Jack London.

The mutiny of the Elsinore online

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Transcribed from the 1915 Mills and Boon edition by David Price, email
[email protected]; proofed by Rab Hughes.




_Published 1915_

_Copyright in the United States of America by_ JACK LONDON


From the first the voyage was going wrong. Routed out of my hotel on a
bitter March morning, I had crossed Baltimore and reached the pier-end
precisely on time. At nine o'clock the tug was to have taken me down the
bay and put me on board the _Elsinore_, and with growing irritation I sat
frozen inside my taxicab and waited. On the seat, outside, the driver
and Wada sat hunched in a temperature perhaps half a degree colder than
mine. And there was no tug.

Possum, the fox-terrier puppy Galbraith had so inconsiderately foisted
upon me, whimpered and shivered on my lap inside my greatcoat and under
the fur robe. But he would not settle down. Continually he whimpered
and clawed and struggled to get out. And, once out and bitten by the
cold, with equal insistence he whimpered and clawed to get back.

His unceasing plaint and movement was anything but sedative to my jangled
nerves. In the first place I was uninterested in the brute. He meant
nothing to me. I did not know him. Time and again, as I drearily
waited, I was on the verge of giving him to the driver. Once, when two
little girls - evidently the wharfinger's daughters - went by, my hand
reached out to the door to open it so that I might call to them and
present them with the puling little wretch.

A farewell surprise package from Galbraith, he had arrived at the hotel
the night before, by express from New York. It was Galbraith's way. Yet
he might so easily have been decently like other folk and sent fruit . . .
or flowers, even. But no; his affectionate inspiration had to take the
form of a yelping, yapping two months' old puppy. And with the advent of
the terrier the trouble had begun. The hotel clerk judged me a criminal
before the act I had not even had time to meditate. And then Wada, on
his own initiative and out of his own foolish stupidity, had attempted to
smuggle the puppy into his room and been caught by a house detective.
Promptly Wada had forgotten all his English and lapsed into hysterical
Japanese, and the house detective remembered only his Irish; while the
hotel clerk had given me to understand in no uncertain terms that it was
only what he had expected of me.

Damn the dog, anyway! And damn Galbraith too! And as I froze on in the
cab on that bleak pier-end, I damned myself as well, and the mad freak
that had started me voyaging on a sailing-ship around the Horn.

By ten o'clock a nondescript youth arrived on foot, carrying a suit-case,
which was turned over to me a few minutes later by the wharfinger. It
belonged to the pilot, he said, and gave instructions to the chauffeur
how to find some other pier from which, at some indeterminate time, I
should be taken aboard the _Elsinore_ by some other tug. This served to
increase my irritation. Why should I not have been informed as well as
the pilot?

An hour later, still in my cab and stationed at the shore end of the new
pier, the pilot arrived. Anything more unlike a pilot I could not have
imagined. Here was no blue-jacketed, weather-beaten son of the sea, but
a soft-spoken gentleman, for all the world the type of successful
business man one meets in all the clubs. He introduced himself
immediately, and I invited him to share my freezing cab with Possum and
the baggage. That some change had been made in the arrangements by
Captain West was all he knew, though he fancied the tug would come along
any time.

And it did, at one in the afternoon, after I had been compelled to wait
and freeze for four mortal hours. During this time I fully made up my
mind that I was not going to like this Captain West. Although I had
never met him, his treatment of me from the outset had been, to say the
least, cavalier. When the _Elsinore_ lay in Erie Basin, just arrived
from California with a cargo of barley, I had crossed over from New York
to inspect what was to be my home for many months. I had been delighted
with the ship and the cabin accommodation. Even the stateroom selected
for me was satisfactory and far more spacious than I had expected. But
when I peeped into the captain's room I was amazed at its comfort. When
I say that it opened directly into a bath-room, and that, among other
things, it was furnished with a big brass bed such as one would never
suspect to find at sea, I have said enough.

Naturally, I had resolved that the bath-room and the big brass bed should
be mine. When I asked the agents to arrange with the captain they seemed
non-committal and uncomfortable. "I don't know in the least what it is
worth," I said. "And I don't care. Whether it costs one hundred and
fifty dollars or five hundred, I must have those quarters."

Harrison and Gray, the agents, debated silently with each other and
scarcely thought Captain West would see his way to the arrangement. "Then
he is the first sea captain I ever heard of that wouldn't," I asserted
confidently. "Why, the captains of all the Atlantic liners regularly
sell their quarters."

