Page images

difficulties, I ought to be grateful to the charterers for thinking of my safety and comfort so I got the worst of it. That was the first time I'd heard I was going to ship a dangerous cargo, and I remember I went straight out of that office and did something I'd never done in all my life before. I went and bought a revolver.

"When I got back aboard I had another surprise. I found the charterers had appointed a man to take charge of my cargo for me! That's just what it amounted to, and you can bet I didn't like it. And I knew, as soon as I saw the fellow they'd put in charge, that I shouldn't like him either. He was the sort of man I haven't got any use for. Finch was his name. A great big bucko of a man, whose only qualification for the job, as far as I could see, was that he could talk Chinese. He seemed to think at first, too, he was going to run the ship, and I had to show him right away there was only one master aboard her-and that was me. He'd brought a dozen or so assorted Chinks along with him -cooks and ' orderlies


called 'em, and he comes along worrying me about where he was to stow them. So I told him to run away and ask the Mate, and I could see by the look he gave me that I'd surprised him.

"Next morning our cargo arrived alongside-a train-load full; and it took Finch all day to get those coolies aboard.

It seems he wasn't taking any chances. He made the shore people march the beggars up our gangway one by one, and as each man reached the deck, Finch and his boys went through him. They did the

job properly, too. They stripped every one down pretty well naked, and searched 'em and looked through their bundles of duds and things. I could see those Chinks didn't like it a bit; and whenever Finch came across a knife or a bit of opium or something, they'd give him some mighty dirty looks. Not that Finch cared, bless you. He stood there looking as fierce and tough as he knew how, and every now and again he'd touch up any boy that showed signs of jibbing with his sjambok. And a sjambok's a nasty thing to get hit with. It's a strip of dried rhino hide, and a smack with one on the bare skin will draw blood quick if you aren't careful. And Finch wasn't careful at all. I didn't like it; but that wasn't the time or the place to interfere so I waited.

"The last man in the procession came up handcuffed between two Kaffir policemen. He was a big man, but he didn't look particularly dangerous to me. In fact, he had rather a fine-looking figure-head on him sort of quiet and sad and gentle. But Finch gets into a great state about the beggar, and he comes bawling to me wanting to know where he is going to stow him. 'The

swine's dangerous,' says he. 'He's murdered three men down the Rhineveldt Deep, and the only reason his neck isn't stretched for it 's because they badly want him for some other devilment in Tientsin. He'll get his all right,' says he,' when they get him ashore at the other end; but what I want to know is, what'll I do with him now?' 'Oh, put him in your bunk,' says I, and good luck to him.' And with that I laughed, and went up on the bridge and got the ship under way."

[ocr errors]

"You don't seem to have liked that man much," said I. "What did he do with his murderer eventually?"

"Oh, shackled him to a stanchion down No. 1 hold," went on the Skipper. "It was the Mate's idea, and the man was nice and snug down there, and well out of the way of everybody. And as for not liking Finch-well, he wasn't my style; but he had his points, and I have to admit it. I had him up to my cabin the first night out, and went for him about the way he was manhandling the coolies.

done, he started. He told me some things that surprised me and made me feel mighty thoughtful. He said he mightn't know much about ships, but he did know how to handle coolies, and that if I thought we would ever get to Ching-Wan-Tau unless he put the fear of death into those Chinks and kept it there, then I was an old fool. Yes. That man sat there in my cabin and called me an old fool! And I sat and listened to him. I had to, for, you see, he was speaking the cold truth

and it frightened me. I knew we had a bad crowd aboard all right, and that if they wanted to scupper us they wouldn't have much trouble doing it; but I hadn't worried much, because I never seriously thought they'd want to scupper us.

But according to Finch, that was just what they were almost sure to do. Says he, 'There's over 800 of 'em, and they're all bad; but there's one gang a darned sight worse than the rest. They're all due for the clink as soon as they get ashore; but some of them It are due for more than that. They won't live long once their police get hold of them

was my idea to go easy with them and leave 'em alone and not stir up trouble, and I said so. I told him to take a close reef in that sjambok of his, or one night, as likely as not, he'd be getting his throat cut, to say nothing of the throats of the rest of us white men aboard. I gave him beans, I

and they know it. And if you were in their place, what would you do? Why, you'd get hold of the ship and run her in somewhere handy along the China coast and clear out. It stands to reason; and it's my firm belief that's what tell you. they'll try to do. And as for "And then, when I'd quite getting hold of this ship-it's

easy. What does the crew amount to? There's you and me and your three Mates and the four engineers. That's only nine of us whites all told, not counting the Doc., who's a half-caste Macao Portuguese, as far as I can make out, and not to be relied on. And you know better than I do what your Lascar crew is worth; but I bet, if it comes to a scrap, that they'll lie low and try and save their skins-and I don't blame 'em.'

