"That was one time I saw Father in action. He yelled for the lifeboat and got volunteers. Out of the blank confusion he brought order, and in less than two minutes the lifeboat was over the side with twelve men aboard, Father one of them. The little boat rose on the waves like a feather and the third wave dashed it against the rim of the cylinder. As the frail craft crushed like an eggshell, every man leaped for the edge, hanging on to the sharp iron edge like grim death.
"Down came the cylinder again and as she careened, every man clambered on. The added weight made her top-heavy and she began to ship water badly. Four of the fresh men were put at the pumps to relieve the others who were exhausted by their efforts.
"Father had climbed on the cylinder, with a rope slung over his shoulders. He called to the men to haul in. At the end of it was a large piece of canvas, an old sail. With nothing to which they could hold on, with the waves dashing high and that great iron drum reeling drunkenly on the sea, those men lay flat on their stomachs and spread that sail over the top of the cylinder. More than once it seemed as though wind and sea would get under that sail and with one vast heave, pitch every man into the sea, but they held on. One of the men, an old time shellback, bent that sail on to the cylinder so snugly and cleverly that almost two-thirds of the surface was protected. With teeth as well as hands the men held on, and lashed the canvas into place.
"Every second they expected to feel the cylinder founder beneath their feet, for though the pumps were going steadily and furiously, more water was being shipped than could be taken out. Once the sail was lashed fast, however, the cylinder shed most of the wash and the pumps, now working at top speed with eight men at the handles, began to gain. Water still scuttled down the iron sides, and as the sea was rising, she put her whole side under for the fraction of a second, twice. I was watching it all from the steamer, our searchlight playing full on the ungainly craft.
"Presently, so perilous did the situation grow and so rough the sea, that the captain of the steamer signaled to one of the smaller tugs to take up her anchor and stand by to pick up survivors should the cylinder founder. He broke away his anchor himself and the big ocean-going tug steamed to windward of the cylinder, letting down a heavy coat of oil on the sea. It worked like a charm. The smoothening effect of the oil was just sufficient to enable the men to work on the cylinder with a slight, a very slight, margin of safety.
"Six men scuttled down the rope ladders on the inside of the cylinder. It chanced that there were four buckets on the iron drum and with this they organized a bucket brigade. The water was still three feet deep and swishing about like a whirlpool. Every man knew that one large wave would send them to Davy Jones' locker.
"Down in the bowels of that iron cylinder they toiled. Not a gleam of light was anywhere, the white shaft of the searchlight overhead only making the shadows denser. No man could see his fellow; only by feeling were the buckets passed from hand to hand. But, between the bucket brigade and the pumps, little by little the water lessened, the load of the cylinder lightened and she rode higher in the water. Little choice was theirs, either to bail unceasingly or to drown like rats in a hole.
"Daybreak found them still at work, spent with exhaustion, hollow-eyed and suffering from the night of terrible strain. The wind had dropped a little with the dawn, but the sea still ran high. Seeing that the men were too thoroughly wearied out to be of any use, even though the weather should improve rapidly, Father gave the order for the fleet to run to the nearest shelter. We sought the lee of Smith's Island, off the Maryland Shore, and stayed there for a week.
"At last, with every one rested and eager for another tussle, the fleet crept out again. All the weather indications were favorable, and, so far as the experts could foretell, there wasn't a storm in sight for a week or more."
"Weather experts aren't much on guessing," commented Eric.
"Not in Chesapeake Bay, anyhow," the other rejoined.
"I wouldn't go so far as that," the other answered. "There'd be a lot more wrecks than there are if it weren't for the storm signals of the Weather Bureau. They can always warn ships of the coming of a big storm, one of these West Indian hurricanes, for instance. Squalls, of course, they can't foresee. Usually, that doesn't matter, because no seaworthy vessel is going to be worried by a squall. But that iron cylinder wasn't seaworthy. At least, you should have heard what the men called it who had been on board the night it nearly went down!"
"I can imagine," said Eric.
