the bay around him, the deck of a schooner on which he
stood, the Whitehall boat alongside, and an enormous man with a face
like a setting moon wrangling with his friend in the sweater—no
"What do you call it?" shouted the red man. "I want able seamen—
I don't figger on working this boat with dancing masters, do I? We
ain't exactly doing quadrilles on my quarterdeck. If we don't look
out we'll step on this thing and break it. It ain't ought to be let
around loose without its ma."
"Rot that," vociferated the brown sweater. "I tell you he's one
of the best sailor men on the front. If he ain't we'll forfeit the
money. Come on, Captain Kitchell, we made show enough gettin' away as
it was, and this daytime business ain't our line. D'you sign or not?
Here's the advance note. I got to duck my nut or I'll have the patrol
boat after me."
"I'll sign this once," growled the other, scrawling his name on
the note; "but if this swab ain't up to sample, he'll come back by
freight, an' I'll drop in on mee dear friend Jim when we come back
and give him a reel nice time, an' you can lay to that, Billy Trim."
The brown sweater pocketed the note, went over the side, and rowed
Wilbur stood in the waist of a schooner anchored in the stream
well off Fisherman's wharf. In the forward part of the schooner a
Chinaman in brown duck was mixing paint. Wilbur was conscious that
he still wore his high hat and long coat, but his stick was gone and
one gray glove was slit to the button. In front of him towered the
enormous red-faced man. A pungent reek of some kind of rancid fat or
oil assailed his nostrils. Over by Alcatraz a ferry-boat whistled for
its slip as it elbowed its way through the water.
Wilbur had himself fairly in hand by now. His wits were all about
him; but the situation was beyond him as yet.
"Git for'd," commanded the big man.
Wilbur drew himself up, angry in an instant. "Look here," he
began, "what's the meaning of this business? I know I've been drugged
and mishandled. I demand to be put ashore. Do you understand that?"
"Angel child," whimpered the big man. "Oh, you lilee of the
vallee, you bright an' mornin' star. I'm reely pained y'know, that
your vally can't come along, but we'll have your piano set up in the
lazarette. It gives me genuine grief, it do, to see you bein' obliged
to put your lilee white feet on this here vulgar an' dirtee deck.
We'll have the Wilton carpet down by to-morrer, so we will, my dear.
Yah-h!" he suddenly broke out, as his rage boiled over. "Git for'd,
d'ye hear! I'm captain of this here bathtub, an' that's all you need
to know for a good while to come. I ain't generally got to tell that
to a man but once; but I'll stretch the point just for love of you,
angel child. Now, then, move!"
Wilbur stood motionless—puzzled beyond expression. No experience
he had ever been through helped in this situation.
"Look here," he began, "I—"
The captain knocked him down with a blow of one enormous fist upon
the mouth, and while he was yet stretched upon the deck kicked him
savagely in the stomach. Then he allowed him to rise, caught him by
the neck and the slack of his overcoat, and ran him forward to where a
hatchway, not two feet across, opened in the deck. Without ado, he
flung him down into the darkness below; and while Wilbur, dizzied by
the fall, sat on the floor at the foot of the vertical
companion-ladder, gazing about him with distended eyes, there rained
down upon his head, first an oilskin coat, then a sou'wester, a pair
of oilskin breeches, woolen socks, and a plug of tobacco. Above him,
down the contracted square of the hatch, came the bellowing of the
"There's your fit-out, Mister Lilee of the Vallee, which the same
our dear friend Jim makes a present of and no charge, because he
loves you so. You're allowed two minutes to change, an' it is to be
hoped as how you won't force me to come for to assist."
It would have been interesting to have followed, step by step, the
mental process that now took place in Ross Wilbur's brain. The
Captain had given him two minutes in which to change. The time was
short enough, but even at that Wilbur changed more than his clothes
during the two minutes he was left to himself in the reekind dark of
the schooner's fo'castle. It was more than a change—it was a
revolution. What he made up his mind to do— precisely what mental
attitude he decided to adopt, just what new niche he elected wherein
to set his feet, it is difficult to say. Only by results could the
change be guessed at. He went down the forward hatch at the toe of
Kitchell's boot—silk-hatted, melton- overcoated, patent-booted, and
gloved in suedes. Two minutes later there emerged upon the deck a
figure in oilskins and a sou'wester. There was blood upon the face of
him and the grime of an unclean ship upon his bare hands. It was
Wilbur, and yet not Wilbur. In two minutes he had been, in a way,
born again. The only traces of his former self were the
patent-leather boots, still persistent in their gloss and shine, that
showed grim incongruity below the vast compass of the oilskin
As Wilbur came on deck he saw the crew of the schooner hurrying
forward, six of them, Chinamen every one, in brown jeans and black
felt hats. On the quarterdeck stood the Captain, barking his orders.
"Consider the Lilee of the Vallee," bellowed the latter, as his
eye fell upon Wilbur the Transformed. "Clap on to that starboard
windlass brake, sonny."
Wilbur saw the Chinamen ranging themselves about what he guessed
was the windlass in the schooner's bow. He followed and took his
place among them, grasping one of the bars.
"Break down!" came the next order. Wilbur and the Chinamen
obeyed, bearing up and down upon the bars till the slack of the
anchor-chain came home and stretched taut and dripping from the
And then as Wilbur released the brake and turned about for the
next order, he cast his glance out upon the bay, and there, not a
hundred and fifty yards away, her spotless sails tense, her cordage
humming, her immaculate flanks slipping easily through the waves, the
water hissing and churning under her forefoot, clean, gleaming,
dainty, and aristocratic, the Ridgeways' yacht "Petrel" passed like a
thing of life. Wilbur saw Nat Ridgeway himself at the wheel. Girls
in smart gowns and young fellows in white ducks and yachting caps—all
friends of his—crowded the decks. A little orchestra of musicians
were reeling off a quickstep.
The popping of a cork and a gale of talk and laughter came to his
ears. Wilbur stared at the picture, his face devoid of expression.
The "Petrel" came on—drew nearer—was not a hundred feet away from
the schooner's stern. A strong swimmer, such as Wilbur, could cover
the distance in a few strides. Two minutes ago Wilbur might have—
"Set your mains'l," came the bellow of Captain Kitchell. "Clap on
to your throat and peak halyards."
The Chinamen hurried aft.
II. A NAUTICAL EDUCATTON.
In the course of the next few moments, while the little vessel was
being got under way, and while the Ridgeways' "Petrel" gleamed off
into the blue distance, Wilbur made certain observations.
The name of the boat on which he found himself was the "Bertha
Millner." She was a two-topmast, 28-ton keel schooner, 40 feet long,
carrying a large spread of sail—mainsail, foresail, jib, flying-jib,
two gaff-topsails, and a staysail. She was very dirty and smelt
abominably of some kind of rancid oil. Her crew were Chinamen; there
was no mate. But the cook—himself a Chinaman— who appeared from
time to time at the door of the galley, a potato-masher in his hand,
seemed to have some sort of authority over the hands. He acted in a
manner as a go-between for the Captain and the crew, sometimes
interpreting the former's orders, and occasionally giving one of his
Wilbur heard the Captain address him as Charlie. He spoke pigeon
English fairly. Of the balance of the crew—the five Chinamen—
Wilbur could make nothing. They never spoke, neither to Captain
Kitchell, to Charlie, nor to each other; and for all the notice they
took of Wilbur he might easily have been a sack of sand. Wilbur felt
that his advent on the "Bertha Millner" was by its very nature an
extraordinary event; but the absolute indifference of these
brown-suited Mongols, the blankness of their flat, fat faces, the
dulness of their slanting, fishlike eyes that never met his own or
even wandered in his direction, was uncanny, disquieting. In what
strange venture was he now to be involved, toward what unknown vortex
was this new current setting, this current that had so suddenly
snatched him from the solid ground of his accustomed life?
He told himself grimly that he was to have a free cruise up the
bay, perhaps as far as Alviso; perhaps the "Bertha Millner" would
even make the circuit of the bay before returning to San Francisco.
He might be gone a week. Wilbur could already see the scare-heads of
the daily papers the next morning, chronicling the disappearance of
"One of Society's Most Popular Members."
"That's well, y'r throat halyards. Here, Lilee of the Vallee,
give a couple of pulls on y'r peak halyard purchase."
Wilbur stared at the Captain helplessly.
"No can tell, hey?" inquired Charlie from the galley. "Pullum
disa lope, sabe?"
Wilbur tugged at the rope the cook indicated.
"That's well, y'r peak halyard purchase," chanted Captain
Wilbur made the rope fast. The mainsail was set, and hung
slatting and flapping in the wind. Next the for'sail was set in much
the same manner, and Wilbur was ordered to "lay out on the ji'boom and
cast the gaskets off the jib." He "lay out" as best he could and cast
off the gaskets—he knew barely enough of yachting to understand an
order here and there—and by the time he was back on the fo'c'sle head
the Chinamen were at the jib halyard and hoisting away.
"That's well, y'r jib halyards."
The "Bertha Millner" veered round and played off to the wind,
tugging at her anchor.
"Man y'r windlass."
Wilbur and the crew jumped once more to the brakes.
"Brake down, heave y'r anchor to the cathead."
The anchor-chain, already taut, vibrated and then cranked through
the hawse-holes as the hands rose and fell at the brakes. The anchor
came home, dripping gray slime. A nor'west wind filled the schooner's
sails, a strong ebb tide caught her underfoot.
"We're off," muttered Wilbur, as the "Bertha Millner" heeled to
the first gust.
But evidently the schooner was not bound up the bay.
"Must be Vallejo or Benicia, then," hazarded Wilbur, as the sails
grew tenser and the water rippled ever louder under the schooner's
forefoot. "Maybe they're going after hay or wheat."
The schooner was tacking, headed directly for Meiggs's wharf. She
came in closer and closer, so close that Wilbur could hear the talk
of the fishermen sitting on the stringpieces. He had just made up his
mind that they were to make a landing there, when—"
"Stand by for stays," came the raucous bark of the Captain, who
had taken on the heel. The sails slatted furiously as the schooner
came about. Then the "Bertha Millner" caught the wind again and lay
over quietly and contentedly to her work. The next tack brought the
schooner close under Alcatraz. The sea became heavier, the breeze
grew stiff and smelled of the outside ocean. Out beyond them to
westward opened the Golden Gate, a bleak vista of gray-green water
roughened with white-caps.
"Stand by for stays."
Once again as the rudder went hard over, the "Bertha Millner"
fretted and danced and shook her sails, calling impatiently for the
wind, chafing at its absence like a child reft of a toy. Then again
she scooped the nor'wester in the hollow palms of her tense canvases
and settled quietly down on the new tack, her bowsprit pointing
straight toward the Presidio.
"We'll come about again soon," Wilbur told himself, "and stand
over toward the Contra Costa shore."
A fine huge breath of wind passed over the schooner. She heeled
it on the instant, the water roaring along her quarter, but she kept
her course. Wilbur fell thoughtful again, never more keenly
"She must come about soon," he muttered uneasily, "if she's going
to stand up toward Vallejo." His heart sank with a sudden
apprehension. A nervousness he could not overcome seized upon him.
The "Bertha Millner" held tenaciously to the tack. Within fifty
yards of the Presidio came the command again:
"Stand by for stays."
Once more, her bows dancing, her cordage rattling, her sails
flapping noisily, the schooner came about. Anxiously Wilbur observed
the bowsprit as it circled like a hand on a dial, watching where now
it would point. It wavered, fluctuated, rose, fell, then settled
easily, pointing toward Lime Point. Wilbur felt a sudden coldness at
"This isn't going to be so much fun," he muttered between his
teeth. The schooner was not bound up the bay for Alviso nor to
Vallejo for grain. The track toward Lime Point could mean but one
thing. The wind was freshening from the nor'west, the ebb tide
rushing out to meet the ocean like a mill-race, at every moment the
Golden Gate opened out wider, and within two minutes after the time of
the last tack the "Bertha Millner" heeled to a great gust that had
come booming in between the heads, straight from the open Pacific.
"Stand by for stays."
As before, one of the Chinese hands stood by the sail rope of the
"Draw y'r jib."
The jib filled. The schooner came about on the port tack; Lime
Point fell away over the stern rail. The huge ground swells began to
come in, and as she rose and bowed to the first of these it was
precisely as though the "Bertha Millner" were making her courtesy to
the great gray ocean, now for the first time in full sight on her
The schooner was beating out to sea through the Middle Channel.
Once clear of the Golden Gate, she stood over toward the Cliff House,
then on the next tack cleared Point Bonita. The sea began building up
in deadly earnest—they were about to cross the bar. Everything was
battened down, the scuppers were awash, and the hawse-holes spouted
like fountains after every plunge. Once the Captain ordered all men
aloft, just in time to escape a gigantic dull green roller that broke
like a Niagara over the schooner's bows, smothering the decks
knee-deep in a twinkling.
The wind blew violent and cold, the spray was flying like icy
small-shot. Without intermission the "Bertha Millner" rolled and
plunged and heaved and sank. Wilbur was drenched to the skin and
sore in every joint, from being shunted from rail to mast and from
mast to rail again. The cordage sang like harp-strings, the
schooner's forefoot crushed down into the heaving water with a
hissing like that of steam, blocks rattled, the Captain bellowed his
orders, rope-ends flogged the hollow deck till it reverberated like a
drum-head. The crossing of the bar was one long half-hour of
confusion and discordant sound.
When they were across the bar the Captain ordered the cook to give
the men their food.
"Git for'rd, sonny," he added, fixing Wilbur with his eye. "Git
for'rd, this is tawble dee hote, savvy?"
Wilbur crawled forward on the reeling deck, holding on now to a
mast, now to a belaying-pin, now to a stay, watching his chance and
going on between the inebriated plunges of the schooner.
He descended the fo'c'sle hatch. The Chinamen were already there,
sitting on the edges of their bunks. On the floor, at the bottom of
the ladder, punk-sticks were burning in an old tomato-can.
Charlie brought in supper—stewed beef and pork in a bread-pan and
a wooden kit—and the Chinamen ate in silence with their sheath-
knives and from tin plates. A liquid that bore a distant resemblance
to coffee was served. Wilbur learned afterward to know the stuff as
Black Jack, and to be aware that it was made from bud barley and was
sweetened with molasses. A single reeking lamp swung with the
swinging of the schooner over the centre of the group, and long after
Wilbur could remember the grisly scene— the punk-sticks, the
bread-pan full of hunks of meat, the horrid close and oily smell, and
the circle of silent, preoccupied Chinese, each sitting on his
bunk-ledge, devouring stewed pork and holding his pannikin of Black
Jack between his feet against the rolling of the boat.
Wilbur looked fearfully at the mess in the pan, recalling the
chocolate and stuffed olives that had been his last luncheon.
"Well," he muttered, clinching his teeth, "I've got to come to it
sooner or later." His penknife was in the pocket of his waist- coat,
underneath his oilskin coat. He opened the big blade, harpooned a
cube of pork, and deposited it on his tin plate. He ate it slowly and
with savage determination. But the Black Jack was more than he could
"I'm not hungry enough for that just now," he told himself. "Say,
Jim," he said, turning to the Chinaman next him on the bunk-ledge,
"say, what kind of boat is this? What you do—where you go?"
The other moved away impatiently.
"No sabe, no sabe," he answered, shaking his head and frowning.
Throughout the whole of that strange meal these were the only words
When Wilbur came on deck again he noted that the "Bertha Millner"
had already left the whistling-buoy astern. Off to the east, her
sails just showing above the waves, was a pilot-boat with the number
7 on her mainsail. The evening was closing in; the Farallones were in
plain sight dead ahead. Far behind, in a mass of shadow just bluer
than the sky, he could make out a few twinkling lights—San Francisco.
Half an hour later Kitchell came on deck from his supper in the
cabin aft. He glanced in the direction of the mainland, now almost
out of sight, then took the wheel from one of the Chinamen and
commanded, "Ease off y'r fore an' main sheets." The hands eased away
and the schooner played off before the wind.
The staysail was set. The "Bertha Millner" headed to southwest,
bowling easily ahead of a good eight-knot breeze.
Next came the order "All hands aft!" and Wilbur and his mates
betook themselves to the quarterdeck. Charlie took the wheel, and he
and Kitchell began to choose the men for their watches, just as Wilbur
remembered to have chosen sides for baseball during his school days.
"Sonny, I'll choose you; you're on my watch," said the Captain to
Wilbur, "and I will assoom the ree-sponsibility of your nautical
"I may as well tell you at once," began Wilbur, "that I'm no
"But you will be, soon," answered the Captain, at once soothing
and threatening; "you will be, Mister Lilee of the Vallee, you kin
lay to it as how you will be one of the best sailormen along the
front, as our dear friend Jim says. Before I git throo with you,
you'll be a sailorman or shark-bait, I can promise you. You're on my
watch; step over here, son."
The watches were divided, Charlie and three other Chinamen on the
port, Kitchell, Wilbur, and two Chinamen on the starboard. The men
trooped forward again.
The tiny world of the schooner had lapsed to quiet. The "Bertha
Millner" was now clear of the land, that lay like a blur of faintest
purple smoke—ever growing fainter—low in the east. The Farallones
showed but their shoulders above the horizon. The schooner was
standing well out from shore—even beyond the track of the coasters
and passenger steamers—to catch the Trades from the northwest. The
sun was setting royally, and the floor of the ocean shimmered like
mosaic. The sea had gone down and the fury of the bar was a thing
forgotten. It was perceptibly warmer.
On board, the two watches mingled forward, smoking opium and
playing a game that looked like checkers. Three of them were washing
down the decks with kaiar brooms. For the first time since he had
come on board Wilbur heard the sound of their voices.
The evening was magnificent. Never to Wilbur's eyes had the
Pacific appeared so vast, so radiant, so divinely beautiful. A star
or two burned slowly through that part of the sky where the pink began
to fade into the blue. Charlie went forward and set the side
lights—red on the port rigging, green on the starboard. As he passed
Wilbur, who was leaning over the rail and watching the phosphorus
flashing just under the surface, he said:
"Hey, you go talkee-talk one-piecey Boss, savvy Boss—chin-chin."
Wilbur went aft and came up on the poop, where Kitchell stood at
the wheel, smoking an inverted "Tarrier's Delight."
"Now, son," began Kitchell, "I natch'ly love you so that I'm goin'
to do you a reel favor, do you twig? I'm goin' to allow you to berth
aft in the cabin, 'long o' me an' Charlie, an' beesides you can make
free of my quarterdeck. Mebbee you ain't used to the ways of
sailormen just yet, but you can lay to it that those two are reel
concessions, savvy? I ain't a mush-head, like mee dear friend Jim.
You ain't no water-front swine, I can guess that with one hand tied
beehind me. You're a toff, that's what you are, and your lines has
been laid for toffs. I ain't askin' you no questions, but you got
brains, an' I figger on gettin' more outa you by lettin' you have y'r
head a bit. But mind, now, you get gay once, sonny, or try to
flimflam me, or forget that I'm the boss of the bathtub, an' strike me
blind, I'll cut you open, an' you can lay to that, son. Now, then,
here's the game: You work this boat 'long with the coolies, an' take
my orders, an' walk chalk, an' I'll teach you navigation, an' make
this cruise as easy as how-do-you-do. You don't, an' I'll manhandle
you till y'r bones come throo y'r hide."
"I've no choice in the matter," said Wilbur. "I've got to make
the best of a bad situation."
"I ree-marked as how you had brains," muttered the Captain.
"But there's one thing," continued Wilbur; "if I'm to have my head
a little, as you say, you'll find we can get along better if you put
me to rights about this whole business. Why was I brought aboard, why
are there only Chinese along, where are we going, what are we going to
do, and how long are we going to be gone?"
Kitchell spat over the side, and then sucked the nicotine from his
"Well," he said, resuming his pipe, "it's like this, son. This
ship belongs to one of the Six Chinese Companies of Chinatown in
Frisco. Charlie, here, is one of the shareholders in the business.
We go down here twice a year off Cape Sain' Lucas, Lower California,
an' fish for blue sharks, or white, if we kin ketch 'em. We get the
livers of these an' try out the oil, an' we bring back that same oil,
an' the Chinamen sell it all over San Francisco as simon-pure
cod-liver oil, savvy? An' it pays like a nitrate bed. I come in
because it's a Custom-house regulation that no coolie can take a boat
out of Frisco."
"And how do I come in?" asked Wilbur.
"Mee dear friend Jim put a knock-me-out drop into your Manhattan
cocktail. It's a capsule filled with a drug. You were shanghaied,
son," said the Captain, blandly.
* * * * * * * * * *
About an hour later Wilbur turned in. Kitchell showed him his
bunk with its "donkey's breakfast" and single ill-smelling blanket.
It was located under the companionway that led down into the cabin.
Kitchell bunked on one side, Charlie on the other. A hacked deal
table, covered with oilcloth and ironed to the floor, a swinging-lamp,
two chairs, a rack of books, a chest or two, and a flaring picture cut
from the advertisement of a ballet, was the room's inventory in the
matter of furniture and ornament.
Wilbur sat on the edge of his bunk before undressing, reviewing
the extraordinary events of the day. In a moment he was aware of a
movement in one of the other two bunks, and presently made out Charlie
lying on his side and holding in the flame of an alcohol lamp a skewer
on which some brown and sticky stuff boiled and sizzled. He
transformed the stuff to the bowl of a huge pipe and drew on it
noisily once or twice. In another moment he had sunk back in his
bunk, nearly senseless, but with a long breath of an almost blissful
"Beast!" muttered Wilbur, with profound disgust.
He threw off his oilskin coat and felt in the pocket of his
waistcoat (which he had retained when he had changed his clothes in
the fo'c'sle) for his watch. He drew it out. It was just nine
o'clock. All at once an idea occurred to him. He fumbled in another
pocket of the waistcoat and brought out one of his calling-cards.
For a moment Wilbur remained motionless, seated on the bunk-ledge,
smiling grimly, while his glance wandered now to the sordid cabin of
the "Bertha Millner" and the opium-drugged coolie sprawled on the
"donkey's breakfast," and now to the card in his hand on which a few
hours ago he had written:
III. THE LADY LETTY
Another day passed, then two. Before Wilbur knew it he had
settled himself to his new life, and woke one morning to the
realization that he was positively enjoying himself. Daily the
weather grew warmer. The fifth day out from San Francisco it was
actually hot. The pitch grew soft in the "Bertha Millner's" deck
seams, the masts sweated resin. The Chinamen went about the decks
wearing but their jeans and blouses. Kitchell had long since
abandoned his coat and vest. Wilbur's oilskins became intolerable,
and he was at last constrained to trade his pocket- knife to Charlie
for a suit of jeans and wicker sandals, such as the coolies wore—and
odd enough he looked in them.
The Captain instructed him in steering, and even promised to show
him the use of the sextant and how to take an observation in the fake
short and easy coasting style of navigation. Furthermore, he showed
him how to read the log and the manner of keeping the dead reckoning.
During most of his watches Wilbur was engaged in painting the
inside of the cabin, door panels, lintels, and the few scattered
moldings; and toward the middle of the first week out, when the
"Bertha Millner" was in the latitude of Point Conception, he and
three Chinamen, under Kitchell's directions, ratlined down the
forerigging and affixed the crow's nest upon the for'mast. The next
morning, during Charlie's watch on deck, a Chinaman was sent up into
the crow's nest, and from that time on there was always a lookout
maintained from the masthead.
More than once Wilbur looked around him at the empty coruscating
indigo of the ocean floor, wondering at the necessity of the lookout,
and finally expressed his curiosity to Kitchell. The Captain had now
taken not a little to Wilbur; at first for the sake of a white man's
company, and afterward because he began to place a certain vague
reliance upon Wilbur's judgment. Kitchell had reemarked as how he had
"Well, you see, son," Kitchell had explained to Wilbur, "os-
tensiblee we are after shark-liver oil—and so we are; but also we
are on any lay that turns up; ready for any game, from wrecking to
barratry. Strike me, if I haven't thought of scuttling the dough-
dish for her insoorance. There's regular trade, son, to be done in
ships, and then there's pickin's an' pickin's an' pickin's. Lord, the
ocean's rich with pickin's. Do you know there's millions made out of
the day-bree and refuse of a big city? How about an ocean's day-bree,
just chew on that notion a turn; an' as fur a lookout, lemmee tell
you, son, cast your eye out yon," and he swept the sea with a forearm;
"nothin', hey, so it looks, but lemmee tell you, son, there ain't no
manner of place on the ball of dirt where you're likely to run up
afoul of so many things— unexpected things—as at sea. When you're
clear o' land lay to this here pree-cep', 'A million to one on the
The next day fell almost dead calm. The hale, lusty-lunged
nor'wester that had snorted them forth from the Golden Gate had
lapsed to a zephyr, the schooner rolled lazily southward with the
leisurely nonchalance of a grazing ox. At noon, just after dinner, a
few cat's-paws curdled the milky-blue whiteness of the glassy surface,
and the water once more began to talk beneath the bow-sprit. It was
very hot. The sun spun silently like a spinning brass discus over the
mainmast. On the fo'c'sle head the Chinamen were asleep or smoking
opium. It was Charlie's watch. Kitchell dozed in his hammock in the
shadow of the mainsheet. Wilbur was below tinkering with his paint-pot
about the cabin. The stillness was profound. It was the stillness of
the summer sea at high noon.
The lookout in the crow's nest broke the quiet.
"Hy-yah, hy-yah!" he cried, leaning from the barrel and calling
through an arched palm. "Hy-yah, one two, plenty, many tortle,
topside, wattah; hy-yah, all-same tortle."
"Hello, hello!" cried the Captain, rolling from his hammock.
"I tink-um 'bout quallah mile, mebbee, four-piecee tortle all-same
"Turtle, hey? Down y'r wheel, Jim, haul y'r jib to win'ward," he
commanded the man at the wheel; then to the men forward: "Get the
dory overboard. Son, Charlie, and you, Wing, tumble in. Wake up now
and see you stay so."
