Like every man of his temperament, he held on till the last minute and then summoned the port watch, which came tumbling up from below at the call of the boatswain's mate, to find Captain Fish storming on the bridge at their slowness. Salver went forward to the forecastle to attend to the foremast. Mr. Woywod, in the natural bad humor that comes to any one who is awakened from a sound sleep in the only four hours of that particular night appointed for rest, took charge of the main, while the captain himself looked out for things aft. The helm was shifted. The ship forced up into the wind to spill the canvas. The braces were tended. The sheets were manned. The order was given to round in and settle away.
Wramm was the last man to get to his station. The men not stationed at some place of observation during the watch on deck had snugged down in such places as they could find for sleep until called. Wramm was a heavy sleeper. He had not been feeling well and had been awake even during his watches in the night before. He slept like a log. Woywod saw that he was not at his place at the main fife-rail. Just before the order was given for the light yard and topmen to lay aloft and furl and reef, Woywod, raging like a lion, discovered Wramm sleeping in the lee scuppers under the main pin-rail. He savagely kicked him awake, dragged him to his feet, got his hand on his throat, shook him like a rat, and finally flung him, choked and half-dazed, against the fife-rail, with orders for him to look alive and stand by or he would get the life beaten out of him.
When the order was given to slack away the main to'gall'nt halliards, the slow-thinking, confused Dutchman made a grievous mistake. He cast off and eased away the main top'sl halliards, the descent of the yard began just as the ship fell away a bit under the pressure of a heavy sea. The main to'gall'nts'l filled again, the men at the lee and weather braces, supposing everything was right, easing off and rounding in, respectively, until the yard whirled about, pointing nearly fore and aft. The starboard to'gall'nt sheet gave way first under the drag of the main tops'l yard, but not before the tremendous pressure of the wind had snapped the to'gall'nt mast off at the hounds. There was a crash above in the darkness. They caught a glimpse of white cloud toppling overhead and streaming out in the darkness, and then the mast came crashing down on the lee side of the main top and hung there threshing wildly about in the fierce wind.
When the main topmen were sent aloft to clear away the wreck, the tops'l halliards were belayed and then led along the deck and the tops'l hoisted again. For once on the cruise Beekman was not at his station, for the mate, instantly divining what had occurred, as every experienced man on the ship had done, had leaped to the fife-rail, with a roar of rage, and had struck the bewildered Dutchman, almost unaware of what had happened, with a belaying pin, which he drew from the rail, and had knocked him senseless to the deck. Even as Woywod rapidly belayed the tops'l halliards, which Wramm had been easing off, he took occasion to kick the prostrate man violently several times, and one of the kicks struck him on the jaw and broke it.
Beekman, stopping with one foot on the sheer pole of the weather main shrouds, had seen it all. The reason why he had not gone aloft with the rest was because he had instantly stepped back to the rail, leaped to the deck, and had run to the prostrate form of poor Wramm, which he had dragged out of the way of the men, who had seized the halliards at the mate's call. As it happened, the angry mate had struck harder than he had intended. Wramm's skull was fractured, his jaw broken, and his body was covered with bruises from Woywod's brutal assault.
When the wreck was cleared away, the canvas reduced, the ship made snug, and the watch below dismissed for the hour of rest that still remained to them, Woywod came forward. The watch had taken Wramm into the forecastle and laid him out on his bunk.
"Where is that" – he qualified Wramm's name with a string of oaths and expletives, the vileness of which also characterized him typically-"who caused a perfectly good mainto'gall'nt mast to carry away?" said Woywod, stopping halfway down the ladder leading into the forepeak.
There was a low murmur from the watch below, a murmur which was not articulate, but which nevertheless expressed hate as well as the growl of a baited animal does. Woywod was no coward. He was afraid of nothing on earth. Bullies are sometimes that way, in spite of the proverb. It was Beekman who spoke.
