Tantissimi classici della letteratura e della cultura politica,
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Abbe Prevost - MANON LESCAUT
Alcott, Louisa M. - AN OLDFASHIONED GIRL
Alcott, Louisa M. - LITTLE MEN
Alcott, Louisa M. - LITTLE WOMEN
Alcott, Louisa May - JACK AND JILL
Alcott, Louisa May - LIFE LETTERS AND JOURNALS
Andersen, Hans Christian - FAIRY TALES
Anonimo - BEOWULF
Ariosto, Ludovico - ORLANDO ENRAGED
Aurelius, Marcus - MEDITATIONS
Austen, Jane - EMMA
Austen, Jane - MANSFIELD PARK
Austen, Jane - NORTHANGER ABBEY
Austen, Jane - PERSUASION
Austen, Jane - PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Austen, Jane - SENSE AND SENSIBILITY
Authors, Various - LETTERS OF ABELARD AND HELOISE
Authors, Various - SELECTED ENGLISH LETTERS
Autori Vari - THE WORLD ENGLISH BIBLE
Bacon, Francis - THE ADVANCEMENT OF LEARNING
Balzac, Honore de - EUGENIE GRANDET
Balzac, Honore de - FATHER GORIOT
Baroness Orczy - THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL
Barrie, J. M. - PETER AND WENDY
Barrie, James M. - PETER PAN
Bierce, Ambrose - THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY
Blake, William - SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND EXPERIENCE
Boccaccio, Giovanni - DECAMERONE
Brent, Linda - INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A SLAVE GIRL
Bronte, Charlotte - JANE EYRE
Bronte, Charlotte - VILLETTE
Buchan, John - GREENMANTLE
Buchan, John - MR STANDFAST
Buchan, John - THE 39 STEPS
Bunyan, John - THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS
Burckhardt, Jacob - THE CIVILIZATION OF THE RENAISSANCE IN ITALY
Burnett, Frances H. - A LITTLE PRINCESS
Burnett, Frances H. - LITTLE LORD FAUNTLEROY
Burnett, Frances H. - THE SECRET GARDEN
Butler, Samuel - EREWHON
Carlyle, Thomas - PAST AND PRESENT
Carlyle, Thomas - THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
Cellini, Benvenuto - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Cervantes - DON QUIXOTE
Chaucer, Geoffrey - THE CANTERBURY TALES
Chesterton, G. K. - A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND
Chesterton, G. K. - THE BALLAD OF THE WHITE HORSE
Chesterton, G. K. - THE INNOCENCE OF FATHER BROWN
Chesterton, G. K. - THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH
Chesterton, G. K. - THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY
Chesterton, G. K. - THE WISDOM OF FATHER BROWN
Chesterton, G. K. - TWELVE TYPES
Chesterton, G. K. - WHAT I SAW IN AMERICA
Chesterton, Gilbert K. - HERETICS
Chopin, Kate - AT FAULT
Chopin, Kate - BAYOU FOLK
Chopin, Kate - THE AWAKENING AND SELECTED SHORT STORIES
Clark Hall, John R. - A CONCISE ANGLOSAXON DICTIONARY
Clarkson, Thomas - AN ESSAY ON THE SLAVERY AND COMMERCE OF THE HUMAN SPECIES
Clausewitz, Carl von - ON WAR
Coleridge, Herbert - A DICTIONARY OF THE FIRST OR OLDEST WORDS IN THE ENGLISH
Coleridge, S. T. - COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS
Coleridge, S. T. - HINTS TOWARDS THE FORMATION OF A MORE COMPREHENSIVE THEORY
Coleridge, S. T. - THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER
Collins, Wilkie - THE MOONSTONE
Collodi - PINOCCHIO
Conan Doyle, Arthur - A STUDY IN SCARLET
Conan Doyle, Arthur - MEMOIRS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES
Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE SIGN OF THE FOUR
Conrad, Joseph - HEART OF DARKNESS
Conrad, Joseph - LORD JIM
Conrad, Joseph - NOSTROMO
Conrad, Joseph - THE NIGGER OF THE NARCISSUS
Conrad, Joseph - TYPHOON
Crane, Stephen - LAST WORDS
Crane, Stephen - MAGGIE
Crane, Stephen - THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE
Crane, Stephen - WOUNDS IN THE RAIN
Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: HELL
Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: PARADISE
Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: PURGATORY
Darwin, Charles - THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF CHARLES DARWIN
Darwin, Charles - THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES
Defoe, Daniel - A GENERAL HISTORY OF THE PYRATES
Defoe, Daniel - A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEAR
Defoe, Daniel - CAPTAIN SINGLETON
Defoe, Daniel - MOLL FLANDERS
Defoe, Daniel - ROBINSON CRUSOE
Defoe, Daniel - THE COMPLETE ENGLISH TRADESMAN
Defoe, Daniel - THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE
Deledda, Grazia - AFTER THE DIVORCE
Dickens, Charles - A CHRISTMAS CAROL
Dickens, Charles - A TALE OF TWO CITIES
Dickens, Charles - BLEAK HOUSE
Dickens, Charles - DAVID COPPERFIELD
Dickens, Charles - DONBEY AND SON
Dickens, Charles - GREAT EXPECTATIONS
Dickens, Charles - HARD TIMES
Dickens, Charles - LETTERS VOLUME 1
Dickens, Charles - LITTLE DORRIT
Dickens, Charles - MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT
Dickens, Charles - NICHOLAS NICKLEBY
Dickens, Charles - OLIVER TWIST
Dickens, Charles - OUR MUTUAL FRIEND
Dickens, Charles - PICTURES FROM ITALY
Dickens, Charles - THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD
Dickens, Charles - THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP
Dickens, Charles - THE PICKWICK PAPERS
Dickinson, Emily - POEMS
Dostoevsky, Fyodor - CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor - THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV
Du Maurier, George - TRILBY
Dumas, Alexandre - THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO
Dumas, Alexandre - THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK
Dumas, Alexandre - THE THREE MUSKETEERS
Eliot, George - DANIEL DERONDA
Eliot, George - MIDDLEMARCH
Eliot, George - SILAS MARNER
Eliot, George - THE MILL ON THE FLOSS
Engels, Frederick - THE CONDITION OF THE WORKING-CLASS IN ENGLAND IN 1844
Equiano - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Esopo - FABLES
Fenimore Cooper, James - THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS
Fielding, Henry - TOM JONES
France, Anatole - THAIS
France, Anatole - THE GODS ARE ATHIRST
France, Anatole - THE LIFE OF JOAN OF ARC
France, Anatole - THE SEVEN WIVES OF BLUEBEARD
Frank Baum, L. - THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ
Frank Baum, L. - THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ
Franklin, Benjamin - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Frazer, James George - THE GOLDEN BOUGH
Freud, Sigmund - DREAM PSYCHOLOGY
Galsworthy, John - COMPLETE PLAYS
Galsworthy, John - STRIFE
Galsworthy, John - STUDIES AND ESSAYS
Galsworthy, John - THE FIRST AND THE LAST
Galsworthy, John - THE FORSYTE SAGA
Galsworthy, John - THE LITTLE MAN
Galsworthy, John - THE SILVER BOX
Galsworthy, John - THE SKIN GAME
Gaskell, Elizabeth - CRANFORD
Gaskell, Elizabeth - MARY BARTON
Gaskell, Elizabeth - NORTH AND SOUTH
Gaskell, Elizabeth - THE LIFE OF CHARLOTTE BRONTE
Gay, John - THE BEGGAR'S OPERA
Gentile, Maria - THE ITALIAN COOK BOOK
Gilbert and Sullivan - PLAYS
Goethe - FAUST
Gogol - DEAD SOULS
Goldsmith, Oliver - SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER
Goldsmith, Oliver - THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD
Grahame, Kenneth - THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS
Grimm, Brothers - FAIRY TALES
Harding, A. R. - GINSENG AND OTHER MEDICINAL PLANTS
Hardy, Thomas - A CHANGED MAN AND OTHER TALES
Hardy, Thomas - FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD
Hardy, Thomas - JUDE THE OBSCURE
Hardy, Thomas - TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES
Hardy, Thomas - THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE
Hartley, Cecil B. - THE GENTLEMEN'S BOOK OF ETIQUETTE
Hawthorne, Nathaniel - LITTLE MASTERPIECES
Hawthorne, Nathaniel - THE SCARLET LETTER
Henry VIII - LOVE LETTERS TO ANNE BOLEYN
Henry, O. - CABBAGES AND KINGS
Henry, O. - SIXES AND SEVENS
Henry, O. - THE FOUR MILLION
Henry, O. - THE TRIMMED LAMP
Henry, O. - WHIRLIGIGS
Hindman Miller, Gustavus - TEN THOUSAND DREAMS INTERPRETED
Hobbes, Thomas - LEVIATHAN
Homer - THE ILIAD
Homer - THE ODYSSEY
Hornaday, William T. - THE EXTERMINATION OF THE AMERICAN BISON
Hume, David - A TREATISE OF HUMAN NATURE
Hume, David - AN ENQUIRY CONCERNING HUMAN UNDERSTANDING
Hume, David - DIALOGUES CONCERNING NATURAL RELIGION
Ibsen, Henrik - A DOLL'S HOUSE
Ibsen, Henrik - AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE
Ibsen, Henrik - GHOSTS
Ibsen, Henrik - HEDDA GABLER
Ibsen, Henrik - JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN
Ibsen, Henrik - ROSMERHOLM
Ibsen, Henrik - THE LADY FROM THE SEA
Ibsen, Henrik - THE MASTER BUILDER
Ibsen, Henrik - WHEN WE DEAD AWAKEN
Irving, Washington - THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW
James, Henry - ITALIAN HOURS
James, Henry - THE ASPERN PAPERS
James, Henry - THE BOSTONIANS
James, Henry - THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY
James, Henry - THE TURN OF THE SCREW
James, Henry - WASHINGTON SQUARE
Jerome, Jerome K. - THREE MEN IN A BOAT
Jerome, Jerome K. - THREE MEN ON THE BUMMEL
Jevons, Stanley - POLITICAL ECONOMY
Johnson, Samuel - A GRAMMAR OF THE ENGLISH TONGUE
Jonson, Ben - THE ALCHEMIST
Jonson, Ben - VOLPONE
Joyce, James - A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN
Joyce, James - CHAMBER MUSIC
Joyce, James - DUBLINERS
Joyce, James - ULYSSES
Keats, John - ENDYMION
Keats, John - POEMS PUBLISHED IN 1817
Keats, John - POEMS PUBLISHED IN 1820
King James - THE BIBLE
Kipling, Rudyard - CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS
Kipling, Rudyard - INDIAN TALES
Kipling, Rudyard - JUST SO STORIES
Kipling, Rudyard - KIM
Kipling, Rudyard - THE JUNGLE BOOK
Kipling, Rudyard - THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING
Kipling, Rudyard - THE SECOND JUNGLE BOOK
Lawrence, D. H - THE RAINBOW
Lawrence, D. H - THE WHITE PEACOCK
Lawrence, D. H - TWILIGHT IN ITALY
Lawrence, D. H. - AARON'S ROD
Lawrence, D. H. - SONS AND LOVERS
Lawrence, D. H. - THE LOST GIRL
Lawrence, D. H. - WOMEN IN LOVE
Lear, Edward - BOOK OF NONSENSE
Lear, Edward - LAUGHABLE LYRICS
Lear, Edward - MORE NONSENSE
Lear, Edward - NONSENSE SONG
Leblanc, Maurice - ARSENE LUPIN VS SHERLOCK HOLMES
Leblanc, Maurice - THE ADVENTURES OF ARSENE LUPIN
Leblanc, Maurice - THE CONFESSIONS OF ARSENE LUPIN
Leblanc, Maurice - THE HOLLOW NEEDLE
Leblanc, Maurice - THE RETURN OF ARSENE LUPIN
Lehmann, Lilli - HOW TO SING
Leroux, Gaston - THE MAN WITH THE BLACK FEATHER
Leroux, Gaston - THE MYSTERY OF THE YELLOW ROOM
Leroux, Gaston - THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
London, Jack - MARTIN EDEN
London, Jack - THE CALL OF THE WILD
London, Jack - WHITE FANG
Machiavelli, Nicolo' - THE PRINCE
Malthus, Thomas - PRINCIPLE OF POPULATION
Mansfield, Katherine - THE GARDEN PARTY AND OTHER STORIES
Marlowe, Christopher - THE JEW OF MALTA
Marryat, Captain - THE CHILDREN OF THE NEW FOREST
Maupassant, Guy De - BEL AMI
Melville, Hermann - MOBY DICK
Melville, Hermann - TYPEE
Mill, John Stuart - PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY
Milton, John - PARADISE LOST
Mitra, S. M. - HINDU TALES FROM THE SANSKRIT
Montaigne, Michel de - ESSAYS
Montgomery, Lucy Maud - ANNE OF GREEN GABLES
More, Thomas - UTOPIA
Nesbit, E. - FIVE CHILDREN AND IT
Nesbit, E. - THE PHOENIX AND THE CARPET
Nesbit, E. - THE RAILWAY CHILDREN
Nesbit, E. - THE STORY OF THE AMULET
Newton, Isaac - OPTICKS
Nietsche, Friedrich - BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL
Nietsche, Friedrich - THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA
Nightingale, Florence - NOTES ON NURSING
Owen, Wilfred - POEMS
Ozaki, Yei Theodora - JAPANESE FAIRY TALES
Pascal, Blaise - PENSEES
Pellico, Silvio - MY TEN YEARS IMPRISONMENT
Perrault, Charles - FAIRY TALES
Pirandello, Luigi - THREE PLAYS
Plato - THE REPUBLIC
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 1
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 2
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 3
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 4
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 5
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
Potter, Beatrix - THE TALE OF PETER RABBIT
Proust, Marcel - SWANN'S WAY
Radcliffe, Ann - A SICILIAN ROMANCE
Ricardo, David - ON THE PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY AND TAXATION
Richardson, Samuel - PAMELA
Rider Haggard, H. - ALLAN QUATERMAIN
Rider Haggard, H. - KING SOLOMON'S MINES
Rousseau, J. J. - THE ORIGIN AND FOUNDATION OF INEQUALITY AMONG MANKIND
Ruskin, John - THE SEVEN LAMPS OF ARCHITECTURE
Schiller, Friedrich - THE DEATH OF WALLENSTEIN
Schiller, Friedrich - THE PICCOLOMINI
Schopenhauer, Arthur - THE ART OF CONTROVERSY
Schopenhauer, Arthur - THE WISDOM OF LIFE
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - FLAPPERS AND PHILOSOPHERS
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - TALES OF THE JAZZ AGE
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - THE BEAUTIFUL AND DAMNED
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - THIS SIDE OF PARADISE
Scott, Walter - IVANHOE
Scott, Walter - QUENTIN DURWARD
Scott, Walter - ROB ROY
Scott, Walter - THE BRIDE OF LAMMERMOOR
Scott, Walter - WAVERLEY
Sedgwick, Anne Douglas - THE THIRD WINDOW
Sewell, Anna - BLACK BEAUTY
Shakespeare, William - COMPLETE WORKS
Shakespeare, William - HAMLET
Shakespeare, William - OTHELLO
Shakespeare, William - ROMEO AND JULIET
Shelley, Mary - FRANKENSTEIN
Shelley, Percy Bysshe - A DEFENCE OF POETRY AND OTHER ESSAYS
Shelley, Percy Bysshe - COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS
Sheridan, Richard B. - THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL
Sienkiewicz, Henryk - QUO VADIS
Smith, Adam - THE WEALTH OF NATIONS
Smollett, Tobias - TRAVELS THROUGH FRANCE AND ITALY
Spencer, Herbert - ESSAYS ON EDUCATION AND KINDRED SUBJECTS
Spyri, Johanna - HEIDI
Sterne, Laurence - A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY
Sterne, Laurence - TRISTRAM SHANDY
Stevenson, Robert Louis - A CHILD'S GARDEN OF VERSES
Stevenson, Robert Louis - ESSAYS IN THE ART OF WRITING
Stevenson, Robert Louis - KIDNAPPED
Stevenson, Robert Louis - NEW ARABIAN NIGHTS
Stevenson, Robert Louis - THE BLACK ARROW
Stevenson, Robert Louis - THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE
Stevenson, Robert Louis - TREASURE ISLAND
Stoker, Bram - DRACULA
Strindberg, August - LUCKY PEHR
Strindberg, August - MASTER OLOF
Strindberg, August - THE RED ROOM
Strindberg, August - THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS
Strindberg, August - THERE ARE CRIMES AND CRIMES
Swift, Jonathan - A MODEST PROPOSAL
Swift, Jonathan - A TALE OF A TUB
Swift, Jonathan - GULLIVER'S TRAVELS
Swift, Jonathan - THE BATTLE OF THE BOOKS AND OTHER SHORT PIECES
Tagore, Rabindranath - FRUIT GATHERING
Tagore, Rabindranath - THE GARDENER
Tagore, Rabindranath - THE HUNGRY STONES AND OTHER STORIES
Thackeray, William - BARRY LYNDON
Thackeray, William - VANITY FAIR
Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE BOOK OF SNOBS
Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE ROSE AND THE RING
Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE VIRGINIANS
Thoreau, Henry David - WALDEN
Tolstoi, Leo - A LETTER TO A HINDU
Tolstoy, Lev - ANNA KARENINA
Tolstoy, Lev - WAR AND PEACE
Trollope, Anthony - AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Trollope, Anthony - BARCHESTER TOWERS
Trollope, Anthony - FRAMLEY PARSONAGE
Trollope, Anthony - THE EUSTACE DIAMONDS
Trollope, Anthony - THE MAN WHO KEPT HIS MONEY IN A BOX
Trollope, Anthony - THE WARDEN
Trollope, Anthony - THE WAY WE LIVE NOW
Twain, Mark - LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI
Twain, Mark - SPEECHES
Twain, Mark - THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN
Twain, Mark - THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER
Twain, Mark - THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER
Vari, Autori - THE MAGNA CARTA
Verga, Giovanni - SICILIAN STORIES
Verne, Jules - 20000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEAS
Verne, Jules - A JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH
Verne, Jules - ALL AROUND THE MOON
Verne, Jules - AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS
Verne, Jules - FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON
Verne, Jules - FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON
Verne, Jules - MICHAEL STROGOFF
Verne, Jules - THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND
Voltaire - PHILOSOPHICAL DICTIONARY
Vyasa - MAHABHARATA
Wallace, Edgar - SANDERS OF THE RIVER
Wallace, Edgar - THE DAFFODIL MYSTERY
Wallace, Lew - BEN HUR
Webster, Jean - DADDY LONG LEGS
Wedekind, Franz - THE AWAKENING OF SPRING
Wells, H. G. - KIPPS
Wells, H. G. - THE INVISIBLE MAN
Wells, H. G. - THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU
Wells, H. G. - THE STOLEN BACILLUS AND OTHER INCIDENTS
Wells, H. G. - THE TIME MACHINE
Wells, H. G. - THE WAR OF THE WORLDS
Wells, H. G. - WHAT IS COMING
Wharton, Edith - THE AGE OF INNOCENCE
White, Andrew Dickson - FIAT MONEY INFLATION IN FRANCE
Wilde, Oscar - A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE
Wilde, Oscar - AN IDEAL HUSBAND
Wilde, Oscar - DE PROFUNDIS
Wilde, Oscar - LADY WINDERMERE'S FAN
Wilde, Oscar - SALOME
Wilde, Oscar - SELECTED POEMS
Wilde, Oscar - THE BALLAD OF READING GAOL
Wilde, Oscar - THE CANTERVILLE GHOST
Wilde, Oscar - THE HAPPY PRINCE AND OTHER TALES
Wilde, Oscar - THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
Wilde, Oscar - THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GREY
Wilde, Oscar - THE SOUL OF MAN
Wilson, Epiphanius - SACRED BOOKS OF THE EAST
Wollstonecraft, Mary - A VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN
Woolf, Virgina - NIGHT AND DAY
Woolf, Virgina - THE VOYAGE OUT
Woolf, Virginia - JACOB'S ROOM
Woolf, Virginia - MONDAY OR TUESDAY
Wordsworth, William - POEMS
Wordsworth, William - PROSE WORKS
Zola, Emile - THERESE RAQUIN
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ISTRUZIONI D'USO DETTAGLIATE
BY JOSEPH CONRAD. PUBLISHED IN 1919.
