Saturday, 30 January 2010
Tuesday, 26 January 2010
The Phantom Radio
By A. Hyatt Verrill
From Sea Stories magazine, June 1924. Digital capture by Philip Bolton Jr. and Doug Frizzle, January 2010.
When wireless telegraphy, or the radio and as it is now called, was first perfected, the value of its use on shipboard was at once seen. The following is the story related by the captain of a passenger vessel in response to the query that that had been put to him as to whether he had ever used it to summon help; in other words, sent out an SOS Call.
Steaming northward, the Grenada plowed steadily through a summer sea. Two days had passed since the last outlying islands of the Antilles had dropped from sight astern, when, with a clank, a burst of steam from the engine room, and a jar, the ship came slowly to a standstill, rising and falling helplessly to the long heave of the ocean swell, with her cylinder-head packing blown out.
From below came the sounds of oaths and clink of hammers as the black gangs sweated and swore and labored at repairs, while above, the impatient passengers fretted and fumed and wondered why machinery could not be devised so as never to fail.
Hour after hour slipped by. The passengers, lolling in the shade of the awnings, had tried to while away the time by telling stories of their various experiences at sea, and the captain had joined a group. Presently one of the wireless operators approached and handed the skipper a slip of paper. As he glanced over it he remarked:
“It’s a comfort to know we could get help if we needed it. The Zulia’s within twenty miles, but if it wasn’t for the radio we might all die of thirst or starvation, or go to the bottom without knowing the ship was within reach.”
“Yes,” assented a passenger. “Radio is a marvelous invention. Have you ever been compelled to summon help, captain?”
“No,” replied the skipper, “but I'd been called by other ships. The first time I ever received and S O S was near this very spot, and almost drove me insane. I hope to Heaven I never get another like it.”
“Spin the yarn, captain.” cried another passenger.
“Very well,” chuckled the skipper. “But remember, I’m no story teller, and this is a true yarn.
“At the time it happened,” commenced the captain, half closing his eyes and gazing thoughtfully across the dazzling blue sea, “I was in command of a little tuppence-ha’penny fruit ship sailing between New York and Central American ports via Jamaica. She wasn’t a bad craft, and could reel off her twelve or fourteen knots in good weather. She was called the Claribel, and was one of a fleet of five ships of the International Fruit Company and flew the British flag.
“We made fairly regular runs, stopping at Fortune Island on the down trip to pick up our black stevedores and, after loading bananas along the coast, we would drop the darkies off on the up trip.
“About that time wireless was just coming into use, and mighty few of the West Indian and South American lines had equipped their boats with it. I don’t know if their owners were stockholders in the wireless company, or what their reason was, but for some cause or another they ordered every one of their ships to be equipped with an outfit. The Claribel was the first to have it installed, and I felt properly proud of being the skipper of the first fruit boat carrying a spider’s web high up between her masts.
“I didn’t have too much faith in the thing, although I knew the big liners were using it, and when I was off Scotland light and dropped the pilot, and Dale, the operator, came and handed me a bundle of messages, it struck me fair ‘twixt wind and water –seemed uncanny to be reading letters that had come in over those wires aloft without my knowing it.
“I expect I must have looked a bit like a fish out of water and as I gaped at the messages and then at the aerial, for I saw Dale was grinning. So I hove myself short and tried to act as if it was an everyday matter.
“’Any messages you wish to send, sir?” he asked. “We’ll be out of our sending radius very soon, and if you have anything to get off, it must be sent immediately, sir.”
“Well, do you know, I’d been so busy, thinking about the messages he’d brought, that I had actually forgotten I could send messages back to land.
“’All right, Dale,” I said. “I’ll give you the messages in a moment, and, seating myself at my chart table, I scribbled off a few notes and handed them to him.
“I was anxious to see how he got the stuff under way, but we weren’t yet clear of the land, and I had to be on the bridge, and so I didn’t see Dale again until dinner time. We were pretty well out of soundings by then, and the first officer had the bridge, so I sauntered up to the wireless room and began firing questions at Dale.
“I asked him what he meant by ‘sending radius,’ and he started to explain how his machine could only send a certain distance, but could receive messages much farther.
“’Why,’ he said, ‘I shouldn’t be surprised if I could pick up New York.’
“He turned to his table as he spoke, clapped the tackle on his head, and commenced rubbing his instruments, and pretty quick began jotting words on a pad. In about five minutes he pushed the pad over and remarked: ‘There, captain. That’s what I heard.”
“I glanced that the paper and saw a lot of conversation written down, and laughed.
“’What’s all this, Dale?’ I asked.
