Cappy Ricks Retires by Peter B. Kyne
Excerpt from the log of Captain Matt Peasley relief skipper of the American barkentine Retriever; Manila to San Francisco.
May Third.--Seaman Olaf Lindstrom died to-day, following an illness of thirty-six hours. He was taken with chills and fever on the morning of the second, complained of a severe headache and vomited repeatedly. Removed him from the forecastle to a spare room in the forward house, which on the Retriever has always been used as a sick bay. While being supported along the deck he collapsed, and when the mate undressed him and put him to bed he complained of soreness in his groins. I examined them and found them slightly swollen. Treated him for ague--calomel, salts, quinine and whisky, and one-fortieth-grain strychnine hypodermic solution to keep up his heart action when the fever registered one hundred and four and higher. He grew steadily worse. Could not find anything in my Home Book of Medicine that exactly described his symptoms, and was at a loss to diagnose Lindstrom's case until I discovered the ship's cat with a rat it had just killed.
There were no rats aboard the Retriever when she left San Francisco. I recalled that the first night we tied up to the dock in Manila a dirty little China Coast tramp lay just ahead of us; and as I passed her on my way uptown I saw a rat run down her gangplank. She had rat-guards on her mooring lines. We had just tied up to the dock and I returned immediately and instructed the mate to be sure to put the rat-guards on our mooring lines, and not to use any sort of gangplank. When I returned to the vessel later that night I found that the mate had neglected to put on the rat-guards and logged him for it. Before we left the dock a Chinaman died of bubonic plague aboard that tramp, and the port health authorities put the vessel in quarantine immediately and prevented further spread of the disease.
When I saw the ship's cat with a rat, therefore, I knew we had some of that rotten China Coaster's plague rats aboard. Accordingly threw cat and rat overboard just as the cook announced Lindstrom's death. Upon looking up the information on plague, I am now convinced we have it aboard--that Linstrom died of it. First Mate Olaf Matson wrapped himself in my old bathrobe, gloved his hands and threw Lindstrom's body overboard, following it with the gloves and bathrobe.
I am, in a measure, prepared for plague. When I learned we had lain close to a vessel with a case of plague aboard I laid in some plague medicine, on general principles and just to have an anchor out to windward. At the English drug store on the Escolta I bought a tiny bottle of Yersin's Antipest Serum and another of Haffkine's Prophylactic Fluid. It was all they had on hand and it wasn't much; but--it is enough to save me--and I intend to be saved if possible. I cannot afford to die now. I do not know how old the Haffkine's Fluid is; and the older it is, the longer it takes to render one immune. The antipest serum will render me immune immediately, but the duration of the immunity thus granted lasts, at the most, only fifteen days. I must, therefore, first take a hypodermic injection of antipest serum to render me immune immediately and the next day follow with an injection of Haffkine's Fluid, which gives permanent immunity, but not for a week or longer when used alone.
There is this devilish thing about it to be considered, however: I may at this moment be inoculated with plague, for the period of incubation is from three to seven days--and I've fondled that cat every day since we left Manila. If I am already infected and do not know it, and while in that condition take an injection of the antipest serum, the book says the serum will immediately bring on a fatal and virulent attack of the plague! On the other hand, if I am not inoculated and take the antipest serum I am safe.
The question before the house, therefore, is: Shall I take it or shall I not? And if I do take it shall I be saving my life or committing suicide? I am like the fellow in the story who was forced to drink from one of two glasses of wine. He knew one of them contained poison, but he didn't know which one it was! I shall make my will and flip a coin to decide the issue.
May Fourth.--Two a.m. Mate reports another sick man in the forecastle. Wish I had some formaldehyde gas. Have told mate to sprinkle chloride of lime in Lindstrom's bunk and to dust the walls and floors of the forecastle and sick bay with it. That is the only disinfectant I have aboard in quantity.
At midnight I flipped the coin--heads I'd take it; tails I wouldn't. The coin fell heads--and I took it.
Four a.m.--Mustered the crew and gave them a lecture on bubonic plague. I have sufficient antipest serum for four men. After explaining that it was Hobson's choice, I asked the men to draw matches, held in the hand of the first mate, to see who should be the lucky ones. They all decided to take a chance and go without it, with the exception of two seamen and the mates, who, learning that I had taken it, decided to follow suit. Accordingly I inoculated them with the antipest serum.
Five p.m.--Inoculated myself with Haffkine's Fluid.
Seven-thirty.--Seaman Ross died. Mr. Matson threw the body overboard. No services.
Midnight.--Mr. Matson is down with it.
May Fifth.--Mr. Matson very ill and delirious. Cook moping round like a drunken man; complains of severe headache. Wind blowing lightly from south-west. Everything set. Inoculated second mate and the two seamen with Haffkine's.
May Sixth.--Mr. Matson died at noon today. Cook down with it; also another seaman, and Mr. Eccles, the second mate. Have altered ship's course and am running for Hongkong. Winds light and baffling. Have not made thirty miles today. Calm at midnight. Mr. Eccles died just as the watches were being changed. I now feel that I have escaped; so examined Mr. Eccles' body. He went so fast I am curious. No swelling of the glands at all. Am inclined to think his was pneumonic or septicaemic. Threw him overboard myself.
