a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership
Title: The Grampus and the Weasel Author: Stewart Edward White * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1900961h.html Language: English Date first posted: August 2019 Most recent update: August 2019 This eBook was produced by: Colin Choat Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
GO TO Project Gutenberg Australia HOME PAGE
Two men stood atop the low cliffs on the seaward side of the Peninsula of Monterey. They were wholly unlike in every particular of dress, of equipment, of physical makeup, of age; yes, even of occupation, for while the one was gazing steadfastly across the sea, the eyes of the other were occupied as steadfastly with his companion.
The latter was indeed worthy of survey. He was long, lean, wiry and tanned. His head was bound with a kerchief. The upper part of his body was muffled in a voluminous garment without buttons; the front flaps overlapping deeply across the chest, held in place by a wide beaded belt. This garment was heavily thonged or fringed around the bottom of its skirt and along the seams of its sleeves, but many of the thongs were missing, having been cut away for use as occasion had required. The belt supported a pouch of considerable capacity, a knife in a sheath, and a narrow-bladed small ax. From a strap across the man's shoulder depended a stoppered buffalo horn that had been scraped so thin that the grains of gunpowder could be discerned through its substance. His lower extremities were incased in leggings which, startlingly, had no seat, and on his feet he wore ornamented moccasins. The material of the various garments was the same. It looked like some kind of soft and shiny black satin, but was in reality buckskin, worn by long use. At this moment he was resting his chin on the back of his hands, which were, in turn, clasped across the muzzle of a rifle so long of barrel that, though he was well over six feet in height, it furnished a comfortable support. He was clean-shaven and lean-faced, and might have been anywhere from thirty to fifty years of age.
He seemed totally oblivious of the other man's existence; thoughthe latter was, in his way, quite as worthy of remark. This was a short, broad man. He wore thrust back on his head a flat-crowned, wide-brimmed black hat, probably of straw, though it had been so heavily glazed by varnish that it might have been of tin. The ends of its wide ribbon band hung in swallowtails alongside his ear. A knit jersey, striped horizontally in blue and white, defined every muscle in his powerful torso. His trousers fitted nearly as closely as far as the knees, when suddenly they flared into what might almost be described as miniature skirts. His feet were bare and brown. As for his age, that, too, was indeterminate, though something simple, almost childlike, in the expression of his face deprived it of the other's maturity, if not of his years. Indeed, at this moment that expression was of a rather awed small boy at a circus. He was staring at the other man, his mouth half open, in a species of admiring incredulity to which its object paid not the smallest attention. Several times he seemed about to speak. At length he cleared his throat with visible determination.
"What you lookin' at, mate?" he rumbled in a hoarse voice.
The other did not glance in his direction. Nevertheless, he replied.
"The sea," he answered.
The sailor squinted his eyes.
"I don't make out nothin'," he said after a moment. "There's nothin' out there."
The tall stranger raised his head, stretched as though awakening, turned toward his questioner.
"I've never seed it afore," said he.
"Never seed it afore! The sea?" echoed the sailor stupidly.
"I've seed the Big Salt Lake, back yander"—he waved a vague hand toward the east—"and that's a heap of water, looked like to me. But allus they been tellin' me of the sea. So I made up my mind I'd come look."
The sailor spat and shifted his quid to his other cheek.
"Well, what do you think of her?" he asked.
"She's awful flat," submitted the Mountain Man simply.
The sailor burst into a hoarse laugh.
"Say that off'n Cape Stiff!" said he.
"Cape Stiff—Cape Horn."
"You been thar?"
"How'd you think I'd get here? Fly?"
"You a sailor?" asked the Mountain Man, with a sudden show of interest.
"What you think I was?"
"I couldn't figger. What for you wear yore pants like that? Foofaraw?"
"Pants? Like what?" the sailor was taken aback.
"Looks like it's mouty tanglin', walkin' in things like that. What for all the slack?"
"Tangling, my eye!" snorted the sailor indignantly. "I'd like to see you roll them things"—he glanced with scorn at the other's tight leggings—"when you go to sluice decks." He stooped rapidly and demonstrated.
The other laughed in a pleased fashion, but without making a sound. He laid the rifle on the ground, squatted on his heels. From his belt he drew the ax, and from the pouch produced a sack of tobacco. It now appeared that the handle of the ax was hollow, and that the nub on the butt of the narrow blade was also hollow, so that, held upside down, the ax became a pipe. The sailor contemplated this with admiration. But evidently the pants business still rankled.
"Look a here," he said suddenly, "whyn't you scrape your ax handle? She's so greasy and slippery now that a man couldn't hang onto her to save his neck."
The Mountain Man glanced up at him with surprise; then down on the implement in his hand.
"Why," said he presently, "in the first place, she ain't an ax; she's a tomahawk. And in the second place, so fur from scrapin' her, I just nat'rally grease her up good so she will slip."
He glanced about him, selected his mark in a dead cypress stub, drew back his arm and cast. The weapon flashed through the air to embed itself quivering deep in the wood. The Mountain Man arose slowly to retrieve it.
"She's got to slide easy from your hand or she won't turn right in the air," he observed. He filled the pipe side and lighted it with a quiet air of satisfaction, as though honors were now even in the pants business. He puffed it well alight and offered it to the sailor. The latter declined. "I'm thawing," said he, and could not understand the mistrust that flitted briefly across the other's face. He knew nothing of pipe etiquette and friendship smokes.
"Well," observed the Mountain Man presently, "I got to be gittin' back."
"Back where?" asked the sailor.
"To the mountains, whar I come from. I calc'late," said he, "it mout take me, this season of the year, risin' on three weeks, and I got rendezvoo with a pardner."
"Three weeks," marveled the sailor; "that's quite a voyage."