“’One liner’s skipper chatting with another,’ he replied. ‘I didn’t hear a word from shore.’
“Who are the masters you have been listening to?’ I asked.
“’Don’t know, but I’ll find out,’ says he. And turning around, he commenced fussing with the machinery once more. Just as he touched it, there was a crackle and a flash of light blue overhead.
“‘Look out!’ I yelled. ‘Something’s gone adrift!’ You see, I’d never seen the apparatus under way before, and didn’t know ‘twas all part of the sending.
“Dale laughed and went on tapping away, and presently he swung around again. ‘One ship’s the Strasburg, Captain Grau, outward bound, and the other’s the Caledonian, Captain McBarrie, off Highland light,’ said Dale.
“By the great horn spoon!’ I cried. ‘That beats all. Say, Dale, this fal-de-dal business will save many a ship and life. Why, if we were in distress we could get another ship alongside two hours.’
“’Sure, that’s what it’s for,’ grinned Dale.
“Well, all the way down the coast to the Bahamas I kept poor Dale trying the wireless. But more often than not, he couldn’t pick up a message, for, as I’ve said, few of the southward-bound boats had outfits at that time.
“We had good weather, picked up our stevedores, loaded on the coast, and started back. I heard a lot of chatter about a revolution, but didn’t pay much attention to it, for as long as the Spigs didn’t run afoul of my hawse I didn’t care much what they did.
“Nothing happened on the trip up, and long before we sighted the Highlands we picked up the New York station, and Dale sent in my reports. It seemed mighty wonderful to me, and wireless was on my mind most of the time.
After we’d docked and everything was shipshape, I ran over to Perth Amboy to see an old friend. He was skipper of a tramp, and I found him aboard his ship, chinning with some dark skinned, black-haired chaps whom I knew were Spanish Americans, and so I made myself comfortable and smoked his cigars until he was through with his visitors.
“I’ve been to sea with Carmody —a big, red-faced, jolly chap, and liked him immensely, and whenever we were both in port at the same time I always managed to see him. He owned his ship —the Tortuga —and I always told him that was the best name he could have given her, tortuga meaning turtle, as you know, and she couldn’t make over eight knots, and was turtle-back decked: but a mighty good old hooker —safe and a fine sea boat —and sweeter engines I’ve never seen.
“Jerry was glad to see me again, of course, and like old shipmates, we got busy swapping stories about cargoes, ships, skippers, and what not, and I began to spin a yarn about my wireless.
“’That’s what you need, Jerry,’ I told him. “With a boat as slow as your old turtle it would be a godsend to let your folks know you hadn’t floundered or run off your course.’
“He chuckled a bit, but he didn’t take it seriously, and started to tell me about his last trip and his next cargo.
“’I’ll give you ten guesses, Frank,’ he said, “and I’ll wager a new sextant you don’t guess what my next cargo is to be.’
“’Then it’s no use trying,’ I laughed. “I know you too well to think that you’d bet me anything worth while if there was any chance of losing. So out with it and show your colors.’
“’It’s gunpowder and dynamite, Frank,’ says he. ‘The Spigottys you just saw are some of the Junta that’s kicking up a shindy down on the coast, and they’ve chartered the Tortuga to carry down their explosives.”
“’Great Scott, man!’ I exclaimed. ‘You’re running risk of seizure and confiscation. You’re violating neutrality laws and turning filibuster.’
“’No, I’m not, son.’ says he ‘I sail from here with a mix cargo for the islands, and ship the sinews of war outside the three-mile limit. The pay’s fine and the Dons take all the risks.’
“’Well, I’m glad they’re making it worth your while,’ I said. “But how are the folks at home, Jerry?’
“You see, I had an interest in Carmody’s family, for Kitty and I were engaged and were only waiting a bit until I had a better birth before getting spliced and starting on a cruise of our own.
“‘Fine and dandy.’ Jerry answers, ‘Come out to the house for dinner, and spend the time you’re in port with us. The missus will be as glad to have you as I will, and you know how ‘tis with Kitty. It’s getting along in the day, and there’s nothing more to keep me here, so come along and we’ll be homeward bound in no time.’
“After dinner Kitty was telling me how worried she and her mother were over Carmody’s new cargo, for Jerry had no secrets in his family, though he was mum as an oyster to outsiders.
“‘Supposing that Tortuga should catch on fire.’ said Kitty. ‘Just think what would happen! I’ll not sleep a wink until we hear he has discharged that awful cargo.’
“That gave me an idea, and I told her about the wireless, and she called in her mother, and between the three of us tried to talk Jerry into putting a wireless outfit on his ship.
