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Far as the mariner on highest mast
Can see all around upon the calmed vast
So wide was Neptune's hall . . .
THE main characteristic of this volume consists in
thisthat all the stories composing it belong not only to the
same period but have been written one after another in the order
in which they appear in the book.
The period is that which follows on my connection with
Blackwood's Magazine. I had just finished writing "The End of
the Tether" and was casting about for some subject which could be
developed in a shorter form than the tales in the volume of
Youthwhen the instance of a steamship full of returning
coolies from Singapore to some port in northern China occurred to
my recollection. Years before I had heard it being talked about
in the East as a recent occurrence. It was for us merely one
subject of conversation amongst many others of the kind. Men
earning their bread in any very specialized occupation will talk
shopnot only because it is the most vital interest of their
lives but also because they have not much knowledge of other
subjects. They have never had the time to get acquainted with
them. Lifefor most of usis not so much a hard as an exacting
I never met anybody personally concerned in this affairthe
interest of which for us wasof coursenot the bad weather but
the extraordinary complication brought into the ship's life at a
moment of exceptional stress by the human element below her deck.
Neither was the story itself ever enlarged upon in my hearing. In
that company each of us could imagine easily what the whole thing
was like. The financial difficulty of itpresenting also a
human problemwas solved by a mind much too simple to be
perplexed by anything in the world except men's idle talk for
which it was not adapted.
From the first the mere anecdotethe mere statement I might say
that such a thing had happened on the high seasappeared to me a
sufficient subject for meditation. Yet it was but a bit of a sea
yarn after all. I felt that to bring out its deeper significance
which was quite apparent to mesomething othersomething more
was required; a leading motive that would harmonize all these
violent noisesand a point of view that would put all that
elemental fury into its proper place.
What was needed of course was Captain MacWhirr. Directly I
perceived him I could see that he was the man for the situation.
I don't mean to say that I ever saw Captain MacWhirr in the
fleshor had ever come in contact with his literal mind and his
dauntless temperament. MacWhirr is not an acquaintance of a few
hoursor a few weeksor a few months. He is the product of
twenty years of life. My own life. Conscious invention had
little to do with him. If it is true that Captain MacWhirr never
walked and breathed on this earth (which I find for my part
extremely difficult to believe) I can also assure my readers that
he is perfectly authentic. I may venture to assert the same of
every aspect of the storywhile I confess that the particular
typhoon of the tale was not a typhoon of my actual experience.
At its first appearance "Typhoon the story, was classed by some
critics as a deliberately intended storm-piece. Others picked
out MacWhirr, in whom they perceived a definite symbolic
intention. Neither was exclusively my intention. Both the
typhoon and Captain MacWhirr presented themselves to me as the
necessities of the deep conviction with which I approached the
subject of the story. It was their opportunity. It was also my
opportunity; and it would be vain to discourse about what I made
of it in a handful of pages, since the pages themselves are here,
between the covers of this volume, to speak for themselves.
This is a belated reflection. If it had occurred to me before it
would have perhaps done away with the existence of this Author's
Note; for, indeed, the same remark applies to every story in this
volume. None of them are stories of experience in the absolute
sense of the word. Experience in them is but the canvas of the
attempted picture. Each of them has its more than one intention.
With each the question is what the writer has done with his
opportunity; and each answers the question for itself in words
which, if I may say so without undue solemnity, were written with
a conscientious regard for the truth of my own sensations. And
each of those stories, to mean something, must justify itself in
its own way to the conscience of each successive reader.
Falk" -- the second story in the volume -- offended the delicacy
of one critic at least by certain peculiarities of its subject.
But what is the subject of "Falk"? I personally do not feel so
very certain about it. He who reads must find out for himself.
My intention in writing "Falk" was not to shock anybody. As in
most of my writings I insist not on the events but on their
effect upon the persons in the tale. But in everything I have
written there is always one invariable intentionand that is to
capture the reader's attentionby securing his interest and
enlisting his sympathies for the matter in handwhatever it may
bewithin the limits of the visible world and within the
boundaries of human emotions.
I may safely say that Falk is absolutely true to my experience of
certain straightforward characters combining a perfectly natural
ruthlessness with a certain amount of moral delicacy. Falk obeys
the law of self-preservation without the slightest misgivings as
to his rightbut at a crucial turn of that ruthlessly preserved
life he will not condescend to dodge the truth. As he is
presented as sensitive enough to be affected permanently by a
certain unusual experiencethat experience had to be set by me
before the reader vividly; but it is not the subject of the tale.
If we go by mere facts then the subject is Falk's attempt to get
married; in which the narrator of the tale finds himself
unexpectedly involved both on its ruthless and its delicate side.
Falkshares with one other of my stories ("The Return" in the
Tales of Unrestvolume) the distinction of never having been
serialized. I think the copy was shown to the editor of some
magazine who rejected it indignantly on the sole ground that "the
girl never says anything." This is perfectly true. From first
to last Hermann's niece utters no word in the tale -- and it is
not because she is dumbbut for the simple reason that whenever
she happens to come under the observation of the narrator she has
either no occasion or is too profoundly moved to speak. The
editorwho obviously had read the storymight have perceived
that for himself. Apparently he did notand I refrained from
pointing out the impossibility to him becausesince he did not
venture to say that "the girl" did not liveI felt no concern at
All the other stories were serialized. The "Typhoon" appeared in
the early numbers of the Pall Mall Magazinethen under the
direction of the late Mr. Halkett. It was on that occasiontoo
that I saw for the first time my conceptions rendered by an
artist in another medium. Mr. Maurice Grieffenhagen knew how to
combine in his illustrations the effect of his own most
distinguished personal vision with an absolute fidelity to the
inspiration of the writer. "Amy Foster" was published in The
Illustrated London News with a fine drawing of Amy on her day out
giving tea to the children at her homein a hat with a big
feather. "To-morrow" appeared first in the Pall Mall Magazine.
Of that story I will only say that it struck many people by its
adaptability to the stage and that I was induced to dramatize it
under the title of "One Day More"; up to the present my only
effort in that direction. I may also add that each of the four
stories on their appearance in book form was picked out on
various grounds as the "best of the lot" by different critics
who reviewed the volume with a warmth of appreciation and
understandinga sympathetic insight and a friendliness of
expression for which I cannot be sufficiently grateful.
1919. J. C.
CAPTAIN MACWHIRRof the steamer Nan-Shanhad a physiognomy
thatin the order of material appearanceswas the exact
counterpart of his mind: it presented no marked characteristics
of firmness or stupidity; it had no pronounced characteristics
whatever; it was simply ordinaryirresponsiveand unruffled.
The only thing his aspect might have been said to suggestat
timeswas bashfulness; because he would sitin business offices
ashoresunburnt and smiling faintlywith downcast eyes. When
he raised themthey 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 faceon the contrary
carroty and flamingresembled a growth of copper wire clipped
short to the line of the lip; whileno matter how close he
shavedfiery metallic gleams passedwhen he moved his head
over the surface of his cheeks. He was rather below the medium
heighta bit round-shoulderedand 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 hata 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 waistcoatand he never left his ship for
the shore without clutching in his powerfulhairy fist an
elegant umbrella of the very best qualitybut generally
unrolled. Young Jukesthe chief mateattending his commander
to the gangwaywould sometimes venture to saywith the greatest
gentlenessAllow me, sir-- and possessing himself of the
umbrella deferentiallywould elevate the feruleshake the
foldstwirl a neat furl in a jiffyand hand it back; going
through the performance with a face of such portentous gravity
that Mr. Solomon Routthe chief engineersmoking his morning
cigar over the skylightwould turn away his head in order to
hide a smile. "Oh! aye! The blessed gamp. . . . Thank 'ee
Jukesthank '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 sontoo!" His mother wept
very much after his disappearance. As it had never occurred to
him to leave word behindhe was mourned over for dead till
after eight monthshis first letter arrived from Talcahuano. It
was shortand contained the statement: "We had very fine weather
on our passage out." But evidentlyin the writer's mindthe
only important intelligence was to the effect that his captain
hadon the very day of writingentered 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 half-witted person.
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 shipsand
with the names of the skippers who commanded them -- with the
names of Scots and English shipowners -- with the names of seas
oceansstraitspromontories -- with outlandish names of
lumber-portsof rice-portsof 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
All these events had taken place many years before the morning
whenin the chart-room of the steamer Nan-Shanhe stood
confronted by the fall of a barometer he had no reason to
distrust. The fall -- taking into account the excellence of the
instrumentthe time of the yearand 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 himand he was unable to discover the
message of a prophecy till the fulfilment had brought it home to
his very door. "That's a falland 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-chauwith some cargo in her lower holdsand two hundred
Chinese coolies returning to their village homes in the province
of Fo-kienafter a few years of work in various tropical
colonies. The morning was finethe oily sea heaved without a
sparkleand there was a queer white misty patch in the sky like
a halo of the sun. The fore-deckpacked with Chinamenwas full
of sombre clothingyellow facesand pigtailssprinkled over
with a good many naked shouldersfor there was no windand the
heat was close. The coolies loungedtalkedsmokedor stared
over the rail; somedrawing water over the sidesluiced each
other; a few slept on hatcheswhile 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 cornerscontaining the savings of his
labours: some clothes of ceremonysticks of incensea little
opium maybebits of nameless rubbish of conventional valueand
a small hoard of silver dollarstoiled for in coal lighterswon
in gambling-houses or in petty tradinggrubbed out of earth
sweated out in mineson railway linesin deadly jungleunder
heavy burdens -- amassed patientlyguarded with carecherished
A cross swell had set in from the direction of Formosa Channel
about ten o'clockwithout disturbing these passengers much
because the Nan-Shanwith her flat bottomrolling chocks on
bilgesand great breadth of beamhad the reputation of an
exceptionally steady ship in a sea-way. Mr. Jukesin moments of
expansion on shorewould 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 shipundoubtedlyand not old either. She had
been built in Dumbarton less than three years beforeto the
order of a firm of merchants in Siam -Messrs. Sigg and Son. When
she lay afloatfinished in every detail and ready to take up the
work of her lifethe builders contemplated her with pride.
