Book 61 in the Garden City Publishing pulp digest-paperback series is The Whaler by Ben Ames Williams (1924).
The cover art was rendered by Anton Otto Fischer. However, I’m not sure where the artwork originates. All the illustrated covers in this series predominantly were recycled pulp covers or slicks. Anyone have an idea?
The novel was originally serialized in four installments as Once Aboard the Whaler in the All-Story Weekly (1918: Sep 7, 14, 21, 28).
Toppy Huggit is described as “a raw-boned, gangling youth of twenty…six feet tall, and scarcely more than six inches wide…” Having his parents die while he was young, Toppy resided on his uncle’s farm and was largely taken advantage. After Uncle Seth’s oxen won the stone dragging contest, he gave Toppy ten dollars. This he accepted and immediately he departed Rockingham and, boarding the train, arrived in Boston.
Here, he runs smack into a murder on the streets. Checking upon the dying/dead man, a portly figure runs out and begins searching the corpse’s pockets. Papers missing, he realizes that Toppy, innocent and naive young man and Johnny-on-the-spot, must have taken what he desires. Toppy, fearing the fat man, escapes from his clutches, runs into the first sailor’s restaurant upon the wharf, and seeks the company of fellow humans. The portly figure strides in and sits down near him, and begins to pester Toppy for the papers again. The waiter approaches and learns that Toppy is new to the area, and warns him against partnering up with the fat man, known as “Porp.” The waiter drags the youth behind the counter, out the back door, and introduces him to a man simply called “Cap,” and coerces him into signing a document.
That document lands him aboard the Cap’s ship, the Hartdown, as an unwilling crew-member. Worst yet, his fears are accentuated, learning that Porp is a mate aboard ship! The whole scene, signing the paper, etc, was entrapment! Stuck aboard the whaler, the ship pulls out with Toppy, a farm boy with zero sea-life experience, forced to learn the ways of the whaling vessel, or else.
Toppy suffers a variety of indignities aboard ship but quickly becomes infatuated with the captain’s daughter, Celia Mudge. Naturally no story is truly complete without the love interest, right? Right.
Toppy begins to grow stronger, learns the ship and terms, and soon takes charge of a whaling expedition when the person in charge dies. Giving orders comes naturally to Toppy, and he finds that even the numerous villains will obey, to a length.
All good things come to an end…eventually. The matter of the corpse’s missing papers are continuously introduced by Porp, pestering and threatening Toppy’s life. Turns out it is a crudely constructed treasure map. Several members of the current crew were part of another ship and wrecked upon an island. There, they found another derelict ship, and gold. Realizing the ship lost at sea for years, they decide to head for land and find a ship capable to haul the gold. However, given that none trust each other, they all stick together, fast.
Having joined the Hartdown, some of the villainous crew mutiny against themselves, when the innocent captain’s daughter boards the vessel. They intended to murder the original crew, but a girl is a different matter. Or is it? Half of the crew okay with murder have other plans for Celia, both sexual and material gain….
The crew convince the captain to drop anchor off an isolated island for supplies. While ashore, they attack the original crew and a battle takes place. Toppy escapes with Celia in one of the landing party boats, and while trying to board the parent vessel, finds that two villains left behind are wielding sharp objects. Another of the “good crew” escapes land and paddles out. The pair decide to split and take the ship from two sides. Unbeknownst to them, Celia took one of the boats and paddled quickly around the back side, boarded, and while Toppy is about to be murdered, she takes care of his would-be assailant!
They take the ship.
But if you think the plot remains a clear-case of rescue the rest on the island, etc, you would be wrong. Ben Ames Williams is no slouch on writing a thriller.
In negotiating the safe return of the crew, the villains under the cover of darkness send their best swimmers out to the ship, and wait in the water until Toppy and another paddle to a distant shoreline to rescue the surviving crew and Celia’s dad. They discover too late the attempt, but, manage to derail the plot. Taking the ship again, they have full control, learn the whereabouts of the gold, and return with a British warship (of sorts).
Arresting the survivors on land, the villains throw a wrench in the story by informing the Brits that they discovered gold, and that the Hartdown intends to steal it. The Brits end up confiscating the gold, eliminating one traditional happy ending!
Toppy DOES get Celia and they marry.