“’Can’t afford it,’ he declared. ‘The cost would wipe out all the profits, and I’d have to hire an operator besides.’
“’Bother the costs, Jerry,’ I told him. ‘Make your Spigotty friends pay for it. They have money enough and to spare. I have it, mate! Tell them it’s going to make things safer for them. With a wireless you can tell if any one’s after you, and can keep in touch with the Junta until you’re well out to sea.
“This struck Carmody as a good scheme, and to make a long story short, he saw the Junta next day, and after a lot of argument, they agreed to install the outfit at once.’
“The Claribel was loaded and ready for sea before Jerry’s wireless was in, and the last thing he said, as I worked out of the dock, was to shout that he’d keep trying to pick us up if we’d do the same; and as we both followed pretty much the same course, there was a good chance we might do it. But I couldn’t get clear without a joke about his old tramp, so I cupped my hands and yelled back that we’d be in port again before he reached the Bahamas.
“We had a fine passage down, but head winds, and reached Fortune Island a day late. This time, when we meet the coast, I gave more heed to the revolutionary talk, and knowing of Jerry’s cargo, I soon made a landfall and knew they were just holding off the fireworks until the Tortuga showed up with the ammunition.
“We loaded and started back, but all across the Gulf, we had heavy weather, and after passing Jamaica ran into half a gale and head seas. I was so busy, looking after the ship, that it wasn’t until we were two days out from Fortune Island that I remembered Carmody’s talk of trying to pick each other up by wireless. So, calling to Dale, I told him to have a try, although I didn’t have much hopes, for I expected the Tortuga would be down in the gulf by then. He didn’t get anything, but in the afternoon we sighted smoke low down to the east’ard, and I had Dale try once more, and even shifted my course a bit to get a squint of the other ship.
“She was the twin sister of the Tortuga, but when we got near I saw she didn’t have a wireless, and showed a white funnel band, while Jerry had a red ‘C’ on his stack.
“About four bells I had Dale try again, for somehow or other I had a feeling that Carmody wasn’t far off. But Dale came up to the bridge deck, shaking his head.
“’It’s no use, captain,’ he says. ‘I don’t get any one, and know something’s gone wrong with the receiver. I can send all right, but the old tub’s been jumping fearfully the past few days, and I can’t fix the thing up until it calms down a bit.’
“I was peeved at this. Just when I wanted the machine it had gone bad, but it wasn’t any use talking, and Dale wasn’t to blame, so I passed it off and told him I guessed we’d tired the instruments out, using them so often.
“After dinner I sat down below with the passengers for a while, and at eight bells went to the bridge deck. The sea had gone down a lot but it was still too lumpy for the passengers to stop on deck much, and only a couple were in sight on the after deck as I passed up.
“Dale and the second officer were sitting together in the port alleyway, near the wireless room, smoking and yarning, and quartermaster was at the wheel. It was a bright, starlight night —clear as a bell, and the wind, though fresh, was warn and balmy. So I sat down in a deck chair, put my feet on the rail, lit a cigar, and leaned back easy and comfortable, looking at the stars and thinking about Kitty and home.
“That brought my thoughts around to her father and the Tortuga, and from them my mind shifted to the wireless and the trouble with it. After all, I thought to myself, if a thing gives out like this, it won’t be much use. Suppose a ship were in distress. She couldn’t let us know, and nine times out of ten things do give out just when their needed the most. Now if any one could invent a wireless that wouldn’t go wrong just when—
“My thoughts were cut short by a crackling sound and a blue flickering reflection on the deck before me. I jumped up and looked aloft. From the wires between the masts blue, crackling, sizzling sparks were darting out. For an instant I watched them, and it seemed to me that they came and went in some sort of regular order. Leaping to the rail, I looked over and saw Dale still sitting where I’d seen him a few minutes before.
“Dale!” I yelled “Come up here. For God’s sake, hurry, man!’
“In a moment he was on the ladder, and as his head came above the deck I pointed to the wires. He saw the sparks as soon as he saw me, and stopped short, staring at them.
“What’s that?’ I cried. ‘Can you make it out?’
“Dale waited a moment before he answered. ‘Hold fast a minute.’ He exclaimed. ‘It’s the distress signal —the SOS!”
“The next second he was dashing to the wireless room, but in two shakes he was back again.
“I sent a message asking the bearings, but I can’t receive,’ he panted. “I can’t understand it. I never knew anything like it before.’
“Again the blue flames were dancing in and out from the wires, and after a minute Dale announced:
“’It’s a ship on fire. I can’t make out her name, but the message says sail northeast by east. Come full speed, for god’s sake!’
