By the World Forgot: A Double Romance of the East and West
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"What happened then?" asked Maynard.
"Well, sir," answered the boatswain, "Templin can finish the yarn better nor I can."
"Every man jack on the ship," said Templin, "had a mighty likin' for Smith. Ain't that so, mates?"
Deep-toned approvals, with much nodding of heads, came from the other seamen.
"He was the pleasantest man on the ship," said one.
"Free an' easy, always willin' to help a shipmate," said another.
"Full of good stories, an' doin' his best to be agreeable," added a third.
"An' we wasn't goin' to see him hanged for that, which it was clearly self-defense, an' a good riddance, anyway," continued Templin. "You see, the mate was hated as much as Smith was liked. So we puts our heads together, an' to make a long story short, we pervisions the whaleboat, which was hangin' at the after davits. We struck the irons off of Smith's wrists an' ankles, put him into the boat, an' lowered her the night arter."
"I had heerd the old man an' Salver plottin' the ship's position," said the boatswain. "They said there was land about seventy leagues to the sou'west'ard, an we all thought he could reach it. It seemed as if the rough weather had blowed itself out at last in the Pacific. There was some white people on them islands. There'd be some means for him to git back to the United States, eventually, or wherever he belonged."
"When did the captain learn of his escape?"
"Right then an' there. He done his best to prevent it, but it was dark an' the men refused to handle the braces to wear the ship, an' that's all there was to it."
"So Beekman wasn't on the ship when she burned," cried Harnash.
"Thank God for that," said Stephanie. "Don't you see," she continued as the bewildered seaman stared at her, "if he had been on the ship, he might have been lost in the other boat; Mr. Salver's boat, you said."
"But, as it is now, there is a chance he may have got to those islands. What were they? Where are they? We may find him yet."
"It's possible. There's always a chance on the sea," admitted the boatswain. "But that ain't all the story."
"No, ma'am; the gales hadn't quite blowed theirselves out yet, an' the next day come the worst of 'em all. What become of that boat in that storm, Cod only knows. We had to scud afore it under bare poles."
"It might not have blowed so hard where the whaleboat was," said Templin sagely.
"In course; but no man can know nothin' about that."
"We got a slant of a favorin' wind arter a few days, an' ran down our northin' at a great rate. I think it was two weeks arter we sent the whaleboat away with Beekman in it, when a fire broke out in the forehold. I suppose the strainin' an' pitchin' and buckin' of the ship was the cause of it. I don't rightly know jest what we had aboard."
"About three thousand tons of the most inflammable and explosive stuff on earth," said Mr.Maynard.
"Well, it ketched afire. We knowed it was some kind of dangerous stuff without bein' aware of the partik'lers, an' we tried to git at the fire, but we couldn't. We knowed the old ship was doomed just about as soon as something that would explode got reached by the fire. There wan't no panic."
"The officers treated us like dogs, all of us," interposed Templin; "but they knowed their business, an' so did we."
"Two boats was got over an' pervisioned; a cutter an' a la'nch that was on chocks amidships. The cap'n ordered me with nine of the men to the cutter, an' Mr. Salver with the rest on 'em to the la'nch. The sea was calm enough, an' we had no difficulty in gittin' the boats overboard, although we had to bear a hand, an' it was well we done so. Nachurly, the cap'n was to be the last man to 'bandon the ship, which he didn't leave at all, as a matter of fact. He was to go in my boat, which was one reason why the steward was in her. Salver's boat shoved off, an' while we lay alongside at the battens waitin' for him, the old man ordered us to shove off, too. 'Mr. Gersey,' he sez-me bein' called 'Mister' habitual after I come aft-'if you git to shore, report me as havin' stayed with the ship.' 'Cap'n Fish,' sez I, 'savin' your presence, it's a kind of damn fool thing for you to do, for the ship's goin' down.' 'I ain't never yet desarted no ship under my charge,' sez the cap'n, an' when I started to argue, he told me to go to hell an' git away from there lest the boat should be lost. There wan't nothin' else for me to do, ma'am, but obey orders. I've been all my life obeyin' orders at sea, but that was about the hardest one ever put up to me. We didn't like the old man much. As a matter of fact, we hated him, an' we might have killed him in a fair fight, if it had been possible, but we didn't none of us want to see him die that way."
"No, we didn't," said one.
"But there wan't no help for it. We pulled away from the blazin' ship till we got within hail of Salver's boat. When he seed the cap'n wasn't aboard, he was for rowin' back to the ship to rescue him. We could see the old man calmly walkin' up an' down the bridge, for'ard of the mizzenmast, perfectly plain. The fire was for'ard, and the ship was hove to so the smoke druv away to lee'ard. He never left that bridge except to go aft to h'ist the American flag at the gaffend. Salver would have gone back, anyway, only the men refused. We was willin' enough, only we know'd it wan't no use. An' the ship was liable to blow up any minute."
