CUTCLIFFE HYNE

THE PILGRIM SHIP

Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover 2019©

WITH ILLUSTRATIONS FROM PEARSON'S MAGAZINE


Ex Libris

First published in Pearson's Magazine, August 1897

Collected in:
The Adventures of Captain Kettle, Pearson's, London, 1898

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version Date: 2019-08-13
Produced by Terry Walker and Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

Click here for more books by this author


Illustration

The Adventures of Captain Kettle, 1898,
with "The Pilgrim Ship"


Illustration

Illustration


EVEN before he left Jeddah, Captain Kettle was quite aware that by shipping pilgrims on the iron decks of the Saigon for transit across the Red Sea, he was transgressing the laws of several nations, especially those of Great Britain and her Dependencies. But what else could the poor man do? Situated as he was, with such a tempting opportunity ready to his hand, he would have been less than human if he had neglected to take the bargain which was offered. And though the list of things that has been said against Captain Owen Kettle is both black and long, I am not aware that any one has yet alleged that the little sailor was anything more or less than human in all his many frailties.

Cortolvin came to the chart-house and put this matter of illegality to him in plain words when the engines chose to break down two days out of Jeddah, and the Saigon lolled helpless in the blazing Red Sea heat.

Cortolvin up to that time had not made himself remarked. He had marched on board from the new Jeddah quay where the railway is, and posed as an Arab of the Sahara who was glorying in the newly-acquired green turban of a Hadji; he was nicked on the mate's tally as a "nigger," along with some three hundred and forty other dark-skinned followers of the Prophet; and he had spent those two days upon an orthodox square of ragged carpet, spread on the rusted iron plating of the lower fore deck.

Illustration

When the pilgrims had mustered for victualling, he had filed in with the rest, and held out a brass lotah for his ration of water, and a tattered square of canvas for his dole of steamed rice. You could count his ribs twenty yards away; but he'd the look of a healthy man; and when on mornings he helped to throw overboard those of his fellow-pilgrims who had died during the night, it was plain to see that he was a fellow of more than ordinary muscular strength.

He came to Captain Kettle in the chart-house to report that the pilgrims contemplated seizing the Saigon so soon as ever the engines were once more put in running order. "They've declared a jehad against you, if you know what that is," said Cortolvin.

"A holy war, or some such skittles, isn't it?" said Kettle.

"That's about the size of it," said the Hadji. "You'll have to look out if you intend to remain master of this steamboat."

"I don't require any teaching of my business from passengers," said Captain Kettle stiffly.

"All right," said Cortolvin, "have it your own way. But I think you might be decently grateful. I've risked my life by coming to give you news of what was in the wind. And you can't pretend that the information is not useful. You've a coolie crew who will be absolutely foolish if trouble comes—these Lascars always are that way. You've just your two white engineers and two white mates to back you up, and the five of you wouldn't have a show. You've three hundred and forty fanatics to deal with, who are all fighting bred, and fighting fit. They're all well armed, and they wouldn't a bit object to die scrimmaging in such a cause.

"You know it's part of their creed that if they peg out whilst fighting giaours, they go slick to paradise by lightning express. That wily old camel-driver of Mecca painted his heaven as just the sort of dandy place to suit this kind of cattle, and as most of them have a beast of a time on this earth, they're anxious to move along upstairs whenever a decent opportunity offers to get there."

"They'll be an ugly crowd to tackle: I grant that."

"They are so, and don't you forget it. I might point out, Captain, that, personally speaking, I'd have been a lot safer if I'd stayed down on the lower foredeck yonder, and held my tongue. They'd have got you to an absolute certainty if they'd ambushed you as was intended, and I could have kept out of the actual throat-cutting and preserved a sound skin. They've all got profound respect for me; I'm a very holy man."

"And as it is?"

Hadji Cortolvin shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, I chip in with you."

"Will you tell me why?"

"Cousinship of the skin, I suppose. You're white by birth, and I believe I should turn out to be white also if I kept out of the sun for awhile, and had several Turkish baths. Of course I've a snuff-coloured hide on me now, and during this last two years I've been living with men of colour, and following their ways, and thinking their thoughts. Funny, isn't it? I come across you; I don't know you from Adam; I can't say I particularly like what I've seen of you; and yet here am I, rounding on my former mates, and chipping in with you, on the clear knowledge that I shall probably get killed during the next few hours for my pains."

