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  ― 235 ―

From The Log of the Outward Bound.

THE look-out had sighted some wreckage on the lee-quarter; the mate, aloft, had made out a ship's mast in the centre of the circular vista his binocular gave him; and the steamer's head fell off three points to leeward so as to pass closer. The stale novels and quoits, the staler flirtations, were dropped, and all the passengers crowded to the side; except the half-dozen men in the smoking-room, who still kept to their eternal poker. The rest waited, glancing alternately from the sea to the cross-trees, and looking where pointed the black barrels of the mate's glasses.

“There's a man lashed to it!”

The cry from aloft sent a thrill of excitement all through the steamer. Down to the sick people, who tried to come on deck, or at least rolled over in their bunks to open their dead-lights; down to the engineers, reaching with oil-cans between flying piston-rods; down past the grimy, sweating devils in the stokehole, till it got into the coal, mingled with the steam, and flew through the pipes and valves like spirit through the veins of a man. But the poker-players remained calm.

“Tell us when we come up,” said one who held four aces. “Raise you five pounds!”

The smoke tumbled from the funnels with a hoarse roar; the minutes seemed as many as the countless waves that one by one dashed against the bow, and fell by, broken and shattered, into the hissing wake. Then the spar was sighted from the deck; bit by bit the details became plainer,—the top, the dishevelled rigging, and something else—a mere spot—which gradually grew into the bare breast of a man, in blue trousers, lashed with many coils to the mast.




  ― 236 ―

Steam was stopped and a boat lowered. There was no sign of life from the castaway; he hung forward limply on his lashings, and he seemed fearfully wasted. Coming closer, a slight movement of his head was seen, but it was only the rocking of the sea, and it added to his helpless, dead appearance. Rough hands grew womanly as they cut him loose and laid him in the stern. Then the boat shot back to the steamer, whose black sides were spotted with little white specks along the bulwarks and at every cabin-window.

“Living—just!” said the doctor, from the sheets, as the boat touched the side. There was a cheer, in which even the poker-players joined, with their hands in their pockets clutching the last deal.

Then the fearfully light armful was lifted on board, and left to the doctor forward; the steamer was put on her course; and the forlorn spar, with its tangle of rigging, was soon bobbing away in the white wake that she trailed behind her half-way round the world.

The passengers would have liked the man to relate his adventures, but no one had seen him except the doctor, whose bulletin said that he was very weak, hardly sensible, and an almost hopeless case. On the evening of the third day, when the subject—considered as a topic for the saloon—had so waned in interest that bets were no longer made as to the patient's living or not, the doctor came to the captain.

“He's sensible now, and he wants to see you—to make a statement, he says.”

“Is he ——?”

“Umph—yes! I'm afraid so.”

They went forward to the sick bay, where the lamps, switched low, showed a man lying back, with sunken temples, and cheeks gaunt and hollow under the new beard that half-covered them. He turned a glance, glittering with death, upon the comers, and spoke in a struggling whisper.

“Skipper, my clearance is made out. I want my wife to know at once that I am dead—you're a liner, ain't you—that's good! the


  ― 237 ―
news'll be quicker. I don't want no ‘missin' at Lloyd's,’ and waitin' and waitin' month arter month for me to turn up. 'Tain't good for a woman, 'specially when—oh! it's mighty hard, skipper! —we was only just married, but it's better she knows at once—the oncertainty'd kill her, and she'll be able to bear it better now than —than if it come on her by-and-by. Tell her immediate, skipper; and tell the owners that the Laura May has foundered, so Jenny can get my wages; she'll want it, poor girl.”

The captain assured him, and he went on:

“My name's Trigg—Benjamin Trigg, A.B., of the Laura May, barquentine, of Liverpool, homeward bound from Port Royal with logwood—fifteen souls, all told—all gone but me! … God Almighty! there they are again! Keep 'em off! Keep 'em off!”

It was only a cockroach that had dropped on the blanket, but he had risen on one elbow with the miraculous strength of delirium, and his whole frame trembled with horror.