"Then you've a healthy imagination," his friend replied grimly. "As I was saying," he continued, "the fleet started out under sunny skies and a smooth sea. They reached the place where the buoy was moored and Father took very careful observations to make sure that the buoy had not shifted during the storm. Everything was all right, and the instant the cylinder was immediately over the precise spot, the valves were opened and the water began to pour in.
"The tugs at once brought up the two barges containing heavy blocks of stone, and the instant that the cylinder touched the bottom, the gangs of men started to heave the stones overboard."
"What in the wide world was that for?"
"To prevent the water from scouring away the sand. You see it's all sand there, that's why the caisson was made. As soon as the current would strike an obstruction like the cylinder, it would make a gyratory sweep around its base. With the strong tides of Chesapeake Bay, even an hour would be enough to scoop out the sand and plunge the whole structure edgewise into the sea. So overboard the stones went, all round the cylinder, making a rough protecting wall against the undermining force of the water. The swirl, instead of striking the smooth iron side of the cylinder, would be broken against the pile of rocks. Moreover, with the sand thus protected it could not be washed away so easily by the force of the current.
"At the same time, another gang of men was sent aboard the cylinder, and one of the smaller tugs brought up a barge loaded with concrete. The men tumbled into the compartments of the cylinder. From the barge two pipes were thrust. Down one of these poured a steady stream of cement, from the other a torrent of small grit, while an unceasing cataract of salt water rushed down from the pumps of the steamer.
"In this awful mess of cement, water, and small stones the men wallowed and struggled, mixing the concrete and packing it down hard into place. Wet to the skin, covered with cement dust, it was all that they could do to keep from turning into concrete statues, and the foreman was continually advising the men to put hands and faces directly under the stream of water and not to give the cement dust a chance to harden on their faces. For two hours they slaved, working in a frenzy of haste.
"Then, when everything was proceeding so well and so rapidly, a black storm-cloud came up out of the sea to the southeast, and the waves began to roll in. The whistle for recall blew shrilly. Up from the cylinder poured the shovelers, covered with concrete and looking like gray images of men. There was a wild flight for the steamer. One of the barges snapped a hawser and it was only by the herculean efforts of the smaller tug that she was kept from collision with the cylinder. Had that tug, loaded down with building material, ever canted against the cylinder, the whole effort would have been in vain.
"One of the lifeboats, containing sixteen men, was picked up by a wave and thrown against the iron rim as a child throws a ball. The boat went into matchwood and every one of the sixteen men was thrown into the water. But Father had taken the precaution of not engaging any man who was not a good swimmer, and the other tug had received instructions to follow each boatload of workmen every trip they took. Accordingly, when the men were thrown into the sea, the tug was not twenty yards away and every one was picked up without injury.
"The next morning, to the horror of every man in the fleet, the cylinder was seen to be inclining four feet from the perpendicular. Although the waves were running high, a gang was sent on one of the stone barges and another two hundred tons of stone were thrown off on the side to which the cylinder was inclining."
"Why?" asked Eric. "I should have thought that it ought to be on the other side."
"Not at all," his friend rejoined. "The reason that the cylinder had listed was because there had been some scouring away of the sand in spite of the stones. If, therefore, the stones were put on the side from which the sand had already been cut away, the action of the water on the other side would undermine the sand there and gradually straighten up the cylinder. At least, that was the idea."
"And did it work?"
"Perfectly. Two days passed before the cylinder was absolutely level, and in the meantime the tug had taken one of the barges for more stone. Another hundred tons was dumped down as soon as the cylinder was straight again, and it was thereby kept from further scouring. The weather had become good again, and the concrete work was continued. On April 21st the entire gang began work. Barge hands, cooks, everybody that could handle a shovel at all, was sent aboard the cylinder."
"Did you go?"
"You bet I did, and I worked as hard as any of the men—for a while. Two or three hours of it did me up, though. I was only twelve years old, remember, but most of the men kept on the job for forty-eight hours straight with only fifteen minutes allowed for meals. By that time the foundation was secure with thirty feet of solid concrete twenty-two feet thick."
"That ought to hold it," said Eric.
