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Produced by John Hamm





MORAN OF THE LADY LETTY

by Frank Norris



DEDICATED TO
Captain Joseph Hodgson
UNITED STATES LIFE SAVING SERVICE





I. SHANGHAIED


This is to be a story of a battle, at least one murder, and several
sudden deaths. For that reason it begins with a pink tea and among the
mingled odors of many delicate perfumes and the hale, frank smell of
Caroline Testout roses.

There had been a great number of debutantes "coming out" that season in
San Francisco by means of afternoon teas, pink, lavender, and otherwise.
This particular tea was intended to celebrate the fact that Josie
Herrick had arrived at that time of her life when she was to wear her
hair high and her gowns long, and to have a "day" of her own quite
distinct from that of her mother.

Ross Wilbur presented himself at the Herrick house on Pacific Avenue
much too early upon the afternoon of Miss Herrick's tea. As he made,
his way up the canvased stairs he was aware of a terrifying array of
millinery and a disquieting staccato chatter of feminine voices in the
parlors and reception-rooms on either side of the hallway. A single high
hat in the room that had been set apart for the men's use confirmed him
in his suspicions.

"Might have known it would be a hen party till six, anyhow," he
muttered, swinging out of his overcoat. "Bet I don't know one girl in
twenty down there now - all mamma's friends at this hour, and
papa's maiden sisters, and Jo's school-teachers and governesses and
music-teachers, and I don't know what all."

When he went down he found it precisely as he expected. He went up to
Miss Herrick, where she stood receiving with her mother and two of the
other girls, and allowed them to chaff him on his forlornness.

"Maybe I seem at my ease," said Ross Wilbur to them, "but really I am
very much frightened. I'm going to run away as soon as it is decently
possible, even before, unless you feed me."

"I believe you had luncheon not two hours ago," said Miss Herrick. "Come
along, though, and I'll give you some chocolate, and perhaps, if you're
good, a stuffed olive. I got them just because I knew you liked them. I
ought to stay here and receive, so I can't look after you for long."

The two fought their way through the crowded rooms to the
luncheon-table, and Miss Herrick got Wilbur his chocolate and his
stuffed olives. They sat down and talked in a window recess for a
moment, Wilbur toeing-in in absurd fashion as he tried to make a lap for
his plate.

"I thought," said Miss Herrick, "that you were going on the Ridgeways'
yachting party this afternoon. Mrs. Ridgeway said she was counting on
you. They are going out with the 'Petrel.'"

"She didn't count above a hundred, though," answered Wilbur. "I got
your bid first, so I regretted the yachting party; and I guess I'd have
regretted it anyhow," and he grinned at her over his cup.

"Nice man," she said - adding on the instant, "I must go now, Ross."

"Wait till I eat the sugar out of my cup," complained Wilbur. "Tell
me," he added, scraping vigorously at the bottom of the cup with the
inadequate spoon; "tell me, you're going to the hoe-down to-night?"

"If you mean the Assembly, yes, I am."

"Will you give me the first and last?"

"I'll give you the first, and you can ask for the last then."

"Let's put it down; I know you'll forget it." Wilbur drew a couple of
cards from his case.

"Programmes are not good form any more," said Miss Herrick.

"Forgetting a dance is worse."

He made out the cards, writing on the one he kept for himself, "First
waltz - Jo."

"I must go back now," said Miss Herrick, getting up.

"In that case I shall run - I'm afraid of girls."

"It's a pity about you."

"I am; one girl, I don't say, but girl in the aggregate like this," and
he pointed his chin toward the thronged parlors. "It un-mans me."

"Good-by, then."

"Good-by, until to-night, about - ?"

"About nine."

"About nine, then."

Ross Wilbur made his adieu to Mrs. Herrick and the girls who were
receiving, and took himself away. As he came out of the house and stood
for a moment on the steps, settling his hat gingerly upon his hair so as
not to disturb the parting, he was not by any means an ill-looking chap.
His good height was helped out by his long coat and his high silk hat,
and there was plenty of jaw in the lower part of his face. Nor was his
tailor altogether answerable for his shoulders. Three years before this
time Ross Wilbur had pulled at No. 5 in his varsity boat in an Eastern
college that was not accustomed to athletic discomfiture.

"I wonder what I'm going to do with myself until supper time," he
muttered, as he came down the steps, feeling for the middle of his
stick. He found no immediate answer to his question. But the afternoon
was fine, and he set off to walk in the direction of the town, with a
half-formed idea of looking in at his club.

