The Steel Claw
During the next few days the crew discussed our destination. Discipline, while
maintained strictly, was not conventional. During the dog watches, often, every man
aboard would be below, for at that period Captain Selover loved to take the wheel in
person, a thick cigar between his lips, the dingy checked shirt wide open to expose his
hairy chest to the breeze. In the twilight of the forecastle we had some great sea-lawyer's
talks--I say "We," though I took little part in them. Generally I lay across my bunk
smoking my pipe while Handy Solomon held forth, his speech punctuated by surly
speculations from the Nigger, with hesitating deep-sea wisdom from the hairy Thrackles,
or with voluminous bursts of fractured English from Perdosa. Pulz had nothing to offer,
but watched from his pale green eyes. The light shifted and wavered from one to the
other as the ship swayed: garments swung; the empty berths yawned cavernous. I could
imagine the forecastle filled with the desperate men who had beaten off the Oyama. The
story is told that they had swept the gunboat's decks with her own rapid-fires, turned in.
No one knew where we were going, nor why. The doctor puzzled them, and the quantity
of his belongings.
"It ain't pearls," said Handy Solomon. "You can kiss the Book on that, for we ain't a diver
among us. It ain't Chinks, for we are cruising sou'-sou'-west. Likely it's trade,--trade
down in the Islands."
We were all below. The captain himself had the wheel. Discipline, while strict, was not
"Contrabandista," muttered the Mexican, "for dat he geev us double pay."
"We don't get her for nothing," agreed Thrackles. "Double pay and duff on Wednesday
generally means get your head broke."
"No trade," said the Nigger gloomily.
They turned to him with one accord.
"Why not?" demanded Pulz, breaking his silence.
"No trade," repeated the Nigger.
"Ain't you got a reason, Doctor?" asked Handy Solomon.
"No trade," insisted the Nigger.
An uneasy silence fell. I could not but observe that the others held the Nigger's
statements in a respect not due them as mere opinions. Subsequently I understood a little