Her name was the Anita, and she was the second barge in a tow of two. Ahead of her, at the end of a ninety-fathom steel tow-line, was the sister barge Champion, and at an equal distance farther ahead was the steamer Proserpine. Each barge carried stump spars and mutton-leg canvas—which was why Scotty, weary of the endless work in the deep-water windjammers, had gone "tow-barging"—and the three craft belonged to one owner.
The skipper, a young man with a humorous face and democratic manner, as became a lowly barge skipper, appeared before the Scotsman, jingling in his hand a number of bright silver dollars. Scotty eyed them hungrily.
"Fine, aren't they, Scotty?" he said. "How many of these plunkers does the devil need to buy your soul?"
"More than you can count, Cappen Bolt," answered Scotty, gravely. "My soul no belongs to me, but to my Maker."
"Nonsense," laughed the captain. "A Scot loves the siller first, his Maker next. Why, a Jew can't make a living in your country, Scotty."
"Possibly not, cappen; but it's no because Scotchmen are dishonest. The Lord has given us wits—that's all."
"Dead broke, Scotty?" asked Captain Bolt, idly.
"I banked the most o' my pay, sir. Ay, I'm what you might call broke."
"Too bad! Ought to have held some out. There'll be no money at Philadelphia. Owner's kickin'. Wants to save the interest, and he won't pay off till we get back."
Scotty's face assumed a rueful expression, and Captain Bolt watched it from the tail of his eye; then, before Scotty could speak, the prolonged clatter of the steward's dinner-bell began, and the captain moved towards the companion, pocketing the coins as he went. One fell on the deck, the noise of the bell preventing its fall being heard, and the captain did not see it. But Scotty did, and he watched it roll back towards the taffrail, assume a spiral motion, and lie down just aft of the quarter-bitt. The captain was now down in the cabin, but Scotty picked up the coin to hold for him until he came up. He should have let it lie.
For it was bright and beautiful to look at, hard and slippery to the touch as he held it in his trousers pocket, a pleasing contrast to the coming emptiness of that pocket in Philadelphia. Scotty's soul went through the usual conflict in such cases, and when Captain Bolt came up, rubbing his mouth, love of Mammon had won over love of God, and he said nothing about it. Shortly after, he was relieved, and he went forward. On the way a revulsion set in, and he turned back, resolved to hand it over, as though he had forgotten; but the captain had stepped below again, and with the memory of his boasted honesty and the certainty of the captain's skepticism and ridicule in his mind, he turned again and went to the forecastle. When he had eaten his dinner, and slept four hours, he found on waking that his inclination to return it was stronger than at noon; but the certainty of being disbelieved had gained equally in strength, and the dollar remained in his pocket—a source of guilty joy and expectant misgiving. He longed for the day when it would be spent and off his mind, and calculated the days and hours before the tow would reach Philadelphia.
But Scotty did not reach Philadelphia; he fell overboard just within the Delaware capes and though he bawled lustily as the black side of the barge slipped by him in the darkness, and was answered in kind by his watchmates above, the noise did not reach the relentless power eleven hundred feet away, and he was left behind. But one had thrown him a life-buoy, and on this he floated until daylight, when an outbound tug picked him up. The tug was bound to Boston.
"I'll e'en make the best o' it," said Scotty, as he wrung out his wet clothing in the tug's small forecastle. "And I'll regard the dollar as a special deespensation of an all-wise Providence; for what would I do in Boston wi'oot a bit o' money in my clothes?"
But he did not reach Boston. The tug had a full crew, scant accommodations, and a hard-hearted captain, who decreed that Scotty should be put aboard the first craft that would take him. This happened to be a three-skysail-yard American ship—the Baltimore—two days out from New York for Shanghai, whose skipper backed his yard in answer to the tug-captain's offer to give him a sailor, and whose third-mate received Scotty—not with open arms, but clinched fists, as he dropped, swearing, to the deck in a bosun's chair.
"You ought to be glad you're alive," said her skipper, harshly, when Scotty had, later, come aft to protest against his abduction. "He pulled you out of a life-buoy, where you'd ha' drowned 'fore the next craft came along, and puts you aboard a big, safe ship where you couldn't fall overboard if you tried. Get forward, now, and stop this talk."