At his club he found a letter in his box from his particular chum, who
had been spending the month shooting elk in Oregon.


"Dear Old Man," it said, "will be back on the afternoon you
receive this. Will hit the town on the three o'clock boat. Get
seats for the best show going - my treat - and arrange to assimilate
nutriment at the Poodle Dog - also mine. I've got miles of talk in
me that I've got to reel off before midnight. Yours.
"JERRY."


"I've got a stand of horns for you, Ross, that are Glory Hallelujah."


"Well, I can't go," murmured Wilbur, as he remembered the Assembly that
was to come off that night and his engaged dance with Jo Herrick. He
decided that it would be best to meet Jerry as he came off the boat and
tell him how matters stood. Then he resolved, since no one that he
knew was in the club, and the instalment of the Paris weeklies had not
arrived, that it would be amusing to go down to the water-front and loaf
among the shipping until it was time for Jerry's boat.

Wilbur spent an hour along the wharves, watching the great grain ships
consigned to "Cork for orders" slowly gorging themselves with whole
harvests of wheat from the San Joaquin Valley; lumber vessels for Durban
and South African ports settling lower and lower to the water's level as
forests of pine and redwood stratified themselves along their decks and
in their holds; coal barges discharging from Nanaimo; busy little tugs
coughing and nuzzling at the flanks of the deep-sea tramps, while hay
barges and Italian whitehalls came and went at every turn. A Stockton
River boat went by, her stern wheel churning along behind, like a
huge net-reel; a tiny maelstrom of activity centred about an Alaska
Commercial Company's steamboat that would clear for Dawson in the
morning.

No quarter of one of the most picturesque cities in the world had more
interest for Wilbur than the water-front. In the mile or so of shipping
that stretched from the docks where the China steamships landed, down
past the ferry slips and on to Meiggs's Wharf, every maritime nation
in the world was represented. More than once Wilbur had talked to
the loungers of the wharves, stevedores out of work, sailors
between voyages, caulkers and ship chandlers' men looking - not too
earnestly - for jobs; so that on this occasion, when a little, undersized
fellow in dirty brown sweater and clothes of Barbary coast cut asked
him for a match to light his pipe, Wilbur offered a cigar and passed
the time of day with him. Wilbur had not forgotten that he himself was
dressed for an afternoon function. But the incongruity of the business
was precisely what most amused him.

After a time the fellow suggested drinks. Wilbur hesitated for a moment.
It would be something to tell about, however, so, "All right, I'll drink
with you," he said.

The brown sweater led the way to a sailors' boarding-house hard by. The
rear of the place was built upon piles over the water. But in front, on
the ground floor, was a barroom.

"Rum an' gum," announced the brown sweater, as the two came in and took
their places at the bar.

"Rum an' gum, Tuck; wattle you have, sir?"

"Oh - I don't know," hesitated Wilbur; "give me a mild Manhattan."

While the drinks were being mixed the brown sweater called Wilbur's
attention to a fighting head-dress from the Marquesas that was hung on
the wall over the free-lunch counter and opposite the bar. Wilbur turned
about to look at it, and remained so, his back to the barkeeper, till
the latter told them their drinks were ready.

"Well, mate, here's big blocks an' taut hawse-pipes," said the brown
sweater cordially.

"Your very good health," returned Wilbur.

The brown sweater wiped a thin mustache in the hollow of his palm, and
wiped that palm upon his trouser leg.

"Yessir," he continued, once more facing the Marquesas head-dress.
"Yessir, they're queer game down there."

"In the Marquesas Islands, you mean?" said Wilbur.

"Yessir, they're queer game. When they ain't tattoin' theirselves with
Scripture tex's they git from the missionaries, they're pullin' out
the hairs all over their bodies with two clam-shells. Hair by hair, y'
understan'?"

"Pull'n out 'er hair?" said Wilbur, wondering what was the matter with
his tongue.

"They think it's clever - think the women folk like it."

Wilbur had fancied that the little man had worn a brown sweater when
they first met. But now, strangely enough, he was not in the least
surprised to see it iridescent like a pigeon's breast.

"Y' ever been down that way?" inquired the little man next.

Wilbur heard the words distinctly enough, but somehow they refused to
fit into the right places in his brain. He pulled himself together,
frowning heavily.