“With one bound I sprang to the wheelhouse, roared to the quartermaster, ‘Northeast by east!’ and at the same instant yanked the telegraph for full speed ahead. Then, calling down the speaking tube to the engine room, I yelled to the chief:
“There’s a ship burning ahead of us. Put on every ounce of steam and let the boilers go hang!’
“No more sparks came from the wires, but Dale was still gaping at them open mouthed.
“‘Captain,’ he says as I reached him, ‘this thing’s ghostly. How can those wires send out sparks on a message being received? It’s scientifically impossible and, besides, how could the ship know where we are? I didn’t tell him, and yet he said sail northeast by east. It gets me captain.’
“I don’t know anything about your possibilities or impossibilities,’ I answered. ‘But if there is a ship afire ahead we’ll soon know it. I admit I don’t see how she knew our position if you didn’t tell her.”
“Dale stood still, watching the aërial, and I stepped to the forward break of the bridge deck and looked ahead with my glasses. Was I mistaken? No, it was certainly there —a dull red glare, barely visible upon the horizon. Calling to the second officer, I asked him to look. He saw it as soon as he put the glasses on it even while we watched it grew brighter and larger.
“We are now making a good fifteen knots, and eating up the miles every minute; but I knew it was a race with death, for the blazing ship was still fifteen or sixteen miles distant, and in an hour a lot can happen when a ship’s on fire.
“While I was alternately watching and stamping impatiently up and down, I heard an exclamation from Dale, and sparks again began to sizzle from the wires. Dale yanked out his note book and pencil, and with one eye on the sparks wrote rapidly. Soon the sparks ceased, and he handed me the paper. Taking it to the light of the binnacle, I read: ‘Fire rapidly nearing powder. Oh, Frank! For love of Heaven, save us!’
“I dropped the paper and leaned weakly against the wheelhouse. The burning ship must be the Tortuga! But how —how did they know I was near and was racing towards them?
“I turned toward the blazing vessel, and now through my glasses I could see the pillar of ruddy smoke, the flying sparks, and the leaping flames, while the red glare was clearly visible to the naked eye it.
“Once more the blue sparks crackled and again came that agonizing appeal for help. But we were making all the speed the old Claribel could, and half an hour more would bring us alongside the doomed ship.
“By now every one on board had heard of our race for life, and the rails were lined with crew and passengers, all gazing with tense faces at the red smudge ahead.
“’Clear the boats,’ I ordered the first officer, ‘and stand by to lower away instantly. Have everything ready —life belts and ring buoys at hand and boats swung free.’
“’Aye, aye, sir,” answers the officer, and, a moment later, every boat’s crew was busy, and boat after boat was swung clear of its chalks, stripped of its tarpaulins, the falls overhauled, and the boats ready to drop instantly, while the men stood waiting at their stations.
“How slowly the moments passed! Our ship seemed barely to crawl along, and yet, by glancing at the rushing water alongside, and at the black smoke belching from our funnel, I knew the old hooker was making such time as she’d never made before.
“Fifteen minutes passed, and now, looming large on the rim of the black, heaving sea, we could see the hull of the steamer, her masts and funnel sharply outlined against the lurid sky, while from bow to midships was a fiery, seething furnace.
“Then, once more, came the crackle of the phantom wireless, and Dale read: ‘Thank God you are near, Frank, but I fear it is too late. The fire is within twenty feet of the powder! The crew rushed the boats. Father and I are alone. Good-by, my love!’
“’My God!’ I cried and dropped helpless in a chair. ‘Kitty’s on the Tortuga!’
“With a tremendous effort I roused myself and stared ahead. Now we could see the blazing ship plainly. Her turtledback stern loomed black against the flames and on it, close to the jackstaff, and clasped in each other’s arms —a man and a girl.
“At the speed and we were making we would be alongside in five minutes. What should I do? Should I risk my ship and passengers by running under the stern of the blazing ship in a daredevil attempt to save the girl I loved? Should I launch my boats and try to reach the Tortuga before the leaping flames spread across those scant twenty feet of deck between them and the explosives?
“It was a question of seconds for decision. Either course was filled with deadly peril, either was almost hopeless. Never was a man faced with a more terrible problem. But in an instant my mind was made up. With a bound I reached the wheelhouse and seized—”
A hoarse bellow from the whistle drowned the captain's voice, cutting his sentence in twain, and before he could continue, a quartermaster stepped to the edge of the deck above the story teller.
“Chief reports repairs finished and ready to proceed, sir," he announced, touching his cap.
The captain leaped to his feet, tossed aside his cigar, and grasping the hand rail, sprang nimbly up the ladder.
"Oh, but say!” cried Heskith. "You didn't finish your story, captain! What did you do?”