"And am I to be put on the articles?" demanded Scotty. "I expect to wark where'er I be; but do I get pay, I'm askin'?"
"No. My articles are full. You'll wark your passage."
"Four months' sleevery in a hell-ship," growled Scotty, as he went forward. "This comes o' back-sleedin'. Lord forgi' me for it, but the punishment is hard. Howe'er, I'll just hang on to the dollar. I'll ha' earned it long this side o' the cape."
He did, and continued to earn it until the ship had neared the Yangtse-Kiang. Marked for the officers' attentions by his initial profane and irreverent comment on his transferral by the tug-captain, he was assaulted on the slightest provocation by the mates—no bigger than he or more skillful of fist, but justified by the law—and, though easily the best sailorman of the mixed crew, was put at distasteful tasks while inferior men worked at sailorly work on ropes and rigging.
There was nothing of this in the watch below, for Scotty could thrash the best two men forward, and led them all in forecastle discourse; but as it was a mixed crew, none too honest, in his opinion, he made a monk-bag—a leather pocket—for his dollar, and hung it around his neck; and, to further protect the precious coin, forswore his religion, called himself a Catholic and the monk-bag a phylactery, with a saint's relic within. This brought him to the notice of a gentle-souled Portuguese of the crew, a true believer, who made friends with the Scot and earned his confidence before he learned of the shamness of the phylactery. Scotty, on lookout one night, told him this in a burst of confidence that also included a confession of his peculation. His friend, horrified, not at the theft, but at the sacrilegious fraud, informed him that the coin was accursed, that his soul was accursed, and that the only salvation for him in this life and the next was, first, that he return the stolen dollar by hand to its rightful owner, next that he become a real believer in the only true church instead of an impostor.
"If you do not," he said, "you have alla time badda luck till you die, then purgatory and the flame."
Perhaps the flames of Sheol could not have turned Scotty from his faith; but he was certainly impressed with the first clause of the obligation.
"Ye maun be right, Manuel," he said; "for, though I thought it a deespensation, I find that all my hard luck came after it. I'll gie it back when I may."
"Who's on lookout here?" demanded the burly third mate as he climbed the forecastle steps. "Hey, who's on lookout?"
"I am, sir," answered Scotty, as Manuel drew out of the way.
"Get down on the main-deck, you dago son of a thief," bellowed the officer, aiming a kick at the retreating Portuguese. "D' ye see that light?" he said to Scotty. "With a man to help you keep lookout, d' ye see it?"
Scotty, derelict in his duty, did not see it for some moments—in fact, not until the third mate was through with him. Then he looked through closing eyes to where the third mate pointed—dead ahead, where a white light shone faintly in the darkness.
"Ay, ay, sir," he said, thickly. "I see it; and I'll e'en remember this night when I meet ye on shore, Mr. Smart. I'm no shipped in the craft, and it's a matter for the underwriters to know—puttin' me on lookout. As it is, I doot I'd meet trouble should I pull yer head off the noo. I'm no a shipped man, d' ye hear?"
The last was like the roar of an angry bull, and the officer backed away from the enraged Scotchman. Then he descended the steps, and in a minute a man came up and relieved him.
The light did not move, and, the wind being gentle, the day broke before the ship had come up to it. Then they saw a black tramp steamer, rolling easily in the trough, with a string of small flags flying from aloft and the English ensign from the flag-staff at the taffrail. There was an exchange of signals between the two crafts until eight bells struck, and then Scotty, just about to sit down to his breakfast, was called aft and told to get his belongings ready for another trans-shipment. Scotty's belongings, the few rags he had collected by various methods from his shipmates, were hardly worth taking; but he regretted his breakfast, though glad to quit the ship. As he slid down the davit-tackle he surmised the meaning of the change by the expression on the third mate's face as he peered over the rail, and some words uttered by the captain, among which he only made out one—"underwriters."
"I'm told," said the semi-uniformed captain of the tramp, "that you are a castaway, picked up on the American coast, and are discontented with the ship."
"I dinna ken what the sleeve-drivers telt ye, cappen," answered Scotty, his brogue a little thicker from his emotions, "but I agree that I'm discontented."
"What's wrong with your face?"