"Mebbe more eff'n the Injuns make trouble."
The sailor looked up quickly.
"You seen Injuns—back where you came from?" he asked with interest.
The Mountain Man stared a moment, to see if the question was serious. Then he shoved aside the kerchief on his head. A curious semicircular scar fitted across the top of his forehead like a cap, and disappeared in the long hair above his ears.
"Started to sculp me," he explained gravely, "but I got him afore he had a chance to yank."
"Gor a'mighty!" muttered the sailor. "Let's set us down and you tell me how come about."
"I got to be gittin' on now, I tell ye." The Mountain Man knocked the ashes from the tomahawk and thrust it in his belt.
But the sailor caught him by the arm. He persisted. It took some moments for him to realize that by "now" this strange being meant on that very instant. He was, furthermore, abysmally astonished to find out that the Mountain Man had only that day reached the coast; that between his arrival from those three-weeks-distant mountains and his return thereto only this short hour was to intervene. He could not understand any reason for such hurry.
"I'm in no hurry," disclaimed the Mountain Man, "but I've seed what I come for."
"Do you mean to tell me you come all that way and back just to take a squint at that?" The sailor waved his hand at the ocean.
"I never seed it afore," said the Mountain Man patiently.
"But now you're here"—the sailor's indignation was mounting—"ain't you going to look around any? Ain't you even goin' over to Monterey?"
"Monterey nigh yere?" asked the other with mild interest.
"Nigh here!" the sailor spat with disgust. "Nigh here! Don't you even know where you're at? How in tarnation did you get here?"
"The sea lay west," said the Mountain Man, "so I come west. As for Monterey, I got no use for these yeller-belly pueblos. I seen a plenty. Nor for yeller bellies. Nor they fer me." He laughed in his hearty but silent fashion.
"And you're going back—all that ways—without even lookin' around?"—the seaman was still incredulous.
"I seen what I come to see," replied the other.
"Well, I think you're crazy!"
"Mebbe so," agreed the trapper mildly.
Nevertheless, an hour or so later the two walked together down the hill and into the pueblo of Monterey. Bob Scarf, for so the Mountain Man named himself, strode along at a light, long, easy gait, leading his horse. Bill Carden, who was the sailor, rolled alongside, two steps to his one. The sailor was triumphant. His desire to show off this strange specimen to his mates at the pulqueria of Portugee Joe had seized upon him mightily. He had flung himself heart and soul into persuasion. None of his first baits had taken. Muchachas—leetle devils, and not so good as the Injun gals at that. Aggerdenty—Bob knew all about that stuff, and one drunk a year was enough for any man, and rendezvous was the place for that. And then a casual mention of Bill's ship—
"I never yet seen a ship," observed Bob wistfully. "Eff'n I thought you'd take me aboard a ship—"
"Sure I will!" said Bill, with a confidence he did not feel, for he could see neither Captain Jordan nor Bully Hawes, the mate, permitting a seaman such a privilege. "Sure, you'll get aboard," he repeated, with the confidence now so genuine that Scarf sensed the difference. The latter's look of inquiry was so compelling that Carden had to explain. "Just as you said that, a grampus blowed," said he, "and when that happens, it means you get your wish."
The walk across the peninsula is a long one. Bill plied his new friend with many questions. His interest in what the latter had to say was keen beyond mere curiosity.
"Gor a'mighty!" he sighed with envy. "I sure do wish I could see that country and fight Injuns!"
Scarf uttered an amused laugh, that checked suddenly. At the exact moment Carden had uttered his wish, a weasel had darted across their path from right to left.
"Yo're a-goin' to," said he, "eff'n the Injuns is right in what they believe!"
They entered the pueblo. Carden steered his friend toward Portugee Joe's. The trapper followed lingeringly and reluctantly. He had no eyes for the picturesque and scattered buildings of the pueblo itself, nor for the even more picturesque men and women lounging or loitering about, who surveyed him with curiosity, a little hostility and a little covert admiration. His attention was fixed on the brig, lying at anchor just off the customhouse. In his direct fashion, he wanted to go aboard at once. Bill Carden muttered uneasily to himself. It was belatedly borne in on him that explanations and excuses might not prove too easy to make to this fellow. The fact that he could point out the ship's shore boat on her painter astern of the brig sufficed as an excuse for present delay. And now that he was here, Scarf consented readily enough to sample Joe's aggerdenty. So far, so good.
But as the two rounded the corner of the building, Carden stopped for a moment and uttered a curse. Leaning indolently against the door lintel was the burly figure of the mate, Bully Hawes, and Bully Hawes was not one to pass over so obvious a subject for curiosity as this. Bully Hawes stuck his nose in everything, damn him! He had more questions in his system than a fish had eggs. And it suddenly came to Bill Carden that he himself should have gone aboard the brig in that longboat now dangling at her stern.
However, to his relief, and his vast surprise, Bully Hawes did no more than cast upon the two a look of speculation. The sailor hurried his companion past into the dim interior of the pulqueria, where they took seats at one of the three small tables, and Bill demanded loudly the attendance of Portugee Joe. After a moment that great fat man appeared. He served the aguardiente, gestured at wiping the table, wandered away. Bully Hawes summoned him to the door. He listened to Bully Hawes a moment, nodded, and trundled back to his lair in the darkness. After a few moments, he came back to the table. He bore a bottle. He placed this on the table. He clapped Bob Scarf on the shoulder.
"For you!" he said. "You americano! like americano! Long time no have seen americano! No, no! No monee! I drink! You drink! No?" His moon face was wreathed in oily smiles. He whisked away the glasses and laid out three fresh ones, which he hastily filled from the bottle. "We drink!" he urged.
Bill Carden was staring in astonishment.