"What - did - you - say?" he asked with great deliberation, biting off his
words. Then he noticed that he and his companion were no longer in
the barroom, but in a little room back of it. His personality divided
itself. There was one Ross Wilbur - who could not make his hands go where
he wanted them, who said one word when he thought another, and whose
legs below the knee were made of solid lead. Then there was another Ross
Wilbur - Ross Wilbur, the alert, who was perfectly clear-headed, and who
stood off to one side and watched his twin brother making a monkey of
himself, without power and without even the desire of helping him.

This latter Wilbur heard the iridescent sweater say:

"Bust me, if y' a'n't squiffy, old man. Stand by a bit an' we'll have a
ball."

"Can't have got - return - exceptionally - and the round table - pull out
hairs wi' tu clamsh'ls," gabbled Wilbur's stupefied double; and Wilbur
the alert said to himself: "You're not drunk, Ross Wilbur, that's
certain; what could they have put in your cocktail?"

The iridescent sweater stamped twice upon the floor and a trap-door fell
away beneath Wilbur's feet like the drop of a gallows. With the eyes of
his undrugged self Wilbur had a glimpse of water below. His elbow struck
the floor as he went down, and he fell feet first into a Whitehall boat.
He had time to observe two men at the oars and to look between the piles
that supported the house above him and catch a glimpse of the bay and
a glint of the Contra Costa shore. He was not in the least surprised at
what had happened, and made up his mind that it would be a good idea to
lie down in the boat and go to sleep.

Suddenly - but how long after his advent into the boat he could not
tell - his wits began to return and settle themselves, like wild birds
flocking again after a scare. Swiftly he took in the scene. The blue
waters of the bay around him, the deck of a schooner on which he stood,
the Whitehall boat alongside, and an enormous man with a face like
a setting moon wrangling with his friend in the sweater - no longer
iridescent.

"What do you call it?" shouted the red man. "I want able seamen - I don't
figger on working this boat with dancing masters, do I? We ain't exactly
doing quadrilles on my quarterdeck. If we don't look out we'll step on
this thing and break it. It ain't ought to be let around loose without
its ma."

"Rot that," vociferated the brown sweater. "I tell you he's one of the
best sailor men on the front. If he ain't we'll forfeit the money. Come
on, Captain Kitchell, we made show enough gettin' away as it was, and
this daytime business ain't our line. D'you sign or not? Here's the
advance note. I got to duck my nut or I'll have the patrol boat after
me."

"I'll sign this once," growled the other, scrawling his name on the
note; "but if this swab ain't up to sample, he'll come back by freight,
an' I'll drop in on mee dear friend Jim when we come back and give him a
reel nice time, an' you can lay to that, Billy Trim." The brown sweater
pocketed the note, went over the side, and rowed off.

Wilbur stood in the waist of a schooner anchored in the stream well off
Fisherman's wharf. In the forward part of the schooner a Chinaman in
brown duck was mixing paint. Wilbur was conscious that he still wore his
high hat and long coat, but his stick was gone and one gray glove was
slit to the button. In front of him towered the enormous red-faced man.
A pungent reek of some kind of rancid fat or oil assailed his nostrils.
Over by Alcatraz a ferry-boat whistled for its slip as it elbowed its
way through the water.

Wilbur had himself fairly in hand by now. His wits were all about him;
but the situation was beyond him as yet.

"Git for'd," commanded the big man.

Wilbur drew himself up, angry in an instant. "Look here," he began,
"what's the meaning of this business? I know I've been drugged and
mishandled. I demand to be put ashore. Do you understand that?"

"Angel child," whimpered the big man. "Oh, you lilee of the vallee, you
bright an' mornin' star. I'm reely pained y'know, that your vally can't
come along, but we'll have your piano set up in the lazarette. It gives
me genuine grief, it do, to see you bein' obliged to put your lilee
white feet on this here vulgar an' dirtee deck. We'll have the Wilton
carpet down by to-morrer, so we will, my dear. Yah-h!" he suddenly broke
out, as his rage boiled over. "Git for'd, d'ye hear! I'm captain of this
here bathtub, an' that's all you need to know for a good while to come.
I ain't generally got to tell that to a man but once; but I'll stretch
the point just for love of you, angel child. Now, then, move!"

Wilbur stood motionless - puzzled beyond expression. No experience he had
ever been through helped in this situation.

