Li John, Mentor
TERENCE GARRITY was fortunately sober when Paul reached him with the note from Mrs. Ivanoff. He was sober of necessity, because if he drank, Venable might be tempted; in sublime ignorance that Venable’s iron will was now above temptation, he was conducting himself in the narrow path of caution for the sake of his friend. It was heroic, as any one who knew Garrity would admit.
Having read the brief note, Garrity looked up at Paul.
“So we’re sailin’ to-morry night! And she wants me aboard with the second officer, and is dependin’ on me to be raisin’ the rest o’ the crew! What’s happened, me lad?”
“Je ne comprends pas l’anglais,” said old Paul through his white beard.
“The divil!” Garrity turned to Venable, who was watching with an amused smile. “Did ye catch the dago stuff, Parson?”
Venable collected his long-dissipated French and gazed at the old servitor.
“You are French, old one? And your mistress also?”
“Pas de tout, monsieur,” answered Paul. “We are of Russia.”
Venable, who knew nothing about the Kum Chao except the very little that Garrity had vouchsafed him, translated his friend’s statement that they would be aboard at eight bells to-morrow afternoon. To this Paul bowed and departed.
“Who’s the old gentleman?” inquired Venable.
“Answers the door for the lady who owns the ship,” said Garrity, and reached for his cap. “Come along, now! She wrote that she was weighing anchor after midnight to-morry night, and wanted me to supply what crew and officers she lacked. We’ll need a full engine-room force, and you’ll be second mate of the hooker, Parson.”
“Second mate? Why, man, you’re mad! I am not—”
“Hush, now!” pleaded Garrity. “Can ye not run a bit bluff? If I get a fine quartermaster to stand at the wheel and tell ye what to do, and me down below at the engines, what more can ye ask? Never mind botherin’ me, now; do what I tell ye and trust to Garrity! Praise be, we’ll be goin’ to sea in a private yacht to-morry night, for the craft has naught but ballast in her, as I know well! Come with me, now, and we’ll snatch a bite o’ supper on our way. Stormalong we need, and need bad, him bein’ a friend; for I misdoubt that this is no pleasure voyage we’re goin’.”
“Won't there be trouble when the captain finds I’m an impostor?” demanded Venable, laughing despite himself at Garrity’s whimsical tone.
“There will,” said Garrity, “if he’s any sort o’ skipper, but chances are, he aint. There’s too big a demand for skippers these days, d’ye mind, to let good men be rustin’ out their souls in Asian ports—and that’s the truth! She’s got skipper an’ mate, says she; most like, she got ’em both together, same as us. Mark me, Parson! We’ll find them two birds of a feather—either marked by drink or somethin’ else, maybe with suspended licenses. Ye can’t tell! There’s queerer things in these parts than makin’ a second mate out o’ you overnight.”
BY this time the garrulous one was at the door, and Venable at his side, committed.
Nor did Eric Venable care a bit what chanced. The reckless mood of Garrity infected him to some extent, and upon him was his lost youth; he was in truth a gray headed man with the heart of a lad in him again. That was because he loved Garrity, perhaps.
The red-headed engineer, who knew the city well, had a fairly good idea of where to seek Stormalong. After a hasty meal at a restaurant they caught a yellow-board tram and were transported into the Japanese quarter. Here Garrity began to make the rounds of certain tea-houses conducted in the ancient and unmoral style of old Nippon—a style calculated to draw wandering sailormen even as a magnet.
They had tried two of these places without success, and were crossing the Kata-buki-gai in quest of a third, when in the light of a street-lamp they beheld a curious scene. They turned the corner of a side street, and came plump upon a gang of Japanese urchins who were clustered about a small man. The latter had his back against a wall, held a broken crutch in his hand, and was answering the jeers of the street-gang with a flood of English and Yiddish curses.
“That’s their way,” said Garrity sagely, starting for the boys. “Let ’em get a white man in a corner, and—”
Under his vitriolic tongue the gang scattered quickly. Venable went to the little man standing against the wall, supporting himself. He was astonished to find the man’s features inordinately beautiful, chiseled in contours as perfect as those of a Greek statue.
“You’re not hurt?” he demanded.
“I’m hurt, and badly hurt,” said the other, smiling suddenly at him. “But not by these little gangsters. I broke my crutch, and I can’t walk without it.”
“Take my arm,” said Venable, suiting action to word. The little man leaned upon him, betraying that his left leg was twisted and much out of shape, as though splints and wrappings lay underneath the coarse trousers. “Aren’t you an American?”
At the question, he felt the hand upon his arm give a quiver.
“I used to be,” said the other, his voice low and unhappy. “Now I am only—a Jew.”