"Well?" said Maynard in the silence that ensued.
"She did blow up, an' the cap'n an' the flag an' the ship all went down together," said the old boatswain with deep solemnity.
"He was a hard man," said Templin frowning, "but he went down with his ship."
That last act covered a multitude of sins in the eyes of the men.
"There ain't much more to tell," continued the boatswain after the tribute of respect and admiration had been conveyed by a solemn little silence which no other cared to break. "We had a hard v'yage in that open cutter, which we separated from the la'nch in the night. Food an' water give out by the end of a week, an' afore we reached Honolulu, or was picked up by a steamer headin' that way a day's sail from the port, three of the men died. Among 'em was Manuel, ship's steward. As we'd thought the old man was goin' in my boat, I had the log an' the ship's papers. We knowed, because I had seed it, that the cap'n had logged the yarn of the killing of Woywod, which he had got signed by Salver an' Manuel, the steward. Manuel was a witness to the whole thing, an' Salver to the latter part. Manuel was pretty poor stuff; afeerd of his life when Cap'n Fish was around. So he signed a lie. When he knowed he was goin' to die, he said he wanted to undo what he had done, as far as he could, so I got out the logbook an' wrote in it what he said. He made his mark after it, an' then Templin an' all the rest that could write signed it as witnesses, an' them as couldn't, made their marks. We thought if Beekman ever did git back home, an' this charge ever come up, which it wouldn't be likely, since the Susquehanna was lost, it might help him to git people to believe he was innercent."
As the old man spoke he unfolded the oil silk wrapping, disclosed the logbook, and extended it to his fascinated audience. Harnash took it.
"You'll find it there, sir," said the boatswain, opening the book at a place marked by a slip of paper.
"Read it, George," said Maynard.
"I, Manuel Silva," Harnash read from the water-stained page, with difficulty deciphering the blurred, soft pencil writing.
"We didn't have no pen an' ink," interrupted the boatswain in explanation.
"Being about to die, do hereby declare before God and Mr. Gersey and the crew of this cutter, that what I signed in the logbook about the death of the mate is a damn lie, which I hope God and the Holy Virgin and the Saints will pardon me. The mate struck at Smith, although he was twice warned, and finally drew a pistol. He would have shot him if he hadn't been killed. It was self defense. In fear of the captain and my life, I signed that false Happy David. This is the truth, so help me God."
"There's his mark," said Gersey, getting up and pointing. "An' this is my signature, an' there's Templin's an' Dumellow's, and there's Spear's and Lawton's marks, which they are here to testify. Also, there's Walling's and Allen's, which are dead."
"I see," said Harnash, handing the book to Stephanie.
"Mr. Gersey, you have done exceedingly well. I want to compliment you and every one of the men," said Maynard. "You shall not suffer in the loss of the Susquehanna. The Inter-Oceanic will pension you or give you steady work. A sum of money will be deposited to your credit, which will enable you to be independent of the sea, if you choose."
"That's handsome of you, Mr. Maynard," said Templin. "I don't know how the other men feels, but as for me, I'm too young to retire. I'd just blow in the money, wot ever it is, if it was give to me, an' I'd rather have work."
"That goes for me."
"An' for me," cried one after the other.
"So, if you'll jest keep the money for us, so's when we're too old to go to sea we'll have somethin' laid up, it'll be all right."
"Your decision is a wise one," said Maynard. "As it happens, I'll be able to offer you work. These men look to me to be all right. Can you vouch for them, Mr. Gersey?"
"They're prime seamen, every one of 'em, an' orderly an' decent men. Not but what they sometimes gits laid by the heels ashore, but afloat there ain't no more properer men to be found."
"I thought so. Well, I own a three-thousand-ton steam yacht, barkentine rigged-the Stephanie-named after my daughter here. She will be due in San Francisco in two weeks. We are contemplating an extended cruise to the south seas. Have you ever been in steam, Mr. Gersey?"
"Most of my life, sir."
"There's a berth aboard her as bo's'n, or fourth officer, for you, and I'll ship every man here at double pay before the mast. You can pick one of them for bo's'n's mate. We've never had a bo's'n on the yacht, but I've no doubt we can use one handily."
"Are you goin' to hunt for Beekman, sir, I makes bold to ask," questioned the boatswain, his face shining.
"I'm going to search the seas until I find him, or what became of him, if possible; and, incidentally, Salver and the launch."
"We're with you, howsomever long that cruise," said the boatswain. "Am I right, mates?"
"Right you are," came in deep-toned approval from the little group of sailors.