At the head of the ladder the captain halted and looked back.
"Why, then I woke up!” he replied.
Wednesday, 20 January 2010
January 2010 – More Tracks on
Last time, a trip to
These researches have stood
New this month is a clipping on AHV’s first marriage, an elopement at
He divorced Kathryn Laura McCarthy in 1944, at
The Sea Stories magazine ‘pulp fiction’ collection is coming along slowly. These pages were fragile, thus were photographed and unfortunately have not gone through my digital converter with any success. Those that know me, know that I can type as fast as I can think. More unfortunately, that means that
It is amazing and encouraging, that every month, if I work seriously on Verrill’s past, I am rewarded with some news, a gift story or some great deal toward adding to the Verrill records. So it has been again this month. We have added at least another six previously unknown works to the lists, and a few new articles are in the mail. But you will have to wait for the next ‘On the Trail of Verrill’ to find out the news.
Tuesday, 19 January 2010
A Son of Professor Verrill of Yale Marries a Roman Catholic.
What gave color to
An investigation into the facts of the case reveals that while the marriage was approved by the parents of the bride the match was strongly opposed by the parents of the groom, and the quiet marriage in
Mrs. Verrill, before her marriage, was a teacher in
“I have never believed in arranged marriages, and in taking the step I have I have merely committed my own wishes. As a matter of fact, I have during a long period spent in
Monday, 18 January 2010
By A. Hyatt Verrill
From Sea Stories Magazine, September 1923. Digital capture January 2010 by Philip Bolton Jr. and Doug Frizzle.
Not one of the four men in the boat had escaped unscathed. All were wounded, and Kemp was bleeding from a dozen ugly cuts and Cintron thrusts. But no one complained. Tough, hard, rough men, inured to hardships and suffering, the men thought nothing of flesh wounds, and not until the bark was hull down did they cease rowing and, resting on their oars, take long drafts from the keg of precious water and with rough skill bound up their wounds.
Captain Josiah Winthrop paced irritably back and forth upon the after deck and cast frequent apprehensive and appraising glances at the jungle covered bulk of land to leeward. On every side the sea stretched, smooth and glassy as burnished metal, under the burning, equatorial sun. The patched dingy sails hung listlessly from the grimy yards, and so breathless was the suffocating air that the smoke from the skippers pipe rose straight up in a thin blue spiral. For eight hours the dead, flat calm had continued, and the whaling bark Wanderer had lain helpless, rolling slightly to an invisible groundswell, off the island of Perang. Though no slightest breath had stirred the sails, yet hourly —dragged buy some wayward current —the bark had drawn nearer and nearer to the island, until now the steaming green mountainsides were a scant six miles distant. But it was not the possibility that his ship might drift within the danger zone of the breakers that was troubling Joshiah. Dangers of the storm or calm held no terrors for him. In fact, he scarcely saw the land as, each time he turned in his stride, he peered toward the island. It was the stretch of oillike intervening sea he searched, and loft, men whose eyesight had been sharpened by looking for the blowing whales, were also searching that six miles of shimmering sea.
And at last the expected hail came floating through the heavy air from the lookout on the fore-topgallant mast.
“Proa comin’ out from under the land!” he shouted.
With an oath, Captain Winthrop as sprang into the rigging, glasses in hand. One glance was enough. The half-naked horde of Malays who crowded the oncoming craft were plainly visible. All were armed to the teeth, and Captain Josiah knew his worst fears were realized. Malay pirates were coming to the attack. One proa full of the savage Malays would not have daunted the whalemen. Twenty-six Yankees, armed with muskets, whale lances, and irons, cutting spades and boarding knives, could have handled twice their number of the pirates. But back of the first proa came another and another —four in all —a full hundred of the brown, greased, armed savages.
“All hands to the rails!” bellowed to the skipper to Hen Winslow, the first officer. “Serve muskets and lances, and be ready to fight like hell.
Instantly all was bustle, as the officers and crew swarmed about, seizing arms, kicking off shoes, and gathering along the bark’s rails ready for the impending battle.
“Leave her be!” ordered the captain, as he saw Kemp, the second officer, call hands and start to swing in one of the whale boats that, earlier in the day, had been lowered in attempt to tow the bark from land. “No use usin’ up your beef h’istin’ of her in.” he continued, “You’ll need all of it for fightin’.”
Then, as the proas drew close and the whalemen stood waiting with ready weapons, “Don’t waste no powder and ball,” ordered the skipper, “Wait till their close alongside and pepper ‘em good. When the devils board us it’s each man for himself and the double take the hindmost.”
