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THE PREVAILING ILL.
BY HUMFREY JORDAN.
THE mail flag hung limp in appeared over the canvas at the clammy heat ; even the the port end of the bridge ; and siren appeared to have diffi- the man owning the reddish culty in forcing its voice through face spoke in an effortless bawl a super-saturated atmosphere that could be heard a good overladen with many mixed way across the river. but powerful stenches. The Come on, good people," he 8.s. Sir Hubert Hinton, carrying ordered. “ Get a move on. His Majesty's mails, such pas- Let's se your pace.
This sengers as necessity forced to craft has got a job of work to travel on her, and a varied do, and she's starting right cargo chiefly of rich and pene- away to do it. Lively." trating odours, was ready to So the four white passengers, sail and bleated the fact im one woman and three men, patiently. But the four white trotted out from the shelter passengers booked for the trip of the shed reluctantly, and hung back in the shelter of a broke into a smart run as the shed on the wharf and gos- sky opened and let down solid siped. It was raining gently, masses of warm water upon somewhere in the nature of a them. In the thirty-yard sprint paltry eighth of an inch an to the gangway they were hour, but a real shower seemed drenched, so that their thin to be waiting almost directly clothing clung to them, and overhead ; and the four whites, even their shoes were filled. aware that there was no ques The square reddish face peertion of missing tides, and caring ing from the bridge grinned nothing at all for the Hubert broadly Hinton or her scheduled times, Lively it was,” its owner were inclined to let it fall before called. “As near even time as attempting the run across the no matter; but the heavens open jetty. The mate, a man beat you." of infinite politeness where And he disappeared chuckwhite passengers, especially ling. white woman passengers, were The mate, however, disguised ooncerned, waited beside the his enjoyment of the incident, gangway without impatience; and met the dripping passenbut from up above the siren gers with polite concern. broke into short gasping barks, “Good-night! Mrs Manton," then stopped, and a square he declared, “you're wet. reddish face and a pair of re. You'll want a change before markably powerful shoulders breakfast."
“Dampish," the lady ad- separated from her. When she mitted, squeezing her skirts. is lying at moorings in the “You're pretty empty this Rangoon River or elsewhere trip, Mr Bunn.'
there is no trouble to find her Nodding, she made her way in thick weather. Competent among the boxes which crowded authorities declare that she the miniature promenade deck cannot hide in the thickest fog to her stateroom, but her hus- that ever covered salt water. band, taking off his hat and You have only to get somewiping sweat and rain water where to leeward of where she from his face, lingered to have ought to be, and then steer a word with the mate.
straight up the smell. Scent “ The new skipper seems a is never catchy with the Hubert humorist, and looks a bit of a Hinton within a mile or so. bruiser,” he stated.
Is he a Her accommodation is serigood sort, Bunn?”
ously considered for pre-emi“ Couldn't be better,” Bunn nence by
those who have declared. “ No nerves about knocked about a bit and behim. And, good-night! man, lieve that they know something he can handle a ship. He'll about the world's worst vessels. have one of the company's big The food supplied upon her is boats soon. See you later. I unquestionably rich and, formust get her untied now.” tunately, rare. Strong and
The Hubert Hinton is well hungry men do, weakly, quail known in the corner of the before it. She is owned by world in which she sails. a rich and powerful company, marine circles she is highly yet in the expensive brochures, considered, otherwise her repu- which inform intending pastation is unsavoury. She was sengers
of the comfort and built in England especially for luxury of the line, neither her her run, and the tales which name nor her portrait appears. are told of her maiden voyage Periodically, when high Govfrom home would fill a volume. ernment officials are forced to She is registered at something travel on her, the agents receive a trifle over five hundred tons, dignified complaints in writing, can carry a dozen saloon pas- to which they reply suitably ; sengers, twenty second-class, further action is not considered and a matter of near two hun- necessary, as there is no possidred in the stifling hell called bility of competition on the the steerage. Besides mails run. Consequently, the traders she will take any cargo she can and the small officials, who make find, but it is alleged that for up her regular passenger list, really vicious - smelling mer- are compelled to take her as chandise she will cut her freight she is, contenting themselves rate to a minimum. She cer- with much plain speech containly specialises in evil stinks, cerning the filth of her, and and napi and durian are seldom the pious hope that some curi
ous turn of fortune might in- the trick of her one missing duce the noble chairman or accomplishment, and so finish some other opulent director of her evil-smelling career. the line which owns her to She only carries two navispend a week in her during the gating officers, master and mate, height of the south-west mon who work her trick and trick soon. The hope is, of course, about, through good weather futile, but it comforts the and bad. Towards the end regular passengers.
of the monsoon, when she has Yet in marine circles the bumped and bored and twisted Hubert Hinton is highly con- and screwed her way during sidered. She is unquestion many weeks through all that ably staunch in a seaway. She the tropic seas have sent her, will do strange things when her two nurses wear the look there is no more than a light of tired men. Yet, if you ask breeze blowing, and she will them, they will tell you that positively touch originality their billet is a plum. But, when the monsoon is raging except Bunn, who seems to through the islands. On such have a knack of holding on, occasions her buck and wriggle the nurses do not last long. when she is contending with They get moved on to someseas that tower above her com- thing better, or they meet a pel admiration. Bunn, her mishap and step down again, present mate, who has sailed or death steps in and removes on her as long as any officer them quick; but while they she has ever had, has got it are at it they seem to like to down to a phrase ; and, being have the job. To understand a man not inclined to let a why is difficult. It is true that good thing be forgotten for the Hubert Hinton lies for two want of repetition, he repeats nights out of every ten in the it to any passenger who will port of Rangoon, so that the listen to it.