"Ran foul o' the third mate's fist for no seem' your light. I were no one o' the crew, yet they put me on lookout. And I strongly suspect, cappen, that I'm bundled off mair on account o' that than because of my discontent."
"Possibly; but I'm a man short, and will sign you at Shanghai wages—three pounds a month. You will not be struck here, and will be well treated while you do your work. We're bound for Boston, and will go on when the engine is mended."
"I'm obleeged to ye, sir," said Scotty, radiantly. "And Boston's the port for me, sir. I've strong reasons for strikin' that coast."
He still had his dollar secure in its leather casing, hung to his neck, but in this ship he said nothing about it.
Nothing unpleasant happened to him on this passage homeward; and he fondly believed that his sincere intent to return the dollar to Captain Bolt had changed his luck—that his painful friction with Mr. Smart's fist was a providential happening; but Providence had ordered otherwise, and in this manner: The steamer captain, ahead of his reckoning while approaching the coast in thick fog, ran his ship at full speed onto the sands of Cape Cod. He was unable to back off; a rising wind and sea threw the steamer broadside to the beach, and here she churned a hole for herself from which a wrecking tug could hardly pull her.
But a wrecking tug was sent for, by signals to the shore when the fog lifted, and in time one arrived, with a lifeboat in tow—which was a lucky forethought of some one, for the rising wind and sea had developed into a storm that was breaking the ship in pieces. Anchored well out, and steaming with full power into the teeth of the gale, the tug slacked down the lifeboat, and one by one the crew sprang into the sea and was pulled in. Six trips in and out completed the rescue, and Scotty came out on the last, with the frantic captain, who never ceased his bitter self-reproach.
But Scotty, irresponsible, had troubles of his own; he was wet and cold—for it was midwinter—and once aboard the wrecking tug, he fled the captain's inward objurgations, and sought the warmth of the firehold. Here he burrowed far along beside the boilers, and being utterly exhausted as well as chilled and drenched, and far from the captain's voice, fell into a sleep which lasted until the tug had tied up at Boston; then he came out, to find his shipmates gone ashore.
"Are you the missing man o' that crew?" asked the mate of the tug. "Your skipper says to stay here, and he'll bring you your pay."
"That's gude," answered Scotty, cheerfully. "But I'll just stretch my legs on the dock a wee bit, for it's a long time since I've been ashore."
The tug was moored outside of a small schooner, whose crew, as he crossed her deck, were "loosing" sails, singling lines and making other obvious preparations to getting away. As he mounted her rail to climb to the dock, he saw his captain looking sadly down on him.
"It's just as well, my man," he said, "that you couldn't be found; for I didn't sign you before the consul, and want no complications. However, I'll pay you here. Just sign this receipt—an even two months at three pounds a month."
"Ay, ay, sir—and thank you, cappen."
He reached up and secured the slip of paper and a pencil handed down; then, first examining the document with Scottish caution, knelt down and signed his name to a receipt for six pounds. Passing it up, he received a cylindrical roll of coins from the captain, and thanked him again. Then he turned to drop to the deck; but his foot slipping on the hard, painted rail, he came down on all fours, and the roll of coin left his grasp.
"Catch it—quick!" called the captain from above. "Look out for that scupper; it's rolling right into it."
Scotty made a frantic scramble towards his treasure, and just missed closing his fingers on it before it rolled into the scupper; then he heard the tinkling sound as it struck the water over the side.
"Domnation!" he roared, as he rose to his feet. "Twa months' pay gone to the de'il, and I never e'en laid eyes on it."
"I'm very sorry, my man," said the captain. "There were six gold sovereigns, and I have your receipt. I can't pay you again."
"Na, na, cappen," answered Scotty, as sadly as the captain. "'Tis na fault o' yourn, nor mine; it's my luck, and it'll ne'er change till I git to New York and find my old skipper. I'm under a curse, I am."
But the captain had gone.
"Want to get to New York?" asked a voice behind him.
"That I do," said Scotty, shortly, as he faced the speaker. It was the captain of the schooner.
"I'm a man short," he said. "Where's your clo's?"
"On my back, cappen. I lost twa months' pay the noo, and can't repleenish my wardrobe."
