“Light dead ahead and close aboard, sir,” said the mate in a tone of
anxiety, as he poked his streaming sou’wester down the companionway.
Captain Johnson was bending over his chart, his parallel ruler placed
firmly on east by south. The droning roar of the gale overhead and
the booming of the storm canvas and taut standing rigging made the
officer’s voice sound strangely expressionless. The slight nervousness
evident in the lowness of the tone was the only thing that made the
master look up.
The swinging lamp cast a strong light upon the articles of his room,
and as he took up his sou’wester and tied the strings under his chin,
he caught a momentary glimpse of a photograph pinned over his desk. The
wild rolling and plunging of the ship caused him to brace himself for
a moment, and he stood with legs apart, swaying, to keep his balance.
The picture was of his wife and children; those for whom he toiled at
sea, and he thought of them the moment he made ready to go on deck. He
was only a moment getting ready, for he had kept on his rubber boots
and coat, but in that moment his thoughts went to the home ashore. He
loved those children, and he adored the woman who was their mother.
They were all of his world ashore, and it was for that little world he
worked and strove at sea.
In less than a minute after the mate had called he was on deck gazing
through his night glasses at the light ahead. He was almost in the
middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and the light was bright, the headlight
of some steamer. Her side lights had not yet appeared through the drift
and spume of the gale, but the headlight was bright and it was not
changing its bearings, which was the bad sign that had worried the mate.
Johnson knew he had the right of way. Every man who knows anything of
the rules at sea knows the sailing ship has the right of way over a
steamer, and Johnson knew he was hove-to under storm canvas and must
not give way or change his course. For him to get out of the steamer’s
way would put the burden of blame for anything that might happen upon
himself, for it might confuse the steamer, which would, of course, at
the right time shift her course and go clear.
But the light ahead grew brighter, and the moments were flying like
the gale. The light was right over the jibboom end when the ship
fell downward into the sea. Then it would swing to leeward a little,
and then as the next sea swung her head off it would appear on the
weather bow. Yes, it bore almost dead ahead and it was not changing its
The mate was getting nervous.
“Shall we keep her off, sir?” he asked.
“No, hold your course,” came the order.
Ten men of the watch on deck had their eyes upon the light. They
gave it small attention, however, for they knew, of course, that the
steamer would sheer clear of them. The watch below and the passengers
were sleeping as well as the rolling and plunging of the vessel would
permit, and they were concerned not at all with lights. Those below in
a ship know nothing of the strenuous life of those on deck.
“I can see his red light, sir,” came the voice of the mate, strained
and hoarse with excitement, and raised to a loud cry.
But Johnson could see the green light also, and he saw they were
equally distant on either side of and below the bright eye which was
bearing down upon them. The vessel was now close aboard, and of a
sudden he felt his heart give a great bound under his ribs.
“Hard up the wheel,” he roared. “Hard up, hard up–quick,” and as he
roared out he sprang to the spanker sheet and cast it off, letting
the sail go to leeward with a thundering thrashing. Sharp cries came
from forward where the men on lookout saw the danger and passed the
word aft. And then as he turned, Johnson saw the giant bulk of a liner
showing dimly through the gloom of the stormy night. A hundred little
lights showed in her upper works. He even saw a man on her forecastle
head peering forward, and then the great black stem rose above him,
and with a thundering crash and rushing roar it tore its way through
his ship almost amidships.
For a moment which seemed an age, the great black side of the hull rose
before his vision, grinding, smashing, tearing its irresistible way
past. Then the great black demon of destruction drew away and faded
into the gloom, leaving nothing but a boiling sea forward of where the
mainmast had been. The next minute the wild sea of the Western Ocean
closed over what had been a short time before a fine ship.
Johnson found himself facing a living hill which rose against the
night sky. Above it a great comber roared and foamed down upon him as
the top of the sea broke and fell downward along the slope. He was in
the sea and the water was warm, warmer than the air had been when on
deck. He had on his rubber boots and oilskins, and he wondered why he
still floated. He had heard that men with boots on sank at once. He
remembered this distinctly and he struck out strongly as the foaming
crest of the comber swept over him and smothered him down into the
blackness beneath. He kept struggling and his head came out into the
night again. The wind swept over his face, driving the foam and spume
so that he could not see or breathe, but he knew he was still upon the
surface of the sea. He turned his back toward it and managed to get a
little breath. Then, half blinded and strangling with the brine, he
struck out again.
It suddenly occurred to him that the steamer would stop and try to
pick up the wrecked crew, but then he knew it would be impossible to
lower a boat that night, and the masters of liners seldom stopped for
anything. Transatlantic express steamers hardly ever stopped in good
weather for a man overboard in daylight. Never unless they could see
him distinctly upon the surface. If those upon the steamer could not
see a four-masted schooner under storm canvas with her lights burning
brightly, they would hardly hope to see a floating man who could not be
seen ten fathoms distant by the sharpest eyes in that wind and sea. He
tried to raise himself to see if the hull of the vessel was still in
view, or if she were burning lights, but not even a Coston flare was
visible. There was nothing save the desolate storm-lashed sea.
He had kicked off his rubber boots in a few moments, as they were
dragging him down, and being a powerful man he struggled steadily to
rid himself of his oilskins. Death had not made his appearance yet.
He could not come upon a strong man so quickly while that man had his
powers still left him to fight with. The very thought of the ending
made him exert more power and a sudden realization of his position
caused him to tear off his coat in a frantic effort. The faces of those
he had left at home came before his half-blinded vision. He knew he was
facing almost certain death, and that it would come quickly if no one
picked him up. He was apparently alone in the middle of the Atlantic
Ocean, and the steamer had kept on her course after completing the
destruction of his ship. The rest of his crew must also have gone
overboard. There were twenty-five souls all told, and he cursed the
men of the steamer who had caused their sudden end. It had been vile
carelessness. It had been more than brutal disregard for life. Their
callousness amazed him, and he had been to sea many years and knew its
What would his family do without him? He could see their amazed and
terrified looks when the news would be brought to them. His poor wife
who adored him and whose only thought had been for him and the little
ones. No, he could not die. No, no, by God, he would not die. He shook
the water from his face and dashed it out of his eyes with his hand,
and raised his head again for a look. The snoring roar of a comber
sounded near, but even as he noted it he thought he heard the surging
wash of something floating heavily in the sea. He knew there might be
pieces of wreck about him. It was a chance and he flung himself high
out of the water to see. The next instant the bursting wave fell over
him and bore him down again into the blackness below. It seemed a long
time it held him down, and he was exhausted when he got his head out
again and drew in a mixture of water and air. A few more heavy seas
and he would be very weak. The knowledge of it caused a terror within
him. His heart began to beat rapidly. The end was really approaching in
spite of his struggles. He was beginning to realize it, to realize that
death could win after all.
But the thought of those ashore still steadied him. He must do his
utmost. Had he been alone in the world the futility of his exertions
would have been instantly apparent. He would have made a slight,
ordinary effort, the effort of the animal who instinctively fears
death, but his reason would have quickly told him that the sooner he
went under the better it would be for him. He would have died like the
twenty-five souls who had been in his care half an hour before. But he,
no, he could not go, he would swim on, and on, and on.
He had been in the water half an hour now and he saw nothing but the
house where his family lived. The sun was shining bright and the grass
was green near the front gate. His wife stood upon the front steps and
smiled at him. He reached toward her, but she seemed to recede and
smile at him, leading him on, and on, and on.
He was still swimming but did not know it. His breath had gone to
little choking gasps which hardly reached his half-filled lungs. His
jaws were working spasmodically, clinching under the strain and opening
to gasp out the briny mixture which he was forced to breathe. But
always before his vision, before his blinded eyes, was that picture of
his home. The whirling, choking blackness around him seemed to close
in upon him. He stopped time and again to drive the drowning spray and
spume from his face. He was drowning. The wind and sea were too heavy
for a man to face for any length of time. The great combing crests of
the seas swept over him, and it was only by that dogged, persistent
effort to reach the vision before him that he managed to keep himself
upon the surface after the smothering foam held him under. Once he
seemed to realize his hopeless surroundings and raised himself out to
the shoulders to try to see. He happened to be upon the lee slope of a
hill of water and he got a momentary glimpse of the turmoil about him.
All around was the gloom of the night, lit here and there by the white
flashes of foam. It dawned upon his fading senses that he had reached
the limit, he was going under, there was no hope.
Like the lamp that flares up before it dies, the flame of his life rose
again in one more desperate resolve. He would keep on fighting, he
would not go.