The dory was swung over the side, and the men dropped into her and
took their places at the oars. "Give way," cried the Captain,
settling himself in the bow with the gaff in his hand. "Hey, Jim!"
he shouted to the lookout far above, "hey, lay our course for us." The
lookout nodded, the oars fell, and the dory shot forward in the
direction indicated by the lookout.
"Kin you row, son? asked Kitchell, with sudden suspicion. Wilbur
"You ask Charlie and Wing to ship their oars and give me a pair."
The Captain complied, hesitating.
"Now, what," he said grimly, "now, what do you think you're going
to do, sonny?"
"I'm going to show you the Bob Cook stroke we used in our boat in
'95, when we beat Harvard," answered Wilbur.
Kitchell gazed doubtfully at the first few strokes, then with
growing interest watched the tremendous reach, the powerful knee-
drive, the swing, the easy catch, and the perfect recover. The dory
was cutting the water like a gasoline launch, and between strokes
there was the least possible diminishing of the speed.
"I'm a bit out of form just now," remarked Wilbur, "and I'm used
to the sliding seat; but I guess it'll do." Kitchell glanced at the
human machine that once was No. 5 in the Yale boat and then at the
water hissing from the dory's bows. "My Gawd!" he said, under his
breath. He spat over the bows and sucked the nicotine from his
"I ree-marked," he observed, "as how you had brains, my son."
A few minutes later the Captain, who was standing in the dory's
bow and alternately conning the ocean's surface and looking back to
the Chinaman standing on the schooner's masthead, uttered an
"Steady, ship your oars, quiet now, quiet, you damn fools! We're
right on 'em—four, by Gawd, an' big as dinin' tables!"
The oars were shipped. The dory's speed dwindled. "Out your
paddles, sit on the gun'l, and paddle ee-asy." The hands obeyed. The
Captain's voice dropped to a whisper. His back was toward them and he
gestured with one free hand. Looking out over the water from his seat
on the gun'l, Wilbur could make out a round, greenish mass like a
patch of floating seaweed, just under the surface, some sixty yards
"Easy sta'board," whispered the Captain under his elbow. "Go
ahead, port; e-e-easy all, steady, steady."
The affair began to assume the intensity of a little drama—a
little drama of midocean. In spite of himself, Wilbur was excited.
He even found occasion to observe that the life was not so bad, after
all. This was as good fun as stalking deer. The dory moved forward
by inches. Kitchell's whisper was as faint as a dying infant's:
"Steady all, s-stead-ee, sh-stead—"
He lunged forward sharply with the gaff, and shouted aloud: "I got
him—grab holt his tail flippers, you fool swabs; grab holt quick—
don't you leggo—got him there, Charlie? If he gets away, you swine,
I'll rip y' open with the gaff—heave now—heave—there— there—soh,
stand clear his nippers. Strike me! he's a whacker. I thought he was
going to get away. Saw me just as I swung the gaff, an' ducked his
Over the side, bundled without ceremony into the boat, clawing,
thrashing, clattering, and blowing like the exhaust of a donkey-
engine, tumbled the great green turtle, his wet, green shield of
shell three feet from edge to edge, the gaff firmly transfixed in his
body, just under the fore-flipper. From under his shell protruded his
snake-like head and neck, withered like that of an old man. He was
waving his head from side to side, the jaws snapping like a snapped
silk handkerchief. Kitchell thrust him away with a paddle. The
turtle craned his neck, and catching the bit of wood in his jaw, bit
it in two in a single grip.
"I tol' you so, I tol' you to stand clear his snapper. If that
had been your shin now, eh? Hello, what's that?"
Faintly across the water came a prolonged hallooing from the
schooner. Kitchell stood up in the dory, shading his eyes with his
"What's biting 'em now?" he muttered, with the uneasiness of a
captain away from his ship. "Oughta left Charlie on board—or you,
son. Who's doin' that yellin', I can't make out."
"Up in the crow's nest," exclaimed Wilbur. "It's Jim, see, he's
waving his arms."
"Well, whaduz he wave his dam' fool arms for?" growled Kitchell,
angry because something was going forward he did not understand.
"There, he's shouting again. Listen—I can't make out what he's
"He'll yell to a different pipe when I get my grip of him. I'll
twist the head of that swab till he'll have to walk back'ard to see
where he's goin'. Whaduz he wave his arms for—whaduz he yell like a
dam' philly-loo bird for? What's him say, Charlie?"
"Jim heap sing, no can tell. Mebbee—tinkum sing, come back chop-
"We'll see. Oars out, men, give way. Now, son, put a little o'
that Yale stingo in the stroke."
In the crow's nest Jim still yelled and waved like one distraught,
while the dory returned at a smart clip toward the schooner. Kitchell
lathered with fury.
"Oh-h," he murmured softly through his gritted teeth. "Jess
lemmee lay mee two hands afoul of you wunst, you gibbering, yellow
philly-loo bird, believe me, you'll dance. Shut up!" he roared;
"shut up, you crazy do-do, ain't we coming fast as we can?"
The dory bumped alongside, and the Captain was over the rail like
quicksilver. The hands were all in the bow, looking and pointing to
the west. Jim slid down the ratlines, bubbling over with suppressed
news. Before his feet had touched the deck Kitchell had kicked him
into the stays again, fulminating blasphemies.
"Sing!" he shouted, as the Chinaman clambered away like a
bewildered ape; "sing a little more. I would if I were you. Why
don't you sing and wave, you dam' fool philly-loo bird?"
"Yas, sah," answered the coolie.
"What you yell for? Charlie, ask him whaffo him sing."
"I tink-um ship," answered Charlie calmly, looking out over the
"Him velly sick," hazarded the Chinaman from the ratlines, adding
a sentence in Chinese to Charlie.
"He says he tink-um ship sick, all same; ask um something—ship
By this time the Captain, Wilbur, and all on board could plainly
make out a sail some eight miles off the starboard bow. Even at that
distance, and to eyes so inexperienced as those of Wilbur, it needed
but a glance to know that something was wrong with her. It was not
that she failed to ride the waves with even keel, it was not that her
rigging was in disarray, nor that her sails were disordered. Her
distance was too great to make out such details. But in precisely the
same manner as a trained physician glances at a doomed patient, and
from that indefinable look in the face of him and the eyes of him
pronounces the verdict "death," so Kitchell took in the stranger with
a single comprehensive glance, and exclaimed:
"Yas, sah. I tink-um velly sick."
"Oh, go to 'll, or go below and fetch up my glass—hustle!"
The glass was brought. "Son," exclaimed Kitchell—"where is that
man with the brains? Son, come aloft here with me." The two clambered
up the ratlines to the crow's nest. Kitchell adjusted the glass.
"She's a bark," he muttered, "iron built—about seven hundred
tons, I guess—in distress. There's her ensign upside down at the
mizz'nhead—looks like Norway—an' her distress signals on the
spanker gaff. Take a blink at her, son—what do you make her out?
Lord, she's ridin' high."
Wilbur took the glass, catching the stranger after several clumsy
attempts. She was, as Captain Kitchell had announced, a bark, and,
to judge by her flag, evidently Norwegian.
"How she rolls!" muttered Wilbur.
"That's what I can't make out," answered Kitchell. "A bark such
as she ain't ought to roll thata way; her ballast'd steady her."
"What's the flags on that boom aft—one's red and white and
square-shaped, and the other's the same color, only swallow-tail in
"That's H. B., meanin": 'I am in need of assistance.'"
"Well, where's the crew? I don't see anybody on board."
"Oh, they're there right enough."
"Then they're pretty well concealed about the premises," turned
Wilbur, as he passed the glass to the Captain.
"She does seem kinda empty," said the Captain in a moment, with a
sudden show of interest that Wilbur failed to understand.
"An' where's her boats?" continued Kitchell. "I don't just quite
make out any boats at all." There was a long silence.
"Seems to be a sort of haze over her," observed Wilbur.
"I noticed that, air kinda quivers oily-like. No boats, no boats—
an' I can't see anybody aboard." Suddenly Kitchell lowered the glass
and turned to Wilbur. He was a different man. There was a new shine
in his eyes, a wicked line appeared over the nose, the jaw grew
"Son," he exclaimed, gimleting Wilbur with his contracted eves; "I
have reemarked as how you had brains. I kin fool the coolies, but I
can't fool you. It looks to me as if that bark yonder was a derelict;
an' do you know what that means to us? Chaw on it a turn."
"If there's a crew on board they're concealed from the public
gaze—an' where are the boats then? I figger she's an abandoned
derelict. Do you know what that means for us—for you and I? It
means," and gripping Wilbur by the shoulders, he spoke the word into
his face with a savage intensity. "It means salvage, do you
savvy?—salvage, salvage. Do you figger what salvage on a seven-
hundred-tonner would come to? Well, just lemmee drop it into your
think tank, an' lay to what I say. It's all the ways from fifty to
seventy thousand dollars, whatever her cargo is; call it sixty
thousand—thirty thou' apiece. Oh, I don't know!" he exclaimed,
lapsing to landman's slang. "Wha'd I say about a million to one on
the unexpected at sea?"
"Thirty thousand!" exclaimed Wilbur, without thought as yet.
"Now y'r singin' songs," cried the Captain. "Listen to me, son,"
he went on, rapidly shutting up the glass and thrusting it back in
the case; "my name's Kitchell, and I'm hog right through." He
emphasized the words with a leveled forefinger, his eyes flashing.
H—O—G spells very truly yours, Alvinza Kitchell—ninety-nine swine
an' me make a hundred swine. I'm a shoat with both feet in the
trough, first, last, an' always. If that bark's abandoned, an' I says
she is, she's ours. I'm out for anything that there's stuff in. I
guess I'm more of a beach-comber by nature than anything else. If
she's abandoned she belongs to us. To 'll with this coolie game.
We'll go beach-combin', you and I. We'll board that bark and work
her into the nearest port—San Diego, I guess— and get the salvage on
her if we have to swim in her. Are you with me?" he held out his
hand. The man was positively trembling from head to heel. It was
impossible to resist the excitement of the situation, its novelty—the
high crow's nest of the schooner, the keen salt air, the Chinamen
grouped far below, the indigo of the warm ocean, and out yonder the
forsaken derelict, rolling her light hull till the garboard streak
flashed in the sun.
"Well, of course, I'm with you, Cap," exclaimed Wilbur, gripping
Kitchell's hand. "When there's thirty thousand to be had for the
asking I guess I'm a 'na'chel bawn' beach-comber myself."
"Now, nothing about this to the coolies."
"But how will you make out with your owners, the Six Companies?
Aren't you bound to bring the 'Bertha' in?"
"Rot my owners!" exclaimed Kitchell. "I ain't a skipper of no
oil-boat any longer. I'm a beach-comber." He fixed the wallowing
bark with glistening eyes. "Gawd strike me," he murmured, "ain't she
a daisy? It's a little Klondike. Come on, son."
The two went down the ratlines, and Kitchell ordered a couple of
the hands into the dory that had been rowing astern. He and Wilbur
followed. Charlie was left on board, with directions to lay the
schooner to. The dory flew over the water, Wilbur setting the stroke.
In a few moments she was well up with the bark. Though a larger boat
than the "Bertha Millner," she was rolling in lamentable fashion, and
every laboring heave showed her bottom incrusted with barnacles and
Her fore and main tops'ls and to'gallants'ls were set, as also
were her lower stays'ls and royals. But the braces seemed to have
parted, and the yards were swinging back and forth in their ties. The
spanker was brailed up, and the spanker boom thrashed idly over the
poop as the bark rolled and rolled and rolled. The mainmast was
working in its shoe, the rigging and backstays sagged. An air of
abandonment, of unspeakable loneliness, of abomination hung about her.
Never had Wilbur seen anything more utterly alone. Within three
lengths the Captain rose in his place and shouted:
"Bark ahoy!" There was no answer. Thrice he repeated the call,
and thrice the dismal thrashing of the spanker boom and the flapping
of the sails was the only answer. Kitchell turned to Wilbur in
triumph. "I guess she's ours," he whispered. They were now close
enough to make out the bark's name upon her counter, "Lady Letty," and
Wilbur was in the act of reading it aloud, when a huge brown dorsal
fin, like the triangular sail of a lugger, cut the water between the
dory and the bark.
"Shark!" said Kitchell; "and there's another!" he exclaimed in the
next instant, "and another! Strike me, the water's alive with 'em'!
There's a stiff on the bark, you can lay to that"; and at that, acting
on some strange impulse, he called again, "Bark ahoy!" There was no
The dory was now well up to the derelict, and pretty soon a
prolonged and vibratory hissing noise, strident, insistent, smote
upon their ears.
"What's that?" exclaimed Wilbur, perplexed. The Captain shook his
head, and just then, as the bark rolled almost to her scuppers in
their direction, a glimpse of the deck was presented to their view.
It was only a glimpse, gone on the instant, as the bark rolled back
to port, but it was time enough for Wilbur and the Captain to note the
parted and open seams and the deck bulging, and in one corner blown up
The captain smote a thigh.
"Coal!" he cried. "Anthracite coal. The coal he't up and
generated gas, of course—no fire, y'understand, just gas—gas blew
up the deck—no way of stopping combustion. Naturally they had to cut
for it. Smell the gas, can't you? No wonder she's hissing—no wonder
she rolled—cargo goes off in gas—and what's to weigh her down? I was
wondering what could 'a' wrecked her in this weather. Lord, it's as
plain as Billy-b'damn."
The dory was alongside. Kitchell watched his chance, and as the
bark rolled down caught the mainyard-brace hanging in a bight over
the rail and swung himself to the deck. "Look sharp!" he called, as
Wilbur followed. "It won't do for you to fall among them shark, son.
Just look at the hundreds of 'em. There's a stiff on board, sure."
Wilbur steadied himself on the swaying broken deck, choking
against the reek of coal-gas that hissed upward on every hand. The
heat was almost like a furnace. Everything metal was intolerable to
"She's abandoned, sure," muttered the Captain. "Look," and he
pointed to the empty chocks on the house and the severed lashings.
"Oh, it's a haul, son; it's a haul, an' you can lay to that. Now,
then, cabin first," and he started aft.
But it was impossible to go into the cabin. The moment the door
was opened suffocating billows of gas rushed out and beat them back.
On the third trial the Captain staggered out, almost overcome with
"Can't get in there for a while yet," he gasped, "but I saw the
stiff on the floor by the table; looks like the old man. He's spit
his false teeth out. I knew there was a stiff aboard."
"Then there's more than one," said Wilbur. "See there!" From
behind the wheel-box in the stern protruded a hand and forearm in an
Wilbur ran up, peered over the little space between the wheel and
the wheel-box, and looked straight into a pair of eyes—eyes that
were alive. Kitchell came up.
"One left, anyhow," he muttered, looking over Wilbur's shoulder;
"sailor man, though; can't interfere with our salvage. The bark's
derelict, right enough. Shake him out of there, son; can't you see
the lad's dotty with the gas?"
Cramped into the narrow space of the wheel-box like a terrified
hare in a blind burrow was the figure of a young boy. So firmly was
he wedged into the corner that Kitchell had to kick down the box
before he could be reached. The boy spoke no word. Stupefied with
the gas, he watched them with vacant eyes.
Wilbur put a hand under the lad's arm and got him to his feet. He
was a tall, well-made fellow, with ruddy complexion and milk-blue
eyes, and was dressed, as if for heavy weather, in oilskins.
"Well, sonny, you've had a fine mess aboard here," said Kitchell.
The boy—he might have been two and twenty—stared and frowned.
"Clean loco from the gas. Get him into the dory, son. I'll try
this bloody cabin again."
Kitchell turned back and descended from the poop, and Wilbur, his
arm around the boy, followed. Kitchell was already out of hearing,
and Wilbur was bracing himself upon the rolling deck, steadying the
young fellow at his side, when the latter heaved a deep breath. His
throat and breast swelled. Wilbur stared sharply, with a muttered
"My God, it's a girl!" he said.
Meanwhile Charlie had brought the "Bertha Millner" up to within
hailing distance of the bark, and had hove her to. Kitchell ordered
Wilbur to return to the schooner and bring over a couple of axes.
"We'll have to knock holes all through the house, and break in the
skylights and let the gas escape before we can do anything. Take the
kid over and give him whiskey; then come along back and bear a hand."
Wilbur had considerable difficulty in getting into the dory from
the deck of the plunging derelict with his dazed and almost helpless
charge. Even as he slid down the rope into the little boat and helped
the girl to follow, he was aware of two dull, brownish-green shadows
moving just beneath the water's surface not ten feet away, and he knew
that he was being stealthily watched. The Chinamen at the oars of the
dory, with that extraordinary absence of curiosity which is the mark
of the race, did not glance a second time at the survivor of the "Lady
Letty's" misadventure. To them it was evident she was but a for'mast
hand. However, Wilbur examined her with extraordinary interest as she
sat in the sternsheets, sullen, half-defiant, half-bewildered, and
bereft of speech.
She was not pretty—she was too tall for that—quite as tall as
Wilbur himself, and her skeleton was too massive. Her face was red,
and the glint of blue ice was in her eyes. Her eyelashes and
eyebrows, as well as the almost imperceptible down that edged her
cheek when she turned against the light, were blond almost to
whiteness. What beauty she had was of the fine, hardy Norse type.
Her hands were red and hard, and even beneath the coarse sleeve of
the oilskin coat one could infer that the biceps and deltoids were
large and powerful. She was coarse-fibred, no doubt, mentally as
well as physically, but her coarseness, so Wilbur guessed, would
prove to be the coarseness of a primitive rather than of a degenerate
One thing he saw clearly during the few moments of the dory's trip
between bark and schooner—the fact that his charge was a woman must
be kept from Captain Kitchell. Wilbur knew his man by now. It could
be done. Kitchell and he would take the "Lady Letty" into the nearest
port as soon as possible. The deception would have to be maintained
only for a day or two.
He left the girl on board the schooner and returned to the
derelict with the axes. He found Kitchell on the house, just
returned from a hasty survey of the prize.
"She's a daisy," vociferated the Captain, as Wilbur came aboard.
"I've been havin' a look 'round. She's brand-new. See the date on
the capst'n-head? Christiania is her hailin' port—built there; but
it's her papers I'm after. Then we'll know where we're at. How's the
"She's all right," answered Wilbur, before he could collect his
thoughts. But the Captain thought he had reference to the "Bertha."
"I mean the kid we found in the wheel-box. He doesn't count in
our salvage. The bark's been abandoned as plain as paint. If I
thought he stood in our way," and Kitchell's jaw grew salient. "I'd
shut him in the cabin with the old man a spell, till he'd copped off.
Now then, son, first thing to do is to chop vents in this yere
"Hold up—we can do better than that," said Wilbur, restraining
Kitchell's fury of impatience. "Slide the big skylight off—it's
A couple of the schooner's hands were ordered aboard the "Lady
Letty," and the skylight removed. At first the pour of gas was
terrific, but by degrees it abated, and at the end of half an hour
Kitchell could keep back no longer.
"Come on!" he cried, catching up an axe; "rot the difference." All
the plundering instincts of the man were aroused and clamoring. He
had become a very wolf within scent of its prey—a veritable hyena
nuzzling about its carrion.
"Lord!" he gasped, "t' think that everything we see, everything we
find, is ours!"
Wilbur himself was not far behind him in eagerness. Somewhere
deep down in the heart of every Anglo-Saxon lies the predatory
instinct of his Viking ancestors—an instinct that a thousand years
of respectability and taxpaying have not quite succeeded in
A flight of six steps, brass-bound and bearing the double L of the
bark's monogram, led them down into a sort of vestibule. From the
vestibule a door opened directly into the main cabin. They entered.
The cabin was some twenty feet long and unusually spacious. Fresh
from his recollection of the grime and reek of the schooner, it
struck Wilbur as particularly dainty. It was painted white with
stripes of blue, gold and pea-green. On either side three doors
opened off into staterooms and private cabins, and with each roll of
the derelict these doors banged like an irregular discharge of
revolvers. In the centre was the dining-table, covered with a red
cloth, very much awry. On each side of the table were four arm
chairs, screwed to the deck, one somewhat larger at the head.
Overhead, in swinging racks, were glasses and decanters of whiskey
and some kind of white wine. But for one feature the sight of the
"Letty's" cabin was charming. However, on the floor by the sliding
door in the forward bulkhead lay a body, face upward.
The body was that of a middle-aged, fine-looking man, his head
covered with the fur, ear-lapped cap that Norwegians affect, even in
the tropics. The eyes were wide open, the face discolored. In the
last gasp of suffocation the set of false teeth had been forced
half-way out of his mouth, distorting the countenance with a hideous
simian grin. Instantly Kitchell's eye was caught by the glint of the
gold in which these teeth were set.
"Here's about $100 to begin with," he exclaimed, and picking up
the teeth, dropped them into his pocket with a wink at Wilbur. The
body of the dead Captain was passed up through the skylight and slid
out on the deck, and Wilbur and Kitchell turned their attention to
what had been his stateroom.
The Captain's room was the largest one of the six staterooms
opening from the main cabin.
"Here we are!" exclaimed Kitchell as he and Wilbur entered. "The
old man's room, and no mistake."
Besides the bunk, the stateroom was fitted up with a lounge of red
plush screwed to the bulkhead. A roll of charts leaned in one
corner, an alarm clock, stopped at 1:15, stood on a shelf in the
company of some dozen paper-covered novels and a drinking-glass full
of cigars. Over the lounge, however, was the rack of instruments,
sextant, barometer, chronometer, glass, and the like, securely screwed
down, while against the wall, in front of a swivel leather chair that
was ironed to the deck, was the locked secretary.
"Look at 'em, just look at 'em, will you!" said Kitchell, running
his fingers lovingly over the polished brass of the instruments.
"There's a thousand dollars of stuff right here. The chronometer's
worth five hundred alone, Bennett Sons' own make." He turned to the
"Now!" he exclaimed with a long breath.
What followed thrilled Wilbur with alternate excitement,
curiosity, and a vivid sense of desecration and sacrilege. For the
life of him he could not make the thing seem right or legal in his
eyes, and yet he had neither the wish nor the power to stay his hand
or interfere with what Kitchell was doing.
The Captain put the blade of the axe in the chink of the
secretary's door and wrenched it free. It opened down to form a sort
of desk, and disclosed an array of cubby-holes and two small doors,
both locked. These latter Kitchell smashed in with the axe-head.
Then he seated himself in the swivel chair and began to rifle their
contents systematically, Wilbur leaning over his shoulder.
The heat from the coal below them was almost unbearable. In the
cabin the six doors kept up a continuous ear-shocking fusillade, as
though half a dozen men were fighting with revolvers; from without,
down the open skylight, came the sing-song talk of the Chinamen and
the wash and ripple of the two vessels, now side by side. The air,
foul beyond expression, tasted of brass, their heads swam and ached to
bursting, but absorbed in their work they had no thought of the lapse
of time nor the discomfort of their surroundings. Twice during the
examination of the bark's papers, Kitchell sent Wilbur out into the
cabin for the whiskey decanter in the swinging racks.
"Here's the charter papers," said Kitchell, unfolding and
spreading them out one by one; "and here's the clearing papers from
Blyth in England. This yere's the insoorance, and here, this is—rot
that, nothin' but the articles for the crew—no use to us."
In a separate envelope, carefully sealed and bound, they came upon
the Captain's private papers. A marriage certificate setting forth
the union between Eilert Sternersen, of Fruholmen, Norway, and Sarah
Moran, of some seaport town (the name was indecipherable) of the North
of England. Next came a birth certificate of a daughter named Moran,
dated twenty-two years back, and a bill of sale of the bark "Lady
Letty," whereby a two- thirds interest was conveyed from the previous
owners (a shipbuilding firm of Christiania) to Capt. Eilert
"The old man was his own boss," commented Kitchell. "Hello!" he
remarked, "look here"; a yellowed photograph was in his hand the
picture of a stout, fair-haired woman of about forty, wearing
enormous pendant earrings in the style of the early sixties. Below
was written: "S. Moran Sternersen, ob. 1867."
"Old woman copped off," said Kitchell, "so much the better for us;
no heirs to put in their gab; an'—hold hard—steady all—here's the
will, s'help me."
The only items of importance in the will were the confirmation of
the wife's death and the expressly stated bequest of "the bark known
as and sailing under the name of the 'Lady Letty' to my only and
beloved daughter, Moran."
"Well," said Wilbur.
The Captain sucked his mustache, then furiously, striking the desk
with his fist:
"The bark's ours!" there was a certain ring of defiance in his
voice. "Damn the will! I ain't so cock-sure about the law, but I'll
"As how?" said Wilbur.
Kitchell slung the will out of the open port into the sea.
"That's how," he remarked. "I'm the heir. I found the bark; mine
she is, an' mine she stays—yours an' mine, that is."
But Wilbur had not even time to thoroughly enjoy the satisfaction
that the Captain's words conveyed, before an idea suddenly presented
itself to him. The girl he had found on board of the bark, the ruddy,
fair-haired girl of the fine and hardy Norse type—that was the
daughter, of course; that was "Moran." Instantly the situation
adjusted itself in his imagination. The two inseparables father and
daughter, sailors both, their lives passed together on ship board, and
the "Lady Letty" their dream, their ambition, a vessel that at last
they could call their own.
Then this disastrous voyage—perhaps the first in their new craft—
the combustion in the coal—the panic terror of the crew and their
desertion of the bark, and the sturdy resolution of the father and
daughter to bring the "Letty" in—to work her into port alone. They
had failed; the father had died from gas; the girl, at least for the
moment, was crazed from its effects. But the bark had not been
abandoned. The owner was on board. Kitchell was wrong; she was no
derelict; not one penny could they gain by her salvage.
For an instant a wave of bitterest disappointment passed over
Wilbur as he saw his $30,000 dwindling to nothing. Then the
instincts of habit reasserted themselves. The taxpayer in him was
stronger than the freebooter, after all. He felt that it was his
duty to see to it that the girl had her rights. Kitchell must be
made aware of the situation—must be told that Moran, the daughter,
the Captain's heir, was on board the schooner; that the "kid" found in
the wheel-box was a girl. But on second thought that would never do.