A moment later the foremost proa was within pistol shot, and the hostile intentions of the Malays could not be doubted. With shrill cries the naked boatman dashed toward the bark, the proas separating and approaching from both sides, from bow and stern. There was a roar of muskets from the Wanderer’s decks, and howls of rage and pain from the Malays, as the naked forms pitched forward or toppled into the sea. But the fusillade did little to check the pirates. With knives in teeth and grasping their wicked looking bolos, the Malays swept alongside the bark, and, leaping from their craft, seized ropes and chains, and, like so many monkeys, swarmed up the Wanderer’s sides. Throwing aside their muskets for more familiar weapons, the whalemen seized the razor-edged spades, the keen lances, the heavy boarding knives, and, standing on the rails or leaning over bulwarks, slashed, thrust, and cut down the browned bodies and fierce faces of the attackers. Through bone and sinew and muscles the spades sheared; lances were buried deep in the quivering flesh; boarding knives flashed and clove turbaned skulls; and grunts, screams, yells, shouts, and the clash of arms filled the breathless air.
But against a full hundred fanatical, death-defying savages, the handful of Yankees could not hope to hold back their own. As fast as a bleeding, mutilated, screeching pirate fell back, others took his place, and despite the slaughter, scores gained the deck unharmed and with thrusting knives and swinging bolos leaped at the whalemen. Like fiends both sides fought. Back to back one group of white men retreated slowly, fighting every inch of the way, to the very forepeak, their way marked by a trail of blood and writhing, dying men —white and brown. Captain Winthrop, with Winslow and two men, had been forced back to the after deck and there made a historic stand, facing a full twenty of the Malays. A creese flashed through the air and buried itself in Winslow’s breast, and the next second the thrower’s head seemed to leap from his shoulders as the skipper hurled a blubber spade with unerring aim and the broad blade caught the Malay full in the throat. Stooping, the captain seized the lance that the mate dropped, but ere he could raise it, a pirate sprang like a tiger and the skipper fell with his scull cleft by a bolo stroke. Ten seconds later, the remaining whalemen on the after deck had been cut down, and only the remnant of men forward, and Kemp with four men at the starboard gangway, remained alive. The decks were red and slippery with blood; dead and wounded men lay in piles and contorted, awful groups. It would be but a matter of minutes before the last white man would be butchered. Death was certain for all, not one of the whalemen expected to survive, and yet they fought doggedly on. With their victims aft disposed of, the Malays dashed forward to the aid of their companions at the break of the forecastle, leaving those engaging Kemp and four for men to their own resources. With a bellow of rage, the second officer hurled himself upon the nearest Malay and brought a handspike crashing down upon the fellow’s head. Instantly, the others closed around him. Knives and bolos flashed, but in the writhing, struggling mass friend and foe were too inextricably mixed for blows to fall, and back and forth the men swayed and fought. Kicking out with his heavy boots, the second mate cleared a narrow space, and, bending quickly, grasped the legs of the nearest Malay. With a grunt he straightened up; and using every ounce of his Herculean strength, he swung the struggling, screeching the man aloft, a blood spattered human bludgeon, he soon cleared away through the brown bodies. Towering above the pirates, with his human battering-ram cutting a swath through the leaping forms and flashing weapons, Kemp staggered to the ship’s rails. Three of his men still lived, and gathered around him. Facing them, awed for the moment, hesitating, were eight Malays. The respite was brief, but it was sufficient for Kemp to carry out the plan that had flashed through his mind, as he had fought, swinging that living flail. Below where he stood the whaleboat still lay alongside the bark, secured only by its painter, the oars still in their places. It was a desperate chance, but the only chance of escape, for a glance forward had shown the mate that the battle there was almost over, and in an instant more the entire force of pirates would be upon him and his three comrades. With hoarse, shouted orders to his men to scramble into the waiting boat and cut the painter, Kemp whirled his battered, bleeding club of human flesh, hurled it with all his strength into the face of the Malays, and leaped backward over the bark’s side. With a crash he landed in the boat, recovered himself instantly, as the Malays leaped to the rails with yells of savage rage, the boat was pushed from the Wanderer; oars bent to the strain of the bulging muscles, and amid a shower of flung knives and bolos, dashed from the doomed ship. With shrill cries the pirates rushed to their proas, and, tumbling in, dug paddles into the water and urged their craft in pursuit. But even the proas could not overtake the speedy whaleboat urged on by four desperate whalemen whose lives depended on their efforts. Each minute the distance between the pursued and the pursuers widened, and presently, finding the chase hopeless, the pirates turned about and headed back to the bark to loot, carouse, and destroy.
