The Blue Peter/Extra Hands of the Nemesis
THE BLUE PETER
EXTRA HANDS OF THE NEMESIS
The steamship Nemesis, of two thousand five hundred and fifty tons register, and belonging to the port of London, had nearly finished her loading one foggy afternoon in a foggy November. She was at Tilbury, taking in a general cargo for Capetown and Australian ports, and, as the last few cases were coming on board, the skipper came on board too by way of the big gangway, close by which the second mate was standing.
"Is that the last of it?" asked the 'old man' gloomily.
"Yes, sir," said Mr. Cade with equal gloominess. When a man is second mate at the age of fifty it is not surprising that he should be sulky.
"And it is time it was, for we're well down to our mark, and no mistake about it, sir."
Captain Jordan said nothing, but walked for'ard to his cabin and sat down wearily. He threw a bundle of papers on his table, and filling his pipe smoked for a few minutes. He was a fine handsome white-headed man of some fifty-two years, and had once been ambitious. Now he worked for Messrs. Gruddle, Shody, & Co., and, as all seamen knew, to work for them was to have lost all chances that following the sea affords even in these days.
"The swine," said old Jordan to himself, "oh, the swine that they are! I wish I could get even with them. If I could do that I could die happy. They are charitable, are they? Curse their charity! Ah! if I hadn't been so unlucky in my last employment."
But that was it. He had been in the employ of a good firm with one bitterly unjust regulation. Any skipper of theirs who lost a ship, even through no fault of his own, had to go, and, though he had worked for them for twenty years, that was his fate when he piled up the Grimshaw Hall on the Manacles.
"And that's how they got me cheap," said Jordan. "And because poor Cade lost his master's certificate through an error of judgment they have him cheap, and they have my old chum Thripp cheap in the same way. Oh, they are a precious lot of swine, and I wish I had 'em here with me when we are out at sea. I'd tell 'em what I think of 'em, if I got the sack right off and had to ship before the mast."
Thripp the mate came by the cabin, and the skipper called to him.
"Yes, sir," said Thripp.
"Come in a moment," said Jordan. "I've something to tell you, something that will cheer you up and make you like the firm better than ever."
Thripp was also as grey as a badger, but not through age. He, too, had been a master mariner, and had lost his first and only command by running her against an iceberg in a fog. He had had orders to make a quick passage at all costs, but those orders were verbal, and his owners showed in court printed instructions that bade all their employees use extra caution in time of fog, even if a slow passage were the result. Therefore Messrs. Gruddle, Shody, & Co. got him cheap too.
"What's their charity now?" asked Thripp scornfully.
"It begins at home as usual," replied the skipper. "They have cut you and me down thirty bob a month and Cade a quid."
Thripp sighed, and then swore.
"Well, we have both had our certificates suspended," said Jordan bitterly, "so what can we expect? Men like us are every owner's dogs, and they know it. I'm half a mind to quit."
"I've got a wife," said Thripp, "and I can't put the poor old girl in the workhouse."
Jordan had never been married, and was glad of it now.
"I once had a chance to marry a lady with ships of her own," he said thoughtfully, "and I was fool enough to prefer to run alone. But it is wonderful how fond that woman was of me, Thripp. She proposed to me three times."
"You don't say so," said Thripp.
"Fact, I assure you," replied Jordan. "She was as ugly as a freak, and fat enough to make a livin' in a show, so I couldn't do it, you see."
"I see," sighed Thripp, "but it was a pity."
"An awful pity," said the skipper. "And even now she ain't forgot me, though it is ten years ago and more since we first met. Every Christmas she sends me a puddin' and a bottle of rum that would make your hair curl, ninety over proof at least, and with the aroma of a West Injies sugar plantation. I wonder if she has any sort of a notion how I've come down in life so as to be at the mercy of a Jew like Gruddle."
Cade came along and reported that the very last of the cargo was in and that the hatches were on. Jordan called him in and gave him a tot of whisky, and broke the news to him that his wages had had another cut. But the second mate said nothing at all. He shook his head and went out.
"His spirit is broke," said Jordan gloomily.
"Oh, no," said Thripp, "it's only that he hasn't the words, poor chap. Well, it ain't any wonder. I haven't any myself. But if I ran across Gruddle my opinion is that I should find 'em in spite of my bein' a married man."
"Last week they was talkin' of comin' along with us as far as Gib," said Jordan. "They are mighty proud of this steamer that I know they got by fraud and diddlin' out of Johns and Mackie. Oh, they are very proud of her, and they see money in her."
"If they had come," said Thripp savagely, "I should have said something or bust."
"Better to bust, I suppose," replied the skipper, "though I own that if I knew they was comin' with us I should be tempted to say a lot that's now boilin' inside me. I wish they was, I own it. I own it freely, even if I got the sack."
He relapsed on the ship's papers, and Thripp went out to attend to the duties of a conscientious mate on the eve of going to sea. He passed a telegraph boy on the main-deck and directed the lad to the captain's cabin. Destiny in a uniform thanked him and whistled. When he had found the skipper and old Jordan had read the message he was the one who whistled. But he did not do so from want of thought by any means. He looked as savage as a trapped weasel, and as black as a nigger on a dark night.
"Well, I'm damned," said Jordan, "so they are goin' to do it after all! And I don't know that I wish it now!"
He whistled again and rang the bell for the steward, who was another of the firm's cheap bargains. He had been in prison, in company with a former captain of his, for disposing of stores in foreign parts and feeding the crew on something that the illicit purchaser threw into the bargain. He was now trying to regain his lost reputation at the wages of an ordinary seaman.
"Steward," said the skipper, "I want you to read this telegram and arrange for it as best you can. They will be with us for six days or thereabouts."
For the wire was from Mr. Gruddle, and it stated that the four partners were going with them as far as Gibraltar.
"Shall we 'ave to get in anythin' special for them in the way of provisions, sir?" asked the steward.
The 'old man' scratched his head and said that he thought so.
"As you know. Smith, what we have to eat is horrid bad," he said thoughtfully.
"It is, sir," replied Smith. "It ain't fit for pigs."
Jordan stood thinking for a minute. Then he turned to Smith.
"On the whole. Smith, I think I'd get nothing. I'd like 'em to see the kind of stuff they buy for us. Perhaps it will do them good. It don't do us any. Get nothin', Smith."
"Very well, sir," said the steward with a grin. He turned to go, and Jordan stopped him.
"I suppose, Smith, that some of the grub is worse than the rest?" he asked.
"Lord bless you, sir, the men's grub is fair poison."
"Is it now?" said the skipper. "Do you know, Smith, I think we'll eat what the men do for the passage as far as Gibraltar. I'll speak to Mr. Thripp and Mr. Cade, and I daresay they won't mind just for a little while."