"That was only the beginning," said his friend. "What would hold it, resting on the top of the sand?"
"I'd thought of that," admitted the boy, "but I supposed the weight would be enough to drive it in."
"Never," the other said. "The next step was to drive it down into the hard sand at the bottom of the bay. Father had made borings and found a true sea-bottom sand fifteen feet and a half below the level of the shoal. It was to that depth that the whole caisson had to be sunk.
"You remember that I told you there was an air-shaft in the middle of the caisson?"
"Well, on the top of this air-shaft an air-lock was built. The water in the air-shaft was forced out by compressed air and the men entered the caisson."
"Into the compressed air?"
"Yes. It takes a special kind of worker for the job. In the air-lock, you know, the men have to stay for a while before they enter the chamber, so as to get used to the compressed air gradually. Lots of people can't stand it."
"Did you try it?"
"Yes. I asked Father and he wouldn't let me. But I slipped into the air-lock once and tried it, anyhow."
"Not for me!" said his friend. "I got out in less than five minutes. My head seemed bursting, and I was bleeding from the ears as well as the nose. But some of them, especially an old chap called Griffin, the foreman, didn't seem to mind it at all.
"As soon as the caisson was clear of water and the men were ready, they entered the caisson, crawled down the long ladder and began to dig away the sand. A large four-inch pipe led up the air-shaft and over the sea. The sand and small stones were shoveled into a chamber from which a valve opened into the pipe and the compressed air drove up the sand and stones like a volcano into the sea. The work proceeded rapidly and without a hitch until the caisson had been sunk thirteen feet and a half. Then, when only two feet from the total desired depth, an unexpected and terrible thing happened.
"At three o'clock in the afternoon a low hissing was heard in the caisson, and with a quick flicker the candles first burned low, then flamed anew, the color of the flame a lambent green. For a few moments none of the men realized what had happened, and stood there, stupefied and staggering. An acrid burning sensation gripped the men by the throat and they were stricken blind. Suffering terrible agony, every man managed to climb the long ladder, each step of which seemed an eternity, and entered the air-lock. Ten hale and hearty men had entered the caisson, ten wrecks emerged, the flesh of the inside of their throats raw and their eyes swollen and reddened beyond recognition.
"A telegram was sent to the Lighthouse Inspector of the district, and the doctor attached to the building party sent for medical help. Next day the inspector came down, with assistants, and accompanied by another physician and a nurse. They found that the caisson workers had tapped a vein of sulphuretted hydrogen, probably due to the decay of some deep beds of vegetable matter, such as sea-weed. One of the assistants to the inspector, who was a clever young scientist, suggested that after a day or two it might be possible to enter the caisson again, but that it would be necessary to proceed with extreme care, as another pocket might be tapped, with a recurrence of the danger.
"Although before them, in their bunks, lay their ten comrades, when Father called for volunteers, fourteen men came forward. They knew, they could not help knowing, that they were not only going into possible danger, but into absolutely certain torture. Their comrades lay there—it was not certain that some of them would ever see again, it was not certain that some of them would recover. Absolute agony of the most horrible kind awaited them. But the lighthouse had to be built. It is easy to make a problematic sacrifice of life, it is hard to walk without shrinking into a chamber of awful pain. From this ordeal these fourteen men did not shrink.
"They were headed by Griffin, the old caisson foreman, who had a record of having withstood the greatest pressure possible, a pressure of eight and a half atmospheres. They went down at nine o'clock in the morning. The pain must have been fearful, but they stuck to it to the end. One man went through the air-lock and got food, returning to his comrades. He had been down four hours, and his condition was so terrible that the doctor ordered him to stay out of the lock.
"'I'm not that breed,' he said in a horrid whisper over his raw and swollen throat, 'I'm goin' to see it through.'
"'Better keep away, my man,' the doctor said; 'I won't answer for what will happen to you if you go back.'
"'I ain't no quitter,' was the answer. 'I'm a Boston wharf-rat, I am, an' I stays wid de gang!'
"That doesn't sound like a heroic speech, Eric," said the first lieutenant, "but it looks to me like it's the real stuff."