“Not like that! Oh, God! don't kill me like poor Joe! No, no, God!”

He seemed to sweep something off his face, and fell back suddenly in collapse. The doctor flicked the insect away.

“Gone?” asked the captain.

“Yes.”

“Poor devil! What did he mean? Sounded like the horrors, did n't it?”

“No, it can't be that—it's very peculiar—the sun has got at his brain.”

“You're—right—doctor—it ain't.” The man's eyes were still closed, but his lips parted in an almost inaudible whisper.

“Alive!” started the two listeners.

“Ay—I'm alive—summat, and it ain't the 'orrors. They ain't so bad as hanging over that deck hearin' Joe and watchin' them crawlin' things. You'll keep 'em off me, won't yer, doctor—you won't let me die like my poor messmate? … Gimme something and I'll tell ye about it.”

The doctor, still perplexed, leant over the castaway, quietly


  ― 238 ―
parting down the clasped, beseeching hands, and holding the brandy to the blackened lips.

“Thank ye—that's better—I'll get along—'s nearly high water. It happened tenth day out. We'd been becalmed three days, and it was the rollin' about in the blazin' sun with the sea lukewarm that did it. There was millions and millions of eggs in that blasted stuff, and the sun hatched 'em. … Skipper, what's your cargo?”

“General merchandise.”

“Any logwood?”

“No.”

“That's right. Steer clear of it. 'Cos when you're becalmed the sun hatches them things—never open the hatches when you're becalmed”——

“This is a steamer, my man,” said the captain.

“I know—can't I hear yer engines—they're sayin' I'm dead, so Jenny'll get my wages. I'm-dead-that-I-am-that-I-am-that-I-am —listen, skipper!—I'm dead—they speak quite plain—that-I-am-that-I-am-that——

“Lord, old girl, who'd 'a' thought you'd 'a' made so much out o' washin' shirts—Mrs. Trigg, Laundress—I painted the same sort of curly L on the bows of the Laura May—don't pipe yer eye, I'm home now, and I'll never sail on a logwood ship no more. Tighter, lass! Lord, it's real lummy 'avin' yer arms round me. Wha-at! God's mercy! yer don't say so? Bless yer, lass—and him or her, whatever it is! Mind, if it's a boy he's to be called Joe. Don't say nothin'—I'm too damned happy. … Laura May, sir, homeward bound. … Ay, ay, sir. … What the hell does the mate want, swabbin' an' polishin'—'tain't a bloomin' yacht”——

He went off into disconnected scraps of sentences, each in a different voice, and then into inarticulate mutterings. Even when he was silent the diseased activity of his brain was shown by the voiceless thought that ran in rapid changes of expression over his face. The two men tried hard to gather its import; then the


  ― 239 ―
captain whispered to the doctor, who shook his head doubtfully and said, “I don't think it's any use.”

“I do,” said the captain. “I've seen it before; it'll bring him up with a round turn.”

Then in his quarter-deck voice he shouted, “Ready about—stand by!” right in the sailor's ear, who at once ceased his vague muttering and answered, “Ay, ay, sir!”

“See!” whispered the captain, “look at his hands! he's unhitched the braces—all but a turn. Now we can lead him. Trigg!”

“Ay, ay, sir!”

“What happened when the Laura May was on the homeward voyage?”

The man went on in a low, weakening voice that at times died away to nothing, but each time he wandered the captain brought him back by a call to duty and a question.

“The skipper thought we'd sprung a leak through strainin' of the timbers, and he ordered us to take off the 'atches. I was for'ard when I heard a scream—like a woman's—and I ran aft and saw everybody runnin' away from the 'atches, 'cos the inside of the 'old was one infernal crawlin' mass of insects—lizards, and scorpions, and centipedes, and beetles, and things I never before heard tell on, and millions and millions of ants, white and black and red, all hatched out of the logwood. And there was Joe Deebles, my messmate, dancin' about howlin', 'cos one o' them things had bit him. In half an eye we was racin' aloft, 'cos the pesky things was spreadin' fore and aft as if we had shipped a sea of 'em. We was real downright frightened, and all the time Joe was doublin' up of himself in the maintop, and his leg was all blue and swollen like a poisoned pup. And the insects was tumblin' out of the 'old like mad, and soon there was n't an inch clear of 'em. At first the mate tried to fight 'em with a mop on the poop, but some of the durned things could jump, and towards afternoon there was flyin' things as well, with nasty red wings, buzzin' above the deck. I was with Joe in the maintop, and the rest was scattered permiscus-like all over the riggin'. We was all fearfully thirsty; it was blazing hot, and


