The Cruise of the Dazzler

Chapter IX

Aboard the Dazzler

Jack London

A SKIFF grazed the side of the Dazzler softly and interrupted Joe’s reveries. He wondered why he had not heard the sound of the oars in the rowlocks. Then two men jumped over the cockpit-rail and came into the cabin.

“Bli’ me, if ’ere they ain’t snoozin’,” said the first of the newcomers, deftly rolling ’Frisco Kid out of his blankets with one hand and reaching for the wine-bottle with the other.

French Pete put his head up on the other side of the centerboard, his eyes heavy with sleep, and made them welcome.

“’Oo ’s this?” asked the Cockney, as he was called, smacking his lips over the wine and rolling Joe out upon the floor. “Passenger?”

“No, no,” French Pete made haste to answer. “Ze new sailorman. Vaire good boy.”

“Good boy or not, he ’s got to keep his tongue atween his teeth,” growled the second newcomer, who had not yet spoken, glaring fiercely at Joe.

“I say,” queried the other man, “’ow does ‘e whack up on the loot? I ’ope as me and Bill ’ave a square deal.”

“Ze Dazzler she take one share—what you call—one third; den we split ze rest in five shares. Five men, five shares. Vaire good.”

French Pete insisted in excited gibberish that the Dazzler had the right to have three men in its crew, and appealed to ’Frisco Kid to bear him out. But the latter left them to fight it over by themselves, and proceeded to make hot coffee.

It was all Greek to Joe, except he knew that he was in some way the cause of the quarrel. In the end French Pete had his way, and the newcomers gave in after much grumbling. After they had drunk their coffee, all hands went on deck.

“Just stay in the cockpit and keep out of their way,” ’Frisco Kid whispered to Joe. “I ’ll teach you about the ropes and everything when we ain’t in a hurry.”

Joe’s heart went out to him in sudden gratitude, for the strange feeling came to him that of those on board, to ’Frisco Kid, and to ’Frisco Kid only, could he look for help in time of need. Already a dislike for French Pete was growing up within him. Why, he could not say; he just simply felt it.

A creaking of blocks for’ard, and the huge mainsail loomed above him in the night. Bill cast off the bowline, the Cockney followed suit with the stern, ’Frisco Kid gave her the jib as French Pete jammed up the tiller, and the Dazzler caught the breeze, heeling over for mid-channel. Joe heard talk of not putting up the side-lights, and of keeping a sharp lookout, though all he could comprehend was that some law of navigation was being violated.

The water-front lights of Oakland began to slip past. Soon the stretches of docks and the shadowy ships began to be broken by dim sweeps of marshland, and Joe knew that they were heading out for San Francisco Bay. The wind was blowing from the north in mild squalls, and the Dazzler cut noiselessly through the landlocked water.

“Where are we going?” Joe asked the Cockney, in an endeavor to be friendly and at the same time satisfy his curiosity.

“Oh, my pardner ’ere, Bill, we ’re goin’ to take a cargo from ’is factory,” that worthy airily replied.

Joe thought he was rather a funny-looking individual to own a factory; but, conscious that even stranger things might be found in this new world he was entering, he said nothing. He had already exposed himself to ’Frisco Kid in the matter of his pronunciation of “fo’c’sle,” and he had no desire further to advertise his ignorance.

A little after that he was sent in to blow out the cabin lamp. The Dazzler tacked about and began to work in toward the north shore. Everybody kept silent, save for occasional whispered questions and answers which passed between Bill and the captain. Finally the sloop was run into the wind, and the jib and mainsail lowered cautiously.

“Short hawse,” French Pete whispered to ’Frisco Kid, who went for’ard and dropped the anchor, paying out the slightest quantity of slack.

The Dazzler’s skiff was brought alongside, as was also the small boat in which the two strangers had come aboard.

“See that that cub don’t make a fuss,” Bill commanded in an undertone, as he joined his partner in his own boat.

“Can you row?” ’Frisco Kid asked as they got into the other boat.

Joe nodded his head.

“Then take these oars, and don’t make a racket.”