The pitiful futility of his struggle roused his expiring senses to a
strange fury. He struck out fiercely, driving himself ahead before the
wind and raising himself with each stroke. He sank into the hollow of
a great sea, the slopes on either hand raised high above him and he
was in a sheltered spot for a second. The surging wash of some heavy
floating thing again came to his half-filled ears, and as he rose upon
the crest he made a mighty effort. He raised himself and shook the
water from his face. Right alongside of him lay a black object outlined
by a white fringe of foam which now and then showed phosphorescent
flares. He had been swimming now for more than fifty minutes.
With failing brain and cramping muscles he strove for it, swimming,
striking, reaching, the last expiring effort of a dying man who dies
hard in the full powers of his manhood. His headway through the water
was almost nothing. He was not a good swimmer. Few sailors can swim
at all. A sea hurled him close to the object, and another swept him
clear out of sight of it. Then one drove him against it heavily and he
clutched frantically for a hand-hold.
When he set his fingers upon an edge about three feet above the
surface he hung and rested. His senses were failing and he fought
instinctively. Something within him seemed to tell him that he must
get upon that object, that he must get clear of the water about him,
and he rested before making the effort which must decide his fate. It
was a high lift for an exhausted man and he set his strength slowly
and persistently, hauling steadily with all his remaining energy. He
managed to get his face level with the edge, but here he stopped. His
head wobbled weakly with the surge of the sea. His eyes were closed and
his jaws set. The sunshine seemed to play upon the green grass before
him and the form of his wife stood beckoning. He sank an inch lower. A
sea washed over him and he was slipping slowly back as it went past.
He gave a choking cry, a strangling groan of despair and slipped down
again into the sea just as a hand reached over the edge and closed upon
his shirt collar.
The sun was shining and the wind-swept sea presented a beautiful
aspect the following morning. The water broke over the lower edge
of the deck-house upon which he lay, but only reached to his feet,
foaming down the slant until it made a whirlpool in a mass of line
which floated in a tangle. A line about his waist was made fast to a
ring-bolt near him, and sitting alongside of him, with his head thrust
forward peering out over the sea, was Garfunkle, his second mate.
An exclamation and their eyes met. Johnson raised himself to a sitting
posture, though the pain in his cramped limbs made him groan.
“The forrad house, eh?” he said.
“Yessir,” said the mate.
“You saved me?”
“Yessir, I just heard your call in time. You were done for, but were
right within a foot of me. It was dark.”
“No one else but us two?” asked the captain.
“All gone, sir, and it looks like we are going. There won’t be another
ship this way in a week. That was the West India liner, _Hammersea_,
from Kingston to Liverpool, who ran us down. I saw the name on one of
her boats that was torn off her. It was smashed up and floating close
aboard us an hour ago.”
“To run a man down is carelessness, but to leave him afterwards is
murder,” said Johnson with bitterness.
They were about six hundred miles from the Bahamas and to the eastward
of the Stream. The water was warm and blue and the sea was going down.
The easterly weather was dying out and the semi-tropical warmth was
taking its place. Near them several dark objects showed now and again
upon the slopes of the seas, and they knew they must be débris from the
Johnson had probably not swam over twenty fathoms in the whole
desperate endeavour he had made the night before. The darkness had
prevented him from making any definite course and he had swum with the
drift of the house. Garfunkle had been swept overboard with the wreck
of the mainmast; the stem of the steamer had torn its way through the
forward house, knocking it overboard. It was the only thing that had
floated clear, for the spars were all stayed with steel rigging and the
lanyards of the lee rigging had held against the shock although the
mainmast had been driven out of her. The great spar had been dragged
down with the sinking ship, but the house had floated clear and was
resting upon its side. In the open doorway they could see clothes and
sea-chests which had remained in the forecastle and which had not been
washed out with the force of the sea.
They were weak and exhausted from the night of effort, but they went to
work at a chest and dragged it through the door and upon the slanting
side of the house. It sent the float down a good foot in the sea, but
they persisted in the hope of finding something of value. The chest was
almost empty. It contained a few clothes, a Bible and a large revolver,
the cartridges still intact within the chambers. Johnson stuck the
weapon in his waist-band, and his mate placed the Bible and clothes
clear of the sea. Then he kicked the chest adrift. It floated off,
setting high upon the water and looking absurdly out of place.
“Nothing to eat–nothing to drink–looks pretty bad,” said Garfunkle.
Johnson made no comment. He was grateful that he was still alive, and
being a sailor he felt that it was a long way between that floating
deck-house and drowning. He would get ashore again soon enough, and
would not let his wife or children know how near he had come to
passing. It would be simply a money loss. He had owned several shares
in the schooner, and she had been a fine ship, paying twenty per cent.,
but he would get another and go on as before. If he ever caught up with
the pilot of that steamer, he would see that the fellow gave an account
of himself. His cargo had been insured fully, and the underwriters
would make things hot for the rascal who had so ruthlessly run him down.
The first day passed without incident of importance. The pangs of
hunger were beginning to be felt keenly by both men upon the float.
Johnson was cheerful but Garfunkle was pessimistic and grumbled
continually. He stood up every now and then to scan the horizon, but
nothing broke the evenness of the dark blue rim.
The second day it was hot and calm. Both men took off their clothes and
cooled themselves in the sea until a huge shadow rising alongside made
them hasten up the slanting side of their float. A great tiger shark
rose at the edge of the house, and taking a shove, sent his broad nose
up the slanting side until it almost touched their feet. Then he slid
back again into the sea and swam slowly around the house, coming back
again to the side that sloped into the water for another effort to get
his prey. The men were more amused than frightened at his attempts.
Garfunkle stripped a plank off the edge where it had been shattered,
and at the monster’s third effort he drove the ragged sharpened point
deep into its eye. He floundered back into the sea and remained
motionless some ten fathoms distant upon the surface. A smaller denizen
of the same species came up and tried the same method, but he was
rapped sharply over the head and he kept away. But as the darkness came
on, the men realized that they must not relax their vigilance, for the
hungry fish made other attempts to get them.
The morning of the third day Garfunkle was delirious. He raved about
water and stood up oftener to scan the sea. Johnson was very weak,
but kept his senses. He noticed a floating object near at hand and
soon made out the sunken small boat torn from the steamer’s side. As
the morning wore on it drifted nearer and finally came alongside. He
grasped the painter and managed to get the mate to give him a hand.
Together they managed to drag the boat’s bow up the slope of the float,
and they saw that the plank at the stem just below the water-line had
been smashed in. Weakened as he was, Johnson determined to patch it
and accordingly set to work. By placing a piece of the house planking
on the outside and lashing it fast with the line, he managed to get
the leak stopped sufficiently to allow the bailing of the craft. Then
by getting into the stern, they kept the leak clear of the sea and
the boat was safe enough. Searching through the locker aft, where
the food for emergency was kept, they came upon the case of biscuit,
water-soaked, to be sure, but still in partly solid shape. They ate
some and felt better for a time, but their thirst was aggravated. The
small water-breaker usually kept in lifeboats was missing. Under the
thwarts was a sail, and one oar was still fast in her bottom. Johnson
cut the lashings and drew the gear out. It would be of service to them
for a rudder.
The hunger pains had died away by the fourth day, but their thirst was
terrible. A man may go for days upon water alone, but without it he can
last only a short time under a warm sun. By keeping their bodies wet
they eased themselves a little, but not much. The absorption through
the skin was insufficient to do them much good. Time and again, they
seemed to see a ship bearing down upon them and one or the other would
cry out, but after a while they desisted. The sea was a heaving plain
as far as the sight could reach, unbroken by a single object. The deep
blue turned to a deeper steel-gray nearer the horizon in the calm,
meeting the almost cloudless sky in a haze. There was no wind, but
they must get away. To remain any longer on the house was to invite a
terrible death. It might be the same thing in the boat, but they would
at least feel that they were going somewhere, getting nearer to help
It was water, always water. The liquid around them made the madness of
thirst double. They had gazed down into the clear depths for hours,
seeing visions of streams of fresh water, craving to plunge into them,
the burning and all-consuming thirst in their throats waxing more and
more intense. They had no longer any idea of hunger. The ship’s bread
they left untouched, for it was wet with salt water and the slightest
bit of that liquid made them frantic. They could have just as well
drunk pure alcohol.
Garfunkle was for starting off at once. He had become rational again,
but his eyes held a certain light when they met the captain’s that
told of the madness in his brain. He always lowered them when Johnson
looked at him, but he spoke always in a low, soft voice now, a sort of
purring, and Johnson knew it was the purring of the famished tiger.
