Read CHAPTER XI of A Man to His Mate , free online book, by Joseph Dunn and PJ Lennox, on ReadCentral.com.

HONEST SIMMS

Lund greeted Rainey with a curt nod. Hansen was still at the helm. The crew on duty were standing about alert, their eyes on Lund. They had found a new master, and they were cowed, eager to do their best.

“It ain’t noon yet,” said Lund. “I hardly need to shoot the sun with the land that close.”

Rainey looked over the starboard bow to where a series of peaks and lower humps of dark blue proclaimed the Aleutian island bridge stretching far to the west.

“I’ll show this crew they’ve got a skipper aboard,” said Lund. “How’s the cap’en?”

Rainey told him.

“We’ll see what we can do for him,” said Lund. “He’s better off without that fakir, that’s a cinch. Called me a murderer,” he went on with a good-humored laugh. “Got spunk, she has. And she’s a trim bit. A slip of a gal, but she’s game. An’ good-lookin’ eh, Rainey?”

He shot a keen glance at the newspaperman.

“You’re in her bad hooks, too, ain’t ye? We’ll fix that after a bit. She don’t know when she’s well off. Most wimmin don’t. An’ she’s the sort that needs handlin’ right. She’s upset now, natural, an’ she hates me.”

He smiled as if the prospect suited him. A suspicion leaped into Rainey’s brain. Lund had said he would not see a decent girl harmed. But the man was changed. He had fought and won, and victory shone in his eyes with a glitter that was immune from sympathy, for all his air of good-nature.

He had said that a man under his skin was just an animal. His appraisal of the girl struck Rainey with apprehension. “To the victor belong the spoils.” Somehow the quotation persisted. What if Lund regarded the girl as legitimate loot? He might have talked differently beforehand, to assure himself of Rainey’s support.

And Rainey suddenly felt as if his support had been uncalled upon, a frail reed at best. Lund had not needed him, would he need him, save as an aid, not altogether necessary, with Hansen aboard, to run the ship?

He said nothing, but thrust both hands into the side pockets of the pilot coat he had acquired from the ship’s stores. The sudden touch of cold steel gave him new courage. He had sworn to protect the girl. If Lund, seeming more like a pirate than ever, with his cold eyes sweeping the horizon, his bulk casting Rainey’s into a dwarf’s by comparison, attempted to harm Peggy Simms, Rainey resolved to play the part of champion.

He could not shoot like Lund, but he was armed. There were undoubtedly more cartridges in the clip. And he must secure the rest from Carlsen’s cabin immediately.

The sun reached its height, and Lund busied himself with his sextant. Rainey determined to ask him to teach him the use of it. His consent or refusal would tell him where he stood with Lund.

He felt the mastery of the man. And he felt incompetent beside him. Carlsen had been right. A ship at sea was a little world of its own, and Lund was now lord of it. A lord who would demand allegiance and enforce it. He held the power of life and death, not by brute force alone. He was the only navigator aboard, with the skipper seriously ill. As such alone he held them in his hand, once they were out of sight of land.

“Hansen,” said Lund, “Mr. Rainey’ll relieve you after we’ve eaten. Come on, Rainey. You ain’t lost yore appetite, I hope. Watch me discard that spoon for a knife an’ fork. I don’t have to play blind man enny longer.”

Food did not appeal to Rainey. He could not help thinking of the spot under the cloth where Tamada had wiped up the blood of the man just killed by Lund, sitting opposite him, making play for a double helping of victuals.

It was Lund’s apparent callousness that affected him more than his own squeamishness. He could not regret Carlsen’s death. With the doctor alive, his own existence would have been a constant menace. But he was not used to seeing a killing, though, in his water-front detail, he had not been unacquainted with grim tragedies of the sea.

It was Lund’s demeanor that gripped him. The giant had dismissed Carlsen as unceremoniously as he might have flipped the ash from a cigar, or tossed the stub overside.