Captain MacWhirr, of the steamer Nan-Shan, had a physiognomy that, in
the order of material appearances, was the exact counterpart of his
mind: it presented no marked characteristics of firmness or stupidity;
it had no pronounced characteristics whatever; it was simply ordinary,
irresponsive, and unruffled.
The only thing his aspect might have been said to suggest, at times, was
bashfulness; because he would sit, in business offices ashore, sunburnt
and smiling faintly, with downcast eyes. When he raised them, they were
perceived to be direct in their glance and of blue colour. His hair was
fair and extremely fine, clasping from temple to temple the bald dome
of his skull in a clamp as of fluffy silk. The hair of his face, on the
contrary, carroty and flaming, resembled a growth of copper wire clipped
short to the line of the lip; while, no matter how close he shaved,
fiery metallic gleams passed, when he moved his head, over the
surface of his cheeks. He was rather below the medium height, a bit
round-shouldered, and so sturdy of limb that his clothes always looked a
shade too tight for his arms and legs. As if unable to grasp what is due
to the difference of latitudes, he wore a brown bowler hat, a complete
suit of a brownish hue, and clumsy black boots. These harbour togs gave
to his thick figure an air of stiff and uncouth smartness. A thin silver
watch chain looped his waistcoat, and he never left his ship for the
shore without clutching in his powerful, hairy fist an elegant umbrella
of the very best quality, but generally unrolled. Young Jukes, the chief
mate, attending his commander to the gangway, would sometimes venture
to say, with the greatest gentleness, "Allow me, sir"--and possessing
himself of the umbrella deferentially, would elevate the ferule, shake
the folds, twirl a neat furl in a jiffy, and hand it back; going through
the performance with a face of such portentous gravity, that Mr. Solomon
Rout, the chief engineer, smoking his morning cigar over the skylight,
would turn away his head in order to hide a smile. "Oh! aye! The blessed
gamp. . . . Thank 'ee, Jukes, thank 'ee," would mutter Captain MacWhirr,
heartily, without looking up.
Having just enough imagination to carry him through each successive day,
and no more, he was tranquilly sure of himself; and from the very same
cause he was not in the least conceited. It is your imaginative superior
who is touchy, overbearing, and difficult to please; but every ship
Captain MacWhirr commanded was the floating abode of harmony and peace.
It was, in truth, as impossible for him to take a flight of fancy as
it would be for a watchmaker to put together a chronometer with nothing
except a two-pound hammer and a whip-saw in the way of tools. Yet the
uninteresting lives of men so entirely given to the actuality of the
bare existence have their mysterious side. It was impossible in Captain
MacWhirr's case, for instance, to understand what under heaven could
have induced that perfectly satisfactory son of a petty grocer in
Belfast to run away to sea. And yet he had done that very thing at the
age of fifteen. It was enough, when you thought it over, to give you the
idea of an immense, potent, and invisible hand thrust into the ant-heap
of the earth, laying hold of shoulders, knocking heads together, and
setting the unconscious faces of the multitude towards inconceivable
goals and in undreamt-of directions.
His father never really forgave him for this undutiful stupidity. "We
could have got on without him," he used to say later on, "but there's
the business. And he an only son, too!" His mother wept very much after
his disappearance. As it had never occurred to him to leave word behind,
he was mourned over for dead till, after eight months, his first letter
arrived from Talcahuano. It was short, and contained the statement:
"We had very fine weather on our passage out." But evidently, in the
writer's mind, the only important intelligence was to the effect that
his captain had, on the very day of writing, entered him regularly on
the ship's articles as Ordinary Seaman. "Because I can do the work," he
explained. The mother again wept copiously, while the remark, "Tom's an
ass," expressed the emotions of the father. He was a corpulent man, with
a gift for sly chaffing, which to the end of his life he exercised
in his intercourse with his son, a little pityingly, as if upon a
MacWhirr's visits to his home were necessarily rare, and in the course
of years he despatched other letters to his parents, informing them of
his successive promotions and of his movements upon the vast earth. In
these missives could be found sentences like this: "The heat here is
very great." Or: "On Christmas day at 4 P. M. we fell in with some
icebergs." The old people ultimately became acquainted with a good
many names of ships, and with the names of the skippers who commanded
them--with the names of Scots and English shipowners--with the names
of seas, oceans, straits, promontories--with outlandish names of
lumber-ports, of rice-ports, of cotton-ports--with the names of
islands--with the name of their son's young woman. She was called Lucy.
It did not suggest itself to him to mention whether he thought the name
pretty. And then they died.
The great day of MacWhirr's marriage came in due course, following
shortly upon the great day when he got his first command.
All these events had taken place many years before the morning when, in
the chart-room of the steamer Nan-Shan, he stood confronted by the
fall of a barometer he had no reason to distrust. The fall--taking into
account the excellence of the instrument, the time of the year, and
the ship's position on the terrestrial globe--was of a nature ominously
prophetic; but the red face of the man betrayed no sort of inward
disturbance. Omens were as nothing to him, and he was unable to discover
the message of a prophecy till the fulfilment had brought it home to his
very door. "That's a fall, and no mistake," he thought. "There must be
some uncommonly dirty weather knocking about."
The Nan-Shan was on her way from the southward to the treaty port of
Fu-chau, with some cargo in her lower holds, and two hundred Chinese
coolies returning to their village homes in the province of Fo-kien,
after a few years of work in various tropical colonies. The morning was
fine, the oily sea heaved without a sparkle, and there was a queer white
misty patch in the sky like a halo of the sun. The fore-deck, packed
with Chinamen, was full of sombre clothing, yellow faces, and pigtails,
sprinkled over with a good many naked shoulders, for there was no wind,
and the heat was close. The coolies lounged, talked, smoked, or stared
over the rail; some, drawing water over the side, sluiced each other;
a few slept on hatches, while several small parties of six sat on their
heels surrounding iron trays with plates of rice and tiny teacups; and
every single Celestial of them was carrying with him all he had in the
world--a wooden chest with a ringing lock and brass on the corners,
containing the savings of his labours: some clothes of ceremony,
sticks of incense, a little opium maybe, bits of nameless rubbish of
conventional value, and a small hoard of silver dollars, toiled for in
coal lighters, won in gambling-houses or in petty trading, grubbed out
of earth, sweated out in mines, on railway lines, in deadly jungle,
under heavy burdens--amassed patiently, guarded with care, cherished
A cross swell had set in from the direction of Formosa Channel about ten
o'clock, without disturbing these passengers much, because the Nan-Shan,
with her flat bottom, rolling chocks on bilges, and great breadth of
beam, had the reputation of an exceptionally steady ship in a sea-way.
Mr. Jukes, in moments of expansion on shore, would proclaim loudly
that the "old girl was as good as she was pretty." It would never have
occurred to Captain MacWhirr to express his favourable opinion so loud
or in terms so fanciful.
She was a good ship, undoubtedly, and not old either. She had been built
in Dumbarton less than three years before, to the order of a firm of
merchants in Siam--Messrs. Sigg and Son. When she lay afloat, finished
in every detail and ready to take up the work of her life, the builders
contemplated her with pride.
"Sigg has asked us for a reliable skipper to take her out," remarked one
of the partners; and the other, after reflecting for a while, said:
"I think MacWhirr is ashore just at present." "Is he? Then wire him
at once. He's the very man," declared the senior, without a moment's
Next morning MacWhirr stood before them unperturbed, having travelled
from London by the midnight express after a sudden but undemonstrative
parting with his wife. She was the daughter of a superior couple who had
seen better days.
"We had better be going together over the ship, Captain," said the
senior partner; and the three men started to view the perfections of the
Nan-Shan from stem to stern, and from her keelson to the trucks of her
two stumpy pole-masts.
Captain MacWhirr had begun by taking off his coat, which he hung on the
end of a steam windless embodying all the latest improvements.
"My uncle wrote of you favourably by yesterday's mail to our good
friends--Messrs. Sigg, you know--and doubtless they'll continue you out
there in command," said the junior partner. "You'll be able to boast of
being in charge of the handiest boat of her size on the coast of China,
Captain," he added.
"Have you? Thank 'ee," mumbled vaguely MacWhirr, to whom the view of
a distant eventuality could appeal no more than the beauty of a wide
landscape to a purblind tourist; and his eyes happening at the moment to
be at rest upon the lock of the cabin door, he walked up to it, full of
purpose, and began to rattle the handle vigorously, while he observed,
in his low, earnest voice, "You can't trust the workmen nowadays. A
brand-new lock, and it won't act at all. Stuck fast. See? See?"
As soon as they found themselves alone in their office across the yard:
"You praised that fellow up to Sigg. What is it you see in him?" asked
the nephew, with faint contempt.
"I admit he has nothing of your fancy skipper about him, if that's what
you mean," said the elder man, curtly. "Is the foreman of the joiners
on the Nan-Shan outside? . . . Come in, Bates. How is it that you let
Tait's people put us off with a defective lock on the cabin door? The
Captain could see directly he set eye on it. Have it replaced at once.
The little straws, Bates . . . the little straws. . . ."
The lock was replaced accordingly, and a few days afterwards the
Nan-Shan steamed out to the East, without MacWhirr having offered any
further remark as to her fittings, or having been heard to utter a
single word hinting at pride in his ship, gratitude for his appointment,
or satisfaction at his prospects.
With a temperament neither loquacious nor taciturn he found very little
occasion to talk. There were matters of duty, of course--directions,
orders, and so on; but the past being to his mind done with, and the
future not there yet, the more general actualities of the day required
no comment--because facts can speak for themselves with overwhelming
Old Mr. Sigg liked a man of few words, and one that "you could be sure
would not try to improve upon his instructions." MacWhirr satisfying
these requirements, was continued in command of the Nan-Shan, and
applied himself to the careful navigation of his ship in the China seas.
She had come out on a British register, but after some time Messrs. Sigg
judged it expedient to transfer her to the Siamese flag.
At the news of the contemplated transfer Jukes grew restless, as if
under a sense of personal affront. He went about grumbling to himself,
and uttering short scornful laughs. "Fancy having a ridiculous
Noah's Ark elephant in the ensign of one's ship," he said once at the
engine-room door. "Dash me if I can stand it: I'll throw up the billet.
Don't it make you sick, Mr. Rout?" The chief engineer only cleared his
throat with the air of a man who knows the value of a good billet.
The first morning the new flag floated over the stern of the Nan-Shan
Jukes stood looking at it bitterly from the bridge. He struggled with
his feelings for a while, and then remarked, "Queer flag for a man to
sail under, sir."
"What's the matter with the flag?" inquired Captain MacWhirr. "Seems all
right to me." And he walked across to the end of the bridge to have a
"Well, it looks queer to me," burst out Jukes, greatly exasperated, and
flung off the bridge.
Captain MacWhirr was amazed at these manners. After a while he stepped
quietly into the chart-room, and opened his International Signal
Code-book at the plate where the flags of all the nations are correctly
figured in gaudy rows. He ran his finger over them, and when he came to
Siam he contemplated with great attention the red field and the white
elephant. Nothing could be more simple; but to make sure he brought the
book out on the bridge for the purpose of comparing the coloured drawing
with the real thing at the flagstaff astern. When next Jukes, who was
carrying on the duty that day with a sort of suppressed fierceness,
happened on the bridge, his commander observed:
"There's nothing amiss with that flag."
"Isn't there?" mumbled Jukes, falling on his knees before a deck-locker
and jerking therefrom viciously a spare lead-line.
"No. I looked up the book. Length twice the breadth and the elephant
exactly in the middle. I thought the people ashore would know how to
make the local flag. Stands to reason. You were wrong, Jukes. . . ."
"Well, sir," began Jukes, getting up excitedly, "all I can say--" He
fumbled for the end of the coil of line with trembling hands.
"That's all right." Captain MacWhirr soothed him, sitting heavily on a
little canvas folding-stool he greatly affected. "All you have to do is
to take care they don't hoist the elephant upside-down before they get
quite used to it."
Jukes flung the new lead-line over on the fore-deck with a loud "Here
you are, bo'ss'en--don't forget to wet it thoroughly," and turned with
immense resolution towards his commander; but Captain MacWhirr spread
his elbows on the bridge-rail comfortably.
"Because it would be, I suppose, understood as a signal of distress," he
went on. "What do you think? That elephant there, I take it, stands for
something in the nature of the Union Jack in the flag. . . ."
"Does it!" yelled Jukes, so that every head on the Nan-Shan's decks
looked towards the bridge. Then he sighed, and with sudden resignation:
"It would certainly be a dam' distressful sight," he said, meekly.
Later in the day he accosted the chief engineer with a confidential,
"Here, let me tell you the old man's latest."
Mr. Solomon Rout (frequently alluded to as Long Sol, Old Sol, or Father
Rout), from finding himself almost invariably the tallest man on board
every ship he joined, had acquired the habit of a stooping, leisurely
condescension. His hair was scant and sandy, his flat cheeks were pale,
his bony wrists and long scholarly hands were pale, too, as though he
had lived all his life in the shade.
He smiled from on high at Jukes, and went on smoking and glancing about
quietly, in the manner of a kind uncle lending an ear to the tale of an
excited schoolboy. Then, greatly amused but impassive, he asked:
"And did you throw up the billet?"
"No," cried Jukes, raising a weary, discouraged voice above the harsh
buzz of the Nan-Shan's friction winches. All of them were hard at work,
snatching slings of cargo, high up, to the end of long derricks, only,
as it seemed, to let them rip down recklessly by the run. The cargo
chains groaned in the gins, clinked on coamings, rattled over the
side; and the whole ship quivered, with her long gray flanks smoking in
wreaths of steam. "No," cried Jukes, "I didn't. What's the good? I might
just as well fling my resignation at this bulkhead. I don't believe you
can make a man like that understand anything. He simply knocks me over."
At that moment Captain MacWhirr, back from the shore, crossed the deck,
umbrella in hand, escorted by a mournful, self-possessed Chinaman,
walking behind in paper-soled silk shoes, and who also carried an
The master of the Nan-Shan, speaking just audibly and gazing at his
boots as his manner was, remarked that it would be necessary to call
at Fu-chau this trip, and desired Mr. Rout to have steam up to-morrow
afternoon at one o'clock sharp. He pushed back his hat to wipe his
forehead, observing at the same time that he hated going ashore
anyhow; while overtopping him Mr. Rout, without deigning a word, smoked
austerely, nursing his right elbow in the palm of his left hand.
Then Jukes was directed in the same subdued voice to keep the forward
'tween-deck clear of cargo. Two hundred coolies were going to be put
down there. The Bun Hin Company were sending that lot home. Twenty-five
bags of rice would be coming off in a sampan directly, for stores. All
seven-years'-men they were, said Captain MacWhirr, with a camphor-wood
chest to every man. The carpenter should be set to work nailing
three-inch battens along the deck below, fore and aft, to keep these
boxes from shifting in a sea-way. Jukes had better look to it at once.
"D'ye hear, Jukes?" This chinaman here was coming with the ship as far
as Fu-chau--a sort of interpreter he would be. Bun Hin's clerk he
was, and wanted to have a look at the space. Jukes had better take him
forward. "D'ye hear, Jukes?"
Jukes took care to punctuate these instructions in proper places with
the obligatory "Yes, sir," ejaculated without enthusiasm. His brusque
"Come along, John; make look see" set the Chinaman in motion at his
"Wanchee look see, all same look see can do," said Jukes, who having no
talent for foreign languages mangled the very pidgin-English cruelly. He
pointed at the open hatch. "Catchee number one piecie place to sleep in.
He was gruff, as became his racial superiority, but not unfriendly. The
Chinaman, gazing sad and speechless into the darkness of the hatchway,
seemed to stand at the head of a yawning grave.
"No catchee rain down there--savee?" pointed out Jukes. "Suppose all'ee
same fine weather, one piecie coolie-man come topside," he pursued,
warming up imaginatively. "Make so--Phooooo!" He expanded his chest and
blew out his cheeks. "Savee, John? Breathe--fresh air. Good. Eh? Washee
him piecie pants, chow-chow top-side--see, John?"
With his mouth and hands he made exuberant motions of eating rice and
washing clothes; and the Chinaman, who concealed his distrust of this
pantomime under a collected demeanour tinged by a gentle and refined
melancholy, glanced out of his almond eyes from Jukes to the hatch and
back again. "Velly good," he murmured, in a disconsolate undertone, and
hastened smoothly along the decks, dodging obstacles in his course. He
disappeared, ducking low under a sling of ten dirty gunny-bags full of
some costly merchandise and exhaling a repulsive smell.
Captain MacWhirr meantime had gone on the bridge, and into the
chart-room, where a letter, commenced two days before, awaited
termination. These long letters began with the words, "My darling wife,"
and the steward, between the scrubbing of the floors and the dusting
of chronometer-boxes, snatched at every opportunity to read them. They
interested him much more than they possibly could the woman for whose
eye they were intended; and this for the reason that they related in
minute detail each successive trip of the Nan-Shan.
Her master, faithful to facts, which alone his consciousness reflected,
would set them down with painstaking care upon many pages. The house
in a northern suburb to which these pages were addressed had a bit of
garden before the bow-windows, a deep porch of good appearance,
coloured glass with imitation lead frame in the front door. He paid
five-and-forty pounds a year for it, and did not think the rent too
high, because Mrs. MacWhirr (a pretentious person with a scraggy
neck and a disdainful manner) was admittedly ladylike, and in the
neighbourhood considered as "quite superior." The only secret of her
life was her abject terror of the time when her husband would come home
to stay for good. Under the same roof there dwelt also a daughter called
Lydia and a son, Tom. These two were but slightly acquainted with their
father. Mainly, they knew him as a rare but privileged visitor, who of
an evening smoked his pipe in the dining-room and slept in the house.
The lanky girl, upon the whole, was rather ashamed of him; the boy
was frankly and utterly indifferent in a straightforward, delightful,
unaffected way manly boys have.
And Captain MacWhirr wrote home from the coast of China twelve times
every year, desiring quaintly to be "remembered to the children," and
subscribing himself "your loving husband," as calmly as if the words so
long used by so many men were, apart from their shape, worn-out things,
and of a faded meaning.
The China seas north and south are narrow seas. They are seas full of
every-day, eloquent facts, such as islands, sand-banks, reefs, swift and
changeable currents--tangled facts that nevertheless speak to a seaman
in clear and definite language. Their speech appealed to Captain
MacWhirr's sense of realities so forcibly that he had given up his
state-room below and practically lived all his days on the bridge of
his ship, often having his meals sent up, and sleeping at night in the
chart-room. And he indited there his home letters. Each of them, without
exception, contained the phrase, "The weather has been very fine this
trip," or some other form of a statement to that effect. And this
statement, too, in its wonderful persistence, was of the same perfect
accuracy as all the others they contained.
Mr. Rout likewise wrote letters; only no one on board knew how chatty he
could be pen in hand, because the chief engineer had enough imagination
to keep his desk locked. His wife relished his style greatly. They were
a childless couple, and Mrs. Rout, a big, high-bosomed, jolly woman of
forty, shared with Mr. Rout's toothless and venerable mother a little
cottage near Teddington. She would run over her correspondence, at
breakfast, with lively eyes, and scream out interesting passages in a
joyous voice at the deaf old lady, prefacing each extract by the
warning shout, "Solomon says!" She had the trick of firing off
Solomon's utterances also upon strangers, astonishing them easily by the
unfamiliar text and the unexpectedly jocular vein of these quotations.
On the day the new curate called for the first time at the cottage, she
found occasion to remark, "As Solomon says: 'the engineers that go down
to the sea in ships behold the wonders of sailor nature';" when a change
in the visitor's countenance made her stop and stare.
"Solomon. . . . Oh! . . . Mrs. Rout," stuttered the young man, very red
in the face, "I must say . . . I don't. . . ."
