Monday, November 5, 2007



Frank Norris
Captain Joseph Hodgson
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
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
"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,
"First waltz--Jo."
"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
un-mans me."
"Good-by, then."
"Good-by, until to-night, about--?"
"About nine."
"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 discomfiture.
"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 boat.
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
"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
The iridescent sweater stamped twice upon the floor and a trapdoor
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 longer iridescent.
"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 off.
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
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,
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 Captain's voice:
"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, meltonovercoated,
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 breeches.
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
"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
"'Vast heavin'!"
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.
Wilbur followed.
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 own.
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 his heart.
"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
"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 starboard quarter.
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 sheathknives
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 waistcoat,
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 bear.
"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 spoken.
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 contentment.
"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
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:
"First waltz--Jo."
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 pocketknife
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
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 brains.
"Well, you see, son," Kitchell had explained to Wilbur, "ostensiblee
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 doughdish
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 unexpected.'"
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.
"Turtle? Where-away?"
"I tink-um 'bout quallah mile, mebbee, four-piecee tortle all-same
weatha bow."
"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 kneedrive,
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 mustache, thoughtfully.
"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 ahead.
"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 nut."
Over the side, bundled without ceremony into the boat, clawing,
thrashing, clattering, and blowing like the exhaust of a donkeyengine,
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 hat.
"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 chopchop."
"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
starboard quarter.
"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
velly sick."
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 shape?"
"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 salient, prognathous.
"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
"A derelict?"
"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 sevenhundred-
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 seaweed.
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 response.
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 and splintered.
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 the touch.
"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 its volume.
"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 oilskin sleeve.
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 exclamation:
"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
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
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 character.
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 kid?"
"She's all right," answered Wilbur, before he could collect his
thoughts. But the Captain thought he had reference to the
"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 house."
"Hold up--we can do better than that," said Wilbur, restraining
Kitchell's fury of impatience. "Slide the big skylight off--it's
loose already."
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
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
"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 secretary.
"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
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
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 twothirds
interest was conveyed from the previous owners (a
shipbuilding firm of Christiania) to Capt. Eilert Sternersen.
"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 make sure."
"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
"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, unseeing eyes.
"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 cowardice.
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 ocean.
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.
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. Understand?"
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 superstitious.
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
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,
bell-toned laughter.
"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 peak.
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 chinchin."
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 talkeetalkee.
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?"
Charlie smiled.
"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
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 than Charlie."
"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
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 wellmeant
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 Magdalena Bay.
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 extraordinary activity.
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 distance.
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
"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 helpless.
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 exclamation.
"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 threequarters
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, heatridden
land, the sheen of the open Pacific, and the lonely
"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 real existence.
"Do you like it?" asked Moran quickly, facing him, her thumbs in
her belt.
"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
"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
"'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 aft.
"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
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
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 away.
"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 his palate.
"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
"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
"If one could only SEE what it was," growled Moran between her
clinched teeth. "But this--this damned heaving and trembling, it--
it's queer."
"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 flying.
"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
"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
Talleyrand again.
"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,
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
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 heard something.
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:
"Boat ahoy!"
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 out!"
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 forward:
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 hatch:
"The bunks are empty--they're gone--abandoned us." She came up the
ladder again.
"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."
"You 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
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, basket-shaped hats.
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 beachcombers
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 vipers!"
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
"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 beachcombers
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
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 quarterdeck.
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 occur.
"All light," announced Hoang; "catchum all oil, catchum all bone,
catchum all same plenty many. You help catchum, now you catchum
pay. Sabe?"
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 again.
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 oar.
"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
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
"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
"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
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 attentively.
"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 the ocean."
"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
The two enormous red eyes of the junk loomed alongside and stared
over into the "Bertha's" waist. Hoang and seven of the coolies
swarmed aboard.
"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
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 beachcombers
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."
"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
"What then?"
"The sharks!"
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 sandspit.
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 smile.
"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 men."
"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 woman.
"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 yet."
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.
Moran yawned:
"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
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 selfpossession.
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."
"Good-night, Moran."
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
"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
"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,"
she added.
The junk had come in overnight, and was about a mile and a half
from shore.
"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
"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 lampwick.
Nor could their most careful search discover any further
"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.
Get out!"
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 Kaigingh
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 home."
"How muchee?"
"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 beachcombers
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 offshore.
But toward one o'clock Wilbur was awakened by Moran
shaking his arm.
"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."
"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--Fourpiecee
Chinamen dlown."
"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
Yup. Savvy?'!
"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 junk sank."
"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
"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
"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 onethird
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 righteous friend!"
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
"All light," said Charlie, coming up from the group at last; "him
fight plenty."
"Now," exclaimed Moran, "we've no time to waste. What arms have
we got?"
"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 their lay."
It was still very dark. Near the hulk of the beached "Bertha
Millner" were grouped her crew, each armed with a long and lancelike
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
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
"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
"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
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 endways
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 them.
"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
cutting-in spades."
"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
"Bertha's" cabin.
"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
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 whalingcamp,
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 sanddunes.
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 sandbreaks
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 sagebushes
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.
Wilbur had imagined that the fight would be hardly more than a
wild rush down the slope of the beach, a dash over the beachcombers'
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
"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
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 to rip.
"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
"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
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
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 stickingpoint.
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
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."
"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 complete?
"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 allsame
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 teaflails,
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 killed."
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 back."
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 the cabin.
"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 targetpractice
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 beachcombers
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 to Wilbur:
"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 alone.
"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 found."
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."
"Yes, yes."
"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
little Pete's."
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
"Four horses, Charlie. I'll remember."
He drooped once more, only to rouse again at the end of a few
minutes with:
"First-chop coffin, plenty much silver"; and again, a little later
and very feebly: "Six-piecee--band music--China music--fourpiecee--
"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 diningroom.
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.
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 shirtbosoms--
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
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
Christian tobacco."
As they were going out of the ballroom, Wilbur caught sight of
Josie Herrick, and, breaking away from the others, ran over to
"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 the season!"
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
"Well, what do you propose to do?" asked Nat Ridgeway. "Where are
you going now--back to Magdalena Bay?"
"Where, then?"
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 waistcoats.
"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
at him.
"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 the community.'"
"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
"Of course!"
"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 off.
"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 outingclothes
detaching themselves violently against the squalor and
sordid grime of the schooner's background.
"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 fist.
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
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 breath.
"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!
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 pinetrees
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 beachcomber
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,
"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
"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 sigstorm
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 do anything!"
"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, goodby,
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, 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.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?