Frank Nelson in the Forecastle. Or, The Sportman's Club Among the Whalers
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"I knew it was something of that kind," said Lucas, who knew just nothing at all about it. He and Barton were working to put Frank on the Tycoon's quarter-deck, and they did not care how many falsehoods they told or what means they used to get him there. "He went into a fight once and licked the rebels three to one," continued Lucas.
"Five to one, you mean," corrected Barton, who did not think his friend was saying quite as much as could be said in Frank's favor.
"I knew it was big odds," returned Lucas, "and under them circumstances, sir, you mustn't feel hard if we say that we won't serve on the Tycoon under nobody but Cap'n Nelson."
"I don't feel hard toward you," said the mate, "for I don't want to command her. I am not fit."
"No more you be, sir," said Barton, bluntly; "but Cap'n Nelson is. We can call him cap'n now, and nobody can't say no to us without getting his head broke."
Frank, little dreaming of what was passing in the other boat, was being carried rapidly ahead by the stalwart Kanakas who pulled him, and reached the ship a long distance in advance of Mr. Gale. As he came alongside he saw two men looking over the rail, both of whom Chips recognised, dark as it was. They proved to be two wrecked sailors who had been held prisoners by the natives, and who had taken advantage of the attack on the village to run to the beach and swim off to the vessel. They were overjoyed to find themselves among their own countrymen once more, and almost overwhelmed Frank by their exhibition of gratitude. But he had no time to listen to them. He simply shook hands with them, and then turned his attention to the captain.
The wounded man groaned whenever any one touched him; but a whip being quickly rigged he was hoisted aboard as tenderly as possible, and in obedience to Frank's directions was carried into the cabin and placed in his bunk. When the steward lighted the lamp Frank had a good view of him for the first time, and he could hardly bring himself to believe that this wreck of humanity was the same man he had so often seen on the quarter-deck. He was no surgeon, but knowing that something ought to be done at once to relieve the captain and stop the flow of blood, he set to work to do what he could. He cut off the sufferer's coat and shirt with his knife, and found three gaping wounds, which were enough to have left the life out of any but a man of iron, as the captain was. While he was bathing them with warm water brought from the galley the third mate came in, and Frank was surprised to see him remove his hat.
"Is it necessary for me to apologize for coming in here under such circumstances as these, without an invitation?" asked the amateur doctor.
"I guess not, sir," answered the officer, with a smile. "From all I can learn you've got the best right here."
"How is that? I don't understand you."
"Why, the men have put you in as cap'n, and say they won't do duty under anybody else."
"Well, they have no right to do anything of the kind.They don't know what they are talking about."
"No, they don't. I'm master of this ship," murmured the wounded man, looking about with the old savage glare in his eyes and trying to raise his head. "Trice 'em all up, and hang the snatch-block to their – Mr. Gale!" he ejaculated, recognising the third mate.
"Yes, sir; it's Mr. Gale, come back safe and sound, and just as ready to do duty as he was before you turned him adrift in that boat," replied the officer.
"Send the first mate here," said the captain, sinking back on his pillow and closing his eyes.
"I can't, sir. He went ashore with you and hasn't come back yet. The natives made an end of him, most likely."
"The second mate, then."
"Can't send him either, sir, because he and the first are keeping company now somewhere besides on board this ship. The natives harpooned him. There's nobody left but me."
"And you ain't worth nothing. You don't know how to flog a man."
"If I did, I couldn't do it now, sir. The men have taken the ship and put Cap'n Nelson in command. I looked for 'em to do it long ago."
"Nelson!" groaned the captain, opening his eyes again. "I sent him – "
He seemed to recognise the face bending over him, and stopped suddenly.
"I know you did, sir," said Mr. Gale, "You sent him adrift with me; but he's back again, and so are Lucas and Barton and all the rest of the boat's crew. But I say, cap'n, if you are able to do duty, you'd best be giving some orders, for the tide is about turning, and if the ship is to be worked off the bar, now's the time."
The captain made no reply, and neither could Mr. Gale induce him to speak again. He lay with his eyes closed, and groaned every time a question was asked him. The mate scratched his head in great perplexity. "What shall I do, sir?" said he, looking at Frank.
"Do just what you think best," was the reply. "This man is in no condition to give orders. Go ahead on your own hook."
