Page:Avon Fantasy Reader 10.djvu/83

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Vengeance in Her Bones

by Malcolm Jameson

The late Malcolm Jameson was a naval officer who turned to writing after he had retired from service. Your editor has always preferred those stories of his that dealt with deep water over those that dealt with deep space. There is a verisimilitude about sea stories that all the phony parallels about space-going navies can never attain. The feeling all seafarers get about their ships—the animism with which they regard them—is a real thing. And a strange tale of the sea is fact more likely to arouse genuine reader emotion than the most slickly handled but irrevocably synthetic story of a moon-flying navy.

The messenger from the Navy recruiting office found old Captain Tolliver in his backyard. The crabby, sour-visaged housekeeper took him as far as the hedge back of the house and pointed the retired mariner out to him. Captain Tolliver was reclining in a ragged canvas deckchair taking the sun. He had on faded dungarees, soft and pliant as linen from hundreds of scrubbings, and the stump of his handless left arm rested carelessly on his lap. The peg-leg that matched it lay in alignment with the one good leg. The captain had his eyes closed, comfortably drinking in the sun's good heat, when he heard the crunch of the messenger's step on the gravel walk that separated the vegetable from the flower beds. The old skipper's hearing was still alert, though, and at the sound he raised his lids and looked inquiringly at the newcomer.

"Commander Jason's compliments, sir," said the bluejacket, "and would you please step down to the office. He has a ship for you."

Captain Tolliver smiled feebly, then he closed his eyes against the glare. His eyes were not overstrong these days—the doctors had said something about incipient cataracts.

"Commander Jason is confusing me with my son. He already has a ship, working out of West Coast ports. My sea-going days are over. Forever." To emphasize his point he waved the stump of his left arm, and lifted the pegleg slightly.

"No, sir. It's you he wants. He was very clear about that. He has a ship that only you can command. She's a rogue. They say she a will obey no other