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The Trade-Wind
by [?]

The orgy was finished. The last sea-song had resounded over the smooth waters of the bay; the last drunken shout, oath, and challenge were voiced; the last fight ended in helplessness and maudlin amity, and the red-shirted men were sprawled around on the moonlit deck, snoring. Though the barrel of rum broached on the main-hatch was but slightly lowered, their sleep was heavy; scurvy-tainted men at the end of a Cape Horn passage may not drink long or deeply. Some lay as they fell–face upward; others on their sides for a while, then to roll over on their backs and so remain until the sleep was done; for in no other position may the human body rest easy on a hard bed with no pillow. And as they slept through the tropic night the full moon in the east rose higher and higher, passed overhead and disappeared behind a thickening haze in the western sky; but before it had crossed the meridian its cold, chemical rays had worked disastrously on the eyes of the sleeping men.

Captain Swarth, prone upon the poop-deck, was the first to waken. There was pain in his head, pain in his eyes,–which were swollen,–and a whistling tumult of sound in his ears coming from the Plutonian darkness surrounding him, while a jarring vibration of the deck beneath him apprised his awakening brain that the anchor was dragging. As he staggered to his feet a violent pressure of wind hurled him against the wheel, to which he clung, staring into the blackness to windward.

“All hands, there!” he roared! “Up with you all! Go forward and pay out on the chain!”

Shouts, oaths, and growls answered him, and he heard the nasal voice of his mate repeating his order. “Angel,” he called, “get the other anchor over and give her all of both chains.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” answered the mate. “Send a lantern forrard, Bill. Can’t see our noses.”

“Steward,” yelled the captain, “where are you? Light up a deck-lantern and the binnacle. Bear a hand.”

He heard the steward’s voice close to him, and the sound of the binnacle lights being removed from their places, then the opening and closing of the cabin companionway. He could see nothing, but knew that the steward had gone below to his store-room. In a minute more a shriek came from the cabin. It rang out again and again, and soon sounded from the companionway: “I’m blind, I’m blind, capt’n. I can’t see. I lit the lantern and burned my fingers; but I can’t see the light. I’m blind.” The steward’s voice ended in a howl.

“Shut up, you blasted fool,” answered Captain Swarth; “get down there and light up.”

“Where’s that light?” came the mate’s voice in a yell from amidships. “Shank-painter’s jammed, Bill. Can’t do a thing without a light.”

“Come aft here and get it. Steward’s drunk.”

The doors in the forward part of the cabin slammed, and the mate’s profanity mingled with the protest of the steward in the cabin. Then shouts came from forward, borne on the gale, and soon followed by the shuffling of feet as the men groped their way aft and climbed the poop steps.

“We’re stone-blind, cappen,” they wailed. “We lit the fo’c’sle lamp, an’ it don’t show up. We can’t see it. Nobody can see it. We’re all blind.”

“Come down here, Bill,” called the mate from below.

As Captain Swarth felt his way down the stairs a sudden shock stilled the vibrations caused by the dragging anchor, and he knew that the chain had parted.

“Stand by on deck, Angel; we’re adrift,” he said. “It’s darker than ten thousand black cats. What’s the matter with you?”

“Can you see the light, Bill? I can’t. I’m blind as the steward, or I’m drunker.”

“No. Is it lit? Where? The men say they’re blind, too.”

“Here, forrard end o’ the table.”

The captain reached this end, searched with his hands, and burned them on the hot glass of a lantern. He removed the bowl and singed the hair on his wrists. The smell came to his nostrils.