Garfunkle was a big man and very powerful. He had risen to mate’s berth
as much by his physical abilities as mental. He was stripped to the
waist, and his body, which he had kept wet, was burned to a bright
red by the sun. The patch of hair on his broad chest showed in marked
contrast to the surrounding skin. Johnson had kept his shirt on his
back and saved himself the extra annoyance of the sun. He preferred to
shiver a bit at night than to burn during the daytime.
When they had stepped the mast and made all ready for a start, they
noticed some small fish swimming close to the edge of the float.
The dorsal fin of a large shark lay twenty fathoms distant upon the
surface of the sea, and they wondered at the carelessness of the fish
who ignored it. They seemed quite tame, and Johnson took the piece
of wood they had used to keep off the sharks, whittled the end into
a fresh point and lay at full length upon the house, his idea being
to spear a few of the small fry and take them along for food. He was
quite weak and his brain was dizzy. The exertion of mending the boat
was exhausting and he made many ineffectual attempts to strike the fish
without looking up.
Suddenly he was aware of a feeling of danger. He turned and saw
Garfunkle stealthily coming upon him with the upraised oar. There was
a wild look in the mate’s eyes, but he grinned when Johnson turned
and began a soft speech, half incoherent. Johnson was lying down, but
managed to draw the pistol he had kept in his belt. The mate smiled,
put the oar back into the boat and suddenly shoved her clear of the
house, springing into her and sitting down upon a thwart.
Johnson looked at him, dazed, half understanding, his brain reeling in
“Come back,” he said calmly.
Garfunkle grinned at him and grasped the sheet, hauled it aft and put
the oar over the stern for a rudder. There was no wind and the boat
remained motionless. The mate began to scull away slowly.
“Come back,” said Johnson in a low tone.
The mate turned his back upon him and as the boat’s head payed off,
kept her on her course to the westward.
“Come back,” said Johnson again.
The boat drew slowly off. She was ten fathoms before Johnson realized
that he was being deserted. Garfunkle sculled her slowly, the sail
slatting with the roll of the sea.
Johnson still held the revolver. It came upon him suddenly that he was
being left, that he was lost. The vision of the home ashore flashed
before him, the green grass and white cottage, with his smiling wife
and romping children. He was being left to die.
He drew the hammer of the revolver back and raised the weapon, letting
the front sight stop full upon the middle of Garfunkle’s back between
the shoulders. He hesitated, and as he did so he remembered that the
man had saved his life but a few days before. He would have drowned
but for the rescuing grip which hauled him upon the house. He let the
weapon sink until its muzzle touched the planks, and he put his left
hand to his head to try to help his reeling brain to reason properly.
No, he could not die. The vision of the home ashore came stronger to
him. It was not for himself alone that he would live, but live he must,
The sights of the pistol settled again upon the back of his mate. He
was twenty fathoms distant and drifting slowly away. Johnson pressed
The report jarred him. The puff of smoke disappeared at once into the
air, and he saw Garfunkle look around and grin. Then the mate stood up,
reeled, staggered, and plunged headlong overboard. He saw him no more.
Without waiting an instant Johnson swam toward the craft and managed to
gain her. He had forgotten about the sharks, but nothing struck him. He
took the oar the mate had dropped in the water alongside, and after he
climbed aboard he trimmed the sheet and settled himself in the stern,
making the oar fast in a becket. If he let go of it now he would not
lose it. The sun was in the west and he headed away, steering as near
as he could guess for the Bahamas.
The wrecking sloop _Sea-Horse_ was coming along up the coast and the
captain, Sanders, of Key West, noticed something floating upon the
broad stretch of sea which looked like a small white boat. Boats were
not met with so far off shore, and the object sat so low in the water
and appeared without control that the skipper of the wrecker called his
“What d’ye make of that, Bill?” said he, pointing to the white speck.
Bahama Bill, the huge negro diver and wrecker, looked long and intently
“‘Pears to me like it was er wrack, cap–what? Looks to be a stove-in
boat, an’ I reckon we might as well pick her up–maybe we kin fix her
to be ob use wid a little paint and putty. Ennyways, we kin sell her to
some dub in Miami en clar enough fo’ de trouble–what yo’ say, cap?”
“Oh, let her head up to it if you want to,” said Sanders. “I don’t like
running out of my line when I’m in a hurry, but if you want her, get
her. I reckon we might pass her off for a few dollars–stand by the
“Ship’s boat–yassir, dat’s a ship’s boat fo’ shuah, cap,” said the
giant mate as the wrecking vessel drew nearer. “Must be some ob de
wrack hereabouts–we better lay by en take a look eround, yassir.”
“Let her luff a little,” called Sanders to the man at the wheel.
“Steady–so, let her go, jest so–steady–Good God! What–There’s a man
“Stand by de jib sheet,” roared Bahama Bill. “Yo’ kin let her come to
when yo’ ready, sah–I’ll stand by toe ketch him, sah.”
The huge mate leaned far over the side of the _Sea-Horse_ and with a
mighty grip seized the floating small craft by the gunwale. She was
half full of water, but he sprang into her and passed up her painter
to a man on deck while the wrecking sloop plunged and bucked into the
sea, her sails slatting and switching as she lay right in the wind.
In a moment the mate had lifted the body and passed it aboard and the
half-sunken small boat was dropped astern.
They poured water between his sun-baked lips and upon his swollen,
livid tongue. In a few hours the corpse showed signs of life, but
the blue-black face was motionless for days, and they had reached
Jacksonville before the man’s features relaxed enough for him to
speak. He could not make himself understood, and it was three weeks
later, when he was able to sit up in the cot at the seaman’s hospital,
before he could tell of his affair.
He was discharged as cured and went to his home. He had heard nothing
from his wife and supposed she had heard nothing concerning him. When
he entered the gate he noticed that all was silent about the place. A
neighbour accosted him and asked who he was, but he was put out at the
delay and refused to tell his business. Then the man told him how the
news had come in that he had gone down in his ship nearly a month ago
and that his wife had failed and died within a week.
He listened silently, and when the man finished he went into the house.
They found him dead that evening with a bullet-hole between the eyes.
“Crazy with grief,” said the neighbours who knew his home life. The
doctor who examined him thought differently.
“There is absolutely nothing abnormal about him,” said the physician.
“He looks like a man who has gotten tired out–clean exhausted with the
futility of some great effort–look at his face.”
On the Great Bahama Bank
Stormalong Journegan was a Conch, a native of the Bahamas. He stood six
feet four inches upon his thin spindle-shanks, and it is doubtful if he
ever weighed more than one hundred pounds; no, not even when soaking
wet. He was thin.
He lit up for the night, wiped the bar free from the gin and bitters
spilled there by a drunken customer, and then turned to survey his
room, waiting for the whistle of the liner. It was the night the ship
was due, the giant New York mail liner, ten thousand tons and not less
than three hundred passengers. All of these would be thirsty, for the
weather is always warm in Key West in the early spring.
Journegan was a “spouter.” That is, he had been with a religious bunch
of reefers, and he was free to make use of the Scriptures–too free
entirely to suit the orthodox ecclesiastics of Key West. Over the sign
of “The Cayo Huesso” the legend ran thus: “As it was in the beginning,
it is now,” showing that Journegan was not a reformer at all, but
believed in the Bible and the true creed. And the worst of it all
was that he was accurate in his quotations; not only accurate, but
invincible and gifted with that terrible weapon–an unfailing memory.
“Why do you use such blasphemy?” asked a divine, shocked at the sign
and its motto.
“I was taught that there creed by a better man than you, suh, and he
said: ‘As it ware in the beginning, it is now, an’ ever shall be, world
without end. Amen.’ I heard ye say them same words onct when I ‘tended
meetin’. What ye got agin’ ’em, hey?”
“Nothing at all–nothing at all.”
“Then cl’ar out. Git erlong. Don’t come makin’ no trouble fer me. I
don’t ask ye to drink–git away.”
“Yes, sir,” went on Journegan, turning to an approaching customer.
“It’s the same now as it always ware–same as it ware in the
beginning–always shall be just the same–human nature never changes,
not at all. There’ll always be the bad, and always be the good. The bad
are the strong gone wrong. The good are the weak tryin’ to make good;
sometimes they’re strong too, but very seldom. Strength and goodness
don’t go together except in rare cases, but when a good man’s strong,
he’s sure nuff strong.