"But Captain West is not the captain of an Atlantic liner," Mr. Harrison
observed gently.

"Remember, I am to be on that ship many a month," I retorted. "Why,
heavens, bid him up to a thousand if necessary."

"We'll try," said Mr. Gray, "but we warn you not to place too much
dependence on our efforts. Captain West is in Searsport at the present
time, and we will write him to-day."

To my astonishment Mr. Gray called me up several days later to inform me
that Captain West had declined my offer. "Did you offer him up to a
thousand?" I demanded. "What did he say?"

"He regretted that he was unable to concede what you asked," Mr. Gray

A day later I received a letter from Captain West. The writing and the
wording were old-fashioned and formal. He regretted not having yet met
me, and assured me that he would see personally that my quarters were
made comfortable. For that matter he had already dispatched orders to
Mr. Pike, the first mate of the _Elsinore_, to knock out the partition
between my state-room and the spare state-room adjoining. Further - and
here is where my dislike for Captain West began - he informed me that if,
when once well at sea, I should find myself dissatisfied, he would
gladly, in that case, exchange quarters with me.

Of course, after such a rebuff, I knew that no circumstance could ever
persuade me to occupy Captain West's brass bed. And it was this Captain
Nathaniel West, whom I had not yet met, who had now kept me freezing on
pier-ends through four miserable hours. The less I saw of him on the
voyage the better, was my decision; and it was with a little tickle of
pleasure that I thought of the many boxes of books I had dispatched on
board from New York. Thank the Lord, I did not depend on sea captains
for entertainment.

I turned Possum over to Wada, who was settling with the cabman, and while
the tug's sailors were carrying my luggage on board I was led by the
pilot to an introduction with Captain West. At the first glimpse I knew
that he was no more a sea captain than the pilot was a pilot. I had seen
the best of the breed, the captains of the liners, and he no more
resembled them than did he resemble the bluff-faced, gruff-voiced
skippers I had read about in books. By his side stood a woman, of whom
little was to be seen and who made a warm and gorgeous blob of colour in
the huge muff and boa of red fox in which she was well-nigh buried.

"My God! - his wife!" I darted in a whisper at the pilot. "Going along
with him? . . . "

I had expressly stipulated with Mr. Harrison, when engaging passage, that
the one thing I could not possibly consider was the skipper of the
_Elsinore_ taking his wife on the voyage. And Mr. Harrison had smiled
and assured me that Captain West would sail unaccompanied by a wife.

"It's his daughter," the pilot replied under his breath. "Come to see
him off, I fancy. His wife died over a year ago. They say that is what
sent him back to sea. He'd retired, you know."

Captain West advanced to meet me, and before our outstretched hands
touched, before his face broke from repose to greeting and the lips moved
to speech, I got the first astonishing impact of his personality. Long,
lean, in his face a touch of race I as yet could only sense, he was as
cool as the day was cold, as poised as a king or emperor, as remote as
the farthest fixed star, as neutral as a proposition of Euclid. And
then, just ere our hands met, a twinkle of - oh - such distant and
controlled geniality quickened the many tiny wrinkles in the corner of
the eyes; the clear blue of the eyes was suffused by an almost colourful
warmth; the face, too, seemed similarly to suffuse; the thin lips, harsh-
set the instant before, were as gracious as Bernhardt's when she moulds
sound into speech.

So curiously was I affected by this first glimpse of Captain West that I
was aware of expecting to fall from his lips I knew not what words of
untold beneficence and wisdom. Yet he uttered most commonplace regrets
at the delay in a voice provocative of fresh surprise to me. It was low
and gentle, almost too low, yet clear as a bell and touched with a faint
reminiscent twang of old New England.

"And this is the young woman who is guilty of the delay," he concluded my
introduction to his daughter. "Margaret, this is Mr. Pathurst."