Above all things, the brute Kitchell must not be shown that a girl
was aboard the schooner on which he had absolute command, nor, setting
the question of Moran's sex aside, must Kitchell know her even as the
dead Captain's heir. There was a difference in the men here, and
Wilbur appreciated it. Kitchell, the law-abiding taxpayer, was a
weakling in comparison with Kitchell, the free-booter and beach-comber
in sight of his prize.
"Son," said the Captain, making a bundle of all the papers, "take
these over to my bunk and hide 'em under the donkey's breakfast. Stop
a bit," he added, as Wilbur started away. "I'll go with you. We'll
have to bury the old man."
Throughout all the afternoon the Captain had been drinking the
whiskey from the decanter found in the cabin; now he stood up
unsteadily, and, raising his glass, exclaimed:
"Sonny, here's to Kitchell, Wilbur Co., beach-combers, unlimited.
What do you say, hey?"
"I only want to be sure that we've a right to the bark," answered
"Right to her—ri-hight to 'er," hiccoughed the Captain. "Strike
me blind, I'd like to see any one try'n take her away from Alvinza
Kitchell now," and he thrust out his chin at Wilbur.
"Well, so much the better, then," said Wilbur, pocketing the
papers. The pair ascended to the deck.
The burial of Captain Sternersen was a dreadful business.
Kitchell, far gone in whiskey, stood on the house issuing his orders,
drinking from one of the decanters he had brought up with him. He had
already rifled the dead man's pockets, and had even taken away the
boots and fur-lined cap. Cloths were cut from the spanker and rolled
around the body. Then Kitchell ordered the peak halyards unrove and
used as lashings to tie the canvas around the corpse. The red and
white flags (the distress signals) were still bound on the halyards.
"Leave 'em on. Leave 'em on," commanded Kitchell. "Use 'm as a
shrou'. All ready now, stan' by to let her go."
Wilbur looked over at the schooner and noted with immense relief
that Moran was not in sight. Suddenly an abrupt reaction took place
in the Captain's addled brain.
"Can't bury 'um 'ithout 'is teeth," he gabbled solemnly. He laid
back the canvas and replaced the set. "Ole man'd ha'nt me 'f I kep'
's teeth. Strike! look a' that, I put 'em in upside down. Nev' min',
upsi' down, downsi' up, whaz odds, all same with ole Bill, hey, ole
Bill, all same with you, hey?" Suddenly he began to howl with laughter
"T' think a bein' buried with y'r teeth upsi' down. Oh, mee, but
that's a good grind. Stan' by to heave ole Uncle Bill over—ready,
heave, an' away she goes." He ran to the side, waving his hat and
looking over. "Goo'-by, ole Bill, by-by. There you go, an' the signal
o' distress roun' you, H. B. 'I'm in need of assistance.' Lord, here
comes the sharks—look! look! look at um fight! look at um takin' ole
Bill! I'm in need of assistance. I sh'd say you were, ole Bill."
Wilbur looked once over the side in the churning, lashing water,
then drew back, sick to vomiting. But in less than thirty seconds
the water was quiet. Not a shark was in sight.
"Get over t' the 'Bertha' with those papers, son," ordered
Kitchell; "I'll bide here and dig up sh' mor' loot. I'll gut this
ole pill-box from stern to stem-post 'fore I'll leave. I won't leave
a copper rivet in 'er, notta co'er rivet, dyhear?" he shouted, his
face purple with unnecessary rage.
Wilbur returned to the schooner with the two Chinamen, leaving
Kitchell alone on the bark. He found the girl sitting by the
rudderhead almost as he had left her, looking about her with vague,
"You name is Moran, isn't it?" he asked. "Moran Sternersen."
"Yes," she said, after a pause, then looked curiously at a bit of
tarred rope on the deck. Nothing more could be got out of her.
Wilbur talked to her at length, and tried to make her understand the
situation, but it was evident she did not follow. However, at each
mention of her name she would answer:
"Yes, yes, I'm Moran."
Wilbur turned away from her, biting his nether lip in perplexity.
"Now, what am I going to do?" he muttered. "What a situation! If
I tell the Captain, it's all up with the girl. If he didn't kill
her, he'd do worse—might do both. If I don't tell him, there goes
her birthright, $60,000, and she alone in the world. It's begun to go
already," he added, listening to the sounds that came from the bark.
Kitchell was raging to and fro in the cabin in a frenzy of drink, axe
in hand, smashing glassware, hacking into the wood-work, singing the
while at the top of his voice:
"As through the drop I go, drop I go,
As through the drop I go, drop I go,
As through the drop I go,
Down to hell that yawns below,
Twenty stiffs all in a row
Damn your eyes"
"That's the kind of man I have to deal with," muttered Wilbur.
"It's encouraging, and there's no one to talk to. Not much help in a
Chinaman and a crazy girl in a man's oilskins. It's about the biggest
situation you ever faced, Ross Wilbur, and you're all alone. What the
devil are you going to do?"
He acknowledged with considerable humiliation that he could not
get the better of Kitchell, either physically or mentally. Kitchell
was a more powerful man than he, and cleverer. The Captain was in his
element now, and he was the commander. On shore it would have been
vastly different. The city-bred fellow, with a policeman always in
call, would have known how to act.
"I simply can't stand by and see that hog plundering everything
she's got. What's to be done?"
And suddenly, while the words were yet in his mouth, the sun was
wiped from the sky like writing from a slate, the horizon blackened,
vanished, a long white line of froth whipped across the sea and came
on hissing. A hollow note boomed out, boomed, swelled, and grew
rapidly to a roar.
An icy chill stabbed the air. Then the squall swooped and struck,
and the sky shut down over the troubled ocean like a pot-lid over a
boiling pot. The schooner's fore and main sheets, that had not been
made fast, unrove at the first gust and began to slat wildly in the
wind. The Chinamen cowered to the decks, grasping at cleats, stays,
and masts. They were helpless—paralyzed with fear. Charlie clung to
a stay, one arm over his head, as though dodging a blow. Wilbur
gripped the rail with his hands where he stood, his teeth set, his
eyes wide, waiting for the foundering of the schooner, his only
thought being that the end could not be far. He had heard of the
suddenness of tropical squalls, but this had come with the abruptness
of a scene-shift at a play. The schooner veered broad-on to the
waves. It was the beginning of the end—another roll to the leeward
like the last and the Pacific would come aboard.
"And you call yourselves sailor men! Are you going to drown like
rats on a plank?" A voice that Wilbur did not know went ringing
through that horrid shouting of wind and sea like the call of a
bugle. He turned to see Moran, the girl of the "Lady Letty,"
standing erect upon the quarterdeck, holding down the schooner's
wheel. The confusion of that dreadful moment, that had paralyzed the
crew's senses, had brought back hers. She was herself again, savage,
splendid, dominant, superb, in her wrath at their weakness, their
Her heavy brows were knotted over her flaming eyes, her hat was
gone, and her thick bands of yellow hair whipped across her face and
streamed out in the wind like streamers of the northern lights. As
she shouted, gesturing furiously to the men, the loose sleeve of the
oilskin coat fell back, and showed her forearm, strong, round, and
white as scud, the hand and wrist so tanned as to look almost like a
glove. And all the while she shouted aloud, furious with indignation,
raging against the supineness of the "Bertha's" crew.
"Stand by, men! stand by! Look alive, now! Make fast the stays'l
halyards to the dory's warp! Now, then, unreeve y'r halyards! all
clear there! pass the end for'd outside the rigging! outside! you
fools! Make fast to the bits for'ard—let go y'r line—that'll do.
Soh—soh. There, she's coming up."
The dory had been towing astern, and the seas combing over her had
swamped her. Moran had been inspired to use the swamped boat as a
sea-anchor, fastening her to the schooner's bow instead of to the
stern. The "Bertha's" bow, answering to the drag, veered around. The
"Bertha" stood head to the seas, riding out the squall. It was a
masterpiece of seamanship, conceived and executed in the very thick of
peril, and it saved the schooner.
But there was little time to think of themselves. On board the
bark the sails were still set. The squall struck the "Lady Letty"
squarely aback. She heeled over upon the instant; then as the top
hamper carried away with a crash, eased back a moment upon an even
keel. But her cargo had shifted. The bark was doomed. Through the
flying spray and scud and rain Wilbur had a momentary glimpse of
Kitchell, hacking at the lanyards with his axe. Then the "Lady Letty"
capsized, going over till her masts were flat with the water, and in
another second rolled bottom up. For a moment her keel and red iron
bottom were visible through the mist of driving spoon-drift. Suddenly
they sank from sight. She was gone.
And then, like the rolling up of a scroll, the squall passed, the
sun returned, the sky burned back to blue, the ruggedness was
smoothed from the ocean, and the warmth of the tropics closed around
the "Bertha Millner," once more rolling easily on the swell of the
Of the "Lady Letty" and the drunken beach-combing Captain not a
trace remained. Kitchell had gone down with his prize. The "Bertha
Millner's" Chinese crew huddled forward, talking wildly, pointing and
looking in a bewildered fashion over the sides.
Wilbur and Moran were left alone on the open Pacific.
V. A GIRL CAPTAIN
When Wilbur came on deck the morning after the sinking of the bark
he was surprised to find the schooner under way again. Wilbur and
Charlie had berthed forward during that night—Charlie with the
hands, Wilbur in the Captain's hammock. The reason for this change
of quarters had been found in a peremptory order from Moran during the
dog-watch the preceding evening.
She had looked squarely at Wilbur from under her scowl, and had
said briefly and in a fine contralto voice, that he had for the first
time noted: "I berth aft, in the cabin; you and the Chinaman forward.
Moran had only forestalled Wilbur's intention; while after her
almost miraculous piece of seamanship in the rescue of the schooner,
Charlie and the Chinese crew accorded her a respect that was almost
Wilbur met her again at breakfast. She was still wearing men's
clothing—part of Kitchell's outfit—and was booted to the knee; but
now she wore no hat, and her enormous mane of rye-colored hair was
braided into long strands near to the thickness of a man's arm. The
redness of her face gave a startling effect to her pale blue eyes and
sandy, heavy eyebrows, that easily lowered to a frown. She ate with
her knife, and after pushing away her plate Wilbur observed that she
drank half a tumbler of whiskey and water.
The conversation between the two was tame enough. There was no
common ground upon which they could meet. To her father's death— no
doubt an old matter even before her rescue—she made no allusion. Her
attitude toward Wilbur was one of defiance and suspicion. Only once
did she relax:
"How did you come to be aboard here with these rat-eaters—you're
no sailor?" she said abruptly.
"Huh!" laughed Wilbur, mirthlessly; "huh! I was shanghaied."
Moran smote the table with a red fist, and shouted with sonorous,
"Shanghaied?—you? Now, that is really good. And what are you
going to do now?"
"What are you going to do?"
"Signal the first home-bound vessel and be taken into Frisco. I've
my insurance to collect (Wilbur had given her the 'Letty's' papers)
and the disaster to report."
"Well, I'm not keen on shark-hunting myself," said Wilbur. But
Moran showed no interest in his plans.
However, they soon found that they were not to be permitted to
signal. At noon the same day the schooner sighted a steamship's
smoke on the horizon, and began to raise her rapidly. Moran
immediately bound on the ensign, union down, and broke it out at the
Charlie, who was at the wheel, spoke a sentence in Chinese, and
one of the hands drew his knife across the halyards and brought the
distress signal to the deck. Moran turned upon Charlie with an oath,
her brows knitted.
"No! No!" sang Charlie, closing his eyes and wagging his head.
"No! Too muchee los' time; no can stop. You come downside cabin; you
an' one-piece boss number two (this was Wilbur) have um chin- chin."
The odd conclave assembled about Kitchell's table—the club-man,
the half-masculine girl in men's clothes, and the Chinaman. The
conference was an angry one, Wilbur and Moran insisting that they be
put aboard the steamship, Charlie refusing with calm obstinacy.
"I have um chin-chin with China boys las' nigh'. China boy heap
flaid, no can stop um steamship. Heap flaid too much talkee- talkee.
No stop; go fish now; go fish chop-chop. Los' heap time; go fish. I
no savvy sail um boat, China boy no savvy sail um boat. I tink um you
savvy (and he pointed to Moran). I tink um you savvy plenty heap much
disa bay. Boss number two, him no savvy sail um boat, but him savvy
plenty many all same.'
"And we're to stop on board your dough-dish and navigate her for
you?" shouted Moran, her face blazing.
Charlie nodded blandly: "I tink um yass."
"And when we get back to port," exclaimed Wilbur, "you think,
perhaps I—we won't make it interesting for you?"
"I tink um Six Company heap rich."
"Well, get along," ordered Moran, as though the schooner was her
property, "and we'll talk it over."
"China boy like you heap pretty big," said Charlie to Moran, as he
went out. "You savvy sail um boat all light; wanta you fo' captain.
But," he added, suddenly dropping his bland passivity as though he
wore a mask, and for an instant allowing the wicked malevolent
Cantonese to come to the surface, "China boy no likee funnee business,
savvy?" Then with a smile of a Talleyrand he disappeared.
Moran and Wilbur were helpless for the present. They were but two
against seven Chinamen. They must stay on board, if the coolies
wished it; and if they were to stay it was a matter of their own
personal safety that the "Bertha Millner" should be properly
"I'll captain her," concluded Moran, sullenly, at the end of their
talk. "You must act as mate, Mr. Wilbur. And don't get any mistaken
idea into your head that, because I'm a young girl and alone, you are
going to run things your way. I don't like funny business any better
"Look here," said Wilbur, complaining, "don't think I'm altogether
a villain. I think you're a ripping fine girl. You're different
from any kind of girl I ever met, of course, but you, by jingo,
you're—you're splendid. There in the squall last evening, when you
stood at the wheel, with your hair—"
"Oh, drop that!" said the girl, contemptuously, and went up on
deck. Wilbur followed, scratching an ear.
Charlie was called aft and their decision announced. Moran would
navigate the "Bertha Millner," Wilbur and she taking the watches.
Charlie promised that he would answer for the obedience of the men.
Their first concern now was to shape their course for Magdalena
Bay. Moran and Wilbur looked over Kitchell's charts and log-book,
but the girl flung them aside disdainfully.
"He's been sailing by the dead reckoning, and his navigation is
drivel. Why, a cabin-boy would know better; and, to end with, the
chronometer is run down. I'll have to get Green'ich time by taking
the altitude of a star to-night, and figure out our longitude. Did
you bring off our sextant?"
Wilbur shook his head. "Only the papers," he said.
"There's only an old ebony quadrant here," said Moran, "but it
will have to do."
That night, lying flat on her back on the deck with a quadrant to
her eye, she "got a star and brought it down to the horizon," and sat
up under the reeking lamp in the cabin nearly the whole night
ciphering and ciphering till she had filled up the four sides of the
log-slate with her calculations. However, by daylight she had
obtained the correct Greenwich time and worked the schooner's
Two days passed, then a third. Moran set the schooner's course.
She kept almost entirely to herself, and when not at the wheel or
taking the sun or writing up the log, gloomed over the after-rail
into the schooner's wake. Wilbur knew not what to think of her.
Never in his life had he met with any girl like this. So accustomed
had she been to the rough, give-and-take, direct associations of a
seafaring life that she misinterpreted well- meant politeness—the
only respect he knew how to pay her—to mean insidious advances. She
was suspicious of him—distrusted him utterly, and openly ridiculed
his abortive seamanship. Pretty she was not, but she soon began to
have a certain amount of attraction for Wilbur. He liked her splendid
ropes of hair, her heavy contralto voice, her fine animal strength of
bone and muscle (admittedly greater than his own); he admired her
indomitable courage and self-reliance, while her positive genius in
the matters of seamanship and navigation filled him with speechless
wonder. The girls he had been used to were clever only in their
knowledge of the amenities of an afternoon call or the formalities of
a paper german. A girl of two-and-twenty who could calculate
longitude from the altitude of a star was outside his experience. The
more he saw of her the more he knew himself to have been right in his
first estimate. She drank whiskey after her meals, and when angry,
which was often, swore like a buccaneer. As yet she was almost, as
one might say, without sex—savage, unconquered, untamed, glorying in
her own independence, her sullen isolation. Her neck was thick,
strong, and very white, her hands roughened and calloused. In her
men's clothes she looked tall, vigorous, and unrestrained, and on more
than one occasion, as Wilbur passed close to her, he was made aware
that her hair, her neck, her entire personality exhaled a fine, sweet,
natural redolence that savored of the ocean and great winds.
One day, as he saw her handling a huge water-barrel by the chines
only, with a strength he knew to be greater than his own, her brows
contracted with the effort, her hair curling about her thick neck, her
large, round arms bare to the elbow, a sudden thrill of enthusiasm
smote through him, and between his teeth he exclaimed to himself:
"By Jove, you're a woman!"
The "Bertha Millner" continued to the southward, gliding quietly
over the oil-smoothness of the ocean under airs so light as hardly to
ruffle the surface. Sometimes at high noon the shimmer of the ocean
floor blended into the shimmer of the sky at the horizon, and then it
was no longer water and blue heavens; the little craft seemed to be
poised in a vast crystalline sphere, where there was neither height
nor depth—poised motionless in warm, coruscating, opalescent space,
alone with the sun.
At length one morning the schooner, which for the preceding
twenty-four hours had been heading eastward, raised the land, and by
the middle of the afternoon had come up to within a mile of a low,
sandy shore, quivering with heat, and had tied up to the kelp in
Charlie now took over entire charge of operations. For two days
previous the Chinese hands had been getting out the deck-tubs,
tackles, gaffs, spades, and the other shark-fishing gear that had
been stowed forward. The sails were lowered and gasketed, the decks
cleared of all impedimenta, hogsheads and huge vats stood ready in the
waist, and the lazy indolence of the previous week was replaced by an
The day after their arrival in the bay was occupied by all hands
in catching bait. This bait was a kind of rock-fish, of a beautiful
red gold color, and about the size of an ordinary cod. They bit
readily enough, but out of every ten hooked three were taken off the
lines by the sharks before they could be brought aboard. Another
difficulty lay in the fact that, either because of the excessive heat
in the air or the percentage of alkali in the water, they spoiled
almost immediately if left in the air.
Turtle were everywhere—floating gray-green disks just under the
surface. Sea-birds in clouds clamored all day long about the shore
and sand-pits. At long intervals flying-fish skittered over the water
like skipping-stones. Shoals of porpoises came in from outside,
leaping clumsily along the edges of the kelp. Bewildered land-birds
perched on the schooner's rigging, and in the early morning the
whistling of quail could be heard on shore near where a little
fresh-water stream ran down to meet the ocean.
It was Wilbur who caught the first shark on the second morning of
the "Bertha's" advent in Magdalena Bay. A store of bait had been
accumulated, split and halved into chunks for the shark-hooks, and
Wilbur, baiting one of the huge lines that had been brought up on
deck the evening before, flung it overboard, and watched the glimmer
of the white fish-meat turning to a silvery green as it sank down
among the kelp. Almost instantly a long moving shadow, just darker
than the blue-green mass of the water, identified itself at a little
Enormous flukes proceeded from either side, an erect dorsal fin,
like an enormous cock's crest, rose from the back, while immediately
over the head swam the two pilot-fish, following so closely the
movement of the shark as to give the impression of actually adhering
to his body. Twice and three times the great man-eater twelve feet
from snout to tail-tip, circled slowly about the bait, the flukes
moving fan-like through the water. Once he came up, touched the bait
with his nose, and backed easily away. He disappeared, returned, and
poised himself motionless in the schooner's shadow, feeling the water
with his flukes.
Moran was looking over Wilbur's shoulder. "He's as good as
caught," she muttered; "once let them get sight of meat, and— Steady
now!" The shark moved forward. Suddenly, with a long, easy roll, he
turned completely upon his back. His white belly flashed like silver
in the water—the bait disappeared.
"You've got him!" shouted Moran.
The rope slid through Wilbur's palms, burning the skin as the huge
sea-wolf sounded. Moran laid hold. The heavy, sullen wrenching from
below twitched and swayed their bodies and threw them against each
other. Her bare, cool arm was pressed close over his knuckles.
"Heave!" she cried, laughing with the excitement of the moment.
"Heave all!"—she began the chant of sailors hauling at the ropes.
Together, and bracing their feet against the schooner's rail, they
fought out the fight with the great fish. In a swirl of lather the
head and shoulders came above the surface, the flukes churning the
water till it boiled like the wake of a screw steamship. But as soon
as these great fins were clear of the surface the shark fell quiet and
Charlie came up with the cutting-in spade, and as the fish hung
still over the side, cut him open from neck to belly with a single
movement. Another Chinaman stood by with a long-handled gaff, hooked
out the purple-black liver, brought it over the side, and dropped it
into one of the deck-tubs. The shark thrashed and writhed, his flukes
quivering and his gills distended. Wilbur could not restrain an
"Brutal business!" he muttered.
"Hoh!" exclaimed Moran, scornfully, "cutting-in is too good for
him. Sailor-folk are no friends of such carrion as that."
Other lines were baited and dropped overboard, and the hands
settled themselves to the real business of the expedition. There was
no skill in the matter. The sharks bit ravenously, and soon swarmed
about the schooner in hundreds. Hardly a half minute passed that one
of the four Chinamen that were fishing did not signal a catch, and
Charlie and Jim were kept busy with spade and gaff. By noon the
deck-tubs were full. The lines were hauled in, and the hands set the
tubs in the sun to try out the oil. Under the tropical heat the shark
livers almost visibly melted away, and by four o'clock in the
afternoon the tubs were full of a thick, yellow oil, the reek of which
instantly recalled to Wilbur's mind the rancid smell of the schooner
on the day when he had first come aboard of her. The deck-tubs were
emptied into the hogsheads and vats that stood in the waist of the
"Bertha," the tubs scoured, and the lines and bent shark-hooks
overhauled. Charlie disappeared in the galley, supper was cooked, and
eaten upon deck under the conflagration of the sunset; the lights were
set, the Chinamen foregathered in the fo'c'stle head, smoking opium,
and by eight o'clock the routine of the day was at an end.
So the time passed. In a short time Wilbur could not have said
whether the day was Wednesday or Sunday. He soon tired of the
unsportsmanlike work of killing the sluggish brutes, and turned
shoreward to relieve the monotony of the succeeding days. He and
Moran were left a good deal to their own devices. Charlie was the
master of the men now. "Mate," said Moran to Wilbur one day, after a
dinner of turtle steaks and fish, eaten in the open air on the
quarterdeck; "mate, this is slow work, and the schooner smells
terribly foul. We'll have the dory out and go ashore. We can tumble
a cask into her and get some water. The butt's three- quarters empty.
Let's see how it feels to be in Mexico."
"Mexico?" said Wilbur. "That's so—Lower California is Mexico.
I'd forgotten that!"
They went ashore and spent the afternoon in filling the water-cask
from the fresh-water stream and in gathering abalones, which Moran
declared were delicious eating, from the rocks left bare by the tide.
But nothing could have exceeded the loneliness of that shore and
backland, palpitating under the flogging of a tropical sun. Low hills
of sand, covered with brush, stretched back from the shore. On the
eastern horizon, leagues distant, blue masses of mountain striated
with mirages swam in the scorching air.
The sand was like fire to the touch. Far out in the bay the
schooner hung motionless under bare sticks, resting apparently upon
her inverted shadow only. And that was all—the flat, heat- ridden
land, the sheen of the open Pacific, and the lonely schooner.
"Quiet enough," said Wilbur, in a low voice, wondering if there
was such a place as San Francisco, with its paved streets and cable
cars, and if people who had been his friends there had ever had any
"Do you like it?" asked Moran quickly, facing him, her thumbs in
"It's good fun—how about you?"
"It's no different than the only life I've known. I suppose you
think it s a queer kind of life for a girl. I've lived by doing
things, not by thinking things, or reading about what other people
have done or thought; and I guess it's what you do that counts,
rather than what you think or read about. Where's that pinch-bar?
We'll get a couple more abalones for supper, and then put off."
That was the only talk of moment they had during the afternoon.
All the rest of their conversation had been of those things that
immediately occupied their attention.
They regained the schooner toward five o'clock, to find the
Chinamen perplexed and mystified. No explanation was forthcoming,
and Charlie gave them supper in preoccupied silence. As they were
eating the abalones, which Moran had fried in batter, Charlie said:
"Shark all gone! No more catch um—him all gone."
"No savvy," said Charlie. "No likee, no likee. China boy tink um
heap funny, too much heap funny."
It was true. During all the next day not a shark was in sight,
and though the crew fished assiduously till dark, they were rewarded
by not so much as a bite. No one could offer any explanation.
"'Tis strange," said Moran. "Never heard of shark leaving this
feed before. And you can see with half an eye that the hands don't
like the looks of it. Superstitious beggars! they need to be clumped
in the head."
That same night Wilbur woke in his hammock on the fo'c'stle head
about half-past two. The moon was down, the sky one powder of stars.
There was not a breath of wind. It was so still that he could hear
some large fish playing and breaking off toward the shore. Then,
without the least warning, he felt the schooner begin to lift under
him. He rolled out of his hammock and stood on the deck. There could
be no doubt of it—the whole forepart was rising beneath him. He
could see the bowsprit moving upward from star to star. Still the
schooner lifted; objects on deck began to slide aft; the oil in the
deck-tubs washed over; then, as there came a wild scrambling of the
Chinese crew up the fo'c'stle hatch, she settled again gradually at
first, then, with an abrupt lurch that almost threw him from his feet,
regained her level. Moran met him in the waist. Charlie came running
"What was that? Are we grounding? Has she struck?"
"No, no; we're still fast to the kelp. Was it a tidal wave?"
"Nonsense. It wouldn't have handled us that way."
"Well, what was it? Listen! For God's sake keep quiet there
Wilbur looked over the side into the water. The ripples were
still chasing themselves away from the schooner. There was nothing
else. The stillness shut down again. There was not a sound.