Sigg has asked us for a reliable skipper to take her out,
remarked one of the partners; and the otherafter reflecting for
a whilesaid: "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 hesitation.
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 shipCaptain 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
My uncle wrote of you favourably by yesterday's mail to our good
friends -- Messrs. Siggyou 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 ChinaCaptain 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 nephewwith faint contempt.
I admit he has nothing of your fancy skipper about him, if
that's what you mean,said the elder mancurtly. "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 accordinglyand a few days afterwards the
Nan-Shan steamed out to the Eastwithout MacWhirr having offered
any further remark as to her fittingsor having been heard to
utter a single word hinting at pride in his shipgratitude for
his appointmentor satisfaction at his prospects.
With a temperament neither loquacious nor taciturn he found very
little occasion to talk. There were matters of dutyof course
-- directionsordersand so on; but the past being to his mind
done withand the future not there yetthe more general
actualities of the day required no comment -- because facts can
speak for themselves with overwhelming precision.
Old Mr. Sigg liked a man of few wordsand one that "you could be
sure would not try to improve upon his instructions." MacWhirr
satisfying these requirementswas continued in command of the
Nan-Shanand 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 restlessas
if under a sense of personal affront. He went about grumbling to
himselfand 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 sickMr. 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 whileand 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 good look.
Well, it looks queer to me,burst out Jukesgreatly
exasperatedand flung off the bridge.
Captain MacWhirr was amazed at these manners. After a while he
stepped quietly into the chart-roomand 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
themand 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 Jukeswho was
carrying on the duty that day with a sort of suppressed
fiercenesshappened on the bridgehis commander observed:
There's nothing amiss with that flag.
Isn't there?mumbled Jukesfalling 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 Jukesgetting up excitedlyall I can say
--He fumbled for the end of the coil of line with trembling
That's all right.Captain MacWhirr soothed himsitting
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
Because it would be, I suppose, understood as a signal of
distress,he went on. "What do you think? That elephant there
I take itstands for something in the nature of the Union Jack
in the flag. . . ."
Does it!yelled Jukesso that every head on the Nan-Shan's
decks looked towards the bridge. Then he sighedand with sudden
resignation: "It would certainly be a dam' distressful sight he
Later in the day he accosted the chief engineer with a
confidential, Herelet me tell you the old man's latest."
Mr. Solomon Rout (frequently alluded to as Long SolOld Solor
Father Rout)from finding himself almost invariably the tallest
man on board every ship he joinedhad acquired the habit of a
stoopingleisurely condescension. His hair was scant and sandy
his flat cheeks were palehis bony wrists and long scholarly
hands were paletooas though he had lived all his life in the
He smiled from on high at Jukesand went on smoking and glancing
about quietlyin the manner of a kind uncle lending an ear to
the tale of an excited schoolboy. Thengreatly amused but
And did you throw up the billet?
No,cried Jukesraising a wearydiscouraged voice above the
harsh buzz of the Nan-Shan's friction winches. All of them were
hard at worksnatching slings of cargohigh upto the end of
long derricksonlyas it seemedto let them rip down
recklessly by the run. The cargo chains groaned in the gins
clinked on coamingsrattled over the side; and the whole ship
quiveredwith her long gray flanks smoking in wreaths of steam.
No,cried JukesI 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
At that moment Captain MacWhirrback from the shorecrossed the
deckumbrella in handescorted by a mournfulself-possessed
Chinamanwalking behind in paper-soled silk shoesand who also
carried an umbrella.
The master of the Nan-Shanspeaking just audibly and gazing at
his boots as his manner wasremarked that it would be necessary
to call at Fu-chau this tripand desired Mr. Rout to have steam
up to-morrow afternoon at one o'clock sharp. He pushed back his
hat to wipe his foreheadobserving at the same time that he
hated going ashore anyhow; while overtopping him Mr. Rout
without deigning a wordsmoked austerelynursing 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 directlyfor stores. All
seven-years'-men they weresaid Captain MacWhirrwith a
camphor-wood chest to every man. The carpenter should be set to
work nailing three-inch battens along the deck belowfore and
aftto keep these boxes from shifting in a sea-way. Jukes had
better look to it at once. "D'ye hearJukes?" 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 wasand 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 "Yessir ejaculated without enthusiasm.
His brusque Come alongJohn; make look see" set the Chinaman in
motion at his heels.
Wanchee look see, all same look see can do,said Jukeswho
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. Eh?"
He was gruffas became his racial superioritybut not
unfriendly. The Chinamangazing sad and speechless into the
darkness of the hatchwayseemed to stand at the head of a
No catchee rain down there -- savee?pointed out Jukes.
Suppose all'ee same fine weather, one piecie coolie-man come
topside,he pursuedwarming 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 Chinamanwho concealed his distrust
of this pantomime under a collected demeanour tinged by a gentle
and refined melancholyglanced 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 sonTom. These two were but
slightly acquainted with their father. Mainlythey knew him as a
rare but privileged visitorwho of an evening smoked his pipe in
the dining-room and slept in the house. The lanky girlupon the
wholewas rather ashamed of him; the boy was frankly and utterly
indifferent in a straightforwarddelightfulunaffected way
manly boys have.
And Captain MacWhirr wrote home from the coast of China twelve
times every yeardesiring 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
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 strangersastonishing 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 cottageshe found occasion to remarkAs 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 faceI must say . . . I don't. . . .
He's my husband,she announced in a great shoutthrowing
herself back in the chair. Perceiving the jokeshe laughed
immoderately with a handkerchief to her eyeswhile he sat
wearing a forced smileandfrom his inexperience of jolly
womenfully persuaded that she must be deplorably insane. They
were excellent friends afterwards; forabsolving her from
irreverent intentionhe 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
oncegive 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 honestywhichin itself
had the heavy obviousness of a lump of clay. On the other hand
Mr. Jukesunable to generalizeunmarriedand unengagedwas in
the habit of opening his heart after another fashion to an old
chum and former shipmateactually serving as second officer on
board an Atlantic liner.
First of all he would insist upon the advantages of the Eastern
tradehinting at its superiority to the Western ocean service.
He extolled the skythe seasthe shipsand the easy life of
the Far East. The NanShanhe affirmedwas second to none as a
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 kindand old Solthe Chiefis a dry
stick. We are good friends. As to our old manyou 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 foolishand 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 dulltooto 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
engineersand he must have heard us. When I came up to take my
watchhe steps out of the chart-room and has a good look all
roundpeeps over at the sidelightsglances 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?' 'Yessir.' 'With the third engineer?' 'Yessir.'
He walks off to starboardand sits under the dodger on a little
campstool of hisand 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 thereand he strolls across to portwhere 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 longand 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
Thus wrote Mr. Jukes to his chum in the Western ocean tradeout
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 menlife would have probably appeared to Jukes an
unentertaining and unprofitable business. He was not alone in
his opinion. The sea itselfas if sharing Mr. Jukes'
good-natured forbearancehad never put itself out to startle the
silent manwho seldom looked upand wandered innocently over
the waters with the only visible purpose of getting food
raimentand house-room for three people ashore. Dirty weather he
had knownof course. He had been made wetuncomfortabletired
in the usual wayfelt 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 wraththe wrath that
passes exhausted but never appeased -- the wrath and fury of the
passionate sea. He knew it existedas we know that crime and
abominations exist; he had heard of it as a peaceable citizen in
a town hears of battlesfaminesand floodsand yet knows
nothing of what these things mean -- thoughindeedhe may have
been mixed up in a street rowhave 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 lastwithout ever having been made to
see all it may contain of perfidyof violenceand 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 barometerCaptain MacWhirr
thoughtThere'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 atmospherehe would have assimilated the information under
the simple idea of dirty weatherand no otherbecause he had no
experience of cataclysmsand 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
hurricanescyclonestyphoons; and apparently he had answered
themsince 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 washoweverconscious of being
made uncomfortable by the clammy heat. He came out on the
bridgeand found no relief to this oppression. The air seemed
thick. He gasped like a fishand 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 sunpale and without rayspoured down
leaden heat in a strangely indecisive lightand the Chinamen
were lying prostrate about the decks. Their bloodlesspinched
yellow faces were like the faces of bilious invalids. Captain
MacWhirr noticed two of them especiallystretched out on their
backs below the bridge. As soon as they had closed their eyes
they seemed dead. Three othershoweverwere quarrelling
barbarously away forward; and one big fellowhalf nakedwith
herculean shoulderswas hanging limply over a winch; another
sitting on the deckhis knees up and his head drooping sideways
in a girlish attitudewas 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
funneland instead of streaming away spread itself out like an
infernal sort of cloudsmelling of sulphur and raining soot all
over the decks.
What the devil are you doing there, Mr. Jukes?asked Captain
This unusual form of addressthough 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 bridgeand sitting on itwith a length of rope curled about
his feet and a piece of canvas stretched over his kneeswas
pushing a sail-needle vigorously. He looked upand his surprise
gave to his eyes an expression of innocence and candour.
I am only roping some of that new set of bags we made last trip
for whipping up coals,he remonstratedgently. "We shall want
them for the next coalingsir."
What became of the others?
Why, worn out of course, sir.
Captain MacWhirrafter glaring down irresolutely at his chief
matedisclosed the gloomy and cynical conviction that more than
half of them had been lost overboardif only the truth was
known,and retired to the other end of the bridge. Jukes
exasperated by this unprovoked attackbroke the needle at the
second stitchand dropping his work got up and cursed the heat
in a violent undertone.