The mate clapped his hat on his head and hurried up the ladder. He found the crew gathered in the waist waiting, no doubt, to hear from some one in the cabin. "Turn to, lads," said Mr. Gale, briskly. "Bear a hand, and get up that small kedge for'ard."
"Who give them orders, sir, begging your pardon for being curious?" said Lucas. "Did Cap'n Barclay or Cap'n Nelson?"
"Cap'n Nelson," replied the mate. "Cap'n Barclay ain't fit to command now."
"No more was he ever fit to command, sir!" said Lucas, who was speaking for all of the men. "But, asking your pardon again, sir, I'd just like to have a peep at Cap'n Nelson, and see why he don't come up and give his own orders, like the master of a ship had ought to do. You know that he went into that cabin once and didn't come out again very soon, don't you? We don't think as much of you, by no means, as we did before you had a hand in that business."
The mate made no reply. He had set himself right with Frank, who was perfectly satisfied that he was not to blame for anything that had happened, and he would leave him to make the matter straight with the men. He stepped aside to allow Lucas to pass, and the latter, running down the companion-ladder, was amazed to find Frank acting the part of Good Samaritan to one whom he had hitherto regarded as an enemy. He opened his eyes wide at the sight, and Frank thought he was displeased. "It's all time wasted, sir," said he.
"Well, we must do the very best we can for him," was Frank's reply. "If he can only hold out till we fall in with some ship carrying a surgeon, he will perhaps pull through all right."
"Did you give orders to have the ship worked off the bar, cap'n?" asked the boatswain's mate.
"We want to get her off, don't we?" answered Frank. "She musn't lie here and be pounded to pieces, as she will be if the wind rises."
Lucas went out of the cabin satisfied. He knew what ought to be done as well as anybody, but he wanted to be sure that the orders came from the right source. The men were satisfied too, and went to work to get the ship out of her dangerous situation, while Frank kept busy with his patient, although he believed, with Lucas, that his efforts to save the captain's life would be useless. He had nothing to work with – no lint or bandages, and no medicine to allay the fever. But the sequel proved that Frank did not know what the old sailor meant by his remark. The wounded skipper was threatened by another danger from which no one on board the Tycoon but Frank could protect him – the fury of the men he had wronged.
At the end of two hours the Tycoon was in deep water and standing away from the inhospitable Islands with all her canvas spread. Frank had been equally successful with the work to which he had devoted himself, and now the captain was in a sound sleep. While Frank stood watching him, wondering; what was to be done when he awoke, since there were no medicines aboard except calomel and salts, nothing to eat except coarse ship's fare, and nothing to drink but the miserable stuff called tea and coffee which the cook served up twice each day – while Frank was thinking about this, and wishing he could get inside the Stranger's pantry long enough to secure some of the delicacies he knew to be stowed away there, he was aroused by a great hubbub which suddenly arose on deck. He heard the stamping of feet and loud yells of triumph, mingled with cries of, "Here's one of 'em. Pitch him overboard!" A moment later the mate's voice was heard in tones of remonstrance, to which some one replied: "If you don't go aft where you belong and mind your own business, you'll go over too!"
Mr. Gale evidently thought that the man, whoever he was that said this, was in earnest, for Frank heard him running along the deck, and saw his pale face appear at the top of the companion ladder. "Come up, cap'n," he cried, in great excitement; "the men are going to throw Calamity overboard!"
Frank lingered just long enough to slap his pockets, to make sure that the pistols he had carried during the attack on the village were still there, and then went up the stairs in three jumps. He saw a group of men in the waist, who were pushing and crowding one another about, and caught just one glimpse of the pale face of Gardner, who was in the midst of them, and resisting to the utmost the efforts that were being made to drag him to the side. He saw at a glance that Boson and Tully were the ringleaders, and the ones who had seized the frightened man; and he was sorry to see, too, that Lucas and Barton were there and making no effort to restrain their companions, although they took no part in the proceeding. The peaceable Kanakas were standing in a body on the forecastle and looking on in great amazement.
With three jumps more Frank was in the waist, standing between the men and the rail, and Mr. Gale was at his side. "Lucas! Barton!" he cried, "come over to this side the deck."
"Why, cap'n?" began Lucas.
"No words," interrupted Frank. "You and Barton come over to this side of the deck, and be quick about it."