“Give us your other arm, matey,” broke in Garrity. “Where bound?”
“To the Kosai-kwan, an inn just across the Asahi-gai.”
“Right-o!” said Garrity. “We’re bound for that same ourselves, so we’ll be proud to have your company, me friend! It’s a pity about that leg, or we’d have ye off to sea with us to-morry night, an’ good-by to Asia!”
“So you’re going to sea to-morrow night!” said the rescued one. Venable was struck by the refinement of his voice.
“Aye, with an old-deck tramp layin’ downstream—the Kum Chao,” rattled Garrity. Once more Venable felt the hand quiver on his arm. He became curious as to this little man with the handsome face, this little man who called himself a Jew. “I’m pickin’ up a crew this minute, though I guess we’ll have to use Chinks and be satisfied.”
“That is odd,” said the other, smiling. “I expect to sail on that boat myself—but not as a member of the crew. I tell you this because we shall meet again, but I wish you to say nothing about it. You are good men, and you shall not be sorry for this action.”
GARRITY was amazed, but Venable looked down at the face of beauty, and spoke.
“I do not know who you are, my friend,” he said deeply, “but you look strangely like the pictures I have seen in magazines of a New York writer—a poet named Gerin. I have read much of his writings, and like them.”
“I am Gerin,” said the other, his voice stifled. “Listen! I have been in Russia, and I have seen hell there. It was torture that hurt my body—my soul has been hurt far worse! If you breathe my name once, it will ruin me; I am trusting you. This is my only hope of getting home to America again. My soul is very sick—”
“You have been foolish,” said Venable simply, guessing something of the man’s story. “You are a radical; I have read your writings and know. Like all the rest, you busy yourself with introspection until you are blinded to outside values. Forget all that, man! Wake up to the world around you! Who cares about your soul in the world? Get away from your individualism; make yourself part of the world again! That’s rough advice, but it’s true.”
They had reached the entrance to the tea-house or inn, and here Gerin halted. The talk was over Garrity’s head.
“Send me out two of the boys, if you will,” said Gerin. “Thank you, friends; I shall see you again, and I am glad of the meeting. There is a breath of life in you both—good men! Send me out two of the boys.”
They left him there, and went in together. When Garrity had dispatched two of the servants to aid Gerin, he turned to Venable.
“Divil take me if I understand all this, Parson! Is the man mad?”
“A little, perhaps,” answered Venable with his slow smile. “But no more so than most of us. Do you know, Garrity, I believe there is something queer about this ship of yours, and her business at sea?”
“You’re damn’ right!” assented Garrity fervently; then his mad cheerful genius came into the ascendant, and he laughed gayly. “Come along!” He grabbed Venable’s arm and thrust that gentleman before him. “I hear Stormalong deliverin’ a song inside—on with the game, and divil take the hindmost! But no drinks, mind that! Not one.”
THEY found the burly Stormalong, together with divers other gentry of the engineering profession, hard at work decreasing the visible supply of rice-wine. Unblushingly, Terence Garrity introduced his companion as “Second Officer Venable,” and when both men declined to drink, the roar of protest drowned Stormalong’s bellowed amazement at the title. A moment later Garrity was whispering in the ear of his confrère, who finally nodded sagely.
“I’ll sign on,” he rumbled with a grin at Venable. “I’ll sign, chief! About the quartermasters, now, I don’t know. Better ask these here lads for directions! My Lord, but this is sure goin’ to be one wild v’yage or I miss my guess! And in ballast, too! Have a drink, Parson!”
Venable declined sturdily, while Garrity consulted the others present regarding quartermasters of discretion. He met with success, being promised two Chinese brethren who could be relied upon for anything from barratry to murder—a recommendation which sounded alarming to Venable, but which satisfied the engineer thoroughly. This settled, they bade the company farewell, and departed.
“The hooker not bein’ under American registry, we’ll use Chinks for the crew,” chattered Garrity as they headed homeward. “They’re cheap, and good, besides bein’ here in plenty. Let ’em wait till to-morry.”
“When am I to take up my new duties?” demanded Venable.
“When there’s nothin’ else for ye to do, Parson! We’ll go aboard to-morry after noon, and if the owner’s there, all well an’ good. We have money, and can take care of advances to the Chink quartermasters; to-morry will be our busy day, what with outfittin’ you, and the like.”
THE following morning Venable obtained his sea-chest, outfit, and certificate as a second mate in steam—the latter a bare faced forgery but so well done that, as Garrity said, he could get by with it once, if he never tried it a second time.
