Where Angels Fear to Tread

“ I have seen wicked men and fools, a great many of each ; and I believe they both get paid in the end, but the fools first.” — ROBEKT LOUIS STEVENSON.


IT was a strange crew for the forecastle of an outward-bound, deep-water American ship. Mr. Jackson, the mate, — a gray-eyed giant, — looked in vain for the heavy foreign faces, the greasy canvas jackets and blanket trousers, he was accustomed to see. Not that these men seemed to be landsmen; each carried in his face and bearing the indefinable something by which sailors of all races may distinguish one another from fishermen, tugmen, and deck hands. They were all young men, and their intelligent faces — blemished more or less by marks of overnight dissipation—were as sunburned as those of the two mates who were taking their individual measures. Where a hand could be seen, it showed as brown and tarry as that of the ablest of able seamen. There were no chests among them, but the canvas clothes-bags were the genuine article, and they shouldered and handled them as only sailors can. Yet, aside from these externals, they gave no sign of being anything but well-paid, well-fed, selfrespecting citizens, who would read the papers, discuss politics, raise families, and drink more than was proper on pay nights, to repent at church in the morning. The hands that were hidden were covered with well-fitting gloves, kid or dogskin. All had on white shirts and fashionable neckwear; their shoes were polished, their hats in style, and here and there, where an unbuttoned, silk-faced overcoat exposed the garment beneath, could be seen a gold watch-chain with tasty charm.

“Now, boys,” said the shipping-master cheerily, as he unfolded the Articles on the capstan-head, “ answer and step over to starboard as I call your names. Ready! Tosser Galvin.”

“ Here! ” A man carried his bag across the deck.

“Bigpig Monahan.”

Another, as large a man as the mate, answered and followed.

“ Moccasey Gill.”

“ Good God ! ” muttered the mate as this man responded.

“ Sinful Peck.”

An undersized man with a cultivated blonde mustache lifted his hat politely to the first officer, disclosing a smooth, bald head, and passed over, smiling sweetly. Whatever his character, his name belied his appearance ; for his face was cherubic in its innocence.

“ Say,” interrupted the mate angrily, “ what kind of a game is this, anyhow ? Are these men sailors ? ”

“Yes, yes, Mr. Jackson,” answered the shipping-master hurriedly ; " you ’ll find ’em all right. And, Sinful,” he added, as he frowned reprovingly at the last man named, “ don’t you get gay till my receipt is signed and I’ m clear of you.”

Mr. Jackson wondered, but subsided, and, each name bringing forth a response, the reader called off Seldom Helward, Shiner O’Toole, Senator Sands, Jump Black, Yampaw Gallegher, Ghost O’Brien, Sorry Welch, Yorker Jimson, General Lannigan, Turkey Twain, Gunner Meagher, and Poop-Deck Cahill.

Then the astounded Mr. Jackson broke forth profanely. “ I’ve been shipmates,” he declared between oaths, “ with freak names of all nations, but this gang beats me. Say, you,” he called, “ you with the cro’jack eye, there, — what’s that name you go by ? Who are you ? ” He spoke to the large man who had answered to “ Bigpig Monahan,” and who suffered from a slight distortion of one eye.

But, instead of civilly repeating his name, the sailor said curtly and coolly, “ I’m the man that struck Billy Patterson.”

Fully realizing that the mate who hesitates is lost, and earnestly resolved to rebuke this man as his insolence required, Mr. Jackson secured a belayingpin, and had almost reached him when he found himself looking into the bore of a pistol held by the shipping-master.

“ Now stop this,” said the latter firmly, — “ stop it riglit here, Mr. Jackson. After you ’ve signed my receipt for ’em you can do as you like; but if you touch one of ’em ’fore you’ve signed, I ’ll have you up ’fore the commissioner. And you fellers,’ he said over his shoulder, “ you keep still and be civil till I ’in clear o’ you. I’ve used you well. — got your berths and charged you nothin’. All T wanted was to get Cap’n Benson the right kind of a crew.”

“ Let’s see that receipt,” snarled the mate. “ Put up that gun, too. or I 'll show you one of my own. I ’ll tend to your good men when yon get ashore.” He glared at the quiescent Bigpig, and followed the shipping - master—who, however, still held his pistol ready — over to the rail, where the receipt was produced and signed.

“ Away you go, now, — you and your gun,” said the mate.

The shipping-master, with a good-by call to the crew, scrambled down the side to the waiting tug, which then gathered in its lines and steamed away.

Wrathful of soul, Mr. Jackson turned to the men. They had changed their position ; they were now close to the fiferail at the mainmast, surrounding Bigpig Monahan, who, with an injured expression, was shedding outer garments and voicing his opinion of Mr. Jackson. He had dropped a pair of starched cuffs over a belaying-pin and was rolling up his shirt-sleeves, and Mr. Jackson was just about to interrupt the discourse, when the second mate called his name. Turning, he beheld him beckoning violently from the cabin companiomvay, and joined him.

“ Got your gun, Mr. Jackson ? ” asked the second officer anxiously, as he drew him within the door. “ I ’ve got mine. I can’t make that crowd out ; but they ’re lookin’ for fight, — that’s plain. When you were at the rail they were sayin’, ‘Soak him, Bigpig. Paste him, Bigpig. Put a head on him.’ They might be a lot o’ prize-fighters.”

Mr. Becker, squat, broad, and hairy, was not afraid, — his duties forbade it ; he was simply human and confronted with a new problem.

“ Don’t care a rap what they are,” answered the mate. “ We ’ll overhaul their dunnage for whiskey and sheathknives and turn them to. Come on ; I’m heeled.”

They stepped out and advanced to the capstan amidships, each with a hand in his trousers pocket.

“ Pile those bags against the capstan here and go forrard ! ” ordered the mate in his most officer-like tone.