Her gloved hand promptly emerged from the fox-skins to meet mine, and I
found myself looking into a pair of gray eyes bent steadily and gravely
upon me. It was discomfiting, that cool, penetrating, searching gaze. It
was not that it was challenging, but that it was so insolently business-
like. It was much in the very way one would look at a new coachman he
was about to engage. I did not know then that she was to go on the
voyage, and that her curiosity about the man who was to be a
fellow-passenger for half a year was therefore only natural. Immediately
she realized what she was doing, and her lips and eyes smiled as she

As we moved on to enter the tug's cabin I heard Possum's shivering
whimper rising to a screech, and went forward to tell Wada to take the
creature in out of the cold. I found him hovering about my luggage,
wedging my dressing-case securely upright by means of my little automatic
rifle. I was startled by the mountain of luggage around which mine was
no more than a fringe. Ship's stores, was my first thought, until I
noted the number of trunks, boxes, suit-cases, and parcels and bundles of
all sorts. The initials on what looked suspiciously like a woman's hat
trunk caught my eye - "M.W." Yet Captain West's first name was Nathaniel.
On closer investigation I did find several "N.W's." but everywhere I
could see "M.W's." Then I remembered that he had called her Margaret.

I was too angry to return to the cabin, and paced up and down the cold
deck biting my lips with vexation. I had so expressly stipulated with
the agents that no captain's wife was to come along. The last thing
under the sun I desired in the pet quarters of a ship was a woman. But I
had never thought about a captain's daughter. For two cents I was ready
to throw the voyage over and return on the tug to Baltimore.

By the time the wind caused by our speed had chilled me bitterly, I
noticed Miss West coming along the narrow deck, and could not avoid being
struck by the spring and vitality of her walk. Her face, despite its
firm moulding, had a suggestion of fragility that was belied by the
robustness of her body. At least, one would argue that her body must be
robust from her fashion of movement of it, though little could one divine
the lines of it under the shapelessness of the furs.

I turned away on my heel and fell moodily to contemplating the mountain
of luggage. A huge packing-case attracted my attention, and I was
staring at it when she spoke at my shoulder.

"That's what really caused the delay," she said.

"What is it?" I asked incuriously.

"Why, the _Elsinore's_ piano, all renovated. When I made up my mind to
come, I telegraphed Mr. Pike - he's the mate, you know. He did his best.
It was the fault of the piano house. And while we waited to-day I gave
them a piece of my mind they'll not forget in a hurry."

She laughed at the recollection, and commenced to peep and peer into the
luggage as if in search of some particular piece. Having satisfied
herself, she was starting back, when she paused and said:

"Won't you come into the cabin where it's warm? We won't be there for
half an hour."

"When did you decide to make this voyage?" I demanded abruptly.

So quick was the look she gave me that I knew she had in that moment
caught all my disgruntlement and disgust.

"Two days ago," she answered. "Why?"

Her readiness for give and take took me aback, and before I could speak
she went on:

"Now you're not to be at all silly about my coming, Mr. Pathurst. I
probably know more about long-voyaging than you do, and we're all going
to be comfortable and happy. You can't bother me, and I promise you I
won't bother you. I've sailed with passengers before, and I've learned
to put up with more than they ever proved they were able to put up with.
So there. Let us start right, and it won't be any trouble to keep on
going right. I know what is the matter with you. You think you'll be
called upon to entertain me. Please know that I do not need
entertainment. I never saw the longest voyage that was too long, and I
always arrive at the end with too many things not done for the passage
ever to have been tedious, and . . . I don't play _Chopsticks_."


The _Elsinore_, fresh-loaded with coal, lay very deep in the water when
we came alongside. I knew too little about ships to be capable of
admiring her lines, and, besides, I was in no mood for admiration. I was
still debating with myself whether or not to chuck the whole thing and
return on the tug. From all of which it must not be taken that I am a
vacillating type of man. On the contrary.

The trouble was that at no time, from the first thought of it, had I been
keen for the voyage. Practically the reason I was taking it was because
there was nothing else I was keen on. For some time now life had lost
its savour. I was not jaded, nor was I exactly bored. But the zest had
gone out of things. I had lost taste for my fellow-men and all their
foolish, little, serious endeavours. For a far longer period I had been
dissatisfied with women. I had endured them, but I had been too analytic
of the faults of their primitiveness, of their almost ferocious devotion
to the destiny of sex, to be enchanted with them. And I had come to be
oppressed by what seemed to me the futility of art - a pompous
legerdemain, a consummate charlatanry that deceived not only its devotees
but its practitioners.

In short, I was embarking on the _Elsinore_ because it was easier to than
not; yet everything else was as equally and perilously easy. That was
the curse of the condition into which I had fallen. That was why, as I
stepped upon the deck of the _Elsinore_, I was half of a mind to tell
them to keep my luggage where it was and bid Captain West and his
daughter good-day.