"I could put you and them somethin' better in your cabin, sir, if the other made you very sick," suggested Smith.
"So you could. To be sure you could," said Jordan. "That's a very good idea of yours, Smith. But fix up their berths. They will be aboard to-morrow mornin'."
He broke the news to the mates that the whole firm was coming on a little trip with them, and when he asked them if they had any objection to the fare that Smith proposed to give them for those few days they said they would be glad to see it on the table. They thought almost happily of the face that Gruddle would put on when he saw the measly and forbidden pork. They had visions of Shody, who was a wholesale grocer as well as a ship-owner, when he sampled the stores that he supplied the firm with. They smiled to think of Sloggett and Butterworth, the junior partners, who promised to be quite as bad as their elders by and by, and were known to be fond of high feeding. The only mistake they fell into about the whole body of the firm was that they took them for fools who did not know what sort of food they gave their officers and crews. For next morning at nine o'clock a number of fascinating-looking cases were brought on board, on which was the name of a well-known provision merchant. And with the cases, which obviously contained provisions, there were some which quite as obviously held champagne. The 'old man' and the two mates looked at this consignment and their jaws dropped.
"Our scheme ain't worth a cent," said Jordan sadly.
"It might be worse, though," said Thripp; "we'll get some of this lot, of course."
"Do you think so?" asked Jordan sadly.
"Of course I do," said Thripp indignantly. "Whatever kind of swabs they are, they ain't surely so measly as to grub on this in our very presence and see us eat the other muck?"
The skipper smiled a slow and bitter smile.
"Thripp, you are a good seaman, but as a judge of humanity you ain't in it with Cade. All you and me will get of this lot will be the smell of it."
An hour later the owners came on board, and were received with the humility due to such great men, who owned ships and shops and had houses in Croyden, and reputations which smelt in heaven like a tallow refining factory. The very deck hands who brought their luggage on board cursed them under their breath, and would have been glad to do it openly. Then, as the tide served, the Nemesis cast off from the wharf and made her way out into the stream, and started on her most memorable trip. If all the folks connected with the sea who knew the character of the men who owned her had also known that they were on board, and what was going to happen before they got back to England again, she and they would have got a more lively send-off than she did get.
The partners were in a very happy frame of mind, and showed it. They had got hold of the Nemesis cheap and were going to make money out of her. They had their officers and crew on the cheap as well, and it warmed their hearts to think of the price that they had provisioned her at in these hard times. Everything on board the Nemesis was cheap except the grub they had sent on board for their own use, and even that had been paid for by a creditor as a means of getting the firm to renew a bill. It was quite certain the firm knew their way about the dark alleys of this world. Gruddle had a cent.-per-cent. grin on his oily face, and fat Shody smiled like a hyena out on a holiday, and the two more gentlemanly-looking members of the firm laughed jovially.
"It's a great idea this," said Sloggett. "We're going to 'ave an ideal 'oliday and pay nothin' for it, and when we get to Gibraltar we will put the screw on Garcia & Co. and show them that we are not to be played with. Oh, this was a good idea of yours, Butterworth, and I congratulate you on it."
They were shown their berths by the scared and obsequious steward, and they changed their frock-coats and high hats, without which they could not move a step, and put on more suitable garments. Gruddle, for instance, put on patent leather shoes and spats, which with black trousers and a loud check coat looked exceedingly striking. He wore a Royal Yacht Squadron cap, which he had as much right to as a Field Marshal's uniform. It suited his style of Oriental beauty as much as that would have done, and he went on deck as pleased as Punch. He felt every inch a sailor. The others followed him, and were almost as remarkable to look at in their own way. Shody, who was a very fat man, was in knickerbockers and shooting-boots, and wore a fur-lined overcoat; while Sloggett was adorned in a new yachtsman's rig-out which made him look like a pallid shop-walker. Butterworth was the only one who stuck to ordinary clothes, and, as a consequence, he looked like a gentleman beside the others. It was an illusion, of course, for he wasn't a gentleman by any means. On the contrary, he was a member of the firm, and a rising man in that branch of the shipping world which makes its money out of sinking ships.
"’Ow long will it be before we are in fine weather?" he asked, as he stared at the docks and warehouses. But no one knew, and just then there was no one to ask, for all the officers had their hands full. The river was thick with traffic, and there was enough mist on the water to make navigation a little risky.
"Oh, give me sunlight," said Gruddle. "When the sun shines I'm almost as happy as when I turn a loss into a profit by attention to details."
His partners laughed.
"There is nothing like an 'oliday on the cheap, with a free mind," said Shody. "I likes an 'oliday, I own, but when it costs me money I ain't as 'appy as when it costs someone else money."
"There is one thing about this vessel that fills me with a just pride," said Gruddle, "and that is that her wages bill per month is prob'ly thirty-three and a third per cent. under that of any vessel of hequal tonnage sailin' out of London this day. And it's done without meanness too, all on account of my notion of givin' work to the unfortunate at a trifle under current rates. This is the only firm in London that can be charitable, and 'ave the name for it, and make money out of it."
They said that was so, and they discussed the officers.
"All good men, if a trifle unfortunate," said Shody. "A year ago who would 'ave believed that we could 'ave got a man like Jordan for what we pay 'im? The very hidea would 'ave been laughed at. But he 'as an accident that wasn't 'is fault, and down comes 'is price, and we nip in and get a real good man cheap as dirt, and keep 'im off of the streets so to speak. Oh, Gruddle, it was a great idea of yours; and to give that poor unfort'nit steward a job when 'e came out of chokey was real noble of you."
"So it was," said Gruddle, "but I was always soft-'earted if I didn't lose money by it."
"So you were," said Shody warmly. "Do you remember 'ow you gave poor Jenkins time to borrow money of his relatives w'en by all rights you ought to 'ave given 'im into charge, and 'e would 'ave got ten years as safe as a bill of Rothschild's?"
In such reminiscences of the firm's noble efforts on the part of suffering and erring humanity they passed an agreeable hour, and then went below and cracked a bottle of champagne. Soon afterwards it was time for lunch, and Butterworth saw to the arrangements of their special table, and got things out to be cooked. The skipper came down for a moment while they were eating, and Gruddle called him over to their table.
"Will you 'ave a glass of champagne, captain?" he asked.
"With pleasure, sir," said the white-headed old skipper, who looked like a thoroughbred beside any one of them.
"Ah, I thought you would," said Gruddle warmly. "I reckon you 'ave not tasted it since you wrecked the Grimshaw 'All on the Manacles, captain. And don't you forget that if you wrecks the Nemesis you won't taste much but skilly and water for the rest of your life. Pour 'im out a glass, Sloggett, if you can spare it."