Not one of the four in the boat had escape unscathed. All were wounded, and Kemp was bleeding from a dozen ugly cuts and thrusts. But not one complained. Tough, hard, rough men, inured to hardships and suffering, the men thought nothing of flesh wounds, and not until the bark was hull down did they cease rowing, and, resting on their oars, take long drafts from the keg of precious water, and with rough skill bound up their wounds.
That they were alone upon the vast expanse of a sea, adrift in a tiny cockle-shell of a boat, with a scanty supply of water and dry biscuit, troubled them little. They were still alive, not seriously injured, and they knew that their craft, though small, was the most seaworthy type of boat ever built by man. The nearest land where friendly natives could be found was fully five hundred miles distant, but many a whaleboat filled with castaway men had covered thrice that distance in safety. But they had no intention of attempting to reach the distant land. Two days before the calm had set in, the Wander had been in company with a whaling ship Comet, and if —as Kemp thought probable —the Comet had also been becalmed, she would still be within one hundred miles —an easy row for the men in the whale boat.
So, having rested and done what they could for their wounds, the men once more bent their oars, and, though they suffered tortures from the heat and thirst, all hoped and prayed that the flat calm might continue, that no breeze might spring up to relieve them, and enable the ship they sought to move. Even as it was they stood but small chance for finding her —a tiny speck upon that the vast oily sea —but they knew that a whaling ship, when cruising, sails in circles, and, that unless some unusual event had occurred she would still be in almost the same spot as where they had last seen her, and that if she was boiling, the black smudge of smoke from her try-works would be visible for many miles during the day, and would serve as are red flair to guide them at night. All through the afternoon they rowed on; through the silent, star bright night they toiled at their long oars, and when the day dawned the sea still stretched, unbroken by land or sea, before their aching eyes. Almost like automatons they rowed steadily throughout the forenoon; never speaking, scarcely thinking; their brains sleeping though their muscles still worked on with the regularity of machinery; only stopping at intervals to munch a biscuit or wet their parched mouths with a spoonful of water. Now and then Kemp would rise, painfully, stiffly, from his seat, and with reddened eyes sweep the horizon; but still there was no complaint, no thought of giving up. It was mid-afternoon when as the second mate again staggered to his feet and peered about, he caught a faint smudge on the shimmering horizon to the north, and with a glad, half choked, gurgling cry announced the tidings. With renewed hope and vigor the men swung the boat toward the smoke, and when, half an hour later, they saw that the smoke remained stationary and that it was far clearer, they felt for a certainty that they had won, that the smudge was from the whaling ships try-works, and almost joyously, forgetting their aching heads and tortured muscles, they fairly lifted the thirty-foot boat through the sea.
Soon the mastheads of the vessel rose to view; the heavy yards and the smoke grimed sails became visible; the squat, bluff-bowed, weather-beaten hull appeared, and as the men’s practised eyes took in lines and rigging, they knew that the ship they sought was there, and that within the hour they would be upon the Comet’s decks.
As they swept alongside and painfully —aided by their fellow whalemen —reached the deck and told of the fate of their bark, a chorus of curses went up from the listening men’s throats that should have shriveled the blistered, scaling paint on the ship’s sides.
“By Judas!” exclaimed grizzled Captain Tilden. “I’ll learn ‘em, the consarned blasted heathens! I’ll learn ‘em to kill honest Yankee whalemen. Yes, by cripes, I’ll learn ‘em a lesson they won’t forget, and I’ll add interest for a murderin’ of Captain Josiah and Hen Winslow to boot.”
Although an eighty-barrel sperm whale was alongside, and not one half the blubber had been cut in, yet so thoroughly aroused were the whalemen, and so intent on evening scores with the Malays, that the carcass was cut adrift, and a light breeze springing up, yards were squared and the Comet wallowed eastward. With his crew of twenty odd men, Captain Tilden knew it was useless to attempt to deal with the Malays, but he knew where he could secure reinforcements, and was in a fever of impatience to obtain the needed force and hurry back to Perang. Lying in a bay at a small island off the Borneo coast were several Yankee whale ships, and on the third morning after Kemp and the survivors of the Wanderer had reached the Comet, the island loomed above the horizon and an hour later the yards and masts of the vessels were sighted just where the captain had expected to find them.
Scarcely had the Comet’s anchor dropped when her skipper and Mr. Kemp were rowing swiftly to the nearest vessel, the brig Ruby, and once more the second officer of the ill fated Wanderer told his story, Captain Crosby of the Ruby, and Nye of the Pole Star instantly and heartily agreed to aid Captain Tilden in avenging the massacre of Captain Winthrop and his men. No time was lost, and with fifteen men from the Pole Star, ten from the Ruby, his own 24, and Kemp and his three comrades —fifty-three in all —Captain Tilden felt he could handle any number of Malays that might appear, and, hoisting anchor, he set sail for Perang. Moreover, the skipper of the Ruby and Pole Star had placed all their valuable arms at the disposal of the Comet’s Captain, and every man aboard was provided with a firearm of some sort.