"It surely is," agreed the boy.
"He went back with a bite of food for all the men below and they worked on steadily. By the way the stuff came up the pipe they must have worked like demons. Every ear was keen for sign or sound of trouble, but the afternoon wore on, the sand came hurtling from the pipe and the caisson sank lower and lower.
"'How much further?' I asked Father, just as the evening was beginning to draw in.
"'Not more than an inch or two,' he said triumphantly. 'I tell you what, I envy those fellows down there. They're real men. I doubt if I'd have the nerve to do it myself.'
"Suddenly there came a muffled roar below.
"'There it is!' cried the young scientist, and he made a bolt for the air-lock.
"Father was not more than a second behind him, waiting only to make sure of the point to which the structure had been sunk. The caisson was within three quarters of an inch of the required depth!
"Meantime, down in the caisson, the feared disaster had occurred. The gas had come up with a rush, almost like an explosion. In the green glare of the candles, burning sulphur and hydrogen flames instead of oxygen, the men were staggering, here and there, unable to find the way out.
"Griffin took charge. It was his hand that led every man to the ladder. Nine men crawled up.
"As the minutes passed, the anxiety at the head of the shaft grew intense. No more workers came. Fourteen men had gone down; only nine had returned. There were then five men still unaccounted for. First one rope was dropped without result, then another. This time some groping hand—it proved to be Griffin's—encountered the rope, and found a sufferer. He tied the rope around his comrade and the man was hoisted up. Four times this was done, but the fourth was a huge, powerful Irishman, called Howard. When he was pulled up, entirely unconscious, he stuck fast in the hole and could not be pulled out.
"By an exertion of self-control and endurance, that no one ever has been able to understand, Griffin climbed that ladder into the top where the gases were at their foulest. Though all his comrades had been too far gone for several minutes to move, even to help themselves, he succeeded in pushing and pulling Howard's unconscious body until it passed through the hole.
"A hand was stretched down to reach Griffin and bring him to life and safety, when the overwrought system gave way. He loosed his handhold on the ladder and fell.
"A groan went up from those above. It was a thirty-foot fall. Had the rescuer, the hero, been killed? Scarcely could a man fall in such a way in an air shaft and live.
"There was no need to ask for volunteers. Two men, one of those who had been in the caisson all day and was one of the first rescued, and another, who had not gone down at all, leaped for the ladder. The doctor caught the first by the shoulder and thrust him aside. The other descended a few feet and then came up again, to fall unconscious at the edge of the shaft. Another sprang forward, and yet another, clamoring for leave to go down.
"Just at that moment there was a faint tug at the rope, the first rope, which had been left hanging down in the pit. Hardly expecting anything, one of the men started to haul it in.
"'Come here, boys,' he cried; 'Griffin's on!'
"With their hearts in their mouths, the men hauled in, and the limp and apparently lifeless body of the foreman came to the surface. How he had ever managed to fasten the rope around him was a mystery. His hands, with the flesh rubbed from them to the bone, showed that when he had lost hold on the ladder he had still retained presence of mind enough to grasp the sides and had slid to the foot. There he had found the end of the rope hanging and in a last flicker of understanding had tied it around himself."
"Did he get all right again?" asked Eric eagerly.
"He was blind for six weeks, but finally recovered. Two of the men were seven months in hospital, and one became permanently insane. Four got 'bends,' that fearful disease that strikes caisson-workers, but happily, none died from the terrible experience."
"And the three quarters of an inch still lacking?"
"The cylinder settled just that much and no one ever had to go down the shaft again. The caisson was filled with concrete and the air-shaft sealed."
"And that was the final effort of the sea?"
"Not quite. A month later a storm came up and drove the steamer against the cylinder with such force that eight of the plates—though an inch thick and braced with rigid solidity—were crushed in. Father had taken precautions against such an accident by having had a number of extra plates made, and the lighthouse was finished and turned over to the government three days before the expiration of the time required by the contract. It was a case of man's struggle with the elements, and man won."
"But the honors are with the caisson-men," suggested Eric.
