The Cruise of the Dazzler

Chapter XI

Captain and Crew

Jack London

COME! Wake up! We ’re going into anchor.”

Joe roused with a start, bewildered at the unusual scene; for sleep had banished his troubles for the time being, and he knew not where he was. Then he remembered. The wind had dropped with the night. Beyond, the heavy after-sea was still rolling; but the Dazzler was creeping up in the shelter of a rocky island. The sky was clear, and the air had the snap and vigor of early morning about it. The rippling water was laughing in the rays of the sun just shouldering above the eastern sky-line. To the south lay Alcatraz Island, and from its gun-crowned heights a flourish of trumpets saluted the day. In the west the Golden Gate yawned between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. A full-rigged ship, with her lightest canvas, even to the sky-sails, set, was coming slowly in on the flood-tide.

It was a pretty sight. Joe rubbed the sleep from his eyes and drank in the glory of it till ’Frisco Kid told him to go for’ard and make ready for dropping the anchor.

“Overhaul about fifty fathoms of chain,” he ordered, “and then stand by.” He eased the sloop gently into the wind, at the same time casting off the jib-sheet. “Let go the jib-halyards and come in on the downhaul!”

Joe had seen the manœuver performed the previous night, and so was able to carry it out with fair success.

“Now! Over with the mud-hook! Watch out for turns! Lively, now!”

The chain flew out with startling rapidity and brought the Dazzler to rest. ’Frisco Kid went for’ard to help, and together they lowered the mainsail, furled it in shipshape manner and made all fast with the gaskets, and put the crutches under the main-boom.

“Here ’s a bucket,” said ’Frisco Kid, as he passed him the article in question. “Wash down the decks, and don’t be afraid of the water, nor of the dirt either. Here ’s a broom. Give it what for, and have everything shining. When you get that done bail out the skiff. She opened her seams a little last night. I ’m going below to cook breakfast.”

The water was soon slushing merrily over the deck, while the smoke pouring from the cabin stove carried a promise of good things to come. Time and again Joe lifted his head from his task to take in the scene. It was one to appeal to any healthy boy, and he was no exception. The romance of it stirred him strangely, and his happiness would have been complete could he have escaped remembering who and what his companions were. The thought of this, and of French Pete in his bleary sleep below, marred the beauty of the day. He had been unused to such things and was shocked at the harsh reality of life. But instead of hurting him, as it might a lad of weaker nature, it had the opposite effect. It strengthened his desire to be clean and strong, and to not be ashamed of himself in his own eyes. He glanced about him and sighed. Why could not men be honest and true? It seemed too bad that he must go away and leave all this; but the events of the night were strong upon him, and he knew that in order to be true to himself he must escape.

At this juncture he was called to breakfast. He discovered that ’Frisco Kid was as good a cook as he was a sailor, and made haste to do justice to the fare. There were mush and condensed milk, beefsteak and fried potatoes, and all topped off with good French bread, butter, and coffee. French Pete did not join them, though ’Frisco Kid attempted a couple of times to rouse him. He mumbled and grunted, half opened his bleared eyes, then fell to snoring again.

“Can’t tell when he ’s going to get those spells,” ’Frisco Kid explained, when Joe, having finished washing dishes, came on deck. “Sometimes he won’t get that way for a month, and others he won’t be decent for a week at a stretch. Sometimes he ’s good-natured, and sometimes he ’s dangerous; so the best thing to do is to let him alone and keep out of his way; and don’t cross him, for if you do there ’s liable to be trouble.

“Come on; let ’s take a swim,” he added, abruptly changing the subject to one more agreeable. “Can you swim?”

Joe nodded.

“What ’s that place?” he asked, as he poised before diving, pointing toward a sheltered beach on the island where there were several buildings and a large number of tents.

“Quarantine station. Lots of smallpox coming in now on the China steamers, and they make them go there till the doctors say they ’re safe to land. I tell you, they ’re strict about it, too. Why—”

Splash! Had ’Frisco Kid finished his sentence just then, instead of diving overboard, much trouble might have been saved to Joe. But he did not finish it, and Joe dived after him.

“I ’ll tell you what,” ’Frisco Kid suggested half an hour later, while they clung to the bobstay preparatory to climbing out. “Let ’s catch a mess of fish for dinner, and then turn in and make up for the sleep we lost last night. What d’ you say?”

They made a race to clamber aboard, but Joe was shoved over the side again. When he finally did arrive, the other lad had brought to light a pair of heavily leaded, large-hooked lines and a mackerel-keg of salt sardines.

“Bait,” he said. “Just shove a whole one on. They ’re not a bit partic’lar. Swallow the bait, hook and all, and go—that ’s their caper. The fellow that does n’t catch the first fish has to clean ’em.”

Both sinkers started on their long descent together, and seventy feet of line whizzed out before they came to rest. But at the instant his sinker touched the bottom Joe felt the struggling jerks of a hooked fish. As he began to haul in he glanced at ’Frisco Kid and saw that he too had evidently captured a finny prize. The race between them was exciting. Hand over hand the wet lines flashed inboard. But ’Frisco Kid was more expert, and his fish tumbled into the cockpit first. Joe’s followed an instant later—a three-pound rock-cod. He was wild with joy. It was magnificent—the largest fish he had ever landed or ever seen landed. Over went the lines again, and up they came with two mates of the ones already captured. It was sport royal. Joe would certainly have continued till he had fished the bay empty, had not ’Frisco Kid persuaded him to stop.

“We ’ve got enough for three meals now,” he said, “so there ’s no use in having them spoil. Besides, the more you catch the more you clean, and you ’d better start in right away. I ’m going to bed.”

The Cruise of the Dazzler - Contents    |     Chapter XII - Joe Tries to Take French Leave

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