2015 October 22 “The Second Mate” by H. Bedford-Jones

09 The Second Mate

Ripped from the 10 October 1922 issue of Short Stories, the cover adequately portrays the contents within, (though this particular scene itself never takes place, making the 25 July 1923 cover more appropriate, even though that magazine issue had yet to be printed). I’m not sure of the cover art origins, either. This very same pulp magazine also contributes the next novelette in the series….

Jim Barnes, the newly hired second mate aboard the Sulu Queen, is a rotten vessel and run by even worse aboard. The masters of the vessel are hung up on opium, drunk, etc. Those that are maneuvering the vessel are made up of Lascars, two China men, Macao men, Malaysians, a Dutchman, etc.

Their passengers consist of nine. Foremost, a family of Arabs, husband and wife and five young children. The remaining two passengers are white female missionaries bound for China. Bereft of adequate funds, they hire the disreputable vessel at half the rate than other ocean floaters.

Much later in the novelette, we learn that Jim Barnes took the position of second mate at the request of the consul, where the girls acquired the vessel. Jim had been sternly advised to make ship with the girls, needing an honest white man aboard to protect them. (Hold! Wait? Are white guys in fiction always to be hailed as honest and virtuous?) Thankfully, he is not alone…..

Coming off his shift, he’s approached by one of the China men and informed of mutiny. Jim casually updates the ladies, loads up handguns and puts them in a smaller craft. Then he has the engine room destroyed, ship turns to chaos and bloodshed. Jim goes to rescue the Arabs, only to find the husband knifed in the back, two children dead, and the wife dead too. He manages to rescue the three youngest and they board the small craft, and drop away with the two China men.

Eventually they get their whaler ship-shape, mast set, and head for Borneo. They are then assaulted by the crew of the Sulu Queen, each themselves having taken to boats, after likely sinking the destroyed mother ship, and stealing a load of cached opium. They must pursue Jim and kill all aboard, and perhaps, if lucky, capture the white women, use as sex slaves, then sell off.

Our crew escapes, only the next day to be hounded again, beach ashore, and Jim stays at the beach with one of the China men to hold off the army of scoundrels, while the two girls, one China man, and the children, paddle the ship upstream to a possible Dutch community.

Next day, the pair are rushed by numerous ships, and they shoot them down with their automatics and revolvers (which is absurd, since the enemy are armed with rifles). Jim and his partner end up winning the day, killing off most of the assault party and then are rescued by a Dutch patrol boat, armed with cannon and rifles.

The novelette is short and the narrative is fast. Jim Barnes is a plucky fellow, laughing in the face of death, joking about everything under the sun, until the very end, when he sends the girls up river to survive, knowing he is throwing his life, potentially, away.

He ends up proposing to the one girl whom is equally in love with him, and…. THE END !!!

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2015 October 22 “The Second Mate” by H. Bedford-Jones

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