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   Chapter 21 No.21

The Blood Ship By Norman Springer Characters: 21311

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


I crouched behind a row of flour barrels, which stood on end handy to the hatch, and peered through the chinks. The captain had hung his lantern on a beam overhead, and its rays limned like a stage-setting an open space some six feet square. Aye, a stage-setting, and the scene a torture chamber. I bit my lips to restrain a cry of horror and rage when I looked through the chinks between the barrels, and it was with difficulty I kept myself from rushing forth and falling upon the fiend who had contrived and was enjoying the scene.

Captain Swope was seated upon an upturned keg. He had placed the lantern so its light fell full upon Newman (it illumined himself, for my eyes, as well) and he was talking to the prisoner, mocking him.

And Newman! It was the sight of him that made me choke, that made me finger my knife hilt. Newman-my friend!

He was at the far end of that open space, trussed up to the starboard limbers. Trussed up-and in what way! You will remember, when they placed him under arrest, the captain ordered his hands ironed behind his back. The reason was now apparent. His hands were still behind his back; aye, when they trussed him up, they drew up his hands until they were on a level with his head, and secured him in that position. His feet were also ironed, and the chain lashed to a limber. So he stood, or rather hung-for he could not stand properly with his arms wrenched back in that position-and the whole weight of his body dragged upon his wrists and shoulder blades. So he had stood during the hours that had passed since afternoon. Torture, agony-that is what it meant to be trussed up in that position.

I thought I recognized Fitzgibbon's handiwork in this torture; though I dare say it was originally Swope's invention. But we had seen Fitzgibbon use this same method of inflicting pain and terror, we men forward. One day, for an imagined insolence, he had trussed up Nigger to the mainmast in this very fashion, and left him there for a short half-hour. After five minutes Nigger was wild with pain. When he was cut down, his arms seemed paralyzed, and it was a full day ere the ache passed from them.

And Newman had been enduring this pain for hours. But now, I thought, he must be mercifully unconscious, for his head hung upon his breast, and he made no sign that he heard the captain's gibes.

It was sport to Swope's liking, and he was enjoying himself right royally. Aye, I could tell. The words that slid between his full lips were laden with the sensuous delight their utterance gave the speaker. I lay in my retreat waiting for the hail that would draw the beast on deck, and while I waited I listened to him, and observed his manner. Oh, Swope was having a fine time, a happy time. If the lady had not taken the revolver from me, I fear I should have shot the man despite my promise. As it was my sheath knife lay bared in my hand, and I had to fight myself to keep from leaping the barrier and confronting him. Aye, to face him, and make him eat the steel out of my hand!

Yes, Swope was in a happy mood. A rollicking, loquacious mood. He talked. Unconsciously he made me witness to his confession of black treacheries, and deeds more loathsome than I could have imagined myself.

When I reached my position behind the barrels, and was able to distinguish his words-he was boasting of and baring his secrets in a voice not meant to carry beyond Newman's ears-he was taunting Newman.

"Well, why don't you call upon God to help you?" says he. "He has helped you a lot in the past, hasn't he, Roy? And He has helped her a lot, hasn't he? Helped her to stand me. Oh, that's a joke! The just and merciful One-d'you remember how old Baintree used to rant? You approved, didn't you. You agreed with old Baintree. So did I, Roy, to his face.

"But you-why you were a damned Puritan, Roy. You wouldn't do this, you wouldn't do that, you would be clean of vice-your very words, Roy!-and you would be honest and just with men. That's the sort of thing that paid, says you.

"And didn't it pay you, though! Ho, ho; it's too rich, Roy! You would make yourself as good a man as old Baintree; you would make yourself worthy of his daughter. Remember telling me that? And didn't you, though-with my help! My help, Roy-not God's! It was Black Angus and the Devil did it!

"Well, well, I thought I would surprise you with my little tale of how I used the Twigg girl to spoil your chance with Mary. But Beasley surprised you instead. Didn't he, now? A neat trick, eh, Roy? You never guessed?

"You never guessed, either, all that I had planned for you that time. If you hadn't been in such a hurry to leave town! But then-I was just as well pleased. With Beulah out of the way as well as you-it was plain sailing with Mary, Roy.

"No, I never wanted Mary. Not for herself. She's not my kind, Roy; a damned, sniveling saint isn't my idea of a woman. But I wanted her money. Old Baintree's money. And I got it.

"I got Baintree, too. It was necessary; I had to kill the old fool. He knew too much about me, and if he told Mary-well, I was playing the saint with her, just then. He would never have consented to her marrying me; and also-the money, you know. So I eliminated him, Roy. And God let you suffer for what I did! Ho, ho, that's rich, isn't it? Come to think of it, it's sound theology-vicarious atonement, eh? You got stripes, and I got Mary-and her money, which I have spent most pleasurably.

