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   Chapter 10 No.10

The Blood Ship By Norman Springer Characters: 8541

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Came morning, but not the lady.

And the foc'sle was in sad need of her ministrations. Quite half the crew needed salves and bandages for their bruises and cuts, and there was, besides, a more serious case demanding attention.

When the starboard watch was called at four o'clock, we heard a low, insistent moaning in the port foc'sle. The man who called us said that the little squarehead-the lad Swope had manhandled-had again fallen afoul the masters. The hurts Swope had inflicted prevented the boy moving about as quickly as Mister Fitzgibbon desired, so the bucko had laid him out and walked upon him during the mid-watch. When he was through, the lad had crawled on his hands and knees into the foc'sle, and collapsed.

By eight o'clock in the morning, when the starboard watch went below again, we found the poor chap daft, and babbling, and on fire with fever. The mate gave up his efforts to arouse him, and admitted to Lynch that "the damn little stock fish is a bit off color. Needs a dose o' black draught."

After breakfast, Newman and I stepped into the port foc'sle. The squareheads of our watch were already there, sitting gloomily about, or clumsily attempting to make the injured youth more comfortable.

He looked bad, no mistake. Newman shook his head, gravely, as we turned away.

"It is a task for her," he said to me. "She has the healing gift. The boy is badly hurt."

A growled curse took my answer from me. It came from one of the squareheads, from Lindquist, a sober, bearded, middle-aged man, the one man among them who could manage a few words of English conversation.

"Koom vrom mine town," he said, indicating the tossing form in the bunk.

His blue eyes had a worried, puzzled expression, and his voice bespoke puzzled wrath. It was evident his slow moving peasant's mind was grappling with the bloody fact of a hell-ship. It was something new in his experience. He was trying to fathom it. Why were he and his mates thumped, when they willingly did their work? What for? "Nils iss goot boy," he said to us. "So hard he vork, ja." Then he bent over the bunk and resumed the application of his old folk remedy, the placing of wetted woolen socks upon Nils' forehead.

Before the foc'sle door, we found our mob of stiffs, nursing their hurts, and watching the cabin. For, as all the world of ships knew, this was the time of day the lady came forward on her errand of mercy. They were a sorry-looking mob, as sore of heart as of body.

It was not so much medical attention the stiffs wanted, I think, as sympathy. Bruises and lacerations, so long as they didn't keep a man off his feet, were lightly regarded in that tough crowd. But the lady's sweet, sane being was a light in the pall of brutality that hung over the ship. She was something more than woman, or doctor, to those men; in her they saw the upper world they had lost, the fineness of life they had never attained. They had all felt the heartening influence of her presence at the muster; they craved for it now as thirsty men crave for water. They were men in hell, and through the lady they had a vision of heaven.

Two bells went, and then three, and the lady did not come. At last

Wong, the Chinese steward, came forward.

"All slick man go aft," says he. "Lady flix um."

"Is she not coming forward?" asked Newman.

"No can do. Slick man lay aft."

"What have you there?" I demanded, for he bore a glass filled with liquid.

"Dosey. Mlissa Mate, him say give slick man inside," and he pointed into the foc'sle.

Newman ripped out an oath. "Give it here. A bonesetter, not a dose of physic is needed in there."

He reached out his hand, and Wong obediently surrendered the glass. He surrendered something else. I was standing by Newman's side, and, saw the piece of paper that passed into his hand with the tumbler.

Newman's face remained as impassive as the Chinaman's own. He sniffed of the draught, made a wry face and tossed it, glass and all, over the side into the sea. Then he turned on his heel and went into the foc'sle. Wong went aft, followed by most of the watch.

I went after Newman. He was sitting on the edge of his bunk, musing, and the note was open upon his knee. He handed it to me to read.

It was just

a strip of wrapping paper, hastily scribbled over in pencil. But the handwriting was dainty and feminine. It was from the lady, plainly enough, even though no name was signed.

"We have quarreled, and he has forbidden me to leave the cabin, or go forward this voyage. He is drinking, he is desperate-oh, Roy, be careful, he is capable of anything. I know him now. Do not come aft with the sick."

I looked at Newman inquiringly. But he said nothing to supplement the note. He took it from me, lighted a match, and burned it up. I guessed he was disappointed, that he had counted upon the lady coming forward.

"And did the little dear write? And what did she say," drawled an unpleasant voice behind us.

I swung about with a start, and saw Boston and Blackie lying in their bunks, one above the other. Boston had spoken, but they were both eyeing Newman.

The dangerous light came into Newman's face. "Mind your own business!" he said, shortly.

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence, broken by Boston, with a wheedling note in his voice.

"Aw, say, Big 'Un, don't get horstile. We didn't mean to horn in. We just want to be friends; we feel hurt, Blackie an' me, at the way you're giving us the go by. We're all on the dodge together, ain't we? And we got a rich lay, I tell you! Blackie and me has it all figured out, but we need you to lead, Big 'Un. What d'ye want to pal with that cub for, when two old friends like Blackie an' me are ready and willing to work for you? We got a rich lay, I tell you!"

"Damn your thieving schemes," said Newman.

"Aw, now, bring the cub in, if you like," persisted Boston. "He's a game 'un."

Blackie, the hot-headed, spoke up, resentfully. He lifted his battered face on his elbow, and lisped through the gap Lynch's fist had made in his teeth. "Number seven hundred and three wasn't so finicky about his pals the time he jumped the dead line, and ditched the Big House!"

Newman crossed the foc'sle with one catlike bound. He got Blackie by the throat and yanked him from the bunk. Then he shook him, and threw him into the farther corner.

"There will be no scheme set on foot from this foc'sle, save the one I father," he told the pair in his cool, level voice. "I gave you your answer last night. Now, if you two come between me and my goal, in this ship, as God lives, I'll kill you!"

With that, he swung about and stepped into the port foc'sle.

"Come on, Shreve," he said to me, over his shoulder. "Lend a hand.

You and I must attend to this boy."

Presently I was standing by Nils' bunk, together with the squareheads, marveling at the gentleness with which Newman's huge hands handled the sufferer. It was an exhibition of practiced skill. The feeling was strong on me that moment that Newman had gained this skill in no foc'sle, but in a cabin, where as master he had doctored his own sick.

But, after all, he was no surgeon, and there was little he could do for the lad. Newman undressed him-the squareheads had not been able to accomplish this feat, because of the pain their rough handling caused-and bared the poor broken body to view. The squareheads cursed deeply and bitterly at the sight of the shocking bruises on the white flesh. Nils was delirious, staring up at us with brilliant, unseeing eyes, and babbling in his own lingo.

"He say, mudder, mudder," commented Lindquist in a choked voice. "I know his mudder."

Newman explored the hurts with his finger, and his gentle touch brought gasps of agony. His face grew very grave. Then he ripped up a blanket, and with my assistance, skillfully bandaged Nils about the body.

When he was through, he looked Lindquist in the eyes, and shook his head.

"So?" said Lindquist. His eyes, so stupid and dull a while before, were blazing now. Aye, it was evident his law-abiding mind had arrived at a lawless decision; his lowering face boded no good for the brute who had maltreated his young friend. "Gott, if he die!" he said. It was a full-mouthed promise to avenge, that sentence.

As we left, I became aware that Boston and Blackie had followed Newman and me, and had witnessed the scene. Said Boston to his mate, in a low voice that I just caught,

"If the kid croaks we'll have the squareheads with us."

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