"Yes," agreed the other, "the hero of Smith's Point lighthouse is Griffin, the caisson-man."
ADRIFT ON A DERELICT
"Looks to me as though we're going to have a ripsnorter for Christmas," said Eric to his friend, Homer, the day before the festive season. "If the sea gets much higher, Cookie won't have to stir the plum duff at all!"
"All he's got to do is to leave the raisins and the flour and the currants and whatever else goes into the duff lying loose on a table. The old lady is kicking loose enough to mix it up all right. Doesn't she pitch!"
"Great cook you'd make," laughed the other. "I'm glad we don't have to mess from your galley. But you're right about the weather. It's all right to go hunting for derelicts, but I don't know how the deuce anybody can be expected to find one in a sea like this!"
"We might hit her," suggested Eric, cheerfully.
"You're a hopeful prophet, you are," retorted his chum. "I'm not aching to feed the fishes yet awhile."
"Well, we might bump, just the same. Then the Seminole would have a chance to hunt us as a derelict, and Van Sluyd—he's on her now, you know—would have the time of his young life."
"I don't think you need to worry about sending a message to Van Sluyd yet awhile," the other answered; "after all, the Miami is still above water."
"She is, once in a while," Eric commented, as the cutter "took it green" and the water came flooding down the deck. Homer, seeing the wave coming, scuttled for the companion hatchway and went below.
As Eric had said, it seemed difficult to try to locate a derelict in a half a gale of wind. Yet, so dangerous to navigation was the floating wreck which the Miami was seeking, that the risk was worth taking. When he remembered what the lieutenant of the Bear had said to him once about derelicts, he realized the terrible importance of the quest.
"Every year," he had said, "hundreds of vessels, both sail and steam, leave their home ports for foreign shores, or start from foreign ports for home. The day of the expected arrival comes and goes, two or three days drag by, and still there is no sign of them. Anxious relatives and friends besiege the shipping offices daily for word, and no word comes. When suspense has passed into assured disaster, the underwriters inscribe against that vessel's name the one word, "Missing!" An average of a vessel a day is the toll of the Seven Seas upon the world's shipping. And the principal cause is—derelicts."
As the Miami plowed her way through the water, dipping her nose into the waves raised by a stiff southeaster, Eric thought of the suddenness of the catastrophe if the Coast Guard cutter, in the darkness, should strike one of those abandoned hulks, floating almost level with the water, and scarcely visible from the vessel's decks.
It was a night calculated to shake the nerve of a youngster who knew that this deadly menace to the life of every one on board might be suddenly lurking in the trough of any one of the waves, that came shouldering their vengeful resentment against the sturdy little vessel that defied them. They had nourished their grudge against Man, the violator of their ancient domain, over a thousand leagues of sea, for the Miami was a hundred miles to the eastward of the Lookout Shoal, though westward of the limit of the Gulf Stream. The billows thus had a stretch of unbroken ocean from the frozen continent of Antarctica. Of this they made full use, and staunch little vessel though the cutter was, she was making bad weather of it.
The fog was dense and the gale whipped the spray into a blinding sheet. This was varied by squalls of sleet and hail and for three hours a blinding snowstorm added to the general discomfort. Less than thirty miles to the eastward lay the Gulf Stream, where the water was over 70 deg. and where no snow could ever be, but that gave the crew of the Miami little comfort.
It was not a coast on which vigilance could be relaxed, and Eric was glad when the search for the Madeleine Cooney was abandoned for a while. It was time, too, for the Miami had all she could do to take care of herself. The Coast Guard vessel was midway between the Frying Pan and the Lookout Shoals, two of the most famous danger points on the Atlantic coast, and the wind had risen to a living gale. The first lieutenant was on the bridge a great deal of the time. For forty-eight hours there had been absolutely no sign of the sun or any star. There was no way to determine the vessel's position except by dead reckoning—always a dangerous thing to trust when there is much leeway and many cross-currents. The lead was going steadily, heaved every few minutes, while the Miami crept along cautiously under the guidance of that ancient safeguard of the mariner.
