Jack London

         Chris Farrington, Able Seaman

             From "Dutch Courage and Other Stories"

     "If  you  vas  in  der old country ships, a liddle shaver like you vood pe
only  der  boy,  and  you vood wait on der able seamen. Und ven der able seaman
sing out, 'Boy, der water-jug!' you vood jump quick, like a shot, and bring der
water-jug.  Und ven der able seaman sing out, 'Boy, my boots!' you vood get der
boots.  Und you vood pe politeful, and say 'Yessir' and 'No sir.' But you pe in
der  American  ship,  and  you t'ink you are so good as der able seamen. Chris,
mine  boy, I haf ben a sailorman for twenty-two years, and do you t'ink you are
so good as me? I vas a sailorman pefore you vas borned, and I knot and reef and
splice ven you play mit topstrings and fly kites."
     "But  you  are  unfair,  Emil!" cried Chris Farrington, his sensitive face
flushed  and  hurt.  He  was  a  slender  though strongly built young fellow of
seventeen, with Yankee ancestry writ large all over him.
     "Dere you go vonce again!" the Swedish sailor exploded. "My name is Mister
Johansen,  and  a  kid  of a boy like you call me 'Emil!' It vas insulting, and
comes pecause of der American ship!"
     "But you call me 'Chris!'" the boy expostulated, reproachfully.
     "But you vas a boy."
     "Who  does a man's work," Chris retorted. "And because I do a man's work I
have as much  right to call you by your first name as you me. We are all equals
in  this  fo'castle,  and  you  know  it.  When we signed for the voyage in San
Francisco,  we  signed  as  sailors on the Sophie Sutherland  and  there was no
difference  made  with  any  of  us.  Haven't I always done my work? Did I ever
shirk? Did you or any other man ever have to take a wheel for me? Or a lookout?
Or go aloft?"
     "Chris  is  right," interrupted a young English sailor. "No man has had to
do  a  tap  of  his  work  yet.  He signed as good as any of us, and he's shown
himself as good — "
     "Better!" broke in a Nova Scotia man.  "Better  than  some of us!  When we
struck  the  sealing-grounds  he turned out to be next to the best boat-steerer
aboard. Only French Louis, who'd been at it for years, could beat him. I'm only
a  boat-puller, and you're only a boat-puller, too, Emil Johansen, for all your
twenty-two years at sea. Why don't you become a boat-steerer?"
     "Too clumsy," laughed the Englishman, "and too slow."
     "Little  that  counts,  one  way  or the other," joined in Dane Jurgensen,
coming to the aid of his Scandinavian brother. "Emil is a man grown and an able
seaman; the boy is neither."
     And  so  the  argument  raged  back  and forth, the Swedes, Norwegians and
Danes,  because  of race kinship, taking the part of Johansen, and the English,
Canadians and Americans taking the part of Chris. From an unprejudiced point of
view,  the right was on the side of Chris. As he had truly said, he did a man's
work,  and  the  same  work that any of them did. But they were prejudiced, and
badly  so,  and  out  of  the  words which passed rose a standing quarrel which
divided the forecastle into two parties.
     The Sophie Sutherland was a seal-hunter,  registered out of San Francisco,
and  engaged in hunting the furry sea-animals along the Japanese coast north to
Bering  Sea.  The  other  vessels  were  two-masted  schooners,  but  she was a
three-master  and  the  largest  in  the fleet. In fact, she was a full-rigged,
three-topmast schooner, newly built.
     Although  Chris  Farrington  knew  that  justice was with him, and that he
performed  all his work faithfully and well, many a time, in secret thought, he
longed for some pressing emergency to arise whereby he could demonstrate to the
Scandinavian seamen that he also was an able seaman.
     But  one  stormy  night,  by  an  accident  for  which  he  was  in nowise
accountable,  in overhauling a spare anchor-chain he had all the fingers of his
left  hand  badly  crushed.  And  his  hopes  were likewise crushed, for it was
impossible  for  him  to  continue hunting with the boats, and he was forced to
stay idly aboard until his fingers should heal. Yet, although he little dreamed
it, this very accident was to give him the long-looked-for opportunity.
     One  afternoon  in  the  latter  part  of May the Sophie Sutherland rolled
sluggishly in a breathless calm. The seals were abundant, the hunting good, and
the boats were all away and out of sight. And with them was almost every man of
the  crew.  Besides  Chris, there remained only the captain, the sailing-master
and the Chinese cook.
     The  captain was captain only by courtesy. He was an old man, past eighty,
and  blissfully  ignorant  of the sea and its ways; but he was the owner of the
vessel,  and  hence  the honorable title. Of course the sailing-master, who was
really  captain,  was a thorough-going seaman. The mate, whose post was aboard,
was out with the boats, having temporarily taken Chris's place as boat-steerer.
     When  good weather and good sport came together, the boats were accustomed
to  range  far  and  wide,  and often did not return to the schooner until long
after  dark.  But  for  all  that  it  was a perfect hunting day, Chris noted a
growing anxiety on the part of the sailing-master. He paced the deck nervously,
and was constantly sweeping the horizon with his marine glasses. Not a boat was
in  sight.  As   sunset   arrived,   he    even   sent   Chris   aloft  to  the
mizzen-topmast-head,  but  with no better luck. The boats could not possibly be
back before midnight.
