"I was. I am. The wedding was set for yesterday. We had a bachelor dinner on Wednesday night, and I guess we all drank too much. At any rate, I don't know anything further except that I woke up here."
"It's a likely story."
"That chap's got a rich imagination," sneered the second mate.
"He'd orter be writin' romances," ejaculated Woywod.
"Enough," said Captain Fish. "Your story may be true or it may not. I don't think it is, but whether it is or not, it don't matter. You were brought aboard at two o'clock Thursday morning. We tripped and sailed at four. His name's on the articles, Mr. Woywod?"
"It is; John Smith. I witnessed his signature. He couldn't write at the time, so someone held his hand an' he made his mark."
"This is an outrage," roared Beekman. "What became of my watch and clothes?"
"You had nothin' but what you've got on now when you came aboard. Am I right, cap'n?"
"You are, sir."
"So you see there's nothin' for you to do but turn to an' behave yourself an' obey orders. When the ship reaches Vladivostok, an' we pays off, you can take your discharge an' go where you please."
"I'll give you a thousand dollars to go back to New York and land me."
The captain grinned. Taking their cue from him, Mr. Woywod and Mr. Salver exploded with laughter.
"You might as well make it ten thousand, while you're about it."
"I will make it ten thousand," said Beekman, desperately.
"Well, then, will you trans-ship me to some vessel bound for New York?"
"We're short handed, sir," put in Woywod.
"Couldn't think of it," said the captain, who, of course, disbelieved in toto Beekman's highly improbable story.
This was the richest and most extravagant tale he had ever listened to. To do him justice, every voyage he had ever sailed had produced someone who strove to get out of the ship by urging some wildly improbable excuse for his being there.
"Well, sir, if you won't do that, I suppose Colon will be your first port of call, and you are going through the Panama Canal. Let me get on the end of the cable there and I'll get you orders from Mr. Maynard himself."
"I might be inclined to do that," said the captain facetiously, "but the canal is blocked by another slide in the Culebra cut, an' we're goin' around the Horn."
"Don't you touch anywhere?"
"Some South Sea island for vegetables an' water, mebbe, but no place where there's a cable, if I can help it. When I takes my departure I don't want nobody interferin' with me an' sendin' orders after me."
"Is there a wireless on the ship?"
"No. Now, if you've finished your questionin', perhaps you'll allow me to say a word or two."
"An' you may be very thankful to the cap'n for his kind treatment, for I never seed him so agreeable to a man tryin' to sojer out of work an' shirk his job afore," said Woywod.
"Jestice, Mr. Woywod, an' fair treatment, even to the common sailor, is my motto. As long as they obey orders, they've got nothin' to fear from me, an' that goes for you, Smith."
"Beekman," insisted the young man.
"Smith it was, Smith it is, Smith it will be. That's the first order. Now, I'll give you a little advice. Mr. Woywod and Mr. Salver is among the gentlest officers I ever sailed with, so long as they ain't crossed. You turn to an' do what you're told or you'll git it constantly; fist, rope's end, belay'n pin, sea boots, or whatever comes handiest, an' if you're obstinate enough, an' if it's serious enough, a charge of mutiny, an' double irons. Understand?"
Beekman nodded; the captain's meaning was clear.
"Go for'ard, now, an' remember, mutiny means a term in prison at the end of the voyage, an' mebbe worse. However you come aboard, you're here, an' bein' here, you got to obey orders or take the consequences."
"I protest against this outrage. I'll have the law. I'll bring you to justice."
"Belay that," said the captain, more or less indifferently. "It don't git you nowhere. If you are well advised, you'll heed my suggestions, that's all."
Beekman was absolutely helpless. There was nothing that he could do. Although more angry and more resentful than ever, he fully realized his impotency. He turned to go forward. Bill Woywod stopped him. The passion that the mate saw in Beekman's face, as he fairly gritted his teeth at him, startled him a little. Most liars and malingerers did not take it that way. They accepted the inevitable with more or less grace.
"You're in my watch," said Woywod.
"More's the pity."
"An' it happens to be the watch below. One bell has jest struck; four-thirty. The watch below takes the deck at four bells; six o'clock for the second dogwatch. I'll give you till then to think about it. If you don't turn to then with the rest an' do a man's duty, by God, you'll suffer for it."