It was the evening of the second day after the worst part of the blow started that the Miami dropped her anchor in eight fathoms of water off the North Carolina coast. Steam was kept full up, although the position of the cutter in the lee of a point of land precluded the immediate possibility of her dragging her anchors.
Almost exactly at noon the next day, the wireless operator intercepted a message from the Norfolk Navy Yard that the steamer Northwestern was anchored 55 miles southwest of Lookout Shoals, with her propeller gone. As this position, pricked on the chart, showed the steamer to be in a dangerous and exposed position, and as, moreover, she was a menace to navigation, being full in the path of vessels, the Miami got under way immediately.
As soon as the Coast Guard cutter reached the bar, a snowstorm, which seemed to have been waiting around, as if for that very purpose, struck down upon the water and the Miami clawed out over the bar in a blinding smother. There was a nasty, choppy sea, the wind having hauled round to the westward, though it was not as violent as the day before. At two o'clock in the afternoon the radio operator received a storm warning for a nor'wester.
A passing vessel spoke the Miami by wireless and stated that she had sighted the Northwestern, but gave her position twelve miles to the westward of the point first quoted. It was evening before the steamer in distress was sighted. The Coast Guard cutter ran up under her stern, and asked if she could hold on for a while. The captain of the steamer answered that he could.
"I'm all right, so far," he shouted back through the megaphone; "it's that blithering bally-hoo of a propeller!"
His language was picturesque, fluent, and convincing, and everybody on board the cutter grinned while the old sea-dog expressed a highly colored opinion of the whole tribe of ship-fitters, machinists, and mechanics generally. After ten minutes of descriptive shouting, during which he never repeated an adjective twice, he wound up by saying that he considered "an engine-room an insult to a seaman's intelligence," and said that "he'd like to pave the bottom of the sea with the skeletons of engineers diving a thousand fathom for his lost propeller!" Following which, he seemed to feel better, and discussed what was best to be done with his ship.
The situation was dangerous. The sea was far too rough for the lowering of a boat, no matter how well handled. The gale was such that it was unsafe for the Miami to anchor. In the case of the Northwestern, anchoring had been her last resort. There was fully twenty fathom of water, and fortunately the steamer's anchors held. The captain had put ninety fathom of chain on each anchor, and though the weight pulled her nose into the water, so that she snubbed into the sea like a ram trying to butt down a wall, still everything held. The Miami stood by all night, keeping close to the imperilled vessel.
Next morning the conditions were no better. The advantages of daylight were more than overcome by the increased fury of the sea. The Northwestern lay in an angry rip, for the gale had come on in full force and was countering the long rollers from the southeast that had been blown up by the storm of two days before, the same which had driven the Miami to shelter and which had crippled the big steamer, twice the size of the revenue cutter. The Miami stayed near by, hove to, waiting for the storm to abate. But of this there were no signs. The force of the gale increased steadily through the day.
The Northwestern was pitching terribly. She was heavily loaded with a cargo of crude oil, and as she swung to the squalls, the sea breached her completely and continuously. Only her high bow, poop, and pilot-house were out of the water for any length of time. The big steamer was tearing viciously at her anchors and it was amazing that they held. The long scope of chain, however, was probably her salvation.
As darkness came on, the captain of the Miami called the first lieutenant.
"Mr. Keelson," he said, "I think we'd better get a line to the steamer."
"Very well, sir," the other answered.
"If we're going to take her in tow," said Eric to Homer, overhearing the order, "we're apt to get our stern works pulled out of us. She's pitching like all billy-o!"
"We'll make it if the skipper says so," his friend said cheerfully.
It was then nearly half past four o'clock, and fortunately there was just a slight lull in the storm. Swinging across the Northwestern's bow the gunner shot a line into her rigging. The steamer's crew were on the alert—they had good men aboard that craft—and tailed on to the line. The Miami forged ahead and dropped anchor with sixty fathom of chain on the disabled steamer's starboard bow.