The propeller thumpedthe three Chinamen forward had given up
squabbling very suddenlyand 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 momentand the ship lurched heavily in
the smoothdeep 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 MacWhirrfrom 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-roomthe 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 uproarmingled 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 blacksmithand generally feared; but that afternoon the
stokers were answering him back recklesslyand slammed the
doors with the fury of despair. Then the noise ceased suddenly
and the second engineer appearedemerging 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 mindhe
saidthe trouble of punching their blanked heads down there
blank his soulbut did the condemned sailors think you could
keep steam up in the God-forsaken boilers simply by knocking the
blanked stokers about? Noby George! You had to get some
draughttoo -- may he be everlastingly blanked for a swab-headed
deck-hand if you didn't! And the chieftoorampaging 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 forif he couldn't get one of his decayed
good-for-nothing deck-cripples to turn the ventilators to the
The relations of the "engine-room" and the "deck" of the Nan-Shan
wereas is knownof 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 bridgeand Jukes
passing in a flash from lofty disapproval into a state of
exaltationinvited him in unflattering terms to come up and
twist the beastly things to please himselfand 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 incheswith an enormous expenditure of
forceand seemed spent in the effort. He leaned against the
back of the wheelhouseand Jukes walked up to him.
Oh, Heavens!ejaculated the engineer in a feeble voice. He
lifted his eyes to the skyand then let his glassy stare descend
to meet the horizon thattilting up to an angle of forty
degreesseemed to hang on a slant for a while and settled down
slowly. "Heavens! Phew! What's upanyhow?"
Jukesstraddling his long legs like a pair of compassesput on
an air of superiority. "We're going to catch it this time he
said. The barometer is tumbling down like anythingHarry. 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 energieshe 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 sillyit 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 crybut after regaining his breath he
muttered darklyI'll faint them,and dashed off. He stopped
upon the fiddle long enough to shake his fist at the unnatural
daylightand dropped into the dark hole with a whoop.
When Jukes turnedhis eyes fell upon the rounded back and the
big red ears of Captain MacWhirrwho had come across. He did
not look at his chief officerbut said at onceThat's a very
violent man, that second engineer.
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 onI'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 woollen blanket."
Captain MacWhirr looked up. "D'ye mean to sayMr. Jukesyou
ever had your head tied up in a blanket? What was that for?"
It's a manner of speaking, sir,said Jukesstolidly.
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
speechand 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 Jukesincorrigiblethought: "Goodness me! Somebody's put a
new inside to my old man. Here's temperif you like. Of course
it's the weather; what else? It would make an angel quarrelsome
-- let alone a saint."
All the Chinamen on deck appeared at their last gasp.
At its setting the sun had a diminished diameter and an expiring
brownrayless glowas 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
tintand lay low and motionless upon the searesembling 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 slowlyand the darkness brought out overhead a
swarm of unsteadybig starsthatas if blown uponflickered
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
He copies neatly out of the rough-book the number of milesthe
course of the shipand in the column for "wind" scrawled the
word "calm" from top to bottom of the eight hours since noon. He
was exasperated by the continuousmonotonous 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 threateningwith a low bank of clouds to N. and
E. Sky clear overhead."
Sprawling over the table with arrested penhe glanced out of the
doorand 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 disappearedleaving only a blackness
flecked with white flashesfor 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 shiprushing downwards
in their glittering multitudenot of fiery pointsbut enlarged
to tiny discs brilliant with a clear wet sheen.
Jukes watched the flying big stars for a momentand 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 pausedand thought to himselfPerhaps
nothing whatever'll come of it.And then he closed resolutely
his entries: "Every appearance of a typhoon coming on."
On going out he had to stand asideand 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 somuttering ironically: "Afraid to
catch coldI suppose." It was his watch belowbut he yearned
for communion with his kind; and he remarked cheerily to the
second mate: "Doesn't look so badafter all -- does it?"
The second mate was marching to and fro on the bridgetripping
down with small steps one momentand the next climbing with
difficulty the shifting slope of the deck. At the sound of
Jukes' voice he stood stillfacing forwardbut made no reply.
Hallo! That's a heavy one,said Jukesswaying 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
He was an oldishshabby little fellowwith 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 alongsideand had to be sent ashore
to the hospital with concussion of the brain and a broken limb or
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 nosered at the tipand 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 shutkeeping 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 openflat on
his back in the bunkand glaring irritably from a soiled pillow.
He never wrote any lettersdid not seem to hope for news from
anywhere; and though he had been heard once to mention West
Hartlepoolit was with extreme bitternessand 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 enoughappear hopelessly hard up
show no evidence of any sort of viceand carry about them all
the signs of manifest failure. They come aboard on an emergency
care for no ship afloatlive in their own atmosphere of casual
connection amongst their shipmates who know nothing of themand
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 inand go ashore in company of a
shabby sea-chestcorded like a treasure-boxand with an air of
shaking the ship's dust off their feet.
You wait,he repeatedbalanced in great swings with his back
to Jukesmotionless and implacable.
Do you mean to say we are going to catch it hot?asked Jukes
with boyish interest.
Say? . . . I say nothing. You don't catch me,snapped the
little second matewith a mixture of pridescornand 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 into it."
You've said it,caught up the second matealways with his back
to Jukes. "You've said itmind -- not I."
Oh, go to Jericho!said Jukesfrankly; 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. "Ohno! You don't catch me."
You seem deucedly anxious not to give yourself away,said
Jukescompletely soured by such absurdity. "I wouldn't be afraid
to say what I think."
Aye, to me! That's no great trick. I am nobody, and well I
The shipafter a pause of comparative steadinessstarted upon a
series of rollsone worse than the otherand for a time Jukes
preserving his equilibriumwas too busy to open his mouth. As
soon as the violent swinging had quieted down somewhathe 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
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 gimbalsthe loosened books toppled from side to
side on the shelfthe long barometer swung in jerky circlesthe
table altered its slant every moment. In the midst of all this
stir and movement Captain MacWhirrholding onshowed his eyes
above the upper edgeand askedWhat's the matter?
Swell getting worse, sir.
Noticed that in here,muttered Captain MacWhirr. "Anything
Jukesinwardly disconcerted by the seriousness of the eyes
looking at him over the top of the bookproduced an embarrassed
Rolling like old boots,he saidsheepishly.
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 Captaingravely. "What passengers?"
Why, the Chinamen, sir,explained Jukesvery 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 MacWhirrclosing the book on his forefingerlowered his
arm and looked completely mystified. "Why are you thinking of the
ChinamenMr. Jukes?" he inquired.
Jukes took a plungelike a man driven to it. "She's rolling her
decks full of watersir. 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
He held on in the doorwayand Captain MacWhirrfeeling his grip
on the shelf inadequatemade up his mind to let go in a hurry
and fell heavily on the couch.
Head to the eastward?he saidstruggling 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
bookand he had not lost his place.
To the eastward?he repeatedwith 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! NowI've heard more than enough of
mad things done in the world -- but this. . . . If I didn't know
youJukesI would think you were in liquor. Steer four points
off. . . . And what afterwards? Steer four points over the
other wayI supposeto 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 Jukeswith bitter
readiness. "She would have rolled every blessed stick out of her
Aye! And you just would have had to stand and see them go,
said Captain MacWhirrshowing a certain animation. "It's a dead
It is, sir. But there's something out of the common coming, for
Maybe. I suppose you have a notion I should be getting out of
the way of that dirt,said Captain MacWhirrspeaking with the
utmost simplicity of manner and toneand 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 deliberationslapping
his thigh with the closed volume. "I've been reading the chapter
on the storms there."
This was true. He had been reading the chapter on the storms.
When he had entered the chart-roomit was with no intention of
taking the book down. Some influence in the air -- the same
influenceprobablythat 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-circlesleft- and right-hand quadrants
the curves of the tracksthe probable bearing of the centrethe
shifts of wind and the readings of barometer. He tried to bring
all these things into a definite relation to himselfand ended
by becoming contemptuously angry with such a lot of wordsand
with so much adviceall head-work and suppositionwithout a
glimmer of certitude.
It's the damnedest thing, Jukes,he said. "If a fellow was to
believe all that's in therehe 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
mouthbut said nothing.
Running to get behind the weather! Do you understand that, Mr.
Jukes? It's the maddest thing!ejaculated Captain MacWhirr
with pausesgazing at the floor profoundly. "You would think an
old woman had been writing this. It passes me. If that thing
means anything usefulthen it means that I should at once alter
the course awayaway to the devil somewhereand 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 understandMr. Jukes? Three hundred extra
miles to the distanceand a pretty coal bill to show. I
couldn't bring myself to do that if every word in there was
gospel truthMr. Jukes. Don't you expect me. . . ."
And Jukessilentmarvelled at this display of feeling and
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
We will get the wind presently,mumbled Jukes.
Let it come, then,said Captain MacWhirrwith dignified
indignation. "It's only to let you seeMr. Jukesthat you
don't find everything in books. All these rules for dodging
breezes and circumventing the winds of heavenMr. Jukesseem to
me the maddest thingwhen you come to look at it sensibly."
He raised his eyessaw Jukes gazing at him dubiouslyand 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 this afternoon.
He looked up again in his unseeingunimaginative way. No one
had ever heard him say so much at one time. Jukeswith his arms
open in the doorwaywas like a man invited to behold a miracle.
Unbounded wonder was the intellectual meaning of his eyewhile
incredulity was seated in his whole countenance.
A gale is a gale, Mr. Jukes,resumed the Captainand 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 outmanœuvred, 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 momentthen saidIt's your watch
below, Mr. Jukes?
Jukes came to himself with a start. "Yessir."
Leave orders to call me at the slightest change,said the
Captain. He reached up to put the book awayand tucked his legs
upon the couch. "Shut the door so that it don't fly openwill
you? I can't stand a door banging. They've put a lot of
rubbishy locks into this shipI must say."
Captain MacWhirr closed his eyes.
He did so to rest himself. He was tiredand 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
faithhad he only known it; and its effect was to make Jukeson
the other side of the doorstand scratching his head for a good
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
gimbalsthe barometer swung in circlesthe 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 instantlyand
Jukes' face appeared in a crack of the door: only his facevery
redwith staring eyes. The flame of the lamp leapeda piece of
paper flew upa rush of air enveloped Captain MacWhirr.
Beginning to draw on the boothe directed an expectant gaze at
Jukes' swollenexcited features.
Came on like this,shouted Jukesfive minutes ago . . . all
of a sudden.
The head disappeared with a bangand 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 flusteredbut 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 cabingambolling playfully
over each other like puppies. As soon as he stood up he kicked
at them viciouslybut without effect.