"He's here, sir," he began, in that smooth, even, cultivated voice which Woywod hated to hear. "I think his skull is fractured. His jaw is broken."
"An' a good thing, too. Perhaps the crack in his thick skull will let some sense in him."
"It will probably let life out-sir," answered Beekman, with just an appreciable pause before the sir.
"Mutinous, inefficient, stupid hound," said Woywod, but there was a note of alarm in his voice, which Beekman detected instantly, and which some of the others suspected. "Show a light here," he continued, coming down to the deck and bending over the man. "One of you wash the blood off his face," he said, after careful inspection. "I'll go aft an' git at the medicine chest. He's too thick headed to suffer any serious hurt. This'll be a lesson to him, an' to all of you. I'll be back in a few minutes."
The mate was really alarmed, although he did his best not to show it.
"Beg your pardon, sir," said Beekman, "but I want to speak to the captain."
"What you got to say to him?"
"I want to speak to him, sir."
"You can't do it now. Come to the mast tomorrow."
"I want to speak to him tonight."
"Let him speak to the cap'n," shouted Templin, one of the most reliable men on the ship.
Instantly, as if given a cue, the whole watch broke into exclamations.
"We'll all go aft with him to speak to the cap'n."
"That won't be necessary," said Beekman, quietly, although every nerve was throbbing with indignation and resentment. "Mr. Woywod will grant my request. There's no need for the rest of you mixing up in this. Won't you, Mr. Woywod?"
Now, Beekman was in his rights in appealing to the captain at any time. Woywod cast a glance back at the still, unconscious figure of Wramm and decided that perhaps it would be best for him to temporize. He wanted to strike Beekman down, and if it had not been for Wramm's condition and the mutinous outbreak of the men, he would have done so. He realized instantly what Beekman's popularity meant.
"If Cap'n Fish ain't turned in," he said, surlily, "and is willin' to see you, you can speak to him; if not, you'll have to wait till mornin'."
"I think it's probable that he's still awake, sir," said Beekman. "He'll undoubtedly want to know what the condition of Wramm is."
"I'll tell him."
"No, I'll tell him myself."
"You will," shouted Woywod, raising his fist.
Beekman never moved. The men came crowding around.
"By sea law," said Templin, "he's got a right to see the master of the ship, an' we proposes to see that he gits that right."
"You mutinous dogs," cried Woywod, confronting them.
But they were not overawed, and they did not give back.
"Come along," he said to Beekman, "an' you'll be sorry you ever done it."
Without looking behind him, he sprang up the ladder and, followed closely by Beekman, he went aft, descended the companionway, and found Captain Fish seated at the cabin table, on which a huge joint of cold meat and bread were spread out, with some bottles and glasses to bear them company. The captain was not alone. The steward, a Spanish half-caste, named Manuel, had just brought in a steaming pot of coffee from the galley.
"Well, Mr. Woywod," began Fish, "what about that infernal lubber that caused the loss of the mainto'gall'nt mast?"
"Smith, here, has come aft demandin' to see you an' p'r'aps he'll tell you. Will you see him?"
"What is it, Smith?" said the captain, sharply.
"Seaman Wramm," began Beekman, "is probably dying. I'm not a doctor, but so near as I can make out he has a fractured skull; his jaw is certainly broken and he is covered with bruises."
"How came he in that condition?" asked the captain.
"That murdering blackguard yonder struck him over the head with a belaying pin, kicked him when he was down and-"
"By God!" cried Woywod, springing forward, "you dare refer to me in that way?"
"Steady, Mr. Woywod," said Fish, his eyes gleaming. "I know how to deal with this man. Are you aware-you pretend to be a gentleman of education-that your language is in the highest degree mutinous, that I can have you put in double irons, and-"
"Am I to stand by and see a poor, helpless, dull-witted man, who has been hazed to death every day of this cruise by your blackguardly assessors, beaten to death, killed without a word?"
"You'd better look out for yourself rather than for him."