"It's fine weather, and you won't need any. I pay twenty a month. Turn to."
Scotty went to New York in this schooner—that is, he went as far as the Sandy Hook Lightship, where the skipper, a man of poor judgment, mistakingly put about under the bow of an outward-bound steamer, which had slowed down to discharge her pilot, and which went ahead too soon for the welfare of that schooner. The impact was not dead on—it was a glancing blow that the schooner received, and it only carried away the weather main rigging and the davit on the stern. But Scotty was at work in this weather main rigging, and foreseeing disaster to the frail spider web to which he clung, he leaped for the big stockless anchor of the steamer just before it caught the shrouds. On this he sat perched, while wire rope snapped over and around him, and as the steamer forged ahead, managed to make himself heard over the shouts and curses with which the two skippers paid their parting compliments. He was lifted up and taken to the captain—a man black in the face from rage and overstrained vocabulary.
The captain greeted Scotty with inarticulate snorts.
"And can ye put me on some craft bound in, cappen?" asked Scotty, anxiously.
"Na-ow," roared the irate man. "Put you 'board nothing. Nor will I put you on the articles, curse you. I'll put you to work, and if you don't work your hands off, I'll charge you for your passage to Melbourne. Get out o' this."
"I tell ye," roared Scotty, in return, equally enraged at the prospect of another trip to the antipodes, "if ye don't get rid of me, ye'll no reach Melbourne. I'm a Jonah—a Jonah from the curse that has come to me. Put me ashore, ye poor, unfortunate fule."
Scotty was led away—after the gentle manner of the sea—and, in spite of his loud protestations that he was a competent able seaman, placed at the degrading labor of coal passing. When the cooler atmosphere of the stoke-hole had lowered his temperature somewhat, he again went to the captain and earnestly told his story—of his theft, his bad luck and the bad luck he had brought to others.
"The curse is a-warkin' and a-growin' on me, cappen," he concluded, sorrowfully. "I'm the line-e-al desceendent o' the Flyin' Dutchman, sir. And I'll wrack your ship wi'oot meanin' to."
"I've read the Bible," said the captain, calmly. "I know what to do with Jonahs. I always throw them overboard."
Scotty shoveled and wheeled coal for three months, then his prediction was fulfilled. Within a day's run to Melbourne, the screw slipped off the tail-shaft, and as it went to the bottom of the Indian Ocean, the racing engine went to pieces. This might not have prevented the steamer's reaching port under sail or tow, but the forward crank-pin broke, and the piston drove up with nothing to stop it, fetched up with a mighty jolt against the cylinder head—which held—and disconnected most of the bolts which bound the cylinder to its bed.
As the steamer fell off in the hollow of the sea, she rolled, and at the third roll the half-ton of metal toppled over, crashed down through the bottom of the ship, and sought the company of the screw. She was a compartmentless steamer, and in half an hour had followed, leaving her crew afloat in boats and on life-rafts. Scotty found himself in the boat with the captain, and wisely anticipating rebuke, had brought his shovel. The captain glared unspeakable things at him.
"It'll do ye no good the noo, cappen," said Scotty, anticipating the captain's outburst. "And if you, or a man o' your crew, lay the weight o' your finger upon me, I'll brain ye wi' my staff of office"—he elevated the shovel. "I warned ye in time; ye should ha' heeded me."
"Put down your shovel, and take an oar," commanded the captain. "I'd shoot you dead if it wasn't for the law. But you'll get out o' this boat, onto the first craft we meet—bound in or bound out."
"It'll be bound out, cappen," said Scotty, gravely. "Ha' no fear o' that."
It was an Italian bark, and as Scotty had predicted, she was bound out—to Rio Janeiro, as Scotty learned later. When the flotilla of boats swarmed into her path, she backed her main yards with much chattering and yelling of her crew, and Scotty's boat approached her side, where a Jacob's-ladder hung invitingly.
"Get up there, you miserable Sawnee," said the skipper. "I wouldn't put you aboard a white man's vessel, for you'll wreck her as you did mine."
It is very impolite, and sometimes inexpedient, to call a Scot a Sawnee.