’Frisco Kid took the second pair, while French Pete steered. Joe noticed that the oars were muffled with sennit, and that even the rowlock sockets were protected with leather. It was impossible to make a noise except by a mis-stroke, and Joe had learned to row on Lake Merrit well enough to avoid that. They followed in the wake of the first boat, and, glancing aside, he saw they were running along the length of a pier which jutted out from the land. A couple of ships, with riding-lanterns burning brightly, were moored to it, but they kept just beyond the edge of the light. He stopped rowing at the whispered command of ’Frisco Kid. Then the boats grounded like ghosts on a tiny beach, and they clambered out.

Joe followed the men, who picked their way carefully up a twenty-foot bank. At the top he found himself on a narrow railway track which ran between huge piles of rusty scrap-iron. These piles, separated by tracks, extended in every direction he could not tell how far, though in the distance he could see the vague outlines of some great factory-like building. The men began to carry loads of the iron down to the beach, and French Pete, gripping him by the arm and again warning him not to make any noise, told him to do likewise. At the beach they turned their burdens over to ’Frisco Kid, who loaded them, first in the one skiff and then in the other. As the boats settled under the weight, he kept pushing them farther and farther out, in order that they should keep clear of the bottom.

Joe worked away steadily, though he could not help marveling at the queerness of the whole business. Why should there be such a mystery about it? and why such care taken to maintain silence? He had just begun to ask himself these questions, and a horrible suspicion was forming itself in his mind, when he heard the hoot of an owl from the direction of the beach. Wondering at an owl being in so unlikely a place, he stooped to gather a fresh load of iron. But suddenly a man sprang out of the gloom, flashing a dark lantern full upon him. Blinded by the light, he staggered back. Then a revolver in the man’s hand went off like the roar of a cannon. All Joe realized was that he was being shot at, while his legs manifested an overwhelming desire to get away. Even if he had so wished, he could not very well have stayed to explain to the excited man with the smoking revolver. So he took to his heels for the beach, colliding with another man with a dark lantern who came running around the end of one of the piles of iron. This second man quickly regained his feet, and peppered away at Joe as he flew down the bank.

He dashed out into the water for the boat. French Pete at the bow-oars and ’Frisco Kid at the stroke had the skiff’s nose pointed seaward and were calmly awaiting his arrival. They had their oars ready for the start, but they held them quietly at rest, for all that both men on the bank had begun to fire at them. The other skiff lay closer inshore, partially aground. Bill was trying to shove it off, and was calling on the Cockney to lend a hand; but that gentleman had lost his head completely, and came floundering through the water hard after Joe. No sooner had Joe climbed in over the stern than he followed him. This extra weight on the stern of the heavily loaded craft nearly swamped them. As it was, a dangerous quantity of water was shipped. In the meantime the men on the bank had reloaded their pistols and opened fire again, this time with better aim. The alarm had spread. Voices and cries could be heard from the ships on the pier, along which men were running. In the distance a police whistle was being frantically blown.

“Get out!” ’Frisco Kid shouted. “You ain’t a-going to sink us if I know it. Go and help your pardner.”

But the Cockney’s teeth were chattering with fright, and he was too unnerved to move or speak.

“T’row ze crazy man out!” French Pete ordered from the bow. At this moment a bullet shattered an oar in his hand, and he coolly proceeded to ship a spare one.

“Give us a hand, Joe,” ’Frisco Kid commanded.

Joe understood, and together they seized the terror-stricken creature and flung him overboard. Two or three bullets splashed about him as he came to the surface, just in time to be picked up by Bill, who had at last succeeded in getting clear.

“Now!” French Pete called, and a few strokes into the darkness quickly took them out of the zone of fire.

So much water had been shipped that the light skiff was in danger of sinking at any moment. While the other two rowed, and by the Frenchman’s orders, Joe began to throw out the iron. This saved them for the time being. But just as they swept alongside the Dazzler the skiff lurched, shoved a side under, and turned turtle, sending the remainder of the iron to bottom. Joe and ’Frisco Kid came up side by side, and together they clambered aboard with the skiff’s painter in tow. French Pete had already arrived, and now helped them out.

By the time they had canted the water out of the swamped boat, Bill and his partner appeared on the scene. All hands worked rapidly, and, almost before Joe could realize, the mainsail and jib had been hoisted, the anchor broken out, and the Dazzler was leaping down the channel. Off a bleak piece of marshland Bill and the Cockney said good-by and cast loose in their skiff. French Pete, in the cabin, bewailed their bad luck in various languages, and sought consolation in the wine-bottle.

The Cruise of the Dazzler - Contents    |     Chapter X - With the Bay Pirates

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