“I’ve got to tackle those hunters,” Lund said. “I expect trouble there, sooner or later. But I’m goin’ to lay down the law to ’em. If they come clean, well an’ good, they git their original two shares. If not, they don’t get a plugged nickel. An’ Deming’s the one who’ll stir up the trouble, take it from me. Tell Hansen to turn in his watch-off, I shan’t take a deck for a day or two, you’ll have to go on handlin’ it between you. I’ve got to make my peace with the gal, an’ do what I can with the skipper.”

“She’ll not make peace easily. But the skipper’s in a bad way.”

Lund lit his pipe.

“I’d jest as soon it was war. I don’t see as we can help the skipper much ’less we try reverse treatment of what Carlsen did. If we knew what that was? If he gits worse she’ll let us know, I reckon. Mebbe you can suggest somethin’?”

Rainey shook his head.

“I suppose she can do more than any of us,” he said.

Lund nodded, then whistled to Tamada, leaving the cabin.

“Take a bottle of whisky to the hunters’ mess, with my compliments. That’ll give ’em about three jolts apiece,” he said to Rainey. “Long as we’ve won out we may as well let ’em down easy. But they’ll work for their shares, jest the same. A drink or two may help ’em swaller what I’m goin’ to give ’em by way of dessert in the talkin’ line. See you later.”

Rainey took the dismissal and went up to the relief of Hansen. He did not mention what had happened until the Scandinavian referred to it indirectly.

“They put the doc overboard, sir, soon’s Mr. Lund an’ you bane go below.”

It seemed a summary dismissal of the dead, without ceremony. Yet, for the rite to be authentic, Lund must have presided, and the sea-burial service would have been a mockery under the circumstances. It was the best thing to have done, Rainey felt, but he could not avoid a mental shiver at the thought of the man, so lately vital, his brain alive with energy, sliding through the cold water to the ooze to lie there, sodden, swinging with the sub-sea currents until the ocean scavengers claimed him.

“All right, Hansen,” he said in answer, and the man hurried off after his extra detail.

Lund came up after a while, and Rainey told him of the fate of Carlsen’s body.

“I figgered they’d do about that,” commented Lund. “They savvied he’d aimed to make suckers out of ’em, an’ they dumped him. But they ain’t on our side, by a long sight. Not that I give a damn. If they want to sulk, let ’em sulk. But they’ll stand their watches, an’, when we git to the beach, they’ll do their share of diggin’. If they need drivin’, I’ll drive ’em.

“That Deming is a better man than I thought. He’s the main grouch among ’em. Said if I hadn’t had a gun he’d have tackled me in the cabin. Meant it, too, though I’d have smashed him. He’s sore becoz I said he warn’t my equal. I told him, enny time he wanted to try it out, I’d accommodate him. He didn’t take it up, an’ they’ll kid him about it. He’ll pack a grudge. I ain’t afraid of their knifin’ me, not while the skipper’s sick. They need me to navigate.”

“This might be a good chance for me to handle a sextant,” suggested Rainey casually.

Lund shook his head, smiling, but his eyes hard.

“Not yet, matey,” he said. “Not that I don’t trust you, but for me to be the only one, jest now, is a sort of life insurance that suits me to carry. They might figger, if you was able to navigate, that they c’ud put the screws on you to carry ’em through, with me out of the way. I don’t say they could, but they might make it hard for you, an’ you ain’t got quite the same stake in this I have.”

Here was cold logic, but Rainey saw the force of it. Hansen came up early to split the watch and put their schedule right again, and Lund went below with Rainey. Lund ordered Tamada to bring a bottle and glasses, and they sat down at the table. Rainey needed the kick of a drink, and took one.

As Lund was raising his glass with a toast of “Here’s to luck,” the skipper’s door opened and the girl appeared. She looked like a ghost. Her hair was disheveled and her eyes stared at them without seeming recognition. But she spoke, in a flat toneless voice.

