TO REPEL BOARDERS
by Jack London
"No; honest, now, Bob, I 'm sure I was
born too late. The twentieth century 's no
place for me. If I 'd had my way--"
"You 'd have been born in the sixteenth,"
I broke in laughing, "with Drake and Hawkins
and Raleigh and the rest of the sea-kings."
"You 're right!" Paul affirmed. He rolled
over upon his back on the little after-deck,
with a long sigh of dissatisfaction.
It was a little past midnight, and, with
the wind nearly astern, we were running down
Lower San Francisco Bay to Bay Farm Island.
Paul Fairfax and I went to the same school,
lived next door to each other, and "chummed
it" together. By saving money, by earning
more, and by each of us foregoing a bicycle
on his birthday, we had collected the purchase-price
of the "Mist," a beamy twenty-eight footer,
sloop-rigged, with baby topsail and centerboard.
Paul's father was a yachtsman himself, and
he had conducted the business for us, poking
around, overhauling, sticking his penknife
into the timbers, and testing the planks with
the greatest care. In fact, it was on his
schooner the "Whim" that Paul and I had picked
up what we knew about boat-sailing, and now
that the Mist was ours, we were hard at work
adding to our knowledge.
The Mist, being broad of beam, was comfortable
and roomy. A man could stand upright in the
cabin, and what with the stove, cooking-utensils,
and bunks, we were good for trips in her of
a week at a time. And we were just starting
out on the first of such trips, and it was
because it was the first trip that we were
sailing by night. Early in the evening we had
beaten out from Oakland, and we were now off
the mouth of Alameda Creek, a large salt-water
estuary which fills and empties San Leandro Bay.
"Men lived in those days," Paul said, so
suddenly as to startle me from my own thoughts.
"In the days of the sea-kings, I mean," he
I said "Oh!" sympathetically, and began
to whistle "Captain Kidd."
"Now, I 've my ideas about things," Paul
went on. "They talk about romance and adventure
and all that, but I say romance and adventure
are dead. We 're too civilized. We don't have
adventures in the twentieth century. We go to
"But--" I strove to interrupt, though he
would not listen to me.
"You look here, Bob," he said. "In all the
time you and I 've gone together what adventures
have we had? True, we were out in the hills
once, and did n't get back till late at night,
and we were good and hungry, but we were n't
even lost. We knew where we were all the time.
It was only a case of walk. What I mean is,
we 've never had to fight for our lives.
Understand? We 've never had a pistol fired
at us, or a cannon, or a sword waving over
our heads, or--or anything.
"You 'd better slack away three or four
feet of that main-sheet," he said in a hopeless
sort of way, as though it did not matter much
anyway. "The wind 's still veering around.
"Why, in the old times, the sea was one
constant glorious adventure," he continued.
"A boy left school and became a midshipman,
and in a few weeks was cruising after Spanish
galleons or locking yard-arms with a French
privateer, or--doing lots of things."
"Well,--there are adventures to-day," I
But Paul went on as though I had not spoken:
"And to-day we go from school to high school,
and from high school to college, and then we
go into the office or become doctors and things,
and the only adventures we know about are the
ones we read in books. Why, just as sure as
I 'm sitting here on the stern of the sloop
Mist, just so sure am I that we would n't know
what to do if a real adventure came along.
Now, would we?"
"Oh, I don't know," I answered non-committally.
"Well, you would n't be a coward, would you?"
I was sure I would n't, and said so.
"But you don't have to be a coward to lose
your head, do you?"
I agreed that brave men might get excited.
"Well, then," Paul summed up, with a note
of regret in his voice, "the chances are that
we 'd spoil the adventure. So it 's a shame,
and that 's all I can say about it."
"The adventure has n't come yet," I answered,
not caring to see him down in the mouth over
nothing. You see, Paul was a peculiar fellow
in some things, and I knew him pretty well.
He read a good deal, and had a quick imagination,
and once in a while he 'd get into moods like
this one. So I said, "The adventure has n't
come yet, so there 's no use worrying about
its being spoiled. For all we know, it might
turn out splendidly."
Paul did n't say anything for some time,
and I was thinking he was out of the mood,
when he spoke up suddenly:
"Just imagine, Bob Kellogg, as we 're
sailing along now, just as we are, and never
mind what for, that a boat should bear down
upon us with armed men in it, what would you
do to repel boarders? Think you could rise
"What would you do?" I asked pointedly.
"Remember, we have n't even a single shotgun
"You would surrender, then?" he demanded
angrily. "But suppose they were going to kill you?"
"I 'm not saying what I 'd do," I answered
stiffly, beginning to get a little angry myself.
"I 'm asking what you 'd do, without weapons
of any sort?"
"I 'd find something," he replied--rather
shortly, I thought.
I began to chuckle. "Then the adventure
would n't be spoiled, would it? And you 've
been talking rubbish."
Paul struck a match, looked at his watch,
and remarked that it was nearly one o'clock--a
way he had when the argument went against him.
Besides, this was the nearest we ever came to
quarreling now, though our share of squabbles
had fallen to us in the earlier days of our
friendship. I had just seen a little white
light ahead when Paul spoke again.
"Anchor-light," he said. "Funny place for
people to drop the hook. It may be a scow-schooner
with a dinky astern, so you 'd better go wide."