The Northwestern had got enough steam up for the donkey engine. It did not take long for them to get first a strong rope and then the big hawser aboard, and make fast. As soon as the hawser was aboard, the Northwestern began to heave up to her anchors. Closely watching, the Miami hove up to hers, ready to break at the same instant that the steamer broke free. The instant the larger vessel's anchor raised, the Miami swung hers free, to avoid fouling, for in so fierce a gale the merest touch would have been fatal to one or both vessels.
The Northwestern swung down broadside to the sea and stood a fair chance of being swamped. The Miami, however, going ahead at full speed, just managed to bring the strain on the tow-line in time to swing the steamer clear into the crest of a huge comber which struck her bow harmlessly instead of hurling its tons of water on her unprotected deck.
The strain on the Miami was extremely great, but the hawser held well, although the Northwestern yawed frightfully. She would run up on the line, and the sea would strike her bow, throwing her off, tightening the tow-line suddenly with a jolt that shook the Miami from stem to stern. It was an awful night's tow, but just at eight bells of the middle watch the cutter and the rescued vessel passed the Frying Pan Shoals Lightship, and as soon as they got within lee of the shoals they met a smoother sea. At nine o'clock the next morning the Northwestern was safe and sound in a good anchorage in Southport at the mouth of the Cape Fear River.
When Eric came on deck again, he found the Miami on her way south again on the search for the derelict, Madeleine Cooney, this time reported by the United States Army mine planter, Schofield. Two days afterwards in latitude 27 deg. 52' N., longitude 84 deg. 34' W., a vessel was found in 65 fathom of water, with her anchor down, burned to her main deck and on fire aft. She was dismasted and her bowsprit had gone. Eric was sent in charge of one of the boats to run a line. The sea was comparatively smooth, so that the Miami made fast alongside her stern and put two lines of hose aboard. The cutter's heavy pumps were attached and in fifteen minutes the fire was out.
The anchor chain was fouled, so the first lieutenant gave orders that the cable should be slipped. Some of the cutter's men worked around the masts floating alongside and the entangled rigging, and cut away enough of the rigging to make a heavy wire bridle which was passed through the hawse-pipes in the burned vessel's bow. This was necessary as none of the upper works of the ship remained to which a tow-line could be attached. To this bridle was bent the ten-inch hawser of the Miami, and the derelict was towed into Tampa Bay.
On the way, however, rough weather came up and the masts and spars broke adrift. As they were right in the path of traffic, the Miami went back to destroy these. The spars were separated and allowed to drift, as the set of the current would soon take them ashore out of harm's way. This got rid of everything except the lower part of the mainmast. As this heavy spar itself might be the means of sinking a vessel if left adrift, tossing on the waves, the Miami parbuckled the big timber on board, chopped it into small pieces—none of them large enough to do a vessel any damage—and set them afloat.
The weather continued squally as the Miami ran down the coast, the tag end of the gale blowing itself to tatters on the stretch from Cape Hatteras to Cape Fear. Little though Eric realized it then, before the year was out, he was destined to know that coast from painful experience and every curl of those hungry breakers was going to be imprinted on his brain.
The Miami was off Cape Canaveral when a radio message was received that there was a derelict bark two hundred miles to the westward of Abaco Island, the northernmost of the Bahamas. In less than three minutes after the receipt of the message over the wireless, the captain had been advised, the course changed and the Miami was headed for the derelict at full speed. She had been running for a little over an hour when a second radio was received from a land station, relayed from a steamer.
"Schooner Marie-Rose reports passing water-logged vessel 23 deg. 40' N. and 73 deg. 10' W. Signs of distress observed. Marie-Rose, crippled and running before gale, could not heave to. Not known whether any one on board."
Then the wireless began to be busy. Within twenty minutes the same message was received from Washington, from the station at Beaufort, N. C., from Fernandina, Fla., from Key West and from Nassau. Then by relays from vessels on the coast, from the Seneca, the Coast Guard's great derelict destroyer, far out on the Atlantic; from the Algonquin, stationed at Porto Rico; from the Onondaga patrolling the coast north of Cape Hatteras and from the Seminole in port at Arundel Cove undergoing repairs, came orders from the Coast Guard Headquarters. The Miami was instructed to proceed at once to the point indicated, to rescue survivors if such were to be found and to destroy the derelict which was floating into the trade route and was a menace to navigation. Meanwhile, the long harsh "buzz" of the answer sounded all over the ship from the wireless room as the operator answered the various calls with the information that the Miami was already proceeding under full speed.