VI. A SEA MYSTERY
In spite of his best efforts at self-control, Wilbur felt a slow,
cold clutch at his heart. That sickening, uncanny lifting of the
schooner out of the glassy water, at a time when there was not enough
wind to so much as wrinkle the surface, sent a creep of something very
like horror through all his flesh.
Again he peered over the side, down into the kelp-thickened sea.
Nothing—not a breath of air was stirring. The gray light that
flooded down from the stars showed not a break upon the surface of
Magdalena Bay. On shore, nothing moved.
"Quiet there, forward," called Moran to the shrill-voiced coolies.
The succeeding stillness was profound. All on board listened
intently. The water dripped like the ticking of a clock from the
"Bertha Millner's" stern, which with the rising of the bow had sunk
almost to the rail. There was no other sound.
"Strange," muttered Moran, her brows contracting.
Charlie broke the silence with a wail: "No likee, no likee!" he
cried at top voice.
The man had gone suddenly green; Wilbur could see the shine of his
eyes distended like those of a harassed cat. As he, Moran, and
Wilbur stood in the schooner's waist, staring at each other, the
smell of punk came to their nostrils. Forward, the coolies were
already burning joss-sticks on the fo'castle head, kowtowing their
foreheads to the deck.
Moran went forward and kicked them to their feet and hurled their
joss-sticks into the sea.
"Feng shui! Feng shui!" they exclaimed with bated breaths. "The
Feng shui no likee we."
Low in the east the horizon began to blacken against the sky. It
was early morning. A watch was set, the Chinamen sent below, and
until daybreak, when Charlie began to make a clattering of tins in
the galley as he set about preparing breakfast, Wilbur paced the
rounds of the schooner, looking, listening, and waiting again for
that slow, horrifying lift. But the rest of the night was without
After breakfast, the strangely assorted trio—Charlie, Moran, and
Wilbur—held another conference in the cabin. It was decided to move
the schooner to the other side of the bay.
"Feng shui in disa place, no likee we," announced Charlie.
"Feng shui, who are they?"
Charlie promptly became incoherent on this subject, and Moran and
Wilbur could only guess that the Feng shui were the tutelary deities
that presided over that portion of Magdalena Bay. At any rate, there
were evidently no more shark to be caught in that fishing-ground; so
sail was made, and by noon the "Bertha Millner" tied up to the kelp on
the opposite side of the inlet, about half a mile from the shore.
The shark were plentiful here and the fishing went forward again
as before. Certain of these shark were hauled aboard, stunned by a
blow on the nose, and their fins cut off. The Chinamen packed these
fins away in separate kegs. Eventually they would be sent to China.
Two or three days passed. The hands kept steadily at their work.
Nothing more occurred to disturb the monotony of the scorching days
and soundless nights; the schooner sat as easily on the unbroken water
as though built to the bottom. Soon the night watch was discontinued.
During these days the three officers lived high. Turtle were
plentiful, and what with their steaks and soups, the fried abalones,
the sea-fish, the really delicious shark-fins, and the quail that
Charlie and Wilbur trapped along the shore, the trio had nothing to
wish for in the way of table luxuries.
The shore was absolutely deserted, as well as the back country—an
unbroken wilderness of sand and sage. Half a dozen times, Wilbur,
wearying of his inaction aboard the schooner, made the entire circuit
of the bay from point to point. Standing on one of the latter
projections and looking out to the west, the Pacific appeared as empty
of life as the land. Never a keel cut those waters, never a sail
broke the edge of the horizon, never a feather of smoke spotted the
sky where it whitened to meet the sea. Everything was empty—vast,
unspeakably desolate— palpitating with heat.
Another week passed. Charlie began to complain that the shark
were growing scarce again.
"I think bime-by him go away, once a mo'."
That same night, Wilbur, lying in his hammock, was awakened by a
touch on his arm. He woke to see Moran beside him on the deck.
"Did you hear anything?" she said in a low voice, looking at him
under her scowl.
"No! no!" he exclaimed, getting up, reaching for his wicker
sandals. "Did you?"
"I thought so—something. Did you feel anything?"
"I've been asleep, I haven't noticed anything. Is it beginning
"The schooner lifted again, just now, very gently. I happened to
be awake or I wouldn't have noticed it." They were talking in low
voices, as is the custom of people speaking in the dark.
"There, what's that?" exclaimed Wilbur under his breath. A gentle
vibration, barely perceptible, thrilled through the schooner. Under
his hand, that was clasped upon the rail, Wilbur could feel a faint
trembling in her frame. It stopped, began again, and died slowly
"Well, what the devil IS it?" he muttered impatiently, trying to
master the returning creep of dread.
Moran shook her head, biting her lip.
"It's beyond me," she said, frowning. "Can you see anything?" The
sky, sea, and land were unbroken reaches of solitude. There was no
breath of wind.
"Listen," said Moran. Far off to landward came the faint, sleepy
clucking of a quail, and the stridulating of unnumbered crickets; a
long ripple licked the slope of the beach and slid back into the
ocean. Wilbur shook his head.
"Don't hear anything," he whispered. "Sh—there—she's trembling
Once more a prolonged but faint quivering ran through the "Bertha
Millner" from stem to stern, and from keel to masthead. There was a
barely audible creaking of joints and panels. The oil in the
deck-tubs trembled. The vibration was so fine and rapid that it
tickled the soles of Wilbur's feet as he stood on the deck.
"I'd give two fingers to know what it all means," murmured Moran
in a low voice. "I've been to sea for—" Then suddenly she cried
aloud: "Steady all, she's lifting again!"
The schooner heaved slowly under them, this time by the stern. Up
she went, up and up, while Wilbur gripped at a stay to keep his
place, and tried to choke down his heart, that seemed to beat against
"God!" ejaculated Moran, her eyes blazing. "This thing is—" The
"Bertha" came suddenly down to an easy keel, rocking in that glassy
sea as if in a tide rip. The deck was awash with oil. Far out in the
bay the ripples widening from the schooner blurred the reflections of
the stars. The Chinamen swarmed up the hatch-way, voluble and shrill.
Again the "Bertha Millner" lifted and sank, the tubs sliding on the
deck, the masts quivering like reeds, the timbers groaning aloud with
the strain. In the stern something cracked and smashed. Then the
trouble died away, the ripples faded into the ocean, and the schooner
settled to her keel, quite motionless.
"Look," said Moran, her face toward the "Bertha's" stern. "The
rudder is out of the gudgeons." It was true—the "Bertha Millner's"
helm was unshipped.
There was no more sleep for any one on board that night. Wilbur
tramped the quarterdeck, sick with a feeling he dared not put a name
to. Moran sat by the wrecked rudder-head, a useless pistol in her
hand, swearing under her breath from time to time. Charlie appeared
on the quarterdeck at intervals, looked at Wilbur and Moran with
wide-open eyes, and then took himself away. On the forward deck the
coolies pasted strips of red paper inscribed with mottoes upon the
mast, and filled the air with the reek of their joss-sticks.
"If one could only SEE what it was," growled Moran between her
clinched teeth. "But this—this damned heaving and trembling, it—
"That's it, that's it," said Wilbur quickly, facing her. "What
are we going to do, Moran?"
"STICK IT OUT!" she exclaimed, striking her knee with her fist.
"We can't leave the schooner—I WON'T leave her. I'll stay by this
dough-dish as long as two planks in her hold together. Were you
thinking of cutting away?" She fixed him with her frown.
Wilbur looked at her, sitting erect by the disabled rudder, her
head bare, her braids of yellow hair hanging over her breast, sitting
there in man's clothes and man's boots, the pistol at her side. He
shook his head.
"I'm not leaving the 'Bertha' till you do," he answered; adding:
"I'll stand by you, mate, until we—"
"Feel that?" said Moran, holding up a hand.
A fine, quivering tremble was thrilling through every beam of the
schooner, vibrating each rope like a harp-string. It passed away;
but before either Wilbur or Moran could comment upon it recommenced,
this time much more perceptibly. Charlie dashed aft, his queue
"W'at makum heap shake?" he shouted; "w'at for him shake? No
savvy, no likee, pretty much heap flaid; aie-yah, aie-yah!"
Slowly the schooner heaved up as though upon the crest of some
huge wave, slowly it settled, and again gradually lifted till Wilbur
had to catch at the rail to steady his footing. The quivering
sensation increased so that their very teeth chattered with it. Below
in the cabin they could hear small objects falling from the shelves
and table. Then with a sudden drop the "Bertha" fell back to her keel
again, the spilled oil spouting from her scuppers, the masts rocking,
the water churning and splashing from her sides.
And that was all. There was no sound—nothing was in sight. There
was only the frightened trembling of the little schooner and that
long, slow heave and lift.
Morning came, and breakfast was had in silence and grim
perplexity. It was too late to think of getting away, now that the
rudder was disabled. The "Bertha Millner" must bide where she was.
"And a little more of this dancing," exclaimed Moran, "and we'll
have the planks springing off the stern-post."
Charlie nodded solemnly. He said nothing—his gravity had
returned. Now in the glare of the tropical day, with the "Bertha
Millner" sitting the sea as placidly as a brooding gull, he was
"I tinkum yas," he said vaguely.
"Well, I think we had better try and fix the rudder and put back
to Frisco," said Moran. "You're making no money this way. There are
no shark to be caught. SOMETHING'S wrong. They're gone away
somewhere. The crew are eating their heads off and not earning
enough money to pay for their keep. What do you think?"
"I tinkum yas."
"Then we'll go home. Is that it?"
"I tinkum yas—to-molla."
"That's settled then," persisted Moran, surprised at his ready
acquiescence; "we start home to-morrow?" Charlie nodded.
"To-molla," he said.
The rudder was not so badly damaged as they had at first supposed;
the break was easily mended, but it was found necessary for one of
the men to go over the side.
"Get over the side here, Jim," commanded Moran. "Charlie, tell
him what's wanted; we can't work the pintle in from the deck."
But Charlie shook his head.
"Him no likee go; him plenty much flaid."
Moran ripped out an oath.
"What do I care if he's afraid! I want him to shove the pintle
into the lower gudgeon. My God," she exclaimed, with immense
contempt, "what carrion! I'd sooner work a boat with she-monkeys. Mr.
Wilbur, I shall have to ask you to go over. I thought I was captain
here, but it all depends on whether these rats are afraid or not."
"Plenty many shark," expostulated Charlie. "Him flaid shark come
back, catchum chop-chop."
"Stand by here with a couple of cutting-in spades," cried Moran,
"and fend off if you see any shark; now, then, are you ready, mate?"
Wilbur took his determination in both hands, threw off his coat
and sandals, and went over the stern rail.
"Put your ear to the water," called Moran from above; "sometimes
you can hear their flukes."
It took but a minute to adjust the pintle, and Wilbur regained the
deck again, dripping and a little pale. He knew not what horrid form
of death might have been lurking for him down below there underneath
the kelp. As he started forward for dry clothes he was surprised to
observe that Moran was smiling at him, holding out her hand.
"That was well done," she said, "and thank you. I've seen older
sailor-men than you who wouldn't have taken the risk." Never before
had she appeared more splendid in his eyes than at this moment. After
changing his clothes in the fo'castle, he sat for a long time, his
chin in his hands, very thoughtful. Then at length, as though voicing
the conclusion of his reflections, said aloud, as he rose to his feet:
"But, of course, THAT is out of the question."
He remembered that they were going home on the next day. Within a
fortnight he would be in San Francisco again—a taxpayer, a
police-protected citizen once more. It had been good fun, after all,
this three weeks' life on the "Bertha Millner," a strange episode cut
out from the normal circle of his conventional life. He ran over the
incidents of the cruise—Kitchell, the turtle hunt, the finding of the
derelict, the dead captain, the squall, and the awful sight of the
sinking bark, Moran at the wheel, the grewsome business of the
shark-fishing, and last of all that inexplicable lifting and quivering
of the schooner. He told himself that now he would probably never
know the explanation of that mystery.
The day passed in preparations to put to sea again. The deck-tubs
and hogsheads were stowed below and the tackle cleared away. By
evening all was ready; they would be under way by daybreak the next
morning. There was a possibility of their being forced to tow the
schooner out by means of the dory, so light were the airs inside.
Once beyond the heads, however, they were sure of a breeze.
About ten o'clock that night, the same uncanny trembling ran
through the schooner again, and about half an hour later she lifted
gently once or twice. But after that she was undisturbed.
Later on in the night—or rather early in the morning—Wilbur woke
suddenly in his hammock without knowing why, and got up and stood
listening. The "Bertha Millner" was absolutely quiet. The night was
hot and still; the new moon, canted over like a sinking galleon, was
low over the horizon. Wilbur listened intently, for now at last he
Between the schooner and the shore a gentle sound of splashing
came to his ears, and an occasional crack as of oars in their locks.
Was it possible that a boat was there between the schooner and the
land? What boat, and manned by whom?
The creaking of oarlocks and the dip of paddles was unmistakable.
Suddenly Wilbur raised his voice in a great shout:
There was no answer; the noise of oars grew fainter. Moran came
running out of her cabin, swinging into her coat as she ran.
"What is it—what is it?"
"A boat, I think, right off the schooner here. Hark—there—did
you hear the oars?"
"You're right; call the hands, get the dory over, we'll follow
that boat right up. Hello, forward there, Charlie, all hands, tumble
Then Wilbur and Moran caught themselves looking into each other's
eyes. At once something—perhaps the latent silence of the
schooner—told them there was to be no answer. The two ran for-
ward: Moran swung herself into the fo'castle hatch, and without using
the ladder dropped to the deck below. In an instant her voice came up
"The bunks are empty—they're gone—abandoned us." She came up the
"Look," said Wilbur, as she regained the deck. "The dory's gone;
they've taken it. It was our only boat; we can't get ashore."
"Cowardly, superstitious rats, I should have expected this. They
would be chopped in bits before they would stay longer on board this
boat—they and their-Feng shui."
When morning came the deserters could be made out camped on the
shore, near to the beached dory. What their intentions were could
not be conjectured. Ridden with all manner of nameless Oriental
superstitions, it was evident that the Chinamen preferred any hazard
of fortune to remaining longer upon the schooner.
"Well, can we get along without them?" said Wilbur. "Can we two
work the schooner back to port ourselves?"
"We'll try it on, anyhow, mate," said Moran; "we might get her
into San Diego, anyhow."
The Chinamen had left plenty of provisions on board, and Moran
cooked breakfast. Fortunately, by eight o'clock a very light
westerly breeze came up. Moran and Wilbur cast off the gaskets and
set the fore and main sails.
Wilbur was busy at the forward bitts preparing to cast loose from
the kelp, and Moran had taken up her position at the wheel when
suddenly she exclaimed:
"Sail ho!—and in God's name what kind of a sail do you call it?"
In fact a strange-looking craft had just made her appearance at
the entrance of Magdalena Bay.
Wilbur returned aft and joined Moran on the quarterdeck. She was
already studying the stranger through the glass.
"That's a new build of boat to me," she muttered, giving Wilbur
the glass. Wilbur looked long and carefully. The newcomer was of
the size and much the same shape as a caravel of the fifteenth
century—high as to bow and stern, and to all appearances as
seaworthy as a soup-tureen. Never but in the old prints had Wilbur
seen such an extraordinary boat. She carried a single mast, which
listed forward; her lugsail was stretched upon dozens of bamboo yards;
she drew hardly any water. Two enormous red eyes were painted upon
either side of her high, blunt bow, while just abaft the waist
projected an enormous oar, or sweep, full forty feet in
length—longer, in fact, than the vessel herself. It acted partly as
a propeller, partly as a rudder.
"They're heading for us," commented Wilbur as Moran took the glass
"Right," she answered; adding upon the moment: "Huh! more
Chinamen; the thing is alive with coolies; she's a junk."
"Oh!" exclaimed Wilbur, recollecting some talk of Charlie's he had
overheard. "I know."
"Yes; these are real beach-combers. I've heard of them along this
coast—heard our Chinamen speak of them. They beach that junk every
night and camp on shore. They're scavengers, as you might say—pick
up what they can find or plunder along shore—abalones, shark-fins,
pickings of wrecks, old brass and copper, seals perhaps, turtle and
shell. Between whiles they fish for shrimp, and I've heard Kitchell
tell how they make pearls by dropping bird-shot into oysters. They
are Kai-gingh to a man, and, according to Kitchell, the wickedest
breed of cats that ever cut teeth."
The junk bore slowly down upon the schooner. In a few moments she
had hove to alongside. But for the enormous red eyes upon her bow
she was innocent of paint. She was grimed and shellacked with dirt
and grease, and smelled abominably. Her crew were Chinamen; but such
Chinamen! The coolies of the "Bertha Millner" were pampered and effete
in comparison. The beach-combers, thirteen in number, were a smaller
class of men, their faces almost black with tan and dirt. Though they
still wore the queue, their heads were not shaven, and mats and mops
of stiff black hair fell over their eyes from under their broad,
They were barefoot. None of them wore more than two garments—the
jeans and the blouse. They were the lowest type of men Wilbur had
ever seen. The faces were those of a higher order of anthropoid
apes: the lower portion—jaws, lips, and teeth—salient; the nostrils
opening at almost right angles, the eyes tiny and bright, the forehead
seamed and wrinkled—unnaturally old. Their general expression was of
simian cunning and a ferocity that was utterly devoid of courage.
"Aye!" exclaimed Moran between her teeth, "if the devil were a
shepherd, here are his sheep. You don't come aboard this schooner,
my friends! I want to live as long as I can, and die when I can't help
it. Boat ahoy!" she called.
An answer in Cantonese sing-song came back from the junk, and the
speaker gestured toward the outside ocean.
Then a long parleying began. For upward of half an hour Moran and
Wilbur listened to a proposition in broken pigeon English made by the
beach-combers again and again and yet again, and were in no way
enlightened. It was impossible to understand. Then at last they made
out that there was question of a whale. Next it appeared the whale
was dead; and finally, after a prolonged pantomime of gesturing and
pointing, Moran guessed that the beach- combers wanted the use of the
"Bertha Millner" to trice up the dead leviathan while the oil and
whalebone were extracted.
"That must be it," she said to Wilbur. "That's what they mean by
pointing to our masts and tackle. You see, they couldn't manage with
that stick of theirs, and they say they'll give us a third of the
loot. We'll do it, mate, and I'll tell you why. The wind has fallen,
and they can tow us out. If it's a sperm-whale they've found, there
ought to be thirty or forty barrels of oil in him, let alone the
blubber and bone. Oil is at $50 now, and spermaceti will always bring
$100. We'll take it on, mate. but we'll keep our eyes on the rats
all the time. I don't want them aboard at all. Look at their belts.
Not three out of the dozen who aren't carrying those filthy little
hatchets. Faugh!" she exclaimed, with a shudder of disgust. "Such
What followed proved that Moran had guessed correctly. A rope was
passed to the "Bertha Millner," the junk put out its sweeps, and to a
wailing, eldrich chanting the schooner was towed out of the bay.
"I wonder what Charlie and our China boys will think of this?"
said Wilbur, looking shoreward, where the deserters could be seen
gathered together in a silent, observing group.
"We're well shut of them," growled Moran, her thumbs in her belt.
"Only, now we'll never know what was the matter with the schooner
these last few nights. Hah!" she exclaimed under her breath, her
scowl thickening, "sometimes I don't wonder the beasts cut."
The dead whale was lying four miles out of the entrance of
Magdalena Bay, and as the junk and the schooner drew near seemed like
a huge black boat floating bottom up. Over it and upon it swarmed and
clambered thousands of sea-birds, while all around and below the water
was thick with gorging sharks. A dreadful, strangling decay fouled
all the air.
The whale was a sperm-whale, and fully twice the length of the
"Bertha Millner." The work of tricing him up occupied the beach-
combers throughout the entire day. It was out of the question to
keep them off the schooner, and Wilbur and Moran were too wise to
try. They swarmed the forward deck and rigging like a plague of
unclean monkeys, climbing with an agility and nimbleness that made
Wilbur sick to his stomach. They were unlike any Chinamen he had
ever seen—hideous to a degree that he had imagined impossible in a
human being. On two occasions a fight developed, and in an instant
the little hatchets were flashing like the flash of a snake's fangs.
Toward the end of the day one of them returned to the junk, screaming
like a stuck pig, a bit of his chin bitten off.
Moran and Wilbur kept to the quarter-deck, always within reach of
the huge cutting-in spades, but the Chinese beach-combers were too
elated over their prize to pay them much attention.
And indeed the dead monster proved a veritable treasure-trove. By
the end of the day he had been triced up to the foremast, and all
hands straining at the windlass had raised the mighty head out of the
water. The Chinamen descended upon the smooth, black body, their bare
feet sliding and slipping at every step. They held on by jabbing
their knives into the hide as glacier-climbers do their ice-picks.
The head yielded barrel after barrel of oil and a fair quantity of
bone. The blubber was taken aboard the junk, minced up with hatchets,
and run into casks.
Last of all, a Chinaman cut a hole through the "case," and,
actually descending into the inside of the head, stripped away the
spermaceti (clear as crystal), and packed it into buckets, which were
hauled up on the junk's deck. The work occupied some two or three
days. During this time the "Bertha Millner" was keeled over to nearly
twenty degrees by the weight of the dead monster. However, neither
Wilbur nor Moran made protest. The Chinamen would do as they pleased;
that was said and signed. And they did not release the schooner until
the whale had been emptied of oil and blubber, spermaceti and bone.
At length, on the afternoon of the third day, the captain of the
junk, whose name was Hoang, presented himself upon the quarter- deck.
He was naked to the waist, and his bare brown torso was gleaming with
oil and sweat. His queue was coiled like a snake around his neck, his
hatchet thrust into his belt.
"Well?" said Moran, coming up.
Wilbur caught his breath as the two stood there facing each other,
so sharp was the contrast. The man, the Mongolian, small, weazened,
leather-colored, secretive—a strange, complex creature, steeped in
all the obscure mystery of the East, nervous, ill at ease; and the
girl, the Anglo-Saxon, daughter of the Northmen, huge, blond,
big-boned, frank, outspoken, simple of composition, open as the day,
bareheaded, her great ropes of sandy hair falling over her breast and
almost to the top of her knee-boots. As he looked at the two, Wilbur
asked himself where else but in California could such abrupt contrasts
"All light," announced Hoang; "catchum all oil, catchum all bone,
catchum all same plenty many. You help catchum, now you catchum pay.
The three principals came to a settlement with unprecedented
directness. Like all Chinamen, Hoang was true to his promises, and
he had already set apart three and a half barrels of spermaceti, ten
barrels of oil, and some twenty pounds of bone as the schooner's share
in the transaction. There was no discussion over the matter. He
called their attention to the discharge of his obligations, and
hurried away to summon his men aboard and get the junk under way
The beach-combers returned to their junk, and Wilbur and Moran set
about cutting the carcass of the whale adrift. They found it would
be easier to cut away the hide from around the hooks and loops of the
tackle than to unfasten the tackle itself.
"The knots are jammed hard as steel," declared Moran. "Hand up
that cutting-in spade; stand by with the other and cut loose at the
same time as I do, so we can ease off the strain on these lines at the
same time. Ready there, cut!" Moran set free the hook in the loop of
black skin in a couple of strokes, but Wilbur was more clumsy; the
skin resisted. He struck at it sharply with the heavy spade; the
blade hit the iron hook, glanced off, and opened a large slit in the
carcass below the head. A gush of entrails started from the slit, and
Moran swore under her breath.
"Ease away, quick there! You'll have the mast out of her next—
steady! Hold your spade—what's that?"
Wilbur had nerved himself against the dreadful stench he expected
would issue from the putrid monster, but he was surprised to note a
pungent, sweet, and spicy odor that all at once made thick the air
about him. It was an aromatic smell, stronger than that of the salt
ocean, stronger even than the reek of oil and blubber from the
schooner's waist—sweet as incense, penetrating as attar, delicious as
a summer breeze.
"It smells pretty good, whatever it is," he answered. Moran came
up to where he stood, and looked at the slit he had made in the
whale's carcass. Out of it was bulging some kind of dull white
matter marbled with gray. It was a hard lump of irregular shape and
about as big as a hogshead.
Moran glanced over to the junk, some forty feet distant. The
beach-combers were hoisting the lug-sail. Hoang was at the steering
"Get that stuff aboard," she commanded quietly.
"That!" exclaimed Wilbur, pointing to the lump.
Moran's blue eyes were beginning to gleam.
"Yes, and do it before the Chinamen see you."
"But—but I don't understand."
Moran stepped to the quarterdeck, unslung the hammock in which
Wilbur slept, and tossed it to him.
"Reeve it up in that; I'll pass you a line, and we'll haul it
aboard. Godsend, those vermin yonder have got smells enough of their
own without noticing this. Hurry, mate, I'll talk afterward."
Wilbur went over the side, and standing as best he could upon the
slippery carcass, dug out the lump and bound it up in the hammock.
"Hoh!" exclaimed Moran, with sudden exultation. "There's a lot of
it. That's the biggest lump yet, I'll be bound. Is that all there
is, mate?—look carefully." Her voice had dropped to a whisper.
"Yes, yes; that's all. Careful now when you haul up—Hoang has
got his eye on you, and so have the rest of them. What do you call
it, anyhow? Why are you so particular about it? Is it worth anything?"
"I don't know—perhaps. We'll have a look at it, anyway."
Moran hauled the stuff aboard, and Wilbur followed.
"Whew!" he exclaimed with half-closed eyes. "It's like the story
of Samson and the dead lion—the sweet coming forth from the strong."
The schooner seemed to swim in a bath of perfumed air; the
membrane of the nostrils fairly prinkled with the sensation. Moran
unleashed the hammock, and going down upon one knee examined the lump
"It didn't seem possible," Wilbur heard her saying to herself;
"but there can't be any mistake. It's the stuff, right enough. I've
heard of such things, but this—but this—" She rose to her feet,
tossing back her hair.
"Well," said Wilbur, "what do you call it?"
"The thing to do now," returned Moran, "is to get clear of here as
quietly and as quickly as we can, and take this stuff with us. I
can't stop to explain now, but it's big—it's big. Mate, it's big as
the Bank of England."
