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Blow The Man Down - A Romance Of The Coast - 1916
by Holman Day
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Mayo was awakened early by the clamor of the whistles of river craft, for the little hotel was near the water-front. He saw the fog drifting in shredded masses against the high buildings, shrouding the towers. He had been waiting his call to duty with much impatience, finding the confinement of the hotel irksome in the crisp days of sunlight, eager to be out and about this splendid new duty which promised so much.

It was the Montana's sailing-day from the New York end.

He had gone to sleep thrilling with the earnest hope that he would be called to take her out. But when he looked out into that morning, saw the draping curtains of the stalking mists, heard the frantic squallings of craft in the harbor, frenzied howls of alarm, hoarse hootings of protests and warnings, he was suddenly and pointedy anxious to have his elevation to the pilot-house of the Montana deferred. Better the smoky, cramped office of the little hotel where he had been chafing in dismal waiting. He was perfectly willing to sit there and study over again the advertising chromos on the walls and gaze out on the everlasting procession of rumbling drays. But at eight o'clock the telephone summoned him.

"This is General-Manager Fogg," the voice informed him, though he did not require the information; he knew those crisp tones. "I am speaking from my apartments. Please proceed at once to the Montana. I'll come aboard within an hour."

"Do you expect me to take command—to—take her out to-day?" faltered Mayo.

"Certainly. Captain Jacobs will transfer command as soon as I get down."

Mayo had just been rejoicing in his heart because Jacobs would be obliged to bear the responsibility of that day's sailing; he had been perfectly sure that a new man would not be summoned under the conditions which prevailed. He wanted to suggest to Manager Fogg that making the change just then would be inadvisable. He cleared his throat and searched his soul for words. But a sharp and decisive click told him that Mr. Fogg considered the matter settled. He came away from the telephone, dizzy and troubled, and he was not comforted when he recollected how Manager Fogg had received meek suggestions in the past. He paid his modest account, took his traveling-bag, and started for the Vose line pier.

When he saw her looming in the fog—his ship at last—he felt like running away from her incontinently, instead of running toward her.

Mayo had all of a young man's zeal and ambition and courage—but he had in full measure a sailor's caution and knowledge of conditions; he had been trained by that master of caution, Captain Zoradus Wass. He was really frightened as he stared up at the towering bow, the mighty flanks, the graceful sweep of superstructure, and realized that he must guide this giant and her freightage of human beings into the white void of the fog. In his honesty he acknowledged to himself that he was frightened.

The whole great fabric fairly shouted responsibility at him.

He was confident of his ability. As chief mate he had mastered the problems of courses and manoeuvers in the fog along that same route which he must now take. But until then the supreme responsibility had devolved upon another.

Men were rushing freight aboard on rattling trucks—parallel lines of stevedores were working. There were many trunks, avant couriers of the passengers.

He went aboard by the freight entrance and found his way to the row of officers' staterooms. He recognized the gray-bearded veteran who was pacing the alley outside the pilot-house, though the man was not in uniform; it was the deposed master.

"Good morning, Captain Mayo," he said, without any resentment in his tones. "I congratulate you on your promotion."

"I hope you understand that I didn't go hunting for this job," blurted Mayo.

"I believe it's merely a matter of new policy—so Manager Fogg tells me. Understand me, too, Captain Mayo! I harbor no resentment, especially not against you."

He put out his hand in fine, manly fashion, and was so distinctly the best type of the dignified, self-possessed sea-captain of the old school, that Mayo fairly flinched at thought of replacing this man.

Captain Jacobs opened the door lettered "Captain." "All my truck is out and over the rail. I'll sit in with you, if you don't mind, until Mr. Fogg arrives. You're going to have a thick passage, Captain Mayo."

"It doesn't seem right to me—putting a new man on here in this fog," protested Mayo, warmly. "I ought to have her in clear weather till I know her tricks. In a pinch, when you've got to know how a boat behaves, and know it mighty sudden in order to avoid a smash, one false move puts you into the hole."

"They seem to be running steamboat lines from Wall Street nowadays, instead of from the water-front," said Captain Jacobs, dryly. "It's all in the game as they're playing it in these times. There's nothing to be said by the men in the pilot-house."

"I'm a sailor, and a simple one. I think I know my job, Captain Jacobs, or else I wouldn't accept this promotion. But I've got no swelled head. It's the proper and sensible thing for you to take the Montana out tonight and let me hang around the pilot-house and watch you. If I can prevail upon Mr. Fogg to allow it, will you make another trip?"

"I would do it to help you, but I'll be blasted if I'll help Fogg—not if he would get down now and beg me," declared Captain Jacobs, showing temper for the first time. "And if you had been pitchforked out as I've been after all my years of honest service you'd feel just as I do, Captain Mayo. You don't blame me, do you?"

"I can't blame you."

"You know the courses, and you'll have the same staff as I've had. You'll find every notation in the log accurate to the yard or the second. She's a steady old girl and, knowing tide set and courses, as you do, you can depend on her to the turn of a screw. You have my best wishes—but I'm done."

He put the fervor of final resolve into the declaration. But, with sailor's fraternal spirit of helpfulness he sat down and went into the details of all the Montana's few whims. He called in the mates and introduced them to the new master. They seemed to be quiet, sturdy men who bore no malice because a new policy had put a new man over them.

Then arrived General-Manager Fogg, and in this strictly business presence Mayo did not presume to voice any of his doubts or his opinion of his inefficiency.

The rather stiff and decidedly painful ceremony of speeding the former commander was soon over, and Captain Jacobs departed.

"Why haven't you put on your uniform?" asked Fogg. "You have fixed yourself out with a new one, of course?"

"Yes, sir." Mayo's cheeks flushed slightly when he recollected how he had strutted before the mirror in his room at the hotel. But he had been ashamed to hurry into his gilt-incrusted coat in the presence of Captain Jacobs.

"Get it on as soon as you can," ordered the general manager. "I want you to make a general inspection of the boat with me."

They made the tour, and in spite of his misgivings, when he saw the mists sweeping past the end of the pier Captain Mayo, receiving the salutes of respectful subalterns, felt the proud joy of one who has at last arrived at the goal of his ambition.

Master of the crack Montana, queen of the Vose fleet, at the age of twenty-six!

He glanced into each of the splendid mirrors of the great saloon to make sure of the gold letters on his cap.

The thick carpet seemed grateful to his step. The ship's orchestra was rehearsing in its gallery.

If only that devilish fog would lift! But still it surged in from the sea, and the glass, down to 29.40, promised no clearing weather.

"Safety to the minutest detail—that's my motto," declared Manager Fogg. "Order a fire drill."

It was accomplished, and Mr. Fogg criticized the lack of snap. He was rather severe after the life-boat drill, was over. He ordered a second rehearsal. He commanded that the crew do it a third time. The warmth of his insistence on this feature of shipboard discipline was very noticeable.

"And when you put those boats back see to it that every line is free and coiled and every cover loose. It costs a lot of good money if you kill off passengers in these days." Then he hurried away. "I'll see you before sailing-time," he informed Captain Mayo.

The new skipper was glad to be alone and to have leisure for study of the steamer's log-books. He had been accustomed to a freighter's slower time on the courses. He did a little figuring. He found that at seventy-five revolutions per minute the Montana would log off about the same speed that the freighter made when doing her best. He resolved to make the fog an excuse and slow down to the Nequasset's familiar rate of progress. He reflected that he would feel pretty much at home under those circumstances. He was heartened, and went about the ship looking less like a malefactor doomed to execution.

When General-Manager Fogg, bustled on board a few minutes prior to the advertised sailing-time at five o'clock, he commented on Captain Mayo's improved demeanor.

"Getting one of the best jobs on this coast seemed to make considerable of a mourner out of you. Perhaps a mirror has shown you how well you look in that new uniform. At any rate, I'm glad to see you have chirked up. And now I'll give you a piece of news that ought to make you look still happier: I'm going along on this trip with you. If you show me that you can do a good job in this kind of weather you needn't worry about your position."

The expression on Captain Mayo's face did not indicate unalloyed delight when he heard this "good news." Unaccustomed as he was to the ship, he could not hope to make a smooth showing.

"And still you refuse to cheer up!" remonstrated the manager.

"I am glad you are going along, sir. Don't misunderstand me. But a sailor is a pretty serious chap when he feels responsibility. I'm undertaking a big stunt."

"It's the best way to find out whether you're the man for the job—whether you're the man I think you are. It's a test that beats sailing ships on a puddle."

"I'm glad you're aboard," repeated the captain. "It's going to shade down my responsibility just a little."

"It is, is it?" cried Manager Fogg, his tones sharp. "Not by a blamed sight! You're the captain of this craft. I'm a passenger. Don't try to shirk. You aren't afraid, are you?"

They were standing beside the dripping rail outside the pilot-house. Far below them, in the spacious depths of the steamer, a bugle sounded long-drawn notes and the monotonous calls of stewards warned "All ashore!"