"I don't care what becomes of me. I've had just about enough of it. If that man dies, I'm going to bring a charge of murder against this bullying scoundrel, and if you don't put him in irons I'll bring it against you, too."
Beekman was beside himself with wrath. His temper was gone. His control had vanished in thin air. The cumulative repression of three months had been lost. He stepped forward, shaking his fist in the captain's face.
"Manuel," said the captain, "tell Mr. Salver to send a couple of men down here. Tell him to have the bo's'n fetch me some double irons." Fish was white with wrath. "Do you think I'll allow any wharf rat like you to talk like that to me on my own ship? I've no doubt but that thick-headed Dutchman will recover, but whether he does or not I'll deal with him. You'll prefer charges against me, will you? By God, you can count yourself lucky if you're not swinging at a yardarm tomorrow. For two cents I'd run you up now."
"With your permission, cap'n," began Woywod. "Keep fast, Manuel, I can handle him alone. I've been itchin' fer this chance ever since he came aboard. Now, Smith," he laughed, evilly, "I've got you. I knew you couldn't keep your temper."
Woywod stepped toward him. Beekman did not give back an inch.
"If you lay a hand on me," he shouted, "if I have to die for it the next minute, I'll-"
But Woywod, who did not give him a chance to finish the sentence, with fist upraised leaped forward. Beekman hit him. It was a much more powerful blow than the first he had delivered to the mate on the day that he waked up and found himself shanghaied. Three months of hard work and clean living and plain food had made a different man of him. Woywod was lucky. He partly parried the blow, but it struck him full on the chest and drove him smashing back against the bulkhead by the side of Manuel. The frightened steward hauled him to his feet.
The captain had arisen and was bawling for the officer of the watch. He was oblivious to the fact that one of the men was peering down into the cabin over the combing of the skylight. There was a trample of feet on the deck above. Salver himself appeared on the companion ladder, but Woywod had got to his feet. He was black with rage, mad with passion. He reached into the side pocket of his short peajacket and drew forth a heavy revolver.
"You're witnesses that he struck me," he cried, as he raised the weapon, but again Beekman was too quick for him.
A big, broad-bladed carving knife was lying by the side of a piece of salt beef on the table. Beekman clutched it, and as Woywod pulled the trigger, he leaped forward and buried it to the hilt in the mate's breast.
So powerful was the stroke, so deep and inveterate the hate that nerved the arm, that the sharp knife was driven clear to the handle into Woywod's breast. The big mate threw up his arms. He staggered back. The pistol went off harmlessly and dropped on the table. Then the huge hulk of the stricken man collapsed on the deck. Quick as a flash Captain Fish leaned over and seized the weapon.
"Make a move an' you're a dead man," he roared, covering Beekman. "Mr. Salver, I'll keep Smith covered with this pistol until you get the double irons on him. Log a charge of mutiny an' murder against him. If he resists, you can go to any length to subdue him. I wouldn't like him killed aboard ship, however. I'd rather see him hanged ashore."
Salver grabbed Beekman by the shoulder.
"You, Manuel, go to his assistance," said Fish, still keeping him covered. "You infernal coward," he added to the steward, who was as white as death and trembling like a weather brace in a heavy wind; "he can't do you no harm. If he moves I'll put a bullet through him."
But Beekman had no desire to do any one any harm. The blow that had let life out of Woywod had let the passion out of Beekman. He stood staring and bending over, he caught the man's last broken words.
"Done-for-Tell Harnash-I-" and then silence.
Captain Fish came around the table as soon as Mr. Salver had got a firm grip on one of Beekman's arms and the steward had gingerly taken the other. Shoving the pistol close into Beekman's ribs, he ordered the three men on deck. A passing glance at Woywod told the captain that his mate was dead. He could attend to him later. Beekman must be secured first.