master can stretch his legs “Lively !” he will declare, ashore for forty-eight hours, in reply to anguished questions and the mate stands a decent as to whether the Hubert Hinton chance of a run round if nothcau ever run steady. “Good- ing hinders the working of night ! man, you should see her cargo. It is also true that, when she's really at it. She's owing to the trick and trick a daisy. There isn't anything business when the craft is at she can't do, and won't, except sea, and the fact that the lie on her back. That beats master is his own pilot, extra her.”
pay goes with the job. On But many of those pas- the other hand, the Hinton sengers
recognise the has to run to time, and her simple accuracy of the state- run is mixed up with some ment have wished, upon occa- funny anchorages and a crop sions, that she might learn of islands that take a bit of
knowing, so that even in fine ing and the changing of clothes weather sleep comes sparingly an extravagant waste of time, to the navigators, and in bad the sky was clear and the monit does not come at all. Be- soon appeared dead or sleeping. sides, the smell of the vessel Punctually as the bell rang alone would be enough for for dinner Captain Field came most men ; even the frequent down the ladder from his quarrun ashore and the extra ters. He had never seen any pickings could hardly make up one of the passengers before for continuous acquaintance that morning, yet he greeted with it.
them all by name as though On the particular trip on they had sailed with him a which Captain Field, the square, dozen times before. reddish-faced humorist,
“One casualty on a beautientertained by the sight of ful night like this !” he ansprinting passengers, the south- nounced. “But perhaps runwest monsoon was getting into ning before breakfast isn't good its stride. All the way down- for Mr Hicks. I must rememriver driving rain blotted out ber that. Now, Mrs Manton, everything but a small circle come and sit down alongside of muddy water. Passing the me, If you want to get your Hastings solid sheets of falling own back-though I don't see water shut out every trace of why you should, buildings or even of river-bank. sprinted beautifully-you'll ask Off the Brig the rain had me to button up the collar of cleared, but it was blowing my jacket. I'll do it if you strong. During lunch, as the insist.
But it will cramp my Hinton altered course south, style considerably, and I want she began to slide the plates to eat largely of this excellent about the saloon table; and repast." one of the passengers, having “ If,” Mrs Manton replied, as consumed two full pegs
two full pegs of though genuinely astonished, whisky in quick succession, "you really intend to do that, left hurriedly. By tea-time, I wouldn't dream of asking when the three survivors had you to spoil such a hero's act.” finished their afternoon sleep, Captain Field turned upon the wind had gone, and the the lady grey eyes that twinkled Hinton rolled amazingly on a amongst a mass of fine wrinkles. heavy swell under a hot grey “Pass partner,” he declared. sky. By dinner-time, after “I won't be drawn. And you the passengers had with much just watch the hero at work." abuse and threatening of the He took up the menu-card chief steward procured' suffi- and began reading it aloud as cient water for baths, and had though the names of the dishes discovered, what they had ex- brought him pleasurable antipected, that the stifling heat cipation. Manton, his wife, of the staterooms made bath- and Ward, the third passenger,
watched him with real in- cramped, bathrooms and lavaterest. He was either a very tories are so placed as to make fine actor or he actually looked the domestic intimacies of any forward to enjoying his meal; one passenger the public knowbut the latter assumption ledge of all. Unless, for inseemed against nature.
stance, he be a singularly silent While the passengers toyed performer at the unpleasant with a dubious greasy fluid business, it is useless for a described on the menu-card as sufferer to deny the fact if he “Soup: Julienne,” while the has been sick. Consequently, captain consumed his plateful Mrs Manton, Manton, and Ward rapidly and with determina were all aware that not only tion, Hicks, the casualty, came had Hicks been sick, and not in. The saloon, which serves on silently, twice during the afterthe Hinton as dining-room, noon, but that he had omitted smoking-room, drawing-room, to have a bath before dinner. where also the native stewards To top up everything, he now sleep on the floor at nights appeared in a white dinner after lights out, was insuffer- svit, which was very far from ably hot and heavy with mixed clean. Tradition aboard the smells. In spite of fans and Hubert Hinton prescribes as open windows no clean air full dinner kit for men a clean appeared to find its way within pair of shorts and a clean shirt the walls. From the open to be put on after a bath. It hatch to the pantry a thick was, therefore, immediately odour of rancid grease, stale clear that Hicks was an offence food, and hot native flowed not second in magnitude to steadily out, and the electric the atmosphere of the saloon ; lights gleamed on moist faces. and his behaviour as he sat On such a night in such sur down next to Ward made it roundings the arrival of any plain that he was beyond pity. one on whom ragged nerves He settled himself in his chair can settle as a justifiable annoy- and ordered a full peg of whisky, ance comes like a solid relief. then he nodded casually withTo the three passengers at the out speaking towards Mrs Mantable Hicks came as that relief. ton; he ignored the captain. His appearance enabled them Mrs Manton decided that she to forget for a moment the had not previously realised unrelievable discomfort of their quite what a little worm the surroundings, and to fix their man was, but that now he attention on something which cried the fact aloud by putting clearly demanded definite reme on clothes that he ought to dial treatment.
avoid like the plague; Manton The saloon accommodation speculated as to
as to where the of the Hubert Hinton is such fellow had sprung from, and that privacy is impossible. Par- hoped that he was not bound tition walls are thin, space is for their station; and Ward