"May I ask your name?" said Kettle. "I believe, sir," he added with a bow, "that you are a gentleman."

The Hadji laughed. "So far as I recollect, I was that once, Captain. Sorry I haven't a card on me, but my name's W.H. Cortolvin, and I lived near Richmond in Yorkshire before I was idiot enough to go wandering off the Cook's tourist routes into the middle of Arabia."

"I'm Welsh myself," said Kettle, "but I've known men from Yorkshire. Shake hands, sir, please. Will you have a whisky peg?"

"Pour it out, Captain. I haven't tasted a Christian drink for thirty weary months. And you've got a chattie hung up in the draught of a port! Cool water, ye gods! Bismillah! But it is good to be alive sometimes."


Illustration

"Pour it out, Captain. I haven't tasted a Christian drink for thirty weary months."


Captain Kettle looked with distaste at the Hadji's attire.

"Won't you sling that filthy nightgown thing of yours overboard," he asked, "and have a wash? I can rig you out with some pyjamas from the slop chest."

But Cortolvin would not change his dirt and squalor just then. He had worn it too long to be affected by it; "and," said he, "I don't want to advertise the fact that I'm an Englishman just at present. If my dear friends down yonder on the lower deck knew it, they'd not wait for the engines to be repaired. They'd fizzle up just like gunpowder there and then, and the whole lot of us white men would be pulled into tassels before we'd time to think."

"I don't know about that," said Kettle. "I've faced some of the ugliest crowds that have floated on the seas before this, and they thought they were going to have it all their own way; but they found that when it came to shooting, that I could keep my end up very handily."

He waved his guest to a deck chair, placed a box of cheroots hospitably open on the chart-table, and then he went outside the chart—house, and leant over the bridge-deck rail. The awning above him threw a clean-cut shade which swung to and fro as the Saigon rolled over the faint oily swell; and outside its shelter the sun's rays fell like molten brass, and the metal-work was hot enough to raise a blister. The air was motionless and stagnant, and greasy with the smell of humanity. The whole fabric of the steamer shimmered in the dancing heat.

For the dense mass of pilgrims below, the situation approached the intolerable. Left to itself, the rusted iron deck beneath their bare skins would have grown hot enough to char them. Nothing but a constant sluicing with water made it in any way to be endured. And as the water from alongside came up to them as warm as tea, it did but little to refresh.

The African can withstand most temperatures which are thrown from above on to the face of this planet, but even the African can at times die from heat as glibly as his betters. Even as Kettle watched, one of the pilgrims, a grizzled headed Hafisa from the Western Soudan, was contorted with heat apoplexy; breathed stertorously for a minute or so; and then lay still, and immediately became a prey to flies innumerable. Two of his nearest comrades bestirred themselves to look at him, pronounced that life was extinct, stood up, and with an effort carried the body out of the press, and heaved it over the hot iron bulwark into the oily sea beneath. It is not good that the dead should remain with the quick even for minutes in circumstances such as those.

And whilst the bearers carried him away, an old white-haired negro from Sokoto stood upon his feet swaying to the roll of the ship, and faced the heat-blurred East with bowed head. Aloud he bore witness that God was great; and that Mahomet was the Prophet of God; and that of mortals, each man's fate was writ big upon his forehead. And then the rest of the pilgrims bent their foreheads to the torturing deck plates, and made profession of the faith following his words.

Illustration

Aloud he bore witness that God was great.


Captain Kettle, from his stand against the rail of the bridge deck, pitied the heathen, and thought with a complacent sigh of a certain obscure chapel in South Shields; but at the same time he could not avoid being impressed by the heathens' constancy. They might die, but they forbore to curse God in doing it, and the omission gave him an insight into the workings of fatalism which made him think more of what Cortolvin had said.

