The Mucker

By Edgar Rice Burroughs

Page 44

between waves. All semblance of discipline had vanished.
For the most part they were a pack of howling, cursing, terror-ridden
beasts, fighting at the hatches with those who would have held them
closed against the danger of each new assault of the sea.

Ward and Skipper Simms had been among the first to seek the precarious
safety below deck. Theriere alone of the officers had remained on duty
until the last, and now he was exerting his every faculty in the effort
to save as many of the men as possible without losing the ship in the
doing of it. Only between waves was the entrance to the main cabins
negotiable, while the forecastle hatch had been abandoned entirely after
it had with difficulty been replaced following the retreat of three of
the crew to that part of the ship.

The mucker stood beside Theriere as the latter beat back the men when
the seas threatened. It was the man's first experience of the kind.
Never had he faced death in the courage-blighting form which the grim
harvester assumes when he calls unbridled Nature to do his ghastly
bidding. The mucker saw the rough, brawling bullies of the forecastle
reduced to white-faced, gibbering cowards, clawing and fighting to climb
over one another toward the lesser danger of the cabins, while the mate
fought them off, except as he found it expedient to let them pass him;
he alone cool and fearless.

Byrne stood as one apart from the dangers and hysteric strivings of
his fellows. Once when Theriere happened to glance in his direction
the Frenchman mentally ascribed the mucker's seeming lethargy to the
paralysis of abject cowardice. "The fellow is in a blue funk," thought
the second mate; "I did not misjudge him--like all his kind he is a
coward at heart."

Then a great wave came, following unexpectedly close upon the heels of
a lesser one. It took Theriere off his guard, threw him down and hurtled
him roughly across the deck, landing him in the scuppers, bleeding and
stunned. The next wave would carry him overboard.

Released from surveillance the balance of the crew pushed and fought
their way into the cabin--only the mucker remained without, staring
first at the prostrate form of the mate and then at the open cabin
hatch. Had one been watching him he might reasonably have thought that
the man's mind was in a muddle of confused thoughts and fears; but such
was far from the case. Billy was waiting to see if the mate would revive
sufficiently to return across the deck before the next wave swept the
ship.

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