The quartermasters also showed up as promised. They were named Li John and Li Ho—brothers, big, brawny north-country men of cheerful intelligence and great efficiency. Li John, who spoke fair English, was attached to Venable with full explanations. Garrity made advances to both men, and they promised to be on hand at three-thirty to go aboard.
“I’ve discovered,” said Garrity at lunch, “that it’s as I thought; the skipper an’ mate are two birds who still have their tickets by good luck, but nothin’ more. Cap’n Hewson and Mr. Jason they are, able to run a bluff and get past with our owner, but well seasoned with suspicion an’ general dislike. ’Twas them that ran the John Riarson onto one o’ the Saddle Islands and burned her, them claiming she was afire first; never proved, but looked bad. And more’n one other trick like that, too, so that them two birds play in luck when they draw a white owner. It’s a lively v’yage we’ll be havin’, and no mistake!”
At four that afternoon the hired launch that had brought them down the river set them all aboard the Kum Chao—Garrity, Venable, Stormalong and the two quartermasters. The steamer was a venerable little tramp, but the crew which Garrity had previously sent aboard was hard at work putting her in first-chop condition, so far as cleanliness was concerned. There was a forecastle forward, and a glory-hole aft; the white men of the crew—all of them officers—would occupy the quarters amidship, beneath the bridge.
Mrs. Ivanoff greeted them as they came over the rail. She was busy with comprador and supercargo, getting stores aboard; and with scarcely a glance at anyone save Garrity, she sent them to the cabin to await her coming.
Venable lagged after the others. When he joined them in the main cabin, he was frowning in perplexity; and Garrity watched him with uneasy eyes.
“That woman’s the owner?” he said. “I’ve seen her somewhere before—can’t remember where. A most striking face, full of personality and character!”
“Oh, she’s a good sort,” said Garrity hastily, “and knows what she wants, too! None of your backing and filling kind. Wonder where that lousy skipper and mate are?”
“Seen ’em uptown,” put in Stormalong, his voice husky with liquor. “Same place I was.”
“Then we go to sea to-night with all hands aft drunk, and the Lord have mercy on us!” was Garrity’s only comment. “Parson, you and I are sober; it’s us will take this hooker to sea; so mind what Li John there tells you! And you, John, you mind that wheel like a sharp un!”
“My savvy plenty,” said Li John, grinning. “My watchum second mate plenty.”
Venable laughed. At this moment Mrs. Ivanoff entered the cabin, and they rose.
IF Mrs. Ivanoff had not seen Venable before, she saw him now; she saw him and stood transfixed before him, staring in blank astonishment.
Still Venable could not place her, for a long moment. Now, as upon a previous occasion, the strong character in her face conquered and overpowered him; it held the strength of sorrow and a firm resiliency, while across the left cheek ran a slight red weal, a thin mar. In her eyes, however, dwelt the marvelous soul of the woman herself. Looking in those eyes Venable found himself remembering their fine, level poise. They were sea-gray eyes like his own, deep and steady like his own. Their probing gaze brought remembrance to him with a shock. This was the woman who had called upon him—the day before he had left home.
“You are—Doctor Venable!” she breathed.
“No, ma’am,” struck in Garrity hastily. “Second Officer Venable.”
“Be silent!” She threw the words at him without removing her gaze from Venable. The two words struck Garrity like a whiplash, stung him into obedience.
“I remember you now, madam.” Venable was suddenly pale. “And I remember my discourtesy. I regret it extremely—for, thank God, I am not now the man I was then! If I had known that you were——”
“Never mind all that,” she said quietly, her eyes still searching his face. “Yes, I can see that you are different. Surely you are not the second mate of whom Mr. Garrity spoke?”
A tide of color suffused Venable’s face. He could not lie to this woman—to those eyes.
“Yes,” he said. “I am the man, but—”
“Leave it to me, ma’am,” spoke up Garrity suddenly, stepping forward. “You’ve got a skipper and first officer that are drunk this blessed minute—and you can’t get no others. If Parson don’t handle your ship better than them, I’ll take the blame! Here’s his ticket, ma’am—and it’s better than theirs any day.”
She glanced at the certificate which he extended, then fastened her eyes upon his.
“You are a good friend to have, I think,” she said, so significantly that Garrity flushed to his hair-roots. “I shall leave this matter to you, as you suggest. Now—”
Stormalong and the two quartermasters were introduced, and Mrs. Ivanoff found them good. Ten minutes later the papers had been signed, and Venable was standing in the cabin where his box had been deposited, staring around. He felt bewildered, like a man in a dream. He was actually second officer of the Kum Chao, and how it had all happened he was not in the least certain!
He went out on deck and took charge of the ship, Li John at his elbow and Garrity hovering close about.