Beekman had never thought so hard in his life as he did in the next hour and a half. Try as he would, he could see no way out of the hideous impasse into which fate had thrust him. He had not the faintest idea that his situation was caused by the treachery of his friend. No suspicion of betrayal entered his mind. He was certain it was simply the result of accident, and no one was to blame except himself.
He had got beastly drunk after that dinner. He had driven down town with Harnash. They had stopped on the way. They had finally separated. He had been assaulted, robbed, and probably left senseless from drink and the beating he had received. He hoped fervently that he had put up a good fight before being beaten into insensibility. Some crimp had picked him up, stripped him of his clothes, put him into these filthy rags, and sent him aboard the ship. By a legal mockery which would yet suffice, he had signed the articles. There was no way he could convince the captain of the truth of his story. Unless stress of weather or accident drove the ship to make port somewhere, he could communicate with nobody for six months, or until they dropped anchor at Vladivostok. He was a prisoner. Neither by physical force nor by mental alertness and ability could he alter that fact or change conditions.
Fantastic schemes came into his mind, of course; among them the organization of the crew, a mutiny, the seizure of the ship. But that would not be possible unless conditions on the ship became absolutely unbearable; and even if it were practicable, in all probability he might be leading the whole body to death and disaster. Beekman knew something about the organization and administration of the Inter-Oceanic Trading Company. He knew their ships were always well found and well provisioned. Given a well-found ship and plenty of good food to eat, and a sailor will stand almost anything.
Besides, most of these men knew fully the character of Captain Fish, Mr. Woywod, and Mr. Salver. They were as hard as iron, and as quick as lightning, and as ruthless as the devil himself, but if the men did what they were told, and did it quickly, and did it well, they got off with abuse only, and a comparative freedom from manhandling.
All three officers were fine seamen. They could handle a ship in any wind or sea as a skilled chauffeur handles a well-known car in heavy traffic, and it is a great deal harder to handle a ship than a car, especially a sailing ship. Blow high, blow low, come what would, these men were equal to any demand, and all that could be got out of timber and cordage and canvas, to say nothing of steel wire, these men could get. Also they were drivers. They would carry to'gall'n'ts'l's when other ships dared show no more than a close-reefed tops'l. Speed was a prime requisite with the owners. The Susquehanna, in particular, had to justify her use, and Captain Fish took a natural and pardonable pride in striving for the steamer record. All this pleased the men. Sailors will put up with much from a skillful, energetic, alert, daring, and successful officer. They made quick runs and drew high pay. Many of them had been attached to the Susquehanna since she had been commissioned. They had learned so to comport themselves as to avoid as much trouble as possible.
Beekman was in the receipt of not a little rough, but common-sense, advice from the watch below in the forecastle. His own better judgment told him that the unpalatable advice must be followed. Fish, Woywod, and Salver had it in their power to harry him to death. His spirit, nevertheless, rebelled against any such knuckling down as would be required. At three bells in the first dogwatch one of the ship's boys came to him with a message.
"Are you John Smith?" he said, stopping before him.
Beekman took his first lesson then and there. His inclination was, as it had been, to shout his own name to the trucks whenever he was questioned, but what was the use? He bit his lips and nodded.
"That's what they call me."
"Well, Mr. Gersey wants to see you."
"Who is he?"
"He's the ship's Bo's'n."
"Am I at the beck and call of everybody on the ship?"
"Look here, young feller," said an old, down-east sailor named Templin, who, on account of his age and experience, had been made the Bo's'n's mate of the port watch. "You've had a lot of advice throwed into you, which you may or may not foller. This last is worth 'bout as much as all the rest. The Bo's'n ain't no certificated officer. He don't live aft. He's got a position sort o' 'twixt fo'c's'l an' quarter-deck, but there's no man aboard who can do more for you or agin you than him. You seems to be a sort of a friendless damn fool. We don't none of us believe your yarn, but we sympathize with you because we've been in the same sitooation, all of us. Jim Gersey is a square man. You ain't had no chance to run athwart his hawse, an' like enough he wants to do you a good turn. You'd better go, an' go a-runnin'."
"Thank you," answered Beekman, rising and following the boy to the boatswain's cabin, right abaft the forecastle.
"Look here, Smith-" began that grizzled and veteran mariner, who had followed the sea all his life, and looked it.