Every man amongst the pilgrims had sword or spear, or mace, or rifle within grip of his fist; and as a fighting force—with fatalism to back them he began to realise that they could make a very ugly company to manoeuvre against. A regulation of the pilgrim trade requires that all weapons shall be taken from this class of passengers during the voyage, but Kettle had omitted to disarm them through sheer contempt for what they could do. If they choose to fight amongst themselves, that was their own concern; it never even occurred to him as they came off Jeddah quay, noisy and odorous, that they would dare to contend against his imperial will; but now he sincerely wished that the means of serious offence were not so handy to their fingers.

I do not say that he was afraid, for, knowing him well, I honestly believe that the little ruffian has never yet feared man that was born of woman; but the safety of the Saigon was a matter just then very near to his heart, and he had forebodings as to what might happen to her.

He went back again inside the chart-house, sat himself upon the sofa, and ran a finger round inside the collar of his white drill coat.

"Do you like the cheroots, sir?" he said to his tattered guest

"Nice cheroots," said Cortolvin: "wonder how many I'll smoke. Those True Believers are a pretty tough crowd, aren't they. There's one Soudanese fellow in a Darfur suit of mail. Did you notice him? He's been a big war sheik in his day. He helped to smash up Hicks Pasha's army, and commanded a thousand men at the storming of Khartoum; but he got sick of Mahdiism about a year back, and set out to perform the Hadji. When it comes to fighting, you'll see that man will shine."

"He shall have my first shot," said Kettle.

"It surprises me," said Cortolvin, "that you ever went in for this pilgrim-carrying business at all. You must have been pretty hard pushed, Captain."

"Hard wasn't the word for it," said the shipmaster with a sigh. "I met misfortune, sir, in Chili. I disagreed with my employer, who was a lady, and went off cruising in a boat by myself. A tea steamer picked me up and put me in Colombo. I got from there to Bombay as second mate of a tramp, but I couldn't stand the old man's tongue, and went ashore without my wages. I guess, sir, I'm no good except in command; I can't take an order civilly.

"Well, in Bombay I'd a regular nip gut time of it. I bummed round the agent's offices till I almost blushed to look at their punkah-coolies; but I'd no papers to show that would do me any good; and none of them would give me a ship the size of a rice mat.

"At last, when I was getting desperate, and pretty near put to going to sea before the mast, a Cardiff man I once knew came to the lodgings, and gave me a tip. He'd been master of a country steamer: he'd been sacked (he didn't deny it) for drunkenness; he'd not drawn a sober breath for months, and didn't see any prospect of changing his habits; and there was the berth vacant, and I might have it for the asking.

"The pay wasn't much; only 100 rupees a month and percentage on profits; and the owner was a Parsee. I'd never been low enough down to sign on under a black man before, but I guess I was past being very nice in my tastes just then. The owner was fat and oldish, and wore a thing on his head like a top hat turned upside down, and I will say I did not give him much politeness. But he knew his place; he sahib'd me quite respectful; and he said he'd be honoured if I'd take his steamer under my charge. 'She was all he'd got,' he said; 'he loved her like his life, and he'd not trust her to any one except a pukka sahib.'

"Of course he lied a good deal—all natives do that—and he fixed up our bargain so that I'd little to win and he'd a good deal, which is those Parsees' way. But I will say he was always most respectful, and in the matter of victualling he really surprised me. Why, he actually put Bass's ale on board at four annas the bottle!

"We cleared from Bombay in corn, and cottons, and earthenware, consigned to Jeddah, and the owner told me I'd have no trouble in getting a cargo of dates and coffee to bring back. But the Jeddah merchants seemed to think different. I cut down freights to near vanishing point, but they wouldn't look at them anyhow. I couldn't get a ton of cargo on board for any spot in the known globe—no, not if I offered to carry it for nothing. The Saigon might have swung there at moorings till the bottom rotted out of her; and expenses were running up all the time.

"The climate was sickly too; I'd lost my serang before I'd been there a week, and two more of the coolies died in the next ten days. So when this cargo of pilgrims offered, I tell you I just jumped at it. Of course this old wreck was not fitted for the trade. She's small, she's iron decks, she's only two boats, and she's not near enough water tanks. There'd be big penalties if she was caught. But I shipped a second rice steamer and signed that charter-party smiling.