Jordan drank the wine, and it nearly choked him. When he got out of their sight he spat on the deck, and went upon the bridge alongside the pilot shivering. His hands were clenched and he was almost sick with rage.
The mud-pilot saw that there was something wrong.
"Are you ill, captain?" he asked.
"I've 'ad a blow," said the old skipper, "I've 'ad a blow."
The pilot thought he had had bad news, and was sorry for him.
"No, not bad news," said poor old Jordan. "It ain't no news to me. Somebody said somethin' that puts things in a new light to me."
He chewed the cud of unutterable bitterness and wished he was dead. He did not go below again till they were well in the Channel, and he ate no supper. He could not get it down. He sent for Thripp to his cabin, and burst out on the mate with the intolerable insults that he had had to put up with.
"We're their dogs," said Thripp bitterly; "but if I am married I'll not put up with much, sir. They're half drunk by now, and are playin' cards and drinkin' more, and Dixon is cryin' in his pantry because one of 'em started bullyin' him about something, and said that he was a hard bargain at any price."
"I wish I could get even, oh, I do wish it," said old Jordan. "Did you ever hear of such mean dogs in all your life?"
"Only in books, sir," said the mate thoughtfully. "I recollect in some book readin' about a man like Gruddle, but I forget what book it was. But I do remember that someone knocked the man down that was as bad as Gruddle. I enjoyed that book amazin'ly, sir."
"I wish you knew the name of it," said the skipper. "But if I 'ad as much money laid by as would bring me in fifteen shillin's a week I'd show you something better than anythin' you ever read in a book, Thripp. You mark my words, I would."
"What would you show me, sir?" asked the mate eagerly.
But old Jordan sighed.
"What's the good of thinking of pure enjoyment when one ain't in the least likely to get the chance of havin' it? We must put up with 'em, Thripp. After all it's only to Gibraltar, and after that we are by ourselves. I hope I shan't explode before then."
And Thripp went away to talk to the engineer, and to try to remember the name of the book in which someone got his deserts. While he was doing that the partners played cards and drank more than was good for them, and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. They told Thripp, when he came below, that the whole ship was disgracefully dirty, and that if he wanted to keep his job he had better see to it at once. As they screwed him down on paint and all stores necessary to prevent a vessel looking as bad as a house in Chancery, this naturally did not cheer him up. Dixon was really in tears because Gruddle swore at him in the most horrid way without any reason, except that he had sworn at Shody and had got the worst of it. Cade accidentally ran into Butterworth, who was sneaking round to see if he could find anything to complain about, and Butterworth promptly said he was a clumsy hound. According to Jordan, Cade's spirit was broken, but this was more than he could stand even from one of the owners. He told Butterworth to go where it was a deal hotter than the Red Sea in July. He did not use any circumlocution about it either, and Butterworth was in a fury. He complained to the skipper, and Jordan had the greatest diflSculty in refraining from endorsing Cade's hasty recommendation of a suitable climate for the junior partner. But he did refrain.
"I am very sorry that he should have so far forgotten himself," said Jordan. "I will speak to him at once."
"The insolent fool must apologise," said Butterworth; and Jordan said that Mr. Cade would undoubtedly see that that was his duty. He called for Cade, and Cade's spirit seemed to have quite bucked up. He flatly declined to apologise unless Mr. Butterworth first did so for 'calling him out of his name.'
"He said I was a clumsy hound," said Cade.
"So you are," said Butterworth, "and I say it again."
"Do you hear that, Captain Jordan?" asked Cade. "Is an officer in this vessel or in any other to be spoke to like that before the men? Before I'll apologise I'll see that sailor-robber in hell, sir."
The poor skipper danced in his anxiety to preserve the peace.
"Mr. Cade, you mustn't. I order you to hold your tongue, sir. Go to your cabin, sir, and after some reflection I am sure you will offer an apology to Mr. Butterworth."
"I'll see him damned first," said Cade as he marched off.
"I sack you! I discharge you!" roared Butterworth, who was in a blind fury.
"Discharge your grandmother," said Cade discourteously. "You can't do it. I'm on the ship's papers. And who are you, anyhow?"
The owners held a consultation in the cabin when Butterworth came below with his story of the second mate's insolence and insubordination.
"Let us be clear as to 'ow it occurred," said Gruddle. "Now, Butterworth, tell us what it was."
"He ran against me, and I remonstrated, and he told me to go to hell," said the fuming Butterworth.
"That ith very bad, very 'ighly improper," said Gruddle. "But 'ow did you remonstrate? Did you 'it 'im?"
"Certainly not," said the junior partner warmly, "all I said was that he was clumsy."
Shody and Sloggett said that Cade must be sacked at once, or at least as soon as they got to Gibraltar. Gruddle, who knew a deal more than they did about most things in the way of the law and business, shook his head.
"It will sound very queer to you," said Gruddle, "but the truth of the matter ith that I don't think we can thack 'im. The man 'ath a contract for the voyage, and the only one that can thack 'im ith the captain."
The rest said this was absurd. Were they not the owners, and could they not do as they pleased with every man-jack on board? And even if Gruddle was right, they could tell the captain to dump Cade over the side at Gibraltar.
"Well, of course we can do that," said Gruddle.
"And we will," said the outraged Butterworth. "I think we had better 'ave Jordan in now and tell 'im what to do."
They sent for the skipper, and the poor old chap came down and stood up before them. With his big white beard and his ruddy handsome face he looked like a captive Viking before a tribunal of tradesmen.
"This 'ere conduct of the second mate is what we've called you down about," said Gruddle. "’E was very rude to Mr. Butterworth; told 'im, in fact, to go to 'ell, w'ich can't be put up with."
"And ain't goin' to be," said the offended partner. "We 'ave sacked 'im, and 'e must be sent ashore at Gibraltar and another one found."
Jordan had the very strongest inclination to tell Butterworth exactly what Cade had told him. But he restrained himself, and suggested to them that it would probably take some time to pick up a new second mate at Gib, besides which they had arranged not to enter but to signal for a boat for them to go ashore in. It was Shody who saw the way out and brought them all to grief.
"Cade can come ashore with us," he said with a fat and happy smile, "and you needn't wait to get another man in 'is place, captain. I always understood that the second mate was on'y a kind of deputy for the skipper, and I see no reason w'y 'e couldn't be done without altogether."
"That's a very good idea of yours, Shody," said Sloggett and Butterworth in the same breath, "and I daresay the captain will see that it is."
But Jordan was breathless with indignation. Shody spoke for him.