“ Go to h—l,” they answered — “ What for — They ’re our bags, not yours — Who in h—1 are you, anyhow — What are you — You talk like a p’liceman.”

Before this irreverence could be replied to, Bigpig Monahan advanced.

“ You ’re spoilin’ for somethin’, old horse,” he said. “ Put up your hands.” He threw himself into an aggressive attitude, one big fist within six inches of Mr. Jackson’s nose.

“ Go forrard ! ” roared the officer, his gray eyes sparkling.

“ We ’ll settle this, then we ’ll go forrard. There ’ll be fair play, — these men ’ll see to that; you ’ll only have me to handle. Put up.”

Mr. Jackson did not “ put up.” He repeated his order, and was struck on the nose ; not a hard blow, —a preliminary tap which started blood. He immediately drew his pistol and shot the man, who fell with a groan.

An expression of shock and horror overspread the face of every man in the crew, and they surged back, away from that murderous pistol. A momentary hesitancy followed ; then horror gave way to furious rage, and carnage began. Coats were flung off, belaying-pins and capstan-bars seized. Inarticulate, halfuttered imprecations drowned the storm of abuse with which the mates justified the shot; and two distinct bands of men swayed and zigzagged about the deck, the centre of each an officer fighting according to his lights,—shooting as he could between blows of fists and clubs. Then the smoke of battle thinned, and two men with sore heads and bleeding faces retreated hurriedly to the cabin, followed by snarling maledictions and threats.

It was hardly a victory for either side. The pistols were empty and the fight was taken out of the mates for a time, and on the deck lay three moaning men, while two others clung to the fife-rail, draining blood from limp, hanging arms. But eleven sound and angry men were left, and the mates had more ammunition. They entered their rooms, mopped their faces with wet towels, reloaded their firearms, pocketed the remaining cartridges, and returned to the deck, the mate carrying a small ensign.

“ We ’ll run it up to the main, Becker,” he said thickly, — for he suffered, — ignoring in his excitement the etiquette of the quarter deck.

“ Ay, ay,” said the other, equally unmindful of his breeding. “ Will we go for ’em again ? ” The problem had defined itself to Mr. Becker : these men would fight, but not shoot.

“ No, no,” answered the mate, “ not unless they go for us and it’s self-defense. They ’re not sailors ; they don’t know where they are.”

So, while the uninjured men were assisting the wounded five into the forecastle, the police flag was run up to the main truck, and the two mates retired to the poop-deck to wait and watch.

But either because the ship lay too far over on the Jersey flats for the flag to he noticed, or because harbor police share the fallibility of their shore brethren in being elsewhere when wanted, no shiny black steamer with blue-coated guard appeared to investigate the trouble, and it was well on toward noon before a tug left the beaten track to the eastward and steamed over to the ship. The officers took her lines as she came alongside, and two men climbed the side ladder, — one a Sandy Hook pilot, the other the captain of the ship.

Captain Benson, in manner and appearance, was as superior to the smoothshaven and manly-looking Mr. Jackson as the latter was to the misformed and hairy second mate. With his fashionably cut clothing, steady blue eye, and refined features, he would have been taken for an easy-going club man or educated army officer rather than the master of a working craft. Yet there was no lack of seamanly decision in the leap he made from the rail to the deck, or in the tone of his voice as he demanded, “ What’s the police flag up for, Mr. Jackson ? ”

“ Mutiny, sir. They started in to lick us, and we’ve shot five.”

“ Lower that flag at once.”

Mr. Becker obeyed this order ; and as the flag fluttered down, the captain received an account of the crew’s misdoing from the mate. He stepped into his cabin, and, returning with a double-barreled shot - gun, leaned it against the booby-hatch, and said quietly, “ Call all hands aft who can come.”

Mr. Jackson delivered the order in a roar, and the eleven men, who had been watching the newcomers from the forecastle doors, straggled aft and clustered near the capstan, all of them hatless and coatless, shivering palpably in the keen December air. With no flinching of the eyes, they stared at the captain and the pilot.

“ Now, men,” said Captain Benson, “ what’s the matter with you ? ”

A red - haired, Roman - nosed man stepped out of the group. “ Are you the captain here ? There’s matter enough,” he answered defiantly. “ We ship for a run down to Rio Janeiro and back in a big schooner, and here we ’re put aboard a square - rigged craft that we don’t know anything about, and the steward says she’s bound for Callao. And ’fore we ’re here ten minutes we ’re howled at and shot. Bigpig Monahan’s got a hole in his shoulder big enough to shove his fist in, — thinks he’s goin’ to die. He’s bleedin’ — they ’re all Weedin’ — like stuck pigs. Sorry Welch and Turkey Twain’ve got broken arms, and Jump Black and Ghost O’Brien got it in the legs and can’t stand up. What kind o’ work is this, anyhow ? ”

“That’s perfectly right. You were shot for assaulting your officers. Do you call yourself able seamen, knowing nothing of square-rigged craft ? ”

“ We ’re able seamen on the lakes. We can do our work in schooners.”

Captain Benson’s lips puckered, and he whistled softly. “ The lakes ! ” said he. “ What part of the lakes ? ”

“All o’ them. We live in Oswego; we ’re all union men.”

The captain took a turn or two along the deck, then faced them and said: “ Men, I’ve been fooled as well as you. I would not have an Oswego sailor aboard my ship if I could help it, much less a whole crew of them. I’ve been on the lakes, and know the aggressive self-respect of your breed. Although I paid five dollars a man for you, I ’d put you ashore and ship a new crew but for the fact that five wounded men going out of a ship will involve explanation that will delay my sailing and incur expense to my owners. However, I give you the choice, — to go to sea and learn your work under the officers, or go to jail as mutineers ; for to protect my mates I must prosecute you all.”

“ S’pose we do neither ? ”

“You will probably be shot, to the last resisting man, either by us or the harbor police. You are up against the law.”