"Those beach-combers are right on to the game, I'm afraid," said
Wilbur. "Look, they're watching us. This stuff would smell across
"Rot the beach-combers! There's a bit of wind, thank God, and we
can do four knots to their one, just let us get clear once."
Moran dragged the hammock back into the cabin, and, returning upon
deck, helped Wilbur to cut away the last tricing tackle. The
schooner righted slowly to an even keel. Meanwhile the junk had set
its one lug-sail and its crew had run out the sweeps. Hoang took the
steering sweep and worked the junk to a position right across the
"Bertha's" bows, some fifty feet ahead.
"They're watching us, right enough," said Wilbur.
"Up your mains'l," ordered Moran. The pair set the fore and main
sails with great difficulty. Moran took the wheel and Wilbur went
forward to cast off the line by which the schooner had been tied up
to one of the whale's flukes.
"Cut it!" cried the girl. "Don't stop to cast off."
There was a hail from the beach-combers; the port sweeps dipped
and the junk bore up nearer.
"Hurry!" shouted Moran, "don't mind them. Are we clear for'ard—
what's the trouble? Something's holding her." The schooner listed
slowly to starboard and settled by the head.
"All clear!" cried Wilbur.
"There's something wrong!" exclaimed Moran; "she's settling
for'ard." Hoang hailed the schooner a second time.
"We're still settling," called Wilbur from the bows, "what's the
"Matter that she's taking water," answered Moran wrathfully.
"She's started something below, what with all that lifting and
dancing and tricing up."
Wilbur ran back to the quarterdeck.
"This is a bad fix," he said to Moran. "Those chaps are coming
aboard again. They're on to something, and, of course, at just this
moment she begins to leak."
"They are after that ambergris," said Moran between her teeth.
"Smelled it, of course—the swine!"
"The stuff we found in the whale. That's ambergris."
"Well!" shouted Moran, exasperated. "Do you know that we have
found a lump that will weigh close to 250 pounds, and do you know
that ambergris is selling in San Francisco at $40 an ounce? Do you
know that we have picked up nearly $150,000 right out here in the
ocean and are in a fair way to lose it all?"
"Can't we run for it?"
"Run for it in a boat that's taking water like a sack! Our dory's
gone. Suppose we get clear of the junk, and the 'Bertha' sank? Then
what? If we only had our crew aboard; if we were only ten to their
dozen—if we were only six—by Jupiter! I'd fight them for it."
The two enormous red eyes of the junk loomed alongside and stared
over into the "Bertha's" waist. Hoang and seven of the coolies
"What now?" shouted Moran, coming forward to meet them, her scowl
knotting her flashing eyes together. "Is this ship yours or mine?
We've done your dirty work for you. I want you clear of my deck."
Wilbur stood at her side, uncertain what to do, but ready for
anything she should attempt.
"I tink you catchum someting, smellum pretty big," said Hoang, his
ferret glance twinkling about the schooner.
"I catchum nothing—nothing but plenty bad stink," said Moran.
"No, you don't!" she exclaimed, putting herself in Hoang's way as he
made for the cabin. The other beach-combers came crowding up; Wilbur
even thought he saw one of them loosening his hatchet in his belt.
"This ship's mine," cried Moran, backing to the cabin door. Wilbur
followed her, and the Chinamen closed down upon the pair.
"It's not much use, Moran," he muttered. "They'll rush us in a
"But the ambergris is mine—is mine," she answered, never taking
her eyes from the confronting coolies.
"We findum w'ale," said Hoang; "you no find w'ale; him b'long to
we—eve'yt'ing in um w'ale b'long to we, savvy?"
"No, you promised us a third of everything you found."
Even in the confusion of the moment it occurred to Wilbur that it
was quite possible that at least two-thirds of the ambergris did
belong to the beach-combers by right of discovery. After all, it was
the beach-combers who had found the whale. He could never remember
afterward whether or no he said as much to Moran at the time. If he
did, she had been deaf to it. A fury of wrath and desperation
suddenly blazed in her blue eyes. Standing at her side, Wilbur could
hear her teeth grinding upon each other. She was blind to all danger,
animated only by a sense of injustice and imposition.
Hoang uttered a sentence in Cantonese. One of the coolies jumped
forward, and Moran's fist met him in the face and brought him to his
knees. Then came the rush Wilbur had foreseen. He had just time to
catch a sight of Moran at grapples with Hoang when a little hatchet
glinted over his head. He struck out savagely into the thick of the
group—and then opened his eyes to find Moran washing the blood from
his hair as he lay on the deck with his head in the hollow of her arm.
Everything was quiet. The beach- combers were gone.
"Hello, what—what—what is it?" he asked, springing to his feet,
his head swimming and smarting. "We had a row, didn't we? Did they
hurt you? Oh, I remember; I got a cut over the head—one of their
hatchet men. Did they hurt you?"
"They got the loot," she growled. "Filthy vermin! And just to
make everything pleasant, the schooner's sinking."
VIII. A RUN FOR LAND
"SINKING!" exclaimed Wilbur.
Moran was already on her feet. "We'll have to beach her," she
cried, "and we're six miles out. Up y'r jib, mate!" The two set the
jib, flying-jib, and staysails.
The fore and main sails were already drawing, and under all the
spread of her canvas the "Bertha" raced back toward the shore.
But by the time she was within the head of the bay her stern had
settled to such an extent that the forefoot was clear of the water,
the bowsprit pointing high into the heavens. Moran was at the wheel,
her scowl thicker than ever, her eyes measuring the stretch of water
that lay between the schooner and the shore.
"She'll never make it in God's world," she muttered as she
listened to the wash of the water in the cabin under her feet. In
the hold, empty barrels were afloat, knocking hollowly against each
other. "We're in a bad way, mate."
"If it comes to that," returned Wilbur, surprised to see her thus
easily downcast, who was usually so indomitable—"if it comes to
that, we can swim for it—a couple of planks—"
"Swim?" she echoed; "I'm not thinking of that; of course we could
Wilbur's teeth clicked sharply together. He could think of
nothing to say.
As the water gained between decks the schooner's speed dwindled,
and at the same time as she approached the shore the wind, shut off
by the land, fell away. By this time the ocean was not four inches
below the stern-rail. Two miles away was the nearest sand- spit.
Wilbur broke out a distress signal on the foremast, in the hope that
Charlie and the deserters might send off the dory to their assistance.
But the deserters were nowhere in sight.
"What became of the junk?" he demanded suddenly of Moran. She
motioned to the westward with her head. "Still lying out-side."
Twenty minutes passed. Once only Moran spoke.
"When she begins to go," she said, "she'll go with a rush. Jump
pretty wide, or you'll get caught in the suction."
The two had given up all hope. Moran held grimly to the wheel as
a mere matter of form. Wilbur stood at her side, his clinched fists
thrust into his pockets. The eyes of both were fixed on the yellow
line of the distant beach. By and by Moran turned to him with an odd
"We're a strange pair to die together," she said. Wilbur met her
eyes an instant, but finding no reply, put his chin in the air as
though he would have told her she might well say that.
"A strange pair to die together," Moran repeated; "but we can do
that better than we could have"—she looked away from him—"could
have LIVED together," she finished, and smiled again.
"And yet," said Wilbur, "these last few weeks here on board the
schooner, we have been through a good deal—together. I don't know,"
he went on clumsily, "I don't know when I've been—when I've had—I've
been happier than these last weeks. It is queer, isn't it? I know, of
course, what you'll say. I've said it to myself often of late. I
belong to the city and to my life there, and you—you belong to the
ocean. I never knew a girl like you— never knew a girl COULD be like
you. You don't know how extraordinary it all seems to me. You swear
like a man, and you dress like a man, and I don't suppose you've ever
been associated with other women; and you're strong—I know you are as
strong as I am. You have no idea how different you are to the kind of
girl I've known. Imagine my kind of girl standing up before Hoang and
those cutthroat beach-combers with their knives and hatchets. Maybe
it's because you are so unlike my kind of girl that—that things are
as they are with me. I don't know. It's a queer situation. A month
or so ago I was at a tea in San Francisco, and now I'm aboard a
shark-fishing schooner sinking in Magdalena Bay; and I'm with a girl
that—that—that I—well, I'm with you, and, well, you know how it
is—I might as well say it—I love you more than I imagined I ever
could love a girl."
Moran's frown came back to her forehead.
"I don't like that kind of talk," she said; "I am not used to it,
and I don't know how to take it. Believe me," she said with a half
laugh, "it's all wasted. I never could love a man. I'm not made for
"No," said Wilbur, "nor for other women either."
"Nor for other women either."
Wilbur fell silent. In that instant he had a distinct vision of
Moran's life and character, shunning men and shunned of women, a
strange, lonely creature, solitary as the ocean whereon she lived,
beautiful after her fashion; as yet without sex, proud, untamed,
splendid in her savage, primal independence—a thing untouched and
unsullied by civilization. She seemed to him some Bradamante, some
mythical Brunhilde, some Valkyrie of the legends, born out of season,
lost and unfamiliar in this end-of-the-century time. Her purity was
the purity of primeval glaciers. He could easily see how to such a
girl the love of a man would appear only in the light of a
humiliation—a degradation. And yet she COULD love, else how had HE
been able to love her? Wilbur found himself—even at that
moment—wondering how the thing could be done—wondering to just what
note the untouched cords would vibrate. Just how she should be
awakened one morning to find that she—Moran, sea-rover, virgin
unconquered, without law, without land, without sex—was, after all, a
"By God, mate!" she exclaimed of a sudden. "The barrels are
keeping us up—the empty barrels in the hold. Hoh! we'll make land
It was true. The empty hogsheads, destined for the storage of
oil, had been forced up by the influx of the water to the roof of the
hold, and were acting as so many buoys—the schooner could sink no
lower. An hour later, the quarterdeck all awash, her bow thrown high
into the air, listing horribly to starboard, the "Bertha Millner" took
ground on the shore of Magdalena Bay at about the turn of the tide.
Moran swung herself over the side, hip deep in the water, and,
wading ashore with a line, made fast to the huge skull of a whale
half buried in the sand at that point.
Wilbur followed. The schooner had grounded upon the southern horn
of the bay and lay easily on a spit of sand. They could not examine
the nature of the leak until low water the next morning.
"Well, here we are," said Moran, her thumbs in her belt. "What
next? We may be here for two days, we MAY be here for two years. It
all depends upon how bad a hole she has. Have we 'put in for
repairs,' or have we been cast away? Can't tell till to-morrow
morning. Meanwhile, I'm hungry."
Half of the stores of the schooner were water-soaked, but upon
examination Wilbur found that enough remained intact to put them
beyond all fear for the present.
"There's plenty of water up the creek," he said, "and we can snare
all the quail we want; and then there's the fish and abalone. Even if
the stores were gone we could make out very well."
The schooner's cabin was full of water and Wilbur's hammock was
gone, so the pair decided to camp on shore. In that torrid weather
to sleep in the open air was a luxury.
In great good spirits the two sat down to their first meal on
land. Moran cooked a supper that, barring the absence of coffee, was
delicious. The whiskey was had from aboard, and they pledged each
other, standing up, in something over two stiff fingers.
"Moran," said Wilbur, "you ought to have been born a man."
"At all events, mate," she said—"at all events, I'm not a girl."
"NO!" exclaimed Wilbur, as he filled his pipe. "NO, you're just
Moran, Moran of the 'Lady Letty.'"
"And I'll stay that, too," she said decisively.
Never had an evening been more beautiful in Wilbur's eyes. There
was not a breath of air. The stillness was so profound that the
faint murmur of the blood behind the ear-drums became an oppression.
The ocean tiptoed toward the land with tiny rustling steps. The west
was one gigantic stained window, the ocean floor a solid shimmer of
opalescence. Behind them, sullen purples marked the horizon, hooded
with mountain crests, and after a long while the moon shrugged a
gleaming shoulder into view.
Wilbur, dressed in Chinese jeans and blouse, with Chinese wicker
sandals on his bare feet, sat with his back against the whale's
skull, smoking quietly. For a long time there was no conversation;
then at last:
"No," said Moran in a low voice. "This is the life I'm made for.
In six years I've not spent three consecutive weeks on land. Now
that Eilert" (she always spoke of her father by his first name), "now
that Eilert is dead, I've not a tie, not a relative, not even a
friend, and I don't wish it."
"But the loneliness of the life, the solitude," said Wilbur,
"that's what I don't understand. Did it ever occur to you that the
best happiness is the happiness that one shares?"
Moran clasped a knee in both hands and looked out to sea. She
never wore a hat, and the red light of the afterglow was turning her
rye-hued hair to saffron.
"Hoh!" she exclaimed, her heavy voice pitched even lower than
usual. "Who could understand or share any of my pleasures, or be
happy when I'm happy? And, besides, I'm happiest when I'm alone—I
don't want any one."
"But," hesitated Wilbur, "one is not always alone. After all,
you're a girl, and men, sailormen especially, are beasts when it's a
question of a woman—an unprotected woman."
"I'm stronger than most men," said Moran simply. "If you, for
instance, had been like some men, I should have fought you. It
wouldn't have been the first time," she added, smoothing one huge
braid between her palms.
Wilbur looked at her with intent curiosity—noted again, as if for
the first time, the rough, blue overalls thrust into the shoes; the
coarse flannel shirt open at the throat; the belt with its
sheath-knife; her arms big and white and tattooed in sailor fashion;
her thick, muscular neck; her red face, with its pale blue eyes and
almost massive jaw; and her hair, her heavy, yellow, fragrant hair,
that lay over her shoulder and breast, coiling and looping in her lap.
"No," he said, with a long breath, "I don't make it out. I knew
you were out of my experience, but I begin to think now that you are
out of even my imagination. You are right, you SHOULD keep to
yourself. You should be alone—your mate isn't made yet. You are
splendid just as you are," while under his breath he added, his teeth
clinching, "and God! but I love you."
It was growing late, the stars were all out, the moon riding high.
"Mate, I think I'll turn in. We'll have to be at that schooner
early in the morning, and I make no doubt she'll give us plenty to
do." Wilbur hesitated to reply, waiting to take his cue from what
next she should say. "It's hot enough to sleep where we are," she
added, "without going aboard the 'Bertha,' though we might have a
couple of blankets off to lie on. This sand's as hard as a plank."
Without answering, Wilbur showed her a couple of blanket-rolls he
had brought off while he was unloading part of the stores that
afternoon. They took one apiece and spread them on the sand by the
bleached whale's skull. Moran pulled off her boots and stretched
herself upon her blanket with absolute unconcern, her hands clasped
under her head. Wilbur rolled up his coat for a pillow and settled
himself for the night with an assumed self- possession. There was a
long silence. Moran yawned again.
"I pulled the heel off my boot this morning," she said lazily,
"and I've been limping all day."
"I noticed it," answered Wilbur. "Kitchell had a new pair aboard
somewhere, if they're not spoiled by the water now."
"Yes?" she said indifferently; "we'll look them up in the
Again there was silence.
"I wonder," she began again, staring up into the dark, "if Charlie
took that frying-pan off with him when he went?"
"I don't know. He probably did."
"It was the only thing we had to cook abalones in. Make me think
to look into the galley to-morrow....This ground's as hard as nails,
for all your blankets....Well, good-night, mate; I'm going to sleep."
Three hours later Wilbur, who had not closed his eyes, sat up and
looked at Moran, sleeping quietly, her head in a pale glory of hair;
looked at her, and then around him at the silent, deserted land.
"I don't know," he said to himself. "Am I a right-minded man and
a thoroughbred, or a mush-head, or merely a prudent, sensible sort of
chap that values his skin and bones? I'd be glad to put a name to
myself." Then, more earnestly he added: "Do I love her too much, or
not enough, or love her the wrong way, or how?" He leaned toward her,
so close that he could catch the savor of her breath and the smell of
her neck, warm with sleep. The sleeve of the coarse blue shirt was
drawn up, and it seemed to him as if her bare arm, flung out at full
length, had some sweet aroma of its own. Wilbur drew softly back.
"No," he said to himself decisively; "no, I guess I am a
thoroughbred after all." It was only then that he went to sleep.
When he awoke the sea was pink with the sunrise, and one of the
bay heads was all distorted and stratified by a mirage. It was hot
already. Moran was sitting a few paces from him, braiding her hair.
"Hello, Moran!" he said, rousing up; "how long have you been up?"
"Since before sunrise," she said; "I've had a bath in the cove
where the creek runs down. I saw a jack-rabbit."
"Seen anything of Charlie and the others?"
"They've camped on the other side of the bay. But look yonder,"
The junk had come in overnight, and was about a mile and a half
"The deuce!" exclaimed Wilbur. "What are they after?"
"Fresh water, I guess," said Moran, knotting the end of a braid.
"We'd better have breakfast in a hurry, and turn to on the 'Bertha.'
The tide is going out fast."
While they breakfasted they kept an eye on the schooner, watching
her sides and flanks as the water fell slowly away.
"Don't see anything very bad yet," said Wilbur.
"It's somewhere in her stern," remarked Moran.
In an hour's time the "Bertha Millner" was high and dry, and they
could examine her at their leisure. It was Moran who found the leak.
"Pshaw!" she exclaimed, with a half-laugh, "we can stick that up
in half an hour."
A single plank had started away from the stern-post; that was all.
Otherwise the schooner was as sound as the day she left San
Francisco. Moran and Wilbur had the damage repaired by noon, nailing
the plank into its place and caulking the seams with lamp- wick. Nor
could their most careful search discover any further injury.
"We're ready to go," said Moran, "so soon as she'll float. We can
dig away around the bows here, make fast a line to that rock out
yonder, and warp her off at next high tide. Hello! who's this?"
It was Charlie. While the two had been at work, he had come
around the shore unobserved, and now stood at some little distance,
smiling at them calmly.
"Well, what do you want?" cried Moran angrily. "If you had your
rights, my friend, you'd be keelhauled."
"I tink um velly hot day."
"You didn't come here to say that. What do you want?"
"I come hab talkee-talk."
"We don't want to have any talkee-talk with such vermin as you.
Charlie sat down on the beach and wiped his forehead.
"I come buy one-piecee bacon. China boy no hab got."
"We aren't selling bacon to deserters," cried Moran; "and I'll
tell you this, you filthy little monkey: Mr. Wilbur and I are going
home—back to 'Frisco—this afternoon; and we're going to leave you
and the rest of your vipers to rot on this beach, or to be murdered by
beach-combers," and she pointed out toward the junk. Charlie did not
even follow the direction of her gesture, and from this very
indifference Wilbur guessed that it was precisely because of the
beach-combers that the Machiavellian Chinaman had wished to treat with
his old officers.
"No hab got bacon?" he queried, lifting his eyebrows in surprise.
"Plenty; but not for you."
Charlie took a buckskin bag from his blouse and counted out a
handful of silver and gold.
"I buy um nisi two-piecee tobacco."
"Look here," said Wilbur deliberately; "don't you try to flim-flam
us, Charlie. We know you too well. You don't want bacon and you
don't want tobacco."
"China boy heap plenty much sick. Two boy velly sick. I tink um
die pretty soon to-molla. You catch um slop-chest; you gib me five,
seven liver pill. Sabe?"
"I'll tell you what you want," cried Moran, aiming a forefinger at
him, pistol fashion; "you've got a blue funk because those Kai- gingh
beach-combers have come into the bay, and you're more frightened of
them than you are of the schooner; and now you want us to take you
"A thousand dollars."
Wilbur looked at her in surprise. He had expected a refusal.
"You no hab got liver pill?" inquired Charlie blandly.
Moran turned her back on him. She and Wilbur conferred in a low
"We'd better take them back, if we decently can," said Moran. "The
schooner is known, of course, in 'Frisco. She went out with Kitchell
and a crew of coolies, and she comes back with you and I aboard, and
if we tell the truth about it, it will sound like a lie, and we'll
have no end of trouble. Then again, can just you and I work the
'Bertha' into port? In these kind of airs it's plain work, but suppose
we have dirty weather? I'm not so sure."
"I gib you ten dollah fo' ten liver pill," said Charlie.
"Will you give us a thousand dollars to set you down in San
Charlie rose. "I go back. I tell um China boy what you say 'bout
liver pill. Bime-by I come back."
"That means he'll take our offer back to his friends," said
Wilbur, in a low voice. "You best hurry chop-chop," he called after
Charlie; "we go home pretty soon!"
"He knows very well we can't get away before high tide to-morrow,"
said Moran. "He'll take his time."
Later on in the afternoon Moran and Wilbur saw a small boat put
off from the junk and make a landing by the creek. The beach-
combers were taking on water. The boat made three trips before
evening, but the beach-combers made no show of molesting the
undefended schooner, or in any way interfering with Charlie's camp on
the other side of the bay.
"No!" exclaimed Moran between her teeth, as she and Wilbur were
cooking supper; "no, they don't need to; they've got about a hundred
and fifty thousand dollars of loot on board—OUR loot, too! Good God!
it goes against the grain!"
The moon rose considerably earlier that night, and by twelve
o'clock the bay was flooded with its electrical whiteness. Wilbur
and Moran could plainly make out the junk tied up to the kelp off-
shore. But toward one o'clock Wilbur was awakened by Moran shaking
"There's something wrong out there," she whispered; "something
wrong with the junk. Hear 'em squealing? Look! look! look!" she
cried of a sudden; "it's their turn now!"
Wilbur could see the crank junk, with its staring red eyes, high
stern and prow, as distinctly as though at noonday. As he watched,
it seemed as if a great wave caught her suddenly underfoot. She
heaved up bodily out of the water, dropped again with a splash, rose
again, and again fell back into her own ripples, that, widening from
her sides, broke crisply on the sand at Wilbur's feet.
Then the commotion ceased abruptly. The bay was quiet again. An
hour passed, then two. The moon began to set. Moran and Wilbur,
wearied of watching, had turned in again, when they were startled to
wakefulness by the creak of oarlocks and the sound of a boat grounding
in the sand.
The coolies—the deserters from the "Bertha Millner"—were there.
Charlie came forward.
"Ge' lup! Ge' lup!" he said. "Junk all smash! Kai-gingh come
ashore. I tink him want catch um schooner."
IX. THE CAPTURE OF HOANG
"What smashed the junk? What wrecked her?" demanded Moran.
The deserting Chinamen huddled around Charlie, drawing close, as
if finding comfort in the feel of each other's elbows.
"No can tell," answered Charlie. "Him shake, then lif' up all the
same as we. Bime-by too much lif' up; him smash all to—Four- piecee
"Drown! Did any of them drown?" exclaimed Moran.
"Four-piecee dlown," reiterated Charlie calmly. "One, thlee,
five, nine, come asho'. Him other no come."
"Where are the ones that came ashore?" asked Wilbur.
Charlie waved a hand back into the night. "Him make um camp
topside ole house."
"That old whaling-camp," prompted Moran. Then to Wilbur: "You
remember—about a hundred yards north the creek?"
Wilbur, Moran and Charlie had drawn off a little from the "Bertha
Millner's" crew. The latter squatted in a line along the shore—
silent, reserved, looking vaguely seaward through the night. Moran
spoke again, her scowl thickening:
"What makes you think the beach-combers want our schooner?"
"Him catch um schooner sure! Him want um boat to go home. No can
"Let's put off to-night—right away," said Wilbur.
"Low tide," answered Moran; "and besides—Charlie, did you see
them close? Were you near them?"
"No go muchee close."
"Did they have something with them, reeved up in a hammock—
something that smelled sweet?"
"Like a joss-stick, for instance?"
"No savvy; no can tell. Him try catch um schooner sure. Him
velly bad China boy. See Yup China boy, velly bad. I b'long Sam
"Ah! the Tongs?"
"Yas. I Sam Yup. Him," and he pointed to the "Bertha's" crew,
"Sam Yup. All we Sam Yup; nisi him," and he waved a hand toward the
beach-combers' camp; "him See Yup. Savvy?"
"It's a Tong row," said Wilbur. "They're blood enemies, the See
Yups and Sam Yups."
Moran fell thoughtful, digging her boot-heel into the sand, her
thumbs hooked into her belt, her forehead gathered into a heavy
frown. There was a silence.
"One thing," she said, at last; "we can't give up the schooner.
They would take our stores as well, and then where are we? Marooned,
by Jove! How far do you suppose we are from the nearest town? Three
hundred miles wouldn't be a bad guess, and they've got the loot—our
ambergris—I'll swear to that. They didn't leave that aboard when the
"Look here, Charlie," she said, turning to the Chinaman. "If the
beach-combers take the schooner—the 'Bertha Millner'—from us we'll
be left to starve on this beach."
"I tink um yass."
"How are we going to get home? Are you going to let them do it?
Are you going to let them have our schooner?"
"I tink no can have."
"Look here," she went on, with sudden energy. "There are only
nine of them now, to our eight. We're about even. We can fight
those swine. I know we can. If we jumped their camp and rushed them
hard, believe me, we could run them into the sea. Mate," she cried,
suddenly facing Wilbur, "are you game? Have you got blood in you?
Those beach-comberes are going to attack us to-morrow, before high
tide—that's flat. There's going to be a fight anyway. We can't let
them have the schooner. It's starvation for us if we do.
"They mean to make a dash for the 'Bertha,' and we've got to fight
them off. If there's any attacking to be done I propose to do it! I
propose we jump their camp before it gets light—now—to-night— right
away—run in on them there, take them by surprise, do for one or two
of them if we have to, and get that ambergris. Then cut back to the
schooner, up our sails, and wait for the tide to float us off. We can
do it—I know we can. Mate, will you back me up?"
"Back you up? You bet I'll back you up, Moran. But—" Wilbur
hesitated. "We could fight them so much more to advantage from the
deck of the schooner. Why not wait for them aboard? We could have our
sails up, anyhow, and we could keep the beach-combers off till the
tide rose high enough to drive them back. Why not do that?"
"I tink bes' wait topside boat," assented Charlie.
"Yes; why not, Moran?"