"I always did think," said Shody, "that the captain of any vessel 'ad much too easy a time of it. I don't see no reason why 'e shouldn't stand his watch same as the mate. The captain's job is an easy one and a well paid one. I should say it was an overpaid one. 'Avin' a second mate is like 'avin' a fifth wheel to a coach, and the job should be abolished. This is a good chance of inauguratin' an entirely new system, and a reform that will save money."
The only one of them who thought this was going too far was Gruddle, and he did not care to look Jordan in the face. When he did look at the captain it was because he had to, and because Jordan demanded it. The old man's face was livid with rage, and he struck the table a resounding blow that made the glasses dance. The partners shrank back from him as if he was a wild elephant, and Gruddle went as white as the skipper's beard.
"You infernal hogs," said the skipper, "you infernal hogs, I'm sorry I ever saw one of you! You are a disgrace to the name of Englishmen, and—and I despise you!"
He looked as if he did; there was no mistake about that, and he also looked as if he was about to assault the whole gang of them. The two junior partners jumped to their feet, not so much to be prepared to defend themselves as to run away. Jordan might be somewhat past his best, but he was still as strong as a bull and as big as any two of them in spite of Shody's fat. He was distinctly dangerous.
"’Ow, 'ow dare you on our ship?" asked Shody with a poor attempt at dignity. "Partners, our kindness 'as been throwed away, bestowed on an hunworthy hobject."
"Shut up, or I'll make you," roared the old skipper. "I won't be spoke to by a lot of hogs such as you, with your talk of charity and your beastly manners. You can sack me if you like, but you don't sack the second mate while I am captain of this vessel, so I tell you."
"We—we discharge you," said Butterworth furiously. "We discharge him, don't we?"
They said that they did, and for a second the skipper was about to take his dismissal lying down. But the next moment he refused to do anything of the sort. He saw the strength of his position where they naturally only saw his weakness. He laughed a little angrily, but still he laughed, and the sound outraged the firm.
"You will laugh on the wrong side of your face when you are on the street," said Shody. And just then Jordan heard Cade enter his cabin. He laughed again, this time much more naturally, and called to the second mate. He came in looking as black as a thundercloud.
"Mr. Cade," said the skipper in almost his usual mild tone of voice.
"Yes, sir," replied Cade.
"Would you be so good, Mr. Cade, as to tell me who I am?"
Cade stared, and so did the partners.
"Who you are, sir?" stammered the second greaser in great amazement.
"Yes, who I am?" repeated the skipper.
"Why, you are Captain Jordan, sir," said Cade, still out of soundings.
"Of what ship, Mr. Cade?"
"Of this one, sir," replied Cade, who hoped that the skipper hadn't gone mad.
"Exactly so, Mr. Cade," said the 'old man,' who had by this time made up his mind to a very definite course of action. "You hear that, gentlemen?"
They did hear it, but were not much wiser. They looked at each other in some amazement.
"What do you mean, you old fool?" asked Sloggett. But Jordan did not answer him. He spoke again to Cade.
"And if I am the skipper of this boat," he went on, "who are these gentlemen who are givin' me directions to put you ashore at Gib?"
Cade eyed them malevolently, and for the first time a glimpse of the captain's meaning came to him. His face lightened, and he smiled grimly.
"Why, they are only passengers," he said.
"Right the very first time," said Jordan with a pleasant smile; "that is what they are here, and no mistake about it. And as passengers, Mr. Cade, what authority have they?"
"Not so much as the cook," said Cade.
The skipper, who had quite recovered his temper, turned to the partners.
"You hear that, gentlemen?" he asked.
They did hear it, and it sounded very absurd to all of them but old Gruddle, who did know something of the ways of the sea, and the laws of it.
"You are an old fool," said Butterworth, "and when we get to Gibraltar you will find it out too, quick."
The skipper grinned quite amiably. As he had now made up his mind, he reverted to the superiority of tone which had distinguished him when he was captain of the Grimshaw Hall.
"Yes, I shall find it out—when I get to Gibraltar," said Jordan, with ample and deadly courtesy, and saying that he went out of the saloon and called Cade to follow him. When they came out on deck he put his hand on the second mate's shoulder.
"I ain't goin' to Gibraltar at all, Mr. Cade," he said with a nod, and Cade gasped.
"Ain't you, sir?" he asked after a long pause of astonishment.
"Not much, I'm not," said Jordan. "I've put up with a deal, but I'll show 'em now who's the boss here. I got orders for Capetown and Sydney, and if they choose to come on board as passengers and tell me to go elsewhere I don't choose to do it, and that is all there is to it. Damn their eyes!"
"Amen, sir!" said Cade. "To think that Butterworth called me a clumsy hound!"
"He did," said the skipper. "But I'll give you a chance of gettin' even before you are a week older. You see if I don't."
And in the cabin the partners were staring at each other in great surprise.
"This is mutiny," said Sloggett. But Gruddle growled.
"Don't be an ass, Sloggett," said the senior partner. "’Ow can a captain be guilty of mutiny? The very idea is absurd."
So it was, of course.
"I don't believe he will go into Gibraltar at all," said Gruddle with a gasp. "You chaps 'ave put the old chap's back up, and when 'e is mad 'e's capable of anything."
"He wouldn't dare," said Butterworth. "Do you mean he will take us on to Capetown?"
"That's what I do mean," sighed the wretched senior partner, who did not find that he enjoyed the sea at all. "That is exactly wot I do mean."
"Good Lord," said Shody, "and there ain't enough decent grub to do more than take us to Gibraltar."
"This is a very 'orrid situation," said Gruddle, "and we owes it entirely to you, Butterworth, for quarrellin' with the second mate. I believe you done a lot more than call him clumsy. I'll lay odds you was grossly insultin', as you always are."
The others turned on Butterworth and said that they believed it too, and the unhappy Butterworth acknowledged that he had called Cade a hound.
"I'm right as usual," said Gruddle; "and if I know my man no apology will do any good. I can see that they are savage because we cut down their wages. I've a good mind to raise 'em again till we get a chance to cut 'em down safely. We was fools to come this 'ere trip, and we owe it all to Butterworth who suggested it."
Butterworth got it all round, and was in an extreme state of wretchedness.
"I think that if Butterworth is a gent, as we are all ready to believe," said Shody, "that 'e will go at once and apologise to that beast of a second mate and we can tell the skipper that we will raise 'is wages again—till we can sack 'im."
This seemed a very good idea to every one but Butterworth.
"I never apologised to anyone, and I ain't goin' to begin with a man like Cade," said Butterworth stubbornly.
