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THE VISION SPLENDID (chapter15,part1)

2006-08-28 23:39

    CHAPTER 15

    "Old Capting Pink of the Peppermint, Though kindly at heart and good, Had a blunt, bluff way of a-gittin' 'is say That we all of us understood.

    When he brained a man with a pingle spike Or plastered a seaman flat, We should 'a' been blowed but we all of us knowed That he didn't mean nothin' by that.

    I was wonderful fond of old Capting Pink, And Pink he was fond o' me, As he frequently said when he battered me head Or sousled me into the sea." ——Wallace Irwin.


    PART 1

    On the night of the twenty-second of December Jeff left the _World_ building and moved down Powers Avenue to the all night restaurant he usually frequented. The man who was both cook and waiter remembered afterwards that Farnum called for coffee, sausage, and a waffle.

    Before the editor left the waffle house it was the morning of the twenty-third. He had never felt less sleepy. Nor did a book and a pipe before his gas log seem quite what he wanted. The vagabond streak in him was awake, the same potent wanderlust that as a boy had driven him to the solitude of the forests and the hills. This morning it sent him questing down Powers Avenue to that lower town where the derelicts of the city floated without a rudder.

    A cold damp mist had crept up from the water front and enwrapped the city so that its lights showed like blurred moons. Some instinct took him toward the wharves. He could hear the distant cough of a tug as it fussed across the bay, and as he drew near the big Transcontinental wharves of Joe Powers the black hulk of a Japanese liner rose black out of the gray fog shadow. But the freighters, the coasters, tramps that went hither and thither over the earth wherever fat cargoes lured them——they were either swallowed in the mist or shadowed to a ghost-like wraith of themselves so

    tenuous that all detail was lost in the haze.

    Jeff leaned on a pile and let his imagination people the harbor with the wandering children of the earth who had been drawn from all its seafaring corners to this Mecca of trade. He knew that here were swarthy little Japanese with teas and silks, dusky Kanakas with copra, and Alaskan liners carrying gold and returning miners. There would be brigs from Buenos Ayres and schooners that had nosed into Robert Louis Stevenson's magic South Sea islands. Puffy London steamers, Nome and Skagway liners condemned long since on the Atlantic Coast, queer rigged hybrids from Rio and other South American ports, were gorging themselves with lumber or wheat or provisions according to their needs. Here truly lay before him the romance of the nations.

    The sound of a stealthy footfall warned him of impending danger. He whirled, and faced three men who were advancing on him. A vague suspicion that had oppressed him more than once in the past week leaped to definite conviction in his brain. He was the victim of a plot to waylay-perhaps to murder him. One of these men was a huge Swede, another a swarthy Italian with rings in his ears. He had seen them before, lurking in the shadows of an alley outside the _World_ building. Last night he had come out from the office with Jenkins, which no doubt had saved him for the time. This morning he had played into the hands of these men, had obligingly wandered down to the waterfront where they could so easily conceal murder in a tide running out fast.

    Strangely enough he felt no fear; rather a fierce exultant drumming of the blood that braced him for the struggle. His eyes swept the wharf for a weapon and found none.

    "What do you want?" he demanded sharply.

    The man in command ignored his question. "Stand by and down him."

    The Italian crouched and leaped. Jeff's fist caught him fairly between the eyes. He went down like a log, rolled over once and lay still. The others closed instantly with Farnum and the three swayed in a fierce silent struggle.

    Both of his attackers were more powerful than Jeff, but he was far more active. The darkness, too, aided him and hampered them. The Swede

    he could have managed, for the fellow was awkward as a bear. But the leader stuck to him like a burr. They went down together over a cleat in the flooring, rolling over and over each other as they fought.

    Somehow Jeff emerged out of the tangle. He dragged himself to his knees and hammered with his fist at an upturned face beside him. Battered, bleeding, and winded, he got to his feet and shook off the hands that reached for him. Dodging past, he lurched along the wharf like a drunken man. The Italian had gathered himself to his knees. When Jeff came opposite him he dived like a football tackle and threw his arms around the moving legs. The newspaper man crashed heavily down to unconsciousness.

    When Farnum opened his eyes upon a world strangely hazy he found himself lying in a row boat, his head bolstered by a man's knees.

    "Drink this, mate," ordered a voice that seemed very far away.

    The neck of a bottle was thrust between his lips and tilted so that he could not escape drinking.

    "That dope'll hold him for a while, Say, Johnny Dago, put your back into them oars," he heard indistinctly.

    Faintly there came to him the slap of the waves against the side of the boat. These presently died rhythmically away.

    It was daylight when he awakened again. His throbbing head slowly definitized the vile hole in which he lay as the forecastle of a ship. Gradually the facts sifted back to him. He recalled the fight on the wharf and the drink in the boat. In this last he suspected knockout drops. That he had been shanghaied was beyond suspicion.