“Ye see, we’ve all got a livin’ to make. We hire men to study religion
for us and pay ’em to preach it out of pulpits–yes, sir, actually pay
’em to git up and preach about th’ Gospel as if you or me couldn’t
read or write! What’s the sense? What’s the sense of paying a man for
doing something you can do yourself just as well? If salvation depends
on a fellow’s ability to translate the Gospel, then it’s a mighty
poor Gospel for poor folk–but it don’t. It’s a good livin’ they make
preachin’, and I for one don’t take no offense at a feller chargin’ for
his talk; not that he knows any more than you or me–’cause he can’t
know a blame bit more–but we’ve all got to live, an’ the feller what
talks has to live, too. Let him live by talk. Let me live by sellin’
things. I don’t ask no favours, but I don’t want no guy what jest talks
an’ talks fer money to come around an’ bother me–that’s all; yes,
that’s erbout all, I reckon.”
You will see that Journegan was very popular with the strong men who
worked and very unpopular with the men who preached.
“Your head is as long as your body,” admitted Captain Smart, entering
the gilded hall. “What you say goes, Stormalong–gimme a drink.”
“Goin’ to meet the ship?” asked Journegan.
“Yep, I’m goin’ back in her if I get the chance,” said Smart. “I’ve
been on the beach here a week now. Dunn settled up his wrecking bill
with that fellow ‘Bahama Bill’ and Captain Sanders and their gang, and
that lets me out. I’m out a good berth. She was a fine yacht.”
“‘Twasn’t your fault you lost her, I heard tell,” said Journegan, with
“I did all I could,” admitted Smart, “but I lost her, just the same.
There is no excuse for the loser, you know.”
“Yep, I knows well enough,” said Journegan slowly, as if thinking over
something. “‘Peared to be leakin’ badly all o’ a sudden-like, hey?”
“Yes, started to leak during the blow, or just before it. A bit of hard
luck you may say.”
“Well, you’ll know more about the reef if you stay here a while.”
There was some strange meaning in Stormalong’s tone, and it was not
lost on Smart.
“You are the second man who has said something to that effect,” said
the seaman. “Now, what the devil do you mean by it?”
“Oh, nothing much. No use getting worked up by what I said. You don’t
know much about the ways of folk along the reef and bank. That’s
all–there goes the whistle of the liner.”
A deep-toned siren roared out over the quiet waters of the reef,
sounding far away to sea, and seemed to be coming from some distant
point to the southward. Smart recognized it as the call of his ship,
the ship he had left months before for the sake of a woman.
He drank off his liquor and started for the dock, making his way along
the white roadway and joining the throng of Conchs who lazily walked
toward the shore to see the great liner make her landing. She was a new
ship, a ship of huge tonnage for a Southern liner, and it was a treat
to watch her officers dock her. Slowly she came drifting in toward the
land, her mighty engines sending the white coral water moving gently
from her stern.
Her giant bows came near the landing. A tiny figure flung a filmy line
through the air, a line so small in proportion to her great bulk that
it seemed but a spider-web. But behind it followed a great hawser,
and a dozen lazy black men hauled it ashore and threw the loop over a
Then a shrill whistle sounded, and the deep rumble of the engines told
of the backing strain. She swung alongside the wharf finally and made
fast her stern and spring-lines. Then a gangway shot out, and the
captain came quickly down, followed by a swarm of passengers.
As the ship was to stop only a half-hour at Key West, her commander had
to make a quick clearance and entry, taking on some fifty passengers
who were in the cigar business and who made Key West an important stop
on that account. They were all through first-class to New York. Smart
joined Captain Flanagan while he walked briskly toward the customhouse.
The skipper shook his hand warmly, and asked how he came to be down
there. Then followed the story of the wreck of a yacht, and the tale
of an officer out of a berth, all of which Flanagan listened to with
waning interest. The old, old story was uncommonly dull to him. He was
powerless to do anything, and he spoke forth.
“It’s no use of talking about it any more, Smart. You know the rules
of the company as well as I do. You know there are other men waiting
to step into berths, and when a man steps out like you did it’s up to
him to stay out and give the rest a chance. How would you like to have
a man come back into a ship and block you for perhaps twenty years? No,
it won’t do, even if I could do it. You are out. Stay out, unless you
want to start in again at the foot, as a third mate.”
“No, I can’t drop to that position at my age,” said Smart sadly. “I’m
holding a master’s ticket, and if you can’t take me on as a second at
least, why, all right, I’ll have to ship somewhere else.”
“I’m mighty sorry, old man,” said Flanagan, “but you know it’s not my
fault. It’s the rules of the company, and if I took you on to New York
you would be dropped as soon as we landed. I can give you a passage up,
if you want it. Here’s a key to the stateroom–take it.”
“No, you don’t. If I stay ashore, I stay right here. Don’t worry about
me. I’ll try to make good. I know I was a fool, but sometimes we all
play the fool. Good-bye, and good luck. How does the ship run?”
Flanagan was gone. The light of Stormalong’s shone out brightly in
the distance. Smart kept his eyes upon them for a long time, and
wandered about the streets. The warning whistle of the liner blew for a
farewell, and as the sound roared out upon the night the seaman turned
away and went up the street.
Captain Smart was in a particularly uncomfortable mood. He had left
the liner for a woman, a woman whom he desired and whom he thought
worth any sacrifice. Later he discovered that she was selfish to the
core. He had expected companionship, love, and sympathy. He had found
cold, calculating animalism: a brutality all the more horrible for its
refinement, for its servitude to wealth and position. Yes, she had
told him plainly just how she felt about it, and had made it perfectly
plain that she would mate only with some one who could place her in
surroundings which she desired, not what she would get as the wife of
a seaman, a captain of a ship. And he could not blame her. No, it was
manifestly not her fault. It was the fault of the society in which she
had been brought up. It had stifled the woman in her and developed the
snob to an extent that would admit of no choice on the part of either.
He had seen his mistake, and the loss of the yacht upon which she was a
guest had given him a chance to complete the affair, to get away from
all the familiar surroundings. Now he was “on the beach.”
“On the beach,” to a sailor means without a ship and without money.
Smart had neither ship nor money, but he had a strong constitution
and high spirits, and the lights of Stormalong’s were still burning
brightly down the long, smooth road.
He entered and noticed that the tables were full. A company of men were
playing cards at the farthest end of the saloon, and he made his way
toward them. A game of poker always fascinated him, and he hung over
the back of a player, watching his cards and noting the manner he
threw away a high pair to fill a flush.
“Would ye like to set in?” asked Stormalong, who had come over to get
an order for drinks.
“I wouldn’t mind setting in for a short time,” Smart nodded. “No
all-night séance for me, and quit when you want to.”
“Gents,” began the saloon-keeper, “this is Captain Smart, of the
schooner–ah, well, never mind that, hey? Well, Smart was chief officer
of the ship just gone out. He’s got the dough, and kin play a keard or
two, if you give him a chance.”
“Set right in here, cap,” said a thick-set, sunburnt man whose calling
was manifest in his face. “I’m a reefer, an’ run a sponger, but I
reckon I kin play with yer.”
“You make five–just right for luck,” was the greeting of another, a
thin, eagle-nosed fellow who declared that his name was Smith–Wilson
A man with a thick growth of beard nodded to him across the board, and
a squat, twinkling-eyed little fellow, with the hue of the tobacco
factory upon him, held out his hand. “My name’s Jacobs–traveller for
the Garcias’–glad to meet you.”
The cards were dealt round afresh, and Smart took up his hand. For some
time nothing occurred to distract the attention of the players from
the game, but gradually their talk and the clink of money as they made
change attracted the crowd.
Smart was aware of a huge form just behind him, and, glancing up,
he looked right into the face of Bahama Bill, the black mate of the
wrecking-sloop _Sea-Horse_. A huge grin was upon the black man’s ugly
face, and he laid his enormous hand upon Smart’s shoulder. “Huh, how
yo’ is, cap? Thought you’d gone away fo’ sho. Stopped to teach ’em how
toe play de game, huh? Yah, yah, ya-a-a!”
“Stormalong,” broke in Wilson Smith, “I don’t want to appear rude, but
I draw the colour line sometimes, especially at keards. If the big
nigger standing behind us will sit down or move along, it’ll facilitate
the game some.”
Bahama Bill heard the remarks, but, being in a white man’s saloon,
he said nothing. He showed his teeth in a mirthless smile, a smile
which boded no good for the man who had spoken and who was evidently a
stranger to him.