"He's my husband," she announced in a great shout, throwing herself
back in the chair. Perceiving the joke, she laughed immoderately with a
handkerchief to her eyes, while he sat wearing a forced smile, and,
from his inexperience of jolly women, fully persuaded that she must
be deplorably insane. They were excellent friends afterwards; for,
absolving her from irreverent intention, he came to think she was a
very worthy person indeed; and he learned in time to receive without
flinching other scraps of Solomon's wisdom.
"For my part," Solomon was reported by his wife to have said once, "give
me the dullest ass for a skipper before a rogue. There is a way to
take a fool; but a rogue is smart and slippery." This was an airy
generalization drawn from the particular case of Captain MacWhirr's
honesty, which, in itself, had the heavy obviousness of a lump of clay.
On the other hand, Mr. Jukes, unable to generalize, unmarried, and
unengaged, was in the habit of opening his heart after another fashion
to an old chum and former shipmate, actually serving as second officer
on board an Atlantic liner.
First of all he would insist upon the advantages of the Eastern trade,
hinting at its superiority to the Western ocean service. He extolled
the sky, the seas, the ships, and the easy life of the Far East. The
Nan-Shan, he affirmed, was second to none as a sea-boat.
"We have no brass-bound uniforms, but then we are like brothers here,"
he wrote. "We all mess together and live like fighting-cocks. . . . All
the chaps of the black-squad are as decent as they make that kind, and
old Sol, the Chief, is a dry stick. We are good friends. As to our old
man, you could not find a quieter skipper. Sometimes you would think he
hadn't sense enough to see anything wrong. And yet it isn't that. Can't
be. He has been in command for a good few years now. He doesn't do
anything actually foolish, and gets his ship along all right without
worrying anybody. I believe he hasn't brains enough to enjoy kicking
up a row. I don't take advantage of him. I would scorn it. Outside the
routine of duty he doesn't seem to understand more than half of what you
tell him. We get a laugh out of this at times; but it is dull, too, to
be with a man like this--in the long-run. Old Sol says he hasn't much
conversation. Conversation! O Lord! He never talks. The other day I had
been yarning under the bridge with one of the engineers, and he must
have heard us. When I came up to take my watch, he steps out of the
chart-room and has a good look all round, peeps over at the sidelights,
glances at the compass, squints upward at the stars. That's his regular
performance. By-and-by he says: 'Was that you talking just now in the
port alleyway?' 'Yes, sir.' 'With the third engineer?' 'Yes, sir.' He
walks off to starboard, and sits under the dodger on a little campstool
of his, and for half an hour perhaps he makes no sound, except that I
heard him sneeze once. Then after a while I hear him getting up over
there, and he strolls across to port, where I was. 'I can't understand
what you can find to talk about,' says he. 'Two solid hours. I am not
blaming you. I see people ashore at it all day long, and then in the
evening they sit down and keep at it over the drinks. Must be saying the
same things over and over again. I can't understand.'
"Did you ever hear anything like that? And he was so patient about it.
It made me quite sorry for him. But he is exasperating, too, sometimes.
Of course one would not do anything to vex him even if it were worth
while. But it isn't. He's so jolly innocent that if you were to put your
thumb to your nose and wave your fingers at him he would only wonder
gravely to himself what got into you. He told me once quite simply that
he found it very difficult to make out what made people always act so
queerly. He's too dense to trouble about, and that's the truth."
Thus wrote Mr. Jukes to his chum in the Western ocean trade, out of the
fulness of his heart and the liveliness of his fancy.
He had expressed his honest opinion. It was not worthwhile trying to
impress a man of that sort. If the world had been full of such men, life
would have probably appeared to Jukes an unentertaining and unprofitable
business. He was not alone in his opinion. The sea itself, as if sharing
Mr. Jukes' good-natured forbearance, had never put itself out to startle
the silent man, who seldom looked up, and wandered innocently over
the waters with the only visible purpose of getting food, raiment,
and house-room for three people ashore. Dirty weather he had known, of
course. He had been made wet, uncomfortable, tired in the usual way,
felt at the time and presently forgotten. So that upon the whole he had
been justified in reporting fine weather at home. But he had never been
given a glimpse of immeasurable strength and of immoderate wrath, the
wrath that passes exhausted but never appeased--the wrath and fury
of the passionate sea. He knew it existed, as we know that crime and
abominations exist; he had heard of it as a peaceable citizen in a town
hears of battles, famines, and floods, and yet knows nothing of what
these things mean--though, indeed, he may have been mixed up in a street
row, have gone without his dinner once, or been soaked to the skin in
a shower. Captain MacWhirr had sailed over the surface of the oceans as
some men go skimming over the years of existence to sink gently into
a placid grave, ignorant of life to the last, without ever having been
made to see all it may contain of perfidy, of violence, and of terror.
There are on sea and land such men thus fortunate--or thus disdained by
destiny or by the sea.
Observing the steady fall of the barometer, Captain MacWhirr thought,
"There's some dirty weather knocking about." This is precisely what he
thought. He had had an experience of moderately dirty weather--the term
dirty as applied to the weather implying only moderate discomfort to the
seaman. Had he been informed by an indisputable authority that the
end of the world was to be finally accomplished by a catastrophic
disturbance of the atmosphere, he would have assimilated the information
under the simple idea of dirty weather, and no other, because he had
no experience of cataclysms, and belief does not necessarily imply
comprehension. The wisdom of his county had pronounced by means of an
Act of Parliament that before he could be considered as fit to take
charge of a ship he should be able to answer certain simple questions on
the subject of circular storms such as hurricanes, cyclones, typhoons;
and apparently he had answered them, since he was now in command of the
Nan-Shan in the China seas during the season of typhoons. But if he
had answered he remembered nothing of it. He was, however, conscious of
being made uncomfortable by the clammy heat. He came out on the bridge,
and found no relief to this oppression. The air seemed thick. He gasped
like a fish, and began to believe himself greatly out of sorts.
The Nan-Shan was ploughing a vanishing furrow upon the circle of the
sea that had the surface and the shimmer of an undulating piece of
gray silk. The sun, pale and without rays, poured down leaden heat in a
strangely indecisive light, and the Chinamen were lying prostrate about
the decks. Their bloodless, pinched, yellow faces were like the faces
of bilious invalids. Captain MacWhirr noticed two of them especially,
stretched out on their backs below the bridge. As soon as they had
closed their eyes they seemed dead. Three others, however, were
quarrelling barbarously away forward; and one big fellow, half naked,
with herculean shoulders, was hanging limply over a winch; another,
sitting on the deck, his knees up and his head drooping sideways in
a girlish attitude, was plaiting his pigtail with infinite languor
depicted in his whole person and in the very movement of his fingers.
The smoke struggled with difficulty out of the funnel, and instead
of streaming away spread itself out like an infernal sort of cloud,
smelling of sulphur and raining soot all over the decks.
"What the devil are you doing there, Mr. Jukes?" asked Captain MacWhirr.
This unusual form of address, though mumbled rather than spoken, caused
the body of Mr. Jukes to start as though it had been prodded under the
fifth rib. He had had a low bench brought on the bridge, and sitting on
it, with a length of rope curled about his feet and a piece of canvas
stretched over his knees, was pushing a sail-needle vigorously. He
looked up, and his surprise gave to his eyes an expression of innocence
"I am only roping some of that new set of bags we made last trip for
whipping up coals," he remonstrated, gently. "We shall want them for the
next coaling, sir."
"What became of the others?"
"Why, worn out of course, sir."
Captain MacWhirr, after glaring down irresolutely at his chief mate,
disclosed the gloomy and cynical conviction that more than half of them
had been lost overboard, "if only the truth was known," and retired
to the other end of the bridge. Jukes, exasperated by this unprovoked
attack, broke the needle at the second stitch, and dropping his work got
up and cursed the heat in a violent undertone.
The propeller thumped, the three Chinamen forward had given up
squabbling very suddenly, and the one who had been plaiting his tail
clasped his legs and stared dejectedly over his knees. The lurid
sunshine cast faint and sickly shadows. The swell ran higher and swifter
every moment, and the ship lurched heavily in the smooth, deep hollows
of the sea.
"I wonder where that beastly swell comes from," said Jukes aloud,
recovering himself after a stagger.
"North-east," grunted the literal MacWhirr, from his side of the bridge.
"There's some dirty weather knocking about. Go and look at the glass."
When Jukes came out of the chart-room, the cast of his countenance had
changed to thoughtfulness and concern. He caught hold of the bridge-rail
and stared ahead.
The temperature in the engine-room had gone up to a hundred and
seventeen degrees. Irritated voices were ascending through the skylight
and through the fiddle of the stokehold in a harsh and resonant uproar,
mingled with angry clangs and scrapes of metal, as if men with limbs of
iron and throats of bronze had been quarrelling down there. The second
engineer was falling foul of the stokers for letting the steam go down.
He was a man with arms like a blacksmith, and generally feared; but that
afternoon the stokers were answering him back recklessly, and slammed
the furnace doors with the fury of despair. Then the noise ceased
suddenly, and the second engineer appeared, emerging out of the
stokehold streaked with grime and soaking wet like a chimney-sweep
coming out of a well. As soon as his head was clear of the fiddle he
began to scold Jukes for not trimming properly the stokehold
ventilators; and in answer Jukes made with his hands deprecatory
soothing signs meaning: "No wind--can't be helped--you can see for
yourself." But the other wouldn't hear reason. His teeth flashed angrily
in his dirty face. He didn't mind, he said, the trouble of punching
their blanked heads down there, blank his soul, but did the condemned
sailors think you could keep steam up in the God-forsaken boilers simply
by knocking the blanked stokers about? No, by George! You had to get
some draught, too--may he be everlastingly blanked for a swab-headed
deck-hand if you didn't! And the chief, too, rampaging before the
steam-gauge and carrying on like a lunatic up and down the engine-room
ever since noon. What did Jukes think he was stuck up there for, if he
couldn't get one of his decayed, good-for-nothing deck-cripples to turn
the ventilators to the wind?
The relations of the "engine-room" and the "deck" of the Nan-Shan were,
as is known, of a brotherly nature; therefore Jukes leaned over and
begged the other in a restrained tone not to make a disgusting ass of
himself; the skipper was on the other side of the bridge. But the second
declared mutinously that he didn't care a rap who was on the other side
of the bridge, and Jukes, passing in a flash from lofty disapproval into
a state of exaltation, invited him in unflattering terms to come up and
twist the beastly things to please himself, and catch such wind as a
donkey of his sort could find. The second rushed up to the fray. He
flung himself at the port ventilator as though he meant to tear it out
bodily and toss it overboard. All he did was to move the cowl round a
few inches, with an enormous expenditure of force, and seemed spent
in the effort. He leaned against the back of the wheelhouse, and Jukes
walked up to him.
"Oh, Heavens!" ejaculated the engineer in a feeble voice. He lifted
his eyes to the sky, and then let his glassy stare descend to meet the
horizon that, tilting up to an angle of forty degrees, seemed to hang on
a slant for a while and settled down slowly. "Heavens! Phew! What's up,
Jukes, straddling his long legs like a pair of compasses, put on an
air of superiority. "We're going to catch it this time," he said. "The
barometer is tumbling down like anything, Harry. And you trying to kick
up that silly row. . . ."
The word "barometer" seemed to revive the second engineer's mad
animosity. Collecting afresh all his energies, he directed Jukes in a
low and brutal tone to shove the unmentionable instrument down his
gory throat. Who cared for his crimson barometer? It was the steam--the
steam--that was going down; and what between the firemen going faint and
the chief going silly, it was worse than a dog's life for him; he didn't
care a tinker's curse how soon the whole show was blown out of the
water. He seemed on the point of having a cry, but after regaining his
breath he muttered darkly, "I'll faint them," and dashed off. He stopped
upon the fiddle long enough to shake his fist at the unnatural daylight,
and dropped into the dark hole with a whoop.
When Jukes turned, his eyes fell upon the rounded back and the big red
ears of Captain MacWhirr, who had come across. He did not look at his
chief officer, but said at once, "That's a very violent man, that second
"Jolly good second, anyhow," grunted Jukes. "They can't keep up steam,"
he added, rapidly, and made a grab at the rail against the coming lurch.
Captain MacWhirr, unprepared, took a run and brought himself up with a
jerk by an awning stanchion.
"A profane man," he said, obstinately. "If this goes on, I'll have to
get rid of him the first chance."
"It's the heat," said Jukes. "The weather's awful. It would make a saint
swear. Even up here I feel exactly as if I had my head tied up in a
Captain MacWhirr looked up. "D'ye mean to say, Mr. Jukes, you ever had
your head tied up in a blanket? What was that for?"
"It's a manner of speaking, sir," said Jukes, stolidly.
"Some of you fellows do go on! What's that about saints swearing? I wish
you wouldn't talk so wild. What sort of saint would that be that would
swear? No more saint than yourself, I expect. And what's a blanket got
to do with it--or the weather either. . . . The heat does not make me
swear--does it? It's filthy bad temper. That's what it is. And what's
the good of your talking like this?"
Thus Captain MacWhirr expostulated against the use of images in speech,
and at the end electrified Jukes by a contemptuous snort, followed by
words of passion and resentment: "Damme! I'll fire him out of the ship
if he don't look out."
And Jukes, incorrigible, thought: "Goodness me! Somebody's put a new
inside to my old man. Here's temper, if you like. Of course it's the
weather; what else? It would make an angel quarrelsome--let alone a
All the Chinamen on deck appeared at their last gasp.
At its setting the sun had a diminished diameter and an expiring brown,
rayless glow, as if millions of centuries elapsing since the morning
had brought it near its end. A dense bank of cloud became visible to the
northward; it had a sinister dark olive tint, and lay low and motionless
upon the sea, resembling a solid obstacle in the path of the ship. She
went floundering towards it like an exhausted creature driven to its
death. The coppery twilight retired slowly, and the darkness brought
out overhead a swarm of unsteady, big stars, that, as if blown upon,
flickered exceedingly and seemed to hang very near the earth. At eight
o'clock Jukes went into the chart-room to write up the ship's log.
He copies neatly out of the rough-book the number of miles, the course
of the ship, and in the column for "wind" scrawled the word "calm" from
top to bottom of the eight hours since noon. He was exasperated by the
continuous, monotonous rolling of the ship. The heavy inkstand would
slide away in a manner that suggested perverse intelligence in dodging
the pen. Having written in the large space under the head of "Remarks"
"Heat very oppressive," he stuck the end of the penholder in his teeth,
pipe fashion, and mopped his face carefully.
"Ship rolling heavily in a high cross swell," he began again, and
commented to himself, "Heavily is no word for it." Then he wrote:
"Sunset threatening, with a low bank of clouds to N. and E. Sky clear
Sprawling over the table with arrested pen, he glanced out of the door,
and in that frame of his vision he saw all the stars flying upwards
between the teakwood jambs on a black sky. The whole lot took flight
together and disappeared, leaving only a blackness flecked with white
flashes, for the sea was as black as the sky and speckled with foam
afar. The stars that had flown to the roll came back on the return swing
of the ship, rushing downwards in their glittering multitude, not of
fiery points, but enlarged to tiny discs brilliant with a clear wet
Jukes watched the flying big stars for a moment, and then wrote: "8 P.M.
Swell increasing. Ship labouring and taking water on her decks. Battened
down the coolies for the night. Barometer still falling." He paused, and
thought to himself, "Perhaps nothing whatever'll come of it." And then
he closed resolutely his entries: "Every appearance of a typhoon coming
On going out he had to stand aside, and Captain MacWhirr strode over the
doorstep without saying a word or making a sign.
"Shut the door, Mr. Jukes, will you?" he cried from within.
Jukes turned back to do so, muttering ironically: "Afraid to catch cold,
I suppose." It was his watch below, but he yearned for communion with
his kind; and he remarked cheerily to the second mate: "Doesn't look so
bad, after all--does it?"
The second mate was marching to and fro on the bridge, tripping down
with small steps one moment, and the next climbing with difficulty the
shifting slope of the deck. At the sound of Jukes' voice he stood still,
facing forward, but made no reply.
"Hallo! That's a heavy one," said Jukes, swaying to meet the long roll
till his lowered hand touched the planks. This time the second mate made
in his throat a noise of an unfriendly nature.
He was an oldish, shabby little fellow, with bad teeth and no hair on
his face. He had been shipped in a hurry in Shanghai, that trip when
the second officer brought from home had delayed the ship three hours
in port by contriving (in some manner Captain MacWhirr could never
understand) to fall overboard into an empty coal-lighter lying
alongside, and had to be sent ashore to the hospital with concussion of
the brain and a broken limb or two.
Jukes was not discouraged by the unsympathetic sound. "The Chinamen must
be having a lovely time of it down there," he said. "It's lucky for them
the old girl has the easiest roll of any ship I've ever been in. There
now! This one wasn't so bad."
"You wait," snarled the second mate.
With his sharp nose, red at the tip, and his thin pinched lips, he
always looked as though he were raging inwardly; and he was concise in
his speech to the point of rudeness. All his time off duty he spent
in his cabin with the door shut, keeping so still in there that he was
supposed to fall asleep as soon as he had disappeared; but the man who
came in to wake him for his watch on deck would invariably find him with
his eyes wide open, flat on his back in the bunk, and glaring irritably
from a soiled pillow. He never wrote any letters, did not seem to hope
for news from anywhere; and though he had been heard once to mention
West Hartlepool, it was with extreme bitterness, and only in connection
with the extortionate charges of a boarding-house. He was one of those
men who are picked up at need in the ports of the world. They are
competent enough, appear hopelessly hard up, show no evidence of any
sort of vice, and carry about them all the signs of manifest failure.
They come aboard on an emergency, care for no ship afloat, live in their
own atmosphere of casual connection amongst their shipmates who know
nothing of them, and make up their minds to leave at inconvenient times.
They clear out with no words of leavetaking in some God-forsaken port
other men would fear to be stranded in, and go ashore in company of a
shabby sea-chest, corded like a treasure-box, and with an air of shaking
the ship's dust off their feet.
"You wait," he repeated, balanced in great swings with his back to
Jukes, motionless and implacable.
"Do you mean to say we are going to catch it hot?" asked Jukes with
"Say? . . . I say nothing. You don't catch me," snapped the little
second mate, with a mixture of pride, scorn, and cunning, as if Jukes'
question had been a trap cleverly detected. "Oh, no! None of you here
shall make a fool of me if I know it," he mumbled to himself.
Jukes reflected rapidly that this second mate was a mean little beast,
and in his heart he wished poor Jack Allen had never smashed himself up
in the coal-lighter. The far-off blackness ahead of the ship was like
another night seen through the starry night of the earth--the starless
night of the immensities beyond the created universe, revealed in its
appalling stillness through a low fissure in the glittering sphere of
which the earth is the kernel.
"Whatever there might be about," said Jukes, "we are steaming straight
"You've said it," caught up the second mate, always with his back to
Jukes. "You've said it, mind--not I."
"Oh, go to Jericho!" said Jukes, frankly; and the other emitted a
triumphant little chuckle.
"You've said it," he repeated.
"And what of that?"
"I've known some real good men get into trouble with their skippers for
saying a dam' sight less," answered the second mate feverishly. "Oh, no!
You don't catch me."
"You seem deucedly anxious not to give yourself away," said Jukes,
completely soured by such absurdity. "I wouldn't be afraid to say what I
"Aye, to me! That's no great trick. I am nobody, and well I know it."
The ship, after a pause of comparative steadiness, started upon a series
of rolls, one worse than the other, and for a time Jukes, preserving
his equilibrium, was too busy to open his mouth. As soon as the violent
swinging had quieted down somewhat, he said: "This is a bit too much of
a good thing. Whether anything is coming or not I think she ought to be
put head on to that swell. The old man is just gone in to lie down. Hang
me if I don't speak to him."
But when he opened the door of the chart-room he saw his captain reading
a book. Captain MacWhirr was not lying down: he was standing up with
one hand grasping the edge of the bookshelf and the other holding open
before his face a thick volume. The lamp wriggled in the gimbals,
the loosened books toppled from side to side on the shelf, the long
barometer swung in jerky circles, the table altered its slant every
moment. In the midst of all this stir and movement Captain MacWhirr,
holding on, showed his eyes above the upper edge, and asked, "What's the
"Swell getting worse, sir."