He threw himself into the attitude of a lunging fencerto 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 apartand stretching his neckhe
started to tie deliberately the strings of his sou'-wester under
his chinwith thick fingers that trembled slightly. He went
through all the movements of a woman putting on her bonnet before
a glasswith a strainedlistening attentionas 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 windthe crashes of the seawith that
prolonged deep vibration of the airlike the roll of an immense
and remote drum beating the charge of the gale.
He stood for a moment in the light of the lampthickclumsy
shapeless in his panoply of combatvigilant 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 handlehe was dragged out over the doorstepand
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
Ahead of the ship he perceived a great darkness lying upon a
multitude of white flashes; on the starboard beam a few amazing
stars droopeddim and fitfulabove an immense waste of broken
seasas if seen through a mad drift of smoke.
On the bridge a knot of menindistinct and toilingwere making
great efforts in the light of the wheelhouse windows that shone
mistily on their heads and backs. Suddenly darkness closed upon
one panethen on another. The voices of the lost group reached
him after the manner of men's voices in a galein shreds and
fragments of forlorn shouting snatched past the ear. All at once
Jukes appeared at his sideyellingwith his head down.
Watch -- put in -- wheelhouse shutters -- glass -afraid -- blow
Jukes heard his commander upbraiding.
This -- come -- anything -- warning -- call me.
He tried to explainwith the uproar pressing on his lips.
Light air -- remained -- bridge -- sudden -- north-east -- could
turn -- thought -- you -- sure -- hear.
They had gained the shelter of the weather-clothand could
converse with raised voicesas 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
You haven't altered her course?inquired Captain MacWhirr
straining his voice.
No, sir. Certainly not. Wind came out right ahead. And here
comes the head sea.
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 had disappeared.
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 squallhe had pulled himself together on the instanthad
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 freshstentorian voice
Jump, boys, and bear a hand!he led in the worktelling
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 sternand instantly in the midst of her regular
rolling she began to jerk and plunge as though she had gone mad
Jukes thoughtThis is no joke.While he was exchanging
explanatory yells with his captaina sudden lowering of the
darkness came upon the nightfalling 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 hadby
simply coming on decktaken most of the gale's weight upon his
shoulders. Such is the prestigethe privilegeand 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
seewith that watchful manner of a seaman who stares into the
wind's eye as if into the eye of an adversaryto 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 shipand he could not even
discern the shadow of her shape. He wished it were not so; and
very still he waitedfeeling stricken by a blind man's
To be silent was natural to himdark or shine. Jukesat his
elbowmade himself heard yelling cheerily in the gustsWe must
have got the worst of it at once, sir.A faint burst of
lightning quivered all roundas if flashed into a cavern -- into
a black and secret chamber of the seawith a floor of foaming
It unveiled for a sinisterfluttering moment a ragged mass of
clouds hanging lowthe lurch of the long outlines of the ship
the black figures of men caught on the bridgeheads forwardas
if petrified in the act of butting. The darkness palpitated down
upon all thisand then the real thing came at last.
It was something formidable and swiftlike 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 watersas 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 earthquakea
landslipan avalancheovertake a man incidentallyas it were
-- without passion. A furious gale attacks him like a personal
enemytries to grasp his limbsfastens upon his mindseeks 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
-- evenfor a momenthis 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 younghe had seen some bad weatherand 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 wayperhapshad 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-drownedbestially shaken
and partly choked.
It seemed to him he remained there precariously alone with the
stanchion for a longlong time. The rain poured on himflowed
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 tightas if suspecting his sight
might be destroyed in the immense flurry of the elements. When
he ventured to blink hastilyhe 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 overadding the mite of its crash to the
tremendous uproar raging around himand 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. Thenmore
sanelyhe concluded himself gone overboard. All the time he was
being tossedflungand rolled in great volumes of waterhe
kept on repeating mentallywith the utmost precipitationthe
words: "My God! My God! My God! My God!"
All at oncein a revolt of misery and despairhe 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 facean oilskin coatsomebody's boots. He clawed
ferociously all these things in turnlost themfound them
againlost them once moreand 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 overtightening their hug. Suddenly the
water let them down with a brutal bang; andstranded against the
side of the wheelhouseout of breath and bruisedthey were left
to stagger up in the wind and hold on where they could.
Jukes came out of it rather horrifiedas 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 blacknessIs it you,
sir? Is it you, sir?till his temples seemed ready to burst.
And he heard in answer a voiceas if crying far awayas if
screaming to him fretfully from a very great distancethe one
word "Yes!" Other seas swept again over the bridge. He received
them defencelessly right over his bare headwith 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
voidand seemed to find a wall to hit every time. When she
rolled she fell on her side headlongand 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 darknessas 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
The seaflattened down in the heavier gustswould uprise and
overwhelm both ends of the Nan-Shan in snowy rushes of foam
expanding widebeyond both railsinto the night. And on this
dazzling sheetspread under the blackness of the clouds and
emitting a bluish glowCaptain MacWhirr could catch a desolate
glimpse of a few tiny specks black as ebonythe tops of the
hatchesthe battened companionsthe heads of the covered
winchesthe foot of a mast. This was all he could see of his
ship. Her middle structurecovered by the bridge which bore
himhis matethe 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 upstreaming overpouring offbeating
round -- like a rock in the surf to which shipwrecked people
cling before they let go--only it roseit sankit rolled
continuouslywithout respite and restlike a rock that should
have miraculously struck adrift from a coast and gone wallowing
upon the sea.
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 awaybridge swept clean
weather-cloths burstrails twistedlight-screens smashed -- and
two of the boats had gone already. They had gone unheard and
unseenmeltingas it werein the shock and smother of the
wave. It was only laterwhen upon the white flash of another
high sea hurling itself amidshipsJukes had a vision of two
pairs of davits leaping black and empty out of the solid
blacknesswith one overhauled fall flying and an iron-bound
block capering in the airthat he became aware of what had
happened within about three yards of his back.
He poked his head forwardgroping for the ear of his commander.
His lips touched it -- bigfleshyvery wet. He cried in an
agitated toneOur boats are going now, sir.
And again he heard that voiceforced and ringing feeblybut
with a penetrating effect of quietness in the enormous discord of
noisesas 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 thoughtresolution and purposethat shall be pronouncing
confident words on the last daywhen heavens falland justice
is done -- again he heard itand it was crying to himas if
from veryvery far -- "All right."
He thought he had not managed to make himself understood. "Our
boats -- I say boats -- the boatssir! Two gone!"
The same voicewithin a foot of him and yet so remoteyelled
sensiblyCan't be helped.
Captain MacWhirr had never turned his facebut 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
If the steering-gear did not give wayif the immense volumes of
water did not burst the deck in or smash one of the hatchesif
the engines did not give upif way could be kept on the ship
against this terrific windand she did not bury herself in one
of these awful seasof whose white crests alonetopping high
above her bowshe 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 overbringing uppermost the feeling
that the Nan-Shan was lost.
She's done for,he said to himselfwith a surprising mental
agitationas though he had discovered an unexpected meaning in
this thought. One of these things was bound to happen. Nothing
could be prevented nowand nothing could be remedied. The men
on board did not countand 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 nightbracing each other
against the windcheek to cheek and lip to earin the manner of
two hulks lashed stem to stern together.
And Jukes heard the voice of his commander hardly any louder than
beforebut neareras thoughstarting to march athwart the
prodigious rush of the hurricaneit had approached himbearing
that strange effect of quietness like the serene glow of a halo.
D'ye know where the hands got to?it askedvigorous and
evanescent at the same timeovercoming the strength of the wind
and swept away from Jukes instantly.
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 nowherefor
all the use that could be made of them. Somehow the Captain's
wish to know distressed Jukes.
Want the hands, sir?he criedapprehensively.
Ought to know,asserted Captain MacWhirr. "Hold hard."
They held hard. An outburst of unchained furya vicious rush of
the wind absolutely steadied the ship; she rocked onlyquick and
light like a child's cradlefor a terrific moment of suspense
while the whole atmosphereas it seemedstreamed furiously past
herroaring away from the tenebrous earth.
It suffocated themand 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 darkbutted against the
shipbroke shortand fell on her bridgecrushinglyfrom on
highwith a dead burying weight.
A flying fragment of that collapsea mere splashenveloped them
in one swirl from their feet over their headsfilling violently
their earsmouths and nostrils with salt water. It knocked out
their legswrenched in haste at their armsseethed away swiftly
under their chins; and opening their eyesthey 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 yieldedtoobefore the tremendous blow;
and all at once she sprang up again to her desperate plungingas
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
handledand a ferocity in the blows that fell. She was like a
living creature thrown to the rage of a mob: hustled terribly
struck atborne upflung downleaped upon. Captain MacWhirr
and Jukes kept hold of each otherdeafened by the noisegagged
by the wind; and the great physical tumult beating about their
bodiesbroughtlike an unbridled display of passiona 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 hurricaneswoopedas if borne on wingsupon
the shipand 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 headand he heard nothing of it
himself. It all became extinct at once -- thoughtintention
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 earthe dwarf sound
unconquered in the giant tumult.
It was a dull yellmore difficult to seize than a whisper. And
presently the voice returned againhalf submerged in the vast
crasheslike a ship battling against the waves of an ocean.
Let's hope so!it cried -- smalllonely and unmoveda
stranger to the visions of hope or fear; and it flickered into
disconnected words: "Ship. . . . . This. . . . Never -- Anyhow .
. . for the best." Jukes gave it up.
Thenas if it had come suddenly upon the one thing fit to
withstand the power of a stormit seemed to gain force and
firmness for the last broken shouts:
Keep on hammering . . . builders . . . good men. . . . . And
chance it . . . engines. . . . Rout . . . good man.
Captain MacWhirr removed his arm from Jukes' shouldersand
thereby ceased to exist for his mateso dark it was; Jukes
after a tense stiffening of every musclewould let himself go
limp all over. The gnawing of profound discomfort existed side
by side with an incredible disposition to somnolenceas 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
clothesfull of waterwere as heavy as leadcold and dripping
like an armour of melting ice: he shivered -- it lasted a long
time; and with his hands closed hard on his holdhe was letting
himself sink slowly into the depths of bodily misery. His mind
became concentrated upon himself in an aimlessidle wayand
when something pushed lightly at the back of his knees he nearly
as the saying isjumped out of his skin.