The boatswain had been awakened, and, according to orders, he now came aft with the irons. Beekman was handcuffed and irons were put on his ankles. He was searched rapidly. His sailor's sheath knife was taken from him and then-
"Where'll we stow him, sir?" asked Mr. Salver.
There was no "brig," as a prison is called on a man-o'-war, on the Susquehanna. Forward a little room had been partitioned off on one side of the ship abaft the forecastle for the boatswain. On the opposite side there was another similar cabin occupied by the carpenter and sailmaker. The captain thought a moment.
"Mr. Gersey," he said, at last, "you'll come aft to take the second mate's watch. Mr. Salver will act as the mate. Clear your belongings out of your cabin. We'll stow him there for the present. Take a couple of men to help you shift aft, an' be quick about it. When he's safely locked in bring me the key. There's been mutiny an' murder aboard my ship," he continued, loudly, for the benefit of the watch. "This dog has put a knife in Mr. Woywod's heart. Not a thing was bein' done to him. We were jest reasonin' with him, treatin' him kind, as we do every man on this ship. Manuel, here, can swear to that, can't you?"
"Yes, sir, of course, sir," cringed the steward, who was completely under the domination of the brutal ship-master.
"I'll prepare a proper statement and enter it in the log, to be signed by the steward and myself, in case anything should happen to us," he continued.
"What'll I do with this man, sir, while we're waitin' for Mr. Gersey to git his cabin cleaned out?" asked Salver.
"Lash him to the bridge yonder. I'll keep my eyes on him until you git him safe in the bo's'n's cabin. See that the door is locked yourself personally, and bring me the key. Understand?"
"We don't dare to take no chances with such a desperate murderer."
"No, sir; of course not."
"Men," shouted the captain, "you heard what's been said?"
"We did, sir; an' we seen it all from the beginnin'," answered a voice out of the darkness, a voice full of ugly threat and menace, which the captain did not recognize and thought best to pass unnoticed.
"Poor Mr. Woywod's been killed, you understand. Mr. Salver will take his place as mate of the ship. Mr. Gersey will come aft as second mate, to be obeyed and respected accordin'."
"Damn good riddance," yelled another voice out of the darkness, carefully disguised.
This was too much. He could not overlook a remark of this kind, and yet in the black night there was little he could do, since the speaker was unrecognizable.
"Who said that?" blustered the captain, handling his pistol and peering forward.
There was no answer, of course.
"If the man who made that remark dares to repeat it in daylight, I'll cut his heart out. An' if I hear any more such talk, I'll let fly at the bunch of you as it is. Get for'ard an' to your stations."
The unknown commentator had obviously expressed the prevalent opinion aboard the ship on the death of Mr. Woywod. There was nothing else to be said or done then. The captain's orders were carried out as a matter of course. The excited men dispersed without comment, but with a feeling that all the honors were with them. The boatswain came aft, having stripped his cabin. The prisoner was finally locked therein and left to himself. Bread and water were handed to him sufficient to keep life in him and not much else. The ship was hove to and Woywod was buried the next morning with due ceremony, the captain himself reading the service, the whole crew being mustered in due form, but never a man was shot down into the vasty deep with less of the spirit of prayer and forgiveness following him than the mate who had met his just deserts, if the looks of the crew, to which the captain was perforce oblivious, gave any indication of their feelings.
Beekman's reflections could easily be imagined. To his dying day he would never forget the surprised, puzzled look on the mate's face, the change of his countenance from mad passion to astonishment, from that amazement to pain, to horror, to deadly fear! He would never forget the convulsive struggle of the man on the deck at his feet, the white bone handle of the knife sticking out of his breast and shining in the light of the big hanging lamp against his blue shirt. There was a human life on his hands, calloused and hardened as they were. There was blood upon them. Had the blood been shed righteously? Had he been well advised to give way to his passion? Had the fact that he had gone there in behalf of another, a helpless weakling, dying himself from the ruthless treatment meted out to him, entitled him to take the mate's life? Would the mate have shot him with that pistol? Was it self-defense? Had that only been back of his blow and his thrust?