I almost think what decided me was the welcoming, hospitable smile Miss
West gave me as she started directly across the deck for the cabin, and
the knowledge that it must be quite warm in the cabin.

Mr. Pike, the mate, I had already met, when I visited the ship in Erie
Basin. He smiled a stiff, crack-faced smile that I knew must be painful,
but did not offer to shake hands, turning immediately to call orders to
half-a-dozen frozen-looking youths and aged men who shambled up from
somewhere in the waist of the ship. Mr. Pike had been drinking. That
was patent. His face was puffed and discoloured, and his large gray eyes
were bitter and bloodshot.

I lingered, with a sinking heart watching my belongings come aboard and
chiding my weakness of will which prevented me from uttering the few
words that would put a stop to it. As for the half-dozen men who were
now carrying the luggage aft into the cabin, they were unlike any concept
I had ever entertained of sailors. Certainly, on the liners, I had
observed nothing that resembled them.

One, a most vivid-faced youth of eighteen, smiled at me from a pair of
remarkable Italian eyes. But he was a dwarf. So short was he that he
was all sea-boots and sou'wester. And yet he was not entirely Italian.
So certain was I that I asked the mate, who answered morosely:

"Him? Shorty? He's a dago half-breed. The other half's Jap or Malay."

One old man, who I learned was a bosun, was so decrepit that I thought he
had been recently injured. His face was stolid and ox-like, and as he
shuffled and dragged his brogans over the deck he paused every several
steps to place both hands on his abdomen and execute a queer, pressing,
lifting movement. Months were to pass, in which I saw him do this
thousands of times, ere I learned that there was nothing the matter with
him and that his action was purely a habit. His face reminded me of the
Man with the Hoe, save that it was unthinkably and abysmally stupider.
And his name, as I was to learn, of all names was Sundry Buyers. And he
was bosun of the fine American sailing-ship _Elsinore_ - rated one of the
finest sailing-ships afloat!

Of this group of aged men and boys that moved the luggage along I saw
only one, called Henry, a youth of sixteen, who approximated in the
slightest what I had conceived all sailors to be like. He had come off a
training ship, the mate told me, and this was his first voyage to sea.
His face was keen-cut, alert, as were his bodily movements, and he wore
sailor-appearing clothes with sailor-seeming grace. In fact, as I was to
learn, he was to be the only sailor-seeming creature fore and aft.

The main crew had not yet come aboard, but was expected at any moment,
the mate vouchsafed with a snarl of ominous expectancy. Those already on
board were the miscellaneous ones who had shipped themselves in New York
without the mediation of boarding-house masters. And what the crew
itself would be like God alone could tell - so said the mate. Shorty, the
Japanese (or Malay) and Italian half-caste, the mate told me, was an able
seaman, though he had come out of steam and this was his first sailing

"Ordinary seamen!" Mr. Pike snorted, in reply to a question. "We don't
carry Landsmen! - forget it! Every clodhopper an' cow-walloper these days
is an able seaman. That's the way they rank and are paid. The merchant
service is all shot to hell. There ain't no more sailors. They all died
years ago, before you were born even."

I could smell the raw whiskey on the mate's breath. Yet he did not
stagger nor show any signs of intoxication. Not until afterward was I to
know that his willingness to talk was most unwonted and was where the
liquor gave him away.

"It'd a-ben a grace had I died years ago," he said, "rather than to a-
lived to see sailors an' ships pass away from the sea."

"But I understand the _Elsinore_ is considered one of the finest," I

"So she is . . . to-day. But what is she? - a damned cargo-carrier. She
ain't built for sailin', an' if she was there ain't no sailors left to
sail her. Lord! Lord! The old clippers! When I think of 'em! - _The
Gamecock_, _Shootin' Star_, _Flyin' Fish_, _Witch o' the Wave_,
_Staghound_, _Harvey Birch_, _Canvas-back_, _Fleetwing_, _Sea Serpent_,
_Northern Light_! An' when I think of the fleets of the tea-clippers
that used to load at Hong Kong an' race the Eastern Passages. A fine
sight! A fine sight!"