"It wasn't as if I'd got to go through the Ditch to one of the Morocco ports; the pilgrims had only to be taken across to Kosseir; and squaring an Egyptian custom officer is only a case of how much backshish."

"You do know your trade," said Cortolvin.

"The under side of it," said Kettle, with a sigh. "A man with luck like mine has to. He never gets on with the decent steamboat lines, where everything is square and above board. He can only get the little hole and corner owners, who you've got to make dividends for somehow and no questions asked, or else just up and take the dirty sack.

"I'm a man," he added, with a frown, "that can do the job well, and they know it, and keep me to it. But I despise myself all the time. It isn't in my nature, Mr. Cortolvin. Put me ashore, give me a farm, and let me bend yellow gaiters and a large-pattern coat, and there wouldn't be a straighter, sweeter- natured man between here and heaven."

The Hadji swept the perspiration from his forehead with the back of a grimy knuckle.

"There's no accounting for taste, Captain. I'm the owner of acres near Richmond, and if I chose I could ride about my park, and see the farms, and live the life of a country gentleman just in the way you think you'd like. But I tired of it."

"Perhaps you have no wife, sir," suggested the sailor. His guest gave a short laugh.

"Oh, Lord, yes," he said. "I've a wife."

He paused a minute, and then threw his half-smoked cheroot savagely out into the sunshine.

"You can take it from me that I have a wife, Captain. But—well, you see, I've always been an Arabic scholar, and I thought I'd come out to the Hedjaz to study dialects for a year or so. It would be a pleasant change after the milk and honey of a country life. I don't seem to have got killed, and I think I've liked it on the whole. It's been exciting, and I know more about bastard Arabic than any European living now that poor Palmer's dead, if that's any satisfaction. If I chose to go home now, I could pose as no end of a big boss in that line. The only thing is, I can't quite make my mind up whether to risk it. By God, yes," he added, with a stare out into the baking sunshine beyond the doorway; "oh, yes, I've a wife."

Captain Kettle did not quite follow all this, so he said politely and vaguely: "Well, of course, you know your own affairs best, sir." Then he took a long and steady look at his guest. "You'll excuse me, sir, but your name seems familiar. I wonder if you'd got that beard and some of your hair off whether I should recognise you."

"I fancy not."

"Cortolvin," the little man mused. "I'm sure I've seen that name before somewhere."

The Hadji laughed. "I am afraid that neither I nor any of my people have been celebrated enough to have come into public notice, skipper; but we had a namesake some years back who was famous. A horse named Cortolvin won the Grand National in '67. That's what you'll have got in your mind."

Captain Kettle stiffened. "I beg your pardon, sir," he said, with acid politeness, "but I don't see you've earned a right to insult me. When I am at sea I am what circumstances make me. When I am ashore in England, I would have you know I am a different person. I am a regular attender at chapel, and a man who (outside business matters) tries to keep entirely straight. In England, sir, I take an interest in neither pocket-picking, horse-racing, nor sacrilege; and I have it on the word of a minister I sit under that there is very little to choose between the three."

Cortolvin faced the situation with ready tact. That this truculent little ruffian, who could flirt with homicide without a second thought, should so strongly resent the imputation of being interested in a horse-race, did not surprise him much He had met others of the breed before. And he smoothed down Captain Kettle's ruffled feelings with the easy glibness of a man of the world. But the needs of the moment were again recurring to him with violence, and he broke off artistically to refer to them.

"Don't you think," he said, "my fellow pilgrims will bear a little attention now, skipper?"

"I will be off and make up a bit of a surprise packet for them," said Kettle. "Excuse me, sir, for two minutes, whilst I go and give instructions to my chief."

And he swung on his pith helmet and left the charthouse.

The sun climbed higher into the fleckless sky, and lolled above the Saigon in insolent cruelty. The Red Sea heat grew, if anything, yet more dreadful. The men's veins stood out in ropes upon their streaming bodies, and it scorched them to draw in a breath. Drink, too, was scarce. The Hedjaz is a region almost waterless; the desert at the back drains up all the moisture; and the Saigon had left Jeddah with her tanks only half filled. She had to depend upon her condenser, and this was small. And in the tropics, condenser-water must be dealt out in a sparing ration, or a dozen hours may easily see a whole ship's company down with raging dysentery.