Very anxious had been Captains Nye and Crosby to join in the expedition of vengeance, but Tilden would not listen to it.
“This here’s my a couple of fish,” he declared with finality. “Kemp and his men come to me and, by Geoffry, I swore I’d settle them devil’s hash for ‘em and damme if I don’t. And sides, ‘twouldn’t do no tarnation good for the three us to go after ‘em. They ain’t no fools, and soon’s they see three ships they’ll take to the bush and never show hide nor hair of their consarned, devil born, blasted carcasses. No sir this here’s a one man job, and I’m the man what’s goin’ to put it through, so help me.”
The others realized the truth of the skipper’s words. The Malays would be far too cautious to attempt an attack on three ships, and so, wishing Captain Tilden godspeed and the best of luck, they watched him sail from the bay and head into the west.
In due time the bulk of Perang rose above the rim of the sea, and Captain Tilden gave his orders. As long as the ship was under control there was little likelihood of the pirates attempting to board her, and if they approached and saw an unusual number of men aboard, they would become suspicious. Hence the crafty skipper gave explicit orders that all hands except those necessary for handling the Comet should remain below decks, or out of sight, until called, and that that all should have weapons ready; and with grins of anticipation of the coming fight, the men looked to their arms and melted from sight. Bearing close in toward shore, Captain Tilden shortened sail, steered his vessel erratically, and presently, bringing her aback, had a boat lowered and manned, and a tow line paid out as though the Comet were disabled and he was making every effort to get clear of the island.
Anxiously he and his officers searched the shores for signs of proas. Would the Malays take the bait so tempting offered? Would they dash forth to attack, or would they suspect that those who had escaped from the Wanderer had reached friends, and that the Comet was a trap? No one could say, but Captain Tilden was hopeful. He had spent years in these waters; he was familiar with the ways of the natives, and he felt sure that, flushed with their recent victory and success, the pirates would come forth from their lairs, lured by a very apparently helpless, Comet.
And his deductions were borne out. Out from the shelter of the jungle covered shores came the proas once more, the naked brown bodies of their cutthroat crews glistening in the sun, bolos and creeses flashing back the light. Hurriedly the boat’s crew came pulling back to the ship. Word was passed, and from the hiding places the heavily armed whalemen poured out and, still hidden from the Malays by the ship’s bulwarks, took their places. Onward swept the pirates. Once again a hapless vessel was before them. Once more they felt sure they could satiate their lust for white men’s blood and rum, and confident of victory, they dashed alongside the Comet, leaping from the proas with wild cries and savage shouts, and swarmed up the ship’s sides. Not until the Malays’ heads appeared above the rails did Captain Tilden give the word to his impatient men. Then, with lusty shouts, worse curses, triumphant yells, the fifty-three whalemen sprang up. With blazing muskets and pistols, flashing spades and heavy lances, they fell upon the astonished pirates. Turbaned heads were sliced from shoulders by the broad-edged spades; lances were plunged through naked bodies; broad axes clove through skulls and limbs, and shot and bullets brought down scores. Not a Malay lived to set foot on the Comet’s decks. Not one remained alive or uninjured to drop back to the piratical proas. Dozens, terrified, utterly demoralized, and thinking only to escape the fearful weapons and the demoniacal fury of the whalemen, flung themselves shrieking into the sea, to be torn to pieces by the swarming sharks attracted by the blood that crimsoned the water. Within ten minutes it was over. Without the loss of a single man the whalemen had annihilated the Malays, had exacted a terrible vengeance for the murder of Captain Winthrop and his crew. With grim satisfaction Captain Tilden looked about upon the carnage he had wrought, as yards were swung, and the Comet headed for the open sea. Then he spat reflectively to leeward, glanced at the receding bulk of Perang, at the drifting empty proas, at the sharp black fins cutting the surface the water.
“I calc’late that’s what you might call a good deed well done,” he remarked to Mr. Kemp. “I said I’ll learn ‘em a lesson, and by Judas I done it.”
And he had. For years thereafter, no Yankee whaleship was ever attacked by the savage pirates of the islands. The mere sight of a dingy, weather beaten, bluff-bowed vessel would send them quaking with terror to their lairs, and for generations the natives of Perang spoke in awed tones of the white devils who bore charmed lives.
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.