"Because," shouted the girl, "they've got our loot. I don't
propose to be plundered of $150,000 if I can help it."
"Wassa dat?" demanded Charlie. "Hunder fiftee tlousand you hab
"I did have it—we had it, the mate and I. We triced a sperm
whale for the beach-combers, and when they thought they had
everything out of him we found a lump of ambergris in him that will
weigh close to two hundred pounds. Now look here, Charlie. The
beach-combers have got the stuff. It's mine—I'm going to have it
back. Here's the lay. Your men can fight—you can fight yourself.
We'll make it a business proposition. Help me to get that ambergris,
and if we get it I'll give each one of the men $1,000, and I'll give
you $1,500. You can take that up and be independent rich the rest of
your life. You can chuck it and rot on this beach, for it's fight or
lose the schooner; you know that as well as I do. If you've got to
fight anyhow, why not fight where it's going to pay the most?"
Charlie hesitated, pursing his lips.
"How about this, Moran?" Wilbur broke forth now, unheard by
Charlie. "I've just been thinking; have we got a right to this
ambergris, after all? The beach-combers found the whale. It was
theirs. How have we the right to take the ambergris away from them
any more than the sperm and the oil and the bone? It's theirs, if you
come to that. I don't know as we've the right to it."
"Darn you!" shouted Moran in a blaze of fury, "right to it, right
to it! If I haven't, who has? Who found it? Those dirty monkeys might
have stood some show to a claim if they'd held to the one- third
bargain, and offered to divvy with us when they got me where I
couldn't help myself. I don't say I'd give in now if they had— give
in to let 'em walk off with a hundred thousand dollars that I've got
as good a claim to as they have! But they've saved me the trouble of
arguing the question. They've taken it all, all! And there's no
bargain in the game at all now. Now the stuff belongs to the
strongest of us, and I'm glad of it. They thought they were the
strongest and now they're going to find out. We're dumped down here
on this God-forsaken sand, and there's no law and no policemen. The
strongest of us are going to live and the weakest are going to die.
I'm going to live and I'm going to have my loot, too, and I'm not
going to split fine hairs with these robbers at this time of day. I'm
going to have it all, and that's the law you're under in this case, my
She turned her back upon him, spinning around upon her heel. and
Wilbur felt ashamed of himself and proud of her.
"I go talkee-talk to China boy," said Charlie, coming up.
For about five minutes the Chinamen conferred together, squatting
in a circle on the beach. Moran paced up and down by the stranded
dory. Wilbur leaned against the bleached whale-skull, his hands in
his pockets. Once he looked at his watch. It was nearly one o'clock.
"All light," said Charlie, coming up from the group at last; "him
"Now," exclaimed Moran, "we've no time to waste. What arms have
"We've got the cutting-in spades," said Wilbur; "there's five of
them. They're nearly ten feet long, and the blades are as sharp as
razors; you couldn't want better pikes."
"That's an idea," returned Moran, evidently willing to forget her
outburst of a moment before, perhaps already sorry for it. The party
took stock of their weapons, and five huge cutting-in spades, a heavy
knife from the galley, and a revolver of doubtful effectiveness were
divided among them. The crew took the spades, Charlie the knife, and
Wilbur the revolver. Moran had her own knife, a haftless dirk, such
as is affected by all Norwegians, whether landsmen or sailors. They
were examining this armament and Moran was suggesting a plan of
attack, when Hoang, the leader of the beach-combers, and one other
Chinaman appeared some little distance below them on the beach. The
moon was low and there was no great light, but the two beach-combers
caught the flash of the points of the spades. They halted and glanced
narrowly and suspiciously at the group.
"Beasts!" muttered Moran. "They are up to the game—there's no
surprising them now. Talk to him, Charlie; see what he wants."
Moran, Wilbur, and Charlie came part of the way toward Hoang and
his fellow, and paused some fifteen feet distant, and a long colloquy
ensued. It soon became evident, however, that in reality Hoang wanted
nothing of them, though with great earnestness he asserted his
willingness to charter the "Bertha Millner" back to San Francisco.
"That's not his game at all," said Moran to Wilbur, in a low tone,
her eyes never leaving those of the beach-comber. "He's pretty sure
he could seize the 'Bertha' and never pay us a stiver. They've come
down to spy on us, and they're doing it, too. There's no good trying
to rush that camp now. They'll go back and tell the crew that we know
It was still very dark. Near the hulk of the beached "Bertha
Millner" were grouped her crew, each armed with a long and lance-
like cutting-in spade, watching and listening to the conference of
the chiefs. The moon, almost down, had flushed blood-red, violently
streaking the gray, smooth surface of the bay with her reflection.
The tide was far out, rippling quietly along the reaches of wet sand.
In the pauses of the conference the vast, muffling silence shut down
with the abruptness of a valve suddenly closed.
How it happened, just who made the first move, in precisely what
manner the action had been planned, or what led up to it, Wilbur
could not afterward satisfactorily explain. There was a rush
forward—he remembered that much—a dull thudding of feet over the
resounding beach surface, a moment's writhing struggle with a
half-naked brown figure that used knife and nail and tooth, and then
the muffling silence again, broken only by the sound of their own
panting. In that whirl of swift action Wilbur could reconstruct but
two brief pictures: the Chinaman, Hoang's companion, flying like one
possessed along the shore; Hoang himself flung headlong into the arms
of the "Bertha's" coolies, and Moran, her eyes blazing, her thick
braids flying, brandishing her fist as she shouted at the top of her
deep voice, "We've got you, anyhow!"
They had taken Hoang prisoner, whether by treachery or not, Wilbur
did not exactly know; and, even if unfair means had been used, he
could not repress a feeling of delight and satisfaction as he told
himself that in the very beginning of the fight that was to follow he
and his mates had gained the first advantage.
As the action of that night's events became more and more
accelerated, Wilbur could not but notice the change in Moran. It was
very evident that the old Norse fighting blood of her was all astir;
brutal, merciless, savage beyond all control. A sort of obsession
seized upon her at the near approach of battle, a frenzy of action
that was checked by nothing—that was insensible to all restraint. At
times it was impossible for him to make her hear him, or when she
heard to understand what he was saying. Her vision contracted. It
was evident that she could not see distinctly. Wilbur could no longer
conceive of her as a woman of the days of civilization. She was
lapsing back to the eighth century again—to the Vikings, the
sea-wolves, the Berserkers.
"Now you're going to talk," she cried to Hoang, as the bound
Chinaman sat upon the beach, leaning his back against the great
skull. "Charlie, ask him if they saved the ambergris when the junk
went down—if they've got it now?" Charlie put the question in
Chinese, but the beach-comber only twinkled his vicious eyes upon them
and held his peace. With the full sweep of her arm, her fist clinched
till the knuckles whitened, Moran struck him in the face.
"Now will you talk?" she cried. Hoang wiped the blood from his
face upon his shoulder and set his jaws. He did not answer.
"You will talk before I'm done with you, my friend; don't get any
wrong notions in your head about that," Moran continued, her teeth
clinched. "Charlie," she added, "is there a file aboard the
"I tink um yass, boss hab got file."
"In the tool-chest, isn't it?" Charlie nodded, and Moran ordered
it to be fetched.
"If we're to fight that crowd," she said, speaking to herself and
in a rapid voice, thick from excitement and passion, "we've got to
know where they've hid the loot, and what weapons they've got. If
they have a rifle or a shotgun with them, it's going to make a big
difference for us. The other fellow escaped and has gone back to
warn the rest. It's fight now, and no mistake."
The Chinaman who had been sent aboard the schooner returned,
carrying a long, rather coarse-grained file. Moran took it from him.
"Now," she said, standing in front of Hoang, "I'll give you one
more chance. Answer me. Did you bring off the ambergris, you beast,
when your junk sank? Where is it now? How many men have you? What arms
have you got? Have your men got a rifle?—Charlie, put that all to him
in your lingo, so as to make sure that he understands. Tell him if he
don't talk I'm going to make him very sick."
Charlie put the questions in Chinese, pausing after each one.
Hoang held his peace.
"I gave you fair warning," shouted Moran angrily, pointing at him
with the file. "Will you answer?"
"Him no tell nuttin," observed Charlie.
"Fetch a cord here," commanded Moran. The cord was brought, and
despite Hoang's struggles and writhings the file was thrust end- ways
into his mouth and his jaws bound tightly together upon it by means of
the cord passed over his head and under his chin. Some four inches of
the file portruded from his lips. Moran took this end and drew it out
between the beach-comber's teeth, then pushed it back slowly.
The hideous rasp of the operation turned Wilbur's blood cold
within him. He looked away—out to sea, down the beach—anywhere, so
that he might not see what was going forward. But the persistent
grind and scrape still assaulted his ears. He turned about sharply.
"I—I—I'll go down the beach here a ways," he said quickly. "I
can't stand—I'll keep watch to see if the beach-combers come up."
A few minutes later he heard Charlie hailing him.
"Chin-chin heap plenty now," said he, with a grin, as Wilbur came
Hoang sat on the sand in the midst of the circle. The file and
coil of rope lay on the ground near by. The beach-comber was talking
in a high-keyed sing-song, but with a lisp. He told them partly in
pigeon English and partly in Cantonese, which Charlie translated, that
their men were eight in number, and that they had intended to seize
the schooner that night, but that probably his own capture had delayed
their plans. They had no rifle. A shotgun had been on board, but had
gone down with the sinking of the junk. The ambergris had been cut
into two lumps, and would be found in a couple of old flour-sacks in
the stern of the boat in which he and his men had come ashore. They
were all armed with their little hatchets. He thought two of the men
carried knives as well. There was neither pistol nor revolver among
"It seems to me," said Wilbur, "that we've got the long end."
"We catch um boss, too!" said Charlie, pointing to Hoang.
"And we are better armed," assented Moran. "We've got the
"And the revolver, if it will shoot any further than it will
"They'll give us all the fight we want," declared Moran.
"Oh, him Kai-gingh, him fight all same devil."
"Give the men brandy, Charlie," commanded Moran. "We'll rush that
camp right away."
The demijohn of spirits was brought down from the "Bertha" and
passed around, Wilbur and Moran drinking from the tin cup, the
coolies from the bottle. Hoang was fettered and locked in the
"Now, then, are we ready?" cried Moran.
"I tink all light," answered Charlie.
The party set off down the beach. The moon had long since gone
down, and the dawn was whitening over the eastern horizon. Landward,
ragged blankets of morning mist lay close in the hollows here and
there. It was profoundly still. The stars were still out. The
surface of Magdalena Bay was smooth as a sheet of gray silk.
Twenty minutes passed, half an hour, an hour. The party tramped
steadily forward, Moran, Wilbur, and Charlie leading, the coolies
close behind carrying the cutting-in spades over their shoulders.
Slowly and in silence they made the half circuit of the bay. The
"Bertha Millner" was far behind them by now, a vague gray mass in the
early morning light.
"Did you ever fight before?" Moran suddenly demanded of Charlie.
"One time I fight plenty much in San Flancisco in Washington
stleet. Fight um See Yups."
Another half-hour passed. At times when they halted they began to
hear the faint murmur of the creek, just beyond which was the broken
and crumbling shanty, relic of an old Portuguese whaling- camp, where
the beach-combers were camped. At Charlie's suggestion the party made
a circuit, describing a half moon, to landward, so as to come out upon
the enemy sheltered by the sand- dunes. Twenty minutes later they
crossed the creek about four hundred yards from the shore. Here they
spread out into a long line, and, keeping an interval of about fifteen
feet between each of them, moved cautiously forward. The unevenness
of the sand- breaks hid the shore from view, but Moran, Wilbur, and
Charlie knew that by keeping the creek upon their left they would come
out directly upon the house.
A few moments later Charlie held up his hand, and the men halted.
The noise of the creek chattering into the tidewater of the bay was
plainly audible just beyond; a ridge of sand, covered thinly with
sage-brush, and a faint column of smoke rose into the air over the
ridge itself. They were close in. The coolies were halted, and
dropping upon their hands and knees, the three leaders crawled to the
top of the break. Sheltered by a couple of sage- bushes and lying
flat to the ground, Wilbur looked over and down upon the beach. The
first object he made out was a crazy, roofless house, built of
driftwood, the chinks plastered with 'dobe mud, the door fallen in.
Beyond, on the beach, was a flat-bottomed dingy, unpainted and
foul with dirt. But all around the house the sand had been scooped
and piled to form a low barricade, and behind this barricade Wilbur
saw the beach-combers. There were eight of them. They were alert and
ready, their hatchets in their hands. The gaze of each of them was
fixed directly upon the sand-break which sheltered the "Bertha
Millner's" officers and crew. They seemed to Wilbur to look him
straight in the eye. They neither moved nor spoke. The silence and
absolute lack of motion on the part of these small, half-naked
Chinamen, with their ape-like muzzles and twinkling eyes, was ominous.
There could be no longer any doubts that the beach-combers had
known of their enemies' movements and were perfectly aware of their
presence behind the sand-break. Moran rose to her feet, and Wilbur
and Charlie followed her example.
"There's no use hiding," she said; "they know we're here."
Charlie called up the crew. The two parties were ranged face to
face. Over the eastern rim of the Pacific the blue whiteness of the
early dawn was turning to a dull, roseate gold at the core of the
sunrise. The headlands of Magdalena Bay stood black against the pale
glow; overhead, the greater stars still shone. The monotonous, faint
ripple of the creek was the only sound. It was about 3:30 o'clock.
X. A BATTLE
Wilbur had imagined that the fight would be hardly more than a
wild rush down the slope of the beach, a dash over the beach-
combers' breastworks of sand, and a brief hand-to-hand scrimmage
around the old cabin. In all accounts he had ever read of such
affairs, and in all ideas he had entertained on the subject, this had
always been the case. The two bodies had shocked together like a
college rush, there had been five minutes' play of knife and club and
gun, a confused whirl of dust and smoke, and all was over before one
had time either to think or be afraid. But nothing of the kind
happened that morning.
The "Bertha Millner's" crew, in a long line, Moran at one end,
Wilbur at the other, and Charlie in the centre, came on toward the
beach-combers, step by step. There was little outcry. Each
contestant singled out his enemy, and made slowly for him with eyes
fixed and weapon ready, regardless of the movements of his mates.
"See any rifles among them, Charlie?" shouted Moran, suddenly
breaking the silence.
"No, I tink no hab got," answered Charlie.
Wilbur took another step forward and cocked his revolver. One of
the beach-combers shouted out something in angry vernacular, and
Charlie instantly responded. All this time the line had been slowly
advancing upon the enemy, and Wilbur began to wonder how long that
heartbreaking suspense was to continue. This was not at all what he
had imagined. Already he was within twenty feet of his man, could see
the evil glint of his slant, small eye, and the shine of his yellow
body, naked to the belt. Still foot by foot the forward movement
continued. The Chinese on either side had begun exchanging insults;
the still, hot air of the tropic dawn was vibrant with the Cantonese
monosyllables tossed back and forth like tennis-balls over the low
sand rampart. The thing was degenerating into a farce—the "Bertha's"
Chinamen would not fight.
Back there, under the shelter of the schooner, it was all very
well to talk, and they had been very brave when they had all flung
themselves upon Hoang. Here, face to face with the enemy, the sun
striking off heliograph flashes from their knives and spades, it was
a vastly different matter. The thing, to Wilbur's mind, should have
been done suddenly if it was to be done at all. The best course now
was to return to camp and try some other plan. Charlie shouted a
direction to him in pigeon English that he did not understand, but he
answered all right, and moved forward another step so as to be in line
with the coolie at his left.
The liquor that he had drunk before starting began suddenly to
affect him, yet he knew that his head was yet clear. He could not
bring himself to run away before them all, but he would have given
much to have discovered a good reason for postponing the fight—if
fight there was to be.
He remembered the cocked revolver in his hand, and, suddenly
raising it, fired point-blank at his man, not fifteen feet away. The
hammer snapped on the nipple, but the cartridge did not explode.
Wilbur turned to the Chinaman next him in line, exclaiming excitedly:
"Here, say, have you got a knife—something I can fight with? This
gun's no good."
There was a shout from Moran:
"Look out, here they come!"
Two of the beach-combers suddenly sprang over the sand breastworks
and ran toward Charlie, their knives held low in front of them, ready
"Shoot! shoot! shoot!" shouted Moran rapidly.
Wilbur's revolver was a self-cocker. He raised it again, drawing
hard on the trigger as he did so. It roared and leaped in his hand,
and a whiff of burned powder came to his nostrils. Then Wilbur was
astonished to hear himself shout at the top of his voice:
"Come on now, get into them—get into them now, everybody!"
The "Bertha's" Chinamen were all running forward, three of them
well in advance of the others. In the rear Charlie was at grapples
with a beach-comber who fought with a knife in each hand, and Wilbur
had a sudden glimpse of another sitting on the sand with his hand to
his mouth, the blood spurting between his fingers.
Wilbur suddenly realized that he held a knife, and that he was
directly abreast the sand rampart. How he got the knife he could not
tell, though he afterward distinctly remembered throwing away his
revolver, loaded as it was. He had leaped the breastworks, he knew
that, and between him and the vast bright blur of the ocean he saw one
of the beach-combers backing away and watching him intently, his
hatchet in his hand. Wilbur had only time to think that he himself
would no doubt be killed within the next few moments, when this latter
halted abruptly, took a step forward, and. instead of striking
downward, as Wilbur had anticipated, dropped upon his knee and struck
with all his might at the calf of Wilbur's leg. It was only the
thickness of his boots that saved Wilbur from being hamstrung where he
stood. As it was, he felt the blade bite almost to the bone, and
heard the blood squelch in the sole of his boot, as he staggered for
the moment, almost tripping over the man in front of him.
The Chinaman sprang to his feet again, but Wilbur was at him in an
instant, feeling instinctively that his chance was to close with his
man, and so bring his own superior weight and strength to bear. Again
and again he tried to run in and grip the slim yellow body, but the
other dodged and backed away, as hard to hold as any fish. All around
and back of him now Wilbur heard the hideous sound of stamping and
struggling, and the noise of hoarse, quick shouts and the rebound of
bodies falling and rolling upon the hard, smooth beach. The thing had
not been a farce, after all. This was fighting at last, and there
within arm's length were men grappling and gripping and hitting one
another, each honestly striving to kill his fellow—Chinamen all,
fighting in barbarous Oriental fashion with nails and teeth when the
knife or hatchet failed. What did he, clubman and college man, in
that hideous trouble that wrought itself out there on that
heat-stricken tropic beach under that morning's sun?
Suddenly there was a flash of red flame, and a billow of thick,
yellow smoke filled all the air. The cabin was afire. The
hatchet-man with whom Wilbur was fighting had been backing in this
direction. He was close in when the fire began to leap from the one
window; now he could go no further. He turned to run sidewise between
his enemy and the burning cabin. Wilbur thrust his foot sharply
forward; the beach-comber tripped, staggered, and before he had
reached the ground Wilbur had driven home the knife.
Then suddenly, at the sight of his smitten enemy rolling on the
ground at his feet, the primitive man, the half-brute of the stone
age, leaped to life in Wilbur's breast—he felt his muscles thrilling
with a strength they had not known before. His nerves, stretched
tense as harp-strings, were vibrating to a new tune. His blood spun
through his veins till his ears roared with the rush of it. Never had
he conceived of such savage exultation as that which mastered him at
that instant. The knowledge that he could kill filled him with a
sense of power that was veritably royal. He felt physically larger.
It was the joy of battle, the horrid exhilaration of killing, the
animal of the race, the human brute suddenly aroused and dominating
every instinct and tradition of centuries of civilization. The fight
still was going forward.
Wilbur could hear the sounds of it, though from where he stood all
sight was shut off by the smoke of the burning house. As he turned
about, knife in hand, debating what next he should do, a figure burst
down upon him, shadowy and distorted through the haze.
It was Moran, but Moran as Wilbur had never seen her before. Her
eyes were blazing under her thick frown like fire under a bush. Her
arms were bared to the elbow, her heavy ropes of hair flying and
coiling from her in all directions, while with a voice hoarse from
shouting she sang, or rather chanted, in her long-forgotten Norse
tongue, fragments of old sagas, words, and sentences, meaningless even
to herself. The fury of battle had exalted her to a sort of frenzy.
She was beside herself with excitement. Once more she had lapsed back
to the Vikings and sea-rovers of the tenth century—she was Brunhilde
again, a shield-maiden, a Valkyrie, a Berserker and the daughter of
Berserkers, and like them she fought in a veritable frenzy, seeing
nothing, hearing nothing, every sense exalted, every force doubled,
insensible to pain, deaf to all reason.
Her dirk uplifted, she rushed upon Wilbur, never once pausing in
her chant. Wilbur shouted a warning to her as she came on, puzzled
beyond words, startled back to a consciousness of himself again by
this insensate attack.
"Moran! Moran!" he called. "What is it—you're wrong! It-s I.
It's Wilbur—your mate, can't you see?"
Moran could not see—blind to friend or foe, as she was deaf to
reason, she struck at him with all the strength of her arm. But
there was no skill in her fighting now. Wilbur dropped his own knife
and gripped her right wrist. She closed with him upon the instant,
clutching at his throat with her one free hand; and as he felt her
strength—doubled and tripled in the fury of her madness— Wilbur knew
that, however easily he had overcome his enemy of a moment before, he
was now fighting for his very life.
At first, Wilbur merely struggled to keep her from him—to prevent
her using her dirk. He tried not to hurt her. But what with the
spirits he had drunk before the attack, what with the excitement of
the attack itself and the sudden unleashing of the brute in him an
instant before, the whole affair grew dim and hazy in his mind. He
ceased to see things in their proportion. His new-found strength
gloried in matching itself with another strength that was its equal.
He fought with Moran—not as he would fight with either woman or man,
or with anything human, for the matter of that. He fought with her as
against some impersonal force that it was incumbent upon him to
conquer—that it was imperative he should conquer if he wished to
live. When she struck, he struck blow for blow, force for force, his
strength against hers, glorying in that strange contest, though he
never once forgot that this last enemy was the girl he loved. It was
not Moran whom he fought; it was her force, her determination, her
will, her splendid independence, that he set himself to conquer.
Already she had dropped or flung away the dirk, and their battle
had become an issue of sheer physical strength between them. It was
a question now as to who should master the other. Twice she had
fought Wilbur to his knees, the heel of her hand upon his face, his
head thrust back between his shoulders, and twice he had wrenched
away, rising to his feet again, panting, bleeding even, but with his
teeth set and all his resolution at the sticking- point. Once he saw
his chance, and planted his knuckles squarely between her eyes where
her frown was knotted hard, hoping to stun her and end the fight once
and for all. But the blow did not seem to affect her in the least.
By this time he saw that her Berserker rage had worked itself clear
as fermenting wine clears itself, and that she knew now with whom she
was fighting; and he seemed now to understand the incomprehensible,
and to sympathize with her joy in measuring her strength against his;
and yet he knew that the combat was deadly serious, and that more than
life was at stake. Moran despised a weakling.
For an instant, as they fell apart, she stood off, breathing hard
and rolling up her sleeve; then, as she started forward again, Wilbur
met her half-way, caught her round the neck and under the arm,
gripping her left wrist with his right hand behind her; then, exerting
every ounce of strength he yet retained, he thrust her down and from
him, until at length, using his hip as a pivot, he swung her off her
feet, threw her fairly on her back, and held her so, one knee upon her
chest, his hands closed vise-like on her wrists.
Then suddenly Moran gave up, relaxing in his grasp all in a
second, and, to his great surprise, suddenly smiled.
"Ho! mate," she exclaimed; "that was a tough one; but I'm beaten—
you're stronger than I thought for."
Wilbur released her and rose to his feet.
"Here," she continued, "give me your hand. I'm as weak as a
kitten." As Wilbur helped her to her feet, she put her hand to her
forehead, where his knuckles had left their mark, and frowned at him,
but not ill-naturedly.
"Next time you do that," she said, "use a rock or a belaying-pin,
or something that won't hurt—not your fist, mate." She looked at him
admiringly. "What a two-fisted, brawny dray-horse it is! I told you I
was stronger than most men, didn't I? But I'm the weaker of us two,
and that's a fact. You've beaten, mate—I admit it; you've conquered
me, and," she continued, smiling again and shaking him by the
shoulder—"and, mate, do you know, I love you for it."
XI. A CHANGE IN LEADERS
"Well," exclaimed Wilbur at length, the excitement of the fight
returning upon him. "We have plenty to do yet. Come on, Moran."
It was no longer Moran who took the initiative—who was the
leader. The brief fight upon the shore had changed all that. It was
Wilbur who was now the master, it was Wilbur who was aggressive. He
had known what it meant to kill. He was no longer afraid of anything,
no longer hesitating. He had felt a sudden quadrupling of all his
strength, moral and physical.
All that was strong and virile and brutal in him seemed to harden
and stiffen in the moment after he had seen the beach-comber collapse
limply on the sand under the last strong knife-blow; and a sense of
triumph, of boundless self-confidence, leaped within him, so that he
shouted aloud in a very excess of exhilaration; and snatching up a
heavy cutting-in spade, that had been dropped in the fight near the
burning cabin, tossed it high into the air, catching it again as it
descended, like any exultant savage.
"Come on!" he cried to Moran; "where are the beach-combers gone?
I'm going to get one more before the show is over."
The two passed out of the zone of smoke, and reached the other
side of the burning cabin just in time to see the last of the
struggle. The whole affair had not taken more than a quarter of an
hour. In the end the beach-combers had been beaten. Four had fled
into the waste of sand and sage that lay back of the shore, and had
not been pursued. A fifth had been almost hamstrung by one of the
"Bertha's" coolies, and had given himself up. A sixth, squealing and
shrieking like a tiger-cat, had been made prisoner; and Wilbur himself
had accounted for the seventh.
As Wilbur and Moran came around the cabin they saw the "Bertha
Millner's" Chinamen in a group, not far from the water's edge,
reassembled after the fight—panting and bloody, some of them bare to
the belt, their weapons still in their hands. Here and there was a
bandaged arm or head; but their number was complete—or no, was it
"Ought to be one more," said Wilbur, anxiously hastening for-ward.