"You sure got a way with you, mate. I never see Portugee Joe give away a drink before."
The three lifted their glasses and drank. Bully Hawes stood in the doorway looking at them.
It was this same Bully Hawes who, some hours later, pulled Bob Scarf from a bunk to the floor of a dark forecastle and half lifted, half kicked him to a reeling deck. The Mountain Man was only confusedly aware of this. His head was swimming, his legs and arms had no strength, his eyes would not focus, and the motion of the ship had combined with the drug Portugee Joe had slipped into his glass to fill his whole being with nausea. One thing only was certain—he was on a ship; and Bob Scarf, even in his bewilderment and misery, grinned wryly at the prompt fulfillment of his wish. It was his only flash. He was only half conscious of the blows from the mate's boot, and did not identify them for what they were. But someone at his side thrust a rope in his hand.
"Pull on this," a voice whispered. The voice sounded friendly. "Anyways, pretend to. Slow and easy like."
Mechanically, Scarf obeyed. After a little, his head began to clear. He was able to see, and to take stock of his situation. This he did from beneath his brows, without changing his expression or his occupation. His eyes swept the deck but once; nevertheless, no detail, strange to him though it was, escaped his scrutiny and his appraisal. On a raised and railed platform at the back—as he would have phrased it—one man stood at a wheel with spokes and another paced slowly back and forth. On the same level as himself, another, whom he recognized as the man at Portugee Joe's, was standing, his legs apart, looking upward critically at a cross stick with a canvas attached that was rising slowly up the mast. The Mountain Man knew nothing of sails, but his quick eye caught at once the connection between this motion and the rope at which he was still mechanically pulling. He jerked his head to look, and discovered that behind him were five other men, also pulling on the rope. The one nearest was Bill Carden. Bill's eyes met his, wide and troubled. Full recollection returned. Bob Scarf dropped the rope.
"What in hell's all this?" he demanded with mounting anger.
"Grab a hold! Pull!" Carden's eyes showed panic, but his uneasy glance was toward the mate, still gazing aloft.
"Belay!" bellowed the latter.
Carden's face showed relief. He threw the bight of the halyard about its pin, muttering out of the corner of his mouth, "Obey orders, for tripe's sake!" Scarf seized him by the shoulder. "Lemme be. Later. Our watch off." Then, as the Mountain Man's grip tightened, "I did not, I tell ye!"
"Crimp ye. I swear it! I'd no idee!"
Bully Hawes bellowed some order. Carden wrenched his shoulder free and hastened after the other men across the deck. Scarf remain ed where he was, staring after him. Hawes was shouting something at him; then, as he failed to comprehend, strode over to him.
"Lay to on that sheet!" he repeated, with a string of oaths. The Mountain Man simply stared. The mate kicked him with his heavy sea boot.
Now, Bob Scarf was most decidedly a rugged individualist. He was accustomed to the complete freedom of a wide and empty land. He had always been his own boss in all matters, great and small. He knew nothing of any discipline other than the self-imposed. He did not yet comprehend why he was here. So, when Bully Hawes kicked him, he at once started fighting.
This pleased Bully Hawes. It was what he had hoped, for it was the shortest way. Also the usual way and the easiest, for Hawes was a bucko whose seamanship was only a minor qualification. He had gained and held his job because he could rule the tough waterfront crews of that day with his fists, and could, and did, lick any man who stepped. He was proud of that ability, and he rejoiced at any excuse to exercise it. When he hit them, he liked to boast, they stayed hit. And his methods comprehended neither compunction nor mercy.
But in the first few seconds of the encounter it became evident that this strange new specimen had methods of his own. Apparently less powerful than the burly mate, Bob Scarf was, nevertheless, long, lean, wiry, and, after his own fashion, accustomed to battle. He had none of his usual weapons of hand-to-hand encounter, but the buckskins he still wore were wet from spray and as slippery as butter. Bully Hawes found his sledgehammer blows avoided and himself locked in close grips with a writhing eel on which his strength seemed able to get no purchase. The men stopped hauling and stood, the sheet in their hands. The man on the quarterdeck sauntered to the rail, against which he leaned on crossed elbows, a cheroot in the corner of his mouth, looking down.
Rough-and-tumble was old stuff to the mate. In a manner of speaking, he had made his living at it over all the seven seas. But it was also old stuff to Bob Scarf, and he had played it on plain and mountain for higher stakes. There was between the two the difference between livelihood and survival; between the need to dominate and the need to destroy. The Mountain Man had before now saved his scalp by one or another of these Indian tricks, and shortly Bully Hawes rolled in the scuppers with a broken arm.
Throughout the encounter the man on the quarterdeck had made no move to interfere, either in person or by command. He had continued to watch with an interest almost Olympian in its complete detachment. Now, however, he removed the cheroot from his mouth and laid it carefully to one side. He strolled slowly to the companionway just forward of the wheel.
"Mr. Tate!" he called. His voice was smooth and without emotion. After a moment, the head of the second mate appeared above the hatch, yawning as though just awakened. "Will you call Dan and the Swede?"
Tate glanced at the situation in the waist of the ship, and grinned. He disappeared, to return almost instantly, followed by the bos'n and the carpenter. All four then descended from the quarterdeck.
No pride of prowess attended them. Bully Hawes monopolized that. This was a job—a necessary job. There was even no animosity. Each plucked a belaying pin from the rack. Bob Scarf had not a chance. He fought like a panther, but the odds were too many. He held his own briefly, to the admiration of the fascinated crew, and was badly battered before he dropped unconscious. Bully Hawes, nursing his broken arm, staggered forward to aim a kick with his heavy sea boot, but was checked sharply.
"Attend me in my cabin and I will set your arm," ordered Captain Jordan.