"Look here," he began, "I - "

The captain knocked him down with a blow of one enormous fist upon the
mouth, and while he was yet stretched upon the deck kicked him savagely
in the stomach. Then he allowed him to rise, caught him by the neck and
the slack of his overcoat, and ran him forward to where a hatchway, not
two feet across, opened in the deck. Without ado, he flung him down into
the darkness below; and while Wilbur, dizzied by the fall, sat on the
floor at the foot of the vertical companion-ladder, gazing about him
with distended eyes, there rained down upon his head, first an oilskin
coat, then a sou'wester, a pair of oilskin breeches, woolen socks, and
a plug of tobacco. Above him, down the contracted square of the hatch,
came the bellowing of the Captain's voice:

"There's your fit-out, Mister Lilee of the Vallee, which the same our
dear friend Jim makes a present of and no charge, because he loves you
so. You're allowed two minutes to change, an' it is to be hoped as how
you won't force me to come for to assist."

It would have been interesting to have followed, step by step, the
mental process that now took place in Ross Wilbur's brain. The Captain
had given him two minutes in which to change. The time was short enough,
but even at that Wilbur changed more than his clothes during the two
minutes he was left to himself in the reekind dark of the schooner's
fo'castle. It was more than a change - it was a revolution. What he made
up his mind to do - precisely what mental attitude he decided to adopt,
just what new niche he elected wherein to set his feet, it is difficult
to say. Only by results could the change be guessed at. He went down
the forward hatch at the toe of Kitchell's boot - silk-hatted,
melton-overcoated, patent-booted, and gloved in suedes. Two minutes
later there emerged upon the deck a figure in oilskins and a sou'wester.
There was blood upon the face of him and the grime of an unclean ship
upon his bare hands. It was Wilbur, and yet not Wilbur. In two minutes
he had been, in a way, born again. The only traces of his former self
were the patent-leather boots, still persistent in their gloss and
shine, that showed grim incongruity below the vast compass of the
oilskin breeches.

As Wilbur came on deck he saw the crew of the schooner hurrying forward,
six of them, Chinamen every one, in brown jeans and black felt hats. On
the quarterdeck stood the Captain, barking his orders.

"Consider the Lilee of the Vallee," bellowed the latter, as his eye fell
upon Wilbur the Transformed. "Clap on to that starboard windlass brake,
sonny."

Wilbur saw the Chinamen ranging themselves about what he guessed was
the windlass in the schooner's bow. He followed and took his place among
them, grasping one of the bars.

"Break down!" came the next order. Wilbur and the Chinamen obeyed,
bearing up and down upon the bars till the slack of the anchor-chain
came home and stretched taut and dripping from the hawse-holes.

"'Vast heavin'!"

And then as Wilbur released the brake and turned about for the next
order, he cast his glance out upon the bay, and there, not a hundred
and fifty yards away, her spotless sails tense, her cordage humming, her
immaculate flanks slipping easily through the waves, the water
hissing and churning under her forefoot, clean, gleaming, dainty, and
aristocratic, the Ridgeways' yacht "Petrel" passed like a thing of life.
Wilbur saw Nat Ridgeway himself at the wheel. Girls in smart gowns
and young fellows in white ducks and yachting caps - all friends of
his - crowded the decks. A little orchestra of musicians were reeling off
a quickstep.

The popping of a cork and a gale of talk and laughter came to his
ears. Wilbur stared at the picture, his face devoid of expression. The
"Petrel" came on - drew nearer - was not a hundred feet away from the
schooner's stern. A strong swimmer, such as Wilbur, could cover the
distance in a few strides. Two minutes ago Wilbur might have -

"Set your mains'l," came the bellow of Captain Kitchell. "Clap on to
your throat and peak halyards."

The Chinamen hurried aft.

Wilbur followed.




II. A NAUTICAL EDUCATION.


In the course of the next few moments, while the little vessel was being
got under way, and while the Ridgeways' "Petrel" gleamed off into the
blue distance, Wilbur made certain observations.

The name of the boat on which he found himself was the "Bertha Millner."
She was a two-topmast, 28-ton keel schooner, 40 feet long, carrying
a large spread of sail - mainsail, foresail, jib, flying-jib, two
gaff-topsails, and a staysail. She was very dirty and smelt abominably
of some kind of rancid oil. Her crew were Chinamen; there was no mate.
But the cook - himself a Chinaman - who appeared from time to time at the
door of the galley, a potato-masher in his hand, seemed to have some
sort of authority over the hands. He acted in a manner as a go-between
for the Captain and the crew, sometimes interpreting the former's
orders, and occasionally giving one of his own.

