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   Chapter 5 No.5

The Blood Ship By Norman Springer Characters: 6579

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


My head ached, my tongue was thick and wood-tastey, but I awoke in full possession of my faculties. Even in the brief instant between the awakening and the eye-opening, I sensed what was about.

The motion told me the ship was under way. The noises that had probably aroused me, boomed commands, stormed curses, groans, sounds of blows, feet stamping-all told me that the mates were turning to the crew. I sat up and looked around.

It had been dark night, and the foc'sle empty, when Newman had tucked me in for my drugged siesta. Now it was broad day, and a bright streak of sunlight streaming into the dirty hole through the open door showed men's forms sprawled in the bunks about me.

The Golden Bough had a topgallant foc'sle, the port and starboard sides divided by a partition that reached not quite to the deck above, and which contained a connecting door. Newman and I had stumbled into the port foc'sle the previous night, and as I sat up, I discovered that the babel of sound came from the starboard side of the partition. I swung up into the bunk above my head, raised my eyes above the partition, and looked down.

I saw Mister Lynch, the second mate, standing in the middle of the starboard foc'sle's floor. He was turning to the crew with a vengeance. His method was simple, effective, but rather ungentle. His long arm would dart into a bunk where lay huddled a formless heap of rags. This heap of rags, yanked bodily out of bed, would resolve itself into a limp and drunken man. Then Mister Lynch would commence to eject life into the sodden lump, working scientifically and dispassionately, and bellowing the while ferocious oaths in the victim's ear.

"Out on deck with you!" he would cry, shaking the limp bundle much as a dog would shake a rat. A sharp clout on either jaw would elicit a profane protest from the patient. The toe of his heavy boot, sharply applied where it would do the most good, would produce further evidences of life. Then Lynch would take firm grasp of the scruff of the neck and seat of the breeches, and hurl the resurrected one through the door onto the deck, and out of range of my vision. A waspish voice streaming blistering oaths proved that Mister Fitzgibbon was welcoming each as he emerged into daylight. Another voice, melodiously penetrating the uproar, proved another man was watching the crew turn to. I recognized the silky, musical voice of Yankee Swope. "Stir them up, Mister! Make them jump! My ship is no hotel!" is what it said.

The second mate boosted the starboard foc'sle's last occupant deckwards; then he paused a moment for a breathing spell. Next, his roving eye rested upon my face blinking down at him from the top of the wall.

"Oh, ho-so you have come to life, have you!" he addressed me. "The

Swede said you would be dead until afternoon!"

He stepped through the connecting door, into my side of the foc'sle, and looked about. I leaped down from the upper bunk and stood before him, feeling rather sheepish at having been discovered spying.

"Where is that big jasper who came aboard with you?" he suddenly demanded of me.

"Why;-there!" I replied promptly, indicating the bunk opposite the one in which I had slept.

Then, I became aware that Newman was not in that bunk; and a rapid su

rvey of the foc'sle showed he was not in any bunk. He was gone, though his sea-bag was still lying on the floor. The bunk I thought he was in contained an occupant of very different aspect from my grim companion of the night before.

A short, spare man of some thirty years, wearing an old red flannel shirt, was stretched out upon the bare bunk-boards. Lynch and I contemplated him in silence for a moment.

He was no beachcomber or sailor, one could tell that at a glance. His skin had no tan upon it. It was white and soft. Obviously, he was no inhabitant of the underworld of forecastles and waterside groggeries. His white face looked intelligent and forceful even in unconsciousness.

In some way, the man had come by a wicked blow upon the head. It was the cause, I suspected, of his swoon, and stertorous breathing. Dried blood was plastered on the boards about his head, and his thick, dark hair was clotted and matted with the flow from his wound.

Lynch leaned over, and opened one of the fellow's loosely clenched hands. It was as white and soft as a lady's hand.

"This jasper is no bum-or sailor!" declared Lynch. "That damn Swede's been up to some o' his tricks. Well-we'll make a sailor of him before we fetch China Sea, I reckon!" He straightened, and turned on me with another demand for Newman. "Where did you say that big jasper was?"

I shrugged my shoulders helplessly. I could have sworn Newman had turned into that bunk; and I told him so.

Lynch snorted. "Didn't have the guts to face the music, I reckon, and cleared out! Well, if he tried to swim for it, I'll bet he's feeding fishes now!" His eyes roved around the room. Several of the bunks were occupied by nondescript figures, but Newman's huge bulk did not appear. "Damned seedy bunch," commented Lynch. "Couldn't afford to lose good beef. Hello-who's this?"

His eyes rested upon the bunk farthest forward, athwartship bunk in the eyes. The body of a big man lying therein loomed indistinctly in the gloom of the corner. Lynch reached the bunk with a bound, and I was close behind.

But it was not Newman. It was-the Cockney! The very man to whom the Swede had tendered the runner's job, the man Newman had manhandled! He lay on his back, snoring loudly, his bloated, unlovely face upturned to us.

I laughed. "It's the runner," I said. "The Swede's first runner.

Swede gave him the job yesterday."

"And gave him a swig out of the black bottle last night!" commented Lynch. Then he grasped the significance of the Swede's double cross, and his laughter joined mine. "Ho, ho-shanghaied his own runner! Ho, ho . . . that damned Swede!"

Then it evidently struck Mister Lynch that he was conducting himself with unseemly levity in company with a foremast hand. His face became stern, his voice hard, and my moment of grace was ended.

"Turn to!" he commanded me. "What are you standing about for? Get out on deck, before I boot you out!"

I knew my place, and I obeyed with alacrity. As I reached the door, his voice held me again for a moment.

"I guess you are a smart lad," says he. "I'll pick you for my watch, if Fitz doesn't get ahead of me. Got your nerve-shipping in this packet! If you know your work, and fly about it, you'll be all right. Otherwise, God help you!"

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