The latter turned without a backward glance, clambered heavily up the companion ladder to the quarter-deck, picked up his cheroot, on which he puffed experimentally to see if it was still alight.
The second mate and Chips doused the Mountain Man with sea water and dumped him unceremoniously into the forecastle. Tate took charge of the deck. He summoned all hands to shift sail. The ship's business went forward.
After a little, Bill Carden sneaked down into the empty forecastle. He lifted Scarf into his bunk. Then, before returning to the deck, he raised the ticking on his own bunk and gazed gloatingly on what lay beneath it—the long rifle, the tomahawk, the throwing knife, which Bill Carden had secretly salvaged at the shanghaiing of the trapper. He'd need them when that weasel omen was fulfilled. The grampus had certainly made good!
Bob Scarf recovered consciousness only after a considerable interval. When barely able to stand, he was haled aft to the break of the quarterdeck. Captain Jordan leaned on the rail, looking down at him.
"Now, my man," said he crisply, "you are a sailor aboard this brig, and you will obey orders as such. If you refuse duty, you have had a taste of what you may expect."
"I'm no sailor," returned Bob Scarf, "and I ain't aboard this ship of my free will."
"That will do," Captain Jordan cut him short. "If you are no sailor, you soon will be. Mr. Tate will instruct you in your duties." He walked away.
The second mate approached his task warily, with a belaying pin handy and assistance within easy call. To his surprise, and, at first, to his distrust, he had no trouble. Furthermore, the Mountain Man proved astonishingly apt. He caught on quickly. Aloft, from the very start, he was surefooted and without fear. Bob Scarf had done plenty of climbing, and his life had given him control of his body balances. His only mistakes were those of a good dog—when he did not understand. A man's comprehension, in those days, was customarily quickened by a blow or a kick, but Tate had tact enough—perhaps it was caution enough—to do a little explaining. Scarf had been assigned to Tate's watch. Bully Hawes held off for the time being, possibly because of his crippled arm, possibly warned by the gleam in the trapper's otherwise expressionless eye when the two came in contact.
The Mountain Man rarely spoke. His expression never changed. The crew at once feared and disliked him, for his contempt for them was evident. He could not understand why the many should submit to such treatment by the few. That they did so placed them, with Scarf, as no men at all; supine, unreliable creatures, without the spark of real manhood. He had no knowledge of the necessary basis of ship's discipline, nor of such legalities as barratry and mutiny. Bob's mind was simple and direct. With the exception of Bill Carden, he had no word for any of them. He kept himself to himself. And even Bill Carden did not get far with him. The sailor had insisted on setting himself right as to any connivance in the actual shanghaiing. He even managed to compel Scarf's reluctant admission that it was useless to think of bucking the ship's officers single-handed, and a dim comprehension that circumstances had so arranged a ship and its conduct that orders must be obeyed.
"You can't do a one-man mutiny," said Bill Carden.
"Then why be a sailor?" argued Bob contemptuously. "It's a life for slaves, not men."
To this, Carden, as a proper sailor, agreed heartily, for a proper sailor always imagines that he hates the sea, and will leave it, but never does. Fighting Injuns, he implied, was really his ambition; and at the first opportunity Scarf grunted, but whether in approval or skeptically, it would be difficult to say. "Well, I notice you're taking orders!" cried Bill, stung. Rebuffed by the other's attitude, he repressed his impulse to tell of the long rifle and the other equipment beneath his mattress.
Captain Jordan congratulated Tate.
"That man's getting to be one of the best sailors aboard," said he. "Does he make any trouble?"
"None," said the second mate. "I've never even heard a growl out of him. He's all right if you give him a chance to be."
He glanced sidewise at Bully Hawes, whom he disliked.
The latter grinned wolfishly.
"He got his medicine plenty at the start. And it took," he pointed out. "If he hadn't caught me foul when I slipped—"
It was true that Scarf never uttered a word of objection or complaint. He had been in this situation before—when the Pawnees had held him as prisoner and used him as a slave. He had then performed, uncomplainingly and without objection, much more degrading tasks than tarring ropes or scrubbing decks, while he Watched the situation and waited his chance. That was the way to do. When things are hopeless, lie low and watch. Had these men on the brig Mary Scarlett more experience of his kind, they would have known that from the cover of this apparently complete compliance he was noticing every disposition of the ship and its company. At the end of not many days, Bob Scarf knew the disposal of all things—where and when men slept or waked; where they went and what they did; what weapons there were and where they were kept. And he had weighed all possibilities and chances, and had come to his own slow and careful conclusions that finally had become convictions. Just as he had watched and weighed and estimated in the Pawnee village, under cover of submission, until the moment came.
"You can't," Bill Carden had said, "do a one-man mutiny."
"I can," Bob Scarf was able to tell himself at last, "if I can get hold of arms."
The Mary Scarlett beat her way southward in long tacks, against the prevailing trade winds. At the end of the second week, she ran into dirty weather. The summer gale was brief, but savage while it lasted, and sudden in its onslaught. All hands were summoned to shorten sail. This was at night and during Scarf's watch below. He tumbled out with the others, but was thrown by a heavy sea across the forecastle. He fetched up sprawled across Bill Carden's bunk. Regaining his feet, his eye caught a glint of metal beneath the mattress, which his fall had slightly displaced. Thus he came again into possession of his long rifle and his belt with the tomahawk, the shot pouch, the powder horn and the throwing knife.
He showed neither surprise, gratification nor hesitation. Methodically he loaded the piece, ascended to the deck, made his way up the companion ladder to the quarterdeck, managed in the darkness to elude the notice of Captain Jordan, and the quartermaster at the wheel, and slipped the whole equipment beneath the canvas lashed over the small deckhouse to protect its hatchway from rain and spray. That is where he had long ago figured out that he wanted it. Then, still unobserved, he returned to his duties, for in his inexperience he conceived the ship to be in danger, which was not the case.