"Noticed that in here," muttered Captain MacWhirr. "Anything wrong?"
Jukes, inwardly disconcerted by the seriousness of the eyes looking at
him over the top of the book, produced an embarrassed grin.
"Rolling like old boots," he said, sheepishly.
"Aye! Very heavy--very heavy. What do you want?"
At this Jukes lost his footing and began to flounder. "I was thinking of
our passengers," he said, in the manner of a man clutching at a straw.
"Passengers?" wondered the Captain, gravely. "What passengers?"
"Why, the Chinamen, sir," explained Jukes, very sick of this
"The Chinamen! Why don't you speak plainly? Couldn't tell what you
meant. Never heard a lot of coolies spoken of as passengers before.
Passengers, indeed! What's come to you?"
Captain MacWhirr, closing the book on his forefinger, lowered his arm
and looked completely mystified. "Why are you thinking of the Chinamen,
Mr. Jukes?" he inquired.
Jukes took a plunge, like a man driven to it. "She's rolling her decks
full of water, sir. Thought you might put her head on perhaps--for a
while. Till this goes down a bit--very soon, I dare say. Head to the
eastward. I never knew a ship roll like this."
He held on in the doorway, and Captain MacWhirr, feeling his grip on
the shelf inadequate, made up his mind to let go in a hurry, and fell
heavily on the couch.
"Head to the eastward?" he said, struggling to sit up. "That's more than
four points off her course."
"Yes, sir. Fifty degrees. . . . Would just bring her head far enough
round to meet this. . . ."
Captain MacWhirr was now sitting up. He had not dropped the book, and he
had not lost his place.
"To the eastward?" he repeated, with dawning astonishment. "To the . . .
Where do you think we are bound to? You want me to haul a full-powered
steamship four points off her course to make the Chinamen comfortable!
Now, I've heard more than enough of mad things done in the world--but
this. . . . If I didn't know you, Jukes, I would think you were in
liquor. Steer four points off. . . . And what afterwards? Steer four
points over the other way, I suppose, to make the course good. What put
it into your head that I would start to tack a steamer as if she were a
"Jolly good thing she isn't," threw in Jukes, with bitter readiness.
"She would have rolled every blessed stick out of her this afternoon."
"Aye! And you just would have had to stand and see them go," said
Captain MacWhirr, showing a certain animation. "It's a dead calm, isn't
"It is, sir. But there's something out of the common coming, for sure."
"Maybe. I suppose you have a notion I should be getting out of the
way of that dirt," said Captain MacWhirr, speaking with the utmost
simplicity of manner and tone, and fixing the oilcloth on the floor
with a heavy stare. Thus he noticed neither Jukes' discomfiture nor the
mixture of vexation and astonished respect on his face.
"Now, here's this book," he continued with deliberation, slapping his
thigh with the closed volume. "I've been reading the chapter on the
This was true. He had been reading the chapter on the storms. When he
had entered the chart-room, it was with no intention of taking the book
down. Some influence in the air--the same influence, probably, that
caused the steward to bring without orders the Captain's sea-boots and
oilskin coat up to the chart-room--had as it were guided his hand to
the shelf; and without taking the time to sit down he had waded with a
conscious effort into the terminology of the subject. He lost himself
amongst advancing semi-circles, left- and right-hand quadrants, the
curves of the tracks, the probable bearing of the centre, the shifts of
wind and the readings of barometer. He tried to bring all these
things into a definite relation to himself, and ended by becoming
contemptuously angry with such a lot of words, and with so much advice,
all head-work and supposition, without a glimmer of certitude.
"It's the damnedest thing, Jukes," he said. "If a fellow was to believe
all that's in there, he would be running most of his time all over the
sea trying to get behind the weather."
Again he slapped his leg with the book; and Jukes opened his mouth, but
"Running to get behind the weather! Do you understand that, Mr. Jukes?
It's the maddest thing!" ejaculated Captain MacWhirr, with pauses,
gazing at the floor profoundly. "You would think an old woman had been
writing this. It passes me. If that thing means anything useful, then
it means that I should at once alter the course away, away to the devil
somewhere, and come booming down on Fu-chau from the northward at the
tail of this dirty weather that's supposed to be knocking about in our
way. From the north! Do you understand, Mr. Jukes? Three hundred extra
miles to the distance, and a pretty coal bill to show. I couldn't bring
myself to do that if every word in there was gospel truth, Mr. Jukes.
Don't you expect me. . . ."
And Jukes, silent, marvelled at this display of feeling and loquacity.
"But the truth is that you don't know if the fellow is right, anyhow.
How can you tell what a gale is made of till you get it? He isn't aboard
here, is he? Very well. Here he says that the centre of them things
bears eight points off the wind; but we haven't got any wind, for all
the barometer falling. Where's his centre now?"
"We will get the wind presently," mumbled Jukes.
"Let it come, then," said Captain MacWhirr, with dignified indignation.
"It's only to let you see, Mr. Jukes, that you don't find everything in
books. All these rules for dodging breezes and circumventing the winds
of heaven, Mr. Jukes, seem to me the maddest thing, when you come to
look at it sensibly."
He raised his eyes, saw Jukes gazing at him dubiously, and tried to
illustrate his meaning.
"About as queer as your extraordinary notion of dodging the ship head
to sea, for I don't know how long, to make the Chinamen comfortable;
whereas all we've got to do is to take them to Fu-chau, being timed to
get there before noon on Friday. If the weather delays me--very well.
There's your log-book to talk straight about the weather. But suppose
I went swinging off my course and came in two days late, and they asked
me: 'Where have you been all that time, Captain?' What could I say to
that? 'Went around to dodge the bad weather,' I would say. 'It must've
been dam' bad,' they would say. 'Don't know,' I would have to say; 'I've
dodged clear of it.' See that, Jukes? I have been thinking it all out
He looked up again in his unseeing, unimaginative way. No one had ever
heard him say so much at one time. Jukes, with his arms open in the
doorway, was like a man invited to behold a miracle. Unbounded wonder
was the intellectual meaning of his eye, while incredulity was seated in
his whole countenance.
"A gale is a gale, Mr. Jukes," resumed the Captain, "and a full-powered
steam-ship has got to face it. There's just so much dirty weather
knocking about the world, and the proper thing is to go through it with
none of what old Captain Wilson of the Melita calls 'storm strategy.'
The other day ashore I heard him hold forth about it to a lot of
shipmasters who came in and sat at a table next to mine. It seemed to me
the greatest nonsense. He was telling them how he outmanoeuvred, I
think he said, a terrific gale, so that it never came nearer than fifty
miles to him. A neat piece of head-work he called it. How he knew there
was a terrific gale fifty miles off beats me altogether. It was like
listening to a crazy man. I would have thought Captain Wilson was old
enough to know better."
Captain MacWhirr ceased for a moment, then said, "It's your watch below,
Jukes came to himself with a start. "Yes, sir."
"Leave orders to call me at the slightest change," said the Captain.
He reached up to put the book away, and tucked his legs upon the couch.
"Shut the door so that it don't fly open, will you? I can't stand a
door banging. They've put a lot of rubbishy locks into this ship, I must
Captain MacWhirr closed his eyes.
He did so to rest himself. He was tired, and he experienced that state
of mental vacuity which comes at the end of an exhaustive discussion
that has liberated some belief matured in the course of meditative
years. He had indeed been making his confession of faith, had he only
known it; and its effect was to make Jukes, on the other side of the
door, stand scratching his head for a good while.
Captain MacWhirr opened his eyes.
He thought he must have been asleep. What was that loud noise? Wind? Why
had he not been called? The lamp wriggled in its gimbals, the barometer
swung in circles, the table altered its slant every moment; a pair of
limp sea-boots with collapsed tops went sliding past the couch. He put
out his hand instantly, and captured one.
Jukes' face appeared in a crack of the door: only his face, very red,
with staring eyes. The flame of the lamp leaped, a piece of paper flew
up, a rush of air enveloped Captain MacWhirr. Beginning to draw on the
boot, he directed an expectant gaze at Jukes' swollen, excited features.
"Came on like this," shouted Jukes, "five minutes ago . . . all of a
The head disappeared with a bang, and a heavy splash and patter of drops
swept past the closed door as if a pailful of melted lead had been
flung against the house. A whistling could be heard now upon the
deep vibrating noise outside. The stuffy chart-room seemed as full of
draughts as a shed. Captain MacWhirr collared the other sea-boot on its
violent passage along the floor. He was not flustered, but he could not
find at once the opening for inserting his foot. The shoes he had flung
off were scurrying from end to end of the cabin, gambolling playfully
over each other like puppies. As soon as he stood up he kicked at them
viciously, but without effect.
He threw himself into the attitude of a lunging fencer, to reach after
his oilskin coat; and afterwards he staggered all over the confined
space while he jerked himself into it. Very grave, straddling his legs
far apart, and stretching his neck, he started to tie deliberately
the strings of his sou'-wester under his chin, with thick fingers that
trembled slightly. He went through all the movements of a woman putting
on her bonnet before a glass, with a strained, listening attention, as
though he had expected every moment to hear the shout of his name in the
confused clamour that had suddenly beset his ship. Its increase filled
his ears while he was getting ready to go out and confront whatever it
might mean. It was tumultuous and very loud--made up of the rush of the
wind, the crashes of the sea, with that prolonged deep vibration of the
air, like the roll of an immense and remote drum beating the charge of
He stood for a moment in the light of the lamp, thick, clumsy, shapeless
in his panoply of combat, vigilant and red-faced.
"There's a lot of weight in this," he muttered.
As soon as he attempted to open the door the wind caught it. Clinging
to the handle, he was dragged out over the doorstep, and at once found
himself engaged with the wind in a sort of personal scuffle whose
object was the shutting of that door. At the last moment a tongue of air
scurried in and licked out the flame of the lamp.
Ahead of the ship he perceived a great darkness lying upon a multitude
of white flashes; on the starboard beam a few amazing stars drooped, dim
and fitful, above an immense waste of broken seas, as if seen through a
mad drift of smoke.
On the bridge a knot of men, indistinct and toiling, were making great
efforts in the light of the wheelhouse windows that shone mistily on
their heads and backs. Suddenly darkness closed upon one pane, then on
another. The voices of the lost group reached him after the manner of
men's voices in a gale, in shreds and fragments of forlorn shouting
snatched past the ear. All at once Jukes appeared at his side, yelling,
with his head down.
"Watch--put in--wheelhouse shutters--glass--afraid--blow in."
Jukes heard his commander upbraiding.
He tried to explain, with the uproar pressing on his lips.
They had gained the shelter of the weather-cloth, and could converse
with raised voices, as people quarrel.
"I got the hands along to cover up all the ventilators. Good job I had
remained on deck. I didn't think you would be asleep, and so . . . What
did you say, sir? What?"
"Nothing," cried Captain MacWhirr. "I said--all right."
"By all the powers! We've got it this time," observed Jukes in a howl.
"You haven't altered her course?" inquired Captain MacWhirr, straining
"No, sir. Certainly not. Wind came out right ahead. And here comes the
A plunge of the ship ended in a shock as if she had landed her forefoot
upon something solid. After a moment of stillness a lofty flight of
sprays drove hard with the wind upon their faces.
"Keep her at it as long as we can," shouted Captain MacWhirr.
Before Jukes had squeezed the salt water out of his eyes all the stars
Jukes was as ready a man as any half-dozen young mates that may be
caught by casting a net upon the waters; and though he had been somewhat
taken aback by the startling viciousness of the first squall, he had
pulled himself together on the instant, had called out the hands and had
rushed them along to secure such openings about the deck as had not been
already battened down earlier in the evening. Shouting in his fresh,
stentorian voice, "Jump, boys, and bear a hand!" he led in the work,
telling himself the while that he had "just expected this."
But at the same time he was growing aware that this was rather more than
he had expected. From the first stir of the air felt on his cheek the
gale seemed to take upon itself the accumulated impetus of an avalanche.
Heavy sprays enveloped the Nan-Shan from stem to stern, and instantly in
the midst of her regular rolling she began to jerk and plunge as though
she had gone mad with fright.
Jukes thought, "This is no joke." While he was exchanging explanatory
yells with his captain, a sudden lowering of the darkness came upon the
night, falling before their vision like something palpable. It was as
if the masked lights of the world had been turned down. Jukes was
uncritically glad to have his captain at hand. It relieved him as though
that man had, by simply coming on deck, taken most of the gale's weight
upon his shoulders. Such is the prestige, the privilege, and the burden
Captain MacWhirr could expect no relief of that sort from any one on
earth. Such is the loneliness of command. He was trying to see, with
that watchful manner of a seaman who stares into the wind's eye as if
into the eye of an adversary, to penetrate the hidden intention and
guess the aim and force of the thrust. The strong wind swept at him out
of a vast obscurity; he felt under his feet the uneasiness of his ship,
and he could not even discern the shadow of her shape. He wished it
were not so; and very still he waited, feeling stricken by a blind man's
To be silent was natural to him, dark or shine. Jukes, at his elbow,
made himself heard yelling cheerily in the gusts, "We must have got
the worst of it at once, sir." A faint burst of lightning quivered all
round, as if flashed into a cavern--into a black and secret chamber of
the sea, with a floor of foaming crests.
It unveiled for a sinister, fluttering moment a ragged mass of clouds
hanging low, the lurch of the long outlines of the ship, the black
figures of men caught on the bridge, heads forward, as if petrified in
the act of butting. The darkness palpitated down upon all this, and then
the real thing came at last.
It was something formidable and swift, like the sudden smashing of
a vial of wrath. It seemed to explode all round the ship with an
overpowering concussion and a rush of great waters, as if an immense dam
had been blown up to windward. In an instant the men lost touch of each
other. This is the disintegrating power of a great wind: it isolates one
from one's kind. An earthquake, a landslip, an avalanche, overtake a man
incidentally, as it were--without passion. A furious gale attacks him
like a personal enemy, tries to grasp his limbs, fastens upon his mind,
seeks to rout his very spirit out of him.
Jukes was driven away from his commander. He fancied himself whirled a
great distance through the air. Everything disappeared--even, for
a moment, his power of thinking; but his hand had found one of
the rail-stanchions. His distress was by no means alleviated by an
inclination to disbelieve the reality of this experience. Though young,
he had seen some bad weather, and had never doubted his ability to
imagine the worst; but this was so much beyond his powers of fancy that
it appeared incompatible with the existence of any ship whatever. He
would have been incredulous about himself in the same way, perhaps, had
he not been so harassed by the necessity of exerting a wrestling effort
against a force trying to tear him away from his hold. Moreover, the
conviction of not being utterly destroyed returned to him through the
sensations of being half-drowned, bestially shaken, and partly choked.
It seemed to him he remained there precariously alone with the stanchion
for a long, long time. The rain poured on him, flowed, drove in sheets.
He breathed in gasps; and sometimes the water he swallowed was fresh and
sometimes it was salt. For the most part he kept his eyes shut tight, as
if suspecting his sight might be destroyed in the immense flurry of
the elements. When he ventured to blink hastily, he derived some moral
support from the green gleam of the starboard light shining feebly upon
the flight of rain and sprays. He was actually looking at it when its
ray fell upon the uprearing sea which put it out. He saw the head of the
wave topple over, adding the mite of its crash to the tremendous uproar
raging around him, and almost at the same instant the stanchion was
wrenched away from his embracing arms. After a crushing thump on his
back he found himself suddenly afloat and borne upwards. His first
irresistible notion was that the whole China Sea had climbed on the
bridge. Then, more sanely, he concluded himself gone overboard. All the
time he was being tossed, flung, and rolled in great volumes of water,
he kept on repeating mentally, with the utmost precipitation, the words:
"My God! My God! My God! My God!"
All at once, in a revolt of misery and despair, he formed the crazy
resolution to get out of that. And he began to thresh about with his
arms and legs. But as soon as he commenced his wretched struggles he
discovered that he had become somehow mixed up with a face, an oilskin
coat, somebody's boots. He clawed ferociously all these things in
turn, lost them, found them again, lost them once more, and finally was
himself caught in the firm clasp of a pair of stout arms. He returned
the embrace closely round a thick solid body. He had found his captain.
They tumbled over and over, tightening their hug. Suddenly the water
let them down with a brutal bang; and, stranded against the side of the
wheelhouse, out of breath and bruised, they were left to stagger up in
the wind and hold on where they could.
Jukes came out of it rather horrified, as though he had escaped some
unparalleled outrage directed at his feelings. It weakened his faith in
himself. He started shouting aimlessly to the man he could feel near him
in that fiendish blackness, "Is it you, sir? Is it you, sir?" till his
temples seemed ready to burst. And he heard in answer a voice, as if
crying far away, as if screaming to him fretfully from a very great
distance, the one word "Yes!" Other seas swept again over the bridge.
He received them defencelessly right over his bare head, with both his
hands engaged in holding.
The motion of the ship was extravagant. Her lurches had an appalling
helplessness: she pitched as if taking a header into a void, and seemed
to find a wall to hit every time. When she rolled she fell on her side
headlong, and she would be righted back by such a demolishing blow that
Jukes felt her reeling as a clubbed man reels before he collapses. The
gale howled and scuffled about gigantically in the darkness, as though
the entire world were one black gully. At certain moments the air
streamed against the ship as if sucked through a tunnel with a
concentrated solid force of impact that seemed to lift her clean out
of the water and keep her up for an instant with only a quiver running
through her from end to end. And then she would begin her tumbling again
as if dropped back into a boiling cauldron. Jukes tried hard to compose
his mind and judge things coolly.
The sea, flattened down in the heavier gusts, would uprise and overwhelm
both ends of the Nan-Shan in snowy rushes of foam, expanding wide,
beyond both rails, into the night. And on this dazzling sheet, spread
under the blackness of the clouds and emitting a bluish glow, Captain
MacWhirr could catch a desolate glimpse of a few tiny specks black as
ebony, the tops of the hatches, the battened companions, the heads of
the covered winches, the foot of a mast. This was all he could see of
his ship. Her middle structure, covered by the bridge which bore him,
his mate, the closed wheelhouse where a man was steering shut up with
the fear of being swept overboard together with the whole thing in one
great crash--her middle structure was like a half-tide rock awash upon a
coast. It was like an outlying rock with the water boiling up, streaming
over, pouring off, beating round--like a rock in the surf to which
shipwrecked people cling before they let go--only it rose, it sank, it
rolled continuously, without respite and rest, like a rock that should
have miraculously struck adrift from a coast and gone wallowing upon the
The Nan-Shan was being looted by the storm with a senseless, destructive
fury: trysails torn out of the extra gaskets, double-lashed awnings
blown away, bridge swept clean, weather-cloths burst, rails twisted,
light-screens smashed--and two of the boats had gone already. They had
gone unheard and unseen, melting, as it were, in the shock and smother
of the wave. It was only later, when upon the white flash of another
high sea hurling itself amidships, Jukes had a vision of two pairs of
davits leaping black and empty out of the solid blackness, with one
overhauled fall flying and an iron-bound block capering in the air, that
he became aware of what had happened within about three yards of his
He poked his head forward, groping for the ear of his commander. His
lips touched it--big, fleshy, very wet. He cried in an agitated tone,
"Our boats are going now, sir."
And again he heard that voice, forced and ringing feebly, but with a
penetrating effect of quietness in the enormous discord of noises, as if
sent out from some remote spot of peace beyond the black wastes of the
gale; again he heard a man's voice--the frail and indomitable sound that
can be made to carry an infinity of thought, resolution and purpose,
that shall be pronouncing confident words on the last day, when heavens
fall, and justice is done--again he heard it, and it was crying to him,
as if from very, very far--"All right."
He thought he had not managed to make himself understood. "Our boats--I
say boats--the boats, sir! Two gone!"
The same voice, within a foot of him and yet so remote, yelled sensibly,
"Can't be helped."
Captain MacWhirr had never turned his face, but Jukes caught some more
words on the wind.
"What can--expect--when hammering through--such--Bound to
leave--something behind--stands to reason."
Watchfully Jukes listened for more. No more came. This was all Captain
MacWhirr had to say; and Jukes could picture to himself rather than see
the broad squat back before him. An impenetrable obscurity pressed down
upon the ghostly glimmers of the sea. A dull conviction seized upon
Jukes that there was nothing to be done.