Beekman had to admit that he hated the mate; that he had lusted to kill him. He realized in the flash of time that had intervened between the blow and the thrust that he had been glad of the excuse. Was he a murderer in the eyes of the law, in his own consciousness, in his heart? He had killed the mate, but the mate had beaten him in the long struggle between them. He had sworn that the latter should not provoke him, but he had done so and now he was in peril of his life, grave peril. The presumption of guilt is always against the sailor in charges of mutiny. It would require the strongest evidence to establish his innocence. He knew of no witnesses, save the captain and the steward. The steward was one man on the ship whom he had not won. Indeed, having most of his relations aft and living there in a bunk off his pantry, the steward was hated by the men. He was a tale-bearer and a sneak. He had to live aft for his own protection. He was purely a creature of the captain's. He would swear to anything the captain dictated. Beekman knew that, of course.
Before he had been bound to the ladder of the bridge Beekman had heard what the captain had said. The crew, of course, could testify as to Woywod's character, but he knew enough of sailors to realize they would scatter as soon as they could get away from the ship. He could scarcely depend upon them. There was old Gersey, but what could he do? What could he hope from the Russian authorities at Vladisvostok? The captain would be hand and glove with them, naturally. Things looked black for Beekman.
After a time, reviewing again all the scenes of the dreadful drama his mind reverted to those final words of Woywod's. He remembered them perfectly. They were etched upon his brain.
"Done for. Tell Harnash I-"
He repeated those words. The first two were clear. But the last three-
"Tell Harnash I-"
Tell Harnash what? Why tell Harnash anything? What did he have to do with the present situation? Harnash was his friend. Harnash had arranged his bachelor dinner. Harnash had jokingly plied him with wine, but so had the others. Beekman was an abstemious, temperate chap. He drank occasionally, in a moderate way, but never to excess. It was Harnash who had taken the lead in urging him. He had gone out from that dinner in the small hours of the morning with Harnash, and the last person he remembered was Harnash. Could Harnash have-
Good God, no! It was impossible. It could not be. Such treachery, such criminality was unthinkable by a loyal man like Beekman. There was no motive for it. The business affairs of the firm were prosperous. At his partner's insistence an expert had gone over the books on his return from Hawaii. There was not a thing wrong. He would have trusted Harnash with everything he owned, and with right. He could not have wanted to get him out of the way, unless-
Why had Harnash looked so haggard and miserable? Why had Stephanie presented the same countenance? Could those two- He would not think it. Yet what could Woywod have meant?
Suddenly Beekman remembered that he had heard Harnash had a sailor friend, who at infrequent intervals was accustomed to visit him. There had been some reference to it. Beekman had never heard the man's name, and he never chanced to have met him. Woywod had never referred to Harnash in Beekman's hearing on that cruise until those faltered words as he died. Could it be Woywod? It must. Was it merely chance that Beekman had fallen into the hands of Harnash's friend on the very night before his wedding, when his last companion had been Harnash himself? Now, Beekman was an intensely loyal man and he resolutely put these suspicions out of his mind, but they would not stay out. Why should Woywod stare up at him with fast closing eyes as he spoke? Did Woywod know who Beekman was? Were those muttered words an admission? By heaven, could it be that Harnash was in love with Stephanie and she with him?
When Beekman asked himself that question he began to go over the times in which he had seen the two together. Little things, unnoticed and unmarked before now, grew strangely significant. Beekman loathed himself for entertaining the suspicions. It was not possible, yet- Could Stephanie herself be a party to it? That, too, was unthinkable. So it was that Harnash- Yet those words! Well, if he could get out of this horrible situation now, so much worse than it had been, he certainly would tell Harnash and Harnash should tell him. Meanwhile, there was added to his horror and regret the fact that Woywod was dead and that he had killed him.
A strange and terrible reality, that, to this sometime dilettante in life.