"But you were always a fool, Roy-a stupid, trusting fool. You trusted me, didn't you? I was your bosom friend, your boyhood chum, whose wild ways grieved you. Fool, fool, if you had possessed the wit of a jackass you would have known I hated you! Hate, hate, hate! I have hated you all my life, Roy! I hated you when we were boys and you made me take second place. I have hated you ever since; I hate you now-so much it is almost love, Roy! Eh, but I never love. I hate. And when I hate-I hurt!"

To all this tirade Newman returned no answer. He did not seem to hear. He hung silent in his bonds, his head on his breast and his face hidden. He might have been unconscious. I thought he was, for he did not even look up when the captain was excitedly chanting his hate. Swope was plainly piqued at this indifference; he got up from his keg and stepped close to Newman.

"But you are not thinking of yourself, are you, Roy?" he says. "You are thinking of her, I know. How sweet! Sentiment was always your strong point. Well, think hard about her, Roy, think your fill; for she is almost as near her end as you are near yours. But not quite so near. I intend to break that haughty spirit before I-er-eliminate her. Oh, yes, it will break. Trust me to know the sure way. Roy, don't you want to know what I am going to do to Mary?"

He paused a moment, and, chuckling and smacking his lips, stood looking at Newman's bowed figure. Then he said slowly and deliberately, actually lingering over the words. "I am going to make a strumpet of the wench for Fitzgibbon's pleasure!"

Newman stirred. "Ah, that wakes you up!" cried Swope. It did, indeed. Newman was not unconscious. I could have wished he was, so he might not have heard those words. He lifted his face to the light, and I could see the sweat of agony upon it. He did not speak. He just looked at the man in front of him. It was a look of unutterable loathing; his expression was as though he were regarding something indescribably obscene and revolting. And then he pursed his lips and spat in Captain Swope's face.

The skipper stepped back, and swabbed his cheek with his sleeve. I thought he would strike Newman, kick him, practice some devilish cruelty upon him in payment. Aye, I was crouched for the spring, with my sheath knife ready; if he had laid finger upon Newman I should have had his life in an instant. I was all the barbarian that moment, my new-found scruples forgotten. I was in a killing mood. What man would not have been.

But Captain Swope did not attempt to repay the insult with any physical cruelty. He knew he was already racking his enemy's body to the limit of endurance, and his aim, I discovered, was to supplement this bodily suffering with mental torture. Indeed, Swope seemed pleased at Newman's act. He laughed as he wiped his face.

"That stings-eh, Roy? It's true-be certain of that, you soft-hearted

fool. I tell the truth sometimes, Roy-when it serves my purpose. And

I want you to imagine the details of what is going to happen to her.

Think of it, Roy-the Lady of the Golden Bough, the saintly Mrs.

Swope, the sweet Mary Baintree that was-lying in Fitzgibbon's arms!

Pretty thought!"

Chuckling, Swope resumed his seat. He leaned forward, and watched Newman with hawklike intensity. But Newman gave him little cause to chortle; his head dropped again upon his breast, and he gave no sound, no movement.

"Why don't you call on God?" asked Swope. "Why don't you call on me?"

Newman lifted his head. "You degenerate beast!" he said. He said it evenly, without passion, and immediately withdrew his features from the other's scrutiny.

But the captain was satisfied. He slapped his thigh with delight.

"It stings, eh, Roy? It burns! It runs through your veins like fire! Doesn't it? It's a hot thought. And here's another one to keep it company- You can do nothing to prevent it! To hairy old Fitz she'll go-and you can't prevent it! Think of that, Roy!"

Newman gave no sign he heard, but the black-hearted villain on the keg knew that the big fellow's ears were open and that his words were like stabs in a raw wound. He talked on, and described villainies to come and villainies accomplished; the tale of his misdeeds seemed to possess him. He gloried in them, gloated over them. And as I listened, I realized, ignorant young whelp though I was, that this man was different from any man I had ever met or imagined. He wasn't human; he was a freak, a human-looking thing with a tiger's nature.

Always he reminded me of a cat, from the very first moment I clapped eyes upon him; never did he remind me more of a cat-or tiger-than when he sat upon the keg and teased Newman. He seemed to purr his content with the situation.

"I know what you are thinking, Roy," says he. "You are thinking that my brave and upright second mate will prevent it happening to our dear little Mary? Am I right, eh? Vain thought. Our friend, Lynch, will not be here to interfere. I have seen to that. He grows dangerous, does Jim Lynch, so-elimination. Ah, I could write a treatise upon the Art of Elimination-couldn't I? Angus Swope, the great eliminator! It is m

y specialty, Roy.

