"Where Angels Fear to Tread" and Other Stories of the Sea

#Fiction #Sea Stories
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Excerpt PART I The first man to climb the Almena's side-ladder from the tug was the shipping-master, and after him came the crew he had shipped. They clustered at the rail, looking around and aloft with muttered profane comments, one to the other, while the shipping-master approached a gray-eyed giant who stood with a shorter but broader man at the poop-deck steps. "Mr. Jackson—the mate here, I s'pose?" inquired the shipping-master. A nod answered him. "I've brought you a good crew," he continued; "we'll just tally 'em off, and then you can sign my receipt. The captain'll be down with the pilot this afternoon." "I'm the mate—yes," said the giant; "but what dry-goods store did you raid for that crowd? Did the captain pick 'em out?" "A delegation o' parsons," muttered the short, broad man, contemptuously. "No, they're not parsons," said the shipping-master, as he turned to the man, the slightest trace of a smile on his seamy face. "You're Mr. Becker, the second mate, I take it; you'll find 'em all right, sir. They're sailors, and good ones, too. No, Mr. Jackson, the skipper didn't pick 'em—just asked me for sixteen good men, and there you are. Muster up to the capstan here, boys," he called, "and be counted." As they grouped themselves amidships with their clothes-bags, the shipping-master beckoned the chief mate over to the rail. "You see, Mr. Jackson," he said, with a backward glance at the men, "I've only played the regular dodge on 'em. They've all got the sailor's bug in their heads and want to go coasting; so I told 'em this was a coaster." "So she is," answered the officer; "round the Horn to Callao is coasting. What more do they want?" "Yes, but I said nothin' of Callao, and they were all three sheets i' the wind when they signed, so they didn't notice the articles. They expected a schooner, too, big enough for sixteen men; but I've just talked 'em out of that notion. They think, too, that they'll have a week in port to see if they like the craft; and to make 'em think it was easy to quit, I told 'em to sign nicknames—made 'em believe that a wrong name on the articles voided the contract." "But it don't. They're here, and they'll stay—that is, if they know enough to man the windlass." "Of course—of course. I'm just givin' you a pointer. You may have to run them a little at the start, but that's easy. Now we'll tally 'em off. Don't mind the names; they'll answer to 'em. You see, they're all townies, and bring their names from home." The shipping-master drew a large paper from his pocket, and they approached the men at the capstan, where the short, broad second mate had been taking their individual measures with scowling eye. It was a strange crew for the forecastle of an outward-bound, deep-water American ship. Mr. Jackson looked in vain for the heavy, foreign faces, the greasy canvas jackets and blanket trousers he was accustomed to see. Not that these men seemed to be landsmen—each carried in his face and bearing the indefinable something by which sailors of all races may distinguish each other at a glance from fishermen, tugmen, and deck-hands....
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