Stormalong motioned to the wrecker to sit down, and Bill did so without
comment. He was well known and fairly well liked, and his record
allowed him some privileges which were not accorded to men of his
race. Being part owner as well as mate of the wrecking-sloop made him
a person of more or less note. Therefore Stormalong furnished him with
unlimited rum, which he paid for from a wad of bills which made the
observers gaze with surprise. Mr. Dunn, the owner of the yacht which
Smart had lost, had been trimmed very cleanly. The salvage on her had
been large for so small a vessel, owing to the valuable silverware,
furnishings, and other fittings.
The game progressed slowly, but Wilson Smith began to win little by
little. Smart suddenly found he held three aces. He raised the limit
before drawing, and discarded two cards, hoping to draw another ace.
Jacobs, the cigar man, came in, and Smith raised it one better, which
Smart made good, the other two men dropping out.
Bahama Bill had drunk several glasses of rum by this time, and he again
appeared to fix his attention upon the game, but not so as to attract
attention, standing well back of all but keeping his eyes fixed in a
steady gaze upon the thin-faced man’s cards.
The cards were dealt, and Smart drew a pair of queens, filling, and
thus holding a strong hand. Jacobs drew one card, and quietly slipped
it into his hand. His face was emotionless, and he puffed lazily at his
cigar, complacently cocked up at a high angle in his jaws. Smith drew
four cards, and, after conning his hand carefully, bet a dollar.
Jacobs raised, and Captain Smart came upon him for the limit. Wilson
Smith, to the surprise of all, raised back the limit. The cigar man was
game, and came again. Smart holding an ace-full, could not, of course,
let it pass him, so he again raised it.
“We all bein’ so mighty peart about our hands–let’s throw the limit
off,” suggested Smith.
“I’m more’n willin’,” agreed Jacobs. “What d’ye say, cap?”
“I haven’t much money”–Smart hesitated–“and just came in the game to
pass the time, but if the rest are willing, I’ll stay.”
Wilson Smith looked around approvingly. “I’ll make it fifty dollars
better than what there’s in it.” He drew a cigar from his pocket and
lit it with an easy air.
“I’ll have to make it two hundred better,” Jacobs protested grimly. “I
hate to gamble, but I can’t let a hand like this pass me.”
“Oh, I haven’t any money like that.” Captain Smart’s brows were raised
in surprise. “Fifty is all I can show.”
“Well, I’m sorry about that,” said Jacobs. “Of course we’ll give you a
show, but the limit was put off on purpose to let us play keards.”
Smart was aware of a heavy hand upon his shoulder. He turned, and found
Bahama Bill standing close to him.
“Take dis hear, cap.” And Bill thrust an enormous roll of bills unto
his pile upon the table. “I’ll stand by toe see yo’ through.”
Wilson Smith looked up again, and then called for Stormalong Journegan.
“Journegan,” said he, “this is the second time I have had to speak to
you about being annoyed. If it happens again there’ll be trouble.”
“Play poker,” came a voice from the crowd.
Smart gazed about him for a moment. It was evident that the mate of the
_Sea-Horse_ had an object in putting up his cash. He was quick-witted
enough to see that it was best to go ahead without making any comment.
He could stop after this hand.
Bahama Bill drew back at a sign from Journegan, but still fixed his
gaze upon Smith’s hand. It seemed as though he had seen the hands of
the men, and was betting upon the best. Smart could think of no other
reason for the money being left him, and he felt certain that he would
win. Bill was just backing the hand he had seen to be the winner.
As long as that was the case he would go the limit. He counted out five
hundred dollars and laid it upon the table. Then he picked up his cards
again and skimmed over the squeezers, waiting for the end.
Jacobs drew out the amount to make good, and the thin-faced man felt
in his pocket for his roll. He bent over in doing this, and as he did
so he held his cards close to his breast in his left hand. He was
still fumbling in his trousers pocket with his right when a black hand
suddenly reached over his shoulder and drew forth a complete “hold-out”
from under his waistcoat where his hand pressed. The movement was so
quick, so powerful, and so disconcerting, that for an instant there was
a silence, and the fellow threw up his head. The next moment he had
drawn his gun, a long, blue-barrelled revolver of heavy pattern, and
had swung it up over his shoulder and fired like a flash of lightning
into Bahama Bill.
Instantly there was an uproar, and above the noise of the struggling
mass of men there sounded the bull-like bass of the mate of the
_Sea-Horse_: “I got yo’ fer sho, Skinny Ike–I got yo’.”
Captain Smart grabbed what money he could get hands upon, and while
thus engaged the cigar man dealt him a powerful blow over the shoulders
with a chair. It had been meant for his head, but instead it landed
upon the heavy muscles Smart had earned by hard work hauling lines.
He gave a yell, and sprang upon his assailant. Just then Stormalong
Journegan opened with his gun, and the quick firing drowned all other
Through the smoke of the fight Smart saw his man, and smote him with
all his power upon the jaw. The fellow went down and out. Many of the
bystanders had been with the crooks, probably a gang of six or more,
and these fell upon Smart and Bahama Bill.
Smart found himself fighting two quick, agile fellows who struck at him
with weapons he could not distinguish. The rest piled upon the giant
mate while Journegan fired upon the bunch, taking care not to hit any
one, for he had no desire to ruin his business. His lead, however,
went so close that one man got a clip that knocked him over. The room
filled with smoke, and the uproar was loud enough, but suddenly Smart
was aware of the giant Conch struggling to his feet and swinging out
right and left with two mighty fists, sending men tumbling about like
chips before a storm. Just beneath him the thin-faced man, Wilson
Smith–dubbed “Skinny Ike” by Bill–lay in a heap.
“Come on, yo’ muckers, come on an’ git yo’ medicine,” he bawled. Then
he picked up the prostrate man, and, taking him by the shoulders, used
him as a flail, swinging him about his head and knocking every one
in his path into a state of submission. The men around Smart fled in
confusion, and in a moment Bahama Bill and the captain stood alone in
the end of the room, the rest of the onlookers making good their escape
to the street. Journegan stood behind his bar and grinned down the
barrel of his empty gun.
“Air ye hurted much, Bill?” he asked.
“Hurt!” roared the giant mate. “What’d hurt me here, anyway, ‘cept yo’
blamed rum, hey?”
“Well, if you want to make a gitaway now’s the time, I reckon, for this
place’ll be pulled to-night sure–an’ that in a mighty few minutes.”
Bahama Bill dropped the limp form of Wilson Smith. The man was not
seriously hurt, only horribly bruised. The rest were either insensible
from blows or unable to rise from the smash of the thin fellow’s body
upon them, for the mate had stove them hard enough to break ribs and
arms with his human whip. Some of the gang essayed to sit up and take
notice after the mate ceased to speak. One had the temerity to draw a
gun, which Bill unceremoniously kicked out of his hand.
“I reckon we’d better be goin’ ‘long, cap,” said the big black. “This
place’ll be pulled by the marshal inside o’ ten minutes. Take up w’at
dough you sees; I’ll kerlect it off’n you later.”
“Didn’t you git a plug?” asked Journegan.
“Oh, yas; jest a little hole in de shoulder–dat’s nothin’. Come on,
Smart hesitated a minute. “Where do we go?” he asked.
“Aboa’d de _Sea-Horse_–an’ to sea as fast as we kin git her movin’.
Ought toe been gone befo’ dis, but when I see dat Skinny settin’ in to
skin yo’ I jest naterally had toe take a hand. Whatcher s’pose I handed
yo’ dat money fer?”
“But I haven’t done anything wrong–nothing to run for,” said Smart.
“Yo’ try an’ think straight a minute, cap. Yo’ ain’t got many friends
here. Take my advice an’ don’t git pulled. De clink is mighty mean
here. I don’t know why I should take a shine toe yo’ cap, but yo’ shore
did set in dat game ter win–an’ yo’ kin hit pretty straight, too.”
“Gwan, before it’s too late,” said Journegan.
A rush of feet sounded in the street, followed by the hoarse voices
of men nearing “The Cayo Huesso.” The door of the saloon was suddenly
burst open, and the marshal, with a posse of twenty men behind him,
came into view.
“De window, cap,” yelled Bahama Bill, and without waiting a moment he
sprang through, carrying the sash and glass, shutters, and all with
him. Through the opening Smart plunged instinctively, and as he did so
he heard the sharp command to halt, followed by the crack of a gun. He
had managed to get clear by a fraction of a second, and, landing upon
his feet, started after the dark shadow which he knew was the black
sailor making for the beach.