As the two came up the coolies parted, and Wilbur saw one of them,
his head propped upon a rolled-up blouse, lying ominously still on
the trampled sand.
"It's Charlie!" exclaimed Moran.
"Where's he hurt?" cried Wilbur to the group of coolies. "Jim!—
where's Jim? Where's he hurt, Jim?"
Jim, the only member of the crew besides Charlie who could
understand or speak English, answered:
"Kai-gingh him fin' pistol, you' pistol; Charlie him fight plenty;
bime-by, when he no see, one-piecee Kai-gingh he come up behin',
shoot um Charlie in side—savvy?"
"Did he kill him? Is he dead?"
"No, I tinkum die plenty soon; him no savvy nuttin' now, him all-
same sleep. Plenty soon bime-by him sleep for good, I tink."
There was little blood to be seen when Wilbur gently unwrapped the
torn sleeve of a blouse that had been used as a bandage. Just under
the armpit was the mark of the bullet—a small puncture already
closed, half hidden under a clot or two of blood. The coolie lay
quite unconscious, his eyes wide open, drawing a faint, quick breath
at irregular intervals.
"What do you think, mate?" asked Moran in a low voice.
"I think he's got it through the lungs," answered Wilbur, frowning
in distress and perplexity. "Poor old Charlie!"
Moran went down on a knee, and put a finger on the slim, corded
wrist, yellow as old ivory.
"Charlie," she called—"Charlie, here, don't you know me? Wake up,
old chap! It's Moran. You're not hurt so very bad, are you?"
Charlie's eyes closed and opened a couple of times.
"No can tell," he answered feebly; "hurt plenty big"; then he
began to cough.
Wilbur drew a sigh of relief. "He's all right!" he exclaimed.
"Yes, I think he's all right," assented Moran.
"First thing to do now is to get him aboard the schooner," said
Wilbur. "We'll take him right across in the beach-combers' dory
here. By Jove!" he exclaimed on a sudden. "The ambergris—I'd
forgotten all about it." His heart sank. In the hideous confusion of
that morning's work, all thought of the loot had been forgotten. Had
the battle been for nothing, after all? The moment the beach-combers
had been made aware of the meditated attack, it would have been an
easy matter for them to have hidden the ambergris—destroyed it even.
In two strides Wilbur had reached the beach-combers' dory and was
groping in the forward cuddy. Then he uttered a great shout of
satisfaction. The "stuff" was there, all of it, though the mass had
been cut into quarters, three parts of it stowed in tea- flails, the
fourth still reeved up in the hammock netting.
"We've got it!" he cried to Moran, who had followed him. "We've
got it, Moran! Over $100,000. We're rich—rich as boodlers, you and
I. Oh, it was worth fighting for, after all, wasn't it? Now we'll get
out of here—now we'll cut for home."
"It's only Charlie I'm thinking about," answered Moran,
hesitating. "If it wasn't for that we'd be all right. I don't know
whether we did right, after all, in jumping the camp here. I wouldn't
like to feel that I'd got Charlie into our quarrel only to have him
Wilbur stared at this new Moran in no little amazement. Where was
the reckless, untamed girl of the previous night, who had sworn at
him and denounced his niggling misgivings as to right and wrong?
"Hoh!" he retorted impatiently, "Charlie's right enough. And,
besides, I didn't force him to anything. I—we, that is—took the
same chances. If I hadn't done for my man there behind the cabin, he
would have done for me. At all events, we carried our point. We got
the loot. They took it from us, and we were strong enough to get it
Moran merely nodded, as though satisfied with his decision, and
"Well, what next, mate?"
"We'll get back to the 'Bertha' now and put to sea as soon as we
can catch the tide. I'll send Jim and two of the other men across in
the dory with Charlie. The rest of us will go around by the shore.
We've got to have a chin-chin with Hoang, if he don't get loose
aboard there and fire the boat before we can get back. I don't
propose taking these beach-combers back to 'Frisco with us."
"What will we do with the two prisoners?" she asked.
"Let them go; we've got their arms."
The positions of the two were reversed. It was Wilbur who assumed
control and direction of what went forward, Moran taking his advice
and relying upon his judgment.
In accordance with Wilbur's orders, Charlie was carried aboard the
dory; which, with two Chinamen at the oars, and the ambergris stowed
again into the cuddy, at once set off for the schooner. Wilbur himself
cut the ropes on the two prisoners, and bade them shift for
themselves. The rest of the party returned to the "Bertha Millner"
around the wide sweep of the beach.
It was only by high noon, under the flogging of a merciless sun,
that the entire crew of the little schooner once more reassembled
under the shadow of her stranded hulk. They were quite worn out; and
as soon as Charlie was lifted aboard, and the ambergris—or, as they
spoke of it now, the "loot"—was safely stowed in the cabin, Wilbur
allowed the Chinamen three or four hours' rest. They had had neither
breakfast nor dinner; but their exhaustion was greater than their
hunger, and in a few moments the entire half-dozen were stretched out
asleep on the forward deck in the shadow of the foresail raised for
the purpose of sheltering them. However, Wilbur and Moran sought out
Hoang, whom they found as they had left him—bound upon the floor of
"Now we have a talk—savvy?" Wilbur told him as he loosed the
ropes about his wrists and ankles. "We got our loot back from you,
old man, and we got one of your men into the bargain. You woke up the
wrong crowd, Hoang, when you went up against this outfit. You're in a
bad way, my friend. Your junk is wrecked; all your oil and blubber
from the whale is lost; four of your men have run away, one is killed,
another one we caught and let go, another one has been hamstrung; and
you yourself are our prisoner, with your teeth filed down to your
gums. Now," continued Wilbur, with the profoundest gravity, "I hope
this will be a lesson to you. Don't try and get too much the next
time. Just be content with what is yours by right, or what you are
strong enough to keep, and don't try to fight with white people.
Other coolies, I don't say. But when you try to get the better of
white people you are out of your class."
The little beach-comber (he was scarcely above five feet) rubbed
his chafed wrists, and fixed Wilbur with his tiny, twinkling eyes.
"What you do now?"
"We go home. I'm going to maroon you and your people here on this
beach. You deserve that I should let you eat your fists by way of
table-board; but I'm no such dirt as you. When our men left the
schooner they brought off with them a good share of our provisions.
I'll leave them here for you—and there's plenty of turtle and
abalone to be had for the catching. Some of the American men-of-war,
I believe, come down to this bay for target- practice twice a year,
and if we speak any on the way up we'll ask them to call here for
castaways. That's what I'll do for you, and that's all! If you don't
like it, you can set out to march up the coast till you hit a town;
but I wouldn't advise you to try it. Now what have you got to say?"
Hoang was silent. His queue had become unbound for half its
length, and he plaited it anew, winking his eyes thoughtfully.
"Well, what do you say?" said Moran.
"I lose face," answered Hoang at length, calmly.
"You lose face? What do you mean?"
"I lose face," he insisted; then added: "I heap 'shamed. You
fightee my China boy, you catchee me. My boy no mo' hab me fo'
boss—savvy? I go back, him no likee me. Mebbe all same killee me.
I lose face—no mo' boss."
"What a herd of wild cattle!" muttered Wilbur.
"There's something in what he says, don't you think, mate?"
observed Moran, bringing a braid over each shoulder and stroking it
according to her habit.
"We'll ask Jim about it," decided Wilbur.
But Jim at once confirmed Hoang's statement. "Oh, Kai-gingh
killum no-good boss, fo' sure," he declared.
"Don't you think, mate," said Moran, "we'd better take him up to
'Frisco with us? We've had enough fighting and killing."
So it was arranged that the defeated beach-comber, the whipped
buccaneer, who had "lost face" and no longer dared look his men in
the eye, should be taken aboard.
By four o'clock next morning Wilbur had the hands at work digging
the sand from around the "Bertha Millner's" bow. The line by which
she was to be warped off was run out to the ledge of the rock; fresh
water was taken on; provisions for the marooned beach- combers were
cached upon the beach; the dory was taken aboard, gaskets were cast
off, and hatches battened down.
At high tide, all hands straining upon the warp, the schooner was
floated off, and under touch of the lightest airs drew almost
imperceptibly away from the land. They were quite an hour crawling
out to the heads of the bay. But here the breeze was freshening.
Moran took the wheel; the flying-jib and staysail were set; the wake
began to whiten under the schooner's stern, the forefoot sang; the
Pacific opened out more and more; and by 12:30 o'clock Moran put the
wheel over, and, as the schooner's bow swung to the northward, cried
"Mate, look your last of Magdalena Bay!"
Standing at her side, Wilbur turned and swept the curve of the
coast with a single glance. The vast, heat-scourged hoop of yellow
sand, the still, smooth shield of indigo water, with its beds of kelp,
had become insensibly dear to him. It was all familiar, friendly, and
hospitable. Hardly an acre of that sweep of beach that did not hold
the impress of his foot. There was the point near by the creek where
he and Moran first landed to fill the water-casks and to gather
abalones; the creek itself, where he had snared quail; the sand spit
with its whitened whale's skull, where he and Moran had beached the
schooner; and there, last of all, that spot of black over which still
hung a haze of brown-gray smoke, the charred ruins of the old
Portuguese whaling-cabin, where they had outfought the beach-combers.
For a moment Wilbur and Moran looked back without speaking. They
stood on the quarter-deck; in the shadow of the main-sail, shut off
from the sight of the schooner's crew, and for the instant quite
"Well, Moran, it's good-by to the old places, isn't it?" said
Wilbur at length.
"Yes," she said, her deep voice pitched even deeper than usual.
"Mate, great things have happened there."
"It doesn't look like a place for a Tong row with Chinese pirates,
though, does it?" he said; but even as he spoke the words, he guessed
that that was not what he meant.
"Oh, what did that amount to?" she said, with an impatient
movement of her head. "It was there that I first knew myself; and
knew that, after all, you were a man and I was a woman; and that
there was just us—you and I—in the world; and that you loved me and
I loved you, and that nothing else was worth thinking of."
Wilbur shut his hand down over hers as it gripped a spoke of the
"Moran, I knew that long since," he said. "Such a month as this
has been! Why, I feel as though I had only begun to live since I
began to love you."
"And you do, mate?" she answered—"you do love me, and always
will? Oh, you don't know," she went on, interrupting his answer, "you
haven't a guess, how the last two days have changed me. Something has
happened here"—and she put both her hands over her breast. "I'm all
different here, mate. It's all you inside here— all you! And it
hurts, and I'm proud that it does hurt. Oh!" she cried, of a sudden,
"I don't know how to love yet, and I do it very badly, and I can't
tell you how I feel, because I can't even tell it to myself. But you
must be good to me now." The deep voice trembled a little. "Good to
me, mate, and true to me, mate, because I've only you, and all of me
is yours. Mate, be good to me, and always be kind to me. I'm not
Moran any more. I'm not proud and strong and independent, and I don't
want to be lonely. I want you—I want you always with me. I'm just a
woman now, dear—just a woman that loves you with a heart she's just
Wilbur could find no words to answer. There was something so
pathetic and at the same time so noble in Moran's complete surrender
of herself, and her dependence upon him, her unquestioned trust in him
and his goodness, that he was suddenly smitten with awe at the
sacredness of the obligation thus imposed on him. She was his now, to
have and to hold, to keep, to protect, and to defend—she who was once
so glorious of her strength, of her savage isolation, her inviolate,
pristine maidenhood. All words seemed futile and inadequate to him.
She came close to him, and put her hands upon his shoulders, and,
looking him squarely in the eye, said:
"You do love me, mate, and you always will?"
"Always, Moran," said Wilbur, simply. He took her in his arms,
and she laid her cheek against his for a moment, then took his head
between her hands and kissed him.
Two days passed. The "Bertha Millner" held steadily to her
northward course, Moran keeping her well in toward the land. Wilbur
maintained a lookout from the crow's-nest in the hope of sighting some
white cruiser or battleship on her way south for target-practice. In
the cache of provisions he had left for the beach-combers he had
inserted a message, written by Hoang, to the effect that they might
expect to be taken off by a United States man-of-war within the month.
Hoang did not readily recover his "loss of face." The "Bertha's"
Chinamen would have nothing to do with this member of a hostile Tong;
and the humiliated beach-comber kept almost entirely to himself,
sitting on the forecastle-head all day long, smoking his sui-yen-hu
and brooding silently to himself.
Moran had taken the lump of ambergris from out Kitchell's old
hammock, and had slung the hammock itself in the schooner's waist,
and Charlie was made as comfortable as possible therein. They could
do but little for him, however; and he was taken from time to time
with spells of coughing that racked him with a dreadful agony. At
length one noon, just after Moran had taken the sun and had calculated
that the "Bertha" was some eight miles to the southwest of San Diego,
she was surprised to hear Wilbur calling her sharply. She ran to him,
and found him standing in the waist by Charlie's hammock.
The Chinaman was dying, and knew it. He was talking in a faint
and feeble voice to Wilbur as she came up, and was trying to explain
to him that he was sorry he had deserted the schooner during the scare
in the bay.
"Planty muchee solly," he said; "China boy, him heap flaid of
Feng-shui. When Feng-shui no likee, we then must go chop-chop.
Plenty much solly I leave-um schooner that night; solly plenty—
"Of course we savvy, Charlie," said Moran. "You weren't afraid
when it came to fighting."
"I die pletty soon," said Charlie calmly. "You say you gib me
fifteen hundled dollah?"
"Yes, yes; that was our promise. What do you want done with it,
"I want plenty fine funeral in Chinatown in San Francisco. Oh,
heap fine! You buy um first-chop coffin—savvy? Silver heap much—
costum big money. You gib my money to Hop Sing Association, topside
Ming Yen temple. You savvy Hop Sing?—one Six Companies."
"Tellum Hop Sing I want funeral—four-piecee horse. You no
flogettee horse?" he added apprehensively.
"No, I'll not forget the horses Charlie. You shall have four."
"Want six-piecee band musicians—China music—heap plenty gong.
You no flogettee? Two piecee priest, all dressum white—savvy? You
mus' buyum coffin yo'self. Velly fine coffin, heap much silver, an'
four-piecee horse. You catchum fireclacker—one, five, seven hundled
fireclacker, makeum big noise; an' loast pig, an' plenty lice an'
China blandy. Heap fine funeral, costum fifteen hundled dollah. I be
bury all same Mandarin—all same Little Pete. You plomise, sure?"
"I promise you, Charlie. You shall have a funeral finer than
Charlie nodded his head contentedly, drawing a breath of
"Bimeby Hop Sing sendum body back China." He closed his eyes and
lay for a long time, worn out with the effort of speaking, as if
asleep. Suddenly he opened his eyes wide. "You no flogettee horse?"
"Four horses, Charlie. I'll remember."
He drooped once more, only to rouse again at the end of a few
"First-chop coffin, plenty much silver"; and again, a little later
and very feebly: "Six-piecee—band music—China music—four-
"I promise you, Charlie," said Wilbur.
"Now," answered Charlie—"now I die."
And the low-caste Cantonese coolie, with all the dignity and
calmness of a Cicero, composed himself for death.
An hour later Wilbur and Moran knew that he was dead. Yet, though
they had never left the hammock, they could not have told at just
what moment he died.
Later, on that same afternoon, Wilbur, from the crow's-nest, saw
the lighthouse on Point Loma and the huge rambling bulk of the
Coronado Hotel spreading out and along the beach.
It was the outpost of civilization. They were getting back to the
world again. Within an hour's ride of the hotel were San Diego,
railroads, newspapers, and policemen. Just off the hotel, however,
Wilbur could discern the gleaming white hull of a United States
man-of-war. With the glass he could make her out to be one of the
monitors—the "Monterey" in all probability.
After advising with Moran, it was decided to put in to land. The
report as to the castaways could be made to the "Monterey," and
Charlie's body forwarded to his Tong in San Francisco.
In two hours' time the schooner was well up, and Wilbur stood by
Moran's side at the wheel. watching and studying the familiar aspect
of Coronado Beach.
"It's a great winter resort," he told her. "I was down here with
a party two years ago. Nothing has changed. You see that big sort
of round wing, Moran, all full of windows? That's the dining- room.
And there's the bathhouse and the bowling-alley. See the people on
the beach, and the girls in white duck skirts; and look up there by
the veranda—let me take the glass—yes, there's a tally-ho coach.
Isn't it queer to get back to this sort of thing after Magdalena Bay
and the beach-combers?"
Moran spun the wheel without reply, and gave an order to Jim to
ease off the foresheet.
XII. NEW CONDITIONS
The winter season at the Hotel del Coronado had been unusually gay
that year, and the young lady who wrote the society news in diary
form for one of the San Francisco weekly papers had held forth at
much length upon the hotel's "unbroken succession of festivities."
She had also noted that "prominent among the newest arrivals" had
been Mr. Nat Ridgeway, of San Francisco, who had brought down from
the city, aboard his elegant and sumptuously fitted yacht "Petrel," a
jolly party, composed largely of the season's debutantes. To be
mentioned in the latter category was Miss Josie Herrick, whose
lavender coming-out tea at the beginning of the season was still a
subject of comment among the gossips—and all the rest of it.
The "Petrel" had been in the harbor but a few days, and on this
evening a dance was given at the hotel in honor of her arrival. It
was to be a cotillon, and Nat Ridgeway was going to lead with Josie
Herrick. There had been a coaching party to Tia Juana that day, and
Miss Herrick had returned to the hotel only in time to dress. By 9:30
she emerged from the process—which had involved her mother, her
younger sister, her maid, and one of the hotel chambermaids—a dainty,
firm-corseted little body, all tulle, white satin, and high-piled
hair. She carried Marechal Niel roses, ordered by wire from Monterey;
and about an hour later, when Ridgeway gave the nod to the waiting
musicians, and swung her off to the beat of a two-step, there was not
a more graceful little figure upon the floor of the incomparable round
ballroom of the Coronado Hotel.
The cotillon was a great success. The ensigns and younger
officers of the monitor—at that time anchored off the hotel—
attended in uniform; and enough of the members of what was known in
San Francisco as the "dancing set" were present to give the affair the
necessary entrain. Even Jerry Haight, who belonged more distinctly to
the "country-club set," and who had spent the early part of that
winter shooting elk in Oregon, was among the ranks of the "rovers,"
who grouped themselves about the draughty doorways, and endeavored to
appear unconscious each time Ridgeway gave the signal for a "break."
The figures had gone round the hall once. The "first set" was out
again, and as Ridgeway guided Miss Herrick by the "rovers" she looked
over the array of shirt-fronts, searching for Jerry Haight.
"Do you see Mr. Haight?" she asked of Ridgeway. "I wanted to
favor him this break. I owe him two already, and he'll never forgive
me if I overlook him now."
Jerry Haight had gone to the hotel office for a few moments' rest
and a cigarette, and was nowhere in sight. But when the set broke,
and Miss Herrick, despairing of Jerry, had started out to favor one of
the younger ensigns, she suddenly jostled against him, pushing his way
eagerly across the floor in the direction of the musicians' platform.
"Oh!" she cried, "Mr. Haight, you've missed your chance—I've been
looking for you."
But Jerry did not hear—he seemed very excited. He crossed the
floor, almost running, and went up on the platform where the
musicians were meandering softly through the mazes of "La Paloma,"
and brought them to an abrupt silence.
"Here, I say, Haight!" exclaimed Ridgeway, who was near by, "you
can't break up my figure like that."
"Gi' me a call there on the bugle," said Haight rapidly to the
cornetist. "Anything to make 'em keep quiet a moment."
The cornetist sounded a couple of notes, and the cotillon paused
in the very act of the break. The shuffling of feet grew still, and
the conversation ceased. A diamond brooch had been found, no doubt,
or some supper announcement was to be made. But Jerry Haight, with a
great sweep of his arm, the forgotten cigarette between his fingers,
shouted out breathlessly:
"Ross Wilbur is out in the office of the hotel!"
There was an instant's silence, and then a great shout. Wilbur
found! Ross Wilbur come back from the dead! Ross Wilbur, hunted for
and bootlessly traced from Buenos Ayres in the south to the Aleutian
Islands in the north. Ross Wilbur, the puzzle of every detective
bureau on the coast; the subject of a thousand theories; whose name
had figured in the scareheads of every newspaper west of the
Mississippi. Ross Wilbur, seen at a fashionable tea and his club of
an afternoon, then suddenly blotted out from the world of men;
swallowed up and engulfed by the unknown, with not so much as a button
left behind. Ross Wilbur the suicide; Ross Wilbur, the murdered; Ross
Wilbur, victim of a band of kidnappers, the hero of some dreadful
story that was never to be told, the mystery, the legend—behold he
was there! Back from the unknown, dropped from the clouds, spewed up
again from the bowels of the earth—a veritable god from the machine
who in a single instant was to disentangle all the unexplained
complications of those past winter months.
"Here he comes!" shouted Jerry, his eyes caught by a group of men
in full dress and gold lace who came tramping down the hall to the
ballroom, bearing a nondescript figure on their shoulders. "Here he
comes—the boys are bringing him in here! Oh!" he cried, turning to
the musicians, "can't you play something?—any-thing! Hit it up for
all you're worth! Ridgeway—Nat, look here! Ross was Yale, y'
know—Yale '95; ain't we enough Yale men here to give him the yell?"
Out of all time and tune, but with a vigor that made up for both,
the musicians banged into a patriotic air. Jerry, standing on a
chair that itself was standing on the platform, led half a dozen
frantic men in the long thunder of the "Brek-kek-kek-kek, co-ex,
Around the edges of the hall excited girls, and chaperons
themselves no less agitated, were standing up on chairs and benches,
splitting their gloves and breaking their fans in their enthusiasm;
while every male dancer on the floor—ensigns in their gold-faced
uniforms and "rovers" in starched and immaculate shirt-
bosoms—cheered and cheered and struggled with one another to shake
hands with a man whom two of their number old Yale grads, with
memories of athletic triumphs yet in their minds—carried into that
ball-room, borne high upon their shoulders.
And the hero of the occasion, the centre of all this enthusiasm—
thus carried as if in triumph into this assembly in evening dress, in
white tulle and whiter kid, odorous of delicate sachets and
scarce-perceptible perfumes—was a figure unhandsome and unkempt
beyond description. His hair was long, and hanging over his eyes. A
thick, uncared-for beard concealed the mouth and chin. He was dressed
in a Chinaman's blouse and jeans—the latter thrust into slashed and
tattered boots. The tan and weatherbeatings of nearly half a year of
the tropics were spread over his face; a partly healed scar disfigured
one temple and cheek-bone; the hands, to the very finger-nails, were
gray with grime; the jeans and blouse and boots were fouled with
grease, with oil, with pitch, and all manner of the dirt of an
uncared-for ship. And as the dancers of the cotillon pressed about,
and a hundred kid-gloved hands stretched toward his own palms, there
fell from Wilbur's belt upon the waxed floor of the ballroom the knife
he had so grimly used in the fight upon the beach, the ugly stains
still blackening on the haft.
There was no more cotillon that night. They put him down at last;
and in half a dozen sentences Wilbur told them of how he had been
shanghaied—told them of Magdalena Bay, his fortune in the ambergris,
and the fight with the beach-combers.
"You people are going down there for target-practice, aren't you?"
he said, turning to one of the "Monterey's" officers in the crowd
about him. "Yes? Well, you'll find the coolies there, on the beach,
waiting for you. All but one," he added, grimly.
"We marooned six of them, but the seventh didn't need to be
marooned. They tried to plunder us of our boat, but, by ——-, we
made it interesting for 'em!"
"I say, steady, old man!" exclaimed Nat Ridgeway, glancing
nervously toward the girls in the surrounding group. "This isn't
Magdalena Bay, you know."
And for the first time Wilbur felt a genuine pang of
disappointment and regret as he realized that it was not.
Half an hour later, Ridgeway drew him aside. "I say, Ross, let's
get out of here. You can't stand here talking all night. Jerry and
you and I will go up to my rooms, and we can talk there in peace.
I'll order up three quarts of fizz, and—"
"Oh, rot your fizz!" declared Wilbur. "If you love me, give me
As they were going out of the ballroom, Wilbur caught sight of
Josie Herrick, and, breaking away from the others, ran over to her.
"Oh!" she cried, breathless. "To think and to think of your
coming back after all! No, I don't realize it—I can't. It will take
me until morning to find out that you've really come back. I just
know now that I'm happier than I ever was in my life before. Oh!" she
cried, "do I need to tell you how glad I am? It's just too splendid
for words. Do you know, I was thought to be the last person you had
ever spoken to while alive, and the reporters and all—oh, but we must
have such a talk when all is quiet again! And our dance—we've never
had our dance. I've got your card yet. Remember the one you wrote for
me at the tea—a facsimile of it was published in all the papers. You
are going to be a hero when you get back to San Francisco. Oh, Ross!
Ross!" she cried, the tears starting to her eyes, "you've really come
back, and you are just as glad as I am, aren't you—glad that you've
come back—come back to me?"
Later on, in Ridgeway's room, Wilbur told his story again more in
detail to Ridgeway and Jerry. All but one portion of it. He could
not make up his mind to speak to them—these society fellows, clubmen
and city bred—of Moran. How he was going to order his life
henceforward—his life, that he felt to be void of interest without
her—he did not know. That was a question for later consideration.
"We'll give another cotillon!" exclaimed Ridgeway, "up in the
city—give it for you, Ross, and you'll lead. It'll be the event of
Wilbur uttered an exclamation of contempt. "I've done with that
sort of foolery," he answered.
"Nonsense; why, think, we'll have it in your honor. Every smart
girl in town will come, and you'll be the lion of—"
"You don't seem to understand!" cried Wilbur impatiently. "Do you
think there's any fun in that for me now? Why, man, I've fought—
fought with a naked dirk, fought with a coolie who snapped at me like
an ape—and you talk to me of dancing and functions and german favors!