The sailors obeyed, and the change in their positions seemed to make a corresponding change in their feelings, for the next order Frank gave was responded to without an instant's hesitation. "Lucas, take hold of Boson. Barton, grab Tully and drag him away. Gardner, go into the cabin!"
It was wonderful how quickly and easily one calm, determined spirit controlled those angry men. The trouble was ended at once. Boson let go his hold and slunk away at the sight of Lucas's big fist, which was brandished before his eyes, and Tully was equally active in giving ground before the broad-shouldered Barton. Gardner, finding himself at liberty, went down the companion-ladder like a flash, banging the door behind him.
"I am surprised at you, men," said Frank, sternly, and there was not one among them who could look him in the eye. "If you had succeeded in accomplishing your object, what would you have said for yourselves when you got ashore? Boson, you are the largest and strongest man in the crew. Take your stand at the top of that ladder and knock the first one down who attempts to go into the cabin without Mr. Gale's permission."
This stroke of policy on Frank's part won him a fast friend on the spot – one who might otherwise have been an enemy, and kept the crew in a constant uproar. He was a turbulent fellow, this Boson, and one of the few sailors Frank had met who seemed to need a handspike or belaying-pin over his head about once a day to keep him in order. His appearance was enough to frighten some men, and was a good index of his character. He had a most repulsive countenance, a small bullet-shaped head, always kept closely cropped and set on a thick, muscular neck, and a form betokening immense physical power. And indeed he possessed it. He could handle an eighteen-foot oar as if it were a feather, and when he laid out his strength, he fairly made things snap. His whole body was seamed and scarred by wounds he had received in fights and from the officers he had sailed under, and Frank had seen him knocked flat with a handspike which seemed to make no more impression on his thick skull than it would on the mast. This was the man of whom Frank had been wise enough to make a friend.
Boson looked at him in amazement, evidently at a loss to decide whether Frank was in earnest or not; but making up his mind at last that he was, he marched off, and taking the position assigned him, looked defiantly at the crew, as if daring them to come on.
Frank was surprised at the ease with which the disturbance had been quelled, and so was Mr. Gale. It leaked out afterward that the former's prompt action had prevented serious trouble. Lucas made no idle threat when he said that the captain and Calamity were both to go overboard. The latter had been hiding in the hold among the oil barrels. He went there when he saw the natives approaching to make their attack on the ship, and no one missed him until the fight was over, and the sailors began to look around to see how many they had lost. Not finding Calamity among the slain, they concluded that he had either jumped overboard, or been wounded and thrown over; but he had been safely concealed in the hold all the while. Finding at last that the ship was in motion, he came out of his hiding-place to see what was going on, and must have been astonished at the reception extended to him. After he had been disposed of, the skipper's turn was to come next. The desperate men counted on meeting with opposition and perhaps resistance from Mr. Gale and Frank, but expected to overcome it very easily. They knew Mr. Gale, but found they did not know Frank. Had the latter been as easily cowed as the third mate was, something certainly would have happened.
Quiet being restored, Mr. Gale and Frank walked aft together, and the crew seeing them in earnest conversation, leaned over the rail and waited to learn what would come next. "I suppose the first business is to decide who we want for officers," said Frank.
"I suppose so, sir," replied Mr. Gale.
"You are entitled to the captain's berth, of course. That's settled."
"No it ain't, sir," returned the mate, quickly. "This is the first voyage I ever made as an officer, and I know no more about navigation than I do about the moon."
"Then let me act as your sailing-master."
"The men won't agree to it, sir. They said so."
Then the mate went on to repeat the conversation that had taken place between Lucas, Barton and himself, at which Frank laughed heartily. "Why they are very much mistaken," said he. "The largest sailing vessel I ever commanded was a pleasure yacht."
"No odds, sir. They've got it in their heads that you must command them now that the old man is done for, and there'll be a row if you don't. You have seen what they are when they get started."
"Then I'll tell you what we'll do," said Frank, after thinking a moment. "We'll leave it to them; and after they have selected their officers we'll draw up a paper containing a full history of everything that has happened since leaving Honolulu, and ask them to sign it. These matters must be looked into by the consul, and we want to be all right in law, you know."
In accordance with this suggestion, the mate mustered the men on the quarter-deck and made them a little speech. He told them that there must be somebody at the head of affairs, and that as the officers were all gone except himself, others must be selected. In the first place they must all agree to be bound by the decision of the majority, and faithfully promise to obey those placed over them.