  ― 240 ―
all the while them leggy things was knottin' and splicin' of themselves below. We was afraid they'd come aloft, but when they sniffed the bulwarks, which was bubblin' tar, they 'bouted ship back again. We saw the ants run up the railin's, and round the wheel and all over the spokes, all fightin' and scruffin'. They swarmed over the binnacle, and some long things slipped back on the eaves, and fell flat on the deck with their white bellies up, and their dozens o' legs kickin' in the air. And we heard a screech from Neil Hansen's parrot in the fo'c's'le, and we knew they'd got at it. It was as much as we could do to stop Neil from goin' down to save it. Then the skipper's fox-terrier began to sniff and yowl under the door, and the crawlers must've got him, for we heard him snappin' and howlin' and dancin' round till he, too, was quiet. We knew that the things'd never be got out of the ship, and the skipper talked of burnin' her. And there was a nasty insecty smell which was sickening; it came mostly from the caboose, which was smokin', and it was mixed up with pea-soup. The things must've fallen into the fire. And Joe was gettin' weaker and weaker, and talkin' of home, so we had to bind him to the ratlines. Now and again someone'd go aloft to the truck, but there was never nothin' in sight. Then night came on, and the first few hours afore the moon rose was awful up there in the dark with Joe dyin', and the creep, creep, creep of them things below. Every minute you'd hear somebody startin' o' slappin' hisself, as if he felt somethin' crawlin up him. When the moon rose it was better, 'cos we could see each other, and the skipper started a song to liven us, sayin' we was in the track of steamers, and we'd sure to be sighted. All of a sudden Joe joined in the chorus, very loud, and afore a man could say ‘Avast’ he'd broken loose his lashin's and jumped off the top. He went singin' all the way down, till we heard him scrunch into the insects on deck. We just see'd his face for a minute, all white in the moonlight, and them cursed things closed over him, and he was only a heap of insects … was … my messmate and the parrot and the terrier”——

“Now, it's real downright ridiculous, Jenny, goin' on like this;


  ― 241 ―
your 'usband did n't die like poor Joe, he did n't, marm. He had a berth in a liner, and a liner's doctor, and he was buried decently with a shot at his heels, and he told me to tell you, Mrs. Trigg, that he was very sick when Joe fell, and, says he, get my wages, Jenny dear, and call the baby Ben. Don't call him Joe, 'cos Joe fell among the insects, and next mornin' all the crew was lashed aloft, 'cos they was frightened, too, and Trigg, marm, your poor 'usband, what died on the liner, he looked on deck and he see'd a skeleton hand—picked clean——

“Will yer remember it all, skipper? Write it down—Joe fell, and there was a squall, I think. I remember hearin' 'im sing, and lashin' myself to the mast, and the creepy sound came up through the timber, an'——

“Hallo, where's the moon?—it's all cloudy, there's wind coming—in with the topsails—ay, ay, sir—if we ship a sea with the 'atches off we'll founder—what's that! God! here it comes broadside on—hold tight——”

“Yer 'and, skipper; I'm castin' off. Thanks for pickin' me up—you went out of yer way—t' other line'll beat yer this trip. 'Tain't every skipper would've. I've sailed on liners—all hell for the passage and damn those overboard! Good-bye, doctor, and thank you kindly. And, skipper, tell—Jenny—she's not to keep single 'cos o' me—there's lots'll 'ave her”——

“My name's Trigg, sir. … I want to make statement … Liverpool”——

He had passed outward.

J. H. GREENE.

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