I eased the Mist several points, and, the
wind puffing up, we went plowing along at a
pretty fair speed, passing the light so wide
that we could not make out what manner of craft
it marked. Suddenly the Mist slacked up in a
slow and easy way, as though running upon soft
mud. We were both startled. The wind was blowing
stronger than ever, and yet we were almost at
"Mud-flats out here! Never heard of such a
So Paul exclaimed with a snort of unbelief,
and, seizing an oar, shoved it down over the
side. And straight down it went till the water
wet his hand. There was no bottom! Then we were
dumbfounded. The wind was whistling by, and
still the Mist was moving ahead at a snail's
pace. There seemed something dead about her,
and it was all I could do at the tiller to keep
her from swinging up into the wind.
"Listen!" I laid my hand on Paul's arm. We
could hear the sound of rowlocks, and saw the
little white light bobbing up and down and now
very close to us. "There 's your armed boat,"
I whispered in fun. "Beat the crew to quarters
and stand by to repel boarders!"
We both laughed, and were still laughing
when a wild scream of rage came out of the
darkness, and the approaching boat shot under
our stern. By the light of the lantern it
carried we could see the two men in it distinctly.
They were foreign-looking fellows with sun-bronzed
faces, and with knitted tam-o'-shanters perched
seaman fashion on their heads. Bright-colored
woolen sashes were around their waists, and
long sea-boots covered their legs. I remember
yet the cold chill which passed along my backbone
as I noted the tiny gold ear-rings in the ears
of one. For all the world they were like pirates
stepped out of the pages of romance. And, to make
the picture complete, their faces were distorted
with anger, and each flourished a long knife.
They were both shouting, in high-pitched voices,
some foreign jargon we could not understand.
One of them, the smaller of the two, and
if anything the more vicious-looking, put his
hands on the rail of the Mist and started to
come aboard. Quick as a flash Paul placed the
end of the oar against the man's chest and
shoved him back into his boat. He fell in a
heap, but scrambled to his feet, waving the
knife and shrieking:
"You break-a my net-a! You break-a my net-a!"
And he held forth in the jargon again, his
companion joining him, and both preparing to
make another dash to come aboard the Mist.
"They 're Italian fishermen," I cried, the
facts of the case breaking in upon me. "We 've
run over their smelt-net, and it 's slipped
along the keel and fouled our rudder. We 're
anchored to it."
"Yes, and they 're murderous chaps, too," Paul
said, sparring at them with the oar to make
them keep their distance.
"Say, you fellows!" he called to them. "Give
as a chance and we 'll get it clear for you!
We did n't know your net was there. We did n't
mean to do it, you know!"
You won't lose anything!" I added. "We 'll
pay the damages!"
But they could not understand what we were
saying, or did not care to understand.
"You break-a my net-a! You break-a my net-a!"
the smaller man, the one with the ear-rings,
screamed back, making furious gestures. "I
fix-a you! You-a see, I fix-a you!"
This time, when Paul thrust him back, he
seized the oar in his hands, and his companion
jumped aboard. I put my back against the
tiller, and no sooner had he landed, and
before he had caught his balance, than I met
him with another oar, and he fell heavily
backward into the boat. It was getting serious,
and when he arose and caught my oar, and I
realized his strength, I confess that I felt
a goodly tinge of fear. But though he was
stronger than I, instead of dragging me
overboard when he wrenched on the oar, he
merely pulled his boat in closer; and when
I shoved, the boat was forced away. Besides,
the knife, still in his right hand, made him
awkward and somewhat counterbalanced the
advantage his superior strength gave him.
Paul and his enemy were in the same situation--a
sort of deadlock, which continued for several
seconds, but which could not last. Several
times I shouted that we would pay for whatever
damage their net had suffered, but my words
seemed to be without effect.
Then my man began to tuck the oar under
his arm, and to come up along it, slowly,
hand over hand. The small man did the same
with Paul. Moment by moment they came closer,
and closer, and we knew that the end was
only a question of time.
"Hard up, Bob!" Paul called softly to me.
I gave him a quick glance, and caught an
instant's glimpse of what I took to be a very
pale face and a very set jaw.
"Oh, Bob," he pleaded, "hard up your helm!
Hard up your helm, Bob!"
And his meaning dawned upon me. Still
holding to my end of the oar, I shoved the
tiller over with my back, and even bent my
body to keep it over. As it was the Mist was
nearly dead before the wind, and this maneuver
was bound to force her to jibe her mainsail
from one side to the other. I could tell by
the "feel" when the wind spilled out of the
canvas and the boom tilted up. Paul's man
had now gained a footing on the little deck,
and my man was just scrambling up.
"Look out!" I shouted to Paul. "Here she
Both he and I let go the oars and tumbled
into the cockpit. The next instant the big
boom and the heavy blocks swept over our
heads, the main-sheet whipping past like a
great coiling snake and the Mist heeling over
with a violent jar. Both men had jumped for
it, but in some way the little man either
got his knife-hand jammed or fell upon it,
for the first sight we caught of him, he was
standing in his boat, his bleeding fingers
clasped close between his knees and his face
all twisted with pain and helpless rage.
"Now 's our chance!" Paul whispered. "Over
And on either side of the rudder we lowered
ourselves into the water, pressing the net
down with our feet, till, with a jerk, it
went clear. Then it was up and in, Paul at
the main-sheet and I at the tiller, the Mist
plunging ahead with freedom in her motion,
and the little white light astern growing
small and smaller.
"Now that you 've had your adventure, do
you feel any better?" I remember asking when
we had changed our clothes and were sitting
dry and comfortable again in the cockpit.
"Well, if I don't have the nightmare for
a week to come"--Paul paused and puckered
his brows in judicial fashion--"it will be
because I can't sleep, that 's one thing sure!"
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~