In the start forward he bumped the back of Captain MacWhirrwho
didn't move; and then a hand gripped his thigh. A lull had come
a menacing lull of the windthe holding of a stormy breath -and
he felt himself pawed all over. It was the boatswain. Jukes
recognized these handsso thick and enormous that they seemed to
belong to some new species of man.
The boatswain had arrived on the bridgecrawling on all fours
against the windand had found the chief mate's legs with the
top of his head. Immediately he crouched and began to explore
Jukes' person upwards with prudentapologetic touchesas became
He was an ill-favouredundersizedgruff sailor of fifty
coarsely hairyshort-leggedlong-armedresembling an elderly
ape. His strength was immense; and in his great lumpy paws
bulging like brown boxinggloves on the end of furry forearmsthe
heaviest objects were handled like playthings. Apart from the
grizzled pelt on his chestthe menacing demeanour and the hoarse
voicehe had none of the classical attributes of his rating.
His good nature almost amounted to imbecility: the men did what
they liked with himand he had not an ounce of initiative in his
characterwhich was easy-going and talkative. For these reasons
Jukes disliked him; but Captain MacWhirrto Jukes' scornful
disgustseemed to regard him as a first-rate petty officer.
He pulled himself up by Jukes' coattaking that liberty with the
greatest moderationand only so far as it was forced upon him by
What is it, boss'n, what is it?yelled Jukesimpatiently.
What could that fraud of a boss'n want on the bridge? The
typhoon had got on Jukes' nerves. The husky bellowings of the
otherthough unintelligibleseemed to suggest a state of lively
There could be no mistake. The old fool was pleased with
The boatswain's other hand had found some other bodyfor in a
changed tone he began to inquire: "Is it yousir? Is it you
sir?" The wind strangled his howls.
Yes!cried Captain MacWhirr.
ALL that the boatswainout of a superabundance of yellscould
make clear to Captain MacWhirr was the bizarre intelligence that
All them Chinamen in the fore 'tween deck have fetched away,
Jukes to leeward could hear these two shouting within six inches
of his faceas 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
sightsir . . . thought . . . tell you."
Jukes remained indifferentas if rendered irresponsible by the
force of the hurricanewhich made the very thought of action
utterly vain. Besidesbeing very younghe 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 becausefirmly believing he would never see
another sunrisehe 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. Jukeshoweverhad 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 abjectlybut only so far as a
decent man maywithout becoming loathsome to himself.
It was rather like a forced-on numbness of spirit. The longlong
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 heartwhich 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
wetvery coldstiff 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 fatherfor instance: a worthy business manwho at an
unfortunate crisis in his affairs went quietly to bed and died
forthwith in a state of resignation. Jukes did not recall these
circumstancesof coursebut 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 shipsince
lost with all hands; the thick eyebrows of his first skipper; and
without any emotionas he might years ago have walked listlessly
into her room and found her sitting there with a bookhe
remembered his mother -- deadtoonow -- the resolute woman
left badly offwho had been very firm in his bringing up.
It could not have lasted more than a secondperhaps 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 shiptrying to pin her down amongst the seas.
They made a clean breach over heras 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 ferociousboiling-up
pale flash showed upon the slender body of the ship the toppling
rushthe downfalland the seething mad scurry of each wave.
Never for a moment could she shake herself clear of the water;
Jukesrigidperceived 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 folly.
The spell of the storm had fallen upon Jukes. He was penetrated
by itabsorbed by it; he was rooted in it with a rigour of dumb
attention. Captain MacWhirr persisted in his criesbut the wind
got between them like a solid wedge. He hung round Jukes' neck
as heavy as a millstoneand suddenly the sides of their heads
Jukes! Mr. Jukes, I say!
He had to answer that voice that would not be silenced. He
answered in the customary manner: ". . . Yessir."
And directlyhis heartcorrupted by the storm that breeds a
craving for peacerebelled against the tyranny of training and
Captain MacWhirr had his mate's head fixed firm in the crook of
his elbowand pressed it to his yelling lips mysteriously.
Sometimes Jukes would break inadmonishing 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 résumé his shouts. ". . . . Says . . .
whole lot . . . fetched away. . . . Ought to see . . . what's
Directly the full force of the hurricane had struck the ship
every part of her deck became untenable; and the sailorsdazed
and dismayedtook shelter in the port alleyway under the bridge.
It had a door aftwhich they shut; it was very blackcoldand
dismal. At each heavy fling of the ship they would groan all
together in the darkand 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 talkbut a more unreasonable lot of men
he said afterwardshe had never been with. They were snug
enough thereout of harm's wayand not wanted to do anything
either; and yet they did nothing but grumble and complain
peevishly like so many sick kids. Finallyone of them said that
if there had been at least some light to see each other's noses
byit wouldn't be so bad. It was making him crazyhe 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-roomwhich 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 soand was
met by general contumely. He sought refugethereforein an
embittered silence. At the same time their grumbling and sighing
and muttering worried him greatlybut by-and-by it occurred to
him that there were six globe lamps hung in the 'tween-deckand
that there could be no harm in depriving the coolies of one of
The Nan-Shan had an athwartship coal-bunkerwhichbeing at
times used as cargo spacecommunicated by an iron door with the
fore 'tween-deck. It was empty thenand its manhole was the
foremost one in the alleyway. The boatswain could get in
thereforewithout 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 samebut 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 expostulatedalmost pitifully.
Somebody told him to go and put his head in a bag. He regretted
he could not recognize the voiceand that it was too dark to
seeotherwiseas he saidhe would have put a head on that son
of a sea-cookanywaysink or swim. Neverthelesshe had made
up his mind to show them he could get a lightif he were to die
Through the violence of the ship's rollingevery 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 therealways in the neighbourhood of his
head. It seemed to make an extraordinary noisetoo -- 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 againand clawing desperately
the smooth sides of the bunker in the endeavour to stop himself.
The door into the 'tween-deck not fitting quite truehe saw a
thread of dim light at the bottom.
Being a sailorand a still active manhe did not want much of a
chance to regain his feet; and as luck would have itin
scrambling up he put his hand on the iron slicepicking it up as
he rose. Otherwise he would have been afraid of the thing
breaking his legsor 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 unfamiliarunforeseenand 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 onin the
emptiness of the bunkersomething of the human characterof
human rage and pain -- being not vast but infinitely poignant.
And there werewith every rollthumpstoo -- profound
ponderous thumpsas 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
He thought all this quicklyclearlycompetentlylike a seaman
and in the end remained puzzled. This noisethoughcame
deadened from outsidetogether 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 lighttoo -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 strangledthroaty 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 minewith a row of
stanchions in the middleand cross-beams overheadpenetrating
into the gloom ahead -- indefinitely. And to port there loomed
like the caving in of one of the sidesa bulky mass with a
slanting outline. The whole placewith the shadows and the
shapesmoved all the time. The boatswain glared: the ship
lurched to starboardand a great howl came from that mass that
had the slant of fallen earth.
Pieces of wood whizzed past. Plankshe thoughtinexpressibly
startledand flinging back his head. At his feet a man went
sliding overopen-eyedon his backstraining 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
legsand from his opened hand a bright white disc rolled against
the boatswain's foot. He recognized a silver dollarand yelled
at it with astonishment. With a precipitated sound of trampling
and shuffling of bare feetand with guttural criesthe mound of
writhing bodies piled up to port detached itself from the ship's
side and slidinginert and strugglingshifted to starboard
with a dullbrutal 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 shouldersnaked soles
kicking upwardsfists raisedtumbling backslegspigtails
Good Lord!he criedhorrifiedand banged-to the iron door
upon this vision.
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 outthe extremity of the ship made
what went on inside of her appear of little moment.
At first he thought he had left the alleyway in the very moment
of her sinking. The bridge ladders had been washed awaybut an
enormous sea filling the after-deck floated him up. After that
he had to lie on his stomach for some timeholding to a
ring-boltgetting his breath now and thenand swallowing salt
water. He struggled farther on his hands and kneestoo
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 lowlike a malignant little animal
under a hedge.
Captain? Gone overboard, after getting us into this mess.The
matetoofor 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 anybodyhe saidbut 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. Besidesit was difficult to
make yourself heard. But he managed to convey the idea that the
Chinaman had broken adrift together with their boxesand that he
had come up on purpose to report this. As to the handsthey
were all right. Thenappeasedhe subsided on the deck in a
sitting posturehugging with his arms and legs the stand of the
engine-room telegraph -- an iron casting as thick as a post.
When that wentwhyhe expected he would gotoo. He gave no
more thought to the coolies.
Captain MacWhirr had made Jukes understand that he wanted him to
go down below -- to see.
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 Jukesshakily.
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 to sink.
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 . . . deck.
Jukesheld with his head in chanceryhad to listen to what
seemed horrible suggestions.
Don't want . . . you get lost . . . so long . . . ship isn't. .
. . . Rout . . . Good man . . . Ship . . . may . . . through
this . . . all right yet.
All at once Jukes understood he would have to go.
Do you think she may?he screamed.
But the wind devoured the replyout of which Jukes heard only
the one wordpronounced with great energy ". . . . Always. . .
Captain MacWhirr released Jukesand bending over the boatswain
yelledGet 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
carelesslyand 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 hastilyand the boatswainwho was
followingfell 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 downsirby
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
repeatedWhat would my old woman say if she saw me now?
In the alleywaywhere a lot of water had got in and splashed in
the darkthe men were still as deathtill Jukes stumbled
against one of them and cursed him savagely for being in the way.
Two or three voices then askedeager and weakAny chance for
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 warningsLook out! Mind that manhole lid, sir,
they lowered him into the bunker. The boatswain tumbled down
after himand as soon as he had picked himself up he remarked
She would say, 'Serve you right, you old fool, for going to
The boatswain had some meansand 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 darkJukesunsteady on his legslistened to a faint
thunderous patter. A deadened screaming went on steadily at his
elbowas it were; and from above the louder tumult of the storm
descended upon these near sounds. His head swam. To himtoo
in that bunkerthe 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 ithe wanted to know.