If the steering-gear did not give way, if the immense volumes of water
did not burst the deck in or smash one of the hatches, if the engines
did not give up, if way could be kept on the ship against this terrific
wind, and she did not bury herself in one of these awful seas, of whose
white crests alone, topping high above her bows, he could now and then
get a sickening glimpse--then there was a chance of her coming out of
it. Something within him seemed to turn over, bringing uppermost the
feeling that the Nan-Shan was lost.
"She's done for," he said to himself, with a surprising mental
agitation, as though he had discovered an unexpected meaning in this
thought. One of these things was bound to happen. Nothing could be
prevented now, and nothing could be remedied. The men on board did not
count, and the ship could not last. This weather was too impossible.
Jukes felt an arm thrown heavily over his shoulders; and to this
overture he responded with great intelligence by catching hold of his
captain round the waist.
They stood clasped thus in the blind night, bracing each other against
the wind, cheek to cheek and lip to ear, in the manner of two hulks
lashed stem to stern together.
And Jukes heard the voice of his commander hardly any louder than
before, but nearer, as though, starting to march athwart the prodigious
rush of the hurricane, it had approached him, bearing that strange
effect of quietness like the serene glow of a halo.
"D'ye know where the hands got to?" it asked, vigorous and evanescent at
the same time, overcoming the strength of the wind, and swept away from
Jukes didn't know. They were all on the bridge when the real force of
the hurricane struck the ship. He had no idea where they had crawled to.
Under the circumstances they were nowhere, for all the use that could be
made of them. Somehow the Captain's wish to know distressed Jukes.
"Want the hands, sir?" he cried, apprehensively.
"Ought to know," asserted Captain MacWhirr. "Hold hard."
They held hard. An outburst of unchained fury, a vicious rush of the
wind absolutely steadied the ship; she rocked only, quick and light like
a child's cradle, for a terrific moment of suspense, while the whole
atmosphere, as it seemed, streamed furiously past her, roaring away from
the tenebrous earth.
It suffocated them, and with eyes shut they tightened their grasp.
What from the magnitude of the shock might have been a column of water
running upright in the dark, butted against the ship, broke short,
and fell on her bridge, crushingly, from on high, with a dead burying
A flying fragment of that collapse, a mere splash, enveloped them in one
swirl from their feet over their heads, filling violently their ears,
mouths and nostrils with salt water. It knocked out their legs, wrenched
in haste at their arms, seethed away swiftly under their chins; and
opening their eyes, they saw the piled-up masses of foam dashing to and
fro amongst what looked like the fragments of a ship. She had given way
as if driven straight in. Their panting hearts yielded, too, before the
tremendous blow; and all at once she sprang up again to her desperate
plunging, as if trying to scramble out from under the ruins.
The seas in the dark seemed to rush from all sides to keep her back
where she might perish. There was hate in the way she was handled, and
a ferocity in the blows that fell. She was like a living creature thrown
to the rage of a mob: hustled terribly, struck at, borne up, flung
down, leaped upon. Captain MacWhirr and Jukes kept hold of each other,
deafened by the noise, gagged by the wind; and the great physical
tumult beating about their bodies, brought, like an unbridled display
of passion, a profound trouble to their souls. One of those wild and
appalling shrieks that are heard at times passing mysteriously overhead
in the steady roar of a hurricane, swooped, as if borne on wings, upon
the ship, and Jukes tried to outscream it.
"Will she live through this?"
The cry was wrenched out of his breast. It was as unintentional as the
birth of a thought in the head, and he heard nothing of it himself. It
all became extinct at once--thought, intention, effort--and of his cry
the inaudible vibration added to the tempest waves of the air.
He expected nothing from it. Nothing at all. For indeed what answer
could be made? But after a while he heard with amazement the frail and
resisting voice in his ear, the dwarf sound, unconquered in the giant
It was a dull yell, more difficult to seize than a whisper. And
presently the voice returned again, half submerged in the vast crashes,
like a ship battling against the waves of an ocean.
"Let's hope so!" it cried--small, lonely and unmoved, a stranger to
the visions of hope or fear; and it flickered into disconnected words:
"Ship. . . . . This. . . . Never--Anyhow . . . for the best." Jukes gave
Then, as if it had come suddenly upon the one thing fit to withstand
the power of a storm, it seemed to gain force and firmness for the last
"Keep on hammering . . . builders . . . good men. . . . . And chance it
. . . engines. . . . Rout . . . good man."
Captain MacWhirr removed his arm from Jukes' shoulders, and thereby
ceased to exist for his mate, so dark it was; Jukes, after a tense
stiffening of every muscle, would let himself go limp all over. The
gnawing of profound discomfort existed side by side with an incredible
disposition to somnolence, as though he had been buffeted and worried
into drowsiness. The wind would get hold of his head and try to shake
it off his shoulders; his clothes, full of water, were as heavy as lead,
cold and dripping like an armour of melting ice: he shivered--it lasted
a long time; and with his hands closed hard on his hold, he was letting
himself sink slowly into the depths of bodily misery. His mind became
concentrated upon himself in an aimless, idle way, and when something
pushed lightly at the back of his knees he nearly, as the saying is,
jumped out of his skin.
In the start forward he bumped the back of Captain MacWhirr, who didn't
move; and then a hand gripped his thigh. A lull had come, a menacing
lull of the wind, the holding of a stormy breath--and he felt himself
pawed all over. It was the boatswain. Jukes recognized these hands, so
thick and enormous that they seemed to belong to some new species of
The boatswain had arrived on the bridge, crawling on all fours against
the wind, and had found the chief mate's legs with the top of his head.
Immediately he crouched and began to explore Jukes' person upwards with
prudent, apologetic touches, as became an inferior.
He was an ill-favoured, undersized, gruff sailor of fifty, coarsely
hairy, short-legged, long-armed, resembling an elderly ape. His
strength was immense; and in his great lumpy paws, bulging like brown
boxing-gloves on the end of furry forearms, the heaviest objects were
handled like playthings. Apart from the grizzled pelt on his chest, the
menacing demeanour and the hoarse voice, he had none of the classical
attributes of his rating. His good nature almost amounted to imbecility:
the men did what they liked with him, and he had not an ounce of
initiative in his character, which was easy-going and talkative. For
these reasons Jukes disliked him; but Captain MacWhirr, to Jukes'
scornful disgust, seemed to regard him as a first-rate petty officer.
He pulled himself up by Jukes' coat, taking that liberty with the
greatest moderation, and only so far as it was forced upon him by the
"What is it, boss'n, what is it?" yelled Jukes, impatiently. What could
that fraud of a boss'n want on the bridge? The typhoon had got on Jukes'
nerves. The husky bellowings of the other, though unintelligible, seemed
to suggest a state of lively satisfaction.
There could be no mistake. The old fool was pleased with something.
The boatswain's other hand had found some other body, for in a changed
tone he began to inquire: "Is it you, sir? Is it you, sir?" The wind
strangled his howls.
"Yes!" cried Captain MacWhirr.
All that the boatswain, out of a superabundance of yells, could make
clear to Captain MacWhirr was the bizarre intelligence that "All them
Chinamen in the fore 'tween deck have fetched away, sir."
Jukes to leeward could hear these two shouting within six inches of
his face, as you may hear on a still night half a mile away two men
conversing across a field. He heard Captain MacWhirr's exasperated
"What? What?" and the strained pitch of the other's hoarseness. "In a
lump . . . seen them myself. . . . Awful sight, sir . . . thought . . .
Jukes remained indifferent, as if rendered irresponsible by the force
of the hurricane, which made the very thought of action utterly vain.
Besides, being very young, he had found the occupation of keeping his
heart completely steeled against the worst so engrossing that he had
come to feel an overpowering dislike towards any other form of activity
whatever. He was not scared; he knew this because, firmly believing he
would never see another sunrise, he remained calm in that belief.
These are the moments of do-nothing heroics to which even good men
surrender at times. Many officers of ships can no doubt recall a case
in their experience when just such a trance of confounded stoicism would
come all at once over a whole ship's company. Jukes, however, had
no wide experience of men or storms. He conceived himself to be
calm--inexorably calm; but as a matter of fact he was daunted; not
abjectly, but only so far as a decent man may, without becoming
loathsome to himself.
It was rather like a forced-on numbness of spirit. The long, long
stress of a gale does it; the suspense of the interminably culminating
catastrophe; and there is a bodily fatigue in the mere holding on to
existence within the excessive tumult; a searching and insidious fatigue
that penetrates deep into a man's breast to cast down and sadden his
heart, which is incorrigible, and of all the gifts of the earth--even
before life itself--aspires to peace.
Jukes was benumbed much more than he supposed. He held on--very wet,
very cold, stiff in every limb; and in a momentary hallucination of
swift visions (it is said that a drowning man thus reviews all his life)
he beheld all sorts of memories altogether unconnected with his present
situation. He remembered his father, for instance: a worthy business
man, who at an unfortunate crisis in his affairs went quietly to bed
and died forthwith in a state of resignation. Jukes did not recall these
circumstances, of course, but remaining otherwise unconcerned he seemed
to see distinctly the poor man's face; a certain game of nap played when
quite a boy in Table Bay on board a ship, since lost with all hands;
the thick eyebrows of his first skipper; and without any emotion, as
he might years ago have walked listlessly into her room and found her
sitting there with a book, he remembered his mother--dead, too, now--the
resolute woman, left badly off, who had been very firm in his bringing
It could not have lasted more than a second, perhaps not so much. A
heavy arm had fallen about his shoulders; Captain MacWhirr's voice was
speaking his name into his ear.
He detected the tone of deep concern. The wind had thrown its weight
on the ship, trying to pin her down amongst the seas. They made a clean
breach over her, as over a deep-swimming log; and the gathered weight
of crashes menaced monstrously from afar. The breakers flung out of the
night with a ghostly light on their crests--the light of sea-foam that
in a ferocious, boiling-up pale flash showed upon the slender body of
the ship the toppling rush, the downfall, and the seething mad scurry
of each wave. Never for a moment could she shake herself clear of
the water; Jukes, rigid, perceived in her motion the ominous sign of
haphazard floundering. She was no longer struggling intelligently. It
was the beginning of the end; and the note of busy concern in Captain
MacWhirr's voice sickened him like an exhibition of blind and pernicious
The spell of the storm had fallen upon Jukes. He was penetrated by it,
absorbed by it; he was rooted in it with a rigour of dumb attention.
Captain MacWhirr persisted in his cries, but the wind got between them
like a solid wedge. He hung round Jukes' neck as heavy as a millstone,
and suddenly the sides of their heads knocked together.
"Jukes! Mr. Jukes, I say!"
He had to answer that voice that would not be silenced. He answered in
the customary manner: ". . . Yes, sir."
And directly, his heart, corrupted by the storm that breeds a craving
for peace, rebelled against the tyranny of training and command.
Captain MacWhirr had his mate's head fixed firm in the crook of his
elbow, and pressed it to his yelling lips mysteriously. Sometimes
Jukes would break in, admonishing hastily: "Look out, sir!" or Captain
MacWhirr would bawl an earnest exhortation to "Hold hard, there!" and
the whole black universe seemed to reel together with the ship. They
paused. She floated yet. And Captain MacWhirr would resume, his shouts.
". . . . Says . . . whole lot . . . fetched away. . . . Ought to see
. . . what's the matter."
Directly the full force of the hurricane had struck the ship, every part
of her deck became untenable; and the sailors, dazed and dismayed, took
shelter in the port alleyway under the bridge. It had a door aft, which
they shut; it was very black, cold, and dismal. At each heavy fling of
the ship they would groan all together in the dark, and tons of water
could be heard scuttling about as if trying to get at them from above.
The boatswain had been keeping up a gruff talk, but a more unreasonable
lot of men, he said afterwards, he had never been with. They were snug
enough there, out of harm's way, and not wanted to do anything, either;
and yet they did nothing but grumble and complain peevishly like so many
sick kids. Finally, one of them said that if there had been at least
some light to see each other's noses by, it wouldn't be so bad. It was
making him crazy, he declared, to lie there in the dark waiting for the
blamed hooker to sink.
"Why don't you step outside, then, and be done with it at once?" the
boatswain turned on him.
This called up a shout of execration. The boatswain found himself
overwhelmed with reproaches of all sorts. They seemed to take it ill
that a lamp was not instantly created for them out of nothing. They
would whine after a light to get drowned by--anyhow! And though the
unreason of their revilings was patent--since no one could hope to reach
the lamp-room, which was forward--he became greatly distressed. He did
not think it was decent of them to be nagging at him like this. He told
them so, and was met by general contumely. He sought refuge, therefore,
in an embittered silence. At the same time their grumbling and sighing
and muttering worried him greatly, but by-and-by it occurred to him that
there were six globe lamps hung in the 'tween-deck, and that there could
be no harm in depriving the coolies of one of them.
The Nan-Shan had an athwartship coal-bunker, which, being at times used
as cargo space, communicated by an iron door with the fore 'tween-deck.
It was empty then, and its manhole was the foremost one in the alleyway.
The boatswain could get in, therefore, without coming out on deck at
all; but to his great surprise he found he could induce no one to help
him in taking off the manhole cover. He groped for it all the same, but
one of the crew lying in his way refused to budge.
"Why, I only want to get you that blamed light you are crying for," he
expostulated, almost pitifully.
Somebody told him to go and put his head in a bag. He regretted he could
not recognize the voice, and that it was too dark to see, otherwise,
as he said, he would have put a head on that son of a sea-cook, anyway,
sink or swim. Nevertheless, he had made up his mind to show them he
could get a light, if he were to die for it.
Through the violence of the ship's rolling, every movement was
dangerous. To be lying down seemed labour enough. He nearly broke
his neck dropping into the bunker. He fell on his back, and was sent
shooting helplessly from side to side in the dangerous company of a
heavy iron bar--a coal-trimmer's slice probably--left down there by
somebody. This thing made him as nervous as though it had been a
wild beast. He could not see it, the inside of the bunker coated with
coal-dust being perfectly and impenetrably black; but he heard it
sliding and clattering, and striking here and there, always in the
neighbourhood of his head. It seemed to make an extraordinary noise,
too--to give heavy thumps as though it had been as big as a bridge
girder. This was remarkable enough for him to notice while he was flung
from port to starboard and back again, and clawing desperately the
smooth sides of the bunker in the endeavour to stop himself. The door
into the 'tween-deck not fitting quite true, he saw a thread of dim
light at the bottom.
Being a sailor, and a still active man, he did not want much of a chance
to regain his feet; and as luck would have it, in scrambling up he put
his hand on the iron slice, picking it up as he rose. Otherwise he would
have been afraid of the thing breaking his legs, or at least knocking
him down again. At first he stood still. He felt unsafe in this darkness
that seemed to make the ship's motion unfamiliar, unforeseen, and
difficult to counteract. He felt so much shaken for a moment that he
dared not move for fear of "taking charge again." He had no mind to get
battered to pieces in that bunker.
He had struck his head twice; he was dazed a little. He seemed to hear
yet so plainly the clatter and bangs of the iron slice flying about
his ears that he tightened his grip to prove to himself he had it there
safely in his hand. He was vaguely amazed at the plainness with which
down there he could hear the gale raging. Its howls and shrieks seemed
to take on, in the emptiness of the bunker, something of the human
character, of human rage and pain--being not vast but infinitely
poignant. And there were, with every roll, thumps, too--profound,
ponderous thumps, as if a bulky object of five-ton weight or so had got
play in the hold. But there was no such thing in the cargo. Something on
deck? Impossible. Or alongside? Couldn't be.
He thought all this quickly, clearly, competently, like a seaman, and
in the end remained puzzled. This noise, though, came deadened from
outside, together with the washing and pouring of water on deck above
his head. Was it the wind? Must be. It made down there a row like the
shouting of a big lot of crazed men. And he discovered in himself
a desire for a light, too--if only to get drowned by--and a nervous
anxiety to get out of that bunker as quickly as possible.
He pulled back the bolt: the heavy iron plate turned on its hinges; and
it was as though he had opened the door to the sounds of the tempest.
A gust of hoarse yelling met him: the air was still; and the rushing
of water overhead was covered by a tumult of strangled, throaty shrieks
that produced an effect of desperate confusion. He straddled his legs
the whole width of the doorway and stretched his neck. And at first
he perceived only what he had come to seek: six small yellow flames
swinging violently on the great body of the dusk.
It was stayed like the gallery of a mine, with a row of stanchions
in the middle, and cross-beams overhead, penetrating into the gloom
ahead--indefinitely. And to port there loomed, like the caving in of
one of the sides, a bulky mass with a slanting outline. The whole place,
with the shadows and the shapes, moved all the time. The boatswain
glared: the ship lurched to starboard, and a great howl came from that
mass that had the slant of fallen earth.
Pieces of wood whizzed past. Planks, he thought, inexpressibly startled,
and flinging back his head. At his feet a man went sliding over,
open-eyed, on his back, straining with uplifted arms for nothing: and
another came bounding like a detached stone with his head between his
legs and his hands clenched. His pigtail whipped in the air; he made a
grab at the boatswain's legs, and from his opened hand a bright white
disc rolled against the boatswain's foot. He recognized a silver dollar,
and yelled at it with astonishment. With a precipitated sound of
trampling and shuffling of bare feet, and with guttural cries, the mound
of writhing bodies piled up to port detached itself from the ship's side
and sliding, inert and struggling, shifted to starboard, with a dull,
brutal thump. The cries ceased. The boatswain heard a long moan through
the roar and whistling of the wind; he saw an inextricable confusion of
heads and shoulders, naked soles kicking upwards, fists raised, tumbling
backs, legs, pigtails, faces.
"Good Lord!" he cried, horrified, and banged-to the iron door upon this
This was what he had come on the bridge to tell. He could not keep it
to himself; and on board ship there is only one man to whom it is
worth while to unburden yourself. On his passage back the hands in the
alleyway swore at him for a fool. Why didn't he bring that lamp? What
the devil did the coolies matter to anybody? And when he came out, the
extremity of the ship made what went on inside of her appear of little
At first he thought he had left the alleyway in the very moment of her
sinking. The bridge ladders had been washed away, but an enormous sea
filling the after-deck floated him up. After that he had to lie on his
stomach for some time, holding to a ring-bolt, getting his breath now
and then, and swallowing salt water. He struggled farther on his hands
and knees, too frightened and distracted to turn back. In this way
he reached the after-part of the wheelhouse. In that comparatively
sheltered spot he found the second mate.
The boatswain was pleasantly surprised--his impression being that
everybody on deck must have been washed away a long time ago. He asked
eagerly where the Captain was.
The second mate was lying low, like a malignant little animal under a
"Captain? Gone overboard, after getting us into this mess." The mate,
too, for all he knew or cared. Another fool. Didn't matter. Everybody
was going by-and-by.
The boatswain crawled out again into the strength of the wind; not
because he much expected to find anybody, he said, but just to get away
from "that man." He crawled out as outcasts go to face an inclement
world. Hence his great joy at finding Jukes and the Captain. But what
was going on in the 'tween-deck was to him a minor matter by that time.
Besides, it was difficult to make yourself heard. But he managed to
convey the idea that the Chinaman had broken adrift together with their
boxes, and that he had come up on purpose to report this. As to the
hands, they were all right. Then, appeased, he subsided on the deck in
a sitting posture, hugging with his arms and legs the stand of the
engine-room telegraph--an iron casting as thick as a post. When that
went, why, he expected he would go, too. He gave no more thought to the
Captain MacWhirr had made Jukes understand that he wanted him to go down
"What am I to do then, sir?" And the trembling of his whole wet body
caused Jukes' voice to sound like bleating.
"See first . . . Boss'n . . . says . . . adrift."
"That boss'n is a confounded fool," howled Jukes, shakily.
The absurdity of the demand made upon him revolted Jukes. He was as
unwilling to go as if the moment he had left the deck the ship were sure
"I must know . . . can't leave. . . ."
"They'll settle, sir."
"Fight . . . boss'n says they fight. . . . Why? Can't have . . .
fighting . . . board ship. . . . Much rather keep you here . . . case
. . . I should . . . washed overboard myself. . . . Stop it . . . some
way. You see and tell me . . . through engine-room tube. Don't want you
. . . come up here . . . too often. Dangerous . . . moving about . . .