Down the road Captain Smart ran as fast as he could go, trying vainly
to reach the tall form of the mate, who kept the lead easily until the
lights of the harbour came into view. Then he slacked up and Smart came
up with him.
“Dat sho was fun, hey?” laughed the mate, not the least winded from his
dash for liberty. “Cost yo’ a hundred dollars to git clear ef dey catch
yo’. Dey don’t run yo’ in fer fun down here. Dat’s de _Sea-Horse_. Git
inter dat small boat–so.”
“How about Journegan? Will they fine him for the fracas?”
“Oh, no. He stands in wid de gang–pays fer de trouble he makes.
Journegan is a good man–he’s all right.”
“He was with the crooks, was he?” asked Smart.
“Oh, yes, he thought you had money–he has to stand in wid de gang.
He was mad as er hornet at me buttin’ in, but jest couldn’t help it.
I’ll square him some day, an’ he knows it. If he didn’t know it, he’d
‘a’ plugged me when dey jumped me. I reckon he c’u’d ‘a’ done it, all
right, for he’s a mighty fine shot, dat Journegan. But I sho had it in
fer Skinny Ike–he done me onct.”
“Seems like a pretty tough bunch of men along the bank here, don’t it?”
said Smart. “Journegan hinted that there was something done wrong to
Mr. Dunn’s yacht–he said she must have leaked–what?”
Bahama Bill stopped rowing the small boat. They were half-way to the
_Sea-Horse_, and lights were already showing along the shore, telling
plainly that pursuit would be made in short order. The tide set them
toward the vessel, but Bill gazed steadily at Smart through the
“Did Journegan say dat?” he asked quietly.
“Yes, and I would like to know what he meant by it.”
“You know why he did all dat shootin’–all dat firin’ to hit nobody?
Dat was jest to get the place pulled–pulled before you made a gitaway,
toe git your money. He knowed you an’ me were enemies–knowed dat yo’
had it in fer me, knowed dat I wrecked Mr. Dunn’s yacht, an’ dat yo’
sho had no claim wid me–an’ dat’s where he made a mistake—-”
“You wrecked the schooner?” cried Smart.
“Sho, cap, I dun wrecked her. Don’t yo’ remember de day–de night–I
came abo’d, harpooned by a fool Yankee mate? Well, I was pullin’ a seam
dat night–dat’s what made her leak—-”
“You are a devil–the blackest rascal I ever met. You can take me
ashore, I won’t have anything more to do with you–turn about.”
“Not a bit–no, suh. Yo’ goes wid me dis trip, sho.”
Smart hesitated not a moment, but sprang overboard and struck out for
the shore, calling loudly for help.
Bahama Bill sat gazing after him for a moment, swearing deeply. Then
he carefully shipped the oars, stood up, and the next moment plunged
over the side after him. In a few rapid strokes he came up to the
sailor. With one mighty arm he circled the swimmer, holding his arms to
his sides as easily as though he were a child. With his other hand he
struck out lustily for the sloop and gained her side, where two heads
peered over looking at him.
“Pass a line, quick,” he called.
A line dropped instantly over the side and fell within reach. Smart was
quickly trussed and hoisted aboard and the mate climbed up after him.
“Put de mains’l on her–heave her short–jump!” bellowed Bahama Bill,
at the same time casting off the gaskets from the boom and throwing the
beckets off the wheel.
A Dutchman, Heldron by name, and a Conch called Sam, sprang to obey.
The sail went quickly up with a clucking of blocks and snapping of
canvas. Then in came the anchor, the three men hauling line with a
will. One man loosed the jib while another sent it up with a rush, and
just as the sweeping strokes of a pursuing oar fell upon their ears
the _Sea-Horse_ stood out the nor’west passage and to sea.
“Where’s Sanders?” asked the mate.
“Oh, de cap’n, he dun take de mon’ he get an’ go to Tampa on de steamer
this night. He say he goin’ to do somet’in’ to dem big hotels Mr.
Flagler builds–dem dat run de gamblin’-houses. Won’t be back fer a
“Cap,” said Bahama Bill, casting Smart adrift, “yo’ kin go below an’
put dat money in de co’ner of de right-han’ locker–no use yo’ tryin’
to swim away wid it. Yo’ an’ me is goin’ to the Bank fer a bit o’
work–dat’s it, Sam, hook de boat as we come past–pass de painter aft,
an’ let her tow.”
Smart saw that he was caught fair enough. To resist was only to make
more trouble. He was broke, anyway, and without a berth. He might just
as well try wrecking for a change–why not? Yes, he would go below and
turn in without more ado. He had forgotten the money he had taken from
the game at Journegan’s, the money which belonged to the mate of the
_Sea-Horse_. No wonder Bahama Bill had jumped in after him and brought
him aboard. It was easy to see that in spite of all Bill’s apparent
carelessness he took no chances as he saw them. The _Sea-Horse_ was
standing out, and there was no chance of spending the night in the
lockup. After all, it was pleasanter out here in the brisk sea air,
even in the company of such men. He went slowly below.
“Turn in the po’t bunk, cap,” came the mate’s big voice down the cuddy.
Smart did so, and he fell asleep while the wrecking-sloop rose and
plunged into the short sea.
“I reckon we’re about dar, cap. Dem masts stickin’ up yander air de fo’
an’ main’ o’ de brig _Bulldog_. We skinned her clean, took a share ob
de salvage, an’ cleared fo’ town.” Thus spoke Bahama Bill, resting one
hand upon the wheel-spokes to hold the _Sea-Horse_ and sprawling upon
the deck. The sloop was approaching the edge of the Great Bahama Bank,
and the shoaling water told of the coral bottom.
“Well, what are you going to stop here for, then?” asked Smart.
Although he had decided to cast in his lot with Bahama Bill temporarily
he was averse to wandering about on the old _Sea-Horse_ for any length
of time. He was anxious to hunt a berth as navigator upon some ship of
size. Nassau was close at hand, not fifty miles away, and there were
many ships stopping there.
“I’ll tell yo’, cap–I’ll tell yo’ jest what I want yo’ to do fer me,”
said the big black. He rounded the sloop to, and Sam let go the anchor,
while the Dutchman Heldron hauled down the jib.
The _Sea-Horse_ dropped back with the sweep of the current and wind,
until she lay just over the mainmast of a sunken brig, which stuck out
of the water at a slant, the top coming clear some twenty feet to port
of her. The wreck was lying upon her bilge and heeled over at a sharp
angle, the partners of the mainmast being about ten feet below the
“I heard yo’ tell Stormalong Journegan you’d been down in a
diving-suit, de kind dey use in de No’th–hey? Yo’ know about rubber
suits an’ pumps?” He looked keenly at Captain Smart while the seaman
told him that he had heard aright. He had been in suits, and helped
others diving in them. He thought he knew something about air-pumps.
The mate went below forward, and shortly came on deck with a complete
rubber diving-suit, helmet, and weighted shoes.
“I don’t go in much fer dis kind ob divin’,” said he, “but I dun paid
a fellow a hundred dollars fer de whole suit. Show me how to work it,
an’ show me how dat pump works. Ef yo’ do, we’ll go halves–break
even–on what I think is below in dis hear wrack. I knowed yo’ must
know something erbout divin’–dat is, erbout rubber divin’, which ain’t
divin’ at all, but dat’s what I want ter know.”
“I thought you said the wreck was finished with?” Smart commented.
“All de money, all de coin was got out ob her, yas, suh, dat’s all
straight, but dishar wrack ain’t been under water more’n a few months,
an’ I been thinkin’ dat maybe some hard work would tell on some cases
of ammunition left in her.”
“What did she have?”
“Rifles, money, and provisions for Vensuela–some ob dem
revolutionists had de charter. Dey took up de rifles, and dey took up
de money, but dey left a lot ob ammunition in her, sayin’ it ain’t no
good. Well, suh, I got a hole in mah shoulder where one ob dem bullets
came troo–yo mind de little fracas at Stormalong’s. I dun sold a
feller a dozen boxes ob dem ca’tridges, de onliest .45’s in Key West.
Dat’s de reason I cum to know somethin’ about dem. Ef dey kin mak’ a
hole in me, dey kin mak’ a hole in mos’ enny one, I reckon–hey, what?”
“I see,” said Smart. “And that’s the reason you wanted me to help you
out? You want me to help dive for the goods. How much is there–and how
were they put up? They won’t stay for ever any good under water, you
“Dey were put up in tins too big to handle, goin’ naked like I dives.