"Neatness, thoroughness, dispatch, everything shipshape, no loose ends flying-that's my style, Roy. Now there was neatness and dispatch about my running you out of Freeport when I found your presence there inconvenient. Don't you think there was? Eh, you great fool? You pulled my chestnuts out of the fire very nicely indeed. But I was not as thorough as I should have been in that affair. A loose end, or two, eh, Roy? Beasley-and yourself. Ah-but I improved with practice. I left no loose end that night in Bellingham, did I? Unless the fact that your neck didn't stretch, as I intended, could be called a loose end. But then-you'll be tucked out of sight again very soon, and this time for good and all. I never did believe in imprisonment for life, Roy; it is such a cruel punishment. I'm a tender-hearted man, Roy-ho, ho, that's rich, eh? I told that judge, after he sentenced you, that he would have been acting more kindly had he disregarded the jury's recommendation and hanged you out of hand. And do you know what he told me, Roy? He said I was right, that you deserved hanging. Ho, ho, deserved hanging! And he was a godly man, Roy.

"Oh, what a great fool you were! How easily I made you play my game! That night you had me to dinner on board your ship, in Bellingham-you never guessed why I fished for that invitation? Why I persuaded you to send your mates ashore that night? Just another of Angus' scrapes, thought you; he wants to confide in me, and ask my advice. Angus wants my help, thought you. So I did, Roy, so I did.

"I needed your help badly. But not the kind or help you would have offered; no, I needed your help in a different way. I needed a catspaw, Roy.

"I was skating on pretty thin ice just about then, Roy, I needed old Baintree's money. I needed Mary to get the money. But Mary was only willing to take me because her father wished her to; and I was heartily sick of playing the saint to stand well with him. Oh, well, I'll tell you-why not? The old hypocrite had a Puritan's sharp eyes, and he had caught me in a slip-up or two, and I knew he was about to tell Mary to break the betrothal. And there was another thing, a little investment I handled for him. He was bound to discover about it shortly, when the payments were due, and-well, you know, Roy, what an absurd attitude he had towards a little slip like that. I was in a rather desperate fix, you see; yes, I really needed your help, Roy.

"Besides there was you, yourself, to be taken care of. You were one of my worries, not a big worry, but still a worry. What if you forgot your pride? What if Mary forgot her pride? Of course, you were in Bellingham, and outward bound; and she was home in Freeport-but who can tell what a woman will do where her heart is concerned? Besides, I hated you, damn you! I was not going to overlook the luck that brought the three of us into the same port at the same time. You had been my catspaw once; why not again?

"So I had you invite me off to dinner. That cozy little dinner, in your own cabin, just you and I, and Stord to wait on us. I bet you never guessed until your trial that your steward was my man, if you guessed it then. Aye, body and soul my man. When I crooked my finger, Stord bent his body.

"Do you remember that dinner, Roy? I bet you do! I crucified you, damn you! You would be brave, you would be gallant, eh? You would congratulate me upon the coming marriage, toast the best man, who had won the race. Oh, I enjoyed your hospitality that night! How you wrenched out the words! You didn't want to talk about Mary, did you? But I made you talk, I made you squirm, eh? And then, when I was sick of your platitudes-just a nod to Stord, and three little drops of chloral in your glass!

"Do you want to know what happened next? I'll lay that you've wondered many a time just what happened after you had so strangely dropped asleep, with your head in your plate. Well, I'll tell you what happened. I sent Stord on the run to Baintree's hotel. He bore a message from you. He told the dear captain that you were ill, on your ship, and that you wished very much to see him. You can guess how the old fool would act in a case like that. A chance to do a good deed, store up treasures in heaven, all that, eh? You might have been a bad man in Freeport, but, you were sick and needed him.

"He came in a hurry, all a-flutter like an old hen. Just as I knew he would come. And as he leaned over you, in your own cabin, I-er-separated him from his temporal worries with an iron belaying pin from your own rail. Then I gave you the clout for luck (it has left a fine scar, I note) and placed the pin on the table. And thus your chief mate discovered you when he came on board, you and your victim, and the weapon you used, just as I planned. And your steward's testimony, and my reluctant admissions, finished you. You see, Roy-neatness and thoroughness!

"I took Stord to sea with me, as my steward. But, unfortunately, he went over the side one dark night, off the Horn. A loose end tucked in, eh, Roy?

"And I'll tuck in other loose ends between now and dawn-you, for instance, and our brave Mister Lynch. I have it already written down for Fitz to copy into the logbook. 'During the fighting, James Lynch, second mate, was stabbed by one of the mutineers; but owing to the darkness and confusion his assailant was not recognized.' That's how the log will read when we bowse into port. And-'During the fighting, the sailor, Newman, attempted to escape from custody, and was shot by the captain.' You see, Roy, everything shipshape! A line for each in the log-and two loose ends tucked in-eliminated!