"You're not a man of business in the least," said Shody. "I always maintained that we lose more money by your manners, w'ich are those of a pig, than we ever gain by your sharp practice. And now, 'avin' got your partners into a 'orrid mess with a mad and insubordinate captain, you are prepared to see them eat muck on'y fit for sea-goin' folks. The on'y consolation is that you will 'ave to eat it yourself."
"Oh, Butterworth, do apologise," said Gruddle with tears in his eyes, "do apologise, for if you eat a little dirt in doin' so it is far better than eatin' all you will if we continue this 'orrid and disastrous trip."
The others agreed with Gruddle, and at last Butterworth was induced to put his pride in his pocket and try an apology on Cade.
"It won't work, I know it won't work," said the cause of all their woes. "That Cade 'as a down on me I know, and 'e isn't a gentleman and won't take an apology from one. But all the same I'll try, though I don't see why it should all be put on me. Men like these officers of ours think a deal more of a few shillin's a week than a few cross words, and it was Gruddle who cut down their wages. I think it is Gruddle who should apologise."
But Gruddle argued that he had not called Cade a hound, and when Butterworth went off on his painful errand he turned to the others and said—
"The hidea of Butterworth thinkin' that 'e is a gentleman!"
They all shook their heads at the idea of Butterworth doing so, and told each other stories of his origin in a pawnshop in the Borough Road.
"And 'e 'asn't manners either," sighed Shody.
By this time it was noon, and Cade was on the bridge, while Thripp was in the skipper's cabin hearing a fuller account of the row than Cade had given him. Cade was in no frame of mind to receive an apology from anyone. He took things hard, and chewed over them horribly.
"Hound, clumsy hound, am I?" said Cade as he paced the bridge with his hands in his pockets. "I'd like to 'clumsy hound' him. Clumsy hound, and I didn't knock him down! Bein' married makes a coward of a man!"
He turned about to find the object of his wrath on the sacred bridge. It made him quite forget that he was married, and that Mrs. Cade was hard to deal with if the money was not forthcoming in due season. He stared at Butterworth in the most offensive way, and the apology with which the junior partner was primed stuck in his throat.
"What the devil do you want here?" asked Cade savagely. "Don't you know that this part of the vessel is private? But perhaps you have come to say that you are sorry for callin' me out of my name just now, when I didn't knock you down as I should have done?"
It seemed peculiarly hard lines to Butterworth that his act of grace was to be discounted in this way, and as he was not by any means as big a coward as Gruddle or Shody he fired up at once.
"I was goin' to apologise, but now I won't, and I defy you to knock me down, and you are a clumsy hound, so there!"
He put up his hands a moment too late, for Cade made a jump like a buck and caught him full on the jaw, and the junior partner went down like a sack of coals. He got up again more quickly than was wise, and once more went down. This time he did not get up, though he was invited to do so with great politeness by the second mate. For when Cade had it all his own way, and had wiped out the sense of self-contempt which had lately been troubling him, he grew quite happy.
"Get up, dear, and let me knock you endways once more," he said in the most agreeable tones at his command. "But I see you won't, my chicken. You have had enough, and you may go now and send up your partners one by one, and I'll serve the sailor-robbin' scum in the same way. Get out of this, and next time don't forget that at the first crooked word, though it is only rams'-horns, I'll knock you as flat as a jib down-haul. This here bridge is private,"
And Butterworth rose and staggered down to his partners with his hand to his jaw.
"I'm much happier thaii I was, and if the old girl cuts up rough at my gettin' the sack again, why all I have to say is that keelin' Butterworth over is worth double the money," said Cade joyfully.
By this time the skipper had come to a decision which would have pleased Cade even more than knocking the junior partner endways. Thripp said that he did not care if the skipper did it. In fact, he wanted him to do it, and did not care if it cost him his billet and he had to ship before the stick in a wind-jammer for the rest of his life. He also went on to say that it would be a joy to him always, and that it would be an equal joy to all hands.
"Then that's decided on," said the 'old man' firmly. "We ain't goin' into Gibraltar this trip, not by a hatful, and when their special grub gives out we'll decide what is to follow."
"Yes, sir," said the mate, and he turned in to get a snooze before it was his turn to go on watch again. Jordan walked into the saloon, and was passing the partners like a ship in full sail passing some mud-barges, when he was pulled up by Sloggett.
"Captain Jordan, Mr. Butterworth has been knocked down by the second mate."
"Oh, has he?" asked Jordan.
"Yes, I have," roared the unfortunate man who had not got his apology out in time to save himself. "Yes, I 'ave, and when we get to Gibraltar I'll 'ave 'im in jail as sure as I'm one of the owners of this vessel."
Jordan was perfectly reckless, and cared nothing by now for any of them. He laughed, and walked on towards his cabin.
"Ain't you goin' to do nothin' about it?" asked Shody.
"Nothin'," said the skipper. "Serves the measly little swine right. I hope Mr. Cade will serve the lot of you the same way before we get to Capetown."
With that shot, which clean hulled them and made them quiver, he went into his cabin and slammed the door upon them.
"There, there, what did I tell you?" wailed Gruddle. "’E's goin* to take us on to Africa, and we can't stop 'im."
The prospect of being shut up in a ship with officers who totally refused to recognise that they had any status but passengers was very dreadful, but over and above that there was the question of what would become of the business, with none to attend to it but underpaid clerks who were not allowed to know the dark and secret ways of their employers. And then there was the question of the grub. Shody fairly quailed at the prospect. They turned on poor smitten Butterworth like one man, and if Cade needed any more revenge they gave it him.
"You must go and speak to the skipper, Butterworth," they said in chorus, "you must persuade him to act reasonable."
"Yes, and be knocked down again!" said the wretched junior, whose head was aching as the result of Cade's hard fists. "’E's a much more powerful man than that overbearin' beast on the bridge, and I ain't goin' to be whippin' boy for any of you."
"But you got us to come," urged Gruddle.
"I wish to 'eavens I 'ad died before I thought of it," sighed Butterworth, "But who would 'ave thought as men like them, under our thumb so to speak, would 'ave taken things as they 'ave done. It ain't my fault."
But they said it was, and at last Gruddle with a groan suggested that they should raise the skipper's wages if he would be good and kind to them, and not ruin them by taking them to Africa.
"For don't let us disguise it from ourselves, it will be ruin or very near it. We'll get back and find ourselves in the Court, without any of them bills provided for," said the senior partner. "Butterworth, I don't believe you ever tried to apologise to the second mate at all."
"He knocked me down as soon as I come on the bridge," screamed Butterworth angrily.
"You should 'ave apologised to a man like that from a safe distance," said the wise and sad Gruddle. "You 'ad no business on the bridge, and you know it. 'Owever, I insist that you go and speak polite to the captain, who won't 'it you, I'm sure, while you are so swelled from what the second mate 'as done."