They looked at one another with varying expressions on their faces ; then one asked, “ What about the bunks ? There’s no bedding.”

“ If you failed to bring your own, you will sleep on the bunk-boards.”

“ And that stinkin’ swill the Chinaman ’s cookin’ in the galley, — is that for us ? ”

“ You will get the provisions provided by law, — no more ; and you will eat in the forecastle. Also, if you have neglected to bring pots, pans, and spoons, you. will eat without them. This is not a lake vessel, where sailors eat in the cabin, with knives and forks. Decide this matter quickly.”

The captain began pacing the deck, and the listening pilot stepped forward and said kindly, “ Take my advice, boys, and go along. You ’re in for it, if you don’t.”

They thanked him with their eyes for the sympathy, and conferred together for a few moments ; then their spokesman called out, “We’ll leave it to the fellers forrard, cap’n,” and forward they trooped. In five minutes they were back, with resolution in their faces.

“ We ’ll go, cap’n,” their leader said. “ Bigpig can’t be moved without its killin’ him, and says if he lives he ’ll follow your mate to hell, but he ’ll pay him back, and the others talk the same way ; we’ll stand by ’em,—we’ll square up this day’s work.”

“ Mr. Jackson,” said the captain, “ overhaul their dunnage, turn them to, and man the windlass.”

And so, with a crippled crew of schooner sailors, the square-rigger Almena towed to sea, — smouldering rebellion in one end of her, the power of the law in the other, murder in the heart of every man on board.


Five months later, the Almena lay at an outer mooring - buoy in Callao Roads, again ready for sea, but waiting. Beyond the faint land and sea breeze there had been no wind for several days, and Captain Benson had taken advantage of the delay to give a dinner to some captains with whom he had fraternized on shore. “ I’ve a first-rate steward,” he had told them, “ and I’ve the best trained crew that ever went to sea. Come, all of you, and bring your first officers. I want to give you an object lesson on the influence of matter over mind that you can’t learn in the books.”

So they came, at half past eleven, in their own ships’ dingeys, which were sent back with orders to return at nightfall, — six big-fisted, more or less fat captains, and six big-fisted, beetle-browed, and embarrassed first mates. As they climbed the gangway they were met by Captain Benson and led to the poop, the only dry and clean part of the ship ; for the Almena’s crew were holystoning the main deck. This operation consists of grinding off the oiled surface of the planks with sandstone, and the resulting slime of sand, oily wood pulp, and salt water made walking unpleasant, as well as being very hard on polished shoe leather. But in this filthy mess the men were on their knees, working the sixinch blocks of stone technically called “ bibles ” back and forth with about the speed and motion of an energetic woman over a wash-board. The mates also were W’orking. With legs clad in long rubber boots, they filled buckets at the deckpump and splashed water around where needed, occasionally throwing the whole bucketful at a doubtful spot on the deck to expose it to criticism. As the visitors lined up against the monkey-rail and looked down on the scene, Mr. Becker threw a bucketful, — as only a second mate can, — and a man who happened to be in the way was rolled over by the unexpected impact.

“ Get out o’ the way, there ! ” he bawled, eying the man sternly. “ What are you gruntin’ at ? Water won’t hurt you, — soap neither.” He went to the pump for more water, and the man, gasping and choking slightly, crawled back to his holystone. It was Bigpig Monahan, hollow-eyed and thin, slow in his voluntary movements ; without his look of injury, too, — as though he might have welcomed the momentary respite for his aching muscles.

Now and then, when the officers’ backs were partly turned, a man would stop, rise erect on his knees and bend backward. A man may work a holystone much longer and press it much harder on the deck for these casual stretchings of contracted tissue; but the two mates chose to ignore this physiological fact, and a moment later a little man, caught in the act by Mr. Jackson, was also rolled over — not by a bucket of water; by the boot of the mate, who uttered words suitable to the occasion and held his hand in his trousers pocket, while the little man, grinning with rage, resumed his work.

“ There,” said Captain Benson to his guests, “ see that little devil ? See him show" his teeth ? That is Sinful Peck. I’ve had him in irons with a broken head five times, and the log is full of him. I towed him over the stern running down the trades to take the cussedness out of him, and if he had n’t been born for higher things he ’d have been drowned.”

“ So this is your trained crew, is it, captain ? ” said a grizzled old skipper of the party. “ What ails that fellow down in the scuppers ? ”

“ Ran foul of the big end of a handspike,” answered Captain Benson. “ He ’ll carry his arm in splints all the way home, I think. His name is Gunner Meagher. Their names are unique, but they signed them and will answer to them. Look at that outlaw down there by the bitts : that is Poop-Deck Cahill. Looks like a prize-fighter, does n’t he ? But the steward tells me he was educated for the priesthood, and fell by the wayside. That one close to the hatch, with the red hair and hang-dog jib, is Seldom Helward. He was shot off the cro’jack yard. He fell into the lee clew of the cro’jack, so we pulled him in.”

“What did he do, captain?” asked the grizzled skipper.

“ Threw a marlinespike at the mate.”

“ Ought to ha’ killed him on the yard. Are they all of a kind ? ”

“ Every man, — schooner sailors from the lakes. Not one knewr the ropes or his place when we sailed. I’ve set more bones, mended more heads, and plugged more shot-holes this voyage than ever before, and my officers have grown jerceptibly thinner. But little by little, man by man, we ve broken them in. They ’re keeping a log. I learn ; every time a man gets thumped they enter the tragedy and all sign their names. They ’re going to law.” Captain Benson smiled dignifiedly at the outburst of laughter evoked by this, and the men below lifted their haggard, hopeless faces an instant and looked at the party with eyes that were furtive, catlike. They could not hear, but knew that they were being laughed at.