The Saigon carried a spar-deck amidships, and the pilgrims were grouped in two bodies forward and aft of this, on the iron plating of the fore and main decks. The spar-deck was officially reached from these lower levels by a couple of slender iron ladders; but it was not unscalable to a fairly active climber. There was an alley-way passing beneath the spar-deck, but this could easily be closed by the iron doors in the two bulk-heads, which fastened inside with heavy clamping screws.

The chief engineer came into the chart-house, and hitched up his grimy pyjamas, and mopped his face with a wad of cotton waste. He looked meaningly at the whisky-bottle, but Kettle ignored his glance.

"Well, Mr. McTodd?" said he.

"I'm a' ready for the pagans, sir, when ye're willing to gi' the worrd."

"What are your engines like now?"

"A wee bittee less fit for the scrap-heap than they were a dozen hours back, but no' very much to boast of." Mr. McTodd spat out into the sunshine. "They're the rottenest engines ever I fingered," said he, "and that's what I think of them. A man ought to have double my pay to be near them. They're just heartbreaking."

"You knew she wasn't the P. and O. when you signed on."

"We're neither of us here, Captain Kettle, because we were offered fatter berths."

Kettle frowned. "I'll trouble you, Mr. McTodd, to attend to the matter in hand. You have those steam-pipes ranged?"

"Both forrard and aft."

"Commanding both ladders?"

"Just like that."

"And you've plenty of steam?"

"Ye can hear it burring through the escape this minute if ye'll use your ears. It's been vera exhausting work toiling down yonder in that a'ful heat."

"Well, Mr. Cortolvin here assures me that the niggers will begin to play up the minute we get under weigh, so you see we know where we are, and must be ready for them. I shall want you and the second engineer on deck, of course, so you must arrange for one of your crew to run the engines till we've got the business settled."

"I've a greaser down yonder who can open the throttle," said McTodd gloomily; "but he's got no notion of nursing sick engines like these, and as like as not he'll drive them off their bed- plates in a score of revolutions. Ye'd better let me keep the engine-room myself, Captain. I'm a sick man, and I'm no fit for fighting with my throat as dry as it is now."

Captain Kettle poured out a liberal two fingers of whisky and handed it across. "Now, Mac," said he, "wet your neck, and let's have no more of this nonsense. You'll have to fight for your life inside ten minutes, and you'll do it better sober."

The engineer eyed the whisky and poured it slowly down its appointed path.


Illustration

The engineer poured it slowly down its appointed path.


"Mon," he said, "ye've an a'ful poor opinion o' my capaacity. I'll just be off and give yon coolie greaser some instructions, and get my side-arms, and be with you again in forty clock- ticks."

"I pity the nigger that comes to hand grips with McTodd," said Kettle, when the grimy man in the grey pyjamas had left the chart-house. "He's an ugly beggar to handle when he's sober as he is now. We'll get ready now, sir, if you please. You go to the after end of the bridge deck with McTodd and the second mate, and I'll look after the forrard end with the old mate and the second engineer. When they try to rush the ladder, McTodd will give them the steam, and they'll never be able to face it. All you and the second mate have to do is to see they don't climb up over the rail."

"I wish it could be avoided," said Cortolvin sadly. "That high pressure steam will scald some of them horribly."

"It will do more than that," said Kettle. "It will strip the meat clean off their bones."

"I have lived amongst those men or their sort for two solid years, and many of them have shown me kindnesses."

"You should have thought of that, sir, before you came to me here in the chart-house."

"I did think of it; but I couldn't be a renegade to my colour; and so I came. But, Captain, will you let me speak to them? Will you let me tell them that their scheme is known and prepared for? Will you let me explain to them what they will have to face if they start an outbreak?"

Captain Kettle frowned. "You will understand that I am not frightened of the beasts?" he said.

"I quite know that," said Cortolvin, "and I am sorry to spoil a fight. But it is their lives I am begging for."

"Very well," said Kettle, "you can fire away. I don't speak their bat, and it's as well they should know from some one what they have to look forward to. Here's a life-preserver which you may find useful. It's the only weapon I have to offer you. My own pistol is the only gun we have in the ship."