It wouldn't do some of you people a bit of harm if you were shanghaied
yourselves. That sort of life, if it don't do anything else, knocks a
big bit of seriousness into you. You fellows make me sick," he went
on vehemently. "As though there wasn't anything else to do but lead
cotillons and get up new figures!"
"Well, what do you propose to do?" asked Nat Ridgeway. "Where are
you going now—back to Magdalena Bay?"
Wilbur smote the table with his fist.
"Cuba!" he cried. "I've got a crack little schooner out in the
bay here, and I've got a hundred thousand dollars' worth of loot
aboard of her. I've tried beach-combing for a while, and now I'll
try filibustering. It may be a crazy idea, but it's better than
dancing. I'd rather lead an expedition than a german, and you can
chew on that, Nathaniel Ridgeway."
Jerry looked at him as he stood there before them in the filthy,
reeking blouse and jeans, the ragged boots, and the mane of hair and
tangled beard, and remembered the Wilbur he used to know—the Wilbur
of the carefully creased trousers, the satin scarfs and fancy
"You're a different sort than when you went away, Ross," said
"Right you are," answered Wilbur.
"But I will venture a prophecy," continued Jerry, looking keenly
"Ross, you are a born-and-bred city man. It's in the blood of you
and the bones of you. I'll give you three years for this new notion
of yours to wear itself out. You think just now you're going to spend
the rest of your life as an amateur buccaneer. In three years, at the
outside, you'll be using your 'loot,' as you call it, or the interest
of it, to pay your taxes and your tailor, your pew rent and your club
dues, and you'll be what the biographers call 'a respectable member of
"Did you ever kill a man, Jerry?" asked Wilbur. "No? Well, you
kill one some day—kill him in a fair give-and-take fight—and see
how it makes you feel, and what influence it has on you, and then
come back and talk to me."
It was long after midnight. Wilbur rose.
"We'll ring for a boy," said Ridgeway, "and get you a room. I can
fix you out with clothes enough in the morning "
Wilbur stared in some surprise, and then said:
"Why, I've got the schooner to look after. I can't leave those
coolies alone all night."
"You don't mean to say you're going on board at this time in the
"Why—but—but you'll catch your death of cold."
Wilbur stared at Ridgeway, then nodded helplessly, and, scratching
his head, said, half aloud:
"No, what's the use; I can't make 'em understand. Good-night I'll
see you in the morning."
"We'll all come out and visit you on your yacht," Ridgeway called
after him; but Wilbur did not hear.
In answer to Wilbur's whistle, Jim came in with the dory and took
him off to the schooner. Moran met him as he came over the side.
"I took the watch myself to-night and let the boy turn in," she
said. "How is it ashore, mate?"
"We've come back to the world of little things, Moran," said
Wilbur. "But we'll pull out of here in the morning and get back to
the places where things are real."
"And that's a good hearing, mate."
"Let's get up here on the quarterdeck," added Wilbur. "I've
something to propose to you."
Moran laid an arm across his shoulder, and the two walked aft. For
half an hour Wilbur talked to her earnestly about his new idea of
filibustering; and as he told her of the war he warmed to the subject,
his face glowing, his eyes sparkling. Suddenly, however, he broke
"But no!" he exclaimed. "You don't understand, Moran. How can
you—you're foreign-born. It's no affair of yours!"
"Mate! mate!" cried Moran, her hands upon his shoulders. "It's
you who don't understand—don't understand me. Don't you know—
can't you see? Your people are mine now. I'm happy only in your
happiness. You were right—the best happiness is the happiness one
shares. And your sorrows belong to me, just as I belong to you, dear.
Your enemies are mine, and your quarrels are my quarrels." She drew
his head quickly toward her and kissed him.
In the morning the two had made up their minds to a certain vague
course of action. To get away—anywhere—was their one aim. Moran
was by nature a creature unfit for civilization, and the love of
adventure and the desire for action had suddenly leaped to life in
Wilbur's blood and was not to be resisted. They would get up to San
Francisco, dispose of their "loot," outfit the "Bertha Millner" as a
filibuster, and put to sea again. They had discussed the advisability
of rounding the Horn in so small a ship as the "Bertha Millner," but
Moran had settled that at once.
"I've got to know her pretty well," she told Wilbur. "She's sound
as a nut. Only let's get away from this place."
But toward ten o'clock on the morning after their arrival off
Coronado, and just as they were preparing to get under way, Hoang
touched Wilbur's elbow.
"Seeum lil one-piece smoke-boat; him come chop-chop."
In fact, a little steam-launch was rapidly approaching the
schooner. In another instant she was alongside. Jerry, Nat
Ridgeway, Josie Herrick, and an elderly woman, whom Wilbur barely
knew as Miss Herrick's married sister, were aboard.
"We've come off to see your yacht!" cried Miss Herrick to Wilbur
as the launch bumped along the schooner's counter. "Can we come
aboard?" She looked very pretty in her crisp pink shirt-waist her
white duck skirt, and white kid shoes, her sailor hat tilted at a
barely perceptible angle. The men were in white flannels and smart
yachting suits. "Can we come aboard?" she repeated.
Wilbur gasped and stared. "Good Lord!" he muttered. "Oh, come
along," he added, desperately.
The party came over the side.
"Oh, my!" said Miss Herrick blankly, stopping short.
The decks, masts, and rails of the schooner were shiny with a
black coating of dirt and grease; the sails were gray with grime; a
strangling odor of oil and tar, of cooking and of opium, of Chinese
punk and drying fish, pervaded all the air. In the waist, Hoang and
Jim, bare to the belt, their queues looped around their necks to be
out of the way, were stowing the dory and exchanging high-pitched
monosyllables. Miss Herrick's sister had not come aboard. The three
visitors—Jerry, Ridgeway, and Josie—stood nervously huddled
together, their elbows close in, as if to avoid contact with the
prevailing filth, their immaculate white outing- clothes detaching
themselves violently against the squalor and sordid grime of the
"Oh, my!" repeated Miss Herrick in dismay, half closing her eyes.
"To think of what you must have been through! I thought you had some
kind of a yacht. I had no idea it would be like this." And as she
spoke, Moran came suddenly upon the group from behind the foresail,
and paused in abrupt surprise, her thumbs in her belt.
She still wore men's clothes and was booted to the knee. The
heavy blue woolen shirt was open at the throat, the sleeves rolled
half-way up her large white arms. In her belt she carried her
haftless Scandinavian dirk. She was hatless as ever, and her heavy,
fragrant cables of rye-hued hair fell over her shoulders and breast to
far below her belt.
Miss Herrick started sharply, and Moran turned an inquiring glance
upon Wilbur. Wilbur took his resolution in both hands.
"Miss Herrick," he said, "this is Moran—Moran Sternersen."
Moran took a step forward, holding out her hand. Josie, all
bewildered, put her tight-gloved fingers into the calloused palm,
looking up nervously into Moran's face.
"I'm sure," she said feebly, almost breathlessly, "I—I'm sure I'm
very pleased to meet Miss Sternersen."
It was long before the picture left Wilbur's imagination. Josie
Herrick, petite, gowned in white, crisp from her maid's grooming; and
Moran, sea-rover and daughter of a hundred Vikings, towering above
her, booted and belted, gravely clasping Josie's hand in her own huge
XIII. MORAN STERNERSEN
San Francisco once more! For two days the "Bertha Millner" had
been beating up the coast, fighting her way against northerly winds,
butting into head seas.
The warmth, the stillness, the placid, drowsing quiet of Magdalena
Bay, steaming under the golden eye of a tropic heaven, the white,
baked beach, the bay-heads, striated with the mirage in the morning,
the coruscating sunset, the enchanted mystery of the purple night,
with its sheen of stars and riding moon, were now replaced by the hale
and vigorous snorting of the Trades, the roll of breakers to landward,
and the unremitting gallop of the unnumbered multitudes of gray-green
seas, careering silently past the schooner, their crests occasionally
hissing into brusque eruptions of white froth, or smiting broad on
under her counter, showering her decks with a sprout of icy spray. It
was cold; at times thick fogs cloaked all the world of water. To the
east a procession of bleak hills defiled slowly southward; lighthouses
were passed; streamers of smoke on the western horizon marked the
passage of steamships; and once they met and passed close by a huge
Cape Horner, a great deep-sea tramp, all sails set and drawing,
rolling slowly and leisurely in seas that made the schooner dance.
At last the Farallones looked over the ocean's edge to the north;
then came the whistling-buoy, the Seal Rocks, the Heads, Point Reyes,
the Golden Gate flanked with the old red Presidio, Lime Point with its
watching cannon; and by noon of a gray and boisterous day, under a
lusty wind and a slant of rain, just five months after her departure,
the "Bertha Millner" let go her anchor in San Francisco Bay some few
hundred yards off the Lifeboat Station.
In this berth the schooner was still three or four miles from the
city and the water-front. But Moran detested any nearer approach to
civilization, and Wilbur himself was willing to avoid, at least for
one day, the publicity which he believed the "Bertha's" reappearance
was sure to attract. He remembered, too, that the little boat carried
with her a fortune of $100,000, and decided that until it could be
safely landed and stored it was not desirable that its existence
should be known along "the Front."
For days, weeks even, Wilbur had looked eagerly forward to this
return to his home. He had seen himself again in his former haunts,
in his club, and in the houses along Pacific avenue where he was
received; but no sooner had the anchor-chain ceased rattling in the
"Bertha's" hawse-pipe than a strange revulsion came upon him. The new
man that seemed to have so suddenly sprung to life within him, the
Wilbur who was the mate of the "Bertha Millner," the Wilbur who
belonged to Moran, believed that he could see nothing to be desired in
city life. For him was the unsteady deck of a schooner, and the great
winds and the tremendous wheel of the ocean's rim, and the horizon
that ever fled before his following prow; so he told himself, so he
believed. What attractions could the city offer him? What amusements?
what excitements? He had been flung off the smoothly spinning
circumference of well-ordered life out into the void.
He had known romance, and the spell of the great, simple, and
primitive emotions; he had sat down to eat with buccaneers; he had
seen the fierce, quick leap of unleashed passions, and had felt death
swoop close at his nape and pass like a swift spurt of cold air. City
life, his old life, had no charm for him now. Wilbur honestly
believed that he was changed to his heart's core. He thought that,
like Moran, he was henceforth to be a sailor of the sea, a rover, and
he saw the rest of his existence passed with her, aboard their
faithful little schooner. They would have the whole round world as
their playground; they held the earth and the great seas in fief;
there was no one to let or to hinder. They two belonged to each
other. Once outside the Heads again, and they swept the land of
cities and of little things behind them, and they two were left alone
once more; alone in the great world of romance.
About an hour after her arrival off the station, while Hoang and
the hands were furling the jib and foresail and getting the dory over
the side, Moran remarked to Wilbur:
"It's good we came in when we did, mate; the glass is going down
fast, and the wind's breezing up from the west; we're going to have a
blow; the tide will be going out in a little while, and we never could
have come in against wind and tide."
"Moran," said Wilbur, "I'm going ashore—into the station here;
there's a telephone line there; see the wires? I can't so much as
turn my hand over before I have some shore-going clothes. What do
you suppose they would do to me if I appeared on Kearney Street in
this outfit? I'll ring up Langley Michaels—they are the wholesale
chemists in town—and have their agent come out here and talk business
to us about our ambergris. We've got to pay the men their
prize-money; then as soon as we get our own money in hand we can talk
about overhauling and outfitting the 'Bertha.'"
Moran refused to accompany him ashore and into the Lifeboat
Station. Roofed houses were an object of suspicion to her. Already
she had begun to be uneasy at the distant sight of the city of San
Francisco, Nob, Telegraph, Russian, and Rincon hills, all swarming
with buildings and grooved with streets; even the land-locked harbor
fretted her. Wilbur could see she felt imprisoned, confined. When he
had pointed out the Palace Hotel to her—a vast gray cube in the
distance, overtopping the surrounding roofs—she had sworn under her
"And people can live there, good heavens! Why not rabbit-burrows,
and be done with it? Mate, how soon can we be out to sea again? I
hate this place."
Wilbur found the captain of the Lifeboat Station in the act of
sitting down to a dinner of boiled beef and cabbage. He was a
strongly built well-looking man, with the air more of a soldier than
a sailor. He had already been studying the schooner through his front
window and had recognized her, and at once asked Wilbur news of
Captain Kitchell. Wilbur told him as much of his story as was
necessary, but from the captain's talk he gathered that the news of
his return had long since been wired from Coronado, and that it would
be impossible to avoid a nine days' notoriety. The captain of the
station (his name was Hodgson) made Wilbur royally welcome, insisted
upon his dining with him, and himself called up Langley Michaels as
soon as the meal was over.
It was he who offered the only plausible solution of the mystery
of the lifting and shaking of the schooner and the wrecking of the
junk. Though Wilbur was not satisfied with Hodgson's explanation, it
was the only one he ever heard.
When he had spoken of the matter, Hodgson had nodded his head.
"Sulphur-bottoms," he said.
"Yes; they're a kind of right-whale; they get barnacles and a kind
of marine lice on their backs, and come up and scratch them selves
against a ship's keel, just like a hog under a fence."
When Wilbur's business was done, and he was making ready to return
to the schooner, Hodgson remarked suddenly: "Hear you've got a
strapping fine girl aboard with you. Where did you fall in with
her?" and he winked and grinned.
Wilbur started as though struck, and took himself hurriedly away;
but the man's words had touched off in his brain a veritable mine of
conjecture. Moran in Magdalena Bay was consistent, congruous, and
fitted into her environment. But how—how was Wilbur to explain her
to San Francisco, and how could his behavior seem else than ridiculous
to the men of his club and to the women whose dinner invitations he
was wont to receive? They could not understand the change that had
been wrought in him; they did not know Moran, the savage, half-tamed
Valkyrie so suddenly become a woman. Hurry as he would, the schooner
could not be put to sea again within a fortnight. Even though he
elected to live aboard in the meanwhile, the very business of her
preparation would call him to the city again and again. Moran could
not be kept a secret. As it was, all the world knew of her by now.
On the other hand he could easily understand her position; to her it
seemed simplicity itself that they two who loved each other should
sail away and pass their lives together upon the sea, as she and her
father had done before.
Like most men, Wilbur had to walk when he was thinking hard. He
sent the dory back to the schooner with word to Moran that he would
take a walk around the beach and return in an hour or two. He set off
along the shore in the direction of Fort Mason, the old red-brick fort
at the entrance to the Golden Gate. At this point in the Presidio
Government reservation the land is solitary. Wilbur followed the line
of the beach to the old fort; and there, on the very threshold of the
Western world, at the very outpost of civilization, sat down in the
lee of the crumbling fortification, and scene by scene reviewed the
extraordinary events of the past six months.
In front of him ran the narrow channel of the Golden Gate; to his
right was the bay and the city; at his left the open Pacific.
He saw himself the day of his advent aboard the "Bertha" in his
top hat and frock coat; saw himself later "braking down" at the
windlass, the "Petrel" within hailing distance.
Then the pictures began to thicken fast: the derelict bark "Lady
Letty" rolling to her scuppers, abandoned and lonely; the "boy" in
the wheel-box; Kitchell wrenching open the desk in the captain's
stateroom; Captain Sternersen buried at sea, his false teeth upside
down; the black fury of the squall, and Moran at the wheel; Moran
lying at full length on the deck, getting the altitude of a star;
Magdalena Bay; the shark-fishing; the mysterious lifting and
shuddering of the schooner; the beach-combers' junk, with its staring
red eyes; Hoang, naked to the waist, gleaming with sweat and
whale-oil; the ambergris; the race to beach the sinking schooner; the
never-to-be-forgotten night when he and Moran had camped together on
the beach; Hoang taken prisoner, and the hideous filing of his teeth;
the beach-combers, silent and watchful behind their sand breastworks;
the Chinaman he had killed twitching and hic-coughing at his feet;
Moran turned Berserker, bursting down upon him through a haze of
smoke; Charlie dying in the hammock aboard the schooner, ordering his
funeral with its "four-piecee horse"; Coronado; the incongruous scene
in the ballroom; and, last of all, Josie Herrick in white duck and kid
shoes, giving her hand to Moran in her boots and belt, hatless as
ever, her sleeves rolled up to above the elbows, her white, strong
arm extended, her ruddy face, and pale, milk-blue eyes gravely
observant, her heavy braids, yellow as ripening rye, hanging over her
shoulder and breast.
A sudden explosion of cold wind, striking down blanket-wise and
bewildering from out the west, made Wilbur look up quickly. The gray
sky seemed scudding along close overhead. The bay, the narrow channel
of the Golden Gate, the outside ocean, were all whitening with crests
of waves. At his feet the huge green ground-swells thundered to the
attack of the fort's granite foundations. Through the Gate, the bay
seemed rushing out to the Pacific. A bewildered gull shot by, tacking
and slanting against the gusts that would drive it out to sea.
Evidently the storm was not far off. Wilbur rose to his feet, and
saw the "Bertha Millner," close in, unbridled and free as a runaway
horse, headed directly for the open sea, and rushing on with all the
impetus of wind and tide!
XIV. THE OCEAN IS CALLING FOR YOU
A little while after Wilbur had set off for the station, while
Moran was making the last entries in the log-book, seated at the
table in the cabin, Jim appeared at the door.
"Well," she said, looking up.
"China boy him want go asho' plenty big, seeum flen up Chinatown
in um city."
"Shore leave, is it?" said Moran. "You deserted once before
without even saying good-by; and my hand in the fire, you'll come
back this time dotty with opium. Get away with you. We'll have men
aboard here in a few days."
"Can go?" inquired Jim suavely.
"I said so. Report our arrival to your Six Companies."
Hoang rowed Jim and the coolies ashore, and then returned to the
schooner with the dory and streamed her astern. As he passed the
cabin door on his way forward, Moran hailed him.
"I thought you went ashore?" she cried.
"Heap flaid," he answered. "Him other boy go up Chinatown; him
tell Sam Yup; I tink Sam Yup alla same killee me. I no leaveum ship
two, thlee day; bimeby I go Olegon. I stay topside ship. You wantum
cook. I cook plenty fine; standum watch for you."
Indeed, ever since leaving Coronado the ex-beach-comber had made
himself very useful about the schooner; had been, in fact,
obsequiousness itself, and seemed to be particularly desirous of
gaining the good-will of the "Bertha's" officers. He understood
pigeon English better than Jim, and spoke it even better than Charlie
had done. He acted the part of interpreter between Wilbur and the
hands; even turned to in the galley upon occasion; and of his own
accord offered to give the vessel a coat of paint above the
water-line. Moran turned back to her log, and Hoang went forward.
Standing on the forward deck, he looked after the "Bertha's" coolies
until they disappeared behind a row of pine- trees on the Presidio
Reservation, going cityward. Wilbur was nowhere in sight. For a
longtime Hoang studied the Lifeboat Station narrowly, while he made a
great show of coiling a length of rope. The station was just out of
hailing distance. Nobody seemed stirring. The whole shore and back
land thereabout was deserted; the edge of the city was four miles
distant. Hoang returned to the forecastle-hatch and went below,
groping under his bunk in his ditty-box.
"Well, what is it?" exclaimed Moran a moment later, as the beach-
comber entered the cabin, and shut the door behind him.
Hoang did not answer; but she did not need to repeat the question.
In an instant Moran knew very well what he had come for.
"God!" she exclaimed under her breath, springing to her feet. "Why
didn't we think of this!"
Hoang slipped his knife from the sleeve of his blouse. For an
instant the old imperiousness, the old savage pride and anger, leaped
again in Moran's breast—then died away forever. She was no longer
the same Moran of that first fight on board the schooner, when the
beach-combers had plundered her of her "loot." Only a few weeks ago,
and she would have fought with Hoang without hesitation and without
mercy; would have wrenched a leg from the table and brained him where
he stood. But she had learned since to know what it meant to be
dependent; to rely for protection upon some one who was stronger than
she; to know her weakness; to know that she was at last a woman, and
to be proud of it.
She did not fight; she had no thought of fighting. Instinctively
she cried aloud, "Mate—mate!—Oh, mate, where are you? Help me!" and
Hoang's knife nailed the words within her throat.
The "loot" was in a brass-bound chest under one of the cabin's
bunks, stowed in two gunny-bags. Hoang drew them out, knotted the
two together, and, slinging them over his shoulder, regained the
He looked carefully at the angry sky and swelling seas, noting the
direction of the wind and set of the tide; then went forward and cast
the anchor-chains from the windlass in such a manner that the schooner
must inevitably wrench free with the first heavy strain. The dory was
still tugging at the line astern. Hoang dropped the sacks in the
boat, swung himself over the side, and rowed calmly toward the
station's wharf. If any notion of putting to sea with the schooner
had entered the obscure, perverted cunning of his mind, he had almost
instantly rejected it. Chinatown was his aim; once there and under
the protection of his Tong, Hoang knew that he was safe. He knew the
hiding-places that the See Yup Association provided for its
members—hiding places whose very existence was unknown to the police
of the White Devil.
No one interrupted—no one even noticed—his passage to the
station. At best, it was nothing more than a coolie carrying a
couple of gunny-sacks across his shoulder. Two hours later, Hoang
was lost in San Francisco's Chinatown.
* * * * * * * * * *
At the sight of the schooner sweeping out to sea, Wilbur was for
an instant smitten rigid. What had happened? Where was Moran? Why
was there nobody on board? A swift, sharp sense of some unnamed
calamity leaped suddenly at his throat. Then he was aware of a
crattering of hoofs along the road that led to the fort. Hodgson
threw himself from one of the horses that were used in handling the
surf-boat, and ran to him hatless and panting.
"My God!" he shouted. "Look, your schooner, do you see her? She
broke away after I'd started to tell you—to tell you—to tell
you—your girl there on board—It was horrible!"
"Is she all right?" cried Wilbur, at top voice, for the clamor of
the gale was increasing every second.
"All right! No; they've killed her—somebody—the coolies, I
think—knifed her! I went out to ask you people to come into the
station to have supper with me—"
"Killed her—killed her! Who? I don't believe you—"
"Wait—to have supper with me, and I found her there on the cabin
floor. She was still breathing. I carried her up on deck—there was
nobody else aboard. I carried her up and laid her on the deck—and
she died there. Just now I came after you to tell you, and—"
"Good God Almighty, man! who killed her? Where is she? Oh—but of
course it isn't true! How did you know? Moran killed! Moran killed!"
"And the schooner broke away after I started!"
"Moran killed! But—but—she's not dead yet; we'll have to see—"
"She died on the deck; I brought her up and laid her on—"
"How do you know she's dead? Where is she? Come on, we'll go right
back to her—to the station!"
"She's on board—out there!"
"Where—where is she? My God, man, tell me where she is!"
"Out there aboard the schooner. I brought her up on deck—I left
her on the schooner—on the deck—she was stabbed in the throat— and
then came after you to tell you. Then the schooner broke away while I
was coming; she's drifting out to sea now!"
"Where is she? Where is she?"
"Who—the girl—the schooner—which one? The girl is on the
schooner—and the schooner—that's her, right there—she's drifting
out to sea!"
Wilbur put both hands to his temples, closing his eyes.
"I'll go back!" exclaimed Hodgson. "We'll have the surf-boat out
and get after her; we'll bring the body back!"
"No, no!" cried Wilbur, "it's better—this way. Leave her, let
her go—she's going out to sea again!"
"But the schooner won't live two hours outside in this weather;
she'll go down!"
"It's better—that way—let her go. I want it so!"
"I can't stay!" cried the other again. "If the patrol should sig-
storm coming up, and I've got to be at my station."
Wilbur did not answer; he was watching the schooner.
"I can't stay!" cried the other again. "If the patrol should
signal—I can't stop here, I must be on duty. Come back, you can't
"I have got to go!" Hodgson ran back, swung himself on the horse,
and rode away at a furious gallop, inclining his head against the
And the schooner in a world of flying spray, white scud, and
driving spoondrift, her cordage humming, her forefoot churning, the
flag at her peak straining stiff in the gale, came up into the narrow
passage of the Golden Gate, riding high upon the outgoing tide. On
she came, swinging from crest to crest of the waves that kept her
company and that ran to meet the ocean, shouting and calling out
beyond there under the low, scudding clouds.
Wilbur had climbed to the top of the old fort. Erect upon its
granite ledge he stood, and watched and waited.
Not once did the "Bertha Millner" falter in her race. Like an
unbitted horse, all restraint shaken off, she ran free toward the
ocean as to her pasture-land. She came nearer, nearer, rising and
rolling with the seas, her bowsprit held due west, pointing like a
finger out to sea, to the west—out to the world of romance. And
then at last, as the little vessel drew opposite the old fort and
passed not one hundred yards away, Wilbur, watching from the rampart,
saw Moran lying upon the deck with outstretched arms and calm,
upturned face; lying upon the deck of that lonely fleeing schooner as
upon a bed of honor, still and calm, her great braids smooth upon her
breast, her arms wide; alone with the sea; alone in death as she had
been in life. She passed out of his life as she had come into
it—alone, upon a derelict ship, abandoned to the sea. She went out
with the tide, out with the storms; out, out, out to the great gray
Pacific that knew her and loved her, and that shouted and called for
her, and thundered in the joy of her as she came to meet him like a
bride to meet a bridegroom.
"Good-by, Moran!" shouted Wilbur as she passed. "Good-by, good-
by, Moran! You were not for me—not for me! The ocean is calling for
you, dear; don't you hear him? Don't you hear him? Good-by, good-by,
The schooner swept by, shot like an arrow through the swirling
currents of the Golden Gate, and dipped and bowed and courtesied to
the Pacific that reached toward her his myriad curling fingers. They
infolded her, held her close, and drew her swiftly, swiftly out to the
great heaving bosom, tumultuous and beating in its mighty joy, its
savage exultation of possession.
Wilbur stood watching. The little schooner lessened in the
distance—became a shadow in mist and flying spray—a shadow moving
upon the face of the great waste of water. Fainter and fainter she
grew, vanished, reappeared, was heaved up again—a mere speck upon the
western sky—a speck that dwindled and dwindled, then slowly melted
away into the gray of the horizon.