De cases were mighty big, an’ I don’t care much erbout smashin’ ’em up
wid de ‘tarnal things ready to go off. I knows where dey is–way back
in de lazarette ‘way back aft, an’ I knows dat dere’s erbout a millun
Smart had been overhauling the suit and found it to be in fair
condition. Evidently some hard-up diver had sold out to Bahama Bill,
who always went naked as deep as three or four fathoms, and could stay
long enough under to do the ordinary work required of divers upon
vessels on the reef. He could make two or three minutes’ work at short
intervals, and being a mighty man, the strain told upon him very little
The rubber part of the suit was just about right for a man of Smart’s
build. It would not begin to go upon the giant frame of Bahama Bill.
The great mate of the wrecker very well knew it, and he knew also that
he could never get any of his men to go down in it. They knew nothing
about such gear, and the very sight of it filled them with dread. It
was up to Captain Smart to make the effort, if effort there was to be
In the meantime Bahama Bill would go down once or twice to locate the
place in the wreck to work upon. It would require careful work not to
explode the cases in blowing out a hole in the bilge to make an entry;
further, it was impossible to think of going down the hatchway aft, for
the distance was too great.
It was upon this vessel that the mate of the _Sea-Horse_ had had
trouble before, being chased into her by a shark and barely escaping
with his life. He knew her pretty well, and could locate the ammunition
in a couple of dives. After that Smart could take his time in four
fathoms and work the stuff out to hoist aboard, using as little
dynamite as possible.
“How about the pump?” asked Smart, after he had overhauled the suit.
The machine was brought on deck. It was dirty and much out of order,
but after an hour’s work he had it so it could be relied upon for the
shallow water. For greater pressure than four fathoms he would not have
cared to test it with himself upon the bottom.
While he was refitting it the mate stripped and stood upon the rail
ready for the plunge. The water was clear and the bottom could plainly
be seen, the varicoloured marine growths making it most beautiful.
Bahama Bill dropped outboard, and went down with a plunge so light that
he hardly disturbed the surface. The others, watching, saw him swim
rapidly down under the bends of the wrecked ship, leaving a thin trail
He was only down a few moments this dive, and came rising rapidly to
the surface, his ugly face showing through the clear liquid, his eyes
wide open and gazing upward.
“Gimme a piece ob chalk, Sam,” he said, as he came into the air again.
A piece was handed him, and he went below again and marked the spot
where the hole would be blown in the vessel’s side, and in the meantime
Smart donned the diving-suit.
The Dutchman Heldron had never even seen a suit of this kind before,
and his messmate Sam gazed at it with a sort of superstitious dread.
“Yo’ sure ain’t goin’ under in that outfit, cap?” he protested, as
Smart put on the shoes weighing fully twenty pounds apiece. “Man, them
slippers will sure hold you to the bottom!”
“I guess you dummies will have sense enough to haul me up when I pull
the line and signal,” remarked Smart. “Now, give me the helmet and
screw down these bolts.” He had the head-piece on by the time Bahama
Bill came on deck and surveyed the proceedings.
“I’ll have to trust you to tend the lines,” said Smart to the black
giant. “Remember, now, one strong pull and you haul me up–not quickly
unless I give three quick pulls afterward. Two pulls is to slack away,
one on the hose is to give me more air, and two to give me less.
Bahama Bill wiped the water out of his bleary eyes and nodded. He
apparently had some misgivings about the concern, but he was far too
careless of human life to express them. He coupled up the air-hose and
started the pump, and the whistling inside the helmet told of the wind
coming in behind the diver’s head.
Smart held the front glass ready, and after being satisfied that the
machine was working, he had Sam screw it on and Captain Smart was cut
off from the wrecker’s crew, his face showing dimly through the thick
glass plate. The heavy leaden belt was fastened tightly about his
waist and he stepped over the rail on to the little side ladder, and
so overboard, letting himself slowly down until he swung clear of the
sloop’s side. Then he was lowered away and went to the bottom, Bahama
Bill slacking off the life-line and hose until he saw him standing upon
the coral bank some twenty-five feet below the wrecker’s deck.
Heldron turned the air-pump and Sam made fast the charge of dynamite,
fixing the wires of a “Farmer’s Machine” into the mercury-exploder and
wrapping the whole tightly in canvas made fast with marline, the whole
weighted so that it would sink quickly.
He lowered the charge, and saw Smart’s hand go out and receive it. Then
the diver disappeared under the bilge of the wreck, leaving a thin
trail of boiling water just over his head to tell of the escapement of
Having fixed the charge where the mate had marked the surface of the
wreck, Smart started to walk away. The light was strong in the clear
water, and he gazed about him at the beautiful coral formations. The
heavy growths took on many-coloured hues, and he walked out among them
to admire them as one would the scenery on shore.
An albacore darted past like a flash of silver light. In the shadow of
a huge sponge an enormous grouper took shelter, his eyes sticking out
and gazing unwinkingly at the apparition of the man upon the bottom.
Smart went toward him and gave him a gentle poke, and in doing so gave
the lines a sudden jerk. Instantly he was lifted off his feet and drawn
upward, for Bahama Bill had felt the pull, and lost no time hauling his
man aboard. Luckily the depth was not great, or the sudden change of
pressure would have hurt.
Smart came to the side gesticulating wildly, and the more he waved his
hands the quicker he was yanked up. In a moment the mate had him on
deck, and was unscrewing the front glass.
“What’s de matter, cap?” he asked anxiously, when the diver’s face
“Nothing; you fellows make me tired!” said Smart. “Go ahead and fire
The spark was sent along the wire, and a dull crack sounded from below.
The water rose in a boiling mass astern, and spread out, churning and
bubbling. It was not a large charge, and it had not been necessary to
move the sloop.
Smart started Heldron again at the pump, and screwed on the glass.
Then, taking his tools and a line, he went back to the work below.
The hole blown in the wrecked hull was quite large for the amount of
powder used, but the splintered edges made it necessary to be careful
on entering, on account of the air-hose and line. A swirling of
disturbed water still made the light bad, but Smart, feeling the edges
with his hand, stepped within the darkness, and proceeded to explore
the interior of the lost ship.
He climbed slowly upward, dragging his lines after him, and stumbling
over a mass of timber which obstructed the way. He was in the
after-part of the brig, the part where the dead wood, narrowing toward
the stern-post, made a difficult passage to go through. He went along
carefully, feeling for dangerous projections which might entangle his
air-hose. The ammunition was supposed to be in the lazarette, under
the cabin flooring, and he made his way in this direction.
Owing to the darkness, he was some time locating anything in the way
of cases. Finally, however, he felt the square ends of boxes, and made
haste to break one open. There were cans of tomatoes, or some kind of
food, in the first one, and he felt along farther. Then he came in
contact with a bulkhead. As it was inky dark below in the bilge of the
sunken ship, he had to do all his work by means of the sense of touch
alone. He couldn’t see his own hand upon the glass of his helmet.
Something brushed against him and nearly upset him. It gave him an
uncomfortable feeling, and a longing for the sunshine upon the sea
floor of the Bank. He was not of a nervous temperament, and he knew
that some sea denizen had evidently made the brig his home. Perhaps
some spawning grouper or huge jew-fish.
Feeling along the bulkhead, he came upon a lot of small boxes. One
of these he took under his arm and backed slowly out of the hole
and into the clear water of the Bank. He laid the box upon the sea
floor, and broke the covering with his hammer, hitting it lightly, the
resisting power of the surrounding medium making it difficult even to
strike at all. He tore away the fragments of the lid, and saw rows of
cartridge-clips, the whole fixed and packed carefully. Making fast a
line to the case, he signalled to hoist away, and brought his find to
The stuff proved to be all right. On breaking open a cartridge, the
powder appeared dry, in spite of the long submergence, showing how
carefully the ammunition had been put up. The dipping of the bullets
into tallow had made the cartridges absolutely airtight, and they were
as good as new.
The usual cost of ammunition was about two cents per cartridge
wholesale. Half a million rounds would make quite a fortune, or
something in the neighbourhood of ten thousand dollars to divide
between himself and the black mate. Yes, it had been worth while, after
all. Wrecking was not such a bad thing, if there was anything worth
wrecking, and he wondered how the salvors of the brig had overlooked
such a valuable asset. Even if he had to divide with the former
owners–which he probably would not–he would have something worth
going below for.