“My father is dead! I ” she faltered, swayed, and seemed to swoon as she sank toward the floor. Rainey darted forward, but Lund was quicker and swooped her up in his arms as if she had been a feather, took her to the table, set her in a chair, dabbled a napkin in some water and applied it to her brows.

“Chafe her wrists,” he ordered Rainey. “Undo that top button of her blouse. That’s enough; she ain’t got on corsets. She’ll come through. Plumb worn out. That’s all.”

He handled her, deftly, as a nurse would a child. Rainey chafed the slender wrists and beat her palms, and soon she opened her eyes and sighed. Then she pulled away from Lund, bending over her, and got to her feet.

“I must go to my father,” she said. “He is dead.”

They followed her into the cabin, and Lund bent over the bunk.

“Looks like it,” he whispered to Rainey. Then he tore open the skipper’s vest and shirt and laid his head on his chest. The girl made a faint motion as if to stop him, but did not hinder him. She was at the end of her own strength from weariness and worry. Lund suddenly raised his head.

“There’s a flutter,” he announced. “He ain’t gone yit. Get Tamada an’ some brandy.”

The Japanese, by some intuition, was already on hand, and produced the brandy. Rainey poured out a measure. The captain’s teeth were tightly clenched. Lund spraddled one great hand across his jaws, pressing at their junction, forcing them apart, firmly, but gently enough, while Rainey squeezed in a few drops of brandy from the corner of his soaked handkerchief. Lund stroked the sick man’s throat, and he swallowed automatically.

“More brandy,” ordered Lund.

With the next dose there came signs of revival, a low moan from the skipper. The girl flew to his side. Tamada, standing by with the bottle, stepped forward, handed the brandy to Rainey, and rolled up the lid of an eye, looking closely at the pupil.

“I study medicine at Tokio,” he said.

“Why didn’t ye say so before?” demanded Lund. It did not occur to any of them to doubt Tamada’s word. There was an air of professional assurance and an efficiency about him that carried weight. “What can you do for him? There’s a medicine chest in Carlsen’s room.”

“I was hired to cook,” said Tamada quietly. “I should not have been permit to interfere. It is not my business if a white man makes a fool of himself. Now we want morphine and hypodermic syringe.”

Tamada rolled up the captain’s sleeve. The flesh, shrunken, pallid, was closely spotted with dot-like scars that showed livid, as if the captain had been suffering from some strange rash.

Lund whistled softly. Rainey, too, knew what it meant. The skipper had been a veritable slave to the drug. Carlsen had administered it, prescribed it, used it as a means to bring Simms under his subjection. The girl looked strangely at Tamada.

“Would he have taken that for sciatica?” she asked.

“I think, perhaps, yes. Injection over muscle gives relief. Sometimes makes cure. But Captain Simms take too much. Suppose this supply cut off very suddenly, then come too much chills, maybe collapse, maybe ” The girl clutched his arm.

“You meant more than you said. It might mean death?”

“I don’t know,” replied Tamada gravely. “Perhaps, if now we have morphine, presently we give him smaller dose every time, it will be all right.” He lifted up the sick man’s hand and examined the nails critically. They were broken, brittle.

Rainey had gone to Carlsen’s room in search of the drug and the injecting needle.

“How much d’ye suppose he took at once?” Lund asked the Japanese in a low voice.

“Fifteen grains, I think. Maybe more. Too much! Always too much drug in his veins. Much worse than opium for man.”

“Carlsen’s work,” growled Lund. “Increased the stuff on him till he couldn’t do without it. Made him a slave to dope an’ Carlsen his boss. He deserved killin’ jest for that, the skunk.”

Rainey frantically searched through the medicine chest and, finding only five tablets marked Morphine 1 gr. in a bottle, sought elsewhere in vain. And he could find no needle. But he ran across some automatic cartridges and put them in his pockets before he hurried back.

“This is not enough,” said Tamada. “And we should have needle. But I dissolve these in galley.” And he hurried out. The girl had slipped down on her knees beside the bed, holding her father’s hand against her lips, her eyes closed. She seemed to be praying.