     Since noon the barometer had been falling with startling rapidity, and all
the signs  were ripe for a great storm — how great, not even the sailing-master
anticipated. He and Chris set to work to prepare for it. They put storm gaskets
on the furled topsails, lowered and stowed the foresail and spanker and took in
the  two  inner  jibs.  In  the one remaining jib they put a single reef, and a
single reef in the mainsail.
     Night  had  fallen  before  they  finished, and with the darkness came the
storm. A low moan swept over the sea, and the wind struck the Sophie Sutherland
flat.  But  she  righted  quickly,  and  with  the sailing-master at the wheel,
sheered  her  bow  into  within  five points of the wind. Working as well as he
could  with  his  bandaged  hand,  and with the feeble aid of the Chinese cook,
Chris went forward and backed the jib over the weather side. This with the flat
mainsail left the schooner hove to.
     "God  help  the  boats!  It's no gale! It's a typhoon!" the sailing-master
shouted to Chris at eleven o'clock. "Too much canvas! Got to get two more reefs
into  that  mainsail,  and  got  to  do  it  right away!" He glanced at the old
captain,  shivering  in  oilskins at the binnacle and holding on for dear life.
"There's only you and I, Chris — and the cook; but he's next to worthless!"
     In order to make the reef, it was necessary to lower the mainsail, and the
removal  of  this after pressure was bound to make the schooner fall off before
the wind and sea because of the forward pressure of the jib.
     "Take  the wheel!" the sailing-master directed. "And when I give the word,
hard  up  with  it!  And  when she's square before it, steady her! And keep her
there! We'll heave to again as soon as I get the reefs in!"
     Gripping  the  kicking spokes, Chris watched him and the reluctant cook go
forward  into the howling darkness. The Sophie Sutherland was plunging into the
huge  head-seas  and  wallowing  tremendously,  the  tense steel stays and taut
rigging humming like harp-strings to the wind. A buffeted cry came to his ears,
and he felt  the schooner's bow  paying off of its own accord. The mainsail was
     He  ran  the  wheel  hard-over  and  kept  anxious  track  of the changing
direction  of the wind on his face and of the heave of the vessel. This was the
crucial moment. In performing the evolution she would have to pass broadside to
the  surge before she could get before it. The wind was blowing directly on his
right  cheek,  when  he  felt the Sophie Sutherland lean over and begin to rise
toward the sky — up — up — an infinite distance!  Would  she  clear  the  crest 
of the gigantic wave?
     Again  by  the  feel  of  it, he could see nothing, he knew that a wall of
water was rearing and curving far above him along the whole weather side. There
was  an instant's calm as the liquid wall intervened and shut off the wind. The
schooner  righted, and for that instant seemed at perfect rest. Then she rolled
to meet the descending rush.
     Chris  shouted  to the captain to hold tight, and prepared himself for the
shock.  But  the  man  did  not live who could face it. An ocean of water smote
Chris's  back and his clutch on the spokes was loosened as if it were a baby's.
Stunned,  powerless, like a straw on the face of a torrent, he was swept onward
he  knew  not  whither.  Missing the corner of the cabin, he was dashed forward
along  the  poop  runway a hundred feet or more, striking violently against the
foot  of the foremast. A second wave, crushing inboard, hurled him back the way
he had come, and left him half-drowned where the poop steps should have been.
     Bruised  and  bleeding,  dimly conscious, he felt for the rail and dragged
himself  to  his  feet. Unless something could be done, he knew the last moment
had  come. As he faced the poop, the wind drove into his mouth with suffocating
force.  This  brought him back to his senses with a start. The wind was blowing
from  dead  aft! The schooner was out of the trough and before it! But the send
of the sea was bound to breach her to again. Crawling up the runway, he managed
to  get to the wheel just in time to prevent this. The binnacle light was still
burning. They were safe!
     That is, he and  the  schooner  were  safe. As to the welfare of his three
companions  he  could not say. Nor did he dare leave the wheel in order to find
out,  for it took every second of his undivided attention to keep the vessel to
her  course.  The least fraction of carelessness and the heave of the sea under
the  quarter was liable to thrust her into the trough. So, a boy of one hundred
and  forty  pounds,  he  clung to his herculean task of guiding the two hundred
straining tons of fabric amid the chaos of the great storm forces.
     Half  an  hour later, groaning and sobbing, the captain crawled to Chris's
feet.  All  was  lost,  he whimpered. He was smitten unto death. The galley had
gone by the board, the mainsail and running-gear, the cook, everything!
     "Where's the sailing-master?" Chris demanded when he had caught his breath
after steadying a wild lurch of the schooner. It was no child's play to steer a
vessel under single-reefed jib before a typhoon.
     "Clean  up  for'ard," the old man replied. "Jammed under the fo'c'slehead,
but still breathing. Both his arms are broken, he says, and he doesn't know how
many ribs. He's hurt bad."
     "Well,  he'll  drown  there  the  way  she's  shipping  water  through the
hawse-pipes. Go for'ard!"  Chris commanded, taking charge of things as a matter
