The After House (Chapter 4, page 1 of 10)


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Chapter 4

The odor of formaldehyde in the forecastle having abated, permission
for the crew to sleep on deck had been withdrawn. But the weather
as we turned south had grown insufferably hot. The reek of the
forecastle sickened me--the odor of fresh paint, hardly dry, of
musty clothing and sweaty bodies.

I asked Singleton, the first mate, for permission to sleep on deck,
and was refused. I went down, obediently enough, to be driven back
with nausea. And so, watching my chance, I waited until the first
mate, on watch, disappeared into the forward cabin to eat the night
lunch always prepared by the cook and left there. Then, with a
blanket and pillow, I crawled into the starboard lifeboat, and
settled myself for the night. The lookout saw me, but gave no sign.

It was not a bad berth. As the ship listed, the stars seemed to
sway above me, and my last recollection was of the Great Dipper,
performing dignified gyrations in the sky.

I was aroused by one of the two lookouts, a young fellow named
Burns. He was standing below, rapping on the side of the boat
with his knuckles. I sat up and peered over at him, and was
conscious for the first time that the weather had changed. A fine
rain was falling; my hair and shirt were wet.

"Something doing in the chart-room," he said cautiously. "Thought
you might not want to miss it."

He was in his bare feet, as was I. Together we hurried to the
after house. The steersman, in oilskins, was at his post, but was
peering through the barred window into the chart-room, which was
brilliantly lighted. He stepped aside somewhat to let us look in.
The loud and furious voices which had guided us had quieted, but
the situation had not relaxed.

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