It took quite a quarter of an hour's combined persuasion to make Butterworth put his head into the lion's den, and he only did it on the understanding that he was to be empowered to offer the skipper a rise of three pounds a month and an indenmity for his insubordination.
"Very well,"the others agreed, "you can say we forgives him for his mutinous conduct, and won't take any steps in the matter if 'e lands us at Gib as arranged. And of course our sayin' so means nothin', and we can 'ave 'im sacked at Capetown by cable, and put on the street."
Even then Butterworth was very uneasy, and demurred to going to interview the ferocious Jordan without some kind of an excuse,
"’Adn't we better wait till 'e comes out to dinner?" urged Butterworth, "and then our speakin' will come natural, or more natural than now."
Sloggett looked up at this.
"Oh, if you are such a coward as to want an excuse I can give you one," he said. "I quite forgot till this very moment that I brought a letter from the office for this old scoundrel of a Jordan. So you can take it in, Butterworth."
But the junior partner did not like being called a coward after his encounter with the second mate, and he was very cross with Sloggett.
"Coward yourself," he said angrily. "Why don't you take it? I'll bet you 'aven't the pluck to call that Cade a clumsy 'ound."
"No more 'ave you, now," said Sloggett; "and if you like I'll take on your job with Jordan, and give 'im the letter myself."
"All right, you can," said Butterworth; "and I'll take five to three in sovs. that you don't get an 'idin'."
That no one offered to lay these odds made Sloggett very uncomfortable, but as he had undertaken the job he went through with it, though he did it with a very pale face. He took the letter from his pocket, without knowing that by so doing he was rendering their trip to Capetown a dead certainty, and walked to the skipper's cabin. He paused for a moment before he knocked, and the junior partner of the unhappy firm laughed. That laugh gave Sloggett the necessary stimulus to action, and he tapped very mildly at Jordan's cabin.
"Come in," roared the skipper, in a voice like a distant thunderstorm, and Sloggett did as he was bid, and did it as mildly as he had knocked.
"Oh, captain I forgot to tell you that I brought you a letter from the office which came just as I was leavin' it."
"Put it down then," said the skipper in anything but a conciliatory tone. But Sloggett was not put off by that. He could not conceive that anyone would not come off his perch at the sound of money.
"I want to talk to you about raisin' your screw, captain," he said, with an obsequiousness which was very rare with him. "I want to talk with you on the subject of raisin' your screw."
"I don't want to have any conversation with you or any of your partners," said the skipper truculently; "and if you have any thing to say on that or any other subject, you can say it when I come to dinner."
"Oh, very well," said Sloggett. "I am sorry I have disturbed you, but I forgot to tell you that I 'ad a letter for you, and that was really why I came in."
"I told you to put it down, didn't I?" asked the skipper. "So do it and get."
Sloggett withdrew like a dog with his tail between his legs, and went back to his friends and reported that Jordan was mad and intractable. And in the meantime the 'old man' took his letter and stared at it.
"By crumbs," said Jordan, "it's from the poor old girl that always wanted to marry me! It is three years since she proposed last, and I thought she had got tired of it. If she hasn't I'm blowed if I won't think of doin' it after all."
He opened the letter eagerly, and when he had read it he sighed and said—
"Poor old girl, well, well, well! Who would have thought it?"
He walked up and down his narrow cabin, and as he did so he shook his head. Nevertheless there was quite another look in his face from any he had worn since he had piled up the Grimshaw Hall. He stood quite upright, and threw back his shoulders and took in a long breath.
"I'm devilish glad that I broke with this gang of robbers before I knew," he said. "I feel like a man again. Poor old girl! I'm almost sorry that I did not marry her after all. I'll tell this to Thripp and Cade. They shall share in this or I'm a Dutchman of the very worst kind."
He walked past the sad consulting partners, and looked more haughty than ever, and yet more good-tempered.
"I'm very much afraid that he has 'ad good news in that letter," said Gruddle, "for if 'e has it may make 'im more independent."
"I don't see 'ow 'e can be more independent than 'e 'as been," remarked Shody. "When a captain gets independent enough to call the firm that owns 'im an infernal lot of 'ogs, that seems to me the very 'eight of independence."
But, as a matter of fact, Jordan was more independent. He went up to Thripp, who was on the bridge, with a curious expression of mixed joy and sadness.
"You remember that poor old girl that I told you of, Thripp?"
"The one that hankered to marry you?" asked Thripp.
"The same," said the skipper. "She has pegged out, the poor old girl, at least she says she has."
"What do you mean by that, sir? How could she say so?" he asked.
The skipper showed him the letter that he had just received.
"Sloggett brought it on board, and gave it me just now as he came crawlin' to my cabin and let on a lot of slush about raisin' my pay agin' that they had just cut down, because they have tumbled to the fact that I've a down on them and the likes of them, and mean to get even by takin' them to Capetown. And she says in the letter that she isn't long for this weary lonely world (those are her words, and they make me feel as if I'd been ungrateful and ought to have overlooked the fact that she wasn't pretty), and that when she dies the letter is to go to me at once, and from that I draw the conclusion that she is dead, don't you see?"
"I see," said the mate. "But does she say anything else? She hasn't left you a ship by any chance?"
"Not to say a ship," said Jordan, shaking his head, "but what's as good. It appears that she naturally let on that she owned ships, bein' a woman and a little inclined to brag, not havin' good looks to fall back on, and it turns out that she was in the tug and lighter line in Hartlepool, and, as I gather, doin' well enough, and makin' money with three good tugs and a number of lighters and barges not named, as well as a coal-yard with a well-established connection, and she has left the whole thing to me."
"I congratulate you," said Thripp. "Now you are really independent and can go for Gruddle & Co. just as you like."
The skipper nodded.
"So I can, Thripp, so I can; but it is a great pleasure to me to think that I told 'em the truth and called 'em hogs before I had had this letter. Thripp, I feel more like a man than I have done since the very painful day that I had my certificate suspended. Now I'll go and tell Cade. He'll be glad to know it."
He turned to leave the bridge, when Thripp sighed.
"I suppose if you do take 'em on to Table Bay we shall get all the dirty kick-out there, sir?" said Thripp in rather a melancholy tone of voice.
The skipper laughed jovially.
"Of course we shall, Thripp, but think of the satisfaction of doin' it! Oh, but I'm a happy man this hour! And if you can guess what I mean to do in addition to takin' them where they by no manner of means want to go, I'll stand you a bottle of their champagne, of which I mean to have some or bust."
"It's all very well for you now, with your tugs and your lighters and a coal-yard," grumbled Thripp, "but what about me and Cade, and our wives?"
The 'old man' stared at his chief officer in the very greatest surprise.