"Well, that was bad enough; but as soon as he had got me pretty near frightened to death with talk like that he started off again on a fresh tack. 'Now, here's another thing,' says he. These birds don't get paid their wages till they get to Ching-Wan-Tau. That was a little scheme arranged by our Repatriation people. When I was wangling this job out of them in Pretoria they tried to tell me this bally scheme of theirs was a better insurance against trouble aboard the ship than the armed guard I was asking for. According to them, the coolies were all going to be good boys, because they knew if they weren't they wouldn't draw their pay. That's why we haven't got a guard. Can you beat it? The Chink authorities jumped at the idea, of course. They get the handling of the cash that way, and a fat lot of it our coolies are likely to see. The trouble is, the beggars know it. They know they haven't a hope of

ever touching a bean of their money. And d'you think that's going to make nice good boys of 'em? You bet it isn't. Why, they're ripe for trouble. And the worst of it is that making trouble's worth while for some of them. Knowing what they know, each man must have drawn an advance before they left Jo'burg. Wanted to make sure of getting something, I guess. Anyway, when I was searching them I found nearly every man jack had from five to ten pound stowed away on him. It doesn't sound much; but it means there's from six to eight thousand pounds loose aboard this ship; and what's more, it's all in round, yellow, golden sovereigns. Now, Cap., you can believe me or not, just as you like; but I know we've got men aboard here who'd cut every throat in the ship rather than let a sum like that get away from them. And yet you sit there and tell me to go slow and treat the beggars easy. Why, if I don't show 'em, right from the start, that I'm top dog, and mean to stay there, then you and I and the rest of us white men would be wise to step over the side now. We'd be a darned sight more comfortable there than if we stayed aboard.'

[ocr errors][merged small]

sugar. Well, I tell you, with chow, of course, and a scrap

that cargo aboard, I daren't sleep! What worried me most was that I couldn't do anything about it. I knew, against that crowd of Chinamen, we nine whites were helpless. They could have knocked us on the head and thrown us all overboard any night they liked. That grill amidships the charterers were so proud about was really as much use as nothing, because it didn't prevent any one from climbing over the engine-room casing and dropping down on us from the top of the fiddley. Then the Indian Ocean's a lonely place. Ships didn't carry wireless then, remember, and there was no port I could run into. Even if there had been I didn't see what excuse I could give for calling in anywhere. It's a serious thing for a master to deviate out of his proper voyage. means expense to the owners, waste of time and bunkers, with the insurance on the ship invalidated, and the Lord knows what else. You've got to have some mighty good reasons before you dare deviate-and what reasons could I give? I should have looked pretty blowing in somewhere, and saying I'd come because I was scared of what my cargo might get up to. No, I could see I'd got to get the ship to Ching-WanTau or nowhere. You see, I was in a nasty fix-and no way out of it.

"For the first week things kept more or less quiet. There was a lot of grousing about the

or so at nights in the 'tweendecks; but nothing much happened to amount to anything until two coolies died of beriberi, and there was a riot because we dumped them over the side. It seems their friends wanted to keep 'em and bury them in China; but we couldn't keep any corpses aboard, of course, and Finch had to climb up on the after-hatch and tell 'em so. Things looked nasty for a bit, but when they burst out laughing at something he'd said, I knew Finch had managed to fix 'em. He told me afterwards what the joke was. 'I told 'em,' he says, 'we didn't feel like keeping any corpses about the place this hot weather, but the next man that died, his friends could have him-and welcome. And then I offered to bet ten dollars Mex. to a ticcy they wouldn't keep him for more than three days. They saw the sense of the thing then, and that settled it.' Finch said he didn't mind that kind of trouble, and how it was simple enough to settle just ordinary foolishness like that with nothing ugly behind it.

[blocks in formation]

many there are yet, or who's the picture running in front of got them; but I reckon there's my eyes and the man in the maybe a dozen or twenty coolies corner explaining it all through aboard each with a knife on a megaphone. You mark what him. And Cap., these are the I say say! Before we get to birds we've got to look out for. Ching-Wan-Tau the men who've They'll get together; and, in got the knives will be the men fact, as far as I can make out, who've got hold of most of the they've formed themselves into money too. They know, as a sort of a gang already. It's well as we do, the minute this in the nature of a Chinaman to ship arrives she's going to be do that sort of thing. A secret filled with police. Chinese society's a regular institution police. And who'll collect that with 'em, and a secret society's money then? Why, the police; just what these swine with the and you can't tell me those knives have formed. It's secret Small Knife blighters are going all right, because I'll be hung to wait for that. No, sir! if I can find out who's in it; As sure as my name's Bill but what they call themselves Finch, they'll try to do us in -to give you the English of and then pile this ship of it-is 'Small Knife Society.' yours up somewhere handy, I've managed to find that much and clear out with what they've out, anyway. I was anxious got. That is, they will if I enough about this trip of ours can't stop 'em. I don't know right from the start; but now if I can; but I'm going to this thing's happened-well, I'm have a shot at it.' scared, and I'll admit it. It's all very well to say they've only got little pocket-knives, which is the only kind of a knife they could have hidden; but the point is, they are they are armed. In the country of the blind the the one-eyed man is boss,' so twenty men with knives on 'em and working together are going to run the rest of this bunch. They'll run them like sheep. They'll run them and they'll rob them; and if anybody objects they'll cut him up in small bits. I know these birds, Cap. I've worked with Chinese most of my life, and I can see what's going to happen as plain as if I was sitting in a movie, with

[ocr errors]


"It was about then that I began to think a lot more of Finch than I did when I first saw him. I think, if he hadn't been rash, he might perhaps have managed to settle the trouble. But he was rash. His notion was to jump right into the middle of a mess and try and clean it up that way, instead of skirmishing about a bit, like a wise man, and then putting his smack in where it was likely to do the most good. One morning he didn't show up at breakfast. He didn't turn up at all, although I turned the ship inside out looking for him. He just vanished."




said I. A 2

« PreviousContinue »