of course.  "Tell him not to worry; that I'm at the wheel.  Help him as much as
you  can,  and make him help" — he stopped and ran the spokes to starboard as a
tremendous  billow  rose  under the stern and yawed the schooner to port — "and
make him help himself for the rest. Unship the fo'castle hatch and get him down
into a bunk. Then ship the hatch again."
     The  captain turned his aged face forward and wavered pitifully. The waist
of the ship was full of water to the bulwarks. He had just come through it, and
knew death lurked every inch of the way.
     "Go!" Chris shouted,  fiercely. And as the fear-stricken man started, "And
take another look for the cook!"
     Two  hours later, almost dead from suffering, the captain returned. He had
obeyed  orders.  The  sailing-master was helpless, although safe in a bunk; the
cook was gone. Chris sent the captain below to the cabin to change his clothes.
     After  interminable  hours  of toil, day broke cold and gray. Chris looked
about  him.  The Sophie Sutherland was racing  before the typhoon  like a thing
possessed.  There  was  no  rain,  but  the  wind  whipped the spray of the sea
mast-high, obscuring everything except in the immediate neighborhood.
     Two  waves  only  could  Chris  see at a time — the one before and the one
behind.  So  small  and  insignificant  the schooner seemed on the long Pacific
roll!  Rushing up a maddening mountain, she would  poise like a cockle-shell on
the  giddy  summit,  breathless  and  rolling,  leap  outward and down into the
yawning  chasm  beneath, and bury herself in the smother of foam at the bottom.
Then  the  recovery,  another  mountain, another sickening upward rush, another
poise,  and  the  downward crash. Abreast of him, to starboard, like a ghost of
the  storm, Chris saw the cook dashing apace with the schooner. Evidently, when
washed overboard, he had grasped and become entangled in a trailing halyard.
     For  three  hours more, along with this gruesome companion, Chris held the
Sophie Sutherland  before  the  wind  and  sea. He had long since forgotten his
mangled  fingers. The bandages had been torn away, and the cold, salt spray had
eaten  into  the  half-healed wounds until they were numb and no longer pained.
But he was not cold. The terrific  labor of steering  forced  the  perspiration
from  every  pore.  Yet  he  was faint and weak with hunger and exhaustion, and
hailed  with  delight  the  advent on deck of the captain, who fed him all of a
pound of cake-chocolate. It strengthened him at once.
     He  ordered  the  captain  to cut the halyard by which the cook's body was
towing, and also to go forward and cut loose the jib-halyard and sheet. When he
had  done  so,  the jib fluttered a couple of moments like a handkerchief, then
tore  out  of  the  bolt-ropes  and vanished. The Sophie Sutherland was running
under bare poles.
     By  noon  the  storm had spent itself, and by six in the evening the waves
had died down sufficiently to let Chris leave the helm. It was almost  hopeless
to dream of the small  boats  weathering the typhoon,  but  there is always the
chance  in  saving  human life, and Chris at once applied himself to going back
over the course along which he had fled. He managed to get a reef in one of the
inner  jibs  and  two  reefs  in  the  spanker,  and  then, with the aid of the
watch-tackle,  to hoist them to the stiff breeze that yet blew. And all through
the  night,  tacking  back  and forth on the back track, he shook out canvas as
fast as the wind would permit.
     The  injured  sailing-master  had turned delirious and between tending him
and lending a hand with the ship, Chris kept the captain busy.
     "Taught  me  more  seamanship," as he afterward said, "than I'd learned on
the whole voyage." But by daybreak the old man's feeble frame succumbed, and he
fell off into exhausted sleep on the weather poop.
     Chris,  who  could now lash the wheel, covered the tired man with blankets
from  below, and went fishing in the lazaretto for something to eat. But by the
day  following  he  found  himself  forced to give in, drowsing fitfully by the
wheel and waking ever and anon to take a look at things.
     On the afternoon of the third day he picked up a schooner,  dismasted  and
battered. As he approached,  close-hauled on the wind, he saw her decks crowded
by an unusually large crew, and on sailing in closer, made out among others the
faces  of  his  missing comrades. And he was just in the nick of time, for they
were fighting a losing fight at the pumps. An hour later they, with the crew of
the sinking craft, were aboard the Sophie Sutherland.
     Having wandered so far from their own vessel, they had taken refuge on the
strange  schooner just before the storm broke. She was a Canadian sealer on her
first voyage, and as was now apparent, her last.
     The  captain  of  the  Sophie Sutherland had a story to tell, also, and he
told it well — so well, in fact,  that when all hands were gathered together on
deck during the dog-watch,  Emil Johansen  strode over to Chris and gripped him
by the hand.
     "Chris," he said, so loudly that all could hear, "Chris, I gif in. You vas
yoost  so  good a sailorman as I. You vas a bully boy and able seaman, and I pe
proud for you!"
     "Und Chris!" He turned as if he had forgotten  something, and called back,
"From dis time always you call me 'Emil' mitout der 'Mister!'"

     First published in The Youth's Companion, v. 75, May 23, 1901


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