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The San Francisco call. [volume] (San Francisco [Calif.]) 1895-1913, December 15, 1912, Image 19

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Persistent link: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85066387/1912-12-15/ed-1/seq-19/

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THE WHEEL
MRS. JACK LONDON
ILLUSTRATIONS PERCY E.COWEN

II ~rnHf] LEAN YANKEE skipper turned slowly from his scrutiny of
I — wmma the sky to the northeast. A lowering cloud strung along the liori-
Wμ Afl /.mi. its frayed under edge dripping μ-rnv wisps of rain. The
skipper mopped his warm ]>ink countenance with an irreproach
- -HhbH able linen handkerchief, and paused before the steering-wheel,
= =1= ornate with stars and shields of tarnished brass. He idly fingered
the dull brass nut that held the wheel to the threaded shaft of the
steering-gear, and shot a keen look at the under-sized, swart-faced man who held
the spokes in his hands.
Only to Shelton, lounging in his deck chair in the lee of the chart-house,
did the skipper's movements cause special interest. It was not the first time
this day that he had noted a watchful restlessness on the part of the easy-going
master.
"A little bath-brick on them brass fixin's wouldn't do no damage," the lat
ter remarked to no one in particular; but an angry scowl creased the brows of
the hard-faced otliccr leaning against the taffrail.
The skipper sank exhaustedly into his long canvas chair, slowly stretched
his arms, clasped his hands behind his head and crossed his white-trousered legs.
"No," he took up the interrupted
conversation, heaving , a long sigh,
while his eyes rested upon an almost
stationary puff of smoke from his big
cigar; "no, there's no such sailors
now-a-days like there use' to be. —•
Look at' that poor little cuss," he
off, as the transparent wraith
of a fox terrier slouched across a
sizzling bar of late sunshine and sat
down before a mug of tepid water.
"He laps the blame stuff all over his
front, and then wonders where it
come from. Here, Coon!" The sad
pup regarded him out of lackluster
eyes, and with spiritless mutiny
slumped down in the shade of the hot
steel chart-house. "Poor ribby little
cuss! Between his topsy-turvy insides
an' this blame heat, 1 ain't the heart
to make him mind. . . .
"... No, as I was sayin', you
can't get real sailors these times. An ,
it's more 'n hard to get good officers.
You may believe it or not, but one
voyage out I waited weeks, ship all
loaded an' ready, for a mate that
could navigate. An' I finally went
to sea with one that didn't know a
sextant from an azimuth-mirrow.
Lucky my health was good, want
it?" He puffed in silence for a few
moments. "Xow, take that specimen
of an 'able seaman' over there, coilin'
down them halyards. He want
aboard three days before he come to
me an' showed me tlie lookin'est old
sores I ever seen. An' he 's been laid
up most of the time sence, an' no use
on the ship. That ain't the point, how
ever; it's his general make-up I'm
referrin' to — small, weak, full un
capable. It seems '■ ef, when you
find a fellow with a husky body, he 's
bound to be rattled in the main-top.
You know that Paddy — mighty
good-lookin' man if you don't see his
but he can't think two consec'
tive thoughts. I had to laugh the
other day," the captain warmed to
his subject; "the mate said Paddy'd
ben liangin' round a bucket of green
paint for two solid hours, out of his
own watch below, too, tryin' to sneak
some of it, but he want able to do it 'thout gettin' seen. The mate kep' an eye
on 'im for the fun of it, an' every time he comes near the bucket, Paddy 'd be
disappearin' round the corner of the fo'c's'le. He must 'a' got discouraged finally,
for after two hours he come brisk up to the mate, 's ef the idea 'd just struck
'im, an' asked ef he could have a brushful of that ther green paint. 'Why sure,'
says the mate — he's a direct-spoken old rascal, you've noticed by this time, I
guess — 'Why sure; but why in thunder did n't you ask for it before, instead o'
wastin' your watch below tryin' to swipe it?' And the fool just looked sheep-
"What in thunder's happened here!" the furious officer barked
Rl went an , licked up a brushful o' the green paint for Gawd knows what."
smiled reminiscently, and took a slow pull at his long cigar, the while
ut over the shimmering, motionless sea. Shelton never tired of listening
enial yet quiet character, whom years of travel and metropolitan life hat
rob of certain traces of his quaint Down Kast speech.
"lie 's a mean varmint, too, that Irishman," the captain added. "Ef he see
another man tryin , to steal a bucket of fresh water out of the donkc-y-engin
boiler — you know water an' butter 's the only things we keep tab on in any shij
of mine — why, he '11 blab on 'im right off. 1 ain't had so much amusement ou
of anything aboard ship in years as I get out o' that fool Paddy!
"Oh, well, take 'most any of 'm!" he went on, stretching his long arms abov
his head. A God-forsaken visage appeared at the head of the poop-laddei
"Look at that picture comin , on to the poop; he ain't heard himself sneeze fo
thirty years. Looks like somethiu' th
eat brought in, 1 declare. Bet he
ain't washed sence he come aboard a
Philadelphia — which is blame nigl
one hundred an' fifty days already
Yep," he reiterated, yawning, "c
anybody should ride up right now on
a turtle off them Galapagos, an' as!
you, you could tell him truthful we '<
ben one hundred and thirty-eigh
mortal days get tin , to twelve nortl
in the Pacific — and no wind. An
them long passages is expensive 's a
glass of water in th' hot regions."
"About how much does it cost to
run a ship like this?" Shelton ha(
never before quite liked to ask.
The skipper ran a thin hand ove
his close-cropped hair.
"Oh, I should say about two hun
dred a day, includin' six per cent oi
the principal! 'Taint so bad for a
captain on a salary; but some o' tha
two hundred comes out of my pocket
Oh . . . well . . ." He yawnec
again, long and audibly, and left hit*
thought unuttered.
"I'm sorry for you," Shelton sai<
dreamily; "but as for me, I don'
care if we don't get into 'Frisco fo
a year. 1 like this sort of thing, yoi
know. It's so ... so ... so
big, and wide, and round, and rest
ful," he concluded, his eyes sweeping
the visible arc of the hot Jiorizon.
"Well, I 'm glad somebody 's satis
fled," the master drawled in his be
nevolent voice. "1 'in free to confes.
I never yet, in all my years at sea
had a land-passenger that did enjoj
a long , passage the way you do. Mos
of 'em try a voyage to get over some
thing or other — I 'ye had more dope
fiends an' alcoholics an' (hat sor
aboard than you could shake a stic
at. And whether they get over wha
ails 'em or not, they 're soon mos
mortal tired' of the ship; and th
weather, no matter what it's like
and the skipper, too, 's ef he was t
blame for their comin'. But you 'r
the real right sort."
Shelton smiled a contented ac
knowledgment of this tribute to his
traveler-virtues, melted a little more deeply into the yielding canvas of his
chair, and closed his eyes to the glare. He was a fair-skinned young man, and,
despite his liking for traveling in the tropics, lie was conscious of the deterior
ating effects upon his nervous system.
When his eyes again unclosed, they rested upon the captain dozing moistly,
mouth open to miss no available air. The puppy was also asleep, between its
master's feet, its tired velvet head lying across one white shoe. The man at the
(Continued on P,age 10)

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