Wilbur heard the Captain address him as Charlie. He spoke pigeon English
fairly. Of the balance of the crew - the five Chinamen - Wilbur could make
nothing. They never spoke, neither to Captain Kitchell, to Charlie,
nor to each other; and for all the notice they took of Wilbur he might
easily have been a sack of sand. Wilbur felt that his advent on the
"Bertha Millner" was by its very nature an extraordinary event; but the
absolute indifference of these brown-suited Mongols, the blankness of
their flat, fat faces, the dulness of their slanting, fishlike eyes
that never met his own or even wandered in his direction, was uncanny,
disquieting. In what strange venture was he now to be involved, toward
what unknown vortex was this new current setting, this current that had
so suddenly snatched him from the solid ground of his accustomed life?

He told himself grimly that he was to have a free cruise up the bay,
perhaps as far as Alviso; perhaps the "Bertha Millner" would even make
the circuit of the bay before returning to San Francisco. He might
be gone a week. Wilbur could already see the scare-heads of the daily
papers the next morning, chronicling the disappearance of "One of
Society's Most Popular Members."

"That's well, y'r throat halyards. Here, Lilee of the Vallee, give a
couple of pulls on y'r peak halyard purchase."

Wilbur stared at the Captain helplessly.

"No can tell, hey?" inquired Charlie from the galley. "Pullum disa lope,
sabe?"

Wilbur tugged at the rope the cook indicated.

"That's well, y'r peak halyard purchase," chanted Captain Kitchell.

Wilbur made the rope fast. The mainsail was set, and hung slatting and
flapping in the wind. Next the for'sail was set in much the same manner,
and Wilbur was ordered to "lay out on the ji'boom and cast the gaskets
off the jib." He "lay out" as best he could and cast off the gaskets - he
knew barely enough of yachting to understand an order here and
there - and by the time he was back on the fo'c'sle head the Chinamen
were at the jib halyard and hoisting away.

"That's well, y'r jib halyards."

The "Bertha Millner" veered round and played off to the wind, tugging at
her anchor.

"Man y'r windlass."

Wilbur and the crew jumped once more to the brakes.

"Brake down, heave y'r anchor to the cathead."

The anchor-chain, already taut, vibrated and then cranked through the
hawse-holes as the hands rose and fell at the brakes. The anchor came
home, dripping gray slime. A nor'west wind filled the schooner's sails,
a strong ebb tide caught her underfoot.

"We're off," muttered Wilbur, as the "Bertha Millner" heeled to the
first gust.

But evidently the schooner was not bound up the bay.

"Must be Vallejo or Benicia, then," hazarded Wilbur, as the sails grew
tenser and the water rippled ever louder under the schooner's forefoot.
"Maybe they're going after hay or wheat."

The schooner was tacking, headed directly for Meiggs's wharf. She came
in closer and closer, so close that Wilbur could hear the talk of the
fishermen sitting on the stringpieces. He had just made up his mind that
they were to make a landing there, when -

"Stand by for stays," came the raucous bark of the Captain, who had
taken on the heel. The sails slatted furiously as the schooner came
about. Then the "Bertha Millner" caught the wind again and lay over
quietly and contentedly to her work. The next tack brought the schooner
close under Alcatraz. The sea became heavier, the breeze grew stiff and
smelled of the outside ocean. Out beyond them to westward opened
the Golden Gate, a bleak vista of gray-green water roughened with
white-caps.

"Stand by for stays."

Once again as the rudder went hard over, the "Bertha Millner" fretted
and danced and shook her sails, calling impatiently for the wind,
chafing at its absence like a child reft of a toy. Then again she
scooped the nor'wester in the hollow palms of her tense canvases and
settled quietly down on the new tack, her bowsprit pointing straight
toward the Presidio.

"We'll come about again soon," Wilbur told himself, "and stand over
toward the Contra Costa shore."

A fine huge breath of wind passed over the schooner. She heeled it
on the instant, the water roaring along her quarter, but she kept her
course. Wilbur fell thoughtful again, never more keenly observant.

"She must come about soon," he muttered uneasily, "if she's going to
stand up toward Vallejo." His heart sank with a sudden apprehension. A
nervousness he could not overcome seized upon him. The "Bertha Millner"
held tenaciously to the tack. Within fifty yards of the Presidio came
the command again:

"Stand by for stays."

Once more, her bows dancing, her cordage rattling, her sails flapping
noisily, the schooner came about. Anxiously Wilbur observed the bowsprit
as it circled like a hand on a dial, watching where now it would point.
It wavered, fluctuated, rose, fell, then settled easily, pointing toward
Lime Point. Wilbur felt a sudden coldness at his heart.

"This isn't going to be so much fun," he muttered between his teeth. The
schooner was not bound up the bay for Alviso nor to Vallejo for grain.


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