The gale abated after twelve hours, and was succeeded by thick weather and a gentle fair wind and mountainous seas. The Mary Scarlett wallowed along with all sails set to take advantage of the favorable breeze before the trades might again control. Captain Jordan, having checked to his satisfaction his dead-reckoning calculations, glanced at the compass to assure himself that the brig was on the course he had designated, and went below.
Two hours later, the lookout shrieked frantically in warning, but almost instantly thereafter the Mary Scarlett struck, bumped thrice and came to rest at a steep cant, partly broadside to the seas, which fell upon her with the fury of long pursuit at last terminated.
Captain Jordan was instantly on deck. His first act was to rush to the binnacle. His face was red with anger, but as he read the compass card the anger gave place to bewildered incredulity. The needle indicated the ship's direction as S. by W. ½W., as he had ordered. There was no time for considering the sources of his blunder. The immediate situation was desperate. The breaks of the forecastlehead, and the quarterdeck alone were above water when the great combers swept the reef. Nothing could stand against them. The boats were gone. The bulwarks were gone. The men on watch were gone. Of that watch there remained only its officer, Bully Hawes, and the man still clinging to the useless wheel.
Jordan was a good seaman. He was able promptly to size up, to accept and to act on any situation. He saw at once that the brig must break up, and soon. Of the boats, but one remained—that carried on stern davits and used for general utility. It was a small affair, and it was very doubtful if it would carry all his men: indeed, if it could survive at all. Doubts have no place when there is no choice. There was here no choice, so Jordan did not entertain them.
The seas rolled down to engulf the ship and to pass on with a certain majestic and inexorable periodicity. Between onslaughts, the draining lull was almost a calm. During these intervals the men in the watch below, in ones, twos and threes, attempted the passage from the forecastle to the quarterdeck. They were sadly hampered by the receding wash. Some were swept overboard by the suction of these draining waters. Some were caught by the rush of the next wave. Of the ship's company, finally remained nine men: Captain Jordan, two of the mates—Bully Hawes and Tate—five seamen, including Bill Carden, and the Mountain Man, Bob Scarf.
They managed to get the boat into the water and to swing it at the end of its painter to the partial shelter of the ship's lee. This was a bit of work whose nicety Scarf could only partly appreciate. But he could admire the decision of Jordan's commands and the smartness with which they were carried out. Nor was lost on him the skill and judgment with which, then, the men were embarked and assigned places in the overladen boat. Discipline did have its use.
"Now, Scarf, in the bow!" snapped Jordan.
Bob started, came to himself. He lifted the corner of the tarpaulin, possessed himself of his weapons, and half slid down the slant of the deck to take his place. Relieved of the proximity of the deflecting metal, the needle of the compass swung. The lubber's point now stood at S.E.
By a miracle of careful handling and frantic bailing, the boat remained right side up as far as the break of the surf. There she upset, spewing her human contents into the wash and the undertow. All reached the beach, though it was touch and go with some, and Bully Hawes, with his arm still in a splint, would most certainly have been lost had not the Mountain Man himself plunged back into the sea to give him a hand; at which the crew, already safe, cheered wildly, with the facile emotion of the simple of mind. But Captain Jordan did not share this emotion. He was choking with rage.
"You wrecked my ship! You wrecked my ship!" he hurled at the dripping and astounded trapper, and would have attacked the latter blindly, had he not been restrained by Tate and one of the cooler-headed seamen, who saw Scarf's hand drop defensively to the weapons at his belt.
"I know nothing about compasses," disclaimed the latter, when finally he understood the purport of the captain's ravings.
So evident was his innocence of intent that at length Jordan regained command of himself and took charge. He summoned the men together and addressed them. Already he had made his calculations, and in his mind had corrected his course for the aberration of the compass, so he knew approximately where he must be. They gathered in a close knot to hear him. But Bob Scarf stood to one side. He had briefly satisfied himself that the rifle, to which he had clung throughout, had suffered no damage and that the cup of its hammer had protected its capped nipple; and now he leaned on its muzzle, listening in silence.
"Men," said Captain Jordan, "we are somewhere on the coast of Baja California. Cape St. Lucas lies somewhere to the south of us. We must make our way along the coast to a port where we can get a ship. So we will start south."
Bob Scarf spoke up unexpectedly.
"How you goin' to do it?" he asked bluntly; then, as Jordan turned on him, red-faced: "What you goin' to eat? Yo're thirsty now. What you goin' to drink? What'll you walk on when the rocks cut the shoes off'n yore feet? What you goin' to do when the Injuns git a'ter you? Or the yeller bellies—the Mexicans? We only licked 'em three years ago, and they ain't forgot. They'll kill you for yore shirts. It's a sight better to go toward the States than farther away from them. I'm a-goin' north."
"I'm in command," snapped Jordan. "You'll take my orders."
"You may be the old he-wolf whar it's wet," said Scarf, "but I'm my own boss whar it's dry."
"Seize that man!" ordered Jordan.
Scarf shifted the rifle to his hands.
"No," said he.
For a few moments, no one spoke or moved. Abruptly, the Mountain Man terminated the argument.
"You kin go whar you want," said he, "all except Hawes. He comes with me...Hawes, git a-comin'." He lowered the muzzle of the rifle. "Git a-comin'," he repeated mildly, "or take yore medicine what you stand. I'll shoot in his tracks the man who interferes," he added.
Fearful, half angry, half panicky, Hawes slowly obeyed.
"I'm coming too!" cried Bill Carden.
"Stand where you are, Carden!" commanded Jordan. "Mr. Tate, stand by!"