I was interested. Here was a man, a live man. I was in no hurry to go
into the cabin, where I knew Wada was unpacking my things, so I paced up
and down the deck with the huge Mr. Pike. Huge he was in all conscience,
broad-shouldered, heavy-boned, and, despite the profound stoop of his
shoulders, fully six feet in height.

"You are a splendid figure of a man," I complimented.

"I was, I was," he muttered sadly, and I caught the whiff of whiskey
strong on the air.

I stole a look at his gnarled hands. Any finger would have made three of
mine. His wrist would have made three of my wrist.

"How much do you weigh?" I asked.

"Two hundred an' ten. But in my day, at my best, I tipped the scales
close to two-forty."

"And the _Elsinore_ can't sail," I said, returning to the subject which
had roused him.

"I'll take you even, anything from a pound of tobacco to a month's wages,
she won't make it around in a hundred an' fifty days," he answered. "Yet
I've come round in the old _Flyin' Cloud_ in eighty-nine days - eighty-nine
days, sir, from Sandy Hook to 'Frisco. Sixty men for'ard that _was_ men,
an' eight boys, an' drive! drive! drive! Three hundred an' seventy-four
miles for a day's run under t'gallantsails, an' in the squalls eighteen
knots o' line not enough to time her. Eighty-nine days - never beat, an'
tied once by the old _Andrew Jackson_ nine years afterwards. Them was
the days!"

"When did the _Andrew Jackson_ tie her?" I asked, because of the growing
suspicion that he was "having" me.

"In 1860," was his prompt reply.

"And you sailed in the _Flying Cloud_ nine years before that, and this is
1913 - why, that was sixty-two years ago," I charged.

"And I was seven years old," he chuckled. "My mother was stewardess on
the _Flyin' Cloud_. I was born at sea. I was boy when I was twelve, on
the _Herald o' the Morn_, when she made around in ninety-nine days - half
the crew in irons most o' the time, five men lost from aloft off the
Horn, the points of our sheath-knives broken square off, knuckle-dusters
an' belayin'-pins flyin', three men shot by the officers in one day, the
second mate killed dead an' no one to know who done it, an' drive! drive!
drive! ninety-nine days from land to land, a run of seventeen thousand
miles, an' east to west around Cape Stiff!"

"But that would make you sixty-nine years old," I insisted.

"Which I am," he retorted proudly, "an' a better man at that than the
scrubby younglings of these days. A generation of 'em would die under
the things I've been through. Did you ever hear of the _Sunny
South_? - she that was sold in Havana to run slaves an' changed her name
to _Emanuela_?"

"And you've sailed the Middle Passage!" I cried, recollecting the old

"I was on the _Emanuela_ that day in Mozambique Channel when the _Brisk_
caught us with nine hundred slaves between-decks. Only she wouldn't a-
caught us except for her having steam."

I continued to stroll up and down beside this massive relic of the past,
and to listen to his hints and muttered reminiscences of old man-killing
and man-driving days. He was too real to be true, and yet, as I studied
his shoulder-stoop and the age-drag of his huge feet, I was convinced
that his years were as he asserted. He spoke of a Captain Sonurs.

"He was a great captain," he was saying. "An' in the two years I sailed
mate with him there was never a port I didn't jump the ship goin' in an'
stay in hiding until I sneaked aboard when she sailed again."

"But why?"

"The men, on account of the men swearin' blood an' vengeance and warrants
against me because of my ways of teachin' them to be sailors. Why, the
times I was caught, and the fines the skipper paid for me - and yet it was
my work that made the ship make money."

He held up his huge paws, and as I stared at the battered, malformed
knuckles I understood the nature of his work.

"But all that's stopped now," he lamented. "A sailor's a gentleman these
days. You can't raise your voice or your hand to them."

At this moment he was addressed from the poop-rail above by the second
mate, a medium-sized, heavily built, clean-shaven, blond man.

"The tug's in sight with the crew, sir," he announced.

The mate grunted an acknowledgment, then added, "Come on down, Mr.
Mellaire, and meet our passenger."

I could not help noting the air and carriage with which Mr. Mellaire came
down the poop-ladder and took his part in the introduction. He was
courteous in an old-world way, soft-spoken, suave, and unmistakably from
south of Mason and Dixon.

"A Southerner," I said.

"Georgia, sir." He bowed and smiled, as only a Southerner can bow and

Online LibraryJack LondonThe mutiny of the Elsinore → online text (page 1 of 26)