"Smith is not my name."
"In course, it ain't, but it's the name you'll go by on this ship. I don't know why it is, but every man I ever seed articled on a ship without his consent got named Smith or Jones. I've knowed some mighty respectable people o' them names, an' I don't see why they've got to be saddled with all the offscourin's o' creation, meanin' no offense," said the rough, but somehow kindly, old man. "Smith it is, an'-"
"Smith goes," said Beekman briefly. "What's my first name, if I may ask?"
"Reads 'John' on the articles."
"John's as good as any."
"Now, you're takin' things in the right spirit. I heerd what you said to the officers, an' I seen how you got involved with Mr. Woywod. I sized you up good and plenty. Whether your yarn is true or not, an' I ain't passin' no judgment on that, it's evident that you ain't used to the sea, that you ain't used to rough work, I means, an' this yere is new experience for you. I'm old enough to be your father, an' it jest occurred to me that it would be a thing I'd like to remember when I quits the sea an' settles down on a farm I got my eyes on, that I took a young feller an' give him a friendly hand an' a word o' warnin', an' that's why I sent for you."
"I appreciate it more than I can tell. As man to man, I assure you that my story is absolutely true. If I ever get out of this alive, I'll remember your conduct."
"'T ain't for that I'm tryin' to steer you a straight course."
"I believe it."
"You've got to knuckle down, take your medicine, turn to an' do your dooty like a man. There ain't three harder men on the ocean to sail with than the old man an' them two mates. I've been on many ships, an' under many officers, but there couldn't be a worse hell ship than this one'd be if the men didn't knuckle down. You can't talk back; you can't even look sideways. You got to be on the jump all the time. You got to do what you're told, an' you got to do it right. Tryin' won't git you nowhere. It's doin' it. They're hell on every natural mistake."
"Why do men submit to it? How can they get a crew?" asked Beekman fiercely. "I would almost rather die than stand it."
"No, you wouldn't, sonny," said the loquacious old boatswain quickly. "If what you say is true, an' I ain't sayin' it ain't, you've got somethin' to live for, an' even if it ain't true, you've probably got something to live for ashore. If you're a fugitive from jestice, or anything o' that kind, which we gits 'em of'en, there's plenty of other lands where a man can disappear an' make a new start. An' men," he went on, reverting to the other's question, "are willin' to ship on the Susquehanna, an' do it over an' over agin, because she's well found, the grub's A-1, she's a lucky ship, an' makes quick passages. The pay is high, an' the officers are prime seamen, every inch o' them. If you do your dooty, if you do it right, if you don't make no mistakes, you'll git plenty o' hard language an' black looks, but that's all. If you don't they'll haze you until your spirit's broke, aye, until your life's gone. I'll do it myself," he added frankly. "I ain't talkin' to you now as the Bo's'n of the ship, but jest as man to man; as an old man advisin' a young one. If I find you shirkin', or sojerin', or puttin' on any airs, or playin' any tricks, I won't be far behind Woywod and Salver an' the old man. That's all."
"Cut out 'Mister.' I ain't no quarter-deck officer."
"Well, then, Bo's'n. I've thought it over. I'll accept your advice."
"It's the only thing you can do."
"That's true, and the only reason I do it. But, by heaven, if I ever get ashore, and if I ever get Woywod ashore, I'll pay him for it."
"There's many would like to help you at that job," answered Gersey; "but the trouble is to git him ashore. After ship's crews is paid off, they generally scatters an' disappears, an' sailormen's memories is short. They count on gittin' it hard from everybody, anyway. They've been trained that way from the beginnin'. They grow so forgetful that after they get on another ship there's nothin' too good to say of the last one in comparison. Do you know anything about sailorin'?"
"I don't know any knot-and-splice seamanship, if that's what you mean; but I'm a navigator, and I can sail my own yacht. I can do a trick at the wheel. I've never been on a full-rigged ship."
"What was your yacht?"
"A steamer, of course."
"Show any canvas?"
"Not to speak of."
"Ever been aloft?"
"Well, I'll do my best to train you. You've got an awful hard course to steer. You began bad by gittin' the mate down on you, an' I've no doubt but what he'll be layin' for you all the time, anyway."