“ They got a little law here,” resumed the captain. “ The consul put them all in the calaboose for fear they ’d desert, and they complained that they were half starved when I took them out. To tell the truth, they did n’t throw any grub overboard for a while. Nevertheless, a good four weeks’ board-bill comes out of their wages. I don’t think they ’ll have much due them at New York. The natives cleaned out the forecastle when they were in jail, and they ’ll have to draw heavily on my slop-chest.”

“ Captain,” said another skipper of the party, " I 'd pay that crew off. You ought to have let them run, or worked them out and saved their pay. Look at them, — look at the devils in their eyes.

I notice your mates seldom turn their backs to them. Take my advice; get rid of them.”

“ What ? ” answered Captain Benson, with a smile. “ Just when we have them under control and useful ? Oh no. I 'd only have to ship a crowd of beach-combers and half-breeds at double pay. I ’ve taken those sixteen hellyons round the Horn, and I 'll take them back. I’m proud of them. Just look at them,” he added vivaciously ; “ docile and obedient, — down on their knees with bibles in their hands.”

“ And the name of the Lord on their lips,” grunted the adviser ; “ but not in prayer, I ’ll bet you.”

“ Hardly,” laughed Captain Benson.

“ Come below, gentlemen ; dinner must be ready.”

Dinner was not ready, but they seated themselves at the cabin table, and while waiting passed around a decanter of appetizing yellow fluid, and drank to a speedy and pleasant passage home for the Almena and further confusion to her misguided crew. Then they discussed the depravity of sailors, until the steward, assisted by the Chinese cook, appeared with the dinner. For lack of facilities the mild-faced and smiling steward could not serve the dinner in the style which it deserved. He would have liked, he explained, to bring it on in separate courses. But one and all disclaimed such frivolity. There was the dinner, and that was enough. And it was a splendid dinner; but, either because thirteen men had sat down to the table, or because the fates were unusually freakish, it was destined that not one man there should partake of it. On deck things had been happening ; and just as the steward had placed the last smoking dish on the table, a wet, bedraggled, dirty little man, his clothing splashed with the slime of the deck, his eyes flaming green, his face expanded to a smile of ferocity, appeared in the forward doorway holding a cocked revolver which covered them all. Behind him in the passage were other men, equally unkempt, their eyes wide open with excitement and anticipation.

“ Don’t you move,” yelped the little fellow, — “ not a man ! Keep yer hands out o’ yer pockets — put ’em over yer heads — that’s it — you too, cap’n.”

They obeyed him (there was death in the green eyes and smile), all but one. Captain Benson sprang to his feet with a hand in his breast pocket.

“You scoundrels! ” he cried as he drew forth a pistol. “ Leave this ” — The speech was stopped by a report, — deafening in the closed-up space, — and Captain Benson fell heavily, his pistol rattling on the floor.

“ Shoot me off a yard, will ye ? ” growled another voice through the smoke. In the after door were more men, the red-haired Seldom Helward in the van, holding a smoking pistol. “ Get the gun, one o’ you ! ” he called.

A man stepped past and picked up the captain’s pistol, which he cocked.

“ One by one,” said Seldom, his voice rising to the pitch and timbre of a trumpet-blast, “ you men walk out of the forrard companion with your hands over your heads. Plug them, Sinful, if two move together, and shoot to kill.”

Taken by surprise, the guests, resolute men though they were, obeyed the command. As each rose to his feet, he was first relieved of a bright revolver, which served to increase the moral front of the enemy, then led out to the booby-hatch, on which lay a newly broached coil of hambro-line and a pile of thole-pins from the locker within. Here he was searched again, for jack-knife or brass knuckles, bound with the hambro-line, gagged with a thole-pin, and marched forward,— past the prostrate first officer, quiet and pale in the slime, and the agonized second officer, gagged and bound to the fife-rail — to the port forecastle, where he was locked in with the Chinese cook, who, similarly treated, had preceded. The mild-faced steward, weeping now, was sternly questioned, and allowed his freedom on promising not to “ sing out ” or make trouble. Captain Benson was examined, his injury was diagnosed as brain concussion from the glancing bullet, more or less serious, and he was dragged out to tlie scuppers and bound beside his unconscious first officer. Then, leaving them to live or die as their subconsciousness determined, the sixteen mutineers sacrilegiously reëntered the cabin and devoured the dinner.

When you have cursed, kicked, and beaten a slave for five months, it is always advisable to watch him for a few seconds after administering correction, to give him time to realize his condition ; and when you have carried a revolver in your right-hand trousers pocket for five months, it is advisable occasionally to inspect the cloth of the pocket, to make sure that it is not wearing thin from the chafe of the muzzle. Mr. Jackson had ignored the first rule of conduct; Mr. Becker, the second. Mr. Jackson had kicked Sinful Peck once too often ; but not knowing that it was once too often, had immediately turned his back, and received thereat the sharp corner of a bible on his bump of inhabitiveness, — which bump must have responded in its function ; for Mr. Jackson showed no immediate desire to move from the place where he fell. Mr. Becker, on his way to the lazaret in the stern for a bucket of sand to assist in the holystoning, had reached the head of the poop steps when this occurred, and, turning at the sound of his superior’s fall, bounded to the main deck without touching the steps, reaching for his pistol as he landed, only to pinion his fingers in a large hole in the pocket. Wildly he struggled to reclaim his weapon, down his trousers leg, but he could not reach it; his anxious face betrayed his predicament to the wakening men, and when he looked into Mr. Jackson’s pistol, held by Sinful Peck, he submitted to being bound to the fiferail and gagged with the end of the topgallant sheet, a large rope which filled his mouth and hurt. Then the firearm was recovered, and the descent upon the dinner-party planned and carried out.