Jukes, held with his head in chancery, had to listen to what seemed
"Don't want . . . you get lost . . . so long . . . ship isn't. . . . .
Rout . . . Good man . . . Ship . . . may . . . through this . . . all
All at once Jukes understood he would have to go.
"Do you think she may?" he screamed.
But the wind devoured the reply, out of which Jukes heard only the one
word, pronounced with great energy ". . . . Always. . . ."
Captain MacWhirr released Jukes, and bending over the boatswain, yelled,
"Get back with the mate." Jukes only knew that the arm was gone off
his shoulders. He was dismissed with his orders--to do what? He was
exasperated into letting go his hold carelessly, and on the instant
was blown away. It seemed to him that nothing could stop him from being
blown right over the stern. He flung himself down hastily, and the
boatswain, who was following, fell on him.
"Don't you get up yet, sir," cried the boatswain. "No hurry!"
A sea swept over. Jukes understood the boatswain to splutter that the
bridge ladders were gone. "I'll lower you down, sir, by your hands,"
he screamed. He shouted also something about the smoke-stack being
as likely to go overboard as not. Jukes thought it very possible, and
imagined the fires out, the ship helpless. . . . The boatswain by his
side kept on yelling. "What? What is it?" Jukes cried distressfully; and
the other repeated, "What would my old woman say if she saw me now?"
In the alleyway, where a lot of water had got in and splashed in the
dark, the men were still as death, till Jukes stumbled against one of
them and cursed him savagely for being in the way. Two or three voices
then asked, eager and weak, "Any chance for us, sir?"
"What's the matter with you fools?" he said brutally. He felt as though
he could throw himself down amongst them and never move any more. But
they seemed cheered; and in the midst of obsequious warnings, "Look
out! Mind that manhole lid, sir," they lowered him into the bunker. The
boatswain tumbled down after him, and as soon as he had picked himself
up he remarked, "She would say, 'Serve you right, you old fool, for
going to sea.'"
The boatswain had some means, and made a point of alluding to them
frequently. His wife--a fat woman--and two grown-up daughters kept a
greengrocer's shop in the East-end of London.
In the dark, Jukes, unsteady on his legs, listened to a faint thunderous
patter. A deadened screaming went on steadily at his elbow, as it were;
and from above the louder tumult of the storm descended upon these near
sounds. His head swam. To him, too, in that bunker, the motion of the
ship seemed novel and menacing, sapping his resolution as though he had
never been afloat before.
He had half a mind to scramble out again; but the remembrance of Captain
MacWhirr's voice made this impossible. His orders were to go and see.
What was the good of it, he wanted to know. Enraged, he told himself he
would see--of course. But the boatswain, staggering clumsily, warned him
to be careful how he opened that door; there was a blamed fight going
on. And Jukes, as if in great bodily pain, desired irritably to know
what the devil they were fighting for.
"Dollars! Dollars, sir. All their rotten chests got burst open. Blamed
money skipping all over the place, and they are tumbling after it head
over heels--tearing and biting like anything. A regular little hell in
Jukes convulsively opened the door. The short boatswain peered under his
One of the lamps had gone out, broken perhaps. Rancorous, guttural cries
burst out loudly on their ears, and a strange panting sound, the working
of all these straining breasts. A hard blow hit the side of the ship:
water fell above with a stunning shock, and in the forefront of the
gloom, where the air was reddish and thick, Jukes saw a head bang the
deck violently, two thick calves waving on high, muscular arms twined
round a naked body, a yellow-face, open-mouthed and with a set wild
stare, look up and slide away. An empty chest clattered turning over;
a man fell head first with a jump, as if lifted by a kick; and farther
off, indistinct, others streamed like a mass of rolling stones down
a bank, thumping the deck with their feet and flourishing their arms
wildly. The hatchway ladder was loaded with coolies swarming on it
like bees on a branch. They hung on the steps in a crawling, stirring
cluster, beating madly with their fists the underside of the battened
hatch, and the headlong rush of the water above was heard in the
intervals of their yelling. The ship heeled over more, and they began
to drop off: first one, then two, then all the rest went away together,
falling straight off with a great cry.
Jukes was confounded. The boatswain, with gruff anxiety, begged him,
"Don't you go in there, sir."
The whole place seemed to twist upon itself, jumping incessantly the
while; and when the ship rose to a sea Jukes fancied that all these men
would be shot upon him in a body. He backed out, swung the door to, and
with trembling hands pushed at the bolt. . . .
As soon as his mate had gone Captain MacWhirr, left alone on the bridge,
sidled and staggered as far as the wheelhouse. Its door being hinged
forward, he had to fight the gale for admittance, and when at last he
managed to enter, it was with an instantaneous clatter and a bang, as
though he had been fired through the wood. He stood within, holding on
to the handle.
The steering-gear leaked steam, and in the confined space the glass of
the binnacle made a shiny oval of light in a thin white fog. The wind
howled, hummed, whistled, with sudden booming gusts that rattled
the doors and shutters in the vicious patter of sprays. Two coils of
lead-line and a small canvas bag hung on a long lanyard, swung wide off,
and came back clinging to the bulkheads. The gratings underfoot were
nearly afloat; with every sweeping blow of a sea, water squirted
violently through the cracks all round the door, and the man at the
helm had flung down his cap, his coat, and stood propped against the
gear-casing in a striped cotton shirt open on his breast. The little
brass wheel in his hands had the appearance of a bright and fragile
toy. The cords of his neck stood hard and lean, a dark patch lay in the
hollow of his throat, and his face was still and sunken as in death.
Captain MacWhirr wiped his eyes. The sea that had nearly taken him
overboard had, to his great annoyance, washed his sou'-wester hat off
his bald head. The fluffy, fair hair, soaked and darkened, resembled a
mean skein of cotton threads festooned round his bare skull. His face,
glistening with sea-water, had been made crimson with the wind, with
the sting of sprays. He looked as though he had come off sweating from
before a furnace.
"You here?" he muttered, heavily.
The second mate had found his way into the wheelhouse some time before.
He had fixed himself in a corner with his knees up, a fist pressed
against each temple; and this attitude suggested rage, sorrow,
resignation, surrender, with a sort of concentrated unforgiveness. He
said mournfully and defiantly, "Well, it's my watch below now: ain't
The steam gear clattered, stopped, clattered again; and the helmsman's
eyeballs seemed to project out of a hungry face as if the compass card
behind the binnacle glass had been meat. God knows how long he had been
left there to steer, as if forgotten by all his shipmates. The bells had
not been struck; there had been no reliefs; the ship's routine had gone
down wind; but he was trying to keep her head north-north-east. The
rudder might have been gone for all he knew, the fires out, the engines
broken down, the ship ready to roll over like a corpse. He was
anxious not to get muddled and lose control of her head, because the
compass-card swung far both ways, wriggling on the pivot, and sometimes
seemed to whirl right round. He suffered from mental stress. He was
horribly afraid, also, of the wheelhouse going. Mountains of water kept
on tumbling against it. When the ship took one of her desperate dives
the corners of his lips twitched.
Captain MacWhirr looked up at the wheelhouse clock. Screwed to the
bulk-head, it had a white face on which the black hands appeared to
stand quite still. It was half-past one in the morning.
"Another day," he muttered to himself.
The second mate heard him, and lifting his head as one grieving amongst
ruins, "You won't see it break," he exclaimed. His wrists and his knees
could be seen to shake violently. "No, by God! You won't. . . ."
He took his face again between his fists.
The body of the helmsman had moved slightly, but his head didn't budge
on his neck,--like a stone head fixed to look one way from a column.
During a roll that all but took his booted legs from under him, and
in the very stagger to save himself, Captain MacWhirr said austerely,
"Don't you pay any attention to what that man says." And then, with an
indefinable change of tone, very grave, he added, "He isn't on duty."
The sailor said nothing.
The hurricane boomed, shaking the little place, which seemed air-tight;
and the light of the binnacle flickered all the time.
"You haven't been relieved," Captain MacWhirr went on, looking down. "I
want you to stick to the helm, though, as long as you can. You've
got the hang of her. Another man coming here might make a mess of it.
Wouldn't do. No child's play. And the hands are probably busy with a job
down below. . . . Think you can?"
The steering-gear leaped into an abrupt short clatter, stopped
smouldering like an ember; and the still man, with a motionless gaze,
burst out, as if all the passion in him had gone into his lips: "By
Heavens, sir! I can steer for ever if nobody talks to me."
"Oh! aye! All right. . . ." The Captain lifted his eyes for the first
time to the man, ". . . Hackett."
And he seemed to dismiss this matter from his mind. He stooped to the
engine-room speaking-tube, blew in, and bent his head. Mr. Rout below
answered, and at once Captain MacWhirr put his lips to the mouthpiece.
With the uproar of the gale around him he applied alternately his lips
and his ear, and the engineer's voice mounted to him, harsh and as if
out of the heat of an engagement. One of the stokers was disabled,
the others had given in, the second engineer and the donkey-man were
firing-up. The third engineer was standing by the steam-valve. The
engines were being tended by hand. How was it above?
"Bad enough. It mostly rests with you," said Captain MacWhirr. Was the
mate down there yet? No? Well, he would be presently. Would Mr. Rout
let him talk through the speaking-tube?--through the deck speaking-tube,
because he--the Captain--was going out again on the bridge directly.
There was some trouble amongst the Chinamen. They were fighting, it
seemed. Couldn't allow fighting anyhow. . . .
Mr. Rout had gone away, and Captain MacWhirr could feel against his ear
the pulsation of the engines, like the beat of the ship's heart. Mr.
Rout's voice down there shouted something distantly. The ship pitched
headlong, the pulsation leaped with a hissing tumult, and stopped dead.
Captain MacWhirr's face was impassive, and his eyes were fixed aimlessly
on the crouching shape of the second mate. Again Mr. Rout's voice
cried out in the depths, and the pulsating beats recommenced, with slow
Mr. Rout had returned to the tube. "It don't matter much what they do,"
he said, hastily; and then, with irritation, "She takes these dives as
if she never meant to come up again."
"Awful sea," said the Captain's voice from above.
"Don't let me drive her under," barked Solomon Rout up the pipe.
"Dark and rain. Can't see what's coming," uttered the voice.
"Must--keep--her--moving--enough to steer--and chance it," it went on to
"I am doing as much as I dare."
"We are--getting--smashed up--a good deal up here," proceeded the voice
mildly. "Doing--fairly well--though. Of course, if the wheelhouse should
go. . . ."
Mr. Rout, bending an attentive ear, muttered peevishly something under
But the deliberate voice up there became animated to ask: "Jukes turned
up yet?" Then, after a short wait, "I wish he would bear a hand. I want
him to be done and come up here in case of anything. To look after the
ship. I am all alone. The second mate's lost. . . ."
"What?" shouted Mr. Rout into the engine-room, taking his head away.
Then up the tube he cried, "Gone overboard?" and clapped his ear to.
"Lost his nerve," the voice from above continued in a matter-of-fact
tone. "Damned awkward circumstance."
Mr. Rout, listening with bowed neck, opened his eyes wide at this.
However, he heard something like the sounds of a scuffle and broken
exclamations coming down to him. He strained his hearing; and all the
time Beale, the third engineer, with his arms uplifted, held between
the palms of his hands the rim of a little black wheel projecting at the
side of a big copper pipe.
He seemed to be poising it above his head, as though it were a correct
attitude in some sort of game.
To steady himself, he pressed his shoulder against the white bulkhead,
one knee bent, and a sweat-rag tucked in his belt hanging on his hip.
His smooth cheek was begrimed and flushed, and the coal dust on his
eyelids, like the black pencilling of a make-up, enhanced the liquid
brilliance of the whites, giving to his youthful face something of a
feminine, exotic and fascinating aspect. When the ship pitched he would
with hasty movements of his hands screw hard at the little wheel.
"Gone crazy," began the Captain's voice suddenly in the tube. "Rushed at
me. . . . Just now. Had to knock him down. . . . This minute. You heard,
"The devil!" muttered Mr. Rout. "Look out, Beale!"
His shout rang out like the blast of a warning trumpet, between the iron
walls of the engine-room. Painted white, they rose high into the dusk of
the skylight, sloping like a roof; and the whole lofty space resembled
the interior of a monument, divided by floors of iron grating, with
lights flickering at different levels, and a mass of gloom lingering in
the middle, within the columnar stir of machinery under the motionless
swelling of the cylinders. A loud and wild resonance, made up of all the
noises of the hurricane, dwelt in the still warmth of the air. There was
in it the smell of hot metal, of oil, and a slight mist of steam. The
blows of the sea seemed to traverse it in an unringing, stunning shock,
from side to side.
Gleams, like pale long flames, trembled upon the polish of metal; from
the flooring below the enormous crank-heads emerged in their turns
with a flash of brass and steel--going over; while the connecting-rods,
big-jointed, like skeleton limbs, seemed to thrust them down and pull
them up again with an irresistible precision. And deep in the half-light
other rods dodged deliberately to and fro, crossheads nodded, discs
of metal rubbed smoothly against each other, slow and gentle, in a
commingling of shadows and gleams.
Sometimes all those powerful and unerring movements would slow down
simultaneously, as if they had been the functions of a living organism,
stricken suddenly by the blight of languor; and Mr. Rout's eyes would
blaze darker in his long sallow face. He was fighting this fight in a
pair of carpet slippers. A short shiny jacket barely covered his loins,
and his white wrists protruded far out of the tight sleeves, as though
the emergency had added to his stature, had lengthened his limbs,
augmented his pallor, hollowed his eyes.
He moved, climbing high up, disappearing low down, with a restless,
purposeful industry, and when he stood still, holding the guard-rail in
front of the starting-gear, he would keep glancing to the right at the
steam-gauge, at the water-gauge, fixed upon the white wall in the light
of a swaying lamp. The mouths of two speaking-tubes gaped stupidly at his
elbow, and the dial of the engine-room telegraph resembled a clock of
large diameter, bearing on its face curt words instead of figures. The
grouped letters stood out heavily black, around the pivot-head of the
indicator, emphatically symbolic of loud exclamations: AHEAD, ASTERN,
SLOW, Half, STAND BY; and the fat black hand pointed downwards to the
word FULL, which, thus singled out, captured the eye as a sharp cry
The wood-encased bulk of the low-pressure cylinder, frowning portly from
above, emitted a faint wheeze at every thrust, and except for that
low hiss the engines worked their steel limbs headlong or slow with a
silent, determined smoothness. And all this, the white walls, the moving
steel, the floor plates under Solomon Rout's feet, the floors of
iron grating above his head, the dusk and the gleams, uprose and sank
continuously, with one accord, upon the harsh wash of the waves against
the ship's side. The whole loftiness of the place, booming hollow to the
great voice of the wind, swayed at the top like a tree, would go over
bodily, as if borne down this way and that by the tremendous blasts.
"You've got to hurry up," shouted Mr. Rout, as soon as he saw Jukes
appear in the stokehold doorway.
Jukes' glance was wandering and tipsy; his red face was puffy, as though
he had overslept himself. He had had an arduous road, and had travelled
over it with immense vivacity, the agitation of his mind corresponding
to the exertions of his body. He had rushed up out of the bunker,
stumbling in the dark alleyway amongst a lot of bewildered men who, trod
upon, asked "What's up, sir?" in awed mutters all round him;--down the
stokehold ladder, missing many iron rungs in his hurry, down into a
place deep as a well, black as Tophet, tipping over back and forth like
a see-saw. The water in the bilges thundered at each roll, and lumps of
coal skipped to and fro, from end to end, rattling like an avalanche of
pebbles on a slope of iron.
Somebody in there moaned with pain, and somebody else could be seen
crouching over what seemed the prone body of a dead man; a lusty voice
blasphemed; and the glow under each fire-door was like a pool of flaming
blood radiating quietly in a velvety blackness.
A gust of wind struck upon the nape of Jukes' neck and next moment
he felt it streaming about his wet ankles. The stokehold ventilators
hummed: in front of the six fire-doors two wild figures, stripped to the
waist, staggered and stooped, wrestling with two shovels.
"Hallo! Plenty of draught now," yelled the second engineer at once, as
though he had been all the time looking out for Jukes. The donkeyman,
a dapper little chap with a dazzling fair skin and a tiny, gingery
moustache, worked in a sort of mute transport. They were keeping a full
head of steam, and a profound rumbling, as of an empty furniture van
trotting over a bridge, made a sustained bass to all the other noises of
"Blowing off all the time," went on yelling the second. With a sound as
of a hundred scoured saucepans, the orifice of a ventilator spat upon
his shoulder a sudden gush of salt water, and he volleyed a stream of
curses upon all things on earth including his own soul, ripping and
raving, and all the time attending to his business. With a sharp clash
of metal the ardent pale glare of the fire opened upon his bullet head,
showing his spluttering lips, his insolent face, and with another clang
closed like the white-hot wink of an iron eye.
"Where's the blooming ship? Can you tell me? blast my eyes! Under
water--or what? It's coming down here in tons. Are the condemned cowls
gone to Hades? Hey? Don't you know anything--you jolly sailor-man you
. . . ?"
Jukes, after a bewildered moment, had been helped by a roll to dart
through; and as soon as his eyes took in the comparative vastness, peace
and brilliance of the engine-room, the ship, setting her stern heavily
in the water, sent him charging head down upon Mr. Rout.
The chief's arm, long like a tentacle, and straightening as if worked
by a spring, went out to meet him, and deflected his rush into a
spin towards the speaking-tubes. At the same time Mr. Rout repeated
"You've got to hurry up, whatever it is."
Jukes yelled "Are you there, sir?" and listened. Nothing. Suddenly the
roar of the wind fell straight into his ear, but presently a small voice
shoved aside the shouting hurricane quietly.
Jukes was ready to talk: it was only time that seemed to be wanting. It
was easy enough to account for everything. He could perfectly imagine
the coolies battened down in the reeking 'tween-deck, lying sick and
scared between the rows of chests. Then one of these chests--or perhaps
several at once--breaking loose in a roll, knocking out others, sides
splitting, lids flying open, and all these clumsy Chinamen rising up in
a body to save their property. Afterwards every fling of the ship would
hurl that tramping, yelling mob here and there, from side to side, in a
whirl of smashed wood, torn clothing, rolling dollars. A struggle once
started, they would be unable to stop themselves. Nothing could stop
them now except main force. It was a disaster. He had seen it, and that
was all he could say. Some of them must be dead, he believed. The rest
would go on fighting. . . .
He sent up his words, tripping over each other, crowding the narrow
tube. They mounted as if into a silence of an enlightened comprehension
dwelling alone up there with a storm. And Jukes wanted to be dismissed
from the face of that odious trouble intruding on the great need of the
He waited. Before his eyes the engines turned with slow labour, that in
the moment of going off into a mad fling would stop dead at Mr. Rout's
shout, "Look out, Beale!" They paused in an intelligent immobility,
stilled in mid-stroke, a heavy crank arrested on the cant, as if
conscious of danger and the passage of time. Then, with a "Now, then!"
from the chief, and the sound of a breath expelled through clenched
teeth, they would accomplish the interrupted revolution and begin
There was the prudent sagacity of wisdom and the deliberation of
enormous strength in their movements. This was their work--this patient
coaxing of a distracted ship over the fury of the waves and into the
very eye of the wind. At times Mr. Rout's chin would sink on his breast,
and he watched them with knitted eyebrows as if lost in thought.
The voice that kept the hurricane out of Jukes' ear began: "Take the
hands with you . . . ," and left off unexpectedly.
"What could I do with them, sir?"
A harsh, abrupt, imperious clang exploded suddenly. The three pairs of
eyes flew up to the telegraph dial to see the hand jump from FULL
to STOP, as if snatched by a devil. And then these three men in the
engineroom had the intimate sensation of a check upon the ship, of a
strange shrinking, as if she had gathered herself for a desperate leap.
"Stop her!" bellowed Mr. Rout.
Nobody--not even Captain MacWhirr, who alone on deck had caught sight of
a white line of foam coming on at such a height that he couldn't believe
his eyes--nobody was to know the steepness of that sea and the awful
depth of the hollow the hurricane had scooped out behind the running
wall of water.