"So long as he keeps his hands off me, I'll give him no further chance for trouble."
"An' if he don't?" asked the boatswain impressively.
"If he goes to that length-"
"You'll have to stand it jest the same. Mutiny on the high seas is the worst crime a sailor can be found guilty of. Everybody ashore is on the side of the officers-courts, an' jestices, an' juries."
"I'd like to get that brute in a court," said Beekman savagely. "I'd almost be willing to mutiny to do it."
"Take my advice on this p'int, too," said Gersey earnestly. "The less a sailor man has to do with law sharks an' courts ashore, the better off he finds hisself."
Thus it happened that when four bells were struck, and all the port watch were called, Beekman presented himself with the rest.
"So you've decided to turn to, have you, you dirty ragamuffin?" roared Woywod as the watch came tumbling aft.
"Say, 'sir,'" cried the mate.
He had a piece of rattan in his hand, and he struck Beekman a blow on the arm. The hardest word he ever ejaculated in his life was that "sir" which he threw out between his teeth.
"That's well," said Woywod. "Now, you assaulted me; you've been technically guilty of mutiny, but I'll forgit that. You turn to an' do your work like a man, an' you'll have nothin' to fear from me, but if I catch you sojerin', I'll cut your heart out."
Beekman couldn't trust himself to speak. He stood rooted to his place on the deck until Woywod turned away. It was singular how the environment of a ship turned a fairly decent man ashore into a wolf, a pitiless brute, at sea. Woywod knew no other way to command men. The men with whom he had been thrown knew no other way to be commanded. The mate had completely forgotten his friend's instructions to treat Beekman with unusual consideration. As a matter of fact, Woywod was harder on Beekman in his own heart and in his intentions than on any other man for several reasons.
Beekman had faced him. He had refused to be cowed. He was not even cowed now. Beekman had struck him and almost knocked him down. Beekman was a gentleman. In every look, in every movement, he showed his superiority over, and his contempt for, Woywod. Harnash had arrived at the same social degree as Beekman, but he was careful, because of his old affection, to treat Woywod exactly as he had treated him in days gone by. Woywod knew-he was not without shrewdness-that he was not on Harnash's social level, or even upon an intellectual parity with him, but Harnash never allowed the slightest suggestion of inequality to appear in their intercourse, because he really liked the man. When a man of inferior temper, quality, and character is placed in irresponsible charge of a man who surpasses him in everything, the tendency to tyrannize is almost irresistible. In Woywod's mind, he himself was, somehow, identified with justice and right. He was engaged in serving a woman who, to his perverted apprehension, was to be forced into a marriage with a man she hated, and that man was before him, in his power.
Woywod was not all bad. He was the last exponent of a certain kind of officer; a very bad kind, it must be admitted, but an efficient kind, as well. There were certain rudimentary principles of justice and fair dealing in him, and some of those whom he abused worst realized that, and stood for more from him than they would otherwise; but in the case of Beekman, both justice and fair play were in abeyance for the reasons mentioned. Woywod was determined to break his spirit, and to ride him down, and Beekman sensed that. It was to be a fight between him and the mate from New York to Vladivostok, with every advantage on earth on the side of the mate.
Beekman had as quick a temper as any man living. He had never been forced to control it much. The world had given free passage everywhere to him, backed as he had been by those things before which men bow down. Whether he could control himself, whether he could submit to the end, he did not dare to say. He did not hope that he could, but at least he would give it a fair trial. In his secret heart he prayed that he might control himself, for, if he did not, he was sure he would kill the mate by fair means or foul. He wanted very much to live, if for no other thing than to justify himself in the eyes of Stephanie Maynard, whose present opinion of him he could well imagine.
He had not been the most ardent of lovers. He was not the most ardent of lovers now. It was pride rather than passion that made him crave that opportunity for justifying himself, although he deluded himself with the idea that his heart was fairly breaking on account of her. Indeed, a simple reflection might have convinced him of the falsity of that proposition, because the predominant emotions that mastered him were hatred of Woywod and longing for revenge.
What would have been those emotions if he had known that Woywod was but an instrument in the hands of another, and that other a rival for the affections of his promised wife, and one who had passed as his best friend?