    Laboriously he sat up on the side of his bunk and in doing so became aware of a sailor asleep in the crib opposite. His stertorous breathing stirred a doubt in Jeff's mind. Perhaps the crimps had taken him too.

    The ship was rolling a good deal, but by a succession of tacks Jeff staggered to the scuttle and climbed the hatchway to the deck. A wintry sun was shining, and for a few moments he stood blinking in the light.

    She was a three-masted schooner and was plunging forward into the choppy seas outside the jaws of the harbor. He whiffed the salt tang of the air and tasted the flying spray. An ebb tide was lifting the vessel forward

    on a freshening wind, and trim as a greyhound she slipped through the cat's-paws.

    A thickset, powerful figure paced to and fro on the quarter-deck, occasionally bellowing an order in a tremendous voice like the roar of a bull. He was getting canvas set for the fresh breeze of the open seas that was catching him astern, and the sailors were jumping to obey his orders. The pounding sails and the singing cordage, the rattling blocks and the whipping ropes, would have told Jeff they were scudding along fast, even if the heeling of the schooner and its swift forward leaps had not made it plain.

    "By God, Jones, she's walking," he heard the captain boom across to the mate.

    Just then a figure cut past him and made straight for the captain. Farnum recognized in it the sailor whom he had left asleep in the forecastle and even in that fleeting glance was aware of the man's livid fury. Up the steps he went like a wild beast.

    "What kind of a boat is this?" he panted hoarsely.

    The captain turned toward him. His eyes were shining wickedly, but his voice was ominously suave and honeyed. "This boat, son, is a threemasted schooner, name of _Nancy Hanks_ , Master Joshua Green, bound for the Solomon Islands with a cargo of Oregon fir."

    "I've been shanghaied. This is a nest of crimps," the man screamed.

    Joshua Green's salient jaw came forward. "Been shanghaied, have you? And we're a nest of crimps, are we? Son, the less I hear of that line of talk the better. Put that in your pipe and smoke it."

    The man turned loose a flood of profanity and swore he would rot in hell before he would touch a rope on that ship.

    Out went Green's great gnarled fist. The seaman shot back from the quarterdeck and struck a pile of rope below. He was up again and down again almost quicker than it takes to tell. Three times he hit the planks before he lay still.

    The captain stood over him, his eyes blazing. He looked the savage, barbaric slavedriver he was.

    "Me, I'm Bully Green, and don't you forget it. Been shanghaied, have

    you? Not going to touch a rope? Then, by thunder, you white-livered beachcomber, a rope will touch you till you're flayed. Get this in your coconut. You'll walk chalk, you lazy son of a sea cook, or I'll haze you till you wish you'd never been born." He punctuated his remarks with vigorous kicks. "Bully Green runs this tub, strike me dead if he don't. Now you hump for'ard and clap a hand to them sheets. Walk, you shanghaied Dutchman!"

    The sailor crawled away, completely cowed. For one day he had had more than enough. The captain watched him for a moment, his great jaw thrust grimly out. Then, as on a pivot, he whirled toward Jeff.

    "Come here, you! Step lively, Sport!"

    Farnum wondered whether he was about to undergo an experience similar to that of the sailor. "Do you want to know what kind of a ship this is?"

    "No, sir. I'm perfectly satisfied about that," smiled his victim.

    "Got no opinions you want to hand out free, son?"

    "Think I'll keep them bottled."

    "Say 'sir,' Sport!"

    "Yes, sir," answered Farnum, his quiet eyes steady and unafraid.

    "When I give an order you expect to jump?"

    "Jump isn't the word."

    "Sir!" thundered Green, and "Sir" the newspaper man corrected himself.

    "Got no story to spiel about being shanghaied, son?"

    "Would it do any good, sir?"

    "Not unless you're aching to get what that son of a Dutchman got. See here, sport! You walk the chalk line, and Bully Green and you'll get along fine. I'm a lamb, I am, when I'm not riled. But get gay——and you'll have a hectic time. I'll rough you till you're shark-food. Get that through your teeth?"

    "Yes, sir."

    "Now you trot down to the fo'c'sle and dive into them slops you find there. You got just three minutes to do the dress-suit act."

    Jeff, as he passed below, could hear the great bull voice roaring orders

    to the men. "Set y'r topsails! Jam 'er down hard, Johnnie Dago! Stand by, you lubbers! . . . Now then, easy does it . . . easy!"

    Within the allotted three minutes Farnum had climbed into the foul oilskin coat and tarry breeches he found below and was ready for orders.

    "Clap on to that windlass, sport! No loafing here. . . . Hump y'rself. D'ye hear me? Hump?"

    Jeff threw his one hundred and fifty pounds of bone and muscle against the crank of the windlass. Some men would have fought first as long as they could stand and see. Others would have begged, argued, or threatened. But Jeff had schooled himself to master impulses of rage. He knew when to fight and when to yield. Nor did he give way sullenly or passionately. It was an outrage—— highhanded tyranny——but at the worst it was a magnificent adventure. As he flung his weight into the crank he smiled.

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