"Why, didn't I say that I wanted you and him to come into the business with me, if you ain't too proud to be the skipper of a tug and manage lighters and a coal-yard?"
"You never said a word about it," said Thripp with a pleased and happy smile. "But if you mean that, I'm in with you, sir, and anything you like to do with the firm shall have my heartiest support, even if you go so far as to turn 'em for'ard to work."
Jordan looked at him with the intensest surprise.
"How in the name of all that is holy and righteous did you guess it?" he asked with wide-opened eyes. "Thripp, my man, that is my intention, and no mistake about it. But keep it dark, and I will wake up Cade and make him joyful, a thing he very rarely is, for his career havin' not been a success appears to weigh on his mind, and his missis is a tartar, as I judge. Women worship success, and the fact that the poor old girl that has left me these tugs knew that I came to grief, and yet offered to marry me in spite of it, touched me at the time as much as the tugs do now."
In five minutes there were three exceedingly happy officers on board the Nemesis. Such a thing had not happened in one of Messrs. Gruddle & Company's boats since there had been such a firm. But now there were four very unhappy partners.
"I can't think why they are so happy," said Gruddle when the skipper and the mate came down and began their dinner, "but I feel sure it don't mean any good to us. I never was in such a position, and I don't believe it ever happened before that the owners of a vessel was in such a one. Oh, what shall we do if he won't go to Gib?"
At his instigation a bottle of champagne was sent over to the captain's table.
"Don't you understand, Butterworth," said the senior partner, when Butterworth objected, "that we are in a persition that is, I may say, unparalleled? A captain has an awful lot of power, and I gather from 'is be'aviour that 'e knows it. In the office we gave 'im all proper orders for Capetown, and said nothin' about Gibraltar, because you hadn't been fool enough to suggest it then. If 'e won't go there we can't make 'im, so if a little kindness and a bottle of champagne will do it it is very cheap at the price."
"I would like to murder 'im," said Butterworth, but the champagne was sent over to the skipper's table all the same. It was returned quite courteously, or, at any rate, without any demonstration of hostility, and the partners knew then that war had been declared, and that peace could be obtained at no price, do what they would. They put it all down to the letter that Sloggett had given him, and they attacked Sloggett, who in revenge drank far more wine than he could stand, and went first for one of them and then for another, and finally got up enough steam to swear at the captain. In one minute and fifteen seconds by any good chronometer Mr. Sloggett was in irons, and in a spare berth without anything to furnish it. Captain Jordan was himself again, and not the kind of man to put up with anything from anybody.
When Sloggett was quiet and subdued, the skipper told them in a few brief but well-chosen words what he and his officers and the whole ship's company thought of them. He told them his opinion of their charity, and of the wages they paid, and of the grub they put on board their vessel. He went on to state in very vivid language what was said of them all the world over, and then paused for a reply, which they did not give him. He asked them what they thought of themselves, and whatever they thought upon that subject they did not venture to state it. He asked Thripp if he would like to say anything, and Thripp did make a few remarks about things the captain had omitted. Then Jordan asked them if they would like to hear Mr, Cade on the subject, for if so Mr. Thripp could relieve the second officer for a few minutes. They expressed no anxiety to hear any more counsel for the prosecution, and then Gruddle made a heart-rending appeal for mercy.
"Oh, take us into Gibraltar, captain, and we will forgive you all, and even raise your pay to what you think is the proper figure. Oh, don't take us to Capetown, for there isn't food enough, and I shall die of indigestion."
"There is plenty of food," said Jordan. "Oh, there is heaps of grub such as Mr. Shody sent on board himself, and as a lesson I'm goin' to take you to South Africa, and I hope to the Lord that you will survive it."
Shody shivered; he knew what bad pork was like. Gruddle, as a Jew, was no judge of it. But the beef was even worse than the pork, and the men for'ard were almost in mutiny about it already.
"But food like that is only fit for men who are doin' hard work," said the unlucky Shody. The skipper's eyes flashed and then twinkled.
"Is that so?" he said. "If it is so, there seems to be a remedy."
What the remedy was he declined to state, and the firm declined to believe that it could be the one that occurred to them all with dreadful vividness. Oh, no, it could not be that! Captain Jordan left them thinking, and retired into privacy for the remainder of the night. The trouble of wondering what was to happen to them came to an end in the morning, when by some strange chance, if it was a chance, the deck hands came as a deputation to the captain and laid a complaint against the grub. Jordan requested the presence on deck of the partners, and they knew better than to refuse.
"What you have to say about the food will be better said before the owners, my men," said the skipper. "As you know, they happen to be on board."
As he spoke they crawled on deck, looking very unhappy. The steward, Smith, who began to see how the land lay, and treated them with far less respect already, told them what the trouble was.
"The men forward says the grub is rotten, gents, and they are furious and fightable about it. Oh, they are savage and very 'ostile."
That was distinctly calculated to cheer them up, and they were as cheerful as if they were ordered three dozen at the gangway. With them went Sloggett, who had been released from irons.
"Oh, here you are, gentlemen," said the skipper cheerfully. For the first time since he had been an officer all his sympathies were with the men. He was no longer the captain only, he was also a man, and he understood their point of view. "I thought it best that you should hear the men's complaints about the food. Now then, my men, what have you to say?"
The spokesman of the crew stood in front of the rest, and after some half-audible encouragement from his fellows he burst into speech.
"The grub is 'orrid, sir. Oh, it is the 'orridest that we was ever in company with. The pork stinks raw or boiled, and the beef fair pawls the teeth of the 'ole crowd. The biscuit is full of worms, and what isn't is as 'ard as flint. The butter makes us sick, sir. And not to make a song about it, but to cut it short, we are bein' starved."
"I'm sorry to hear it," said the captain. "But I am not responsible for the food, men, and when we get to Capetown I'll do my best to see that better stores are put on board. For the stores that you speak of Mr. Shody is responsible."
"If they are bad I 'ave been imposed on," said Shody; but the men made audible and disrespectful remarks which the captain suppressed at once.
"That will do. Go for'ard and I'll see what can be done."
There was only one thing that could be done, and he did it then and there. He had all the provisions that the partners had brought aboard divided among the men for'ard. He sternly refused Thripp's suggestion that the afterguard should share the plunder. Even more, the remaining bottles of champagne went the same way, and for the first time in their lives the deck-hands and stokers had a real glass of wine that had cost someone ninety shillings a dozen. The firm stood by in mute misery.
"That's the beginnin'," said the skipper sternly, and not one of them had the pluck to ask him what he meant. Gruddle went in tears to Thripp and asked him.