Enragedhe told himself he would see -- of course. But the
boatswainstaggering clumsilywarned him to be careful how he
opened that door; there was a blamed fight going on. And Jukes
as if in great bodily paindesired 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 there.
Jukes convulsively opened the door. The short boatswain peered
under his arm.
One of the lamps had gone outbroken perhaps. Rancorous
guttural cries burst out loudly on their earsand a strange
panting soundthe working of all these straining breasts. A
hard blow hit the side of the ship: water fell above with a
stunning shockand in the forefront of the gloomwhere the air
was reddish and thickJukes saw a head bang the deck violently
two thick calves waving on highmuscular arms twined round a
naked bodya yellow-faceopen-mouthed and with a set wild
starelook up and slide away. An empty chest clattered turning
over; a man fell head first with a jumpas if lifted by a kick;
and farther offindistinctothers streamed like a mass of
rolling stones down a bankthumping 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 crawlingstirring clusterbeating madly with
their fists the underside of the battened hatchand the headlong
rush of the water above was heard in the intervals of their
yelling. The ship heeled over moreand they began to drop off:
first onethen twothen all the rest went away together
falling straight off with a great cry.
Jukes was confounded. The boatswainwith gruff anxietybegged
himDon't you go in there, sir.
The whole place seemed to twist upon itselfjumping 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 outswung
the door toand with trembling hands pushed at the bolt. . . .
As soon as his mate had gone Captain MacWhirrleft alone on the
bridgesidled and staggered as far as the wheelhouse. Its door
being hinged forwardhe had to fight the gale for admittance
and when at last he managed to enterit was with an
instantaneous clatter and a bangas though he had been fired
through the wood. He stood withinholding on to the handle.
The steering-gear leaked steamand in the confined space the
glass of the binnacle made a shiny oval of light in a thin white
fog. The wind howledhummedwhistledwith 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 lanyardswung wide offand came back clinging to the
bulkheads. The gratings underfoot were nearly afloat; with every
sweeping blow of a seawater squirted violently through the
cracks all round the doorand the man at the helm had flung down
his caphis coatand 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 leana dark patch lay in the
hollow of his throatand his face was still and sunken as in
Captain MacWhirr wiped his eyes. The sea that had nearly taken
him overboard hadto his great annoyancewashed his sou'-wester
hat off his bald head. The fluffyfair hairsoaked and
darkenedresembled a mean skein of cotton threads festooned
round his bare skull. His faceglistening with sea-waterhad
been made crimson with the windwith the sting of sprays. He
looked as though he had come off sweating from before a furnace.
You here?he mutteredheavily.
The second mate had found his way into the wheelhouse some time
before. He had fixed himself in a corner with his knees upa
fist pressed against each temple; and this attitude suggested
ragesorrowresignationsurrenderwith a sort of concentrated
unforgiveness. He said mournfully and defiantlyWell, it's my
watch below now: ain't it?
The steam gear clatteredstoppedclattered 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 steeras 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 knewthe fires outthe engines broken
downthe ship ready to roll over like a corpse. He was anxious
not to get muddled and lose control of her headbecause the
compass-card swung far both wayswriggling on the pivotand
sometimes seemed to whirl right round. He suffered from mental
stress. He was horribly afraidalsoof 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-headit had a white face on which the black hands
appeared to stand quite still. It was half-past one in the
Another day,he muttered to himself.
The second mate heard himand lifting his head as one grieving
amongst ruinsYou won't see it break,he exclaimed. His
wrists and his knees could be seen to shake violently. "Noby
God! You won't. . . ."
He took his face again between his fists.
The body of the helmsman had moved slightlybut 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 himand in the very stagger to save himselfCaptain
MacWhirr said austerelyDon't you pay any attention to what
that man says.And thenwith an indefinable change of tone
very gravehe addedHe isn't on duty.
The sailor said nothing.
The hurricane boomedshaking the little placewhich seemed
air-tight; and the light of the binnacle flickered all the time.
You haven't been relieved,Captain MacWhirr went onlooking
down. "I want you to stick to the helmthoughas 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 clatterstopped
smouldering like an ember; and the still manwith a motionless
gazeburst outas if all the passion in him had gone into his
lips: "By Heavenssir! I can steer for ever if nobody talks to
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-tubeblew inand bent his head. Mr.
Rout below answeredand at once Captain MacWhirr put his lips to
With the uproar of the gale around him he applied alternately his
lips and his earand the engineer's voice mounted to himharsh
and as if out of the heat of an engagement. One of the stokers
was disabledthe others had given inthe 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? Wellhe would be presently.
Would Mr. Rout let him talk through the speaking-tube? -- through
the deck speaking-tubebecause he -- the Captain -- was going
out again on the bridge directly. There was some trouble amongst
the Chinamen. They were fightingit seemed. Couldn't allow
fighting anyhow. . . .
Mr. Rout had gone awayand Captain MacWhirr could feel against
his ear the pulsation of the engineslike the beat of the ship's
heart. Mr. Rout's voice down there shouted something distantly.
The ship pitched headlongthe pulsation leaped with a hissing
tumultand 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 depthsand
the pulsating beats recommencedwith slow strokes -- growing
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 state distinctly.
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
courseif the wheelhouse should go. . . ."
Mr. Routbending an attentive earmuttered peevishly something
under his breath.
But the deliberate voice up there became animated to ask: "Jukes
turned up yet?" Thenafter a short waitI 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-roomtaking his head
away. Then up the tube he criedGone overboard?and clapped
his ear to.
Lost his nerve,the voice from above continued in a
matter-of-fact tone. "Damned awkward circumstance."
Mr. Routlistening with bowed neckopened his eyes wide at
this. Howeverhe heard something like the sounds of a scuffle
and broken exclamations coming down to him. He strained his
hearing; and all the time Bealethe third engineerwith his
arms upliftedheld 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 headas though it were a
correct attitude in some sort of game.
To steady himselfhe pressed his shoulder against the white
bulkheadone knee bentand a sweat-rag tucked in his belt
hanging on his hip. His smooth cheek was begrimed and flushed
and the coal dust on his eyelidslike the black pencilling of a
make-upenhanced the liquid brilliance of the whitesgiving to
his youthful face something of a feminineexotic 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, Mr. Rout?
The devil!muttered Mr. Rout. "Look outBeale!"
His shout rang out like the blast of a warning trumpetbetween
the iron walls of the engine-room. Painted whitethey rose high
into the dusk of the skylightsloping like a roof; and the whole
lofty space resembled the interior of a monumentdivided by
floors of iron gratingwith lights flickering at different
levelsand a mass of gloom lingering in the middlewithin the
columnar stir of machinery under the motionless swelling of the
cylinders. A loud and wild resonancemade up of all the noises
of the hurricanedwelt in the still warmth of the air. There
was in it the smell of hot metalof oiland a slight mist of
steam. The blows of the sea seemed to traverse it in an
unringingstunning shockfrom side to side.
Gleamslike pale long flamestrembled 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-rodsbig-jointedlike skeleton limbsseemed 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 frocrossheads noddeddiscs of metal rubbed
smoothly against each otherslow and gentlein a commingling of
shadows and gleams.
Sometimes all those powerful and unerring movements would slow
down simultaneouslyas if they had been the functions of a
living organismstricken 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 loinsand his white wrists
protruded far out of the tight sleevesas though the emergency
had added to his staturehad lengthened his limbsaugmented his
pallorhollowed his eyes.
He movedclimbing high updisappearing low downwith a
restlesspurposeful industryand when he stood stillholding
the guard-rail in front of the starting-gearhe would keep
glancing to the right at the steam-gaugeat the water-gauge
fixed upon the white wall in the light of a swaying lamp. The
mouths of two speakingtubes gaped stupidly at his elbowand the
dial of the engine-room telegraph resembled a clock of large
diameterbearing on its face curt words instead of figures. The
grouped letters stood out heavily blackaround the pivot-head of
the indicatoremphatically symbolic of loud exclamations: AHEAD
ASTERNSLOWHalfSTAND BY; and the fat black hand pointed
downwards to the word FULLwhichthus singled outcaptured the
eye as a sharp cry secures attention.
The wood-encased bulk of the low-pressure cylinderfrowning
portly from aboveemitted a faint wheeze at every thrustand
except for that low hiss the engines worked their steel limbs
headlong or slow with a silentdetermined smoothness. And all
thisthe white wallsthe moving steelthe floor plates under
Solomon Rout's feetthe floors of iron grating above his head
the dusk and the gleamsuprose and sank continuouslywith one
accordupon the harsh wash of the waves against the ship's side.
The whole loftiness of the placebooming hollow to the great
voice of the windswayed at the top like a treewould go over
bodilyas if borne down this way and that by the tremendous
You've got to hurry up,shouted Mr. Routas soon as he saw
Jukes appear in the stokehold doorway.
Jukes' glance was wandering and tipsy; his red face was puffyas
though he had overslept himself. He had had an arduous roadand
had travelled over it with immense vivacitythe agitation of his
mind corresponding to the exertions of his body. He had rushed
up out of the bunkerstumbling in the dark alleyway amongst a
lot of bewildered men whotrod uponasked "What's upsir?" in
awed mutters all round him; -- down the stokehold laddermissing
many iron rungs in his hurrydown into a place deep as a well
black as Tophettipping over back and forth like a see-saw. The
water in the bilges thundered at each rolland lumps of coal
skipped to and frofrom end to endrattling like an avalanche
of pebbles on a slope of iron.
Somebody in there moaned with painand 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
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
figuresstripped to the waiststaggered and stoopedwrestling
with two shovels.
Hallo! Plenty of draught now,yelled the second engineer at
onceas though he had been all the time looking out for Jukes.
The donkeymana dapper little chap with a dazzling fair skin and
a tinygingery moustacheworked in a sort of mute transport.
They were keeping a full head of steamand a profound rumbling
as of an empty furniture van trotting over a bridgemade a
sustained bass to all the other noises of the place.