May Seventh.--Light and baffling airs all day; monsoon blowing in weak puffs. Another seaman ill. So ends this day.
May Eighth.--Cook died at noon. No buboes on him either. He turned kind of black. I was chief undertaker. No airs to speak of. Ship barely making steerage way. So ends this day.
May Ninth.--Seaman Peterson died early this morning. Do not know exact hour. Found him dead in his berth. Another funeral; no services. Monsoon freshening. Made forty-eight miles today. Two more seamen on sick report; and, to add to my worries, they are the very two I inoculated with the antipest serum and Haffkine's. Is this stuff worthless?
May Tenth.--Seamen Halloran and Kaiser died within an hour of each other this evening--Halloran at nine-thirty and Kaiser at ten-eighteen. Put both bodies overboard immediately.
I have four seamen left, and am doing the cooking, navigating, nursing and undertaking. Wind freshening hourly. Made seventy-two miles today. Glad Florry and Cappy Ricks cannot see me now, although, for some fool reason, I have a notion I shall see them again. If I were going to get plague it would have developed before now. I feel quite safe, but most unhappy and worried.
Midnight.--Seaman Anderson down with it. Jumped overboard to save me the bother of throwing him overboard about the day after to-morrow, which is a courtesy I did not expect of Anderson. I am obliged to him. I am exhausted and so are my three remaining seamen. We cannot handle the canvas now, so have taken in the foresail, royals, and topgallant sails, hauled down the flying jib and got the gaff topsail off her, leaving her under the jib, fore-topmast staysail, upper and lower fore-topsails, main-topmast staysail, mainsail and spanker. Hove her to and turned in.
May Eleventh.--After a horrible breakfast, which I cooked, got under way again. Monsoon blowing nicely, but under the small amount of canvas I am forced to carry cannot make more than six miles an hour. Have decided not to run to Hongkong. If I am to lose my three remaining seamen I shall have lost them long before I sight land, and the tug or steamer that hooks on to me off Hongkong will stick me with a terrific salvage bill. If I'm going to be stuck I prefer to be stuck closer to home, and if I manage to keep these three men the four of us can sail her home. I'll take a chance and run up the coast of Asia with the Japan Stream until I reach the northeast monsoon. I'm certain to be spoken and can send word to Florry. In a pinch, at this season of the year, I can sail her home alone.
May Fifteenth.--I am alone on the ship. Into the Japan Stream, monsoon blowing the sweetest it ever blew. Lucky thing for me I had the forethought to trim her down; otherwise I should have had to cut away a lot of canvas. And how Cappy Ricks would scream at the sail bill later on! We were hove to overnight when Borden and Jacobsen died, on the thirteenth. McBain complained of a headache and vertigo on the morning of the fourteenth; so I laid to until he died, last night. I was not with him when he passed. What good would it have done? I had breakfast; and after breakfast I found him in his berth, dead. I tossed him overboard, and every last rag of clothing, dunnage and blankets aboard, with the exception of those in my own cabin. Then I burned sulphur in the fore-castle, the galley, the cook's room and the stateroom formerly occupied by the mates, closed the doors, and hoped for the best. Slept a lot that day and night; and at eight this morning slacked off my spanker and main sheets, checked in my foreyard and topsail by taking the the braces to the donkey engine, and was off for home.
Have established my commissary in the lee of the wheel box. Set up a small kerosene stove I found in the storeroom, and get along nicely. It is quite an art to fry eggs with one hand and steady the wheel with the other, but I managed it three times today. To-morrow I will cook enough at breakfast to last me for luncheon and supper; hence will only have to heat some coffee.
Logged fifty-one miles by eight o'clock; then lashed the wheel and let her take care of herself while I got steam up in the donkey and hauled in my spanker and mainsail; then I slacked off my foreyard and topsail yards, hove her to on the port tack, hung three red lights on the forestay to show she wasn't under command, set my alarm clock and turned in. I have to smile at the ease with which one man--provided he is a sizable man and able to stand strain--can sail a barkentine before the wind in fair weather. I am not worried. I am not going to have bubonic plague. It is horribly lonely, but I am due for fair winds--and I should worry.
Even if I should get a blow and have to take the lower topsail off her, I can lower the yard by the topsail halyards until it rests on the cap; then I'll skip aloft and run a knife along the head of the topsail and let it whip to glory. After that it may blow and be damned! All the clothes the old girl is wearing now will never take the sticks out of her. I've trimmed her down to jib, lower topsail, fore-topmast staysail, mainsail and spanker. Wish I dared carry the foresail. However, I must play safe. It is awful, though, to be in a ship as fast as the Retriever and have to crawl the way I'm crawling. Crawl all day and sleep all night! Well, sometimes I can crawl all day and night and sleep half a day. We shall see. I used to be able to stand considerable before I hit the beach and got soft. The necessity for firing the donkey every night would soon exhaust my fuel supply; but I have a deck-load of hardwood logs! [Illustration: (Excerpt from the log of Cap't Matt Peasley) "I am alone on the ship--all the rest are now dead"--]