"You're the worst of the lot, you are," said the independent mate, "and I decline to tell you. But I've no objection to throw out a dark 'int that this boat is undermanned all round both on deck and in the stokehold. Does the thought that that gives rise to in your mind make you curl up? Oh, Gruddle, all this is real jam to us, and we mean to scoff it to the very last spoonful. It will do us good!"
Gruddle grasped him by the sleeve.
"Oh, Mr. Thripp, if you'll 'elp us out of 'is 'ands we'll make you the captain and give you anythin' you like to ask for in reason."
"Would it run to a thousand pounds, do you think?" asked the mate.
Gruddle groaned horribly, but said that he thought it might run so far.
"Then let me tell you," said Thripp, "that Jordan is an old pal of mine, and I wouldn't go back on him for ten thousand, or even more. And over and above that, my son, I wouldn't lose the sight of you trimmin' coal in a bunker for the worth of the firm."
He left Gruddle planted to the deck, a wretched sight for the gods, and promptly told Jordan of the offer that had been made to him. Jordan nodded.
"I ain't surprised," said Jordan. "But, after all, Gruddle is by no means the worst of the gang, and I won't send him down into the stokehold. I mean to keep that for Shody. And I want you to understand that I ain't doin' this out of revenge, but out of a sense of public duty."
He quite believed it, and Thripp saw that he did.
"It's all hunky so far as I'm concerned," said Thripp, "and I hope that you will put Butterworth in Cade's watch and Sloggett in mine."
That was exactly what the skipper had decided on, and he was much surprised to see that Thripp had fathomed his mind.
"To-morrow by noon we shall just about be abreast of Gib, and a long way to the west of it," said Jordan. "I'll give 'em liberty till then, and when I send 'em for'ard I will tell 'em how near Gib is. It will serve them right. I will do it without visibly triumphing over them, Thripp, for I don't believe in treadin' on those who are down."
"No more do I, sir," said the mate, "not unless they thoroughly deserve it."
He left the captain pondering over the situation, and presently imparted to Butterworth the fate in store for him. As Butterworth had nothing whatever to say he went on to the bridge and told Cade of the joy to come. Cade was very magnanimous.
"I'll treat him no worse than any of the others," said Cade with a smile, "no worse."
"That's good of you," said Thripp.
"Not a bit worse," said Cade again. "They are a holy lot of ruffians in the starboard watch, as you know, and I'll give them all socks if they don't look out. I tell you, sir, that I'm about sorry for Butterworth in that gang. Almost, but not quite."
He had a habit of repeating his words, of chewing the cud of them, and Thripp heard him once more mumble to himself that he was almost sorry, 'but not quite.' The mate knew that the one who would be quite sorry was Butterworth. He also had suspicions that Mr. Sloggett as a deck hand under his own supervision was likely to learn many things of which he was at present ignorant. He went to the engine-room and saw the chief engineer. To him he revealed the interesting fact that Shody was to be made an extra hand on the engine-room staff. Old Maclehose grinned like a monkey at the sight of a nut.
"Weel, weel, and do you say so?" asked Mac. "That is most encouragin', and it's more than whusky to me. He's the man that is responsible for all the stores, is he not, Thripp?"
Thripp said that he was.
"My boys will kill him, I shouldna wonder," said Mac. "But if they should, I'm hopin' it will be an accident, Thripp."
He wiped his hands with a lump of waste, and thereby signified that he wiped his hands of Shody's untimely decease.
"The oil is bad," said Mac. "I'm of a solid opeenion that Shody won't be so oily after we are through the tropics as he is the noo."
He said no more. He was a man of few words. Thripp knew he could be trusted for deeds. He went on deck and was almost sorry for Shody. The partners were quite sorry for themselves, and felt as helpless as flies in the web of a spider. They ceased to struggle, and when the usual grub of the Nemesis was served to them by an insolent steward, who cared no longer for their authority, they sat and did not eat it and said nothing.
The end came at noon next day, when they were all on deck in fine weather, with Gibraltar far away on the port beam. Old Mac came on deck and complained to the skipper that he was short-handed in the stokehold. Cade spoke up with a pleasant grin.
"You know, Mr. Maclehose, that we can't spare you anyone from the deck. We're short ourselves, are we not, Mr. Thripp?"
"Two short at least," said Thripp, who also smiled as if he were pleased with the fact.
"I'll find you help," said Jordan, who was the only one who did not smile. He turned to the partners, who were clustered together in a sullen and disconsolate group.
"Do you hear, gentlemen, that the chief engineer is short of the hands he should have? I think I told you so in the office, and if I remember rightly, Mr. Shody said I would have to do on what the firm thought enough."
Shody turned as white as new waste, and then grew the colour of waste that has been used. The others fidgeted uneasily, but no one said anything.
"Under the circumstances I have concluded to give you the assistance of Mr. Shody," said the skipper.
"I won't go," roared Shody. "You can't make me. It is a crime, and I protest. Oh, it is scandalous!"
"You will go," said Jordan, "and I'll see that you do. I'm goin' to teach you all something, I can assure you. And if you don't follow Mr. Maclehose at once, I'll have the stokers up to carry you down."
Gruddle implored the skipper to be merciful, and Jordan said that he would be.
"You are the oldest of the lot, Gruddle, and I have decided that I can best avail myself of your services by askin' you to assist the steward. The duties will not be heavy, and all you are asked is to be polite and willin'. You can now commence. If you stand there and argue I will put you into the stokehold along with Mr. Shody."
Gruddle did not attempt to argue. He was much too afraid that the captain would keep his word. He crawled down below and went to Smith, who set him to work on the light and easy task of cleaning out the captain's berth. While he was at it he heard loud yells from the main-deck, and was told by the steward that four stokers were carrying his partner Shody down below. Over what happened there a decent veil may be drawn. Old Maclehose and the engine-room complement had very little trouble with him and taught him a very great deal in a very short time. Sloggett, whose spirit had been taken out of him by being put in irons, went to the mate's watch without a single kick; and though Butterworth began to say something, what he was about to tell them never got further than his lips. Cade caught him by the neck, and running him aft discharged him at the door of the fo'c'sle, and recommended him to the tender mercies of the watch below.
"There, that is done now," said Jordan. "I feel once more as if I was captain of my own ship, and as if I had performed a public duty."
"We may get into trouble, you know," said Thripp.
"Not at all," said the skipper. "They will never dare say a word about it, and when we anchor in Table Bay we'll lock them up, and skip ashore and start for England under other names right off. Timms of the Singhalese will be about sailin' the very day we should get there, and he'll be only too pleased to hear the yarn and give us a passage. In two months we'll be runnin' the tug and lighter business, Thripp, and Cade can run the coal-yard."
He smoked a happy pipe.