The pair of them went outside the chart-house and walked to the head of the forward ladder. A newly-fitted steam-pipe, with the joints all greasy with white lead, lay on the deck planks, and the second engineer stood beside it with thumbs in his waist- strap On the deck below, the pilgrims no longer squatted on their carpets, but stood together in knots, and talked excitedly. Cortolvin clapped his hands, and the sea of savage faces turned towards him.

There were representatives in that mob from half the Mahommedan peoples of Northern Africa. There were lean Arab camel-breeders of the desert, jet-black farmers from the Great Lakes and the Upper Nile, HaŻsas from the Western Soudan, limp Fellaheen from Lower Egypt, an Egba who had served in the British Police Force at Lagos, merchants from the back of the Barbary States, workers in metal from Sokoto, and weavers from Timbukhtu.

They were not all holders of the title of Hadji; for though by Mahommedan law every male must make the Mecca pilgrimage at least once in a lifetime, unless debarred by poverty or lameness, the journey may be done by deputy. And these deputies, fierce, truculent ruffians, who had lived their lives amongst incessant wars and travel, were perhaps the most dangerous of all the lot.

The black men listened to their late associate with a momentary hush of surprise. He spoke to them in fluent Arabic. He did not appeal to their better feelings; he knew his audience. He said it was written that if they tried this thing, if they attempted to capture the steamer, they should surely fail; that all things were prepared to give them battle; and that a horrible death awaited those who persisted in their design.

And then he tried to point out the nature of the Saigon's defences, but there he failed. It is ill work to explain the properties of high pressure steam to savages. A murmur rose amongst them; which grew. They let out their voices, and roared defiance. And then the great black mass of them rushed for the iron ladder.

Captain Kettle clapped a whistle to his lips and blew it shrilly.

"Now then, Mr. Cortolvin," he cried, "away with you aft to help McTodd. These cattle here want something more than talk, and I'm going to give it them."

In answer to his whistle, steam had been turned on from below. The second engineer unhitched his thumbs from his waist-belt, took a lump of waste in each grimy hand, and lifted the iron pipe. It was well jointed, and moved easily, and he turned the nozzle of it to sweep the ladder. In that baking air, the steam did not condense readily; it travelled three yards from the nozzle of the pipe before it became even thinly visible; and it impinged upon the black naked bodies, and burned horribly without being seen.

At first they did not flinch. With a dreadful valour they faced the torment, and fought with each other to be first upon the rungs, and then when those in front would have held back, the mob behind pressed them irresistibly onwards. In a moment or so the first rank began to go down before that withering blast, and then others trod on them and fell also, till the hill of writhing black humanity grew to half the height of the iron ladder. And in the meantime others of the pilgrims were trying to storm the bridge deck at other points; but on the port side, the gray- headed old mate fighting baresark with an axe, and to starboard, Captain Kettle, with pistol and knuckle-duster, battled like wild cats to keep the sacred planking inviolate.

What was going on at the after end of the Saigon, they could not tell. From behind them came the roar of the fighting HaŻsa, and the savage war-cries of the desert, just as they rose up from before their faces. But in its first flush, the fight was too close for any man's thoughts to wander from his own immediate adversaries.

It seemed, however, that the battle was over first in the after part of the steamer, and whether this was because the attack there was less heartful, or because Mr. McTodd's artillery was more terrible cannot now be known. The question was debated much afterwards without coming to a decision. But, anyway, by the time Captain Kettle's adversaries had ceased to rage against him, Cortolvin was free to come and stand by his side as interpreter.

The wounded lay sprawling and writhing about the iron decks; below them the survivors—and scarcely one of these was without his scald—huddled against the doors of the forecastle; and the grimy second engineer held the belching steam pipe upwards, so that a grey pall hung between the Saigon and the sun.

"Now, sir," said Kettle, "kindly translate for me. Tell those animals to chuck all their hardware over the side, or I'll cook the whole lot of them like so many sausages."

Cortolvin lifted up his voice in sonorous Arabic.

"It was written," he cried, "that the giaour should prevail. It is written also that those amongst you having wit shall cast your weapons into the sea. It is written, moreover, that those others of you who do not on this instant disarm, shall taste again the scorching breath of Eblis."

