The Green Flag and Other Tales
The Striped Chest
"What do you make of her, Allardyce?" I asked.
My second mate was standing beside me upon the poop, with his short, thick legs
astretch, for the gale had left a considerable swell behind it, and our two quarter-boats
nearly touched the water with every roll. He steadied his glass against the mizzen-
shrouds, and he looked long and hard at this disconsolate stranger every time she came
reeling up on to the crest of a roller and hung balanced for a few seconds before
swooping down upon the other side. She lay so low in the water that I could only catch an
occasional glimpse of a pea-green line of bulwark. She was a brig, but her mainmast had
been snapped short off some 10ft. above the deck, and no effort seemed to have been
made to cut away the wreckage, which floated, sails and yards, like the broken wing of a
wounded gull upon the water beside her. The foremast was still standing, but the
foretopsail was flying loose, and the headsails were streaming out in long, white pennons
in front of her. Never have I seen a vessel which appeared to have gone through rougher
handling. But we could not be surprised at that, for there had been times during the last
three days when it was a question whether our own barque would ever see land again. For
thirty-six hours we had kept her nose to it, and if the _Mary Sinclair_ had not been as
good a seaboat as ever left the Clyde, we could not have gone through. And yet here we
were at the end of it with the loss only of our gig and of part of the starboard bulwark. It
did not astonish us, however, when the smother had cleared away, to find that others had
been less lucky, and that this mutilated brig staggering about upon a blue sea and under a
cloudless sky, had been left, like a blinded man after a lightning flash, to tell of the terror
which is past. Allardyce, who was a slow and methodical Scotchman, stared long and
hard at the little craft, while our seamen lined the bulwark or clustered upon the fore
shrouds to have a view of the stranger. In latitude 20 degrees and longitude 10 degrees,
which were about our bearings, one becomes a little curious as to whom one meets, for
one has left the main lines of Atlantic commerce to the north. For ten days we had been
sailing over a solitary sea.
"She's derelict, I'm thinking," said the second mate.
I had come to the same conclusion, for I could see no signs of life upon her deck, and
there was no answer to the friendly wavings from our seamen. The crew had probably
deserted her under the impression that she was about to founder.
"She can't last long," continued Allardyce, in his measured way. "She may put her nose
down and her tail up any minute. The water's lipping up to the edge of her rail."
"What's her flag?" I asked.
"I'm trying to make out. It's got all twisted and tangled with the halyards. Yes, I've got it
now, clear enough. It's the Brazilian flag, but it's wrong side up."