Without the vocal expression of emotion, the conduct of these men, after that good dinner, wras somewhat similar to that of a kennel of hunting-dogs loosed after confinement on a fine day. They waltzed, boxed, wrestled, flung each other about the deck, threw handsprings and cartwheels, — those not too weak, — buffeted, kicked, and clubbed the suffering second mate, reviled and cursed the unconscious captain and chief mate, and when tired of this, as children and dogs of play, they turned to their captives for amusement. The second mate was taken from the fife-rail, with hands still bound, and led to the forecastle ; the gags of all and the bonds of the cook were removed, and the forecastle dinner was brought from the galley. This the prisoners were invited to eat. There was a piece of salt beef, boiled a little longer than usual on account of the delay. It was black, brown, green, and iridescent in spots ; it was slippery with ptomaines, filthy to the sight, stinking and nauseating. There were potatoes, a year old, shriveled before boiling, hard and soggy, black, blue, and bitter after the process. And there was the usual “ weevily hardtack ” in the bread-barge.

Protest was useless. The unhappy captives surrounded that dinner, and, with hands behind their backs and disgust in their faces, masticated and swailowed the morsels which the Chinese cook put to their mouths, while their feelings were further outraged by the hilarity of the men at their backs, and their appetites occasionally jogged into activity by the impact on their heads of a tarry fist or pistol-butt. At last a portly captain began vomiting, and this being contagious the meal ended ; for even the stomachs of the sailors were affected.

There were cool heads among that crowd of mutineers, — men who thought of consequences : Poop - Deck Cahill, square-faced and resolute, but thoughtful of eye and refined of speech; Seldom Helward,—who had shot the captain, — a man whose fiery hair, arching eyebrows, Roman nose, and explosive language indicated the daredevil, but whose intelligent though humorous eye gave certain signs of repressive study and thought; and Bigpig Monahan, already described. These three men went into executive session under the break of the poop, to the conclusion that the consul who had jailed them for nothing would probably hang them for this ; and, calling the rest to the conference as a committee of the whole, they outlined and put to vote a proposition to make sail and go to sea, leaving the fate of their captives for later consideration, — which was adopted unanimously and with much profanity, the central thought of the latter being an intention to " make ’em finish the holystoning for the fun they had laughing at us.” Then Bigpig Monahan sneaked below and induced the steward to toss through the storeroom deadlight every bottle of wine and liquor which the ship carried.

Six second mates on six American ships watched doubtingly as sails were dropped and yards mastheaded on board the Almena, and at last sent six dingeys, which could only muster around the mooring-buoy, where a wastefully slipped shot of anchor-chain told that all was not right. But by the time the matter was reported ashore, the Almena, having caught the newly arrived southerly wind of the coast, was hull down at sea.

Four days later, one of her boats, containing twelve sore-headed men, with faces disfigured and clothing ruined — particularly about the knees of the trousers — by oily wood pulp, came wearily into the roadstead from the open sea, past the shaping and up to the landing at the custom-house docks. From here the twelve went to the American Consulate and entered bitter complaint of inhuman treatment at the hands of sixteen mutinous sailors on board the Almena, — treatment so cruel that they had welcomed being turned adrift in an open boat; whereat the consul, deploring the absence of man-of-war or steamer to send in pursuit, took their individual affidavits; and these he sent to San Francisco, from which point the account of the crime — described as piracy — spread to every newspaper in Christendom.


A northeast gale off Hatteras : immense gray combers, five to the mile, charging shoreward, occasionally breaking, again lifting their heads too high in the effort, truncated as by a knife, and the liquid apex shattered to spray ; an expanse of leaden sky showing between the rain-squalls, across which dull background rushed the darker scud and storm-clouds; a passenger steamer rolling helplessly in the trough, and a square-rigged vessel, hove to on the port tack, two miles to windward of the steamer and drifting south toward the storm-centre. This is the picture that the sea-birds saw at daybreak on a September morning; and could the seabirds have spoken, they might have told that the square-rigged craft carried a navigator who had learned that a whirling fury of storm-centre was less to be feared than the deadly Diamond Shoals — the outlying guard of Cape Hatteras — toward which that steamer was drifting, broadside on.

Square-faced and thoughtful of eye, clad in yellow oilskins and sou’wester, he stood by the after companionway, intently examining through a pair of glasses the wallowing steamer to leeward, barely distinguishable in the halflight and driving spindrift. At the wheel stood a little man, who sheltered a cheerful face under the lee of a big coat collar and occasionally peeped out at the navigator.

“ What d’ ye make of him, PoopDeck ? ” he asked.

“He’s in trouble, Sinful; there goes his ensign — American — union down.”

From a flag-locker within the companionway Poop-Deck drew out the stars and stripes, which he ran up to the monkey-gaff. Then he looked again.

“ Down goes his ensign — up goes the code pennant. He wants to signal. Come up here, boys ! ” he shouted.

As six men who had been pacing the main deck climbed the poop ladder, he bent on the corresponding code signal to the other part of the halyards and ran it up, while the ensign fluttered down. “ Go down, one of you,” he said, “ and get the signal-book and shipping - list. He ’ll show his number next. Get ours ready, — R. L. F. T.”

One of the sailors sprang below for the books named, the others hooked together the flags forming the ship’s number, and Poop-Deck resumed the glasses.

Q. T. F. N.! ” he exclaimed. “ Look it up.”

The books had arrived, and while one man lowered and hoisted again the code signal —which was also the answering pennant — the others pored over the shipping-list.

“ Steamer Aldebaran, of New York,” they said.

The pennant came down, and the ship’s number went up to the gaff.

“ H. V.! ” called Poop-Deck, as he scanned two flags now flying from the steamer’s truck. “ What does that say ? ”

“Damaged rudder—cannot steer,” they answered.

“ Pull down the number and show the answering pennant. Let’s see that signal-book.” Poop-Deck turned the leaves, studied a page for a moment, then said, “ Run up H. V. R. That says, ‘ What do you want ? ’ and it’s the nearest thing to it.”

These flags took the place of the pennant, and Poop-Deck again watched; noting first the steamer’s answering signal, then the letters K. R. N.