Having chosen his line of conduct, Beekman, with a strength of will and purpose of which no one would have suspected him, adhered to it rigidly, and the very fact that he was unable to goad him into revolt inflamed the passion and developed the animosity and hatred of Woywod. The mate was perfectly willing and, indeed, anxious to manhandle Beekman, but that little fundamental streak of fair play made him keep his hands off when he had no cause. To be sure, he sought diligently for cause and occasion, and that he did not find it, angered him the more.
Beekman had never been face to face with a very difficult situation of any kind. Life had been too easy for him. There had been no special demands upon his character by any very pressing emergency, and perhaps that made him study the position in which he found himself more carefully. Among other things, he decided to make himself popular with the crew, and to do it by gaining their respect. Unlike Ancient Pistol, he would be by no means "base, common, and popular," if popularity was to be procured in that way only. He had always been acclaimed a leader, in athletics at any rate, both in the prep school, in the university, and afterward among his friends and acquaintances.
Without stooping to their level, without truckling to their prejudices by promises or bribery that is, he achieved that object. He was easily the most popular man on the ship. And it was no small tribute to his adaptability that one of his quality and station could gain the universal approval of so many men so radically different. In little ways that fact presently became apparent to the quarter deck, and Woywod resented that especially. It irked him exceedingly that a man against whom he imagined he had a just cause for grievance, and who had, from his point of view, entirely merited his displeasure, should be upheld and acclaimed by the rest of the men over whom he ruled with iron severity. This was an affront to him, and an additional cause for resentment, not to say hatred.
In all this, Beekman had not changed his opinion of Woywod in the least degree. In return, he hated him with a good, healthy, genuine hatred that grew with every passing hour. It became increasingly hard for him to control himself and to follow out his course in the face of Woywod's constant endeavors to arouse his temper. Indeed, quick and passionate by inheritance, and by lack of restraint since childhood, Beekman found himself marvelling at his own self-control.
If it had not been that his course so thoroughly angered the mate as in a certain sense to enable Beekman to get even with him, he would have lost that control again and again. As it was, his soul writhed under the sneers, the insults, the brutal blackguarding, the foul language of Woywod, to say nothing of the exactions, the unfair and almost impossible tasks that were heaped upon him. And Salver, taking his cue from his superior, did his little best to make life a burden to Beekman. Grim, stern, ruthless Peleg Fish rather enjoyed it, too. With natural keenness, the master of the ship realized that it was a battle and a game between the two men, and he delighted in it as a sporting proposition.
Perhaps the popularity Beekman had gained among the crew helped him to bear these things. A few of them were quick enough mentally to look beneath the surface. Jim Gersey was of that small number. The young man had completely gained that old man's confidence. Beekman had seen the uselessness of persisting in his story, and he had made no further references to it among the crew after that first day, but with Gersey he made an exception. The old boatswain was shrewd and worldly wise in a guileless sort of way. The two had many long talks together, and the younger had at last succeeded in convincing the older of the truth of his tale. Without seeming to do it, the boatswain helped the newcomer through many a difficult situation, and by ostentatiously joining in the bullying he got from the quarter deck, and by keeping secret his friendship, it was not suspected aft.
Beekman had no suspicion as to how he got on the ship. He supposed his presence was due to blind fate. He knew that once he could get on the end of a telegraphic cable he could free himself from his detestable position, but he shrewdly suspected that if there were any way to prevent that, Woywod, who acted with the consent and approval of Fish, could be depended upon to stop it. Beekman had talked that matter over with Gersey, and he had given the boatswain an address and a message which the old man had laboriously committed to memory. If Beekman were kept on the ship, Gersey would send the cable from Vladivostok, or from whatever civilized port they made. For the rest, with a reckless disregard of expenditure, Beekman discarded his filthy rags, and comfortably outfitted himself from the ship's well-equipped slop-chest, his extravagant outlay being deducted from his able seaman's pay, for which, of course, he cared nothing.
In spite of the fact that she was well found, and the men were well fed, and the passage was a quick one, and the ship fairly comfortable, by the time the cruise drew on to its end, the ship was usually a smouldering hell, and this voyage was no exception.