Blowing off all the time,went on yelling the second. With a
sound as of a hundred scoured saucepansthe 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 soulripping and ravingand 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 lipshis insolent faceand 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 . . . ?
Jukesafter a bewildered momenthad been helped by a roll to
dart through; and as soon as his eyes took in the comparative
vastnesspeace and brilliance of the engine-roomthe ship
setting her stern heavily in the watersent him charging head
down upon Mr. Rout.
The chief's armlong like a tentacleand straightening as if
worked by a springwent out to meet himand deflected his rush
into a spin towards the speaking-tubes. At the same time Mr.
Rout repeated earnestly:
You've got to hurry up, whatever it is.
Jukes yelled "Are you theresir?" and listened. Nothing.
Suddenly the roar of the wind fell straight into his earbut
presently a small voice shoved aside the shouting hurricane
You, Jukes? -- Well?
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-decklying sick and scared between the rows of chests.
Then one of these chests -- or perhaps several at once -breaking
loose in a rollknocking out otherssides splitting
lids flying openand all these clumsy Chinamen rising up in a
body to save their property. Afterwards every fling of the ship
would hurl that trampingyelling mob here and therefrom side
to sidein a whirl of smashed woodtorn clothingrolling
dollars. A struggle once startedthey would be unable to stop
themselves. Nothing could stop them now except main force. It
was a disaster. He had seen itand that was all he could say.
Some of them must be deadhe believed. The rest would go on
fighting. . . .
He sent up his wordstripping over each othercrowding 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 ship.
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 shoutLook out, Beale!They paused in an
intelligent immobilitystilled in mid-strokea heavy crank
arrested on the cantas if conscious of danger and the passage
of time. Thenwith a "Nowthen!" from the chiefand the sound
of a breath expelled through clenched teeththey would
accomplish the interrupted revolution and begin another.
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 breastand 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 themsir?"
A harshabruptimperious clang exploded suddenly. The three
pairs of eyes flew up to the telegraph dial to see the hand jump
from FULL to STOPas if snatched by a devil. And then these
three men in the engineroom had the intimate sensation of a check
upon the shipof a strange shrinkingas if she had gathered
herself for a desperate leap.
Stop her!bellowed Mr. Rout.
Nobody -- not even Captain MacWhirrwho 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 shipandwith a pauseas of girding the
loinsthe Nan-Shan lifted her bows and leaped. The flames in
all the lamps sankdarkening the engine-room. One went out.
With a tearing crash and a swirlingraving tumulttons of water
fell upon the deckas though the ship had darted under the foot
of a cataract.
Down there they looked at each otherstunned.
Swept from end to end, by God!bawled Jukes.
She dipped into the hollow straight downas 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
racketof iron things fallingcame 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-roomand for Mr. Rout to turn his head
slowlyrigidcavernouswith the lower jaw dropping. Jukes had
shut his eyesand his face in a moment became hopelessly blank
and gentlelike the face of a blind man.
At last she rose slowlystaggeringas 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
He and Jukes looked at each otherand 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 thicklyglaring with enlarged
doubtful eyes at Jukeswho 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 gotin some way or othera cut above his left eyebrow -a
cut to the bone. He was not aware of it in the least:
quantities of the China Sealarge enough to break his neck for
himhad gone over his headhad cleanedwashedand salted that
wound. It did not bleedbut only gaped red; and this gash over
the eyehis dishevelled hairthe disorder of his clothesgave
him the aspect of a man worsted in a fight with fists.
Got to pick up the dollars.He appealed to Mr. Routsmiling
pitifully at random.
What's that?asked Mr. Routwildly. "Pick up . . . ? I don't
care. . . ." Thenquivering in every musclebut with an
exaggeration of paternal toneGo 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 chiefhe 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 noisyundaunted maniacwho 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
Jukes was climbing out franticallyand the otherlifting up his
face after himhowledCan'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 alleywayhe 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
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 rusheshe 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 obedientlywith 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 shocksreverberating 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 hurricanestealing
through the iron sides of the shiphad set all these bodies
whirling like dust: there came to them a confused uproara
tempestuous tumulta fierce muttergusts of screams dying away
and the tramping of feet mingling with the blows of the sea.
For a moment they glared amazedblocking the doorway. Jukes
pushed through them brutally. He said nothingand simply darted
in. Another lot of coolies on the ladderstruggling suicidally
to break through the battened hatch to a swamped deckfell off
as beforeand he disappeared under them like a man overtaken by
The boatswain yelled excitedly: "Come along. Get the mate out.
He'll be trampled to death. Come on."
They charged instamping on breastson fingerson faces
catching their feet in heaps of clothingkicking 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
viewall the buttons of his jacket had goneits back had got
split up to the collarhis waistcoat had been torn open. The
central struggling mass of Chinamen went over to the rolldark
indistincthelplesswith 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
thatlinking their arms and aided by an appalling dive of the
shipthe seamen sent it forward in one great shovelike 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 openand each great paw clutching at a stanchionhe
stopped the rush of seven entwined Chinamen rolling like a
boulder. His joints cracked; he saidHa!and they flew apart.
But the carpenter showed the greater intelligence. Without
saying a word to anybody he went back into the alleywayto 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 strugglehowever 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 ontill 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: somedragged aside by the heelswere
passivelike dead bodieswith openfixed eyes. Here and there
a coolie would fall on his knees as if begging for mercy;
severalwhom the excess of fear made unrulywere hit with hard
fists between the eyesand cowered; while those who were hurt
submitted to rough handlingblinking rapidly without a plaint.
Faces streamed with blood; there were raw places on the shaven
headsscratchesbruisestorn woundsgashes. The broken
porcelain out of the chests was mostly responsible for the
latter. Here and there a Chinamanwild-eyedwith his tail
unplaitednursed a bleeding sole.
They had been ranged closelyafter having been shaken into
submissioncuffed a little to allay excitementaddressed in
gruff words of encouragement that sounded like promises of evil.
They sat on the deck in ghastlydrooping rowsand at the end
the carpenterwith two hands to help himmoved busily from
place to placesetting taut and hitching the life-lines. The
boatswainwith one leg and one arm embracing a stanchion
struggled with a lamp pressed to his breasttrying to get a
lightand growling all the time like an industrious gorilla.
The figures of seamen stooped repeatedlywith the movements of
gleanersand everything was being flung into the bunker:
clothingsmashed woodbroken chinaand the dollarstoo
gathered up in men's jackets. Now and then a sailor would
stagger towards the doorway with his arms full of rubbish; and
dolorousslanting eyes followed his movements.
With every roll of the ship the long rows of sitting Celestials
would sway forward brokenlyand 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 momentit seemed to
Jukesyet quivering from his exertionsthat in his mad struggle
down there he had overcome the wind somehow: that a silence had
fallen upon the shipa silence in which the sea struck
thunderously at her sides.
Everything had been cleared out of the 'tween-deck -- all the
wreckageas 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 fellJukes
could see the salient ribs of onethe yellowwistful 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 gaspand 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 leanstraining 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
armhis mouth yawned blackand the incomprehensible guttural
hooting soundsthat 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
himselfbacking through the doorwhile the grunts rose to a
loud murmur and hands were extended after him as after a
malefactor. The boatswain shot the boltand 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 Chinamenthey again became conscious of the ship's
Jukes on coming out of the alleyway found himself up to the neck
in the noisy water. He gained the bridgeand 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-Shanbut something remembered -an
old dismantled steamer he had seen years ago rotting on a
mudbank. She recalled that wreck.
There was no windnot a breathexcept 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 enginesand
heard small sounds that seemed to have survived the great uproar:
the knocking of broken fittingsthe 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-railmotionless 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 captainclinging to the railpaid 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
Had to do what's fair by them,mumbled MacWhirrstolidly.
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 shoutstheir ordinary tonesso
distinctrang 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 searising 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 vapoursgyrating madly round the
calm of the centreencompassed the ship like a motionless and
unbroken wall of an aspect inconceivably sinister. Withinthe
seaas if agitated by an internal commotionleaped in peaked
mounds that jostled each otherslapping heavily against her
sides; and a low moaning soundthe infinite plaint of the
storm's furycame from beyond the limits of the menacing calm.
Captain MacWhirr remained silentand Jukes' ready ear caught
suddenly the faintlongdrawn roar of some immense wave rushing
unseen under that thick blacknesswhich made the appalling
boundary of his vision.
Of course,he started resentfullythey 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 Captainwithout
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 Jukesfeeling very sore. "Let them only recover a bitand
you'll see. They will fly at our throatssir. Don't forget
sirshe isn't a British ship now. These brutes know it well
too. The damned Siamese flag."
We are on board, all the same,remarked Captain MacWhirr.
The trouble's not over yet,insisted Jukesprophetically
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 Jukeshurriedlyas if
the storm were sure to pounce upon him as soon as he had been
left alone with the ship.
He watched herbattered and solitarylabouring heavily in a
wild scene of mountainous black waters lit by the gleams of
distant worlds. She moved slowlybreathing into the still core
of the hurricane the excess of her strength in a white cloud of
steam -- and the deeptoned 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 starstooseemed to
look at her intentlyas if for the last timeand 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 matchesand found a box on a shelf with a deep
ledge. He struck oneand puckering the corners of his eyes
held out the little flame towards the barometer whose glittering
top of glass and metals nodded at him continuously.
It stood very low -- incredibly lowso low that Captain MacWhirr
grunted. The match went outand hurriedly he extracted another
with thickstiff fingers.
Again a little flame flared up before the nodding glass and metal
of the top. His eyes looked at itnarrowed with attentionas
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 sparkburnt his fingers and
vanished. Perhaps something had gone wrong with the thing!
There was an aneroid glass screwed above the couch. He turned
that waystruck another matchand discovered the white face of
the other instrument looking at him from the bulkheadmeaningly
not to be gainsaidas though the wisdom of men were made
unerring by the indifference of matter. There was no room for
doubt now. Captain MacWhirr pshawed at itand threw the match
The worst was to comethen -- 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 pronouncedmentally. 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
waterbottle 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 things.
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
theresee? Not so very full . . . where I can put my hand on
itsteward. Might want a light in a hurry. Can't tell on board
ship what you might want in a hurry. Mindnow."