Rainey and Lund looked at each other. Rainey was trying to recall something. It came at last, the memory of Carlsen slipping something in his pocket as he had come out of the captain’s room. That had been the hypodermic case! As the thought lit up’ his eyes he saw a flash in Lund’s.

“Carlsen had the morphine on him,” said Lund in a whisper, not to disturb the girl.

“And the needle!” said Rainey. “What if?” He raced out of the cabin forward, passing Tamada, coming out of the galley with the dissolved tablets in a glass that steamed with hot water. Swiftly he told his suspicions.

“They may have searched him first,” he said, and went on to the hunters’ cabin. They were seated about their table, talking. On seeing Rainey they stopped abruptly and viewed him suspiciously. Deming rose.

“What’s the idea?” he asked and his tone was not friendly.

Rainey hurriedly explained. Deming shrugged his shoulders.

“They sewed him up in canvas in the fo’k’le,” he said indifferently. “None of us went through him. I think they made the kid do the job.”

Rainey found Sandy in his bunk, asleep, trying to get one of the catnaps by which he made up his lack of definitely assigned rest. The roustabout woke with a shudder, flinching under Rainey’s hand.

“They made me do it,” he said in answer. “None of ’em ’ud touch it till I had it sewed in an old staysail, an’ a boatkedge tied on for weight. I didn’t go inter his pockets. I was scared to touch it more’n I had to.”

“Is that the truth, Sandy? I don’t care what you took besides this little case and a bottle of tablets. You can keep the rest.”

“It’s the bloody truth, Mister Rainey, s’elp me,” whined Sandy. And the truth was in his shifty eyes.

Rainey went back with his news. He imagined that the five grains would prove temporarily sufficient. And they could put in for Unalaska. There were surgeons there with the revenue fleet. He thought there was probably a hospital.

They would have to explain Carlsen’s death. They would be asked about the purpose of the voyage, the crew examined. It might mean detention, the defeat of the expedition, the very thing that Lund had feared, the following of them to the island. He wondered how Lund would take to the plan.

He found that Tamada had administered the morphine. Already the beneficial results were apparent. The dry, frightfully sallow skin had changed and Simms was breathing freely while Tamada, feeling his pulse, nodded affirmatively to the girl’s questioning glance.

“Got it?” asked Lund.

Rainey gave the result of his search.

“We’ll have to put in to Unalaska,” he said. “There are doctors there.” The girl turned toward Lund. He smiled at the intensity of her gaze and pose.

“I play fair, Miss Peggy,” he said. “Rainey, change the course.”

Peggy Simms seized Lund’s great paw in both her hands, and, for the first time, the tears overflowed her eyes. The Karluk came about as Rainey reached the deck and gave his orders. Then he returned to the cabin. The captain had opened his eyes.

“Peggy!” he murmured. “Carlsen, where is he? Lund! Good God, Lund, you can see?”

“Keep quiet as you can,” said Tamada. Something in his voice made the skipper shift his look to the Japanese.

“Where’s Carlsen?” he asked again.

“He can’t come now,” said Tamada.

Under the urge of the drug the skipper’s brain seemed abnormally clear, his intuition heightened.

“Carlsen’s dead?” he asked. Then, shifting to Lund. “You killed him, Jim?”

Lund nodded.

“How much morphine did you give me?”

“Five grains.”

“It’s not enough. It won’t last. There isn’t any more?” he flashed out, with sudden energy, trying to raise himself.

“We’re puttin’ in for Unalaska, Simms,” said Lund.

“How far?”

“’Bout seventy miles.”

“Then it’s too late. Too late. The pain’s shifted of late to my heart. It’ll get me presently.”

The girl darted a look of hate at Lund, an accusation that he met composedly, swift as the change had come from the almost reverence with which she had clasped his hand.