It raced to meet the ship, and, with a pause, as of girding the loins,
the Nan-Shan lifted her bows and leaped. The flames in all the lamps
sank, darkening the engine-room. One went out. With a tearing crash and
a swirling, raving tumult, tons of water fell upon the deck, as though
the ship had darted under the foot of a cataract.
Down there they looked at each other, stunned.
"Swept from end to end, by God!" bawled Jukes.
She dipped into the hollow straight down, as if going over the edge of
the world. The engine-room toppled forward menacingly, like the inside
of a tower nodding in an earthquake. An awful racket, of iron things
falling, came from the stokehold. She hung on this appalling slant long
enough for Beale to drop on his hands and knees and begin to crawl as if
he meant to fly on all fours out of the engine-room, and for Mr. Rout
to turn his head slowly, rigid, cavernous, with the lower jaw dropping.
Jukes had shut his eyes, and his face in a moment became hopelessly
blank and gentle, like the face of a blind man.
At last she rose slowly, staggering, as if she had to lift a mountain
with her bows.
Mr. Rout shut his mouth; Jukes blinked; and little Beale stood up
"Another one like this, and that's the last of her," cried the chief.
He and Jukes looked at each other, and the same thought came into their
heads. The Captain! Everything must have been swept away. Steering-gear
gone--ship like a log. All over directly.
"Rush!" ejaculated Mr. Rout thickly, glaring with enlarged, doubtful
eyes at Jukes, who answered him by an irresolute glance.
The clang of the telegraph gong soothed them instantly. The black hand
dropped in a flash from STOP to FULL.
"Now then, Beale!" cried Mr. Rout.
The steam hissed low. The piston-rods slid in and out. Jukes put his
ear to the tube. The voice was ready for him. It said: "Pick up all the
money. Bear a hand now. I'll want you up here." And that was all.
"Sir?" called up Jukes. There was no answer.
He staggered away like a defeated man from the field of battle. He had
got, in some way or other, a cut above his left eyebrow--a cut to the
bone. He was not aware of it in the least: quantities of the China Sea,
large enough to break his neck for him, had gone over his head, had
cleaned, washed, and salted that wound. It did not bleed, but only gaped
red; and this gash over the eye, his dishevelled hair, the disorder of
his clothes, gave him the aspect of a man worsted in a fight with fists.
"Got to pick up the dollars." He appealed to Mr. Rout, smiling pitifully
"What's that?" asked Mr. Rout, wildly. "Pick up . . . ? I don't care.
. . ." Then, quivering in every muscle, but with an exaggeration of
paternal tone, "Go away now, for God's sake. You deck people'll drive
me silly. There's that second mate been going for the old man. Don't you
know? You fellows are going wrong for want of something to do. . . ."
At these words Jukes discovered in himself the beginnings of anger. Want
of something to do--indeed. . . . Full of hot scorn against the
chief, he turned to go the way he had come. In the stokehold the plump
donkeyman toiled with his shovel mutely, as if his tongue had been cut
out; but the second was carrying on like a noisy, undaunted maniac, who
had preserved his skill in the art of stoking under a marine boiler.
"Hallo, you wandering officer! Hey! Can't you get some of your
slush-slingers to wind up a few of them ashes? I am getting choked with
them here. Curse it! Hallo! Hey! Remember the articles: Sailors and
firemen to assist each other. Hey! D'ye hear?"
Jukes was climbing out frantically, and the other, lifting up his face
after him, howled, "Can't you speak? What are you poking about here for?
What's your game, anyhow?"
A frenzy possessed Jukes. By the time he was back amongst the men in the
darkness of the alleyway, he felt ready to wring all their necks at the
slightest sign of hanging back. The very thought of it exasperated him.
He couldn't hang back. They shouldn't.
The impetuosity with which he came amongst them carried them along. They
had already been excited and startled at all his comings and goings--by
the fierceness and rapidity of his movements; and more felt than seen
in his rushes, he appeared formidable--busied with matters of life and
death that brooked no delay. At his first word he heard them drop into
the bunker one after another obediently, with heavy thumps.
They were not clear as to what would have to be done. "What is it? What
is it?" they were asking each other. The boatswain tried to explain;
the sounds of a great scuffle surprised them: and the mighty shocks,
reverberating awfully in the black bunker, kept them in mind of their
danger. When the boatswain threw open the door it seemed that an eddy of
the hurricane, stealing through the iron sides of the ship, had set all
these bodies whirling like dust: there came to them a confused uproar,
a tempestuous tumult, a fierce mutter, gusts of screams dying away, and
the tramping of feet mingling with the blows of the sea.
For a moment they glared amazed, blocking the doorway. Jukes pushed
through them brutally. He said nothing, and simply darted in. Another
lot of coolies on the ladder, struggling suicidally to break through the
battened hatch to a swamped deck, fell off as before, and he disappeared
under them like a man overtaken by a landslide.
The boatswain yelled excitedly: "Come along. Get the mate out. He'll be
trampled to death. Come on."
They charged in, stamping on breasts, on fingers, on faces, catching
their feet in heaps of clothing, kicking broken wood; but before they
could get hold of him Jukes emerged waist deep in a multitude of clawing
hands. In the instant he had been lost to view, all the buttons of his
jacket had gone, its back had got split up to the collar, his waistcoat
had been torn open. The central struggling mass of Chinamen went over to
the roll, dark, indistinct, helpless, with a wild gleam of many eyes in
the dim light of the lamps.
"Leave me alone--damn you. I am all right," screeched Jukes. "Drive them
forward. Watch your chance when she pitches. Forward with 'em. Drive
them against the bulkhead. Jam 'em up."
The rush of the sailors into the seething 'tween-deck was like a splash
of cold water into a boiling cauldron. The commotion sank for a moment.
The bulk of Chinamen were locked in such a compact scrimmage that,
linking their arms and aided by an appalling dive of the ship, the
seamen sent it forward in one great shove, like a solid block. Behind
their backs small clusters and loose bodies tumbled from side to side.
The boatswain performed prodigious feats of strength. With his long arms
open, and each great paw clutching at a stanchion, he stopped the rush
of seven entwined Chinamen rolling like a boulder. His joints cracked;
he said, "Ha!" and they flew apart. But the carpenter showed the greater
intelligence. Without saying a word to anybody he went back into the
alleyway, to fetch several coils of cargo gear he had seen there--chain
and rope. With these life-lines were rigged.
There was really no resistance. The struggle, however it began, had
turned into a scramble of blind panic. If the coolies had started up
after their scattered dollars they were by that time fighting only
for their footing. They took each other by the throat merely to save
themselves from being hurled about. Whoever got a hold anywhere would
kick at the others who caught at his legs and hung on, till a roll sent
them flying together across the deck.
The coming of the white devils was a terror. Had they come to kill? The
individuals torn out of the ruck became very limp in the seamen's hands:
some, dragged aside by the heels, were passive, like dead bodies, with
open, fixed eyes. Here and there a coolie would fall on his knees as if
begging for mercy; several, whom the excess of fear made unruly, were
hit with hard fists between the eyes, and cowered; while those who were
hurt submitted to rough handling, blinking rapidly without a plaint.
Faces streamed with blood; there were raw places on the shaven heads,
scratches, bruises, torn wounds, gashes. The broken porcelain out of the
chests was mostly responsible for the latter. Here and there a Chinaman,
wild-eyed, with his tail unplaited, nursed a bleeding sole.
They had been ranged closely, after having been shaken into submission,
cuffed a little to allay excitement, addressed in gruff words of
encouragement that sounded like promises of evil. They sat on the deck
in ghastly, drooping rows, and at the end the carpenter, with two hands
to help him, moved busily from place to place, setting taut and hitching
the life-lines. The boatswain, with one leg and one arm embracing a
stanchion, struggled with a lamp pressed to his breast, trying to get
a light, and growling all the time like an industrious gorilla. The
figures of seamen stooped repeatedly, with the movements of gleaners,
and everything was being flung into the bunker: clothing, smashed wood,
broken china, and the dollars, too, gathered up in men's jackets. Now
and then a sailor would stagger towards the doorway with his arms full
of rubbish; and dolorous, slanting eyes followed his movements.
With every roll of the ship the long rows of sitting Celestials would
sway forward brokenly, and her headlong dives knocked together the line
of shaven polls from end to end. When the wash of water rolling on the
deck died away for a moment, it seemed to Jukes, yet quivering from his
exertions, that in his mad struggle down there he had overcome the wind
somehow: that a silence had fallen upon the ship, a silence in which the
sea struck thunderously at her sides.
Everything had been cleared out of the 'tween-deck--all the wreckage,
as the men said. They stood erect and tottering above the level of heads
and drooping shoulders. Here and there a coolie sobbed for his breath.
Where the high light fell, Jukes could see the salient ribs of one, the
yellow, wistful face of another; bowed necks; or would meet a dull stare
directed at his face. He was amazed that there had been no corpses; but
the lot of them seemed at their last gasp, and they appeared to him more
pitiful than if they had been all dead.
Suddenly one of the coolies began to speak. The light came and went on
his lean, straining face; he threw his head up like a baying hound. From
the bunker came the sounds of knocking and the tinkle of some dollars
rolling loose; he stretched out his arm, his mouth yawned black, and the
incomprehensible guttural hooting sounds, that did not seem to belong to
a human language, penetrated Jukes with a strange emotion as if a brute
had tried to be eloquent.
Two more started mouthing what seemed to Jukes fierce denunciations; the
others stirred with grunts and growls. Jukes ordered the hands out of
the 'tweendecks hurriedly. He left last himself, backing through the
door, while the grunts rose to a loud murmur and hands were extended
after him as after a malefactor. The boatswain shot the bolt, and
remarked uneasily, "Seems as if the wind had dropped, sir."
The seamen were glad to get back into the alleyway. Secretly each of
them thought that at the last moment he could rush out on deck--and
that was a comfort. There is something horribly repugnant in the idea
of being drowned under a deck. Now they had done with the Chinamen, they
again became conscious of the ship's position.
Jukes on coming out of the alleyway found himself up to the neck in
the noisy water. He gained the bridge, and discovered he could detect
obscure shapes as if his sight had become preternaturally acute. He saw
faint outlines. They recalled not the familiar aspect of the Nan-Shan,
but something remembered--an old dismantled steamer he had seen years
ago rotting on a mudbank. She recalled that wreck.
There was no wind, not a breath, except the faint currents created by
the lurches of the ship. The smoke tossed out of the funnel was settling
down upon her deck. He breathed it as he passed forward. He felt the
deliberate throb of the engines, and heard small sounds that seemed to
have survived the great uproar: the knocking of broken fittings, the
rapid tumbling of some piece of wreckage on the bridge. He perceived
dimly the squat shape of his captain holding on to a twisted
bridge-rail, motionless and swaying as if rooted to the planks. The
unexpected stillness of the air oppressed Jukes.
"We have done it, sir," he gasped.
"Thought you would," said Captain MacWhirr.
"Did you?" murmured Jukes to himself.
"Wind fell all at once," went on the Captain.
Jukes burst out: "If you think it was an easy job--"
But his captain, clinging to the rail, paid no attention. "According to
the books the worst is not over yet."
"If most of them hadn't been half dead with seasickness and fright, not
one of us would have come out of that 'tween-deck alive," said Jukes.
"Had to do what's fair by them," mumbled MacWhirr, stolidly. "You don't
find everything in books."
"Why, I believe they would have risen on us if I hadn't ordered the
hands out of that pretty quick," continued Jukes with warmth.
After the whisper of their shouts, their ordinary tones, so distinct,
rang out very loud to their ears in the amazing stillness of the air. It
seemed to them they were talking in a dark and echoing vault.
Through a jagged aperture in the dome of clouds the light of a few stars
fell upon the black sea, rising and falling confusedly. Sometimes the
head of a watery cone would topple on board and mingle with the rolling
flurry of foam on the swamped deck; and the Nan-Shan wallowed heavily at
the bottom of a circular cistern of clouds. This ring of dense vapours,
gyrating madly round the calm of the centre, encompassed the ship like
a motionless and unbroken wall of an aspect inconceivably sinister.
Within, the sea, as if agitated by an internal commotion, leaped in
peaked mounds that jostled each other, slapping heavily against her
sides; and a low moaning sound, the infinite plaint of the storm's
fury, came from beyond the limits of the menacing calm. Captain MacWhirr
remained silent, and Jukes' ready ear caught suddenly the faint,
long-drawn roar of some immense wave rushing unseen under that thick
blackness, which made the appalling boundary of his vision.
"Of course," he started resentfully, "they thought we had caught at the
chance to plunder them. Of course! You said--pick up the money. Easier
said than done. They couldn't tell what was in our heads. We came in,
smash--right into the middle of them. Had to do it by a rush."
"As long as it's done . . . ," mumbled the Captain, without attempting
to look at Jukes. "Had to do what's fair."
"We shall find yet there's the devil to pay when this is over," said
Jukes, feeling very sore. "Let them only recover a bit, and you'll
see. They will fly at our throats, sir. Don't forget, sir, she isn't
a British ship now. These brutes know it well, too. The damned Siamese
"We are on board, all the same," remarked Captain MacWhirr.
"The trouble's not over yet," insisted Jukes, prophetically, reeling and
catching on. "She's a wreck," he added, faintly.
"The trouble's not over yet," assented Captain MacWhirr, half aloud
. . . . "Look out for her a minute."
"Are you going off the deck, sir?" asked Jukes, hurriedly, as if the
storm were sure to pounce upon him as soon as he had been left alone
with the ship.
He watched her, battered and solitary, labouring heavily in a wild scene
of mountainous black waters lit by the gleams of distant worlds. She
moved slowly, breathing into the still core of the hurricane the excess
of her strength in a white cloud of steam--and the deep-toned vibration
of the escape was like the defiant trumpeting of a living creature of
the sea impatient for the renewal of the contest. It ceased suddenly.
The still air moaned. Above Jukes' head a few stars shone into a pit
of black vapours. The inky edge of the cloud-disc frowned upon the ship
under the patch of glittering sky. The stars, too, seemed to look at her
intently, as if for the last time, and the cluster of their splendour
sat like a diadem on a lowering brow.
Captain MacWhirr had gone into the chart-room. There was no light there;
but he could feel the disorder of that place where he used to live
tidily. His armchair was upset. The books had tumbled out on the floor:
he scrunched a piece of glass under his boot. He groped for the matches,
and found a box on a shelf with a deep ledge. He struck one, and
puckering the corners of his eyes, held out the little flame towards
the barometer whose glittering top of glass and metals nodded at him
It stood very low--incredibly low, so low that Captain MacWhirr grunted.
The match went out, and hurriedly he extracted another, with thick,
Again a little flame flared up before the nodding glass and metal of the
top. His eyes looked at it, narrowed with attention, as if expecting
an imperceptible sign. With his grave face he resembled a booted and
misshapen pagan burning incense before the oracle of a Joss. There was
no mistake. It was the lowest reading he had ever seen in his life.
Captain MacWhirr emitted a low whistle. He forgot himself till the flame
diminished to a blue spark, burnt his fingers and vanished. Perhaps
something had gone wrong with the thing!
There was an aneroid glass screwed above the couch. He turned that
way, struck another match, and discovered the white face of the other
instrument looking at him from the bulkhead, meaningly, not to be
gainsaid, as though the wisdom of men were made unerring by the
indifference of matter. There was no room for doubt now. Captain
MacWhirr pshawed at it, and threw the match down.
The worst was to come, then--and if the books were right this worst
would be very bad. The experience of the last six hours had enlarged his
conception of what heavy weather could be like. "It'll be terrific," he
pronounced, mentally. He had not consciously looked at anything by the
light of the matches except at the barometer; and yet somehow he had
seen that his water-bottle and the two tumblers had been flung out of
their stand. It seemed to give him a more intimate knowledge of the
tossing the ship had gone through. "I wouldn't have believed it," he
thought. And his table had been cleared, too; his rulers, his pencils,
the inkstand--all the things that had their safe appointed places--they
were gone, as if a mischievous hand had plucked them out one by one
and flung them on the wet floor. The hurricane had broken in upon the
orderly arrangements of his privacy. This had never happened before, and
the feeling of dismay reached the very seat of his composure. And the
worst was to come yet! He was glad the trouble in the 'tween-deck had
been discovered in time. If the ship had to go after all, then, at
least, she wouldn't be going to the bottom with a lot of people in
her fighting teeth and claw. That would have been odious. And in that
feeling there was a humane intention and a vague sense of the fitness of
These instantaneous thoughts were yet in their essence heavy and slow,
partaking of the nature of the man. He extended his hand to put back the
matchbox in its corner of the shelf. There were always matches there--by
his order. The steward had his instructions impressed upon him long
before. "A box . . . just there, see? Not so very full . . . where I can
put my hand on it, steward. Might want a light in a hurry. Can't tell on
board ship what you might want in a hurry. Mind, now."
And of course on his side he would be careful to put it back in its
place scrupulously. He did so now, but before he removed his hand it
occurred to him that perhaps he would never have occasion to use that
box any more. The vividness of the thought checked him and for an
infinitesimal fraction of a second his fingers closed again on the small
object as though it had been the symbol of all these little habits that
chain us to the weary round of life. He released it at last, and letting
himself fall on the settee, listened for the first sounds of returning
Not yet. He heard only the wash of water, the heavy splashes, the dull
shocks of the confused seas boarding his ship from all sides. She would
never have a chance to clear her decks.
But the quietude of the air was startlingly tense and unsafe, like a
slender hair holding a sword suspended over his head. By this awful
pause the storm penetrated the defences of the man and unsealed his
lips. He spoke out in the solitude and the pitch darkness of the cabin,
as if addressing another being awakened within his breast.
"I shouldn't like to lose her," he said half aloud.
He sat unseen, apart from the sea, from his ship, isolated, as if
withdrawn from the very current of his own existence, where such freaks
as talking to himself surely had no place. His palms reposed on his
knees, he bowed his short neck and puffed heavily, surrendering to
a strange sensation of weariness he was not enlightened enough to
recognize for the fatigue of mental stress.
From where he sat he could reach the door of a washstand locker. There
should have been a towel there. There was. Good. . . . He took it out,
wiped his face, and afterwards went on rubbing his wet head. He towelled
himself with energy in the dark, and then remained motionless with the
towel on his knees. A moment passed, of a stillness so profound that
no one could have guessed there was a man sitting in that cabin. Then a
"She may come out of it yet."
When Captain MacWhirr came out on deck, which he did brusquely, as
though he had suddenly become conscious of having stayed away too long,
the calm had lasted already more than fifteen minutes--long enough to
make itself intolerable even to his imagination. Jukes, motionless on
the forepart of the bridge, began to speak at once. His voice, blank and
forced as though he were talking through hard-set teeth, seemed to flow
away on all sides into the darkness, deepening again upon the sea.
"I had the wheel relieved. Hackett began to sing out that he was done.
He's lying in there alongside the steering-gear with a face like death.
At first I couldn't get anybody to crawl out and relieve the poor devil.
That boss'n's worse than no good, I always said. Thought I would have
had to go myself and haul out one of them by the neck."
"Ah, well," muttered the Captain. He stood watchful by Jukes' side.
"The second mate's in there, too, holding his head. Is he hurt, sir?"
"No--crazy," said Captain MacWhirr, curtly.
"Looks as if he had a tumble, though."
"I had to give him a push," explained the Captain.
Jukes gave an impatient sigh.
"It will come very sudden," said Captain MacWhirr, "and from over there,
I fancy. God only knows though. These books are only good to muddle your
head and make you jumpy. It will be bad, and there's an end. If we only
can steam her round in time to meet it. . . ."
A minute passed. Some of the stars winked rapidly and vanished.
"You left them pretty safe?" began the Captain abruptly, as though the
silence were unbearable.
"Are you thinking of the coolies, sir? I rigged lifelines all ways
across that 'tween-deck."
"Did you? Good idea, Mr. Jukes."
"I didn't . . . think you cared to . . . know," said Jukes--the lurching
of the ship cut his speech as though somebody had been jerking him
around while he talked--"how I got on with . . . that infernal job. We
did it. And it may not matter in the end."
