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   Chapter 23 No.23

The Blood Ship By Norman Springer Characters: 8119

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It was the end, even as Newman said. The end of the mutiny, the end of hate and dissension in that ship, the end, for us, of Newman, himself, and the lady. Peace came to the Golden Bough that night, for the first time, I suppose, in her bitter, blood-stained history. A peace that was bought with suffering and death, as we discovered when we reckoned the cost of the night's work.

Swope was dead-for which there was a prayer of thanks in every man's heart. Fitzgibbon was gone, and the Nigger. Boston was dead at my hand; his partner, Blackie, lay stark in the scuppers, as did also the stiff named Green, each with a bashed in skull, the handiwork of Mister Lynch.

Such was the death list for that night's work. It was no heavier I think-though of much different complexion-than the list Captain Swope had planned.

As for wounded-God's truth, the Golden Bough was manned by a crew of cripples for weeks after. Lynch had wrought terribly, there on the main deck-broken pates, broken fingers, a cracked wrist, a broken foot, and three men wounded, though not seriously, by Swope's and Connolly's shots. Such were the foc'sle's lighter casualties. Aft, the list was shorter. Morton had a bullet wound in the shoulder; it would lay him up for the rest of the passage, but was not dangerous. Connolly had a lump behind his ear. Lynch was bruised a bit, and his clothes were slashed to ribbons, otherwise he had escaped scathless.

The lady was not really hurt at all. Swope's bullet plowed through her mass of hair, creasing her so lightly the skin was unbroken, though the impact knocked her down.

I was almost the only man on the ship who bore no marks of that fight, though I was a sight from the beating, and Lynch-or perhaps it was Newman-made me bo'sun of the deck in the labor of bringing order out of chaos. I rallied the unhurt and lightly hurt, and we carried the worse injured into the cabin, where the lady and Newman attended them. I opened the barricaded galley, and freed the frightened Chinamen, Wong and the cook and the cabin boy, and Holy Joe, the parson. As I learned afterwards, Holy Joe, when he learned of the intended mutiny, threatened, in vain attempt to stop it, to go aft and blow the plot. Blackie and Boston wanted to kill him for the threat, but the squareheads would not have it so, and he was shut up in the galley with the Chinamen.

By Lynch's order, we launched the dinghy, and, with me at the tiller and two lordly tradesmen at the oars, set out in humane but hopeless quest for the mate and the Nigger. I cruised about for nigh an hour, and came back empty-handed. We had not really expected to find them, or trace of them. Fitzgibbon had been stabbed, and it was known, also, that he did not know how to swim; and as for the Nigger, "I plugged him as he jumped," said Lynch.

When we got back, Lynch had me muster the available hands, and we launched the longboat. All the rest of the night, Wong and his two under-servants cargoed that craft with stores of every kind.

One other man had lost his mess number in that ship, we discovered, as the night wore on. The traitor. We found not hide or hair of Cockney; he was gone from the ship, leaving no trace. At least, no trace I could discover. But when I looked for him, I became conscious of a new attitude towards me on the part of my shipmates. I had been their mate, in a way their leader and champion. Now, by virtue of Lynch's word-and Newman's-I was their boss. I was no longer one of them. Aye, and sailorlike they showed it by their reserve. They said truthfully enough they did not know what had become of Cockney-and they kept their guesses to themselves. But my own guess was as good, and as true. Boston and Blackie had attended to Cockney. I could imagine how. A knife across the windpipe and a boost over the side; without doubt some such fate was Cockney's.

Mister Lynch made no effort to put the ship on her course. We left the yards as they were, and drifted all the rest of the night. I, and the unwounded tradesmen, kept the deck;

in the cabin, the lady and Newman labored, and conferred with Lynch and Holy Joe. Aye, Holy Joe, as well as myself, was lifted to higher estate by that night's happenings. He lived aft, even as I, the rest of the voyage, and was doctor of bodies as well as souls.

Near dawn, they called me into the cabin, and put dead man's shoes upon my feet, so to speak.

"Shreve, it is my duty to take the ship into port," says Lynch. "What will be the outcome of tonight's work, I do not know. But I do not fear. My testimony, and that of the sailmakers and carpenters, to say nothing of your story, and the stories of the other men forward, will be more than sufficient to convince any court of justice. There will be no jailing because of to-night's trouble-you may tell the men that."

"Yes, sir," I replied. Aye, it was good news to take forward to the poor shaking wretches in the foc'sle.

"You understand, I am captain for the remainder of the passage," Lynch went on. "And I have decided to appoint you chief mate. Connolly will be second mate."

Aye, that was it. Jack Shreve, chief mate of the Golden Bough! "I have decided," says Lynch-but I knew the decision belonged to Newman and the lady, who were smiling at me across the table.

"And you understand-they are leaving in the longboat," added Lynch.

I looked at my friend, and the lady, and my new honor was bitter and worthless in my mouth.

"Take me with you," I urged.

"To share an outlaw's career? No, lad-we must go alone," said Newman. I remember he added to Lynch, "If this boy proves the friend to you he was to me, you will be a lucky man, Captain."

The sky was just graying with the coming day when the two left the ship. But before they went over the side, there took place in the growing light on the deck before the cabin a scene as strange and solemn as any I have seen since. Holy Joe married them, there on the deck-and in the scuppers, behind the lady's back, covered up with a spare sail, lay the ship's dead, Yankee Swope among them. Aye, the parson tied the knot, for this life and next, as he said, and I was best man, and Captain Lynch gave away the bride.

"Roy Waldon, do you take this woman-" that was the way the parson put it, standing there before them, with his one good hand holding the Book, peering up into Newman's face through his puffed, blackened eyes. A minister in dungaree! "Mary Swope, do you take this man-" that was how he put it. And though the lady's face was wan and haggard, yet there was a glory in it beyond power to describe.

And then they cast off from the ship, those two who were now one. Newman stepped the mast, and drew aft the sheet, and the little craft caught the breeze and scudded away from us. We lined the rail, lame men and well men, and cheered our farewell. I wept.

A long time we watched them. The sun leaped up from the sea, and the longboat seemed to sail into its golden heart; and after the sun had risen above it, the boat was visible for a long time as a dwindling, ever dwindling speck. I moved up onto the poop, the longer to see. So did Lynch. Side by side, we watched the speck dip over the rim of the sea.

Lynch sighed, and walked away. I heard him exclaim, and turned to observe him picking up something from the deck. He held it out to me, in the palm of his hand.

It was a little wisp of hair, the lady's hair, a relic of the battle. Lynch stared at it-then he looked out over the sea, into the path of the sun. Aye, and there was that in his eyes which opened mine. I began at last to understand Bucko Lynch-"Captain" Lynch as he was to remain to the end of his days. I knew from that look in his eyes why no parson would now ever say to him, "Do you take this woman?"

Slowly, Lynch put the little wisp of hair into his waistcoat pocket. He drew a deep breath, and shrugged his shoulders; then he hailed me with seamanly brusqueness.

"Lively, now, Mister-we'll put the ship on her course!"

"Yes, Captain," I answered. And the "Mister" roared his first command along those decks.

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