"You will have some time in which to think it over, before it happens, Roy. You should thank me for that-for giving you something to think about. It will take your mind off your pain, eh? Yes, you need something to think about, for you'll hang there for four or five hours yet. No danger of your sleeping, eh, Roy? Well, keep your ears open and you'll be forewarned. There'll be some shooting on deck. I've gone to a great deal of trouble to bring it about; your shipmates are a gutless crew, Roy, and I had begun to think I could not get a fight out of them. But the swabs are coming aft at the end of the mid-watch. Eight bells in the mid-watch-count the bells, Roy. Eight bells-elimination!

"Then there will be just one loose end left-and you know what I have planned for her! Think about it, Roy-think about our darling little Mary! At the mercy of the wolves, Roy! At the mercy of our dear, gentle Fitzgibbon! At the mercy-yes, I do believe at the mercy, also, of my new second mate.

"Oh, yes, he is already nominated for the office. Of course, he must first remove the incumbent-but that, as I explained, is arranged for. He is a greasy cockney, gutter-snipe-but useful. I wouldn't think of having him at table with me, Roy-but I think I'll let him amuse himself with Mary-after Fitz! Ah, that stings, eh, Roy!"

It did, indeed. Newman lifted the face of a madman to his torturer. Aye, the creature's vile words, and viler threat, had stung him beyond his power of self-control. All the pent-up fury in his soul burst forth in one explosive oath.

"God blast you forever, Angus!" he cried.

Just that, and no more. Newman had his grip again. He was no man to indulge in impotent ravings.

But the outburst was sufficient to delight Captain Swope. He threw back his head and laughed that chuckling, demon's laugh of his. Delighted-why, he could hardly control himself to keep his seat on the keg, and as he laughed his feet beat a jig upon the deck.

"I told you to call upon God!" was his gleeful answer to Newman. "And you have! Now, we'll see who wins-you and God, or Angus and the Devil! Eh, Roy-who wins?

"We'll see, Roy-we'll see if God takes your advice. We'll see if He helps you, or Lynch. Or Mary. Ah, the saintly Mary, the pure, the unapproachable! We'll see if He protects her from Fitz's dirty arms, or the greasy kisses of the Cockney! Eh, Roy? We'll see if He keeps her from-eliminating herself!

"That's the way of it, Roy. Clever-yes? Neatness and thoroughness, and everything shipshape and Bristol fashion-that's my style, Roy. I know Mary (who should know her better than her legal spouse, eh, Roy?) and I have arranged matters so she will tuck in her own end. Listen, Roy, I have another item for the logbook which Fitzgibbon will copy. It needs but a date-line to be complete. It will read like this: 'To-day, while suffering from an attack of temporary insanity, the captain's wife destroyed herself. The captain is broken-hearted.' With details added, Roy. And the yarn cabled home when we make port. Suicide at sea-and I am broken-hearted! Artistic, eh? And she'll do it-you know she'll do it!"

He sat there watching Newman, waiting. I suppose he expected and desired a fresh outburst from the prisoner. But in this he was disappointed; Newman gave no sign.

"Ah, well, I fear I've overstayed my welcome this visit," he said, finally. He got to his feet, and stood before Newman with legs spraddled and arms akimbo; drinking in lustfully the picture of the other man's utter misery. "Interesting chat we've had-old times, future, and all that-eh, Roy? But a sailor's work, you know-like a woman's-never done. I have duties to attend to, Roy. But I will return-ah, yes, you know I will return. You'll wait here for me, eh, Roy? Anxiously awaiting my return, counting the bells against my coming. Well-remember-eight bells in the middle watch."

He turned and stepped towards the ladder. With his foot raised to the bottom step, he stopped, and stared aloft, mouth agape. I stared too, and listened.

We heard a shot, a single pistol shot.

The captain wheeled upon Newman. His hand flew to his pistol pocket.

But he did not draw. He would have died then and there, if he had, for

I was tensed for the leap.

But he was uncertain. This was not the hour-and the other shots, the volley, we both expected did not come. Instead, came the second mate's voice bellowing orders, "Connolly-the wheel! Hard alee! Weather main brace!" Then, clearer, as he shouted through the cabin skylights, "Captain-on deck, quick!"

It was the hail for which I had waited so long and anxiously. But the news that came with it was strange and startling.

"The man at the wheel," shouted Lynch, "has jumped overboard with the mate!" Then his cry went forward, "Man overboard!"

Swope leaped for the ladder. I saw consternation in his face as he scurried aloft.

So I knew that this was something he hadn't arranged.

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