“ What does K. R. N. say ? ” he asked. They turned the leaves, and answered, “ ‘ I can tow you.’ ”

“ Tow us ! ” exclaimed three or four together. “ We 're all right. We don’t want a tow. How can he tow us when he can’t steer ? ”

“ He wants to tow us so that he can steer, you blasted fools,” said PoopDeck. “ He can go where he likes with a big drag on his stern.”

“ That’s so. Where’s he bound ? ”

“ Did n’t say ; but he ’ll fetch up on the shoals soon, if we don’t help.”

“ Towline’s down the fore-peak,” said one. “ Could n’t get it up in an hour,” remarked another. “ Yes, we can,” rejoined a third. Then, all speaking at once, and each raising his voice to its limit, they argued excitedly : “ Can’t be done — Coil it on the forecastle — Yes, we can — Too much sea — Run down to windward — Line ud part, anyhow — Float a barrel — Shut up — I tell you we can — Call the watch — Seldom, yer daft — Need n’t get a boat over — Hell ye can — Call the boys — All hands with heavin’-lines — Can’t back a topsail in this — Go lay down — Soak yer head, Seldom — Hush — Dry up — Nothin’ you can’t do — Go to hell — I tell you, by God, we can — Do as I say, and we ’ll get a line to him or get his.”

The affirmative speaker, who had also uttered the last declaration, was Seldom Helward. “ Put me in command ! ” he yelled excitedly. “ Do what I tell you and we ’ll make fast to him ! ”

“ No captains here,” growled one, while the rest eyed Seldom reprovingly.

“ Well, there ought to be. You ’re all rattled, and don’t know any more than to let thousands o’ dollars in salvage slip by you.”

“ Salvage ? ”

“ Yes, salvage. Big boat — full o’ passengers and valuable cargo — shoals to looward of him — can’t steer. You poor fools, what ails you ? ”

“ Foller Seldom ! ” vociferated the little man at the wheel. “ Foller Seldom and ye ’ll wear stripes ! ”

“ Shut up, Sinful. Strike the bell. Call the watch, —it’s near seven bells.”

The uproarious howl with which sailors call the watch below was delivered down the cabin stairs, and soon eight other men came up, grumbling at the premature wakening, while two more came out of the forecastle and joined one who, during the signaling, had remained forward. Seldom Helward’s proposition was discussed noisily in joint session on the poop, and finally accepted.

“We put you in charge, Seldom,” said Bigpig Monahan sternly, “ against the rule, ’cause we think you’ve got some good scheme in your head. But if you have n’t, — if you make a mess of things just to have a little fun bossin’ us, — you’ll hear from us. Go ahead, now, you ’re cap’n.”

Seldom climbed to the top of the after house, looked to windward, then to leeward at the rolling steamer, and called out, “ I want more beef at the wheel. Bigpig, take it; and you, Turkey, stand by with him. Get away from there, Sinful. Give her the upper maintopsail ; the rest of you, and Poop-Deck, you stand by the signal halyards. Ask him if he’s got a towline ready.”

Protesting angrily at the slight put upon him, Sinful Peck relinquished the wheel and accompanied the others to the main deck. Two men went aloft to loose the topsail, while Poop-Deck examined the signal-book.

“ K. S. G. says, ‘ Have a towline ready.’ That ought to do,” he said.

“ Run it up,” ordered the newly installed captain, “ and watch his answer.”

Up went the signal, and as the men on the main deck were manning the topsail halyards Poop-Deck made out the answer, — V. K. C.

“ That means, ‘ All right,’ Seldom,” he said, after examining the book.

“ Good enough ; but we ’ll get our line ready, too. Get down and help ’em masthead the yard ; then take ’em forrard and coil the towline abaft the windlass. Get out all the heavin’-lines, too.”

Poop-Deck obeyed, and while the main-topsail yard slowly arose to place Seldom himself ran up the answering pennant, and then a repetition of the steamer’s last message, “ All right.” This was the final signal displayed. It was lowered, and for a half-hour Seldom waited until the others had lifted a nineinch hawser from the fore-peak and coiled it down. Then came his next orders in a continuous roar : —

“ Three hands aft to the spanker sheet — stand by to slack off and haul in. Man braces for wearing ship, the rest o’ you. Hard up the wheel. Check in starboard main and cro’jack braces. Shiver the topsail. Slack off that spanker.”

His orders were obeyed. The ship paid off, staggered a little in the trough under the right - angle pressure of the gale, swung still farther, and steadied down to a long, rolling motion, dead before the wind, heading for the stern of the steamer. Yards were squared in, the spanker hauled aft, staysail trimmed to port, and all hands waited while the ship charged down the two miles of distance. “ Handles like a yacht,” muttered Seldom, as, with brow wrinkled and keen eye flashing above his hooked nose, he conned the steering from his place near the mizzenmast.

Three men separated themselves from the rest and came aft. One was tall, broad-shouldered, and smooth-shaven, with a palpable limp ; another, short, broad, and hairy, showed a lamentable absence of front teeth ; and the third, a blue-eyed man, slight and graceful of movement, carried his arm in splints and sling.

“ I wish to protest,” said this man as they climbed the poop steps. “ I am captain here under the law. I protest against this insanity. No boat can live in such a sea. No help can be given that steamer.”

“ I bear witness to the protest,” said the tall man.

The short, hairy man might also have spoken, but had no time.

“ Get off the poop ! ” yelled Seldom. “ Go forrard where you belong ! ” He stood close to the bucket-rack around the skylight. Seizing bucket after bucket, he launched them at his visitors, with the result that the big man was tumbled down the poop steps head first, while the other two followed, right side up, but hurriedly, and bearing some sore spots. Then the rest of the men set upon them, much as a pack of dogs might worry strange cats, and kicked and buffeted them forward.

