Moran of the Lady Letty
III. The Lady Letty
Another day passed, then two. Before Wilbur knew it he had settled himself to his new
life, and woke one morning to the realization that he was positively enjoying himself.
Daily the weather grew warmer. The fifth day out from San Francisco it was actually hot.
The pitch grew soft in the "Bertha Millner's" deck seams, the masts sweated resin. The
Chinamen went about the decks wearing but their jeans and blouses. Kitchell had long
since abandoned his coat and vest. Wilbur's oilskins became intolerable, and he was at
last constrained to trade his pocket- knife to Charlie for a suit of jeans and wicker
sandals, such as the coolies wore--and odd enough he looked in them.
The Captain instructed him in steering, and even promised to show him the use of the
sextant and how to take an observation in the fake short and easy coasting style of
navigation. Furthermore, he showed him how to read the log and the manner of keeping
the dead reckoning.
During most of his watches Wilbur was engaged in painting the inside of the cabin, door
panels, lintels, and the few scattered moldings; and toward the middle of the first week
out, when the "Bertha Millner" was in the latitude of Point Conception, he and three
Chinamen, under Kitchell's directions, ratlined down the forerigging and affixed the
crow's nest upon the for'mast. The next morning, during Charlie's watch on deck, a
Chinaman was sent up into the crow's nest, and from that time on there was always a
lookout maintained from the masthead.
More than once Wilbur looked around him at the empty coruscating indigo of the ocean
floor, wondering at the necessity of the lookout, and finally expressed his curiosity to
Kitchell. The Captain had now taken not a little to Wilbur; at first for the sake of a white
man's company, and afterward because he began to place a certain vague reliance
upon Wilbur's judgment. Kitchell had reemarked as how he had brains.
"Well, you see, son," Kitchell had explained to Wilbur, "os- tensiblee we are after shark-
liver oil--and so we are; but also we are on any lay that turns up; ready for any game,
from wrecking to barratry. Strike me, if I haven't thought of scuttling the dough- dish for
her insoorance. There's regular trade, son, to be done in ships, and then there's pickin's
an' pickin's an' pickin's. Lord, the ocean's rich with pickin's. Do you know there's millions
made out of the day-bree and refuse of a big city? How about an ocean's day-bree, just
chew on that notion a turn; an' as fur a lookout, lemmee tell you, son, cast your eye out
yon," and he swept the sea with a forearm; "nothin', hey, so it looks, but lemmee tell
you, son, there ain't no manner of place on the ball of dirt where you're likely to run up
afoul of so many things-- unexpected things--as at sea. When you're clear o' land lay to
this here pree-cep', 'A million to one on the unexpected.'"
The next day fell almost dead calm. The hale, lusty-lunged nor'wester that had snorted
them forth from the Golden Gate had lapsed to a zephyr, the schooner rolled lazily