Jack tested his strength by holding fast with his left hand and feeding out the line with his right. It was going to work, if he could just keep Paul away from the mast. He waited till the ship shuddered and righted itself in a trough and then quickly played out the line, hoping to drop Paul to the waiting hands below. He inched his way up closer to the spar and let the line out. Still fifteen feet short, Paul's body swung dangerously close to the mast. Jack grasped the spar with the rope around it and let go more slack. Paul dropped again, but was still several feet from the sailor's grasp on deck. The ship heeled suddenly and the limp body swung aft.
"Catch him!" Jack screamed. Quince, on the bridge deck above the sailors, grabbed Paul with one arm and lowered him to the deck. Relief washed over Jack as he could see Paul was safely down. As the pain from the ripped skin on his hands began heating its way into his consciousness, he took a moment to rekindle his strength.
"Take a wrap under your arms and get down here!" bellowed Quince. But Jack had already begun his rappel down. Again his line was too short, but Jack dropped into the arms of a half dozen waiting sailors. A few men whispered "well done" before hurrying off to deal with the carnage about them.
Jack looked to the bridge deck where Quince and Hansumbob had propped Paul up
against the compass binnacle. Paul met Jack with a blank-eyed look.
An eerie quiet settled over the ship. Jack noticed the water had become calm; several sailors stopped their work and gazed seaward. Black clouds billowed about them, but just scant miles away the sea still boiled. Jack could see the stars straight above him, as if he were peering up from the bottom of a deep bowl. They were caught in what appeared to be a lake, surrounded by towering mountains of water. Jack fell to his knees, more tired than he had ever been in his life.
There was a stirring on the bridge deck. Jack saw a figure all in white-it appeared to be a ghost climbing up the aft companionway. After a moment, Jack realized he was looking at the captain, naked, his pale skin silhouetted against the dark skies behind him. His long hair was disheveled and he had a large, blood-caked welt on his left temple, like a piece of old jewelry. Dried vomit adorned his chest and in his left hand he held a jug of grog. His right hand held a saber, still sheathed. He seemed unaware of the bodies and debris about him.
"Mr. Quince, why are we running with short sails? Damn it, man, we're almost becalmed. Lay on the canvas, mister."
Several of the crew dropped their heads. Jack realized for the first time how much his fellow sailors had come to believe in the hierarchy of the ship at sea. The raging of the storm and the death of their mates had shaken them, but the recognition that they were truly without a captain was crushing.
"Smithers, see that the captain is safely back in hicabin. Lash him securely in his bunk," Quince said. He stepped toward the old man and took the saber from his hand. The captain sputtered a protest.
A rogue wave from the stern lifted the entire ship and spun her. The water carried Jack halfway across the quarterdeck. Coughing seawater over the aft rail, his hands gripped the rough carving he had seen the captain working on while docked in Massachusetts and Cuba. Salem seemed to him a lifetime ago-when he was just a boy. He ran his fingers over the intricate letters: "Captain Hans Peter Deploy. 1730 - 1806." The captain knew this was his last trip.
No one manned the wheel. It spun lazily, as if detached. Then Jack realized that, in fact, it was. The pintles were sprung from the gudgeons and the rudder had come unshipped. My God, thought Jack. We're sitting in this pond like a toy boat.
Quince bellied up to the starboard rail and stared into the blackness. In a voice full of dread, knowing he was the only one capable of command, he addressed the crew. "Quickly do what you can for the ship, lads. Then lash yourself to the pulpit around the main and foremast and pray . . . for we are surely in the eye of the typhoon."
Excerpted from Wake of the Perdido Star by Gene Hackman & Daniel Lenihan