“Git de stuff–we’ll ship him to Noo York,” said Bill. “Ought to cl’ar
a bit on dis hear deal. Dey’s got de Winchester mark on dem, an’ dat
goes wid de agents, so do de Union ca’tridge. Git de stuff outen her,
cap, fo’ we cayn’t stay here long–it’s comin’ on bad befo’ dark, an’
dere’ll be too much sea to work ag’in fer a week.”
Smart lost no time getting back to the lazarette of the brig. He took
his line with him, and, after fastening it to some of the cases, he
signalled to haul away.
Case after case he removed in this manner, and, after being below
nearly an hour, he began to feel the effects of the pressure. He
concluded to go up and rest for a short time before finishing the job.
He hauled a lot of boxes together and lashed them firmly with a line,
and signalled to haul away. He felt the pull, the tautening of the
rope, and the cases slipped from under his hand. He straightened up and
started to follow.
Then he felt the whole side of the ship suddenly fall toward him. It
seemed like a mass of stuff, chest upon chest, toppling down upon him,
and, before he could make even the slightest movement to get away, the
whole pile of cases rolled over him like a great wave.
He was thrown upon his back, and a heavy weight rested upon the lower
part of his body. He tried to move, and found himself jammed fast.
Feeling nervously for his life-line and hose, he saw they were clear.
He would not suffocate for awhile, anyway. He pulled lustily upon his
life-line, and felt the strain of Bill’s strength upon it, but it
failed to move him. He was afraid the line would cut into his suit with
the enormous strain.
He pulled the signal to slack away, but the men above were evidently
excited, and they pulled all the harder. Then came a sudden slacking.
He reached up and drew in the end of the life-line. It had parted near
In the blackness of the sunken wreck Smart felt his nerve going. It was
a bad place to have trouble. There was no other suit, no other machine
or outfit for a man to go to his assistance. He might live for an hour
longer, or perhaps even two, but the end seemed certain unless he could
free himself from the mass of cargo which had so suddenly piled down
It had been one of those accidents which are likely to happen to any
one working in the darkness of a ship’s hold where the cargo is not
known, or not located by previous knowledge of the ship’s loading.
He had evidently unshipped some of the ammunition-cases, and brought
a mass of boxes of both provisions and cartridges upon him like an
avalanche. His right arm was free, but his left was crushed under some
mighty weight, and hurt him painfully. The air still whistled into his
head-piece, showing that Heldron was working the pump steadily.
Bahama Bill was a cool hand, a man used to desperate emergencies, and
Smart felt that the giant mate of the _Sea-Horse_ would do what he
could to set him free. He knew the black diver to be a mighty swimmer.
He had cause to remember that fact, but it was far away from the
surface where he now lay, and it looked as if he would have to pass in,
to die the terrible death of the lost diver.
His imagination held him thinking, in spite of the pain and weight upon
him. He could breathe easily, and the numbing effect of the pressure
made his sufferings less than otherwise. He tried again and again to
shift some of the cases, straining until the stars flashed into the
darkness before him. It was useless. He could not budge anything.
The minutes seemed hours, and he began at last to feel the drowsy
effect of the air too long driven into his lungs. He saw the beach, the
white coral sand–then he was again at Key West.
Upon the deck of the _Sea-Horse_ the men gazed blankly at each other
when Bahama Bill hauled up the life-line, parted far below. Heldron
stopped pumping, and Sam gave an exclamation.
“Keep dat pump workin’; keep it goin’, I tell yo’,” snapped the black
mate, turning upon his man.
Heldron instantly turned away again, rapidly, sending the air below.
“Name ob de Lord–now whatcher make wid dat?” said Bill, looking at Sam.
“Gone fer sure,” said Sam. “I wouldn’t go down in them lead shoes for
no money. I done knowed something like this would happen.”
“I t’ink I don’t need to give no more air, den,” said Heldron.
“You turn dat pump, yo’ blamed Dutchman, or I’ll turn yo’ hide
wrong-side out, yo’ hear me,” snarled the mate. “Gimme a heavy line,
Sam; gimme something I can’t break–jump, yo’ Conch!”
“Goin’ after him?” asked Sam, hauling the end of the mainsheet clear to
the rail. “I don’t think you kin get him. Better leave him down; them
shoes is enough to hold him. I’d hate to lose the cap’n, but he’s gone
The huge form of the mate balanced for an instant upon the rail. He
cleared enough line to take to the bottom, and had Sam stand with
coils of it ready to pay out. Then down he went with the end of it,
swimming strongly for the hole in the bilge of the brig. The opening
showed before him, but he hesitated not a moment. He swam straight
into the black hole, butting his head against the carlines under the
half-deck, but keeping straight as he could for the diver by following
the air-hose with his hand.
It was a long swim to the place where Smart lay. A full minute had
been taken up before the mate felt the contact of the metal helmet. He
passed the heavy line under it, but found his wind giving way under the
strain. Quickly following the air-hose out, he struggled for the clear
water, and came to the surface with a blow like a grampus. He had been
down two minutes and a half.
Sam seized his hand and helped him aboard, where he lay upon the deck,
bleeding, a slight trickle from the corner of his ugly mouth and from
“You can’t make it, Bill,” Sam declared. “Let the poor devil go. You
done the best you could.”
“I stop now wid de air, hey? Wat you says, Mr. Bill?”
Heldron’s query aroused Bahama Bill. “If you slack up on dat pump, yo’
dies a wuss death ‘n Cap’n Smart,” he said wearily, and in an even
tone. It was evident that the strain had been hard on him, but he was
In a minute he sat up.
“I get him dis hear time,” he growled, shaking himself and standing
upon the rail again.
His giant black body twitched, the huge muscles under the ebony skin
worked, flowing, contracting, and slacking up, making a wavelike
motion, but showing the mighty power which lay in his frame. He was
getting worked up to a nervous pitch, and the trembling was not from
weakness. It was the gathering power in his thews which was beginning
He flung far out, and dropped straight downward with a pitch-pole
plunge, going furiously down like some monstrous sea-demon. Only a
flash of his black body showed before he had turned the bend, and was
following the air-hose into the hole.
This time he saved many seconds. He reached the form of Smart, and
caught the end of the mainsheet about him, quickly slipping a hitch.
Then he hauled himself out into the sunshine again, and came rising
like a fish to the surface. In a moment he was back aboard the
_Sea-Horse_, and then he spoke.
“Git on to dat line, yo’, Sam … git hold quick … I got him … give
him de air, yo’ Dutchman. … An’ now fer a heave what is a heave.”
With a mighty effort the two men threw their whole weight upon the
line. It held. Nothing gave for a moment. Bahama Bill, bracing his
naked feet upon the rail, bent his mighty loins, and took a deep
“Heave-ho!” he bellowed, and set his muscles to the strain.
Sam lifted with all his force. Almost instantly the two of them plunged
backward, and fell over each other on deck. The line became slack, but
before they could get to their feet, Heldron had left the pump and was
hauling in hand-over-hand, and in a moment the form of Smart showed
below the surface.
The black mate sprang to his feet and gave the Dutchman a cuff which
sent him over the side, and, seizing the line, he hauled the limp form
of the diver on deck quicker than it takes to tell it. In a moment he
had the glass off the helmet, and was staring into the white face of
the insensible seaman.
“Get somethin’ to drink–quick,” he said.
Sam rushed for a dipper of water, and, upon bringing it, was knocked
over the head with it for his pains.
“Yo’ bring me somethin’–quick–yo’ understand,” roared the mate. “I
knows yo’ got some forrads–now, then, jump!”
Sam quickly brought a bottle of gin, half-full. Smart had some of the
fiery liquid poured between his lips. Then Heldron, who had scrambled
back aboard, cursing and spluttering, came aft, and helped them to get
off the suit.
It was half an hour afterward before the captain came around enough to
tell what had happened. His left arm was badly mashed, but not broken.
The heavy suit had not been cut through, and to this fact he owed his
life. His legs were stiff and sore from the heavy weight which had lain
upon them, but he was otherwise uninjured.
“I reckon yo’ll be able to go down ag’in in a little while,” said the
mate. “We got most of the stuff, I reckon, but we might as well take
all dat’s dere.”
“How many cases have we?” asked Smart.
“‘Bout fifty–nearly a million rounds, an’ all good.”
“Well, that’s all we’ll get to-day,” said Smart, “unless you want to
take a try at it.”
“Toe bad, toe bad,” muttered Bahama Bill. “I’se sho sorry you’s sech
a puny little man, cap, but de wedder is gittin’ bad, ennyways, an’ I
reckon we might as well make a slant fer Nassau.”
“That’ll about suit me, all right,” said Smart.