The gangways were withdrawn with dull "clackle" of wet chains over pulleys, and Captain Mayo, after a swift glance at his watch, to make sure of the time, ordered a quartermaster to sound the signal for "Cast off!" The whistle yelped a gruff note, and, seeing that all was clear, the captain yanked the auxiliary bell-pulls at the rail. Two for the port engine, two for the starboard, and the Montana began to back into the gray pall which shrouded the river.

Captain Mayo saw the lines of faces on the pier, husbands and wives, mothers and sweethearts, bidding good-by to those who waved farewell from the steamer's decks. He gathered himself with supreme grip of resolve. It was up to him! He almost spoke it aloud.

Tremors of doubt did not agitate him any longer. It was unthinking faith, nevertheless it was implicit confidence, that all those folks placed in him. They were intrusting themselves to his vessel with the blind assurance of travelers who pursue a regular route, not caring how the destination is reached as long as they come to their journey's end.

The hoarse, long, warning blast which announced to all in the river that the steamer was leaving her dock drowned out the shouts of farewell and the strains of the gay air the orchestra was playing.

"See you later," said General-Manager Fogg. "I think I'll have an early dinner."

Captain Mayo climbed the short ladder and entered his pilot-house.

It was up to him!



XX ~ TESTING OUT A MAN

Now the first land we made is call-ed The Deadman, The Ramhead off Plymouth, Start, Portland and Wight. We sail-ed by Beachy, By Fairlee and Dungeness, Until we came abreast of the South Foreland Light. —Farewell and Adieu.

With starboard engine clawing her backward, and the port engine driving her ahead, the Montana swung her huge bulk when she was free of the penning piers. The churning propellers, offsetting, turned her in her tracks. Then she began to feel her way out of the maze of the traffic.

The grim, silent men of the pilot-houses do not talk much even when they are at liberty on shore. They are taciturn when on duty. They do not relate their sensations when they are elbowing their way through the East River in a fog; they haven't the language to do so.

A psychologist might make much out of the subject by discussing concentration sublimated, human senses coordinating sight and sound on the instant, a sort of sixth sense which must be passed on into the limbos of guesswork as instinct.

The man in the pilot-house would not in the least understand a word of what the psychologist was talking about.

The steamboat officer merely understands that he must be on his job!

The Montana added her voice to the bedlam of river yawp.

The fog was so dense that even the lookout posted at her fore windlasses was a hazy figure as seen from the pilot-house. A squat ferryboat, which was headed across the river straight at the slip where her shore gong 'was hailing her, splashed under the steamer's bows, two tugs loafed nonchalantly across in the other direction—saucy sparrows of the river traffic, always underfoot and dodging out of danger by a breathless margin.

Whistle-blasts piped or roared singly and in pairs, a duet of steam voices, or blended at times into a puzzling chorus.

A steamer's whistle in the fog conveys little information except to announce that a steam-propelled craft is somewhere yonder in the white blank, unseen, under way. No craft is allowed to sound passing signals unless the vessel she is signaling is in plain sight.

Captain Mayo could see nothing—even the surface of the water was almost indistinguishable.

Ahead, behind, to right and left, everything that could toot was busy and vociferous. Here and there a duet of three staccato blasts indicated that neighbors were threatening to collide and were crawfishing to the best of their ability.

Twice the big steamer stopped her engines and drifted until the squabble ahead of her seemed to have been settled.

A halt mixes the notations of the log, but the mates of the steamer made the Battery signals, and after a time the spidery outlines of the first great bridge gave assurance that their allowances were correct.

Providentially there was a shredding of the fog at Hell Gate, a shore-breeze flicking the mists off the surface of the water.

Then was revealed the situation which lay behind the particularly emphatic and uproarious "one long and two short" blasts of a violent whistle. A Lehigh Valley tug was coming down the five-knot current with three light barges, which the drift had skeowowed until they were taking up the entire channel. With their cables, the tug and tow stretched for at least four thousand feet, almost a mile of dangerous drag.

"Our good luck, sir," vouchsafed the first mate. "She was howling so loud, blamed if I could tell whether she was coming or going. She's got no business coming down the Sound."

Captain Mayo, his teeth set hard, his rigid face dripping with moisture, as he stood in the open window, stopped the engines of his giant charge and jingled for full speed astern in order to halt her. He had no desire to battle for possession of the channel with what he saw ahead.

At that moment Manager Fogg came into the pilothouse, disregarding the "No Admittance" sign by authority of his position. He lighted a cigar and displayed the contented air of a man who has fed fully.

"You have been making a pretty slow drag of it, haven't you, Captain Mayo? I've had time to eat dinner—and I'm quite a feeder at that! And we haven't made the Gate yet!"

"We couldn't do a stroke better and be safe," said the captain over his shoulder, his eyes on the tow.

"What's the matter now?"

"A tug and three barges in the way."

"Do you mean to say you're holding up a Vose liner with eight hundred passengers, waiting for a tugboat? Look here, Mayo, we've got to hustle folks to where they want to go, and get them there in time."

"That tow is coming down with the current and has the right of way, sir. And there's no chance of passing, for she's sweeping the channel."

"I don't believe there's any law that makes a passenger-boat hold up for scows," grumbled Fogg. "If there is one, a good man knows how to get around it and keep up his schedule." He paced the pilot-house at the extreme rear, puffing his cigar.

He grunted when Mayo gave the go-ahead bells and the throb of the engines began.

"Now ram her along, boy. People in these days don't want to waste time on the road. They're even speeding up the automobile hearses."

Captain Mayo did not reply. He was grateful that the dangers of Hell Gate had been revealed. The mists hung in wisps against North Brother Island when he swung into the channel of the Gate, and he could see, far ahead, the shaft of the lighthouse. It was a stretch where close figuring was needed, and this freak of the mists had given him a fine chance. He jingled for full speed and took a peep to note the bearing of Sunken Meadow spindle.

"Nothe-east, five-eighths east!" he directed the quartermaster at the wheel.

The man repeated the command mechanically and brought her to her course for the Middle Ground passage.

After they had rounded North Brother, Whitestone Point tower was revealed. It really seemed as if the fog were clearing, and even in the channel between Execution Rocks and Sands Point his hopes were rising. But in the wider waters off Race Rock the Montana drove her black snout once more into the white pall, and her whistle began to bray again.

The young captain sighed. "East, a half nothe!"

"East, a half nothe, it is, sir!"

At least, he had conquered East River, the Gate, and the narrows beyond, and had many miles straight ahead to the whistler off Point Judith. He was resolved to be thankful for small favors.

He hoped that with the coming of the night and on account of the prevalence of the fog he would find that shipping of the ordinary sort had stopped moving. However, in a few minutes he heard telltale whistles ahead, and he signaled half speed. A lumbering old lighter with a yawing derrick passed close aboard. An auxiliary fisherman, his exhaust snapping like a machine-gun, and seeming to depend on that noise for warning, was overtaken.

"Can you leave that window for a minute, Captain Mayo?" asked the general manager.

The captain promptly joined Mr. Fogg at the rear of the spacious pilot-house.

"See here, Cap," remonstrated his superior, "I came down through these waters on the Triton of the Union line the other day, and she made her time. What's the matter with us?"

"I'm obeying the law, sir. And there are new warnings just issued." He pointed to the placard headed "Safety First" in big, red letters. "The word has been passed that the first captain who is caught with the goods will be made an example of."

"Is that so?" commented Fogg, studying the end of his cigar. His tone was a bit peculiar. "But the Triton came along."

"And she nigh rammed the Nequasset in the fog the last trip I made up the coast. It was simply touch and go, Mr. Fogg, and all her fault. We were following the rules to the letter."

"And that's one way of spoiling the business of a steamboat line," snapped Fogg. He added, to himself, "But it isn't my way!"

"I'm sorry, but I have been trained to believe that a record for safety is better than all records for speed, sir."

"I let Jacobs go because he was old-fashioned, Mayo. This is the age of taking chances—taking chances and getting there! Business, politics, railroading, and steam-boating. The people expect it. The right folks do it."

"You are general manager of this line, Mr. Fogg. Do you order me to make schedule time, no matter what conditions are?"

"You are the captain of this boat. I simply want you to deliver up-to-date goods. As to how you do it, that is not my business. I'm not a sea-captain, and I don't presume to advise as to details."

Captain Mayo was young, He knew the 'longcoast game. He was ambitious. Opportunity had presented itself. He understood the unreasoning temper of those who sought dividends without bothering much about details. He knew how other passenger captains were making good with the powers who controlled transportation interests. He confessed to himself that he had envied the master of the rushing Triton who had swaggered past as if he owned the sea.

Till then Mayo had been the meek and apologetic passer-by along the ocean lane, expecting to be crowded to one side, dodging when the big fellow bawled for open road.

He remembered with what haste he always manouvered the old Nequasset out of the way of harm when he heard the lordly summons of the passenger liners. Was not that the general method of the freighter skippers? Why should he not expect them to get out of his way, now that he was one of the swaggerers of the sea? Let them do the worrying now, as he had done the worrying and dodging in the past! He stepped back to his window, those reflections whirling in his brain.

"This is no freighter," he told himself. "Fogg is right. If I don't deliver the goods somebody else will be called on to do it, so what's the use? I'll play the game. Just remember—will you, Mayo—that you've got your heart's wish, and are captain of the Montana. If I lose this job on account of a placard with red letters, I'll kick myself on board a towboat, and stay there the rest of my life."

He yanked a log-book from the rack and noted the steamer's average speed from the entries. He signaled to the engine-room through the speaking-tube.

"Give her two hundred a minute, chief!" he ordered.

And fifteen seconds later, her engines pulsing rhythmically, the big craft was splitting fog and water at express speed, howling for little fellows to get out from underfoot.

Down in the gleaming depths of her the orchestra was lilting a gay waltz, silver clattered over the white napery of the dining-room, men and women laughed and chattered and flirted; men wrote telegrams, making appointments for the morrow at early hours, and the wireless flashed them forth. They were sent with the certainty on the part of the senders that no man in these days waits for tide or fog. The frothing waters flashed past in the night outside, and they who ventured forth upon the dripping decks glanced at the fan of white spume spreading into the fog, and were glad to return to cozy chairs and the radiance of the saloon.

High up forward, in the pilot-house, were the eyes and the brains of this rushing monster. It was dark there except for the soft, yellow gleam of the binnacle lights. It was silent but for the low voice of a mate who announced his notations.

Occasionally the mates glanced at each other in the gloom when a steamer's whistle sounded ahead. This young captain seemed to be a chap who carried his nerve with him! They were used to the more cautious system of Captain Jacobs.

The master did not reduce speed. He leaned far out, his hand at his ear. The third time an unknown sounded her blast he took a quick glance at the compass.

"Two points shift—so she shows," he said aloud. "We'll pass her all right."

The change in the direction of the sound had assured him. A few minutes later the whistle voiced a location safely abeam. But the next whistle they heard sounded dead ahead, and increased in volume of sound only gradually. They were overtaking a vessel headed in the same direction.

Captain Mayo pulled the cord oftener and sounded more prolonged, more imperious hoots. He ordered no change in his course. He was headed for the Point Judith whistler, and did not propose to take chances on fumbling by any detours. The craft ahead at last seemed to recognize the voice of its master. The sound of the whistle showed that it had swung off the course.

The mate mumbled notations.

"All ears out!" ordered the captain. "We ought to make that whistler!" And in the next breath he said: "There she is!" He pointed a wet hand ahead and slightly to port. A queer, booming grunt came to them. "You're all right, old girl," he declared. "Jacobs wasn't over-praising you." He reached over the sill and patted the woodwork of his giant pet. He turned to the quartermaster. "East, five-eighths south," was his direction.

"East, five-eighths south, sir!"

"What's the next we make, captain?" asked the general manager from the gloom at the rear of the pilot-house.

"Sow and Pigs Lightship, entrance of Vineyard Sound, sir."

"Good work! I'm going to take a turn below. See you again! What can I tell any uneasy gentleman who is afraid he'll miss a business appointment in the morning?"

"Tell him we'll be on time to the dot," declared the captain, quietly.

Mr. Fogg closed the pilot-house door behind himself and chuckled when he eased his way down the slippery ladder.

Mr. Fogg sauntered through the brilliantly lighted saloon, hands in his pockets, giving forth an impression of a man entirely at ease. Nobody appeared to recognize the new general manager of the Vose line, and he attracted no special attention. But if any one had been sufficiently interested in Mr. Fogg to note him closely it would have been observed that his mouth worked nervously when he stood at the head of the grand stairway and stared about him. His jowls sagged. When he pulled out his handkerchief his hand trembled.

He descended the stairs to the main-deck and peered about in the smoking-quarters, running his eyes over the faces of the men gathered there. All at once he lifted his chin with a little jerk and climbed the stairs again. A big man tossed away a cigar and followed at a respectful distance. He pursued Mr. Fogg through the saloon and down a corridor and went into a stateroom on the general manager's heels.

"By gad, Burkett, I'm getting cold chills!" exploded Mr. Fogg, as soon as the door was closed.

"Don't understand just why."

"Those people out there—I've just been looking 'em over. It's monkeying with too big a proposition, Burkett. You can't reckon ahead on a thing like this."

"Sure you can. I've doped it right."

"Oh, I know you understand what you're talking about, but—"

"Well, I ought to know. I've been pilot for the re-survey party on the shoals for the last two months. I know every inch of the bottom."

"But the panic. There's bound to be one. The rest of 'em won't understand, Burkett. It's going to be awful on board here. I'll be here myself. I can't stand it."

"Look here, governor; there won't be any panic. She'll slide into the sand like a baby nestling down into a crib. There isn't a pebble in that sand for miles. Half of this bunch of passengers will be abed and asleep. They won't wake up. The rest will never know anything special except that the engines have stopped. And that ain't anything unusual in a fog. It's a quiet night—not a ripple. Nothing to hurt us. The wireless will bring the revenue cutter out from Wood's Hole, and she'll stand by till morning and take 'em off."

"The theory is good. It's mostly my own idea, and I'm proud of it, and I was mighty glad to find a man of your experience to back me up with the practical details," said Fogg, trying to fortify his faith with words but failing. "But now that it's coming down to cases I'm afraid of it."

"Well, it's up to you, of course, governor. I insist it can be done, and done smooth, and you'll lay off this steamer nice, slick, and easy! That will put a crimp into the Vose line and make them stockholders take notice the next time a fair offer is made."

"It's the thing to do, and I know it. The conditions are just right, and we've got a green captain to make the goat of. All set! But it's an awful thing to monkey with—eight hundred people, and no knowing how they'll take it! It came over me while I stood there and looked at 'em!"

"Sand is sand, and the whole, round earth is braced up under that sand. She can't sink. She'll simply gouge her way like a plow into a furrow, and there she'll stick, sitting straight, solid as an island—and it will be a devil of a while before they'll be able to dig her out. It's a crimp for the Vose line, I say, governor!" Malevolence glowed in Burkett's little eyes.

"Of course, the money I'm getting for this job looks good to me, governor, but my chance to put a wallop into anything that old Vose and his sons are interested in looks just as good. I wouldn't be in this just for the money end of it. I'm no pirate, but when they kicked me out of the pilot-house and posted me up and down this coast, they put themselves in line to get what's coming to 'em from me."

"But have you considered every side of it?" pleaded Fogg. "You're the practical man in this proposition. What can happen?"

"If you do exactly what I tell you to do nothing can happen but what's on our program. Just let me stiffen you up by running the thing over once more."

He pulled a hand-smutched, folded chart from his breast pocket and spread it over his knees. With blunt forefinger he indicated the points to which he made reference in his explanation.

"When he fetches Nobska horn on his port, bearing nor'west by west, he'll shift his course. After about five miles he's due to shift again, swinging six points to nor-rard. You'll hear the mate name the bearing of West Chop steam-whistle. Then you walk right up to the left of the compass and stand there. You may hear a little tongue-clattering for a few seconds. There'll be a little cussing, maybe, but you won't be cussed, of course. You stand right there, calm and cool, never batting an eyelid. And then it will happen, and when it does happen it will be a surprise-party all right."

"It's wrecking a seven-thousand-ton passenger-steamer in the night!" mourned the general manager.

"It isn't! It's putting her into a safe cradle."

"But at this speed!"

"That chap in the pilot-house is no fool. He'll get his hint in time to save her from real damage. You needn't worry!"

Fogg opened his traveling-bag and lifted out a strip of metal. He handled it as gingerly as if it were a reptile, and he looked at it with an air as if he feared it would bite him.

"That's the little joker," said Burkett. "About two points deviation by local attraction will do the business!"

"I'm tempted to throw it overboard and call it all off, Burkett. I have put through a good many deals in my life in the big game, but this looks almost too raw. I can't help it! I feel a hunch as if something was going to miscue."

"I've got no more to say, governor."

"My crowd doesn't ask questions of me, but they expect results. If I don't do it, I suppose I'll kick myself in the morning." He cocked up his ear and listened to the bawling of the liner's great whistle. "But it seems different in the night."

"You ain't leaving any tracks," encouraged Burkett. "And this being his first run makes it more plausible. You're here all naturally, yourself. It might seem rather queer if you made another trip. It's his first run on her, I remind you. If he makes a slip-up it won't surprise the wise guys-a mite."

"It seems to be all set—I've got to admit it. By gad, Burkett, I have always put a thing through when I've started on it! That's why they call in the little Fogg boy. I'd rather apologize to my conscience than to—Well, never mind who he is." He tucked the strip of metal into his inside coat pocket and buttoned the coat. "Blast it! nothing that's very bad can happen in this calm sea—and that last life-boat drill went off fine. Here goes!" declared Fogg, with desperate emphasis.

"That's the boy!" declared Burkett, encouraged to familiarity by their association in mischief.

The general manager found the night black when he edged his way along the wet deck to the pilot-house. The steamer's lights made blurred patches in the fog. Now she seemed to have the sea to herself; there were no answering whistles.

"I'm back again, Captain Mayo," he said, as he closed the door against the night. "I hope I won't bother you folks here. I'll stay out from underfoot." He sat down on a transom at the extreme rear of the house and smoked his cigar with nervous vehemence.

Another quartermaster succeeded the man at the wheel, the mate made his notations of dead reckoning and pricked the chart, the usual routine was proceeded with. Mayo continued at the window, head out-thrust, except when he glanced at chart or compass or noted the dials which marked the screws' revolutions.

Every now and then he put his ear to the submarine-signal receiver. At last he heard the faint, far throb of the Sow and Pigs submarine bell—seven strokes, with the four seconds' interval, then the seven strokes repeated.

A bit later he got, sweet and low as an elfland horn, the lightship's chime whistle. It was dead ahead, which was not exactly to his calculation. The tide set had served stronger than he had reckoned. He ordered the helmsman to ease her off a half-point, in order to make safe offing for the turn into Vineyard Sound.

Well up in the sound the bell of Tarpaulin Cove reassured him, and after a time he heard the unmistakable blast of the great reed horn of Nobska uttering its triple hoot like a giant owl perched somewhere in the mists.

"Nobska," said the mate. "We are certainly coming on, sir."

"Nobly," agreed Captain Mayo, allowing himself a moment of jubilation, even though the dreaded shoals were ahead.

"Are you going to keep this speed across the shoals, Captain Mayo?" asked the general manager, displaying real deference.

"No, sir!" stated the captain with decision, bracing himself to give Mr. Fogg a sharp word or two if that gentleman advanced any more of his "business man's reasons" for speed. "It would not be showing due care."

"I'm glad to hear you say that," affirmed Mr. Fogg, heartily. "It may be a little out of place, right now, but I want you to know that I feel that I have picked out just the right man to command this ship. I'm glad of a chance to say this where your mates can hear me."

"Thank you, Mr. Fogg," returned the young man, gratefully. "This is a soul-racking job, and I'm glad you are here to see what we are up against. I don't feel that we'll be wasting much time in crossing the shoals if we go carefully. We can let her out after we swing east of Monomoy. She's a grand old packet."

In the gloom Fogg ran his fingers gingerly over the outside of his coat to make sure that the strip of metal was in its place.

There was silence in the pilot-house after that. Ahead there was ticklish navigation. There were the narrow slues, the crowding shoals, the blind turns of Nantucket Sound, dreaded in all weathers, but a mariner's horror in a fog.

Nobska's clarion call drew slowly abeam to port, and after due lapse of time West Chop's steam-whistle lifted its guiding voice in the mists ahead.

"Better use the pelorus and be careful about West Chop's bearing after we pass her, Mr. Bangs," Captain Mayo warned his first mate.

As a sailor well knows, the bearing of West Chop gives the compass direction for passage between the shoals known as Hedge Fence and Squash Meadow—a ten-mile run to Cross Rip Lightship. In a fog it is vitally important to have West Chop exact to the eighth of a point.

Fogg was glad that he was alone where he sat. He trembled so violently that he set an unlighted cigar between his teeth to keep them from rattling together.

The mate was outlined against the window, his eyes on the instrument, his ear cocked. Every half-minute West Chop's whistle hooted.

"Right, sir!" the mate reported at last, speaking briskly. "I make it west by nothe, five-eighths nothe."

Fogg rose and half staggered forward, taking a position just to the left of the wheel and compass.

"East by south, five-eighths south," the captain directed the helmsman. "Careful attention, sir. Tide is flood, four knots. Make the course good!"

The quartermaster repeated and twirled his wheel for the usual number of revolutions to allow a three-points change.

Captain Mayo stepped back and glanced at the compass to make certain that his helmsman was finding his course properly. "What in tophet's name is the matter with you, man?" he shouted. "Bring this ship around! Bring her around!" He grabbed the wheel and spun it. "You're slower than the devil drawing molasses," raged Mayo, forgetting his dignity.

"She must have yawed," protested the man. "I had her on her course, sir. I supposed I had her over."

"You are not to suppose. You are to keep your eyes on that compass card and move quicker when I give an order."

The helmsman's eyes bulged as he stared at the compass. While he had winked his eyes, so it seemed to him, the true course had fairly straddled away from the lubber line.

In his frantic haste Captain Mayo put her over too far. He helped the man set her on the right course. Then he signaled half speed. The devious and the narrow paths were ahead of them..

"That's an almighty funny jump the old dame made then," pondered the quartermaster. But he was too well trained to argue with a captain. He accepted the fault as his own, and now that she was on her course, he held her there doggedly.

Even the Montana's half speed was a respectable gait, and the silent crew in her pilot-house could hear the sea lathering along her sides.

"What do you make of that, Mr. Bangs?" the captain asked, after a prolonged period of listening.

"Bell, sir!"

"But the only bell in that direction would be on Hedge Fence Lightship in case her whistle has been disabled."

"Sounds to me like a vessel at anchor."

"But it's right in the fairway." Captain Mayo convinced himself by a glance at the compass. "No craft would drop her hook in the fairway. That's no bell on the Hedge Fence," reflected the captain. "It's a schooner's bell. But sound often gets freaky in a fog. We're on our course to the fraction, and we've got to keep going!"

And after a moment the bell ceased its clangor. It was a distant sound, and its location was indefinite even to a sharp ear.

"It strikes me that sounds in general are a little warded all of a sudden," said the captain to his mate. "I'll swear that I can hear Hedge Fence's five-second blasts now. But there she howls off the starboard bow. The clouds must be giving us an echo. We've got to leave it to the compass."

A skilful mariner is careful about forsaking the steady finger of a proved compass in order to chase sounds around the corner in foggy weather. He understands that air strata raise the dickens with whistle-blasts. There are zones of silence—there is divergence of sound.

Fogg held his position, his legs braced, and nobody paid any especial attention to him. They in the pilothouse were too busy with other affairs.

There is one sound in thick weather that tells a navigator much. It is the echo of his own whistle.

The big steamer was hoarsely hooting her way.

Suddenly there was a sound which fairly flew up and hit Captain Mayo in the face. It was an echo. It was the sound of the Montana's whistle-blast flung back at him from some object so near at hand that there was barely a clock-tick between whistle and echo.

The captain yelped a great oath and yanked his bell-pulls furiously. "That echo came from a schooner's sails," he shouted.

Then, dead ahead, clanged her bell. The next instant, plunging along at least eight miles an hour, in spite of engines clawing at full speed astern, the towering bow smashed into the obstacle in her path.

It was a mighty shock which sent a tremor from stem to stern of the great fabric. They saw that they hit her—a three-masted schooner at anchor, with her sails set, dingy canvas wet and idle in the foggy, breathless night. But their impact against her was almost as if they had hit a pier. The collision sent them reeling about the pilot-house. As they drove past they saw her go down, her stern a splintered mass of wreckage, in which men were frantically struggling.

"That's a granite-lugger! See her go down, like a stone!" gasped Mate Bangs. "My God! What do you suppose she has done to us forward?"

"Get there. Get there!" roared Captain Mayo. "Get there and report, sir!"

But before the chief mate was half-way down the ladder on his way the wailing voice of the lookout reported disaster. "Hole under the water-line forward," he cried.

"There are men in the water back there, sir," said a quartermaster.

"We're making water fast in the forward compartment," came a voice through the speaking-tube.

Already they in the pilot-house could hear the ululation of women in the depths of the ship, and then the husky clamor of the many voices of men drowned the shriller cries.

Captain Mayo had seen the survivors from the schooner struggling in the water. But he rang for full speed ahead and ordered the quartermaster to aim her into the north, knowing that land lay in that direction.

"Eight hundred lives on my shoulders and a hole in her," he told himself, while all his world of hope and ambition seemed rocking to ruin. "I can't wait to pick up those poor devils."

In a few minutes—in so few minutes that all his calculations as to his location were upset—the Montana plowed herself to a shuddering halt on a shoal, her bow lifting slightly. And when the engines were stopped she rested there, sturdily upright, steady as an island. But in her saloon the men and women who fought and screamed and cursed, beating to and fro in windrows of humanity like waves in a cavern, were convinced that the shuddering shock had signaled the doom of the vessel. Half-dressed men, still dizzy with sleep, confused by dreams which blended with the terrible reality, trampled the helpless underfoot, seeking exit from the saloon.

The hideous uproar which announced panic was a loud call to the master of the vessel. He understood what havoc might be wrought by the brutal senselessness of the struggle. He ran from the pilot-house, stepping on the feet of the general manager, who was stumbling about in bewildered fashion.

"Call all the crew to stations and guard the exits," Captain Mayo commanded the second mate.

On his precipitate way to the saloon the captain passed the room of the wireless operator, and the tense crackle of the spark told him that the SOS signal was winging its beseeching flight through the night.

Three men, half dressed, with life-preservers buckled on in hit-or-miss fashion, met him on the deck, dodged his angry clutch, and leaped over the rail into the sea, yelling with all the power of their lungs.

A quartermaster was at the captain's heels.

"Get over a life-boat on each side and attend to those idiots!" roared Mayo.

He thrust his way into a crowded corridor, beating frantic men back with his fists, adjuring, assuring, appealing, threatening. He mounted upon a chair in the saloon. He fairly outbellowed the rest of them. Men of the sea are trained to shout against the tempest.

"You are safe! Keep quiet! Sit down! This steamer is ashore on a sand-bank. She's as solid as Bunker Hill." He shouted these assurances over and over.

They began to look at him, to pay heed to him. His uniform marked his identity.

"You lie!" screamed an excited man. "We're out to sea! We're sinking! Where are your life-boats?"

Bedlam began again. Like the fool who shouts "Fire!" in a throng, this brainless individual revived all the fears of the frenzied passengers.

Mayo realized that heroic action was necessary. He leaped down from the chair, seized the man who had shouted, and beat the fellow's face with the flat of his hard hand.

That scene of conflict was startling enough to serve as a real jolt to their attention. They hushed their cries; they looked on, impressed, cowed.

"If there's any other man in this crowd who wants to tell me I'm a liar, let him stand out and say so," shouted Captain Mayo. "You're making fools of yourselves. There's no danger."

He released the pallid and trembling man of whom he had made an example and stepped on to a chair. He put up his hand, dominating them until he had secured absolute silence.

"You—you—you!" he said, crisply, darting finger here and there, pointing out individuals. "You seem to have more level heads than the rest, you men! Go forward where the man is casting the lead. Cast the lead yourselves. Come back here and report to these passengers, as their committee. I'm telling you the truth. There's no water under us to speak of." He remained in the saloon until his committee returned.

The man who reported looked a bit sheepish. "The captain is right, ladies and gentlemen. We could even see the sand where she has plowed it up—they've got lanterns over the rail. There's no danger."

A steward trotted to Captain Mayo and handed him a slip of paper. The captain read the message and shook the paper in the faces of the throng.

"The revenue cutter Acushnet has our wireless call and is starting, and the Itasca will follow. I advise you to go to bed and go to sleep. You're perfectly, absolutely safe. You will be transferred when it's daylight. Now be men and women!"

He hurried out on deck. His men were hoisting aboard the three dripping, sputtering passengers who had run amuck.

"And those same men would look after a runaway horse and sneer that he didn't have any brains," remarked Captain Mayo, disgustedly.

For the next half-hour he was a busy man. He investigated the Montana's wound, first of all. He found her flooded forward—her nose anchored into the sand with a rock-of-ages solidity.

His heart sank when he realized what her plight meant from the wrecking and salvage viewpoint. In those shifting sands, winnowed constantly by the rushing currents of the sound, digging her out might be a Gargantuan task, working her free a hopeless undertaking.

His tour of investigation showed him that except for her smashed bow the steamer was intact. Her helplessness there in the sand was the more pitiable on that account.

He had not begun to take account of stock of his own responsibility for this disaster. The whirl of events had been too dizzying. As master of the ship he would be held to account for her mishap. But to what extent had he been negligent? He could not figure it out. He realized that excitement plays strange pranks with a man's consciousness of linked events or of the passage of time. He could not understand why the steamer piled up so quickly after the collision. According to his ample knowledge of the shoals, he had been on his true course and well off the dangerous shallows.

His first mate met him amidship. "I sent off one of our life-boats, sir. Told 'em to go back and hunt for the men we saw in the water. They found two. Others seem to be gone."

"I'm glad you thought of it, Mr. Bangs. I ought to have attended to it, myself."

"You had enough on your hands, sir, as it was. She was the Lucretia M. Warren, with granite from Vinal-haven. That's what gave us such an awful tunk."

"Who are the men?"

"Mate and a sailor. They've had some hot drinks, and are coming along all right."

"We'll have a word with them, Mr. Bangs."

The survivors of the Warren were forward in the crew's quarters, and they were still dazed. They had not recovered from their fright; they were sullen.

"I'm sorry, men! Sailor to sailor, you know what I mean if I don't say any more. It's bad business on both sides. But what were you doing in the fairway?"

"We wa'n't in the fairway," protested a grizzled man, evidently the mate. He was uneasy in his borrowed clothes—he had surrendered his own garments to a pantryman who had volunteered to dry them.

"You must have been," insisted Captain Mayo.

"I know we was all of two miles north of the regular course. I 'ain't sailed across these shoals for thirty years not to know soundings when I make 'em myself. Furthermore, she'll speak for herself, where she's sunk."

The captain could not gainsay that dictum.

The mate scowled at the young man.

"I've got a question of my own. What ye doing, yourself, all of two miles out of your course, whanging along, tooting your old whistle as if you owned the sea and had rollers under you to go across dry ground with, too?"

"I was not two miles out of my course," protested the captain, and yet the sickening feeling came to him that there had been some dreadful error, somewhere, somehow.

"When they put these steamers into the hands of real men instead of having dudes and kids run 'em, then shipping will stand a fair show on this coast," declared the mate, casting a disparaging glance at Mayo's new uniform. "It was my watch on deck, and I know what I'm talking about. You came belting along straight at us, two points out of your course, and I thought the fog was playing tricks, and I didn't believe my own ears. You have drowned my captain and four honest men. When I stand up in court they'll get the straight facts from me, I can tell you that. And they tell me it's your first trip. I might have knowed it was some greenhorn, when I heard you coming two points off your course. You'd better take off them clothes. I reckon you've made your last trip, too!"

It was the querulous railing of a man who had been near death; it was the everlasting grouch of the sailing-man against the lordly steamboater. Mayo had no heart for rebuke or retort. What had happened to him, anyway? This old schooner man seemed to know exactly what he was talking about.

"If you don't believe what I'm telling you, go out on deck and see if you can't hear the Hedge Fence whistle," advised the mate, sourly. "If she don't bear south of east I'll eat that suit they're drying out for me. And that will show you that you're two miles to the norrard of where you ought to be."

On his way to the pilot-house Captain Mayo did hear the hollow voice of the distant whistle, with its double blast and its long interval of silence. The sound came from abaft his beam and his disquietude increased.

Then the acute realization was forced in upon him that he had the general manager of the line to face. The captain had not caught sight of his superior during the excitement; he wondered now why Mr. Fogg had effaced himself so carefully.

The red coal of a cigar glowed in a corner of the pilothouse. From that corner came curt inquiry: "Well, Captain Mayo, what have you got to say about this?"

"I think I'll do my talking after I have had daylight on the proposition, sir."

"Don't you have any idea how you happened to be off your course so far?" asked Fogg, his anxiety noticeable in his tones.

"How do you know I was off my course?"

"Well—er—why, well, you wouldn't be aground, would you, if you hadn't lost your way?"

"I didn't lose my way, Mr. Fogg."

"What did happen, then?"

"That's for me to find out."

"I'm not going to say anything to you yet, Captain Mayo. It's too sudden—too big a blow. It's going to paralyze the Vose line." Mr. Fogg said this briskly, as if he were passing small talk on the weather.

"I'm thankful that you're taking the thing so calmly, sir. I've been dreading to meet you."

"Oh—a business man in these days can't allow himself to fly to pieces over setbacks. Optimism is half the battle."

But Mayo, sitting there in that dark pilot-house for the rest of the night, staring out into the blank wall of the fog and surveying the wreck of his hopes, was decidedly not optimistic.



XXI ~ BITTER PROOF BY MORNING LIGHT

Bad news, bad news to our captain came That grieved him very sore; But when he knew that all of it was true, It grieved him ten time more, Brave boys! It grieved him ten times more! —Cold Greenland.

Morning brought to him neither cheer nor counsel. The winds swept the fog off the seas, and the brightness of the sunshine only mocked the gloom of Captain Mayo's thoughts.

He was most unmistakably far off his course. He took his bearings carefully, and he groped through his memory and his experience for reasons which would explain how he came to be away up there on Hedge Fence. Two of the masts of the sunken stone-schooner showed above the sea, two depressing monuments of disaster. He took further bearings and tested his compass with minute care. So far as he could determine it was correct to the dot.

It was a busy forenoon for all on board the steamer. The revenue cutters took off the passengers. Representatives of the underwriters came out from Wood's Hole on a tug. The huge Montana, set solidly into its bed of sand, loomed against the sky, mute witness of somebody's inefficiency or mistake.

Late in the day Captain Mayo and General-Manager Fogg locked themselves in the captain's cabin to have it out.

When the master had finished his statement Mr. Fogg flicked the ash from his cigar, studied the glowing end for a time, and narrowed his eyes.

"So, summing it all up, it happened, and you don't know just how it happened. You were off your course and don't know how you happened to be off your course. You don't expect us to defend you before the steamboat inspectors, with that for an explanation, Mayo?"

"All I can do is to tell the truth at the hearing, sir."

"They'll break you, sure as a mule wags ears. There are five dead men inside that wreck yonder. Don't you reckon you'll be indicted for manslaughter?"

"I shall claim that the collision was unavoidable."

"But you were off your course—were in a place you had no business to be in. That knocks your defense all to the devil. You are in almighty bad, Mayo. You must wake up to it."

The young man was pale and rigid and silent.

"The Vose line is in bad enough as it is, without trying to defend you. I suppose I'll be blamed for putting on a young captain. Mayo, I am older than you are and wiser about the law and such matters. Why don't you duck out from under, eh?"

"You mean run away?"

"I wouldn't put it quite as bluntly as that. I mean, go away and keep out of sight till it quiets down. If you stay they'll put you on the rack and get you all tangled up by firing questions at you. And what will you gain by going through the muss? You've got to agree with me that the inspectors will suspend you—revoke your license. Here's this steamer here, talking for herself. If you stay around underfoot, and all the evidence is brought out at the hearing, then the Federal grand jury will take the thing up, probably. They'll have a manslaughter case against you."

Still Captain Mayo did not speak.

"If you simply drop out of sight I don't believe they'll chase you. Personally, having watched you last night, I don't believe you are guilty of any very bad break. It simply happened wrong. We don't want all the notoriety a court trial would bring to the line. And here's what I'll do, Mayo. I'll slip you a few hundred for expenses so that you can go away and grab into the shipping game somewhere else. A fellow like you can land on his feet."

"Mr. Fogg, a renegade steamboat man stands a mighty poor show. I may be suspended, and worse may happen to me, but I'm not going to ruin myself and my good name by running away. That's confession! It's wrecking all my prospects forever—and I have worked too hard for what I've got. I'm going to stay here and face the music—tell my story like a man."

"It will make a fine story—and you have told me yourself that they are just waiting to make a smashing example of somebody," sneered Fogg. "You, a cub captain, broke the navigation rules last night by running at least fifteen knots in the fog. Your log and the testimony of your mates will show that. I'm not blaming you, son. I'm showing you how it looks! You got off your course and rammed a schooner at anchor, and you didn't even stop to pick up her men. I saw that much. Mayo, the only sensible thing for you to do is to duck out from under. It will save the line from a lot of scandal and bad advertising. By gad! if you don't do that much for us, after the offer I've just made you, I'll go onto the stand and testify against you."

"You seem to be mighty ready and anxious to make me the goat in this thing," blazed the young man, his temper getting away from him. He had been without sleep for many hours, his soul had been crucified by the bitter experiences he had been through.

"Are you looking for a fight?"

"No, Mr. Fogg, I'm looking for a square deal. I haven't done anything intentionally to make me a fugitive from justice. I won't run away."

"You won't be the first witness who has helped big interests by keeping out of sight and out of reach of the lawyers. It's business, Mayo."

"It may be, Mr. Fogg. I don't know the inside of the big deals. I'm only a sailor. I associate with sailors. And I've got a little pride in my good name."

Mr. Fogg looked at this recalcitrant with scorn. He wanted to tell this stubborn individual that he was merely a two-spot in the big game which was being played. But the expression on Mayo's face encouraged neither levity nor sneers.

"I'll give you a thousand dollars expense money for your trip and will talk job with you next year after you get your license back," proffered the general manager.

Captain Mayo fixed flaming eyes on the tempter. "What special, private reason have you got for wanting to bribe me?" demanded the young man, with such heat that Fogg flinched. "You are making something very mysterious out of what should be open and aboveboard. That may be Wall Street tactics, Mr. Fogg, but it doesn't go with a sailor who has earned a master's papers and is proud of it."

"Well, pass on then," directed Fogg. "There's a tug alongside to take the underwriters back to Wood's Hole. Go along—to jail, or wherever it is you'll fetch up."

"I shall stay aboard this ship as her captain until I am relieved according to the formalities of the admiralty law," declared Captain Mayo, with dignity. "I don't propose to run away from duty or punishment, Mr. Fogg."

The general manager pursed a contemptuous mouth and departed from the cabin. He went away on the tug without further word to Mayo.

During the next two days small craft buzzed about the stricken giant like flies around a carcass. There were insurance men, wreckers with plans and projects, sightseers, stockholders—and one visitor was Captain Zoradus Wass.

"Nothing else to do just now, boy, except to come and sympathize with you." He clucked his tongue against his teeth as he looked the steamer over. It was condolence without words. "Now tell me the story of it—with all the fine details," he demanded, after they were closeted in the captain's cabin. He sat with elbows on his knees and gazed at the floor during the recital, and he continued to gaze at the floor for some time after Mayo had ceased speaking.

"I admit that the quartermaster let her off for just a minute—less than a minute," repeated the young man. "I had only just looked away for an instant. I helped him put her over. We couldn't have done more than cut a letter S for a few lengths. But the more I think of it, the queerer it seems. Two points off, almost in a finger-snap!"

"Tell that part of it over and over again, while I shut my eyes and get it fixed in my mind as if I had seen it," requested Captain Wass. "Who was there, where did they stand, and so forth and et cetry. When a thing happens and you can't figger it out, it's usually because you haven't pawed over the details carefully enough. Go ahead! I'm a good listener."

But after he had listened he had no comments to make. He went out of the cabin after a few minutes' wait which was devoted to deep meditation, and strolled about the ship, hands behind his back, scuffing his feet. A half-hour later, meeting Captain Mayo on his rounds, the veteran inquired:

"How do you happen to have Oliver Burkett aboard here?" "I don't know him."

"You ought to know him. He is the captain the Vose line fired off the Nirvana three years ago. He gave the go-ahead and a jingle when he was making dock, and chewed up four fishing-boats and part of the pier. He had to choose between admitting that he was drunk, crazy, or bribed by the opposition. And I guess they figured that he was all three. Was he aboard here the night it happened?"

"I don't know, sir."

"According to my notion it's worth finding out," growled Captain Wass. "I'm not seeing very far into this thing as yet, son, and I'll admit it. But if dirty work was done to you, Burkett would have been a handier tool for Fogg than a Stillson wrench in a plumbing job. No, don't ask me questions now. I haven't got any consolation for you or confidence in myself. I'm only thinking."

The next day the wounded Montana was formally surrendered to the underwriters.

Captain Boyd Mayo was ordered to appear before the United States inspectors, and he went and told his story as best he could. But his best was an unconvincing tale, after all. He left the hearing after his testimony and walked down to the little hotel by the water-front to wait for news.

Captain Wass came bustling down to the little hotel, plumping along at an extra rate of speed, setting his heels down hard, a moving monument of gloom.

His protege, removing disconsolate gaze from the dusty chromos on the office walls, did not require verbal report; Captain Wass's demeanor told all.

"And you couldn't expect much of anything else," declared the old man. "I made the best talk I could for you after you had finished your testimony and had gone out. But it was no use, son! The department has been laying for a victim. Both of us have known that right along. They have soaked it to you good and proper."

"How long am I suspended for?" faltered Mayo.

"That's the point! Indefinitely. You were meat. Everybody watching the case. They trimmed you."

Mayo set his hands into his thick hair, propped his head, and stared at the floor.

"Indefinitely doesn't mean forever, but there ain't much comfort in that. I'll tell you what it does mean, boy. It means that if there has been crooked work we've got to show it up in order to reinstate you. And now get a good brace on yourself. I've taken a peek in at the United States court."

The young man, without lifting his head, gave the veteran a piteous side-glance.

"Fletcher Fogg is buzzing around the outside of that hive. He has Burkett along for an understrapper. They are marshaling in witnesses before the grand jury—those men from the Warren, and you know what they'll say, of course! Your mates and quartermasters, too! Mayo, they're going to railroad you to Atlanta penitentiary. They have put something over on you because you are young and they figured that you'd be a little green. It seemed queer to me when Fogg was so mighty nice to you all of a sudden. But they don't lay off a man like Jacobs and put in a new man just to be nice. They either felt they couldn't work Jacobs, or else they felt a green man would give 'em a good excuse for what happened."

"But they couldn't arrange to have a schooner—"

"That was probably more than they figured on. But as long as it has happened they're going to use it to best advantage. You're going to have both tin cans tied to you, son. Every cussed bit of influence is going to be used against you. Poor devils on the outside, like you and I, don't understand just how slick the ways can be greased. Mayo, I'm going to give you good advice. Duck out!"

"Run away like a confessed criminal? That's the advice Fogg gave me. I don't think your advice is good, Captain Wass. I won't run away."

"It may not be good advice. I ain't wise enough to know everything that's best. But if they put you behind the bars in Atlanta, son, you'll stay there till your term is up. No matter what is found out in your case, it will take money and a lot of time to get the truth before the right people. But if you ain't in prison, and we can get a line on this case and dig up even a part of the truth, then you've got a fighting chance in the open. If we can get just enough to make 'em afraid to put you onto the witness-stand, that much may make 'em quit their barking. You're a sailor, boy! You know a sailor can't do much when his hands are tied. Stay outside the penitentiary and help me fight this thing."

"I don't know what to do," mourned the young man. "I'm all in a whirl. I'm no coward, Captain Wass. I'm willing to face the music. But I'm so helpless."

"Stay outside jail till the fog lifts a bit in this case," adjured his mentor. "Are you going to lie down and stick up your legs to have 'em tied, like a calf bound for market? Here are a few things you can do if you duck out of sight for a little while. I'll go ahead and—"

Suddenly he checked himself. He was facing the window, which commanded a considerable section of street. He wasted no further breath on good advice.

"I know those men coming down there," he cried. "They're bailiffs. I saw them around the court-house. They're after you, Mayo! You run! Get away! There must be a back door here. Scoot!" He pulled the unresisting scapegoat out of his chair and hustled him to the rear of the office.

A young man may have the best intentions. He may resolve to be a martyr, to bow to the law's majesty. But at that moment Mayo was receiving imperious command from the shipmaster whose orders he had obeyed for so long that obedience was second nature. And panic seized him! Men were at hand to arrest him. There was no time to reason the thing out. Flight is the first impulse of innocence persecuted. Manly resolve melted. He ran.

"I'll stay behind and bluff 'em off! I'll say you're just out for a minute, that I'm waiting here for you," cried Captain Wass. "That will give you a start. Try the docks. You may find one of the boys who will help."

Mayo escaped into a yard, dodged down an alley, planning his movements as he hurried, having a mariner's quickness of thought in an emergency.

He made directly for the pier where steam-vessels took water. A huge ocean-going tug was just getting ready to leave her berth under the water-hose. Her gruff whistle-call had ordered hawsers cast off. Mayo's 'longcoast acquaintance was fairly extensive. This was a coal-barge tug, and he waved quick greeting to the familiar face in her pilot-house and leaped aboard. He climbed the forward ladder nimbly.

"I reckon you'll have to make it hello and good-by in one breath, mate," advised the skipper. "I'm off to take a light tow down-coast. Norfolk next stop."

"Let her go—sooner the better," gasped the fugitive. "I'll explain why as soon as you are out of the dock."

"You don't say that you want to take the trip?"

"I've got to take it."

The skipper cocked an eyebrow and pulled his bell. "Make yourself to home, mate," he advised. "I hope you ain't in so much of a hurry to get there as you seem to be, for I've got three barges to tow."

Mayo sat down on the rear transom and was hidden from all eyes on the pier.

There was no opportunity for an explanation until the barges had been picked up, for there was much manouver-ing and much tooting. But he found ready sympathy after he had explained.

"The law sharps are always hankering to catch a poor cuss who is trying to navigate these waters and suit the inspectors and the owners at the same time," admitted the master of the tug. "I have read everything the papers had to say about your case, and I figured they didn't give you a fair show. Newspapers and lawyers and owners don't understand what a fellow is up against. I'm glad you're aboard, mate, because I want to hear your side, with all the details."

The threshing over of the matter occupied many hours of the long wallow down the Jersey coast, and the tug captain weighed all features of the case with the care of a man who has plenty of time on his hands and with the zest a mariner displays in considering the affairs of his kind of folk.

"If I didn't know you pretty well, Mayo, and know what kind of a man you got your training with, I might think—just as those law sharps will probably say—that you were criminally careless or didn't know your business. But that dodge she made on you! Two points off her course! You've got to put your finger right on there and hold it! Let me tell you something. It was a queer thing in my own case. That was a queer thing in your case. Stand two queer things in our business up beside each other and squint at 'em and you may learn something."

"She was on her course—I put her there with my own hands," persisted Mayo.

"Sure! You know your business. If this thing was going to be left to the bunch that know you, you'd go clear. But here's what happened in my case: I had a new man in the wheel-house, here, and he almost rammed me into Cuttyhunk, gave me a touch and go with the Pollock Rip Lightship, and had me headed toward Nauset when the fog lifted. And he was steering my courses to the thinness of a hair, at that! Say, I took a sudden tumble and frisked that chap and dragged a toad-stabber knife out of his pocket—one of those regular foot-long knives. It had been yawing off that compass all the way from a point to a point and a half. When did you shift wheel-watch?"

"Before we made Vineyard Sound."

"And no trouble coming up the sound?"

"Made Nobska and West Chop to the dot."

"Then perhaps your general manager, who was in that pilot-house, had an iron gizzard inside him. Most of them Wall Street fellows do have!" said the skipper, with sarcasm.

"There's something going on in the steamboat business that I can't understand," declared Mayo. "It's high up; it hasn't to do with us chaps, who have to take the kicks. Fogg brought a man aboard the old Nequasset, and he didn't bring along a good explanation to go with that man. I have been wondering ever since how it happened that Fogg got to be general manager of the Vose line so almighty sudden."

"Them high financiers play a big game, mate. And if you happened to be a marked card in it, they'd tear you up and toss you under the table without thinking twice. If you'll take a tip from me, you lay low and do a lot of thinking while Uncle Zoradus does his scouting. What are you going to do when you get to Norfolk?"

"I haven't thought."

"Well, the both of us better think, and think hard, mate. If the United States is really after you there'll be a sharp eye at every knot-hole. I can't afford to let 'em get in a crack at me for what I've done."

"I'll jump overboard outside the capes before I'll put you in wrong," asserted Mayo, with deep feeling.

That night the captain of the tug took a trick at the wheel in person.

His guest lay on the transom, smoking the skipper's spare pipe, and racking his mind for ways and means. After a time he was conscious that the captain was growling a bit of a song to relieve the tedium of his task. He sang the same words over and over—a tried and true Chesapeake shanty:

"Oh, I sailed aboard a lugger, and I shipped aboard a scow, And I sailed aboard a peanut-shell that had a razor bow. Needle in a haystack, brick into a wall! A nigger man in Norfolk, he ain't no 'count at all!"

Mayo rolled off the transom and went to the captain's side. "There's more truth than poetry in that song of yours, sir," he said. "You have given me an idea. A nigger in Norfolk doesn't attract much attention. And I haven't got to be one of the black ones, either. Don't you suppose there's something aboard here I can use to stain my face with?"

"My cook is a great operator as a tattoo artist."

"I don't think I want to make the disguise permanent, sir," stated the young man, with a smile.

"What I mean is, he may have something in his kit that he can use to paint you with. What's your idea—stay there? I'm afraid they'll nail you." >

"I'll stay there just long enough to ship before the mast on a schooner. There isn't time to think up any better plan just now. Anything to keep out of sight until I can make up my mind about what's really best to be done."

"We'll have that cook up here," offered the captain. "He's safe."

The cook took prompt and professional interest in the matter. "Sure!" he said. "I've got a stain that will sink in and stay put for a long time, if no grease paint is used. Only you mustn't wash your face."

"There's no danger of a fellow having any inducement to do that when he's before the mast on a schooner in these days," declared the tug captain, dryly.

An hour later, Captain Boyd Mayo, late of the crack liner Montana, was a very passable mulatto, his crisply curling hair adding to the disguise. He swapped his neat suit of brown with a deck-hand, and received some particularly unkempt garments.

The next night, when the tug was berthed at the water station, he slipped off into the darkness, as homeless and as disconsolate as an abandoned dog.



XXII ~ SPECIAL BUSINESS OF A PASSENGER

O Ranzo was no sailor, He shipped on board a whaler. O pity Reuben Ran-zo, Ran-zo, boys! O poor old Reuben Ranzo, Ranzo, boys! —Reuben Ranzo.

Captain Mayo kept out of the region of the white lights for some time. He had a pretty wide acquaintance in the Virginia port, and he knew the beaten paths of the steamboating transients, ashore for a bit of a blow.

He lurked in alleys, feeling especially disreputable. He was not at all sure that his make-up was effective. His own self-consciousness convinced him that he was a glaring fraud, whose identity would be revealed promptly to any person who knew him. But while he sneaked in the purlieus of the city several of his 'longshore friends passed him without a second look. One, a second engineer on a Union line freighter, whirled after passing, and came back to him.

"Got a job, boy?"

"No, sir."

"We need coal-passers on the Drummond. She's in the stream. Come aboard in the morning."

But it was not according to Mayo's calculation, messing with steamboat men. "Ah doan' conclude ah wants no sech job," he drawled.

"No, of course you don't want to work, you blasted yaller mutt!" snapped the engineer. He marched on, cursing, and Mayo was encouraged, for the man had given him a thorough looking-over.

He went out onto the wider streets. He was looking for a roving schooner captain, reckoning he would know one of that gentry by the cut of his jib.

A ponderous man came stumping down the sidewalk, swinging his shoulders.

"He's one of 'em," decided Mayo. The round-crowned soft hat, undented, the flapping trouser legs, the gait recognized readily by one who has ever seen a master mariner patrol his quarter-deck—all these marked him as a safe man to tackle. He stopped, dragged a match against the brick side of a building, and relighted his cigar. But before Mayo could reach him a colored man hurried up and accosted the big gentleman, whipping off his hat and bowing with smug humility. Mayo hung up at a little distance. He recognized the colored man; he was one of the numerous Norfolk runners who furnish crews for vessels. He wore pearl-gray trousers, a tailed coat, and had a pink in his buttonhole.

"Ah done have to say that ah doan' get that number seven man up to now, Cap'n Downs, though I have squitulate for him all up and down. But ah done expect—"

Captain Downs scowled over his scooped hands, puffing hard at his cigar. He threw away the match.

"Look-a-here! you've been chasing me two days with new stories about that seventh man. Haven't you known me long enough to know that you can't trim me for another fee?"

"Cap'n Downs, you done know yo'self the present lucidateness of the sailorman supply."

"I know that if you don't get that man aboard my schooner to-night or the first thing to-morrow morning you'll never put another one aboard for me. You go hustle! And look here! I see you making up your mouth! Not another cent!"

The colored man backed off and went away.

Mayo accosted the captain when that fuming gentleman came lunging along the sidewalk. "Ah done lak to have that job, cap'n," he pleaded.

"You a sailor?"

"Yas, sir."

"How is it you ain't hiring through the regular runners?"

"Ah doan' lak to give all my money to a dude nigger to go spotein' on."

"Well, there's something in that," acknowledged Captain Downs, softening a bit. "I haven't got much use for that kind myself. You come along. But if you ain't A-1, shipshape, and seamanlike and come aboard my vessel to loaf on your job you'll wish you were in tophet with the torches lighted. Got any dunnage laying around anywhere?"

"No, sir."

"Well, then, I guess you're a regular sailor, all right, the way the breed runs nowadays. That sounds perfectly natural." The captain led the way down to a public landing, where a power-yawl, with engineer and a mate, was in waiting. "Will she go into the stream to-night, Mr. Dodge?" asked Captain Downs, curtly.

"No, sir! About four hundred tons still to come."

Schooner captains keep religiously away from their vessels as long as the crafts lie at the coal-docks.

"Come up for me in the morning as soon as she is in the stream. Here's a man to fill the crew. If that coon shows up with another man kick the two of 'em up the wharf."

"Will the passenger come aboard with you, sir?"

"He called me up at the hotel about supper-time and said something about wanting to come aboard at the dock. I tried to tell him it was foolish, but it's safe to reckon that a man who wants to sail as passenger from here to Boston on a coal-schooner is a fool, anyway. If he shows up, let him come aboard." Captain Downs swung away and the night closed in behind him.

Mayo took his place in the yawl and preserved meek and proper silence during the trip down the harbor.

When they swung under the counter of the schooner which was their destination, the young man noted that she was the Drusilla M. Alden, a five-master, of no very enviable record along the coast, so far as the methods and manners of her master went; Mayo had heard of her master, whose nickname was "Old Mull." He had not recognized him under the name of Captain Downs when the runner had addressed him.

The new member of the crew followed the mate up the ladder—only a few steps, for the huge schooner, with most of her cargo aboard, showed less than ten feet of freeboard amidships.

"Sleepy, George?" asked the mate, when they were on deck.

"No, sir."

"Then you may as well go on this watch."

"Yass'r!"

"We'll call it now eight bells, midnight. You'll go off watch eight bells, morning."

Mayo knew that the hour was not much later than eleven, but he did not protest; he knew something about the procedure aboard coastwise coal-schooners.

Search-lights bent steady glare upon the chutes down which rushed the streams of coal, black dust swirling in the white radiance. The great pockets at Lambert Point are never idle. High above, on the railway, trains of coal-cars racketed. Under his feet the fabric of the vessel trembled as the chutes fed her through the three hatches. Sweating, coal-blackened men toiled in the depths of her, revealed below hatches by the electric lights, pecking at the avalanche with their shovels, trimming cargo.

The young man exchanged a few listless words with the two negroes who were on deck, his mates of the watch.

They were plainly not interested in him, and he avoided them.

The hours dragged. He helped to close and batten the fore-hatch, and later performed similar service on the hatch aft. The main-hatch continued to gulp the black food which the chute fed to it.

Suddenly a tall young man appeared to Mayo. The stranger was smartly dressed, and his spick-and-span garb contrasted strangely with the general riot of dirt aboard the schooner. He trod gingerly over the dust-coated planks and carried two suit-cases.

"Here, George," he commanded. "Take these to my stateroom."

Mayo hesitated.

"I'm going as passenger," said the young man, impatiently, and Mayo remembered what the captain had told the mate.

Passengers on coal-schooners, sailing as friends of the master, were not unknown on the coast, but Mayo judged, from what he had heard, that this person was not a friend, and had wondered a bit.

"I am not allowed to go aft, sir, without orders from the mate."

"Where is the mate?"

"I think he is below, sir."

"Asleep?"

"I wouldn't wonder."

Mayo did not trouble to use his dialect on this stranger, a mere passenger, who spoke as if he were addressing a car-porter. The tone produced instant irritation, resentment in the man who had so recently been master of his ship.

The passenger set down his baggage and pondered a moment. He looked Mayo over in calculating fashion; he stared up the wharf. Then he picked up his bags and hurried along the port alley and disappeared down the companionway.

He returned in a few moments, came into the waist of the vessel, and made careful survey of all about him. There were two sailors far forward, merely dim shadows. For some reason general conditions on the schooner seemed to satisfy the stranger.

"The thing is breaking about right—about as I reckoned it would," he said aloud. "Look here, George, how much talking do you do about things you see?"

"Talking to who, sir?"

"Why, to your boss—the captain—the mate."

"A sailor before the mast is pretty careful not to say anything to a captain or the mates unless they speak to him first, sir."

"George, I'm not going to do anything but what is perfectly all right, you understand. You'll not get into any trouble over it. But what you don't see you can't tell, no matter if questions are asked later on. Here, take this!" He crowded two silver dollars into Mayo's hands and gave him a push. "You trot forward and stay there about five minutes, that's the boy! It's all right. It's a little of my own private business. Go ahead!"

Mayo went. He reflected that it was none of his affair what a passenger did aboard the vessel. It was precious little interest he took in the craft, anyway, except as a temporary refuge. He turned away and put the money in his pocket, the darkness hiding his smile.

He did not look toward the wharf. He strolled on past the forward house, where the engineer was stoking his boiler, getting up steam for the schooner's windlass engine. When he patrolled aft again, after a conscientious wait, he found the passenger leaning against the coachhouse door, smoking a cigarette. The electric light showed his face, and it wore a look of peculiar satisfaction.

Just then some one fumbled inside the coach-house door at the stranger's back, and when the latter stepped away the first mate appeared, yawning.

"I'm the passenger—Mr. Bradish," the young man explained, promptly. "I just made myself at home, put my stuff in a stateroom, and locked the door and took the key. Is that all right?"

"May be just as well to lock it while we're at dock and stevedores are aboard," agreed the mate.

"How soon do we pull out of here?"

The mate yawned again and peered up into the sky, where the first gray of the summer dawn was showing over the cranes of the coal-pockets. "In about a half-hour, I should say. Just as soon as the tug can use daylight to put us into the stream."

The roar of the coal in the main-hatch chute had ceased. The schooner was loaded.

"Go strike eight bells, Jeff, and turn in!" ordered the mate, speaking to Mayo.

"Well, I'll stay outside, here, and watch the sun rise," said Bradish. "It will be a new experience."

"It's an almighty dirty place for loafing till we get into the stream and clean ship, sir. I should think taking an excursion on a coal-lugger would be another new experience!" There was just a hint of grim sarcasm in his tone.

"The doctor ordered me to get out and away where I wouldn't hear of business or see business, and a friend of mine told me there were plenty of room and comfort aboard one of these big schooners. That cabin and the staterooms, they're fine!"

"Oh, they have to give a master a good home these days. That's a Winton carpet in the saloon," declared the mate, with pride. "And we've got a one-eyed cook who can certainly sling grub together. Yes, for a cheap vacation I dun'no' but a schooner is all right!"

The two were getting on most amicably when Mayo went forward. He was dog-tired and turned in on tie bare boards of his fo'cas'le berth.

No bedding is furnished men before the mast on the coal-carriers.

If a man wants anything between himself and the boards he must bring it with him, and few do so. At the end of each trip a crew is discharged and new men are hired, in order to save paying wages while a vessel is in port loading or discharging. Therefore, a coastwise schooner harbors only transients, for whom the fo'cas'le is merely a shelter between watches.

But Mayo was a sailor, and the bare boards served him better than bedding in which some dusky and dirty son of Ham had nestled. He laid himself down and slept soundly.

The second mate turned out the watch below at four bells—six in the morning. The schooner was in the stream and all hands were needed to work hose and brooms and clear off the coal-dust. Mayo toiled in the wallow of black water till his muscles ached.

There was one happy respite—they knocked off long enough to eat breakfast. It was sent out to them from the cook-house in one huge, metal pan without dishes or knives or forks.

A white cook wash dishes for negroes?

Mayo knew the custom which prevailed on board the schooners between the coal ports and the New England cities, and he fished for food with his fingers and cut meat with his jack-knife with proper meekness.

When he was back at his scrubbing again the cook passed aft, bearing the zinc-lined hamper which contained the breakfast for the cabin table. That this cook had the complete vocabulary of others of his ilk was revealed when the man with the hose narrowly missed drenching the hamper.

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