There was not much time for amusement of this sort. Yards were braced to port, for the ship was careering down toward the steamer at a ten-knot rate. Soon black dots on her rail resolved into passengers waving hats and handkerchiefs, and black dots on the boat-deck into sailors standing by the end of a hawser which led up from the bitts below on the fantail. The ship came down until it might have seemed that Seldom ’s intention was to ram the steamer. But not so ; when a scant two lengths separated the two craft, he called out, " Hard down ! Light up the staysail sheet and stand by the fore braces ! ”

Around came the ship on the crest of a sea, sank into the hollow behind, shipped a few dozen tons of water from the next comber, and lay fairly steady with her bows meeting the seas and the huge steamer not a half-length away on the lee quarter. The fore topmast staysail was flattened, and Seldom closely scrutinized the drift and heave of the ship.

“ How ’s your wheel, Biging ? ” he asked.

“ Hard down.”

“ Put it up a little ; keep her in the trough.”

He noted the effect on the ship of this change ; then, as though satisfied, roared out, “ Let your fore braces hang forrard there ! Stand by heavin’-lines fore and aft! Stand by to go ahead on that steamer when we have your line ! ” The last injunction, delivered through his hands, went down the wind like a thunder-clap, and the officers on the steamer’s bridge, vainly trying to make themselves heard against the gale, started perceptibly at the impact of sound, and one of them went to the engine-room speaking-tube.

Breast to breast the two vessels lifted and fell. At certain moments, it seemed that the ship was to be dropped bodily on the deck of the steamer ; at others, her crew looked up a hundred-foot slope to where the other craft was poised at the crest. Then the steamer would drop, and the next sea would heave the ship toward her. But it was noticeable that every bound brought the ship nearer, and also farther ahead ; for the sails were doing their work.

“ Kick ahead on board the steamer! ” thundered Seldom from his eminence. “ Go ahead ! Start the wagon — or say your prayers, you blasted idiots ! ”

The engines were already turning. But it takes time to overcome three thousand tons of inertia, and before the steamer had forged ahead six feet the ship had lifted high above her and descended her black side with a grindingcrash of wood against iron. Fore and main channels on the ship were carried away, leaving all lee rigging slack and useless ; lower braces caught in the steamer’s davit cleats and snapped; but the sails, held by the weather braces, remained full, and the yards did not swing. The two craft separated with a roll, and came together again with more scraping and snapping of rigging. Passengers left the rail, dived indoors, and took refuge on the opposite side, where falling blocks and spars might not reach them. Another leap toward the steamer resulted in the ship’s main topgallantmast falling in a zigzag whirl, as the snapping gear aloft impeded it, and, dropping athwart the steamer’s funnel, neatly sent the royal yard with sail attached down the iron cylinder, where it soon blazed and assisted the artificial draft in the stoke-hold. Next came the fore topgallantmast, which smashed a couple of boats; then, as the round black stern of the steamer scraped the lee bow of the ship, jib-guys parted and the jib-boom itself went, snapping at the bowsprit-cap, with the last bite the ship made at the steamer she was helping. But all through this riot of destruction — while passengers screamed and prayed, while officers shouted and swore on the steamer, and Seldom Helward, bellowing insanely, danced up and down on the ship’s house, and the hail of wood and iron from aloft threatened their heads — men were passing the towline.

It was a seven-inch steel hawser with a manila tail, which they had taken to the fore topsail sheet bitts before the jib-boom had gone. Panting from their exertions, they w’atched it lift from the water as the steamer ahead paid out with a taut strain ; then, though the crippled spars were in danger of falling and really needed their first attention, they ignored the fact and hurried aft as one man to attend to Seldom.

Encouraged by the objurgations of Bigpig and his assistant, who were steering now after the steamer, they called their late commander down from the house and deposed him in a concert of profane ridicule and abuse, to which he replied in kind. He was struck in the face by the small fist of Sinful Peck, and immediately knocked the little man down. Then he was knocked down himself by a larger fist, and, fighting bravely and viciously, became the object of fistblows and kicks, until, in one of his whirling staggers along the deck, he passed close to a short, broad, hairy man, who, yielding to the excitement of the moment, added a blow to Seldom’s punishment. It was an unfortunate mistake ; for he took Seldom’s place, and the rain of fists and boots descended on him until he fell unconscious. Mr. Helward himself delivered the last quieting blow, and then stood over him with a lurid grin on his bleeding face.

“ Got to put down mutiny though the heavens fall,” he said painfully.

“ Right you are, Seldom,” answered one. “ Here, Jackson, Benson, drag him forrard ; and, Seldom,” he added reprovingly, “ don’t you ever try it again. Want to be captain, hey? You can’t; you don’t know enough. You could n’t command my wheelbarrow. Here ’s three days’ work to clear up the muss you’ve made.”

But in this he spoke more, and less, than the truth. The steamer, going slowly and steering with a bridle from the towline to each quarter, kept the ship’s canvas full until her crew had steadied the yards and furled it. Then, an uncanny appearance of the sea to leeward and a blackening of the sky to windward indicated a too close proximity to the shoals, and probable increase of wind and sea. The steamer waited no longer. With a preliminary blast of her whistle, she hung the weight of the ship on the starboard bridle, gave power to her engines, and rounded to, very slowly, head to sea, while the men on the ship, who had been carrying the end of their hawser up the fore topmast rigging, dropped it and came down hurriedly.

Released from the wind pressure on her strong side, which had somewhat steadied her, the ship now rolled more than she had done in the trough ; and with every starboard roll were ominous creakings and grindings aloft. At last came a heavier lurch, and both crippled topmasts fell, taking with them the mizzen topgallantmast. Luckily, no one was hurt, and the men disgustedly cut the wreck adrift, stayed the fore and main masts with the hawser, and, resigning themselves to a large subtraction from their salvage, went to a late breakfast, — a savory meal of fried ham and potatoes, hot cakes and coffee, served to sixteen in the cabin, and an unsavory mess of hard-tack hash, with an infusion of burnt bread-crust, peas, beans, and leather, handed, but not served, to three in the forecastle.