"Eff'n Bill wants to come, he kin come," observed Scarf placidly, and the muzzle of the rifle gave force to the remark. "Ary others?"
The remaining four men glanced at one another uneasily. But discipline and the attitude of the two ship's officers prevailed. After a moment, the Mountain Man motioned Carden and Hawes to precede him. The three disappeared, not up the beach but into the low hills.
Captain Jordan, Tate and the four men started south along the shore. Within a very brief period, they found themselves in difficulties from which there seemed to be no escape. They were stout enough to have stood the travel, hard though it was, in yielding sands, around deep bays or inlets, through broken rocks, or even over laborious headlands where the beach pinched out. They might have made out well enough with mussels and sea urchins for food. But the human frame can get on only so long without fresh water. There was none. They interrupted their journey to search the back country. It was parched and brittle, and the washes were powder dry. In desperation they dug, but when they struck bedrock they must desist. The tortures of thirst aggravate rapidly, especially under the hot sun of those latitudes. Men's tongues swell, to protrude from their mouths. The blood thickening in their veins clouds the mind. Hallucination overtakes them. They strip off their clothes, and, naked, perish. If sea water is near, they drink that, and die. By the end of the day following the shipwreck, Jordan's party hovered dangerously near that point. But just short of it Bob Scarf appeared among them. They thought at first that he, too, was a hallucination.
"You boys thirsty, by any chance?" asked Scarf.
"There's no water," croaked the captain.
"Plenty," returned Scarf.
He turned aside from the beach into the nearest of the steep-banked eroded barrancas that cut through the cliffs. The party staggered after. Still within sight of the beach, the trapper deftly clipped the top from one of the thousands of barrel cacti, plunged the blade of his knife again and again into the soft pulp. A milky liquid welled up.
"Thar's water," said the Mountain Man. "Help yourself."
He stood aside, watching them fall eagerly on the cacti round about, content to give them their heads, for the liquid came too slowly to permit them to harm themselves. But when they had revived, he called a halt.
"Thar's better yonder." He jerked his head toward the hills. "Come and git it."
"Where are Hawes and Carden?" Jordan's feeling of responsibility for his ship's company still survived.
"Carden's watchin' Hawes for me," said Scarf. "You comin'?" he asked the men. "Thar's meat. Unless," he added with a faint irony, "you'd ruther have mussels."
"I think we'd better, sir," urged Tate, aside.
However, Jordan could not yet bring himself to the idea that he was no longer in command. He shook his head savagely. The demonstration of the barrel cactus showed him how to avoid death by thirst. That was all he needed. His strength was now restored by the life-giving liquid. He turned on his men with all his old domination. But before he could speak, Bob Scarf intervened, and in his own voice now was the snap of authority.
"Stand back, boys," he ordered, "clear back—and fa'r play. The first man that offers to interfere, gits his...I'm talkin' special to you, Tate." He raised his voice..."You, Bill, plug anybody that leaves his place. Mind what I tole you."
"Aye aye, sir!" came Bill Carden's voice, so close at hand that all jumped with surprise. For the first time they noticed that the frontiersman was not carrying his rifle, the muzzle of which was now only too evident protruding from a crevice in the barranca wall so near that even a sailor could not miss.
"Now," observed Bob Scarf, leisurely approaching to front Jordan, "we're a-goin' to settle this." He addressed the uneasy and expectant sailors over his shoulders. "Fa'r play," said he. He touched the knife and tomahawk at his belt. "I'm not usin' these, though I mout, and no man could blame, things bein' as they are, but I won't. I'll just keep them by me, though, in case." His voice hardened, and they understood the threat to themselves. "Now," said Bob Scarf softly to Jordan, "you aim to be sensible, or have I got to whop you?"
Jordan reddened, struggling mightily with himself. Every instinct of lifelong habit arose belligerent.
"This is mutiny!" he cried.
Scarf's eye flashed whimsically.
"Now, my man," he drawled in relishing parody, "yo're a high private aboard this yere expedition. Eff'n you refuse duty, yo're goin' to have a taste of what to expect; and eff'n yo're no high private, you soon will be. Defend yoreself," he snapped suddenly.
But Jordan's common sense prevailed. By a mighty effort that brought him near to apoplexy, he choked back his anger. He yielded. "Lead on," he muttered. Bob Scarf's eye lighted with a sudden admiration. He knew that a man of Jordan's type had not yielded to fear of the personal consequences.
"Yo're a man, Jordan," he conceded.
The reunited party started north. No one challenged now Bob Scarf's right to command. They obeyed him without question; the men with that total relinquishment of all responsibility typical of those accustomed to be commanded; Tate still in the spirit of a good second mate carrying out his superior's intentions; Bill Carden, at first with the relish of a small boy playing a congenial game, later in the pathetic disillusionment of the same small boy who discovers that the game has miraculously turned into a hard and disagreeable job of work. The other two, Jordan and Bully Hawes, did what they were told sullenly, and because there was nothing else to be done. In the case of the mate, this attitude persisted. But gradually, as the days and then the weeks crept by, Jordan veered, at first to reluctant admiration, at last to genuinely hearty acquiescence in Scarf's right to leadership.
The little expedition retraced its steps. But it no longer either starved or thirsted. Bob Scarf found water. Jordan discovered that in the desert country, astoundingly, it was to be looked for, not in the dry water courses, as seemed sensible, but far up the sides of the mountains, sometimes almost at the tops. There were thousands of mountains, but Bob had an unerring eye for the small indications that told of its rare presence. He found it also in hollows in the rocks. There were millions of these hollows, dry as powder, but the Mountain Man seemed to know, without mistake, which one in the millions was tight enough of crevice and impervious enough of substance and sheltered enough from evaporation to have retained the precious fluid from the sparse winter rains of months ago. He called these receptacles tenajas, but he did not explain how he recognized them. Some showed faint indications of use by the desert's tiny animals, and by a robust exercise of his imaginative eye, Jordan was able to discern the faint trails of their approach—after he knew they must be there, not before. But others were so deeply caverned as to be inaccessible to animals. After a period of puzzlement, the seaman realized that the Mountain Man must find them by watching the flight of birds. But only of certain kinds of birds, and at a certain time of day.