The men had been driven hard. A succession of westerly gales off Cape Horn had kept them beating about that dreadful point for nearly two weeks, and even after they had rounded it, for once the Pacific belied its name. The wind shifted after they passed the fiftieth parallel, so they had to face a long beat up to the line. Gale succeeded gale. Such weather was unprecedented. It had never been heard of by the oldest and most experienced seamen on board. The men were worn out; their nerves on ragged edge. The severe straining the ship had got had made her take in water, not seriously, but at a sufficiently rapid rate to require a good deal of pumping. The steam pump broke down for a time and the crew had to man the hand pumps. Their nerves were on edge and raw, and the officers ground them down worse than ever.
If Beekman had not improved in his physical condition, he could not have stood his share of the work. He had been an athlete at college, not heavy enough to buck the center on a football team, but a marvelously speedy end, and a champion at the lighter forms of athletics demanding agility, alertness, and skill. In his after-college life, athletics had continued to interest him if desultorily. He was still an A-1 tennis player and a dashing horseman, but not much else.
With the hard work, the coarse but substantial food, and at first the regular hours, he developed amazingly. He got to be as hard as nails. He had always been a fair boxer. It was a science about which Woywod knew nothing, and although the mate was twenty pounds heavier and several inches taller, to say nothing of broader shouldered, than Beekman, the latter began to feel that in a twenty-foot ring with foul fighting barred, he could master the officer. There was no possibility of a meeting of that kind, however, so the two, under the varying positions of an unusually trying cruise, fought the battle of will and wit down one ocean and half-way up the other, until the break came, the marvel being not that it came when it did, but that it had been postponed so long.
One of the members of the crew was a young Dutchman named Jacob Wramm. He was not exactly half-witted. He could hardly be called defective, even, but he was a dull, slow-thinking, very stupid lad who had been shipped by the crimp as an A.B., but who would never be rated higher than a landsman. Beekman, who rapidly learned knot-and-splice seamanship, and all the ordinary and extraordinary duties of a sailor; who could get to the main royal yard or the flying jibboom end as quickly as any man on the ship; who could pass a weather earring in a howling gale as securely as the most accomplished seaman; who could do his trick at the wheel and hold her up to her course against a bucking, jumping head sea with the best quartermaster afloat, endeavored to teach and train Wramm in the niceties of the sailor's art. He made some progress with him until Salver caught him instructing the stupid Dutchman, who was in the second mate's watch. He mentioned it casually in the cabin to Woywod, and the latter at once found a new object upon which to vent his spleen and to provoke Beekman.
It was fortunate for Wramm that he was in the starboard watch. It was only when all hands were called and Salver went forward, Woywod taking charge amidships, where Wramm was stationed at the main mast, that he got a chance at him. The slightest blunder on the part of the Dutchman was treated as a crime. He was rope's ended, rattaned, kicked, beaten like a dog. Only a certain slow, stubborn obstinacy and determination in his disposition kept the unfortunate man from jumping overboard. Probably if Beekman had been in the same watch with Wramm and both had been under Woywod's command, something would have happened sooner, but except when all hands were called, Beekman was never near Wramm, and even then Beekman's station was aloft in taking in sail.
Wramm was not trusted on the yards. His duties were at the fife-rails around the masts where the various ropes which led from above were belayed. It was a responsible position, but Beekman had gone over and over every bit of every rope belayed to the iron pins in the fife-rails with him. When Wramm once got a thing in his head after a slow process, it was apt to stay there, and the Dutchman finally became letter perfect. He could put his hands on the various sheets, halliards, clewlines, buntlines, and others unerringly even in the dark. That is, he could if he were let alone and not hurried unduly.
One night, the starboard watch being on deck in the midwatch, at four bells, or two in the morning, the port watch was called, all hands being necessary for the taking in of sail. As usual, Captain Fish, annoyed beyond measure at his bad luck and the head winds, had been holding on to take advantage of a favorable slant in a whole-sail breeze, which was developing into a hard gale. He had time and distance to make up and he was going to lose no opportunity with either.
As the wind was rising, and the sea, too, he had remained on deck during Salver's watch, and at one o'clock in the morning the watch had taken in the royals and the flying jib. At two o'clock the captain, staring up through the darkness at the jumping, quivering to'gall'nt masts, decided that the time had come to furl the light canvas and take a double reef in the tops'ls, in preparation for the blow obviously at hand. He waited so long, however, before coming to this decision, that he realized that he had perilously little time left in which to get the canvas off her without losing a sail or perhaps a spar or two.