"We'll all obey Cap'n Nelson," exclaimed Boson, before the mate was fairly done speaking.
"Yes, Cap'n Nelson! Cap'n Nelson!" cried a chorus of hoarse voices. "Nobody else!"
There was not a dissenting voice; so Frank could no longer refuse to accept the responsibility. He was amused to see that Lucas and Barton, while supporting Boson's nomination, looked savagely at him, as if they would have been glad to knock him down for speaking in such a hurry. They wanted to bring Frank forward themselves.
"Cap'n Nelson, I give place to you, sir," said Mr. Gale.
The men greeted the young commander with cheers as he stepped forward, no doubt expecting him to make them a speech; but Frank did nothing of the kind. He told them that the next business was to select a first mate, and at his suggestion Mr. Gale was chosen by a unanimous vote. Lucas was put in for second, and Boson, who was a fine sailor, if he was a quarrelsome fellow, for third mate; and when the men were dismissed every one of them seemed satisfied., leaving Mr. Gale in charge of the deck. The captain lay with his eyes closed, rolling his head from side to side, and Calamity was fanning him with his hat. The latter started up in alarm as Frank entered.
"It is no one who is going to harm you," said he. "I hope you see now what you have brought upon yourself by your way of doing business. Let it be a lesson to you."
"I shall never dare to go into the forecastle again," whined Calamity.
"You needn't go in there. You will stay here as the captain's nurse."
This order seemed to relieve the frightened man. Through the open skylights he had heard all that passed on deck, and he was afraid that Frank, having the authority to do so, would order him to go forward where he belonged.
Frank slept but little that night. The responsibilities of his new position weighed on his mind, and he came on deck every hour to see that things were going straight. The first real duty he performed as captain was to ascertain whereabouts in the wide world the ship was, and this he did the next day by an observation. She was directly in the track of vessels bound from Australia to the Pacific ports of the United States, and he decided to cruise about for a few days in the hope of meeting some ship that carried a surgeon. Without medical assistance he was afraid that the captain might not live until the ship reached Honolulu, which, according to his calculations, was more than fifteen hundred miles distant.
The observation made, dinner over and the table cleared away, Frank busied himself for an hour or two in drawing up papers for the men to sign; and when that was done, he took a few minutes to think over the various incidents that had operated to place him in his present position. The most exacting old sea-dog could hardly have found fault with the way affairs were going now. The weather-side of the quarter-deck was reserved for the captain, who for an hour paced up and down there with his hands behind his back, and as free from intrusion as a monarch on his throne. The officers were alert and watchful, the crew seemed to have settled down to the new order of things as if they had been accustomed to them all their lives, and never in her best days under her old commander had the Tycoon looked more ship-shape. Frank wished the crew had put Mr. Gale in his place, and left him to act as sailing-master; but since they had seen fit to do differently, he would perform his duty as best he could. He knew every rope and sail in the ship, was possessed of excellent judgment, which was the one great thing needed, and the captain's sextant came as handy to him as a fishing-rod or double-barrel; so he was not so very unfit for the position he held after all. How Archie and the rest of the friends he had left on the Stranger would open their eyes if they could see him in that dress and know that he was the master of that fine ship! For the first time in a long while Frank allowed his thoughts to wander back to them, and the consequence was he became homesick. Yes, homesick; for the cabin of the Stranger had been his home for almost eight months, and had he kept out of the way of the bogus captain, it might have been his home yet. Where was the schooner now, and what were those aboard of her doing? Perhaps she was sailing about over the Pacific in search of the Tycoon! This thought aroused Frank from his reverie, and caused him to straighten up and look about as if he expected to see something. If the Stranger followed the Tycoon to the Sandwich Islands, would not Uncle Dick ascertain when he got there that she had shipped a crew and started for the Japan station? And would he not sail again immediately and try to find her?
"Sail ho!" shouted the man at the mast-head. "Where away?" demanded the captain, greatly excited.
"Two points off the lee bow, sir. Steamer."
"Dear me! why did he say steamer?" thought Frank. "I'd rather he'd have said topsail schooner."
No doubt he would, especially if the schooner proved to be the Stranger. Still he was glad to know that there was a steamer near, for he would be relieved of one cause of anxiety if he could only intercept her. He would bring her doctor aboard, and perhaps he could do something for the captain.
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