And Bob Scarf found food. Sometimes with his long rifle he killed mountain sheep in the high hills. To do so, he made some terrific climbs, as Bill Carden and some of the sailors discovered when they were called upon to repeat the climb in order to carry out the carcasses; for Bob shot as many as he could, and showed them how to dry the meat that they could not immediately use. This was fat living. But the frontiersman also constructed various traps and snares, with which he caught lesser game. He despised nothing, even to the tiny desert pack rats. At first the sailors recoiled from these, as from certain lizards and other members of the reptile family, but Bob was firm against the policy of overlooking anything the desert offered. He would not permit them to eat the dried meat as long as anything else was to be had.
"We're savin' that," said he, "case'n she gits stingy."
He always referred to the desert as "she."
There were also various dry and distasteful beans from the scanty grouth, and knobs from certain kinds of cactus.
Thus, from the same country in which they had so nearly perished, they now were assured a sufficiency. Nevertheless, when the first novelty of thankfulness at survival had worn off, they found plenty to grumble at. That is human nature. Even Jordan's superior intelligence did not prevent him from chafing.
Scarf would not permit a fire during the day. He said that smoke brings Indians, and, though it was quite evident that the country was uninhabited, he would have no smoke. He moved too slowly; they would all die of old age before they could arrive anywhere. He spent an idiotic amount of time scouting inland, hunting in the mountains, looking ahead for the next water. He seemed to look on this as a pleasure excursion to be protracted as long as possible. The men wanted to get out. As Scarf never bothered to explain reasons for what he did, resentment grew. Occasionally, capriciously it seemed, almost as though maliciously to sweat it out of them, Scarf got them out early, and nagged at them all day and far into the night. The heat was intense. The men complained, lagged; one or two showed evidence of giving out, though more from loss of heart than actual exhaustion. He carried on; feeding, guiding, protecting, thinking, planning for them all. He was made of whalebone and leather and whipcord; tireless, unrelenting in his caution and in his demands on them. They did not understand; he did not explain. They hated him.
There was even some talk of mutiny, so that they might push on more rapidly. The journey must by now be nearly over. Bob paid them no attention. He might have been herding so many cattle through the desert mountains. In his eyes they were merely children for whom he must care.
Suddenly, at the hottest of noon, in mid-march, he called a halt.
"Git in among those rocks," he ordered curtly.
"Where's the water?" asked Jordan.
"No water," said Scarf.
The senselessness of a stop at this furnace spot, in the middle of the day, after only a three hours' march, added the last explosive grain to their resentment. They turned on him heatedly. A scattering burst of gunfire cut them short. Bullets puffed in the dry soil like grasshoppers. Bullets sang past their ears in the long crescendo shriek of ricochet. For an instant they stood, paralyzed with surprise. Then, with one accord, they dove for the shelter of the rocks, where they crouched, bewildered. The landscape was empty. There was no more gunfire.
They took stock. No one had been hit by any of the bullets. But Captain Jordan carried a feathered arrow through the fleshy part of his upper arm. In the confusion, they had noticed no arrows. Bob Scarf was not among them. Nor, when they peered cautiously from their shelter, could they see his body on the bare terrain. He had disappeared.
They crouched behind the rocks. The sun beat down on them as though it had solid weight. The soil and the stones were almost too hot to touch with the naked hand. They began to get thirsty. The gourds they carried had little water. Scarf had never been able to teach them to husband their supply. There was nothing they could do about it. A cautious experiment convinced them of that, for a musket roared instantly when a man exposed himself. The unseen enemy waited in savage patience. They were bewildered, uncertain, without expedient. Gradually it was borne in on them that they were lost, for there was nothing, absolutely nothing, they could do. And by now their suffering was genuine. They cursed Bob Scarf futilely. He could take care of himself. He was armed.
The day wore on. They came slowly to black despair.
Suddenly the firing began again. The beleaguered sailors pricked up their ears, for even their inexperience could distinguish the difference between the hollow roar of smoothbores and the sharp flat crack of Bob Scarf's long rifle. At times the latter was discharged with a rapidity astonishing for a muzzle-loader. Again for long intervals it was silent; only to sound at last from another quarter. The sailors sat up, their discomforts forgotten, listening, hopeful, and yet hardly daring to hope.
As abruptly as it had begun, the firing ceased. And then Bob Scarf was among them. He was drenched with sweat, and looked tired. But his energy was unabated. Before they had fully realized his presence, he was hustling them to their feet.
"Yaquis—Injuns," he vouchsafed. "We got to git. They's likely more. Ary one hurt?"
He looked briefly at Captain Jordan's arm, grunted, and started off at a swift pace up the rocky ridge. He did not look back. They could follow or not. They followed.
All the rest of that day, and under the moon until nearly midnight, the Mountain Man led the way without slacking pace. The route he chose was along a high rocky ridge. Cruel going, but it left no trail. These men's profession had not habituated them to walking; they were in dire distress from heat and lack of water; their feet became blistered from the hot rocks. When at last Bob Scarf called the halt, they dropped like logs, too done even to crawl to the little trickle of water which the mountaineer's strange instinct, or knowledge, had disclosed. It was Bob who brought the water to them, little by little, gourd by gourd, until they were sufficiently revived to help themselves.