“I’ll be gone in an hour or two,” said the skipper. “Got to talk while this lasts. Jim about leavin’ you that time. I could have come back. I had words about it with Hansen. He knows. But the gale was bad, an’ the ice. It wasn’t the gold, Jim. I swear it. I had the ship an’ crew to look out for. An’ Peggy, at home.

“I might have gone back sooner, Jim, I’ll own up to that. But it wasn’t the gold that did it. An’ I didn’t hear what you shouted, Jim. The storm came up. We were frozen by the time we found the ship. Numb.

“Then, then; oh, God, my heart!” He sat upright, clutching at his chest, his face convulsed with spasms of pain. Tamada got some brandy between the chattering teeth. Sweat poured out on the skipper’s forehead, and he sank back, exhausted but temporarily relieved. The girl wiped his brows.

“It’ll get me next attack,” he said presently in a weak voice. “Jim, this trouble hit me the day after we left the floe. Not sciatica, at first, but in the head. I couldn’t think right. I was just numb in the brain. An’ when it cleared off, it was too late. The ice had closed. We couldn’t go back. I read up in my medical book, Jim, later, when the sciatica took me.

“Had to take to my bunk. Couldn’t stand. I had morphine, an’ it relieved me. Took too much after a while. Had to have it. Got better in San Francisco for a bit. Then Carlsen prescribed it. Morphine was my boss, an’ then Carlsen, he was boss of the morphine. Seemed like seemed like More brandy, Tamada.”

His voice was weaker when he spoke again. They came closer to catch his whispers.

“Carlsen mind wasn’t my own. Peggy I wasn’t in my right mind, honey. Not when Carlsen he was angel when he gave me what I wanted devil when he wouldn’t. Made me do things. But he’s dead. And I’m going. Never reach Unalaska. Peggy forgive. Meant for best but not in right mind. Jim it wasn’t the gold. Not Peggy’s fault anyway.”

“She’ll get hers, Simms,” said Lund. “Yours too.”

The skipper’s eyes closed and his frame settled under the clothes. The girl flung herself on the bed in uncontrollable weeping. Lund raised his eyebrows at Tamada, who shrugged his shoulders.

“Better get out o’ here,” whispered Lund. He and Rainey went out together. In a few minutes Tamada joined them, his face sphinxlike as ever.

“He is dead,” he said.

Rainey and Lund went on deck. The schooner thrashed toward the volcano, the bearing-mark for Unalaska, hidden behind it. They paced up and down in silence.

“I guess he was ‘Honest Simms,’ after all,” said Lund at last. “The gal blames me for the morphine, but Carlsen never meant him to live. She’ll see that after a bit, mebbe.”

Rainey glanced at him curiously. He was getting fresh lights on Lund.

Then the girl appeared, pale, composed, coming straight up to Lund, who halted his stride at sight of her.

“Will you change the course, Mr. Lund?” she said.

He looked at her in surprise.

“Father spoke once more. After you left. He does not want you to go on to Unalaska. He said it would mean a rush for the gold; perhaps you would have to stay there. He does not want you to lose the gold. He wants me to have my share. He made me promise. And he wants he wants” she bit her lip fiercely in repression of her feelings “to be buried at sea. That was his last request.”

She turned and looked over the rail, struggling to wink back her tears. Rainey saw the giant’s glance sweep over her, full of admiration.

“As you wish, Miss Peggy,” he said. “Hansen, ’bout ship. Hold on a minnit. How about you, Miss Peggy? If you want to go home, we can find ways at Unalaska. I play fair. I’ll bring back yore share in full.”

“I am not thinking about the gold,” the girl said scornfully. “But I want to carry out my father’s last wishes, if you will permit me. I shall stay with the ship. Now I am going back to him. You you” she quelled the tremble of her mouth, and her chin showed firm and determined “you can arrange for the funeral to-morrow at dawn, if you will. I want him to-night.”

Her face quivered piteously, but she conquered even that and walked to the companionway.

“Game, by God, game as they make ’em!” said Lund.