Scotty climbed the ladder with his shovel, and when he stood upon the rail, turned and let it fly towards the captain in the stern-sheets. Had it struck edge first it would have cut him in two; as it happened, the handle merely flattened his nose. The captain sank down, then, rising, fired a revolver at Scotty, but missed, and forthwith ordered his men to give way.
And then, amid the excited cries and orders of the Italian captain, Scotty was pulled down from the rail, mobbed around the deck a little—though he fought furiously—by the three mates of the bark, and bundled into a hatch-house. And long after he was locked in he could hear the excited and puzzled accents of the Italian captain, calling to the misguided castaways, who would not be rescued; then he heard the yards braced, and knew that he was homeward bound.
"If the bloody hooker don't sink on the way," he growled. "Howe'er, I'll no revile the craft that carries me, for it's lang odds she gits the warst o' it."
Shipboard etiquette is international. Scotty, in throwing the shovel, had violated the strictest clause in the code, and the Italian captain, though understanding nothing of the circumstances, had sensed the enormity of his offense, and punished him. But he was not confined long; the door was soon opened, and from the jabbering and gestures of the three mates he understood that he was to go forward. He went, and with a bucket of salt water and a piece of old canvas so improved his personal appearance as to partly overrule the prejudice against him.
Seamanship, like nautical etiquette, is international, and though he understood not one word of what was said to him, and though not a man aboard understood him, yet he knew what to do without orders, and soon proved himself superior to any of the officers. The rather impulsive, but generous, captain noticed this, and made as much of him as was possible without a common means of communication; but Scotty ascribed it to the influence of the unblessed, but jealously guarded, leather pendant often visible on his hairy chest. He made the most of this influence among the men forward, and even went to the blasphemous extent of making the sign of the cross on occasions, and repeating certain words, picked up from his devout shipmates, of the Roman Catholic ritual. But when he prayed, alone and in the silence of the night, he prayed for forgiveness, for the removal of the curse, for opportunity to redeem himself—for the test of a ten-mile swim or a thousand-mile walk, to the end that he might place that stolen dollar in the hand of Captain Bolt.
But his prayers availed not. He became a man without a country. The Italian bark caught fire in the South Atlantic, and in the confusion of abandoning the charred and sinking hulk, Scotty found himself alone in a small quarter-boat, which, like himself, had been left behind, and which he had lowered and unhooked unaided. But he had been unable to find the oars, and the other boats were far away; so he spent seven days and nights in the cockle-shell, freezing by night, roasting by day, with the horrors of hunger and thirst for company, and was then rescued in a delirious state of mind by a Norwegian barkentine, bound for Cape Town.
There is no need of recounting his further adventures in detail. He had now been a year without touching land, and he spent four more at sea before there came to him even a gleam of hope. No matter what the craft, or what the port bound for, something occurred to destroy the ship or prevent him finishing the passage. At times, when an alleged advance of pay was worked off, he drew clothing from the ship's slop chest, and always left it behind when the curse closed down upon him and removed him from that ship. Once he was abandoned with a boy, third mate, and three others on a derelict which they had been sent to inspect, and from the neighborhood of which a furious gale drove their own vessel. They were rescued just before the derelict sank. Again, in Manila Bay, he swam to a near-by ship which he had heard was bound to New York, and secreted himself, only to find when at sea that she was bound for Liverpool. He made the stormy passage of the Horn in midwinter with the clothing he stood in.
Too eager to touch dry land at Liverpool, he quit the ship in a runner's boat before docking, and the boat getting in the way of an outbound ocean-tug, he went to sea on the tug, and was again put aboard the first craft met, an English four-master, bound for Calcutta. And it was in this ship that there came to him the gleam of hope mentioned. In her forecastle he found the quondam third mate of the big skysail-yarder, the Mr. Smart who, backed by the law, had thrashed him on the forecastle deck and later arranged his transfer to the tramp.
Scotty had long since forgiven him, regarding him as but an instrument of the Lord. But the instrument, down on his luck and 'fore-the-mast in a "lime-juicer," must needs refer to it, again and again, until the sorely tried man gave way. Then occurred one of the shortest and fiercest fights that ever delighted the souls of English sailors. Scotty did the fighting, and he struck out twice; but each blow was like the kick of a mule, and Smart was carried aft to have his broken ribs and jawbone reset, while Scotty went in irons for murderous assault; but the captain released him on learning that the war began in an American ship. There was no further trouble between these two, but Scotty drew comfort and hope from the incident because it seemed his first victory over the forces that opposed him.