Three days later, with Sandy Hook lighthouse showing through the haze ahead, and nothing left of the gale but a rolling ground-swell, the steamer slowed down, so that a pilot boat’s dingey could put a man aboard each craft; and the one who climbed the ship’s side was the pilot who had taken her to sea, outward bound, and sympathized with her crew. They surrounded him on the poop and asked for news, while the three men forward looked aft hungrily, as though they would have joined the meeting, but dared not. Instead of giving news the pilot asked questions, which the men answered.

“ I knew you ’d taken charge, boys,” he said at last; “ the whole world knows it, and every man-of-war on the Pacific stations is looking for you. But they ’re looking out there. What brings you round here, dismasted, towing into New York ? ”

“ That’s where the ship ’s bound, New York. We took her out; we bring her home. We don’t want her; don’t belong to us. We ’re law-abidin’ men.”

“ Law - abiding men ? ” asked the amazed pilot.

“ You bet. We ’re goin’ to prosecute those dogs of ours forrard to the last limit of the law. We’ll show ’em they can’t starve and hammer and shoot American citizens just ’cause they’ve got guns in their pockets.”

The pilot looked forward, answered a nod, and asked, " Who’s captain ? ”

“ Nobody ! ” they roared. “ Had enough o’ captains — This ship ’s an unlimited democracy — Everybody ’s just as good as the next man — All but the dogs ; they sleep on the bunk-boards, do as they ‘re told, and eat salt mule and dunderfunk, same as we did goin’ out.”

“ Did they navigate for you ? Did no one have charge of things ? ”

“ Poop-Deck, here, picked up navigation, and wTe let him off steerin’ and standin’ lookout. Then Seldom wanted to be captain just once, and we let him — well, look at our spars.”

The pilot looked. Then the men explained the meeting with the steamer and Seldom’s misdoing, and requested information about the salvage laws.

“ Boys,” said the pilot, “ I’m sorry for you. I saw the start of this voyage, and you appear to be decent men. You ’ll get no salvage ; you ’ll get no wages. You are mutineers and pirates, with no standing in court. Any salvage which the Almena has earned will go to her owners, and to the three men whom you deprived of command. What you can get — the maximum, though I can’t say how hard the judge will lay it on — is ten years in state’s prison and a fine of two thousand dollars each. We ’ll have to .stop at quarantine. Take my advice : if you get a chance, lower a boat and skip.”

They laughed at the advice. They had only repressed inhuman brutality.

An hour later the pilot pointed to the Almena’s number flying from the steamer’s truck. “ He’s telling on you, boys,” he said. “ He knew you when you helped him, and used you, of course. Your reputation is international and bad. See that signal-station ashore there ? You ’ll find a police boat at quarantine.”

He was but partly right. Not only a police boat, but an outward-bound manof-war and an incoming revenue cutter escorted the ship to quarantine, where the towline was cast off and an anchor dropped. Then, in the persons of a scandalized health officer, a naval captain, a revenue marine lieutenant, and a purple-faced sergeant of the steamboat squad, the power of the law was rehabilitated on the Almena’s quarter deck, and the strong hand of the law closed down on her unruly crew. With blank faces, they discarded, to shirts, trousers, and boots, the slop-chest clothing which belonged to the triumphant Captain Benson, and descended the side to the police boat, which immediately steamed away. Then a chuckling trio entered the ship’s cabin and ordered the steward to bring them something to eat.

Now, there is no record, either in the reports for that year of the police department, or from any official babbling, or from later yarns spun by the sixteen prisoners, of what really occurred on the deck of that steamer while she was going up the bay. Newspapers of the time gave generous space to speculations written up on the facts discovered by reporters ; but nothing was ever proven. The facts were few. A tug met the steamer in the Narrows about a quarter to twelve that morning, and her captain, on being questioned, declared that all seemed well with her. The prisoners were grouped forward, guarded by eight officers and a sergeant. A little after twelve, a Battery boatman observed her coming, and hied him around to the police dock to have a look at the murderous pirates he had heard about, only to see her heading up the North River, past the Battery. A watchman on the elevator docks at Sixty-Third Street observed her charging up the river a little later in the afternoon, wondered why, and spoke of it. The captain of the Mary Powel, bound up, reported catching her abreast of Yonkers. He had whistled as he passed, and, though no one was in sight, the salute was politely answered. At some time during the night, residents of Sing Sing were wakened by a sound of steam blowing off somewhere on the river; and in the morning, a couple of fishermen, going out to their pond-nets in the early dawn, found the police boat grounded on the shoals. On boarding her they had released a pinioned, gagged, and hungry captain in the pilot-house, and an engineer, a fireman, and two deck hands, similarly limited, in the lamproom. They pried open the nailed doors of the dining-room staircase, and liberated a purple-faced sergeant and eight furious policemen, who chased their deliverers into their skiff, and spoke sternly to the working force.

Among the theories advanced was one by the editor of a paper in a small Lake Ontario town, to the effect that it made little difference to a lake sailor whether he shipped as captain, mate, engineer, sailor, or fireman, and that the officers of the New York Harbor Patrol had only underestimated the calibre of the men in their charge, leaving them unguarded while they went to dinner. But his paper and town were small and far away, he could not possibly know anything of the subject, and his opinion obtained little credence.

Years later, he attended as guest a meeting and dinner of the Shipmasters and Pilots’ Association of Cleveland, Ohio, when a resolution was adopted to petition the city for a harbor police service. Captain Monahan, Captain Helward, Captain Peck, and Captain Cahill, having spoken and voted in the negative, left their seats on the adoption of the proposition, reached a clear spot on the floor, shook hands silently, and then, forming a ring, danced around in a circle, the tails of their coats standing out in horizontal rigidity, until reproved by the chair.

And the editor knew why.

Morgan Robertson.