"Had to do what's fair, for all--they are only Chinamen. Give them the
same chance with ourselves--hang it all. She isn't lost yet. Bad enough
to be shut up below in a gale--"
"That's what I thought when you gave me the job, sir," interjected
"--without being battered to pieces," pursued Captain MacWhirr with
rising vehemence. "Couldn't let that go on in my ship, if I knew she
hadn't five minutes to live. Couldn't bear it, Mr. Jukes."
A hollow echoing noise, like that of a shout rolling in a rocky chasm,
approached the ship and went away again. The last star, blurred,
enlarged, as if returning to the fiery mist of its beginning, struggled
with the colossal depth of blackness hanging over the ship--and went
"Now for it!" muttered Captain MacWhirr. "Mr. Jukes."
The two men were growing indistinct to each other.
"We must trust her to go through it and come out on the other side.
That's plain and straight. There's no room for Captain Wilson's
"She will be smothered and swept again for hours," mumbled the Captain.
"There's not much left by this time above deck for the sea to take
away--unless you or me."
"Both, sir," whispered Jukes, breathlessly.
"You are always meeting trouble half way, Jukes," Captain MacWhirr
remonstrated quaintly. "Though it's a fact that the second mate is no
good. D'ye hear, Mr. Jukes? You would be left alone if. . . ."
Captain MacWhirr interrupted himself, and Jukes, glancing on all sides,
"Don't you be put out by anything," the Captain continued, mumbling
rather fast. "Keep her facing it. They may say what they like, but the
heaviest seas run with the wind. Facing it--always facing it--that's the
way to get through. You are a young sailor. Face it. That's enough for
any man. Keep a cool head."
"Yes, sir," said Jukes, with a flutter of the heart.
In the next few seconds the Captain spoke to the engine-room and got an
For some reason Jukes experienced an access of confidence, a sensation
that came from outside like a warm breath, and made him feel equal to
every demand. The distant muttering of the darkness stole into his ears.
He noted it unmoved, out of that sudden belief in himself, as a man safe
in a shirt of mail would watch a point.
The ship laboured without intermission amongst the black hills of water,
paying with this hard tumbling the price of her life. She rumbled in
her depths, shaking a white plummet of steam into the night, and
Jukes' thought skimmed like a bird through the engine-room, where Mr.
Rout--good man--was ready. When the rumbling ceased it seemed to him
that there was a pause of every sound, a dead pause in which Captain
MacWhirr's voice rang out startlingly.
"What's that? A puff of wind?"--it spoke much louder than Jukes had ever
heard it before--"On the bow. That's right. She may come out of it yet."
The mutter of the winds drew near apace. In the forefront could be
distinguished a drowsy waking plaint passing on, and far off the growth
of a multiple clamour, marching and expanding. There was the throb as
of many drums in it, a vicious rushing note, and like the chant of a
Jukes could no longer see his captain distinctly. The darkness was
absolutely piling itself upon the ship. At most he made out movements, a
hint of elbows spread out, of a head thrown up.
Captain MacWhirr was trying to do up the top button of his oilskin coat
with unwonted haste. The hurricane, with its power to madden the seas,
to sink ships, to uproot trees, to overturn strong walls and dash the
very birds of the air to the ground, had found this taciturn man in
its path, and, doing its utmost, had managed to wring out a few words.
Before the renewed wrath of winds swooped on his ship, Captain MacWhirr
was moved to declare, in a tone of vexation, as it were: "I wouldn't
like to lose her."
He was spared that annoyance.
On A bright sunshiny day, with the breeze chasing her smoke far ahead,
the Nan-Shan came into Fu-chau. Her arrival was at once noticed on
shore, and the seamen in harbour said: "Look! Look at that steamer.
What's that? Siamese--isn't she? Just look at her!"
She seemed, indeed, to have been used as a running target for the
secondary batteries of a cruiser. A hail of minor shells could not have
given her upper works a more broken, torn, and devastated aspect: and
she had about her the worn, weary air of ships coming from the far ends
of the world--and indeed with truth, for in her short passage she had
been very far; sighting, verily, even the coast of the Great Beyond,
whence no ship ever returns to give up her crew to the dust of the
earth. She was incrusted and gray with salt to the trucks of her masts
and to the top of her funnel; as though (as some facetious seaman said)
"the crowd on board had fished her out somewhere from the bottom of the
sea and brought her in here for salvage." And further, excited by the
felicity of his own wit, he offered to give five pounds for her--"as she
Before she had been quite an hour at rest, a meagre little man, with a
red-tipped nose and a face cast in an angry mould, landed from a sampan
on the quay of the Foreign Concession, and incontinently turned to shake
his fist at her.
A tall individual, with legs much too thin for a rotund stomach, and
with watery eyes, strolled up and remarked, "Just left her--eh? Quick
He wore a soiled suit of blue flannel with a pair of dirty cricketing
shoes; a dingy gray moustache drooped from his lip, and daylight could
be seen in two places between the rim and the crown of his hat.
"Hallo! what are you doing here?" asked the ex-second-mate of the
Nan-Shan, shaking hands hurriedly.
"Standing by for a job--chance worth taking--got a quiet hint,"
explained the man with the broken hat, in jerky, apathetic wheezes.
The second shook his fist again at the Nan-Shan. "There's a fellow there
that ain't fit to have the command of a scow," he declared, quivering
with passion, while the other looked about listlessly.
But he caught sight on the quay of a heavy seaman's chest, painted brown
under a fringed sailcloth cover, and lashed with new manila line. He
eyed it with awakened interest.
"I would talk and raise trouble if it wasn't for that damned Siamese
flag. Nobody to go to--or I would make it hot for him. The fraud! Told
his chief engineer--that's another fraud for you--I had lost my nerve.
The greatest lot of ignorant fools that ever sailed the seas. No! You
can't think . . ."
"Got your money all right?" inquired his seedy acquaintance suddenly.
"Yes. Paid me off on board," raged the second mate. "'Get your breakfast
on shore,' says he."
"Mean skunk!" commented the tall man, vaguely, and passed his tongue on
his lips. "What about having a drink of some sort?"
"He struck me," hissed the second mate.
"No! Struck! You don't say?" The man in blue began to bustle about
sympathetically. "Can't possibly talk here. I want to know all about it.
Struck--eh? Let's get a fellow to carry your chest. I know a quiet place
where they have some bottled beer. . . ."
Mr. Jukes, who had been scanning the shore through a pair of glasses,
informed the chief engineer afterwards that "our late second mate hasn't
been long in finding a friend. A chap looking uncommonly like a bummer.
I saw them walk away together from the quay."
The hammering and banging of the needful repairs did not disturb
Captain MacWhirr. The steward found in the letter he wrote, in a tidy
chart-room, passages of such absorbing interest that twice he was
nearly caught in the act. But Mrs. MacWhirr, in the drawing-room of the
forty-pound house, stifled a yawn--perhaps out of self-respect--for she
She reclined in a plush-bottomed and gilt hammock-chair near a tiled
fireplace, with Japanese fans on the mantel and a glow of coals in the
grate. Lifting her hands, she glanced wearily here and there into the
many pages. It was not her fault they were so prosy, so completely
uninteresting--from "My darling wife" at the beginning, to "Your loving
husband" at the end. She couldn't be really expected to understand all
these ship affairs. She was glad, of course, to hear from him, but she
had never asked herself why, precisely.
". . . They are called typhoons . . . The mate did not seem to like it
. . . Not in books . . . Couldn't think of letting it go on. . . ."
The paper rustled sharply. ". . . . A calm that lasted more than twenty
minutes," she read perfunctorily; and the next words her thoughtless
eyes caught, on the top of another page, were: "see you and the children
again. . . ." She had a movement of impatience. He was always thinking
of coming home. He had never had such a good salary before. What was the
It did not occur to her to turn back overleaf to look. She would have
found it recorded there that between 4 and 6 A. M. on December 25th,
Captain MacWhirr did actually think that his ship could not possibly
live another hour in such a sea, and that he would never see his wife
and children again. Nobody was to know this (his letters got mislaid
so quickly)--nobody whatever but the steward, who had been greatly
impressed by that disclosure. So much so, that he tried to give the cook
some idea of the "narrow squeak we all had" by saying solemnly, "The old
man himself had a dam' poor opinion of our chance."
"How do you know?" asked, contemptuously, the cook, an old soldier. "He
hasn't told you, maybe?"
"Well, he did give me a hint to that effect," the steward brazened it
"Get along with you! He will be coming to tell me next," jeered the old
cook, over his shoulder.
Mrs. MacWhirr glanced farther, on the alert. ". . . Do what's fair. . .
Miserable objects . . . . Only three, with a broken leg each, and one
. . . Thought had better keep the matter quiet . . . hope to have done
the fair thing. . . ."
She let fall her hands. No: there was nothing more about coming home.
Must have been merely expressing a pious wish. Mrs. MacWhirr's mind was
set at ease, and a black marble clock, priced by the local jeweller at
3L. 18s. 6d., had a discreet stealthy tick.
The door flew open, and a girl in the long-legged, short-frocked period
of existence, flung into the room.
A lot of colourless, rather lanky hair was scattered over her shoulders.
Seeing her mother, she stood still, and directed her pale prying eyes
upon the letter.
"From father," murmured Mrs. MacWhirr. "What have you done with your
The girl put her hands up to her head and pouted.
"He's well," continued Mrs. MacWhirr languidly. "At least I think so.
He never says." She had a little laugh. The girl's face expressed a
wandering indifference, and Mrs. MacWhirr surveyed her with fond pride.
"Go and get your hat," she said after a while. "I am going out to do
some shopping. There is a sale at Linom's."
"Oh, how jolly!" uttered the child, impressively, in unexpectedly grave
vibrating tones, and bounded out of the room.
It was a fine afternoon, with a gray sky and dry sidewalks. Outside the
draper's Mrs. MacWhirr smiled upon a woman in a black mantle of generous
proportions armoured in jet and crowned with flowers blooming falsely
above a bilious matronly countenance. They broke into a swift little
babble of greetings and exclamations both together, very hurried, as if
the street were ready to yawn open and swallow all that pleasure before
it could be expressed.
Behind them the high glass doors were kept on the swing. People couldn't
pass, men stood aside waiting patiently, and Lydia was absorbed in
poking the end of her parasol between the stone flags. Mrs. MacWhirr
"Thank you very much. He's not coming home yet. Of course it's very sad
to have him away, but it's such a comfort to know he keeps so well."
Mrs. MacWhirr drew breath. "The climate there agrees with him," she
added, beamingly, as if poor MacWhirr had been away touring in China for
the sake of his health.
Neither was the chief engineer coming home yet. Mr. Rout knew too well
the value of a good billet.
"Solomon says wonders will never cease," cried Mrs. Rout joyously at the
old lady in her armchair by the fire. Mr. Rout's mother moved slightly,
her withered hands lying in black half-mittens on her lap.
The eyes of the engineer's wife fairly danced on the paper. "That
captain of the ship he is in--a rather simple man, you remember,
mother?--has done something rather clever, Solomon says."
"Yes, my dear," said the old woman meekly, sitting with bowed silvery
head, and that air of inward stillness characteristic of very old
people who seem lost in watching the last flickers of life. "I think I
Solomon Rout, Old Sol, Father Sol, the Chief, "Rout, good man"--Mr.
Rout, the condescending and paternal friend of youth, had been the baby
of her many children--all dead by this time. And she remembered him best
as a boy of ten--long before he went away to serve his apprenticeship in
some great engineering works in the North. She had seen so little of him
since, she had gone through so many years, that she had now to retrace
her steps very far back to recognize him plainly in the mist of time.
Sometimes it seemed that her daughter-in-law was talking of some strange
Mrs. Rout junior was disappointed. "H'm. H'm." She turned the page. "How
provoking! He doesn't say what it is. Says I couldn't understand how
much there was in it. Fancy! What could it be so very clever? What a
wretched man not to tell us!"
She read on without further remark soberly, and at last sat looking
into the fire. The chief wrote just a word or two of the typhoon;
but something had moved him to express an increased longing for the
companionship of the jolly woman. "If it hadn't been that mother must be
looked after, I would send you your passage-money to-day. You could set
up a small house out here. I would have a chance to see you sometimes
then. We are not growing younger. . . ."
"He's well, mother," sighed Mrs. Rout, rousing herself.
"He always was a strong healthy boy," said the old woman, placidly.
But Mr. Jukes' account was really animated and very full. His friend in
the Western Ocean trade imparted it freely to the other officers of his
liner. "A chap I know writes to me about an extraordinary affair that
happened on board his ship in that typhoon--you know--that we read of
in the papers two months ago. It's the funniest thing! Just see for
yourself what he says. I'll show you his letter."
There were phrases in it calculated to give the impression of
light-hearted, indomitable resolution. Jukes had written them in good
faith, for he felt thus when he wrote. He described with lurid effect
the scenes in the 'tween-deck. ". . . It struck me in a flash that
those confounded Chinamen couldn't tell we weren't a desperate kind of
robbers. 'Tisn't good to part the Chinaman from his money if he is the
stronger party. We need have been desperate indeed to go thieving in
such weather, but what could these beggars know of us? So, without
thinking of it twice, I got the hands away in a jiffy. Our work was
done--that the old man had set his heart on. We cleared out without
staying to inquire how they felt. I am convinced that if they had not
been so unmercifully shaken, and afraid--each individual one of them
--to stand up, we would have been torn to pieces. Oh! It was pretty
complete, I can tell you; and you may run to and fro across the Pond to
the end of time before you find yourself with such a job on your hands."
After this he alluded professionally to the damage done to the ship, and
went on thus:
"It was when the weather quieted down that the situation became
confoundedly delicate. It wasn't made any better by us having been
lately transferred to the Siamese flag; though the skipper can't see
that it makes any difference--'as long as we are on board'--he says.
There are feelings that this man simply hasn't got--and there's an end
of it. You might just as well try to make a bedpost understand. But
apart from this it is an infernally lonely state for a ship to be going
about the China seas with no proper consuls, not even a gunboat of her
own anywhere, nor a body to go to in case of some trouble.
"My notion was to keep these Johnnies under hatches for another fifteen
hours or so; as we weren't much farther than that from Fu-chau. We would
find there, most likely, some sort of a man-of-war, and once under
her guns we were safe enough; for surely any skipper of a
man-of-war--English, French or Dutch--would see white men through as
far as row on board goes. We could get rid of them and their money
afterwards by delivering them to their Mandarin or Taotai, or whatever
they call these chaps in goggles you see being carried about in
sedan-chairs through their stinking streets.
"The old man wouldn't see it somehow. He wanted to keep the matter
quiet. He got that notion into his head, and a steam windlass couldn't
drag it out of him. He wanted as little fuss made as possible, for the
sake of the ship's name and for the sake of the owners--'for the sake of
all concerned,' says he, looking at me very hard.
"It made me angry hot. Of course you couldn't keep a thing like that
quiet; but the chests had been secured in the usual manner and were safe
enough for any earthly gale, while this had been an altogether fiendish
business I couldn't give you even an idea of.
"Meantime, I could hardly keep on my feet. None of us had a spell of
any sort for nearly thirty hours, and there the old man sat rubbing his
chin, rubbing the top of his head, and so bothered he didn't even think
of pulling his long boots off.
"'I hope, sir,' says I, 'you won't be letting them out on deck before we
make ready for them in some shape or other.' Not, mind you, that I felt
very sanguine about controlling these beggars if they meant to take
charge. A trouble with a cargo of Chinamen is no child's play. I was
dam' tired, too. 'I wish,' said I, 'you would let us throw the whole
lot of these dollars down to them and leave them to fight it out amongst
themselves, while we get a rest.'
"'Now you talk wild, Jukes,' says he, looking up in his slow way that
makes you ache all over, somehow. 'We must plan out something that would
be fair to all parties.'
"I had no end of work on hand, as you may imagine, so I set the hands
going, and then I thought I would turn in a bit. I hadn't been asleep in
my bunk ten minutes when in rushes the steward and begins to pull at my
"'For God's sake, Mr. Jukes, come out! Come on deck quick, sir. Oh, do
"The fellow scared all the sense out of me. I didn't know what had
happened: another hurricane--or what. Could hear no wind.
"'The Captain's letting them out. Oh, he is letting them out! Jump on
deck, sir, and save us. The chief engineer has just run below for his
"That's what I understood the fool to say. However, Father Rout swears
he went in there only to get a clean pocket-handkerchief. Anyhow, I made
one jump into my trousers and flew on deck aft. There was certainly a
good deal of noise going on forward of the bridge. Four of the hands
with the boss'n were at work abaft. I passed up to them some of the
rifles all the ships on the China coast carry in the cabin, and led them
on the bridge. On the way I ran against Old Sol, looking startled and
sucking at an unlighted cigar.
"'Come along,' I shouted to him.
"We charged, the seven of us, up to the chart-room. All was over. There
stood the old man with his sea-boots still drawn up to the hips and
in shirt-sleeves--got warm thinking it out, I suppose. Bun Hin's dandy
clerk at his elbow, as dirty as a sweep, was still green in the face. I
could see directly I was in for something.
"'What the devil are these monkey tricks, Mr. Jukes?' asks the old man,
as angry as ever he could be. I tell you frankly it made me lose my
tongue. 'For God's sake, Mr. Jukes,' says he, 'do take away these rifles
from the men. Somebody's sure to get hurt before long if you don't.
Damme, if this ship isn't worse than Bedlam! Look sharp now. I want
you up here to help me and Bun Hin's Chinaman to count that money. You
wouldn't mind lending a hand, too, Mr. Rout, now you are here. The more
of us the better.'
"He had settled it all in his mind while I was having a snooze. Had we
been an English ship, or only going to land our cargo of coolies in an
English port, like Hong-Kong, for instance, there would have been no
end of inquiries and bother, claims for damages and so on. But these
Chinamen know their officials better than we do.
"The hatches had been taken off already, and they were all on deck after
a night and a day down below. It made you feel queer to see so many
gaunt, wild faces together. The beggars stared about at the sky, at the
sea, at the ship, as though they had expected the whole thing to have
been blown to pieces. And no wonder! They had had a doing that would
have shaken the soul out of a white man. But then they say a Chinaman
has no soul. He has, though, something about him that is deuced tough.
There was a fellow (amongst others of the badly hurt) who had had his
eye all but knocked out. It stood out of his head the size of half a
hen's egg. This would have laid out a white man on his back for a month:
and yet there was that chap elbowing here and there in the crowd and
talking to the others as if nothing had been the matter. They made a
great hubbub amongst themselves, and whenever the old man showed his
bald head on the foreside of the bridge, they would all leave off jawing
and look at him from below.
"It seems that after he had done his thinking he made that Bun Hin's
fellow go down and explain to them the only way they could get their
money back. He told me afterwards that, all the coolies having worked in
the same place and for the same length of time, he reckoned he would be
doing the fair thing by them as near as possible if he shared all the
cash we had picked up equally among the lot. You couldn't tell one man's
dollars from another's, he said, and if you asked each man how much
money he brought on board he was afraid they would lie, and he would
find himself a long way short. I think he was right there. As to giving
up the money to any Chinese official he could scare up in Fu-chau, he
said he might just as well put the lot in his own pocket at once for all
the good it would be to them. I suppose they thought so, too.
"We finished the distribution before dark. It was rather a sight: the
sea running high, the ship a wreck to look at, these Chinamen staggering
up on the bridge one by one for their share, and the old man still
booted, and in his shirt-sleeves, busy paying out at the chartroom door,
perspiring like anything, and now and then coming down sharp on myself
or Father Rout about one thing or another not quite to his mind. He took
the share of those who were disabled himself to them on the No. 2 hatch.
There were three dollars left over, and these went to the three most
damaged coolies, one to each. We turned-to afterwards, and shovelled
out on deck heaps of wet rags, all sorts of fragments of things without
shape, and that you couldn't give a name to, and let them settle the
"This certainly is coming as near as can be to keeping the thing quiet
for the benefit of all concerned. What's your opinion, you pampered
mail-boat swell? The old chief says that this was plainly the only thing
that could be done. The skipper remarked to me the other day, 'There are
things you find nothing about in books.' I think that he got out of it
very well for such a stupid man."
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