Cholera was rampant in Calcutta, and not a man but the skipper left the ship while there; then she sailed for New York, and Scotty's hope increased. He carefully guarded the black and grimy talisman of evil that hung to his neck, and prayed fervently for the final test that would redeem him; and he prayed, too—for his great trouble had softened and spiritualized him—that this big ship and large company should not suffer disaster on his account.
But as the ship reached soundings it seemed that the prayer was to be unanswered; for she came driving up to the light-ship before a southerly gale and sea that prevented any sail holding but the foresail and three lower topsails. All lighter canvas was blown away—and lower topsails and a lee shore are a bad combination.
The captain could not conceal his anxiety; there had been no sign of a pilot, and though the holding ground was good, his anchors were small—too small for his big ship. To add to the danger, the spume and spin-drift from the combers were thickened by a mist that seemed to descend from above, blotting out the distant light-ship. But this mist was ahead; astern, the horizon was visible, and far this side of the horizon—not half a mile on the port quarter—was a sight that sent the blood coursing through poor Scotty's veins, and a prayer of thanksgiving to his lips.
Coming along before the storm, but on a convergent course which would soon bring her in the big ship's wake, was the steamer Proserpine towing her barges. Scotty knew them; every detail was pictured on his brain. He knew that big funnel, and big nigger-head in the bow; he knew the stump bowsprit of the Champion, with its one-chain bobstay; and he knew the Anita behind her, straight-stemmed, black and dingy.
And as he looked there came to him the conviction that here was the test required of him—that if he, the Jonah of many ships, should remain where he was, there would be one more catastrophe on the list, while some maneuvering of fate would again send him to sea; but that if he rid the ship of his presence, there was a chance, not only for the ship, but for himself.
Mounting the forecastle deck—where he had a right to be—he watched and waited until the three crafts astern were as one in the wake; then, shedding his oilskins and boots, he sprang overboard. He heard the shouts of a shipmate, and as he came to the surface, saw men on the rail, looking and waving. He saw the second mate heave over a life-buoy, but it fell short, and he did not swim for it. The ship went on, for a square-rigged craft may not round to in a gale.
Scotty swam shoreward at first, for he knew that the steamer and tow would make leeway. On the tops of the seas he took his bearings, and then swam, or paddled, according to the inclination of the steamer's bow. In the hollows he swam towards her. Nearer and nearer she came, and at last he began hailing; but not a man could be seen on her deck, and the bridge was empty; the captain or mate on duty was in the warm pilot-house, no doubt—after the manner of tug-men. Hailing frantically, he met the wash of her bow wave and went under; when he came up she was past him, with her white-painted name staring at him. No one had seen or heard him.
The Champion was coming, and he swam into her path, barely missing a clutch at the steel towline whizzing past him. He hailed her, but there was no response.How could they hear, in the teeth of that furious wind? Realizing this, he saved his breath.
The barge, rolling along before the sea, was making good weather of it, yet she lifted and plunged heavily as the big billows passed beneath her—the chain bobstay often rising six feet out of water, and again sinking as far below. To catch this chain was all that he could hope for; to miss it meant death; for even should he be seen or heard as he passed astern, no power on earth could bring that tug back to windward in such a sea.
When but twenty feet away from him the bow lifted, dripping water from the hawse-pipes—and to the agonized man beneath it this bow and dripping hawse-pipes bore a harrowing resemblance to a large, implacable, yet weeping face, a face that expressed sorrow and condemnation—then it fell upon him, and the heavy iron chain struck his head, then glanced to his shoulder and bore him under. But the downward blow gave him his grip upon it; had it struck him while lifting, he might not have held.
Clinging for dear life, unable to move himself an inch against the rush of water, with head swimming from the impact of the chain, and lungs bursting from lack of air, he waited for the rise, and when it came, moved upward a foot. Then he was borne under again, this time with his lungs full of air, and he suffered less; and when he was lifted out, he gained another foot.