Bob was tense, preoccupied. He brushed aside the details of the fight.
"Nothin' but Yaquis," he grunted with a certain contempt. "They don't know much. I've fit a heap more sabe Injuns than them. They was only a few of 'em. A scoutin' or huntin' party. But I couldn't quite get them all. The balance of the tribe will be a'ter us. Our easy travelin' is over."
Easy traveling! The men looked at one another. Someone groaned in despair.
"I'll git you thar," Bob Scarf answered this groan, "but you got to step smart and mind orders. It's a-goin' to be tough," said he, "and that I don't deny. We'll be travelin' in the high kentry from now on. We'll be movin' at night and lay bakin' out by day. There'll be mouty little water and less grub. Fat livin' done. See that?" He lifted the powder horn and shook it significantly. It was nearly empty.
"Wasn't there any powder on the Yaquis you killed?" asked Jordan.
Scarf grunted. "Like black sand," said he. "I wouldn't Bile Betsy's bar'l with such stuff!" He brooded for a moment and looked up. "One thing," said he: "From now on I ain't got breath to argy who's boss. Eff'n they's any argyment, let's have it now." He looked at Jordan.
"You're skipper," said the latter promptly. "I thought you knew that."
Scarf nodded. "But I've been seein' and hearin' things I don't want to see and hear no more." He looked in turn at each of the exhausted men. "All right," he concluded. "Git some sleep."
"Don't we eat?" mumbled someone.
"A'ter you sleep," returned Bob Scarf. "Food don't do you no good less'n you can handle it."
Without further explanation, he threw himself prone, and appeared instantly to sleep. But in a moment he raised his head to address Bill Carden, who lay by his side. In the moonlight, the sailor saw the Mountain Man's face twist to a sardonic grin.
"Well, old-timer," observed Bob Scarf, "how you like Injun fightin'?"
Bill struggled through the half stupor of his exhaustion.
"Same's you do sailorin'," he returned with a flash of spirit.
The Mountain Man dropped back with one of his hearty but silent laughs.
"Fa'r enough!" said he.
With the pueblo of San Diego in sight from the ring of southerly mountains, Bob Scarf eased up. He used a charge of the precious powder and brought in a sheep. They lighted a satisfactorily bright and heartening fire. The men's spirits relaxed. Subtly the essence of command began to set its return tide toward Jordan, though Bob Scarf continued still to conduct the party in all practical aspects. He recognized that this shift of allegiance was right and natural, now that the emergency was over; but both men knew that he, the Mountain Man, did not come within it. For the first time he and the captain met as equals, with neither as the over or the under dog. And they found that somehow each had the admiration, the respect and the liking of the other.
"You lost me my ship, Scarf, but I bear you no ill will for that," said Jordan bluntly; "and, since then, I'll admit that we would have perished without you."
"Well," retorted the trapper, "as for that, you lost me my hoss and possibles, for they're back than in Monterey, whar I'll never lay eyes on 'em again. As for your ship," he continued shrewdly, "eff'n what I did lost her for ye, then you wouldn't have lost her eff'n I hadn't been aboard. And whose fault that I was aboard?"
The seaman laughed.
"I reckon you got me there. Reckon there ain't rightly nobody to blame. Let it go at that."
"Exceptin' a grampus," said the frontiersman, with some bitterness. Jordan looked surprised, but as Scarf did not explain he continued:
"What you going to do yonder?"
"I ain't goin' on no ship," said Bob.
Jordan laughed again. "But you've lost everything," he persisted. "How you going to get along?"
"So've you," countered the Mountain Man.
"But my firm, the firm that owns my ship, has a branch doing business here. They'll take care of me and my men. We're all fixed."
Scarf looked up.
"Wan't that yore ship?" he asked.
"No. I was merely captain. Hired."
"I'm mouty relieved to hear that," said the Mountain Man sincerely. "And don't you worry none about me. I'll get me an outfit eff'n thar's Yankees in the fur business thar. I've been grubstaked from nothin' more times than a rattler's got buttons."
"Well, I'm glad to hear that," said Jordan with equal sincerity. "I think it likely my own firm will fit you out."
"Fa'r enough," said Scarf. He slipped the tomahawk from his belt and filled its bowl. "I been savin'," he explained the tobacco, "fer a last medicine smoke, at the proper time." He puffed, blew the smoke successively straight up, straight down, to the four points of the compass, and passed the pipe to his companion.
"One thing I'd like to ask"—at length Jordan broke a companionable silence. "Why did you go back in the surf and pull Hawes out—at the risk of your own life? And why have you nursed him along so since? I should have thought you hated his guts."
Scarf looked at him with surprise.
"Why," he said presently, "you kain't lick a man with a broken arm. I had to save him till he got healed up."
Jordan threw back his head with a quick bark of laughter.
"Let me know when you get around to it, will you? I'd like to be there," he petitioned.
"I don't aim to have no interference!" warned Scarf.
"Lord love you, I wouldn't interfere!" cried Jordan.
"I'll let ye know," said Scarf.
He knocked the ashes from the tomahawk and strode abruptly to where Bill Carden sat apart from the others, mending his rawhide botas.
"Wall, Bill," said the Mountain Man, "we're nigh done with the expedition together. Soon we'll be partin'. Less'n you want to go with me and fight more Injuns?"
"Not me!" cried Carden fervently. "I'm a sailor!"
"Thought not. Wall, we got one more thing we must do, and as soon as we git it in we'll be about it."
"You and me," said Bob Scarf, "are goin' out together on a hunt. Yore goin' to help me kill myself a grampus, and I'm a-goin' to help you trap yoreself a weasel. Them two critters sure done us a lot of dirt. We got to play even!"
This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia