For the second time she fell back into her terrible abyss, nothing changed in her morbid, hopeless waiting.
Yet in that short, hopeful moment, she had felt him so near to her that it was as if his spirit had floated over the sea unto her,—what is called a foretoken (pressigne) in Breton land; and she listened still more attentively to the steps outside, trusting that some one might come to her to speak of him.
Just as the day broke, Yann's father entered. He took off his cap, and pushed back his splendid white locks, which were in curls like Yann's, sat down by Gaud's bedside.
His heart ached heavily too; for Yann, his tall, handsome Yann, was his first-born, his favorite and his pride: but he did not despair yet. He comforted Gaud in his own blunt, affectionate way. To begin with, those who had last returned from Iceland spoke of the increasing dense fogs, which might well have delayed the vessel; and then too an idea struck him,—they might possibly have stopped at the distant Faroe Islands on their homeward course, whence letters were so long in traveling. This had happened to him once forty years ago, and his own poor dead and gone mother had had a mass said for his soul. The Leopoldine was such a good boat,—next to new,—and her crew were such able-bodied seamen.
Granny Moan stood by them shaking her head: the distress of her granddaughter had almost given her back her own strength and reason. She tidied up the place, glancing from time to time at the faded portrait of Sylvestre, which hung upon the granite wall with its anchor emblems and mourning-wreath of black bead-work. Ever since the sea had robbed her of her own last offspring, she believed no longer in safe returns; she only prayed through fear, bearing Heaven a grudge in the bottom of her heart.
But Gaud listened eagerly to these consoling reasonings; her large sunken eyes looked with deep tenderness out upon this old sire, who so much resembled her beloved one; merely to have him near her was like a hostage against death having taken the younger Gaos; and she felt reassured, nearer to her Yann. Her tears fell softly and silently, and she repeated again her passionate prayers to the Star of the Sea.
A delay out at those Islands to repair damages was a very likely event. She rose and brushed her hair, and then dressed as if she might fairly expect him. All then was not lost, if a seaman, his own father, did not yet despair. And for a few days she resumed looking out for him again.
Autumn at last arrived,—a late autumn too,—its gloomy evenings making all things appear dark in the old cottage; and all the land looked sombre too.
The very daylight seemed a sort of twilight; immeasurable clouds, passing slowly overhead, darkened the whole country at broad noon. The wind blew constantly with the sound of a great cathedral organ at a distance, but playing profane, despairing dirges; at other times the noise came close to the door, like the howling of wild beasts.
She had grown pale,—aye, blanched,—and bent more than ever; as if old age had already touched her with its featherless wing. Often did she finger the wedding clothes of her Yann, folding them and unfolding them again and again like some maniac,—especially one of his blue woolen jerseys which still had preserved his shape: when she threw it gently on the table, it fell with the shoulders and chest well defined; so she placed it by itself in a shelf of their wardrobe, and left it there, so that it might forever rest unaltered.
Every night the cold mists sank upon the land, as she gazed over the depressing heath through her little window, and watched the thin puffs of white smoke arise from the chimneys of other cottages scattered here and there on all sides. There the husbands had returned, like wandering birds driven home by the frost. Before their blazing hearths the evenings passed, cozy and warm; for the springtime of love had begun again in this land of North Sea fishermen.
Still clinging to the thought of those islands where he might perhaps have lingered, she was buoyed up by a kind hope, and expected him home any day.
* * * * * *
But he never returned. One August night, out off gloomy Iceland, mingled with the furious clamor of the sea, his wedding with the sea was performed. It had been his nurse; it had rocked him in his babyhood and had afterwards made him big and strong; then, in his superb manhood, it had taken him back again for itself alone. Profoundest mystery had surrounded this unhallowed union. While it went on, dark curtains hung pall-like over it as if to conceal the ceremony, and the ghoul howled in an awful, deafening voice to stifle his cries. He, thinking of Gaud, his sole, darling wife, had battled with giant strength against this deathly rival, until he at last surrendered, with a deep death-cry like the roar of a dying bull, through a mouth already filled with water; and his arms were stretched apart and stiffened forever.
All those he had invited in days of old were present at his wedding. All except Sylvestre, who had gone to sleep in the enchanted gardens far, far away, at the other side of the earth.
THE SALVING OF THE YAN-SHAN
From "In Blue Waters," BY H. DE VERE STACKPOOLE
The Heart of Ireland was spreading her wings to the north-west trades, making a good seven knots, with the coast of California a vague line on the horizon to port and all the blue Pacific before her.
Captain Blood was aft with his mate, Billy Harman, leaning on the rail and watching the foam boosting away from the stern and flowing off in creamy lines on the swirl of the wake. Ginnell, owner and captain of the Heart of Ireland, shanghaied and reduced to deck hand, was forward on the look-out, and one of the coolie crew was at the wheel.
"I'm not given to meeting trouble half-way," said Blood, shifting his position and leaning with his left arm on the rail, "but it 'pears to me Pat Ginnell is taking his set down a mighty sight too easy. He's got something up his sleeve."
"So've we," replied Harman. "What can he do? He laid out to shanghai you, and by gum, he did it. I don't say I didn't let him down crool, playin' into his hands and pretendin' to help and gettin' Captain Mike as a witness, but the fac' remains he got you aboard this hooker by foul play, shanghaied you were, and then you turns the tables on him, knocks the stuffin' out of him and turns him into a deck hand. How's he to complain? I'd start back to 'Frisco now and dare him to come ashore with his complaints. We've got his ship, well, that's his fault. He's no legs to stand on, that's truth.
"Leavin' aside this little bisness, he's known as a crook from Benicia right to San Jose. The bay stinks with him and his doin's; settin' Chinese sturgeon lines, Captain Mike said he was, and all but nailed, smugglin' and playin' up to the Greeks, and worse. The Bayside's hungry to catch him an' stuff him in the penitentiary, and he hasn't no friends. I'm no saint, I owns it, but I'm a plaster John the Baptis' to Ginnell, and I've got friends, so have you. Well, what are you bothering about?"
"Oh, I'm not bothering about the law," said Blood, "only about him. I'm going to keep my eye open and not be put asleep by his quiet ways—and I'd advise you to do the same."
"Trust me," said Harman, "and more especial when we come to longsides with the Yan-Shan."
Now the Yan-Shan had started in life somewhere early in the nineties as a twelve hundred ton cargo boat in the Bullmer line; she had been christened the Robert Bullmer, and her first act when the dog-shores had been knocked away was a bull charge down the launching slip, resulting in the bursting of a hawser, the washing over of a boat and the drowning of two innocent spectators; her next was an attempt to butt the Eddystone over in a fog, and, being unbreakable, she might have succeeded only that she was going dead slow. She drifted out of the Bullmer line on the wash of a law-suit owing to the ramming by her of a Cape boat in Las Palmas harbour; engaged herself in the fruit trade in the service of the Corona Capuella Syndicate, and got on to the Swimmer rocks with a cargo of Jamaica oranges, a broken screw shaft and a blown-off cylinder cover. The ruined cargo, salvage and tow smashed the Syndicate, and the Robert Bullmer found new occupations till the See-Yup-See Company of Canton picked her up, and, rechristening, used her for conveying coffins and coolies to the American seaboard. They had sent her to Valdivia on some business, and on the return from the southern port to 'Frisco she had, true to her instincts and helped by a gale, run on San Juan, a scrap of an island north of the Channel Islands of the California coast. Every soul had been lost with the exception of two Chinese coolies, who, drifting on a raft, had been picked up and brought to San Francisco.
She had a general cargo and twenty thousand dollars in gold coin on board, but the coolies had declared her to be a total wreck, said, in fact, when they had last sighted her she was going to pieces.
That was the yarn Harman heard through Clancy, with the intimation that the wreck was not worth two dollars, let alone the expenses of a salvage ship.
The story had eaten into Harman's mind; he knew San Juan better than any man in 'Frisco, and he considered that a ship once ashore there would stick; then Ginnell turned up, and the luminous idea of inducing Ginnell to shanghai Blood so that Blood might with his, Harman's, assistance shanghai Ginnell and use the Heart of Ireland for the picking of the Yan-Shan's pocket, entered his mind.
"It's just when we come alongside the Yan-Shan we may find our worst bother," said Blood.
"Which way?" asked Harman.
"Well, they're pretty sure to send some sort of a wrecking expedition to try and salve some of the cargo, let alone those dollars."
"See here," said Harman, "I had the news from Clancy that morning, and it had only just come to 'Frisco, it wasn't an hour old; we put the cap on Ginnell and were out of the Golden Gate before sundown same day. A wrecking ship would take all of two days to get her legs under her, supposing anyone bought the wreck, so we have two days' start; we've been makin' seven knots and maybe a bit over, they won't make more. So we have two days to our good when we get there."
"They may start a quick ship out on the job," said Blood.
"Well, now, there's where my knowledge comes in," said Harman. "There's only two salvage ships at present in 'Frisco, and rotten tubs they are. One's the Maryland, she's most a divin' and dredgin' ship, ain't no good for this sort of work, sea-bottom scrapin' is all she's good for, and little she makes at it. The other's the Port of Amsterdam, owned by Gunderman. She's the ship they'd use; she's got steam winches and derricks 'nough to discharge the Ark, and stowage room to hold the cargo down to the last flea, but she's no good for more than eight knots; she steams like as if she'd a drogue behind her, because why?—she's got beam engines—she's that old, she's got beam engines in her. I'm not denyin' there's somethin' to be said for them, but, there you are, there's no speed in them."
"Well, beam engines or no beam engines, we'll have a pretty rough time if she comes down and catches us within a cable's length of the Yan-Shan," said Blood. "However, there's no use in fetching trouble; let's go and have a look at the lazaret, I want to see how we stand for grub."
Chop-stick Charlie was the name Blood had christened the coolie who acted as steward and cabin hand. He called him now, and out of the opium-tinctured gloom of the fo'c'sle Charlie appeared, received his orders and led them to the lazaret.
None of the crew had shown the slightest emotion on seeing Blood take over command of the schooner and Ginnell swabbing decks. The fight, that had made Blood master of the Heart of Ireland and Ginnell's revolver, had occurred in the cabin and out of sight of the coolies, but even had it been conducted in full view of them, it is doubtful whether they would have shown any feeling or lifted a hand in the matter.
As long as their little privileges were regarded, as long as opium bubbled in the evening pipe, and pork, rice and potatoes were served out, one white skipper was the same as another to them.
The overhaul of the stores took half an hour and was fairly satisfactory, and, when they came, on deck, Blood, telling Charlie to take Ginnell's place as lookout, called the latter down into the cabin.
"We want to have a word with you," said Blood, whilst Harman took his seat on a bunk edge opposite him.
"It's time you knew our minds and what we intend doing with the schooner and yourself."
"Faith," said Ginnell, "I think it is."
"I'm glad you agree. Well, when you shanghaied me on board this old shark-boat of yours, there's little doubt as to what you intended doing with me. Harman will tell you, for we've talked on the matter."
"He'd a' worked you crool hard, fed you crool bad, and landed you after a six months' cruise doped or drunk, with two cents in your pocket and an affidavit up his sleeve that you'd tried to fire his ship," said Harman. "I know the swab."
Ginnell said nothing for a moment in answer to this soft impeachment, he was cutting himself a chew of tobacco; then at last he spoke:
"I don't want no certifikit of character from either the pair of you," said he. "You've boned me ship and you've blacked me eye and you've near stove me ribs in sittin' on me chest and houldin' me revolver in me face; what I wants to know is your game. Where's your profits to come from on this job?"
"I'll tell you," replied Blood. "There's a hooker called the Yan-Shan piled on the rocks down the coast and we're going to leave our cards on her—savvy?"
"Oh, Lord!" said Ginnell.
"What's the matter now?" asked Harman.
"What's the matter, d'you say?" cried Ginnell. "Why, it's the Yan-Shan I was after meself."
Blood stared at the owner of the Heart of Ireland for a moment, then he broke into a roar of laughter.
"You don't mean to say you bought the wreck?" he asked.
"Not me," replied Ginnell. "Sure, where d'you think I'd be findin' the money to buy wrecks with? I had news that mornin' she was lyin' there derelick, and I was just slippin' down the coast to have a look at her when you two spoiled me lay by takin' me ship."
It was now that Harman began to laugh.
"Well, if that don't beat all," said he. "And maybe, since you were so keen on havin' a look at her, you've brought wreckin' tools with you in case they might come in handy?"
"That's as may be," replied Ginnell. "What you have got to worry about isn't wreckin' tools, but how to get rid of the boodle if it's there. Twenty thousand dollars, that's the figure."
"So you know of the dollars?" said Blood.
"Sure, what do you take me for?" asked Ginnell. "D'you think I'd have bothered about the job only for the dollars? What's the use of general cargo to the like of me? Now what I'm thinkin' is this, you want a fence to help you to get rid of the stuff. Supposin' you find it, how are you to cart this stuff ashore and bank it? You'll be had, sure, but not if I'm at your back. Now, gents, I'm willin' to wipe out all differences and help in the salvin' on shares, and I'll make it easy for you. You'll each take seven thousand and I'll take the balance, and I won't charge nuthin' for the loan you've took of the Heart of Ireland. It's a losin' game for me, but it's better than bein' done out entirely."
Blood looked at Harman and Harman looked at Blood. Then telling Ginnell that they would consider the matter, they went on deck to talk it over.
There was truth in what Ginnell said. They would want help in getting the coin ashore in safety, and unless they marooned or murdered Ginnell, he, if left out, would always be a witness to make trouble. Besides, though engaged on a somewhat shady business, neither Blood nor Harman were scoundrels. Ginnell up to this had been paid out in his own coin, the slate was clean, and it pleased neither of them to take profit from this blackguard beyond what they considered their due.
It was just this touch of finer feeling that excluded them from the category of rogues and made their persons worth considering and their doings worth recounting.
"We'll give him what he asks," said Blood, when the consultation was over, "and mind you, I don't like giving it him one little bit, not on account of the money but because it seems to make us partners with that swab. I tell you this, Billy Harman, I'd give half as much again if an honest man was dealing with us in this matter instead of Pat Ginnell."
"And what honest man would deal with us?" asked the ingenuous Harman. "Lord! one might think the job we was on was tryin' to sell a laundry. It's safe enough, for who can say we didn't hit the wreck cruisin' round promiscuous, but it won't hold no frills in the way of Honesty and such. Down with you, and close the bargain with that chap and tip him the wink that, though we're mugs enough to give him six thousand dollars for the loan of his old shark-boat, we're men enough to put a pistol bullet in his gizzard if he tries any games with us. Down you go."
Next morning, an hour after sunrise, through the blaze of light striking the Pacific across the far-off Californlan coast, San Juan showed like a flake of spar on the horizon to southward.
The sea all there is of an impossible blueness, the Pacific blue deepened by the Kuro Shiwo current, that mysterious river of the sea which floods up the coast of Japan, crosses the Pacific towards Alaska, and sweeps down the West American seaboard to fan out and lose itself away down somewhere off Chile.
Harman judged the island to be twenty miles away, and as they were making six and a half knots, he reckoned to hit it in three hours if the wind held.
They went down and had breakfast, and after the meal Ginnell, going to the locker where he had stowed the wrecking tools, fetched them out and laid them on deck. There were two crow-bars and a jemmy, not to mention a flogging hammer, a rip saw, some monstrous big chisels and a shipwright's mallet. They looked like a collection of burglar's implements from the land of Brobdingnag.
"There you are," said Ginnell. "You never know what you may want on a job like this, with bulkheads, maybe, to be cut through and chests broke open; get a spare sail, Misther Harman, and rowl the lot up in it so's they'll be aisier for thransport."
He was excited, and the Irish in him came out when he was like that; also, as the most knowledgeable man in the business, he was taking the lead. You never could have fancied from his cheerful manner and his appearance of boss that Blood was the real master of the situation, or that Blood, only a few days ago, had nearly pounded the life out of him, captured his revolver, and taken possession of the Heart of Ireland.
The schooner carried a whale-boat, and this was now got in readiness for lowering, with provisions and water for the landing-party, and when that was done the island, now only four miles distant, showed up fine, a sheer splinter of volcanic rock standing up from the sea and creamed about with foam.
Not a sign of a wreck was to be seen, though Ginnell's glasses were powerful enough to show up every detail from the rock fissures to the roosting gulls.
Gloom fell upon the party, with the exception of Harman.
"It'll be on the other side if it's there at all," said he. "She'd have been coming up from the s'uthard, and if the gale was behind her it would have taken her right on to the rocks; she couldn't be on this side, anyhow, because why?—there's nuthin' to hold her. It's a mile deep water off them cliffs, but on the other side it shoals gradual from tide marks to ten fathoms water, which holds for a quarter of a mile—keep her as she is, you could scrape them cliffs with a battleship without danger of groundin'."
After a minute or two, he took the wheel himself and steered her whilst the fellows stood by the halyards ready to let go at a moment's notice.
It was an impressive place, this north side of the island of San Juan; the heavy swell came up smacking right on to the sheer cliff wall, jetting green water and foam yards high to the snore and boom of caves and cut outs in the rock. Gulls haunted the place. The black petrel, the Western gull and the black-footed albatross all were to be found here; long lines of white gulls marked the cliff edges, and far above, in the dazzling azure of the sky, a Farallone cormorant circled like the spirit of the place, challenging the newcomers with its cry.
Harman shifted his helm, and the Heart of Ireland with main boom swinging to port came gliding past the western rocks and opening the sea to southward where, far on the horizon, lovely in the morning light like vast ships under press of sail, the San Lucas Islands lay remote in the morning splendour.
Away to port the line of the Californian coast showed beyond the heave of the sea from Point Arguello to Point Conception, and to starboard and west of the San Lucas's a dot in the sun-dazzle marked the peaks of the island of San Nicolas.
Then, as the Heart of Ireland came around and the full view of the south of San Juan burst upon them, the wreck piled on the rocks came in sight, and, anchored quarter of a mile off the shore—a Chinese junk!
"Well, I'm damned," said Harman.
Ginnell, seizing his glasses, rushed forward and looked through them at the wreck.
"It's swarmin' with chows," cried he, coming aft. "They seem to have only just landed, be the look of them. Keep her as she goes and be ready with the anchor there forrard; we'll scupper them yet. Mr. Harman, be plazed to fetch up that linth of lead pipe you'll find on the cabin flure be the door. Capt'in, will you see with Charlie here to the boat while I get the anchor ready for droppin'; them coolies is all thumbs."
He went forward, and the Heart of Ireland, with the wind spilling out of her mainsail, came along over the heaving blue swell, satin-smooth here in the shelter of the island.
Truly the Yan-Shan, late Robert Bullmer, had made a masterpiece of her last business; she had come stem on, lifted by the piling sea, and had hit the rocks, smashing every bow-plate from the keel to within a yard or two of the gunnel, then a wave had taken her under the stern and lifted her and flung her broadside on just as she now lay, pinned to her position by the rock horns that had gored her side, and showing a space of her rust-red bottom to the sun.
The water was squattering among the rocks right up to her, the phosphor-bronze propeller showed a single blade cocked crookedly at the end of the broken screw shaft; rudder there was none, the funnel was gone, spar deck and bridge were in wrack and ruin, whilst the cowl of a bent ventilator turned seaward seemed contemplating with a languid air the beauty of the morning and the view of the far distant San Lucas Islands.
The Heart of Ireland picked up a berth inside the junk, and as the rasp and rattle of the anchor chain came back in faint echoes from the cliff, a gong on the junk woke to life and began to snarl and roar its warning to the fellows on the wreck.
"Down with the boat," cried Ginnell. With the "linth of lead pipe," a most formidable weapon, sticking from his pocket, he ran to help with the falls; the whaleboat smacked the water, the crew tumbled in, and, with Ginnell in the bow, it started for the shore.
The gong had done its work. The fellows who had been crawling like ants over the dead body of the Yan-Shan came slithering down on ropes, appeared running and stumbling over the rocks abaft the stern, some hauling along sacks of loot, others brandishing sticks or bits of timber, and all shouting and clamouring with a noise like gulls whose nests are being raided.
There was a small scrap of shingly beach off which the Chinamen's scow was lying anchored with a stone and with a China boy for anchor watch. The whale-boat passed the scow, dashed nose end up the shelving beach, and the next moment Ginnell and his linth of lead pipe was amongst the Chinamen, whilst Blood, following him, was firing his revolver over their heads. Harman, with a crowbar carried at the level, was aiming straight at the belly of the biggest of the foe, when they parted right and left, dropping everything, beaten before they were touched, and making for the water over the rocks.
Swimming like rats, they made for the scow, scrambled on board her, howked up the anchor stone and shot out the oars.
"They're off for the junk," cried Ginnell. "Faith, that was a clane bit of work; look at thim rowin' as if the divil was after thim."
They were, literally, and now on board the junk they were hauling the boat in, shaking out the lateen sail and dragging up the anchor as though a hundred pair of hands were at work instead of twenty.
Then, as the huge sail bellied gently to the wind and the junk broke the violet breeze shadow beyond the calm of the sheltered water, a voice came over the sea, a voice like the clamour of a hundred gulls, thin, rending, fierce as the sound of tearing calico.
"Shout away, me boys," said Ginnell. "You've got the shout and we've got the boodle, and good day to ye."
He turned with the others to examine the contents of the sacks dropped by the vanquished ones and lying amongst the rocks. They were old gunny bags and they were stuffed with all sorts of rubbish and valuables, musical instruments, bits of old metal, cabin curtains, and even cans of bully beef—there was no sign of dollars.
"The fools were so busy picking up everything they could find lying about, they hadn't time to search for the real stuff," said Blood. "Didn't know of it."
"Well," said Ginnell, "stick the ould truck back in the bags with the insthruments; we'll sort it out when we get aboard and fling the rubbish over and keep what's worth keepin'."
Helped by the coolies, they refilled the bags and left them in position for carrying off, and then, led by Ginnell, they made round the stern of the wreck to the port side.
Now, on the sea side the Yan-Shan presented a bad enough picture of desolation and destruction, but here on the land side the sight was terrific.
The great yellow funnel had crashed over on to the rocks and lay with lengths of the guys still adhering to it; a quarter boat with bottom half out had gone the way of the funnel; crabs were crawling over all sorts of raffle, broken spars, canvas from the bridge screen and woodwork of the chart-house, whilst all forward of amidships the plates, beaten and twisted and ripped apart, showed cargo, held, or in the act of escaping. One big packing case, free of the ship, had resolved itself into staves round its once contents, a piano that appeared perfectly uninjured.
A rope ladder hung from the bulwarks amidships, and up it Ginnell went, followed by the others, reaching a roofless passage that had once been the part alley-way.
Here on the slanting deck one got a full picture of the ruin that had come on the ship; the masts were gone, as well as the funnel; boats, ventilators—with the exception of the twisted cowl looking seaward—bridge, chart-house, all had vanished wholly or in part, a picture made more impressive by the calm blue sky overhead and the brilliancy of the sunlight.
The locking bars had been removed from the cover of the fore hatch and the hatch opened, evidently by the Chinese in search of plunder. Ginnell scarcely turned an eye on it before he made aft, followed by the others, he reached the saloon companion-way and dived down it.
If the confusion on deck was bad, it was worse below. The cabin doors on either side were either open or off their hinges, bunk bedding, mattresses, an open and rifled valise, some women's clothes, an empty cigar-box and a cage with a dead canary in it lay on the floor.
The place looked as if an army of pillagers had been at work for days, and the sight struck a chill to the hearts of the beholders.
"We're dished," said Ginnell. "Quick, boys, if the stuff's anywhere it'll be in the old man's cabin, there's no mail room in a packet like this. If it's not there, we're done."
They found the captain's cabin, they found his papers tossed about, his cash-box open and empty, and a strong box clamped to the deck by the bunk in the same condition. They found, to complete the business, an English sovereign on the floor in a corner.
Ginnell sat down on the edge of the bunk.
"They've got the dollars," said he. "That's why they legged it so quick and—we let them go. Twenty thousand dollars in gold coin and we let them go. Tear an' ages! Afther them!" He sprang from the bunk and dashed through the saloon, followed by the others. On deck they strained their eyes seaward towards a brown spot on the blue far, far away to the sou'-west. It was the junk making a soldier's wind of it, every inch of sail spread. Judging by the distance she had covered, she must have been making at least eight knots, and the Heart of Ireland under similar wind conditions was incapable of more than seven.
"No good chasing her," said Blood.
"Not a happorth," replied Ginnell. Then the quarrel began.
"If you hadn't held us pokin' over them old sacks on the rocks there we'd maybe have had a chance of over-haulin' her," said Ginnell.
"Sacks," cried Blood, "what are you talking about; it was you who let them go, shouting good day to them and telling them we'd got the boodle!"
"Boodle, b'g-d!" cried Ginnell. "You're a nice chap to talk about boodle. You did me in an' collared me boat, and now you're let down proper, and serve you right."
Blood was about to reply in kind, when the dispute was cut short by a loud yell from the engine-room hatch.
Harman, having satisfied himself with a glance that all was up with the junk, had gone poking about and entered the engine-room hatchway. He now appeared, shouting like a maniac.
"The dollars," he cried, "two dead Chinkies an' the dollars."
He vanished again with a shout, they rushed to the hatch, and there, on the steel grating leading to the ladder, curled together like two cats that had died in battle, lay the Chinamen, Harman kneeling beside them, his hands at work on the neck of a tied sack that chinked as he shook it with the glorious rich, mellow sound that gold in bulk and gold in specie alone can give.
The lanyard came away, and Harman, plunging his big hand in, produced it filled with British sovereigns.
Not one of them moved or said a word for a moment, then Ginnell suddenly squatted down on the grating beside Harman, and, taking a sovereign between finger and thumb gingerly, as though he feared it might burn him, examined it with a laugh. Then he bit it, spun it in the air, caught it in his left hand and brought his great right palm down on it with a bang.
"Hids or tails!" cried Ginnell. "Hids I win, tails you lose." He gave a coarse laugh as he opened his palm, where the coin lay tail up.
"Hids it is," he cried, then he tossed it back into the bag and rose to his feet.
"Come on, boys," said he, "let's bring the stuff down to the saloon and count it."
"Better get it aboard," said Blood.
Harman looked up. The grin on his face stamped by the finding of the gold was still there, and in the light coming through the hatch his forehead showed beaded with sweat.
"I'm with Ginnell," said he, "let's get down to the saloon for an overhaul. I can't wait whiles we row off to the schooner. I wants to feel the stuff and I wants to divide it, b'g-d, right off and now. Boys, we're rich, we sure are. It's the stroke of my life, and I can't wait for no rowin' on board no schooners before we divide up."
"Come on, then," said Blood.
The sack was much bigger than its contents, so there was plenty of grip for him as he seized one corner. Then, Harman grasping it by the neck, they lugged it out and along the deck and down the saloon companionway, Ginnell following.
The Chinese had opened nearly all the cabin port-holes for the sake of light to assist them in their plundering, and now as Blood and Harman placed the sack on the slanting saloon table, the crying of gulls came clearly and derisively from the cliffs outside, mixed with the hush of the sea and the boost of the swell as it broke creaming and squattering among the rocks. The lackadaisical ventilator cowl, which took an occasional movement from stray puffs of air, added its voice now and then, whining and complaining like some lost yet inconsiderable soul.
No other sound could be heard as the three men ranged themselves, Ginnell on the starboard, and Blood and Harman on the port side of the table.
The swivel seats, though all aslant, were practicable, and Harman was in the act of taking his place in the seat he had chosen when Ginnell interposed.
"One moment, Mr. Harman," said the owner of the Heart of Ireland. "I've a word to say to you and Mr. Blood—sure, I beg your pardon—I mane Capt'in Blood."
"Well," said Blood, grasping a chair-back. "What have you to say?"
"Only this," replied Ginnell with a grin. "I've got back me revolver."
Blood clapped his hand to his pocket. It was empty.
"I picked your pocket of it," said Ginnell, producing the weapon, "two minits back; you fired three shots over the heads of them chows and there's three ca'tridges left in her. I can hit a dollar at twinty long paces. Move an inch either the one or other of you, and I'll lay your brains on the table fornint you."
They did not move, for they knew that he was in earnest. They knew that if they moved he would begin to shoot, and if he began to shoot he would finish the job, leave their corpses on the floor, and sail off with the dollars and his Chinese crew in perfect safety. There were no witnesses.
"Now," said Ginnell, "what the pair of you have to do is this. Misther Harman, you'll go into that cabin behind you, climb on the upper bunk, stick your head through the port-hole and shout to the coolies down below there with the boat to come up. It'll take two men to get them dollars on deck and down to the wather side. When you've done that, the pair of you will walk into the ould man's cabin an' say your prayers, thanking the saints you've got off so easy, whiles I puts the bolt on you till the dollars are away. And remimber this, one word or kick from you and I shoot—the Chinamen will never tell."
"See here," said Harman.
"One word!" shouted Ginnell, suddenly dropping the mask of urbanity and levelling the pistol.
It was as though the tiger-cat in his grimy soul had suddenly burst bonds and mastered him. His finger pressed on the trigger and the next moment Harman's brains, or what he had of them, might have been literally forenint him on the table, when suddenly, tremendous as the last trumpet, paralysing as the inrush of a body of armed men, booing and bellowing back from the cliffs in a hundred echoes came a voice—the blast of a ship's syren.
"Huroop, Hirrip, Hurop, Haar—Haar—Haar!"
Ginnell's arm fell. Harman, forgetting everything, turned, dashed into the cabin behind him, climbed on the upper bunk, and stuck his head through the port-hole.
Then he dashed back into the saloon.
"It's the Port of Amsterdam," cried Harman, "It's the salvage ship, she's there droppin' her anchor; we're done, we're dished—and we foolin' like this and they crawlin' up on us."
"And you said she'd only do eight knots!" cried Blood.
Ginnell flung the revolver on the floor. Every trace of the recent occurrence had vanished, and the three men thought no more of one another than a man thinks of petty matters in the face of dissolution. Gunderman was outside, that was enough for them.
"Boys," said Ginnell, "ain't there no way out with them dollars? S'pose we howk them ashore?"
"Cliffs two hundred foot high," said Harman, "not a chanst. We're dished."
Said Blood: "There's only one thing left. We'll walk the dollars down to the boat and row off with them. Of course we'll be stopped; still, there's the chance that Gunderman may be drunk or something. It's one chance in a hundred billion—it's the only one."
But Gunderman was not drunk, nor were his boat party; and the court-martial he held on the beach in broken English and with the sack of coin beside him as chief witness would form a bright page of literature had one time to record it.
Ginnell, as owner of the Heart of Ireland, received the whole brunt of the storm; there was no hearing for him when, true to himself, he tried to cast the onus of the business on Blood and Harman. He was told to get out and be thankful he was not brought back to 'Frisco in irons, and he obeyed instructions, rowing off to the schooner, he and Harman and Blood, a melancholy party with the exception of Blood, who was talking to Harman with extreme animation on the subject of beam engines.
On deck it was Blood who gave orders for hauling up the anchor and setting sail. He had recaptured the revolver.
THE DERELICT NEPTUNE*
From "Spun Gold," BY MORGAN ROBERTSON
*Reprinted by courtesy of Harper & Brothers.
Across the Atlantic Ocean from the Gulf of Guinea to Cape St. Roque moves a great body of water—the Main Equatorial Current—which can be considered the motive power, or mainspring, of the whole Atlantic current system, as it obtains its motion directly from the ever-acting push of the tradewinds. At Cape St. Roque this broad current splits into two parts, one turning north, the other south. The northern part contracts, increases its speed, and, passing up the northern coast of South America as the Guiana Current, enters through the Caribbean Sea into the Gulf of Mexico, where it circles around to the northward; then, colored a deep blue from the fine river silt of the Mississippi, and heated from its long surface exposure under a tropical sun to an average temperature of eighty degrees, it emerges into the Florida Channel as the Gulf Stream.
From here it travels northeast, following the trend of the coast line, until, off Cape Hatteras, it splits into three divisions, one of which, the westernmost, keeps on to lose its warmth and life in Baffin's Bay. Another impinges on the Hebrides, and is no more recognizable as a current; and the third, the eastern and largest part of the divided stream, makes a wide sweep to the east and south, enclosing the Azores and the deadwater called the Sargasso Sea, then, as the African Current, runs down the coast until, just below the Canary Isles, it merges into the Lesser Equatorial Current, which, parallel to the parent stream, and separated from it by a narrow band of backwater, travels west and filters through the West Indies, making puzzling combinations with the tides, and finally bearing so heavily on the young Gulf Stream as to give to it the sharp turn to the northward through the Florida Channel.
In the South Atlantic, the portion of the Main Equatorial Current split off by Cape St. Roque and directed south leaves the coast at Cape Frio, and at the latitude of the River Plate assumes a due easterly direction, crossing the ocean as the Southern Connecting Current. At the Cape of Good Hope it meets the cold, northeasterly Cape Horn Current, and with it passes up the coast of Africa to join the Equatorial Current at the starting-point in the Gulf of Guinea, the whole constituting a circulatory system of ocean rivers, of speed value varying from eighteen to ninety miles a day.
On a bright morning in November, 1894, a curious-looking craft floated into the branch current which, skirting Cuba, flows westward through the Bahama Channel. A man standing on the highest of two points enclosing a small bay near Cape Maisi, after a critical examination through a telescope, disappeared from the rocks, and in a few moments a light boat, of the model used by whalers, emerged from the mouth of the bay, containing this man and another. In the boat also was a coil of rope.
The one who had inspected the craft from the rocks was a tall young fellow, dressed in flannel shirt and trousers, the latter held in place by a cartridge-belt, such as is used by the American cowboy. To this was hung a heavy revolver. On his head was a broad-brimmed cork helmet, much soiled, and resembling in shape the Mexican sombrero. Beneath this head-gear was a mass of brown hair, which showed a non-acquaintance with barbers for, perhaps, months, and under this hair a sun-tanned face, lighted by serious gray eyes. The most noticeable feature of this face was the extreme arching of the eyebrows—a never-failing index of the highest form of courage. It was a face that would please. The face of the other was equally pleasing in its way. It was red, round, and jolly, with twinkling eyes, the whole borrowing a certain dignity from closely cut white hair and mustaches. The man was about fifty, dressed and armed like the other.
"What do you want of pistols, Boston?" he said to the younger man. "One might think this an old-fashioned, piratical cutting out."
"Oh, I don't know, Doc. It's best to have them. That hulk may be full of Spaniards, and the whole thing nothing but a trick to draw us out. But she looks like a derelict. I don't see how she got into this channel, unless she drifted up past Cape Maisi from the southward, having come in with the Guiana Current. It's all rocks and shoals to the eastward."
The boat, under the impulse of their oars, soon passed the fringing reef and came in sight of the strange craft, which lay about a mile east and half a mile off shore. "You see," resumed the younger man, called Boston, "there's a back-water inside Point Mulas, and if she gets into it she may come ashore right here."
"Where we can loot her. Nice business for a respectable practitioner like me to be engaged in! Doctor Bryce, of Havana, consorting with Fenians from Canada, exiled German socialists, Cuban horse-thieves who would be hung in a week if they went to Texas, and a long-legged sailor man who calls himself a retired naval officer, but who looks like a pirate; and all shouting for Cuba Libre! Cuba Libre! It's plunder you want."
"But none of us ever manufactured dynamite," answered Boston, with a grin. "How long did they have you in Moro Castle, Doc?"
"Eight months," snapped the doctor, his face clouding. "Eight months in that rathole, with the loss of my property and practice—all for devotion to science. I was on the brink of the most important and beneficent discovery in explosives the world ever dreamed of. Yes, sir, 'twould have made me famous and stopped all warfare."
"The captain told me this morning that he'd heard from Marti," said Boston, after an interval. "Good news, he said, but that's all I learned. Maybe it's from Gomez. If he'll only take hold again we can chase the Spanish off the island now. Then we'll put some of your stuff under Moro and lift it off the earth."
In a short time, details of the craft ahead, hitherto hidden by distance, began to show. There was no sign of life aboard; her spars were gone, with the exception of the foremast, broken at the hounds, and she seemed to be of about a thousand tons burden, colored a mixed brown and dingy gray, which, as they drew near, was shown as the action of iron rust on black and lead-colored paint. Here and there were outlines of painted ports. Under the stump of a shattered bowsprit projected from between bluff bows a weather-worn figurehead, representing the god of the sea. Above on the bows were wooden-stocked anchors stowed inboard, and aft on the quarters were iron davits with blocks intact—but no falls. In a few of the dead-eyes in the channels could be seen frayed rope-yarns, rotten with age, and, with the stump of the foremast, the wooden stocks of the anchors, and the teak-wood rail, of a bleached gray color. On the round stern, as they pulled under it, they spelled, in raised letters, flecked here and there with discolored gilt, the name "Neptune, of London." Unkempt and forsaken, she had come in from the mysterious sea to tell her story.
The climbed the channels, fastened the painter, and peered over the rail. There was no one in sight, and they sprang down, finding themselves on a deck that was soft and spongy with time and weather.
"She's an old tub," said Boston, scanning the gray fabric fore and aft; "one of the first iron ships built, I should think. They housed the crew under the t'gallant forecastle. See the doors forward, there? And she has a full-decked cabin—that's old style. Hatches are all battened down, but I doubt if this tarpaulin holds water." He stepped on the main hatch, brought his weight on the ball of one foot, and turned around. The canvas crumbled to threads, showing the wood beneath. "Let's go below. If there were any Spaniards here they'd have shown themselves before this." The cabin doors were latched but not locked, and they opened them.
"Hold on," said the doctor, "this cabin may have been closed for years, and generated poisonous gases. Open that upper door, Boston."
Boston ran up the shaky poop ladder and opened the companion-way above, which let a stream of the fresh morning air and sunshine into the cabin, then, after a moment or two, descended and joined the other, who had entered from the main-deck. They were in an ordinary ship's cabin, surrounded by staterooms, and with the usual swinging lamp and tray; but the table, chairs, and floor were covered with fine dust.
"Where the deuce do you get so much dust at sea?" coughed the doctor.
"Nobody knows, Doc. Let's hunt for the manifest and the articles. This must have been the skipper's room." They entered the largest stateroom, and Boston opened an old-fashioned desk. Among the discolored documents it contained, he found one and handed it to the doctor. "Articles," he said; "look at it." Soon he took out another. "I've got it. Now we'll find what she has in her hold, and if it's worth bothering about."
"Great Scott!" exclaimed the doctor; "this paper is dated 1844, fifty years ago." Boston looked over his shoulder.
"That's so; she signed her crew at Boston, too. Where has she been all this time? Let's see this one."
The manifest was short, and stated that her cargo was 3000 barrels of lime, 8000 kids of tallow, and 2500 carboys of acid, 1700 of which were sulphuric, the rest of nitric acid. "That cargo won't be much good to us, Doc. I'd hope to find something we could use. Let's find the log-book, and see what happened to her." Boston rummaged what seemed to be the first-mate's room. "Plenty of duds here," he said; "but they're ready to fall to pieces. Here's the log."
He returned with the book, and, seated at the dusty table, they turned the yellow leaves. "First departure, Highland Light, March 10, 1844," read Boston. "We'll look in the remarks column."
Nothing but the ordinary incidents of a voyage were found until they reached the date June 1st, where entry was made of the ship being "caught aback" and dismasted off the Cape of Good Hope in a sudden gale. Then followed daily "remarks" of the southeasterly drift of the ship, the extreme cold (which, with the continuance of the bad weather, prevented saving the wreck for jury-masts), and the fact that no sails were sighted.
June 6th told of her being locked in soft, slushy ice, and still being pressed southward by the never-ending gale; June 10th said that the ice was hard, and at June 15th was the terrible entry: "Fire in the hold!"
On June 16th was entered this: "Kept hatches battened down and stopped all air-holes, but the deck is too hot to stand on, and getting hotter. Crew insist on lowering the boats and pulling them northward over the ice to open water in hopes of being picked up. Good-bye." In the position columns of this date the latitude was given as 62 degrees 44 minutes S. and the longitude as 30 degrees 50 minutes E. There were no more entries.
"What tragedy docs this tell of?" said the doctor. "They left this ship in the ice fifty years ago. Who can tell if they were saved?"
"Who indeed?" said Boston. "The mate hadn't much hope. He said 'Good-bye.' But one thing is certain; we are the first to board her since. I take it she stayed down there in the ice until she drifted around the Pole, and thawed out where she could catch the Cape Horn current, which took her up to the Hope. Then she came up with the South African Current till she got into the Equatorial drift, then west, and up with the Guiana Current into the Caribbean Sea to the southward of us, and this morning the flood-tide brought her through. It isn't a question of winds; they're too variable. It's currents, though it may have taken her years to get here. But the surprising part of it is that she hasn't been boarded. Let's look in the hold and see what the fire has done."
When they boarded the hulk, the sky, with the exception of a filmy haze overhanging the eastern end of the island, was clear. Now, as they emerged from the cabin, this haze had solidified and was coming—one of the black and vicious squalls of the West India seas.
"No man can tell what wind there is in them," remarked Boston, as he viewed it. "But it's pretty close to the water, and dropping rain. Hold on, there, Doc. Stay aboard. We couldn't pull ashore in the teeth of it." The doctor had made a spasmodic leap to the rail. "If the chains were shackled on, we might drop one of the hooks and hold her; but it's two hours work for a full crew."
"But we're likely to be blown away, aren't we?" asked the doctor.
"Not far. I don't think it'll last long. We'll make the boat fast astern and get out of the wet." They did so, and entered the cabin. Soon the squall, coming with a shock like that of a solid blow, struck the hulk broadside to and careened her. From the cabin door they watched the nearly horizontal rain as it swished across the deck, and listened to the screaming of the wind, which prevented all conversation. Silently they waited—one hour—two hours—then Boston said: "This is getting serious. It's no squall. If it wasn't so late in the season I'd call it a hurricane. I'm going on deck."
He climbed the companionway stairs to the poop, and shut the scuttle behind him—for the rain was flooding the cabin—then looked around. The shore and horizon were hidden by a dense wall of gray, which seemed not a hundred feet distant. From to windward this wall was detaching great waves or sheets of almost solid water, which bombarded the ship in successive blows, to be then lost in the gray whirl to leeward. Overhead was the same dismal hue, marked by hurrying masses of darker cloud, and below was a sea of froth, white and flat; for no waves could rise their heads in that wind. Drenched to the skin, he tried the wheel and found it free in its movements. In front of it was a substantial binnacle, and within a compass, which, though sluggish, as from a well-worn pivot, was practically in good condition. "Blowing us about nor'west by west," he muttered, as he looked at it—"straight up the coast. It's better than the beach in this weather, but may land us in Havana." He examined he boat. It was full of water, and tailing to windward, held by its painter. Making sure that this was fast, he went down.
"Doc," he said, as he squeezed the water from his limp cork helmet and flattened it on the table, "have you any objections to being rescued by some craft going into Havana?"
"I have—decided objections."
"So have I; but this wind is blowing us there—sideways. Now, such a blow as this, at this time of year, will last three days at least, and I've an idea that it'll haul gradually to the south, and west towards the end of it. Where'll we be then? Either piled up on one of the Bahama keys or interviewed by the Spaniards. Now I've been thinking of a scheme on deck. We can't get back to camp for a while—that's settled. This iron hull is worth something, and if we can take it into an American port we can claim salvage. Key West is the nearest, but Fernandina is the surest. We've got a stump of a foremast and a rudder and a compass. If we can get some kind of sail up forward and bring her 'fore the wind, we can steer any course within thirty degrees of the wind line."
"But I can't steer. And how long will this voyage take? What will we eat?"
"Yes, you can steer—good enough. And, of course, it depends on food, and water, too. We'd better catch some of this that's going to waste."
In what had been the steward's storeroom they found a harness-cask with bones and dry rust in the bottom. "It's salt meat, I suppose," said the doctor, "reduced to its elements." With the handles of their pistols they carefully hammered down the rusty hoops over the shrunken staves, which were well preserved by the brine they had once held, and taking the cask on deck, cleaned it thoroughly under the scuppers—or drain-holes—of the poop, and let it stand under the stream of water to swell and sweeten itself.
"If we find more casks we'll catch some more," said Boston; "but that will last us two weeks. Now we'll hunt for her stores. I've eaten salt-horse twenty years old, but I can't vouch for what we may find here." They examined all the rooms adjacent to the cabin, but found nothing.
"Where's the lazarette in this kind of a ship?" asked Boston. "The cabin runs right aft to the stern. It must be below us." He found that the carpet was not tacked to the floor, and, raising the after end, discovered a hatch, or trap-door, which he lifted. Below, when their eyes were accustomed to the darkness, they saw boxes and barrels—all covered with the same fine dust which filled the cabin.
"Don't go down there, yet, Boston," said the doctor. "It may be full of carbonic acid gas. She's been afire, you know. Wait." He tore a strip from some bedding in one of the rooms, and, lighting one end by means of a flint and steel which he carried, lowered the smouldering rag until it rested on the pile below. It did not go out.
"Safe enough, Boston," he remarked. "But you go down; you're younger."
Boston smiled and sprang down on the pile, from which he passed up a box. "Looks like tinned stuff, Doc. Open it, and I'll look over here."
The doctor smashed the box with his foot, and found, as the other had thought, that it contained cylindrical cans; but the labels were faded with age. Opening one with his jack-knife, he tasted the contents. It was a mixture of meat and a fluid, called by sailors "soup-and-bully," and as fresh and sweet as though canned the day before.
"We're all right, Boston," he called down the hatch. "Here's as good a dish as I've tasted for months. Ready cooked, too."
Boston soon appeared. "There are some beef or pork barrels over in the wing," he said, "and plenty of this canned stuff. I don't know what good the salt meat is. The barrels seem tight, but we won't need to broach one for a while. There's a bag of coffee—gone to dust, and some hard bread that isn't fit to eat; but this'll do." He picked up the open can.
"Boston," said the doctor, "if those barrels contain meat, we'll find it cooked—boiled in its own brine, like this."
"Isn't it strange," said Boston, as he tasted the contents of the can, "that this stuff should keep so long?"
"Not at all. It was cooked thoroughly by the heat, and then frozen. If your barrels haven't burst from the expansion of the brine under the heat or cold, you'll find the meat just as good."
"But rather salty, if I'm a judge of salt-horse. Now, where's the sail-locker? We want a sail on that foremast. It must be forward."
In the forecastle they found sailor's chests and clothing in all stages of ruin, but none of the spare sails that ships carry. In the boatswain's locker, in one corner of the forecastle, however, they found some iron-strapped blocks in fairly good condition, which Boston noted. Then they opened the main-hatch, and discovered a mixed pile of boxes, some showing protruding necks of large bottles, or carboys, others nothing but the circular opening. Here and there in the tangled heap were sections of canvas sails—rolled and unrolled, but all yellow and worthless. They closed the hatch and returned to the cabin, where they could converse.
"They stowed their spare canvas in the 'tween-deck on top of the cargo," said Boston; "and the carboys—"
"And the carboys burst from the heat and ruined the sails," broke in the doctor. "But another question is, what became of that acid?"
"If it's not in the 'tween-deck yet, it must be in the hold—leaked through the hatches."
"I hope it hasn't reached the iron in the hull, Boston, my boy. It takes a long time for cold acids to act on iron after the first oxidation, but in fifty years mixed nitric and sulphuric will do lots of work."
"No fear, Doc; it had done its work when you were in your cradle. What'll we do for canvas? We must get this craft before the wind. How'll the carpet do?" Boston lifted the edge, and tried the fabric in his fingers. "It'll go," he said; "we'll double it. I'll hunt for a palm-and-needle and some twine." These articles he found in the mate's room. "The twine's no better than yarn," said he, "but we'll use four parts."
Together they doubled the carpet diagonally, and with long stitches joined the edges. Then Boston sewed into each corner a thimble—an iron ring—and they had a triangular sail of about twelve feet hoist. "It hasn't been exposed to the action of the air like the ropes in the locker forward," said Boston, as he arose and took off the palm; "and perhaps it'll last till she pays off. Then we can steer. You get the big pulley-blocks from the locker, Doc, and I'll get the rope from the boat. It's lucky I thought to bring it; I expected to lift things out of the hold with it."
At the risk of his life Boston obtained the coil from the boat, while the doctor brought the blocks. Then, together, they rove off a tackle. With the handles of their pistols they knocked bunk-boards to pieces and saved the nails; then Boston climbed the foremast, as a painter climbs a steeple—by nailing successive billets of wood above his head for steps. Next he hauled up and secured the tackle to the forward side of the mast, with which they pulled up the upper corner of their sail, after lashing the lower corners to the windlass and fiferail.
It stood the pressure, and the hulk paid slowly off and gathered headway. Boston took the wheel and steadied her at northwest by west—dead before the wind—while the doctor, at his request, brought the open can of soup and lubricated the wheel-screw with the only substitute for oil at their command; for the screw worked hard with the rust of fifty years.
Their improvised sail, pressed steadily on but one side, had held together, but now, with the first flap as the gale caught it from another direction, appeared a rent; with the next flap the rag went to pieces.
"Let her go!" sang out Boston gleefully; "we can steer now. Come here, Doc, and learn to steer."
The doctor came; and when he left that wheel, three days later, he had learned. For the wind had blown a continuous gale the whole of this time, which, with the ugly sea raised as the ship left the lee of the land, necessitated the presence of both men at the helm. Only occasionally was there a lull during which one of them could rush below and return with a can of soup. During one of these lulls Boston had examined the boat, towing half out of water, and concluded that a short painter was best with a water-logged boat, had reinforced it with a few turns of his rope from forward. In the three days they had sighted no craft except such as their own—helpless—hove-to or scudding.
Boston had judged rightly in regard to the wind. It had hauled slowly to the southward, allowing him to make the course he wished—through the Bahama and up the Florida Channel with the wind over the stern. During the day he could guide himself by landmarks, but at night, with a darkened binnacle, he could only steer blindly on with the wind at his back. The storm centre, at first to the south of Cuba, had made a wide circle, concentric with the curving course of the ship, and when the latter had reached the upper end of the Florida channel, had spurted ahead and whirled out to sea across her bows. It was then that the undiminished gale, blowing nearly west, had caused Boston, in despair, to throw the wheel down and bring the ship into the trough of the sea—to drift. Then the two wet, exhausted, hollow-eyed men slept the sleep that none but sailors and soldiers know; and when they awakened, twelve hours later, stiff and sore, it was to look out on a calm, starlit evening, with an eastern moon silvering the surface of the long, northbound rollers, and showing in sharp relief a dark horizon, on which there was no sign of land or sail.
They satisfied their hunger; then Boston, with a rusty iron pot from the galley, to which he fastened the end of his rope, dipped up some of the water from over the side. It was warm to the touch, and, aware that they were in the Gulf Stream, they crawled under the musty bedding in the cabin berths and slept through the night. In the morning there was no promise of the easterly wind that Boston hoped would come to blow them to port, and they secured their boat—reeving off davit-tackles, and with the plug out, pulling it up, one end at a time, while the water drained out through the hole in the bottom.
"Now, Boston," said the doctor, "here we are, as you say, on the outer edge of the Gulf Stream, drifting out into the broad Atlantic at the rate of four miles an hour. We've got to make the best of it until something comes along; so you hunt through that store-room and see what else there is to eat, and I'll examine the cargo. I want to know where that acid went."
They opened all the hatches, and while Boston descended to the lazarette, the doctor, with his trousers rolled up, climbed down the notched steps in a stanchion. In a short time he came up with a yellow substance in his hand, which he washed thoroughly with fresh water in Boston's improvised draw-bucket, and placed in the sun to dry. Then he returned to the 'tween-deck. After a while, Boston, rummaging the lazarette, heard him calling through the bulkhead, and joined him.
"Look here, Boston," said the doctor; "I've cleared away the muck over this hatch. It's 'corked,' as you sailormen call it. Help me get it up."
They dug the compacted oakum from the seams with their knives, and by iron rings in each corner, now eaten with rust to almost the thinness of wire, they lifted the hatch. Below was a filthy-looking layer of whitish substance, protruding from which were charred, half-burned staves. First they repeated the experiment with the smouldering rag, and finding that it burned, as before, they descended. The whitish substance was hard enough to bear their weight, and they looked around. Overhead, hung to the under side of the deck and extending the length of the hold, were wooden tanks, charred, and in some places burned through.
"She must have been built for a passenger or troop ship," said Boston. "Those tanks would water a regiment."
"Boston," answered the doctor, irrelevantly, "will you climb up and bring down an oar from the boat? Carry it down—don't throw it, my boy." Boston obliged him, and the doctor, picking his way forward, then aft, struck each tank with the oar. "Empty—all of them," he said.
He dug out with his knife a piece of the whitish substance under foot, and examined it closely in the light from the hatch.
"Boston," he said, impressively, "this ship was loaded with lime, tallow, and acids—acids above, lime and tallow down here. This stuff is neither; it is lime-soap. And, moreover, it had not been touched by acids." The doctor's ruddy face was ashen.
"Well?" asked Boston.
"Lime soap is formed by the cauticizing action of lime on tallow in the presence of water and heat. It is easy to understand this fire. One of those tanks leaked and dribbled down on the cargo, attacking the lime—which was stowed underneath, as all these staves we see on top are from tallow-kids. The heat generated by the slaking lime set fire to the barrels in contact, which in turn set fire to others, and they burned until the air was exhausted, and then went out. See, they are but partly consumed. There was intense heat in this hold, and expansion of the water in all the tanks. Are tanks at sea filled to the top?"
"Chock full, and a cap screwed down on the upper end of the pipes."
"As I thought. The expanding water burst every tank in the hold, and the cargo was deluged with water, which attacked every lime barrel in the bottom layer, at least. Result—the bursting of those barrels from the ebullition of slaking lime, the melting of the tallow—which could not burn long in the closed-up-space—and the mixing of it in the interstices of the lime barrels with water and lime—a boiling hot mess. What happens under such conditions?"
"Give it up," said Boston, laconically.
"Lime soap is formed, which rises, and the water beneath is in time all taken up by the lime."
"But what of it?" interrupted the other.
"Wait. I see that this hold and the 'tween-deck are lined with wood. Is that customary in iron ships?"
"Not now. It used to be a notion that an iron skin damaged the cargo; so the first iron ships were ceiled with wood."
"Are there any drains in the 'tween-deck to let water out, in case it gets into that deck from above—a sea, for instance?"
"Yes, always; three or four scupper-holes each side amidships. They lead the water into the bilges, where the pumps can reach it."
"I found up there," continued the doctor, "a large piece of wood, badly charred by acid for half its length, charred to a lesser degree for the rest. It was oval in cross section, and the largest end was charred most."
"Scupper plug. I suppose they plugged the 'tween-deck scuppers to keep any water they might ship out of the bilges and away from the lime."
"Yes, and those plugs remained in place for days, if not weeks or months, after the carboys burst, as indicated by the greater charring of the larger end of the plug. I burrowed under the debris, and found the hole which that plug fitted. It was worked loose, or knocked out of the hole by some internal movement of the broken carboys, perhaps. At any rate, it came out, after remaining in place long enough for the acids to become thoroughly mixed and for the hull to cool down. She was in the ice, remember. Boston, the mixed acid went down that hole, or others like it. Where is it now?"
"I suppose," said Boston, thoughtfully, "that it soaked up into the hold, through the skin."
"Exactly. The skin is calked with oakum, is it not?" Boston nodded.
"That oakum would contract with the charring action, as did the oakum in the hatch, and every drop of that acid—ten thousand gallons, as I have figured—has filtered up into the hold, with the exception of what remained between the frames under the skin. Have you ever studied organic chemistry?"
"Then you can follow me. When tallow is saponified there is formed, from the palmitin, stearin, and olein contained, with the cauticizing agent—in this case, lime—a soap. But there are two ends to every equation, and at the bottom of this immense soap vat, held in solution by the water, which would afterwards be taken up by the surplus lime, was the other end of this equation; and as the yield from tallow of this other product is about thirty per cent., and as we start with eight thousand fifty-pound kids—four hundred thousand pounds—all of which has disappeared, we know that, sticking to the skin and sides of the barrels down here, is—or was once—one hundred and twenty thousand pounds, or sixty tons, of the other end of the equation—glycerine!"
"Do you mean, Doc," asked Boston, with a startled look, "that—"
"I mean," said the doctor, emphatically, "that the first thing the acids—mixed in the 'tween-deck to just about the right proportions, mind you—would attack, on oozing through the skin, would be this glycerine; and the certain product of this union under intense cold—this hull was frozen in the ice, remember—would be nitro-glycerine; and, as the yield of the explosive is two hundred and twenty per cent. of the glycerine, we can be morally sure that in the bottom of this hold, each minute globule of it held firmly in a hard matrix of sulphate or nitrate of calcium—which would be formed next when the acids met the hydrates and carbonates of lime—is over one hundred and thirty tons of nitro-glycerine, all the more explosive from not being washed of free acids. Come up on deck. I'll show you something else."
Limp and nerveless, Boston followed the doctor. This question was beyond his seamanship.
The doctor brought the yellow substance—now well dried. "I found plenty of this in the 'tween-deck," he said; "and I should judge they used it to pack between the carboy boxes. It was once cotton-batting. It is now, since I have washed it, a very good sample of gun-cotton. Get me a hammer—crowbar—something hard."
Boston brought a marline-spike from the locker, and the doctor, tearing off a small piece of the substance and placing it on the iron barrel of a gipsy-winch, gave it a hard blow with the marline spike, which was nearly torn from his hand by the explosion that followed.
"We have in the 'tween-deck," said the doctor, as he turned, "about twice as many pounds of this stuff as they used to pack the carboys with; and, like the nitro-glycerine, is the more easily exploded from the impurities and free acids. I washed this for safe handling. Boston, we are adrift on a floating bomb that would pulverize the rock of Gibraltar!"
"But, doctor," asked Boston, as he leaned against the rail for support, "wouldn't there be evolution of heat from the action of the acids on the lime—enough to explode the nitro-glycerine just formed?"
"The best proof that it did not explode is the fact that this hull still floats. The action was too slow, and it was very cold down there. But I can't yet account for the acids left in the bilges. What have they been doing all these fifty years?"
Boston found a sounding-rod in the locker, which he scraped bright with his knife, then, unlaying a strand of the rope for a line, sounded the pump-well. The rod came up dry, but with a slight discoloration on the lower end, which Boston showed to the doctor.
"The acids have expended themselves on the iron frames and plates. How thick are they?"
"Plates, about five-eighths of an inch; frames, like railroad iron."
"This hull is a shell! We won't get much salvage. Get up some kind of distress signal, Boston." Somehow the doctor was now the master-spirit.
A flag was nailed to the mast, union down, to be blown to pieces with the first breeze; then another, and another, until the flag locker was exhausted. Next they hung out, piece after piece, all they could spare of the rotten bedding, until that too was exhausted. Then they found, in a locker of their boat, a flag of Free Cuba, which they decided not to waste, but to hang out only when a sail appeared.
But no sail appeared, and the craft, buffeted by gales and seas, drifted eastward, while the days became weeks, and the weeks became months. Twice she entered the Sargasso Sea—the graveyard of derelicts—to be blown out by friendly gales and resume her travels. Occasional rains replenished the stock of fresh water, but the food they found at first, with the exception of some cans of fruit, was all that came to light; for the salt meat was leathery, and crumbled to a salty dust on exposure to the air. After a while their stomachs revolted at the diet of cold soup, and they ate only when hunger compelled them.
At first they had stood watch-and-watch, but the lonely horror of the long night vigils in the constant apprehension of instant death had affected them alike, and they gave it up, sleeping and watching together. They had taken care of their boat and provisioned it, ready to lower and pull into the track of any craft that might approach. But it was four months from the beginning of this strange voyage when the two men, gaunt and hungry—with ruined digestions and shattered nerves—saw, with joy which may be imagined, the first land and the first sail that gladdened their eyes after the storm in the Florida Channel.
A fierce gale from the southwest had been driving them, broadside on, in the trough of the sea, for the whole of the preceding day and night; and the land they now saw appeared to them a dark, ragged line of blue, early in the morning. Boston could only surmise that it was the coast of Portugal or Spain. The sail—which lay between them and the land, about three miles to leeward—proved to be the try-sail of a black craft, hove-to, with bows nearly towards them.
Boston climbed the foremast with their only flag and secured it; then, from the high poop-deck, they watched the other craft, plunging and wallowing in the immense Atlantic combers, often raising her forefoot into plain view, again descending with a dive that hid the whole forward half in a white cloud of spume.
"If she was a steamer I'd call her a cruiser," said Boston; "one of England's black ones, with a storm-sail on her military mainmast. She has a ram bow, and—yes, sponsors and guns. That's what she is, with her funnels and bridge carried away."
"Isn't she right in our track, Boston?" asked the doctor, excitedly. "Hadn't she better get out of our way?"
"She's got steam up—a full head; sec the escape-jet? She isn't helpless. If she don't launch a boat, we'll take to ours and board her."
The distance lessened rapidly—the cruiser plunging up and down in the same spot, the derelict heaving to leeward in great, swinging leaps, as the successive seas caught her, each one leaving her half a length farther on. Soon they could make out the figures of men.
"Take us off," screamed the doctor, waving his arms, "and get out of our way!"
"We'll clear her," said Boston; "see, she's started her engine."
As they drifted down on the weather-side of the cruiser they shouted repeatedly words of supplication and warning. They were answered by a solid shot from a secondary gun, which flew over their heads. At the same time, the ensign of Spain was run up on the flag-staff.
"They're Spanish, Boston. They're firing on us. Into that boat with you! If a shot hits our cargo, we won't know what struck us."
They sprang into the boat, which luckily hung on the lee side, and cleared the falls—fastened and coiled in the bow and stern. Often during their long voyage they had rehearsed the launching of the boat in a seaway—an operation requiring quick and concerted action.
"Ready, Doc?" sang out Boston. "One, two, three—let go!" The falls overhauled with a whir, and the falling boat, striking an uprising sea with a smack, sank with it. When it raised they unhooked the tackle blocks, and pushed off with the oars just as a second shot hummed over their heads.
"Pull, Boston; pull hard—straight to windward!" cried the doctor.
The tight whaleboat shipped no water, and though they were pulling in the teeth of a furious gale, the hulk was drifting away from them, so, in a short time, they were separated from their late home by a full quarter-mile of angry sea. The cruiser had forged ahead in plain view, and, as they looked, took in the try-sail.
"She's going to wear," said Boston. "See, she's paying off."
"I don't know what 'wearing' means, Boston," panted the doctor, "but I know the Spanish nature. She's going to ram that hundred and thirty tons of nitro. Don't stop. Pull away. Hold on, there; hold on, you fools!" he shouted. "That's a torpedo; keep away from her!"
Forgetting his own injunction to "pull away," the doctor stood up, waving his oar frantically, and Boston assisted. But if their shouts and gestures were understood aboard the cruiser, they were ignored. She slowly turned in a wide curve and headed straight for the Neptune which had drifted to leeward of her.
What was in the minds of the officers on that cruiser's deck will never be known. Cruisers of all nations hold roving commissions in regard to derelicts, and it is fitting and proper for one of them to gently prod a "vagrant of the sea" with the steel prow and send her below to trouble no more. But it may be that the sight of the Cuban flag, floating defiantly in the gale, had something to do with the full speed at which the Spanish ship approached. When but half a length separated the two craft, a heavy sea lifted the bow of the cruiser high in air; then it sank, and the sharp steel ram came down like a butcher's cleaver on the side of the derelict.
A great semicircular wall of red shut out the gray of the sea and sky to leeward, and for an instant the horrified men in the boat saw—as people see by a lightning flash—dark lines radiating from the centre of this red wall, and near this centre poised on end in mid-air, with deck and sponsons still intact, a bowless, bottomless remnant of the cruiser. Then, and before the remnant sank into the vortex beneath, the spectacle went out in the darkness of unconsciousness; for a report, as of concentrated thunder, struck them down. A great wave had left the crater-like depression in the sea, which threw the boat on end, and with the inward rush of surrounding water rose a mighty gray cone, which then subsided to a hollow, while another wave followed the first. Again and again this gray pillar rose and fell, each subsidence marked by the sending forth of a wave. And long before these concentric waves had lost themselves in the battle with the storm-driven combers from the ocean, the half-filled boat, with her unconscious passengers, had drifted over the spot where lay the shattered remnant, which, with the splintered fragments of wood and iron strewn on the surface and bottom of the sea for a mile around, and the lessening cloud of dust in the air, was all that was left of the derelict Neptune and one of the finest cruisers in the Spanish navy.
A few days later, two exhausted, half-starved men pulled a whaleboat up to the steps of the wharf at Cadiz, where they told some lies and sold their boat. Six months after, these two men, sitting at a camp-fire of the Cuban army, read from a discolored newspaper, brought ashore with the last supplies, the following:
"By cable to the 'Herald.'
"CADIZ, March 13, 1895.—Anxiety for the safety of the Reina Regente has grown rapidly to-day, and this evening it is feared, generally, that she went down with her four hundred and twenty souls in the storm which swept the southern coast on Sunday night and Monday morning. Despatches from Gibraltar say that pieces of a boat and several semaphore flags belonging to the cruiser came ashore at Ceuta and Tarifa this afternoon."
THE TERRIBLE SOLOMONS*
From "South Sea Tales," BY JACK LONDON
*Reprinted by courtesy of the Macmillan Co.
There is no gainsaying that the Solomons are a hard-bitten bunch of islands. On the other hand, there are worse places in the world. But to the new chum who has no constitutional understanding of men and life in the rough, the Solomons may indeed prove terrible.
It is true that fever and dysentery are perpetually on the walk-about, that loathsome skin diseases abound, that the air is saturated with a poison that bites into every pore, cut, or abrasion and plants malignant ulcers, and that many strong men who escape dying there return as wrecks to their own countries. It is also true that the natives of the Solomons are a wild lot, with a hearty appetite for human flesh and a fad for collecting human heads. Their highest instinct of sportsmanship is to catch a man with his back turned and to smite him a cunning blow with a tomahawk that severs the spinal column at the base of the brain. It is equally true that on some islands, such as Malaita, the profit and loss account of social intercourse is calculated in homicides. Heads are a medium of exchange, and white heads are extremely valuable. Very often a dozen villages make a jack-pot, which they fatten moon by moon, against the time when some brave warrior presents a white man's head, fresh and gory, and claims the pot.
All the foregoing, is quite true, and yet there are white men who have lived in the Solomons a score of years and who feel homesick when they go away from them. A man needs only to be careful—and lucky—to live a long time in the Solomons; but he must also be of the right sort. He must have the hall-mark of the inevitable white man stamped upon his soul. He must be inevitable. He must have a certain grand carelessness of odds, a certain colossal self-satisfaction, and a racial egotism that convinces him that one white is better than a thousand niggers every day in the week, and that on Sunday he is able to clean out two thousand niggers. For such are the things that have made the white man inevitable. Oh, and one other thing—the white man who wishes to be inevitable, must not merely despise the lesser breeds and think a lot of himself; he must also fail to be too long on imagination. He must not understand too well the instincts, customs and mental processes of the blacks, the yellows, and the browns; for it is not in such fashion that the white race has tramped its royal road around the world.
Bertie Arkwright was not inevitable. He was too sensitive, too finely strung, and he possessed too much imagination. The world was too much with him. He projected himself too quiveringly into his environment. Therefore, the last place in the world for him to come was the Solomons. He did not come, expecting to stay. A five-weeks' stop-over between steamers, he decided, would satisfy the call of the primitive he felt thrumming the strings of his being. At least, so he told the lady tourists on the Makembo, though in different terms; and they worshipped him as a hero, for they were lady tourists and they would know only the safety of the steamer's deck as she threaded her way through the Solomons.
There was another man on board, of whom the ladies took no notice. He was a little shriveled wisp of a man, with a withered skin the color of mahogany. His name on the passenger list does not matter, but his other name, Captain Malu, was a name for niggers to conjure with, and to scare naughty pickaninnies to righteousness, from New Hanover to the New Hebrides. He had farmed savages and savagery, and from fever and hardship, the crack of Sniders and the lash of the overseers, had wrested five millions of money in the form of beche-de-mer, sandalwood, pearl-shell and turtle-shell, ivory nuts and copra, grasslands, trading stations, and plantations. Captain Malu's little finger, which was broken, had more inevitableness in it than Bertie Arkwright's whole carcass. But then, the lady tourists had nothing by which to judge save appearances, and Bertie certainly was a fine-looking man.
Bertie talked with Captain Malu in the smoking-room, confiding to him his intention of seeing life red and bleeding in the Solomons. Captain Malu agreed that the intention was ambitious and honorable. It was not until several days later that he became interested in Bertie, when that young adventurer insisted on showing him an automatic 44-calibre pistol. Bertie explained the mechanism and demonstrated by slipping a loaded magazine up the hollow butt.
"It is so simple," he said. He shot the outer barrel back along the inner one. "That loads it, and cocks it, you see. And then all I have to do is pull the trigger, eight times, as fast as I can quiver my finger. See that safety clutch. That's what I like about it. It is safe. It is positively fool-proof." He slipped out the magazine. "You see how safe it is."
As he held it in his hand, the muzzle came in line with Captain Malu's stomach. Captain Malu's blue eyes looked at it unswervingly.
"Would you mind pointing it in some other direction?" he asked.
"It's perfectly safe," Bertie assured him. "I withdrew the magazine. It's not loaded now, you know."
"A gun is always loaded."
"But this one isn't."
"Turn it away just the same."
Captain Malu's voice was flat and metallic and low, but his eyes never left the muzzle until the line of it was drawn past him and away from him.
"I'll bet a fiver it isn't loaded," Bertie proposed warmly.
The other shook his head.
"Then I'll show you."
Bertie started to put the muzzle to his own temple with the evident intention of pulling the trigger.
"Just a second," Captain Malu said quietly, reaching out his hand. "Let me look at it."
He pointed it seaward and pulled the trigger. A heavy explosion followed, instantaneous with the sharp click of the mechanism that flipped a hot and smoking cartridge sidewise along the deck. Bertie's jaw dropped in amazement.
"I slipped the barrel back once, didn't I?" he explained. "It was silly of me, I must say."
He giggled flabbily, and sat down in a steamer chair. The blood had ebbed from his face, exposing dark circles under his eyes. His hands were trembling and unable to guide the shaking cigarette to his lips. The world was too much with him, and he saw himself with dripping brains prone upon the deck.
"Really," he said, ". . . really."
"It's a pretty weapon," said Captain Malu, returning the automatic to him.
The Commissioner was on board the Makembo, returning from Sydney, and by his permission a stop was made at Ugi to land a missionary. And at Ugi lay the ketch Arla, Captain Hansen, skipper. Now the Arla was one of many vessels owned by Captain Malu, and it was at his suggestion and by his invitation that Bertie went aboard the Arla as guest for a four-days' recruiting cruise on the coast of Malaita. Thereafter the Arla would drop him at Reminge Plantation (also owned by Captain Malu), where Bertie could remain for a week, and then be sent over to Tulgal, the seat of government, where he would become the Commissioner's guest. Captain Malu was responsible for two other suggestions, which given, he disappears from this narrative. One was to Captain Hansen, the other to Mr. Harriwell, manager of Reminge Plantation. Both suggestions were similar in tenor, namely, to give Mr. Bertram Arkwright an insight into the rawness and redness of life in the Solomons. Also, it is whispered that Captain Malu mentioned that a case of Scotch would be coincidental with any particularly gorgeous insight Mr. Arkwright might receive.
* * * * * *
"Yes, Svartz always was too pig-headed. You see, he took four of his boat's crew to Tulagi to be flogged—officially, you know—then started back with them in the whale-boat. It was pretty squally, and the boat capsized just outside. Swartz was the only one drowned. Of course it was an accident."
"Was it? Really?" Bertie asked, only half-interested, staring hard at the black man at the wheel.
Ugi had dropped astern, and the Arla was sliding along through a summer sea toward the wooded ranges of Malaita. The helmsman who so attracted Bertie's eyes sported a tenpenny nail, stuck skewerwise through his nose. About his neck was string of pants buttons. Thrust through holes in his ears were a can-opener, the broken handle of a tooth-brush, a clay pipe, the brass wheel of an alarm clock, and several Winchester rifle cartridges. On his chest, suspended from around his neck hung the half of a china plate. Some forty similarly apparelled blacks lay about the deck, fifteen of which were boat's crew, the remainder being fresh labor recruits.
"Of course it was an accident," spoke up the Arla's mate, Jacobs, a slender, dark-eyed man who looked more a professor than a sailor. "Johnny Bedlip nearly had the same kind of accident. He was bringing back several from a flogging, when they capsized him. But he knew how to swim as well as they, and two of them were drowned. He used a boat-stretcher and a revolver. Of course it was an accident."
"Quite common, them accidents," remarked the skipper. "You see that man at the wheel, Mr. Arkwright? He's a man-eater. Six months ago, he and the rest of the boat's crew drowned the then captain of the Arla. They did it on deck, sir, right aft there by the mizzen-traveller."
"The deck was in a shocking state," said the mate.
"Do I understanad—?" Bertie began.
"Yes, just that," said Captain Hansen. "It was accidental drowning."
"But on deck—?"
"Just so. I don't mind telling you, in confidence, of course, that they used an axe."
"This present crew of yours?"
Captain Hansen nodded.
"The other skipper always was too careless," explained the mate. "He but just turned his back, when they let him have it."
"We haven't any show down here," was the skipper's complaint. "The government protects a nigger against a white every time. You can't shoot first. You've got to give the nigger first shot, or else the government calls it murder and you go to Fiji. That's why there's so many drowning accidents."
Dinner was called, and Bertie and the skipper went below, leaving the mate to watch on deck.
"Keep an eye out for that black devil, Auiki," was the skipper's parting caution. "I haven't liked his looks for several days."
"Right O," said the mate.
Dinner was part way along, and the skipper was in the middle of his story of the cutting out of the Scottish Chiefs.
"Yes," he was saying, "she was the finest vessel on the coast. But when she missed stays, and before ever she hit the reef, the canoes started for her. There were five white men, a crew of twenty Santa Cruz boys and Samoans, and only the super-cargo escaped. Besides, there were sixty recruits. They were all kai-kai'd. Kaikai?—oh, I beg your pardon. I mean they were eaten. Then there was the James Edwards, a dandy-rigged—"