Four times he was plunged under before he had climbed high enough to avoid it, and then he rested, until his head cleared and the awful pain of fatigue left his arms. When strength came back he mounted to the bowsprit, crept in to the topgallant forecastle, and sprang down on the main-deck, to the consternation of two men at the weather fore-rigging. These were foremast hands, and Scotty had no present use for them. He ran past them in his stocking-feet—and they gave room to the wild-eyed apparition—and aft to the poop, where, besides the helmsman, was a man who might be captain or mate, but who could certainly inform him.
"Is Cappen Bolt in charge o' the Anita the neo?" he asked, hoarsely, as he halted before him.
"Yes. Who are you?" asked the astounded man.
"God be thankit!" exclaimed Scotty, and he mounted the taffrail—not for a swim this time, there was no need of it. Stretching back to the Anita was a steel trolley, which was all he wanted. Before the man could do more than yell at him, Scotty had hitched himself out on the towline beyond reach; then, for faster progress, he swung beneath it, head aft and downward, and in this position, hand over hand and leg over leg, he made his way along until the water took him. Filling his lungs with air and locking arms and legs around the rope, he let himself go; and he slid at the speed of the tug down the trolley and up again, traversing half of the length of the towline beneath the surface.
He was nearly dead and fully blind when he felt air on his face, and had only time to take a breath when a following sea immersed him again. But with another breath, he began to climb.
Captain Bolt, aft on the poop, saw men on the Champion waving arms and pointing a megaphone his way. He could not hear, nor could he hope to from the bow, yet he ran forward. As he reached the forecastle steps, an unkempt figure came in over the bow—a big, rawboned man in dripping rags, with blood streaming from arms and legs, with a red, round, and sorrowful face bordered by long, matted, gray hair-with the gleam of incipient insanity in the eyes. He sprang off the forecastle and faced the captain.
"Cappen Bolt," he stammered, as he tore at a small leather bag with fingers and teeth. "Cappen—cappen—here it is. I've fetched it t' ye. I never spent it." From the bag came a stained and oxidized coin, which he forced into the amazed captain's hand. Then, sinking to his knees, he lifted his eyes to heaven, muttered a few inarticulate words, and fell over in a swoon.
"Here!" called the captain, sharply, to two of his men who had drawn near. "Take him below and strip him. Put him to bed, and I'll get some brandy. Lord knows who he is, or where he came from, but he's in a bad way."
Scotty was carried down the forecastle stairs and cared for; but he did not waken to drink the captain's brandy; the swoon took on the form of child-like sleep, and the sleep continued until the barges had made port and moored to the dock. Here, amid the confusion of making fast, opening hatches, and rigging cargo gear, Captain Bolt had about forgotten the mysterious stranger in his forecastle, and was only reminded of him when the captain of the Champion came aboard to inquire.
"He climbed up my bobstays, no doubt; he must have fallen overboard from that big Englishman that anchored in the Horseshoe. Went crazy in the water, I suppose. He went out on your towline like a monkey. I wouldn't ha' believed a man could stand it. He was three minutes under water."
"I can't make it out," said Captain Bolt. "He put this in my hand"—he held out the blackened dollar—"and then went daffy. He's down below now. No, here he comes."
Scotty had climbed to the deck. He stood near the hatch, looking about with a doubtful, bewildered air at the docks and shipping. Then his face cleared a little, and like a cat in a strange street he moved slowly and hesitatingly along the rail towards the fore rigging. Then with one bound he swung himself to the top of the rail, and a mighty upward jump landed him on the string-piece of the dock. Here he paused long enough to sink to his knees and elevate his clasped hands; then he rose, walked hurriedly, and, breaking into a run, disappeared from sight behind the crowd of horses and trucks on the dock.
"By the Lord," exclaimed Captain Bolt, "I know him! It's Scotty. I lost him overboard off the Delaware capes five years ago. How'd he get picked up, I wonder? Where's he been? And this——" he produced the dollar. "I wonder if—why, very likely—a Scotchman has a conscience. Say, cappen, this seems funny. I put up a job on Scotty. I pretended to lose a dollar to see if he'd keep it, and he did. And I'll bet this is the one." He opened his knife and cut into the dingy coin. "Yes, it was a counterfeit."
Спасибо за чтение!
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