And of course on his side he would be careful to put it back in
its place scrupulously. He did so nowbut 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 lastand letting himself fall on the
setteelistened for the first sounds of returning wind.
Not yet. He heard only the wash of waterthe 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 cabinas if addressing another being awakened
within his breast.
I shouldn't like to lose her,he said half aloud.
He sat unseenapart from the seafrom his shipisolatedas if
withdrawn from the very current of his own existencewhere such
freaks as talking to himself surely had no place. His palms
reposed on his kneeshe 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 outwiped his faceand afterwards went on rubbing
his wet head. He towelled himself with energy in the darkand
then remained motionless with the towel on his knees. A moment
passedof a stillness so profound that no one could have guessed
there was a man sitting in that cabin. Then a murmur arose.
She may come out of it yet.
When Captain MacWhirr came out on deckwhich he did brusquely
as though he had suddenly become conscious of having stayed away
too longthe calm had lasted already more than fifteen minutes
-- long enough to make itself intolerable even to his
imagination. Jukesmotionless on the forepart of the bridge
began to speak at once. His voiceblank and forced as though he
were talking through hard-set teethseemed to flow away on all
sides into the darknessdeepening 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'
The second mate's in there, too, holding his head. Is he hurt,
No -- crazy,said Captain MacWhirrcurtly.
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 MacWhirrand 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 abruptlyas
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
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,
-- without being battered to pieces,pursued Captain MacWhirr
with rising vehemence. "Couldn't let that go on in my shipif I
knew she hadn't five minutes to live. Couldn't bear itMr.
A hollow echoing noiselike that of a shout rolling in a rocky
chasmapproached the ship and went away again. The last star
blurredenlargedas if returning to the fiery mist of its
beginningstruggled with the colossal depth of blackness hanging
over the ship -- and went out.
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 storm-strategy here.
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 Jukesbreathlessly.
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 hearMr. Jukes? You would be left
alone if. . . ."
Captain MacWhirr interrupted himselfand Jukesglancing on all
Don't you be put out by anything,the Captain continued
mumbling rather fast. "Keep her facing it. They may say what
they likebut 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
Yes, sir,said Jukeswith a flutter of the heart.
In the next few seconds the Captain spoke to the engine-room and
got an answer.
For some reason Jukes experienced an access of confidencea
sensation that came from outside like a warm breathand made him
feel equal to every demand. The distant muttering of the
darkness stole into his ears. He noted it unmovedout of that
sudden belief in himselfas a man safe in a shirt of mail would
watch a point.
The ship laboured without intermission amongst the black hills of
waterpaying with this hard tumbling the price of her life. She
rumbled in her depthsshaking a white plummet of steam into the
nightand Jukes' thought skimmed like a bird through the
engine-roomwhere Mr. Rout -- good man -- was ready. When the
rumbling ceased it seemed to him that there was a pause of every
sounda dead pause in which Captain MacWhirr's voice rang out
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 onand far off
the growth of a multiple clamourmarching and expanding. There
was the throb as of many drums in ita vicious rushing noteand
like the chant of a tramping multitude.
Jukes could no longer see his captain distinctly. The darkness
was absolutely piling itself upon the ship. At most he made out
movementsa hint of elbows spread outof a head thrown up.
Captain MacWhirr was trying to do up the top button of his
oilskin coat with unwonted haste. The hurricanewith its power
to madden the seasto sink shipsto uproot treesto overturn
strong walls and dash the very birds of the air to the ground
had found this taciturn man in its pathanddoing its utmost
had managed to wring out a few words. Before the renewed wrath
of winds swooped on his shipCaptain MacWhirr was moved to
declarein a tone of vexationas it were: "I wouldn't like to
He was spared that annoyance.
ON A bright sunshiny daywith the breeze chasing her smoke far
aheadthe Nan-Shan came into Fu-chau. Her arrival was at once
noticed on shoreand the seamen in harbour said: "Look! Look at
that steamer. What's that? Siamese -- isn't she? Just look at
She seemedindeedto 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 brokentornand
devastated aspect: and she had about her the wornweary air of
ships coming from the far ends of the world -- and indeed with
truthfor in her short passage she had been very far; sighting
verilyeven the coast of the Great Beyondwhence 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 withe offered to give five
pounds for her -- "as she stands."
Before she had been quite an hour at resta meagre little man
with a red-tipped nose and a face cast in an angry mouldlanded
from a sampan on the quay of the Foreign Concessionand
incontinently turned to shake his fist at her.
A tall individualwith legs much too thin for a rotund stomach
and with watery eyesstrolled up and remarkedJust left her -eh?
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 exsecond-mate of the
Nan-Shanshaking hands hurriedly.
Standing by for a job -- chance worth taking -- got a quiet
hint,explained the man with the broken hatin jerkyapathetic
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
But he caught sight on the quay of a heavy seaman's chest
painted brown under a fringed sailcloth coverand 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
Yes. Paid me off on board,raged the second mate. "'Get your
breakfast on shore' says he."
Mean skunk!commented the tall manvaguelyand 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. Jukeswho had been scanning the shore through a pair of
glassesinformed 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
The hammering and banging of the needful repairs did not disturb
Captain MacWhirr. The steward found in the letter he wrotein a
tidy chart-roompassages of such absorbing interest that twice
he was nearly caught in the act. But Mrs. MacWhirrin the
drawing-room of the forty-pound housestifled a yawn -- perhaps
out of self-respect -- for she was alone.
She reclined in a plush-bottomed and gilt hammockchair near a
tiled fireplacewith Japanese fans on the mantel and a glow of
coals in the grate. Lifting her handsshe glanced wearily here
and there into the many pages. It was not her fault they were so
prosyso completely uninteresting -- from "My darling wife" at
the beginningto "Your loving husband" at the end. She couldn't
be really expected to understand all these ship affairs. She was
gladof courseto hear from himbut she had never asked
. . . 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 matter now?
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 25thCaptain MacWhirr did actually think that his ship
could not possibly live another hour in such a seaand 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 stewardwho had been greatly impressed by that disclosure.
So much sothat he tried to give the cook some idea of the
narrow squeak we all hadby saying solemnlyThe old man
himself had a dam' poor opinion of our chance.
How do you know?askedcontemptuouslythe cookan old
soldier. "He hasn't told youmaybe?"
Well, he did give me a hint to that effect,the steward
brazened it out.
Get along with you! He will be coming to tell me next,jeered
the old cookover his shoulder.
Mrs. MacWhirr glanced fartheron the alert. ". . . Do what's
fair. . . . Miserable objects . . . . Only threewith a broken
leg eachand 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 easeand a black marble clockpriced
by the local jeweller at £3 18s. 6d.had a discreet
The door flew openand a girl in the long-leggedshort-frocked
period of existenceflung into the room.
A lot of colourlessrather lanky hair was scattered over her
shoulders. Seeing her mothershe stood stilland directed her
pale prying eyes upon the letter.
From father,murmured Mrs. MacWhirr. "What have you done with
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 indifferenceand 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 childimpressivelyin unexpectedly
grave vibrating tonesand bounded out of the room.
It was a fine afternoonwith 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 togethervery hurriedas if the street were
ready to yawn open and swallow all that pleasure before it could
Behind them the high glass doors were kept on the swing. People
couldn't passmen stood aside waiting patientlyand Lydia was
absorbed in poking the end of her parasol between the stone
flags. Mrs. MacWhirr talked rapidly.
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
The eyes of the engineer's wife fairly danced on the paper.
That captain of the ship he is in -- a rather simple manyou
remembermother? -- has done something rather cleverSolomon
Yes, my dear,said the old woman meeklysitting with bowed
silvery headand that air of inward stillness characteristic of
very old people who seem lost in watching the last flickers of
life. "I think I remember."
Solomon RoutOld SolFather Solthe ChiefRout, good man--
Mr. Routthe condescending and paternal friend of youthhad
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 sinceshe had gone
through so many yearsthat 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 soberlyand 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 afterI 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. Routrousing herself.
He always was a strong healthy boy,said the old woman
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-heartedindomitable resolution. Jukes had written them in
good faithfor 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 weatherbut what
could these beggars know of us? Sowithout 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 shakenand afraid -- each individual one of them
-- to stand upwe would have been torn to pieces. Oh! It was
pretty completeI 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
shipand 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 theremost likelysome sort of a
man-of-warand once under her guns we were safe enough; for
surely any skipper of a man-of-war -- EnglishFrench 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 Taotaior 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.
MeantimeI could hardly keep on my feet. None of us had a
spell of any sort for nearly thirty hoursand there the old man
sat rubbing his chinrubbing the top of his headand 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
'Now you talk wildJukes' says helooking up in his slow way
that makes you ache all oversomehow. '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 leg.
'For God's sakeMr. Jukescome out! Come on deck quicksir.
Ohdo come out!'
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. Ohhe is letting them out!
Jump on decksirand save us. The chief engineer has just run
below for his revolver.'
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
'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
'What the devil are these monkey tricksMr. Jukes?' asks the
old manas angry as ever he could be. I tell you frankly it made
me lose my tongue. 'For God's sakeMr. Jukes' says he'do
take away these rifles from the men. Somebody's sure to get hurt
before long if you don't. Dammeif 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
handtooMr. Routnow you are here. The more of us the
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 alreadyand they were all on
deck after a night and a day down below. It made you feel queer
to see so many gauntwild faces together. The beggars stared
about at the skyat the seaat the shipas 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
hasthoughsomething 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 themselvesand
whenever the old man showed his bald head on the foreside of the
bridgethey would all leave off jawing and look at him from
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,
We finished the distribution before dark. It was rather a
sight: the sea running highthe ship a wreck to look atthese
Chinamen staggering up on the bridge one by one for their share
and the old man still bootedand in his shirt-sleevesbusy
paying out at the chartroom doorperspiring like anythingand
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 overand these went to the three
most damaged cooliesone to each. We turned-to afterwardsand
shovelled out on deck heaps of wet ragsall sorts of fragments
of things without shapeand that you couldn't give a name to
and let them settle the ownership themselves.
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