A stream of weapons leapt up through the air and fell into the swells alongside with tinkling splashes.

"It would be a weariness to guard you," Cortolvin went on. "Swear by the beard of the Prophet to make no further attempt against this ship, or we shall gaol you fast in death."

A forest of trembling black hands shot up before him.

"We swear!" they cried.

"Then it is written that you keep your vow," said Cortolvin. "God is great! See now to your sick." He turned to Kettle and touched his ragged turban, after the manner of an officer reporting. "The mutiny is ended, sir," he said.

Captain Kettle swung himself lightly on to the upper bridge and telegraphed "Full speed ahead" to the engine; the propeller swirled in the oily swells; and the Saigon gathered way. Sullen and trembling, the pilgrims began to tend their hurts, and presently McTodd with a large copper kettle in his hand descended amongst them, and distributed oil and surgical advice.

"There was none actually killed at my end," said Cortolvin.

"I dropped four," said Kettle. "I had to. It was either me or them. And my old mate axed half a dozen before they let him be. We'd a tight time here whilst it lasted."

"It will require a good lump of backshish to explain it all satisfactorily at Kosseir."

"Oh, I can't go near there now after this. No custom house for me, sir. I shall just run in-shore a dozen miles short of it, and put the beggars on the beach in my boats, and let them get into Kosseir as best they can. I suppose you'll come back with me?"

"I suppose so. Anyway, I can't go on with them. It is the first time any of them have discovered I was not a genuine Arab."

"I can imagine," said Kettle drily, "they'd give you a lively time, if they had you to themselves for five minutes. The Sons of the Prophet don't admire having Europeans messing about the Kaaba. But I owe you something, sir, and I shall be happy to go out of my way to serve you. I will drop you at Suakim, or at Aden, or at Perim, where I am going to coal, whichever you please."

"But what about yourself?"

"Oh, I shall be all right. I am seldom in need of a nursery- maid, sir."

"But if this affair gets into the newspapers, inquiries will be made, and you'll very possibly find yourself in an ugly hole."

"It won't get into the newspapers," said Kettle thoughtfully. "The pilgrims can't tell, my officers daren't for their own sakes, and you leave me to see my coolies don't. Newspapers," he repeated dreamily; "queer the hint should have come like that."

"What hint? What are you talking about?"

"I remembered then where I'd seen your name, sir. It was in the Times of India's general news column."

"What was said?"

"Well, sir, I suppose you'd better be told. But you must hold up for a hardish knock. Will you come into the chart house for a minute, and have a peg?"

"No, get along, man, get along."

"I think it was about your wife, sir. Does she hunt?"

"All the season."

"Then it will be her. I remember now it said Richmond in Yorkshire, and the name was Mrs. W.H. Cortolvin. She's broken her neck, sir."

Cortolvin clutched at the white rail of the bridge. "My God!" he cried, "dead! Julia dead! is that all, Captain?"

"It was only a two-line paragraph. You'll please understand how sorry I am to carry such sad news, Mr. Cortolvin."

"Thanks, skipper, thanks." He turned away and walked to the end of the bridge and stayed there for a while, leaning against an awning stanchion, and staring at the baking levels of the Red Sea which were slipping past the Saigon's rusty flanks. And then he came back again and stood at Kettle's side, looking down at the Pilgrims anointing their scalds below.

"I've learned to be something of a fatalist, Captain," he said, "when I was amongst these people. This is how I sum up the situation. 'It was written that my wife should die whilst I was away. It was written also that I should live. God ordered it all. God is great.'"

Captain Kettle gripped his hand in sympathy. "I'm sorry for you, sir; believe me, I am truly sorry. If you think a bit of poetry about the occasion would help you at all, just you say, and I'll do it. I'm in the mood for poetry now. All things put together, we've been through a pretty heavy time during these last few hours."

"Thanks, skipper, thanks," said Cortolvin. "I know you mean well. And now if you don't mind I'll leave you. I think I'd like to be alone for a bit."

"You do, sir. Go and lie down on my bunk. I'll have you a beautiful elegy written by the time you're back on deck again. It will comfort you."



Illustration

THE END