The stirring of my blood, generations removed from a seafaring ancestor; my illness, not a cause, but a result; McWhirter, filling prescriptions behind the glass screen of a pharmacy, and fitting out, in porcelain jars, the medicine-closet of the Ella; Turner and his wife, Schwartz, the mulatto Tom, Singleton, and Elsa Lee; all thrown together, a hodge-podge of characters, motives, passions, and hereditary tendencies, through an inevitable law working together toward that terrible night of August 22, when hell seemed loose on a painted sea.
THE PAINTED SHIP
The Ella had been a coasting-vessel, carrying dressed lumber to South America, and on her return trip bringing a miscellaneous cargo—hides and wool, sugar from Pernambuco, whatever offered. The firm of Turner and Sons owned the line of which the Ella was one of the smallest vessels.
The gradual elimination of sailing ships and the substitution of steamers in the coasting trade, left the Ella, with others, out of commission. She was still seaworthy, rather fast, as such vessels go, and steady. Marshall Turner, the oldest son of old Elias Turner, the founder of the business, bought it in at a nominal sum, with the intention of using it as a private yacht. And, since it was a superstition of the house never to change the name of one of its vessels, the schooner Ella, odorous of fresh lumber or raw rubber, as the case might be, dingy gray in color, with slovenly decks on which lines of seamen’s clothing were generally hanging to dry, remained, in her metamorphosis, still the Ella.
Marshall Turner was a wealthy man, but he equipped his new pleasure-boat very modestly. As few changes as were possible were made. He increased the size of the forward house, adding quarters for the captain and the two mates, and thus kept the after house for himself and his friends. He fumigated the hold and the forecastle— a precaution that kept all the crew coughing for two days, and drove them out of the odor of formaldehyde to the deck to sleep. He installed an electric lighting and refrigerating plant, put a bath in the forecastle, to the bewilderment of the men, who were inclined to think it a reflection on their habits, and almost entirely rebuilt, inside, the old officers’ quarters in the after house.
The wheel, replaced by a new one, white and gilt, remained in its old position behind the after house, the steersman standing on a raised iron grating above the wash of the deck. Thus from the chart-room, which had become a sort of lounge and card-room, through a small barred window it was possible to see the man at the wheel, who, in his turn, commanded a view of part of the chartroom, but not of the floor.
The craft was schooner-rigged, carried three lifeboats and a collapsible raft, and was navigated by a captain, first and second mates, and a crew of six able-bodied sailors and one gaunt youth whose sole knowledge of navigation had been gained on an Atlantic City catboat. Her destination was vague—Panama perhaps, possibly a South American port, depending on the weather and the whim of the owner.