"Van Sluyd will be sore," said Eric to Homer, as the message from the Seminole was received; "she'd be sent instead of us if she weren't in dock. When he hears that we're going on this chase instead of his own craft, he'll be green with envy."
"He'll get over that," said his friend; "he's under a good man. There's very little gets by the Seminole that is possible of achievement."
Dawn was breaking as the Miami neared the spot indicated by the wireless messages as the location of the derelict bark. Using this point as a center, the navigating officer of the Miami plotted a chart of the U-shaped course which would enable her to cruise and cover the greatest amount of space without doubling. At about four bells in the afternoon watch the speaking tube on the bridge whistled.
"Something that looks like a derelict, sir," came the message from the man in the crow's-nest, "bearing about a point and a half for'ard of the port beam."
The officer of the deck gave a sharp order to change the course and the Miami swung round. The captain was on the bridge at the time.
"Observed anything, Mr. Hamilton?" he queried.
"Lookout reports an object, now right ahead, sir," was the reply. He picked up the tube again.
"Can you see the derelict now?"
"Yes, sir," came the reply; "we're a-raisin' her fast."
"She must be nearly flush with the water," said the officer of the deck, handing the glass to the captain; "I don't see her yet."
In half an hour, however, there was no doubt that this was the derelict that had been reported by the Marie-Rose. As the Miami neared her it was evident that she was heavily water-logged. Her bow was deep under water, only her stern appearing above the surface. On the poop rail had been hung a shirt, the white gleam of which might have been the distress signal referred to in the message of the Marie-Rose. The Miami slowed up as she neared the derelict to survey the wreck. Suddenly there came an order,
"Clear away both cutters! Lively now, lads!"
The men sprang to stations at the word.
"Lower away together! Easy now! Let go all!"
And with the routine of clockwork two of the Miami's boats were in the water and off for the derelict. The sea was choppy but not high, and the water-logged bark lay so heavily that she scarcely moved. The waves came up and dashed over her almost like a rock. One of the second lieutenants, who was in charge of the large boat, was first to round the derelict. From the lee side, he pointed with his finger.
"There must be somebody aboard her," said Eric, rightly guessing the meaning of the gesture. Then, noting the manner in which the other boat kept away, he realized that the wreckage was on that side. Wrenching the tiller round, he called,
The boat spun round like a top, sweeping right under the vessel's stern.
"Give way to starboard! Easy port!"
The boat slid up alongside the derelict as though coming to a landing place. The men trailed their oars, the bow oar grappled with a boat-hook and Eric leaped for the poop rail of the vessel, and swung himself aboard. The deck was pitched forward at an angle of 30 degrees, but evidently the vessel had floated in that condition for some time, for a sort of barricade had been made, with the right angle of the half-sunk cabin companion hatchway as a base, and on this three bodies were lying. A keg of water and a maggoty ham—the latter exposed to the full sunlight of the tropics—was all the food in sight.
Eric slid down the deck to this barricade. The first man seemed to be dead, the heart of the second was beating feebly, but the third, a white-haired old man, appeared only to be asleep, the deep sleep of exhaustion. When the boy put his hand on his shoulder, the old man opened his eyes wide.
"So you have come the third time," he said, in a queer far-away voice, "but it is too late."
Eric slipped his hand into his coat pocket and brought out a small phial of restorative he had provided just before leaving the cutter. He gave the survivor a few sips. The old man changed not a muscle, only repeated in the same dull and far-away voice,
"So you have come the third time, but it is too late!"
Perceiving that the sufferer regarded him as an apparition and that in his hallucinations born of exhaustion and exposure he must have believed he saw rescuers before, Eric picked the old man up bodily and, half crouching, half climbing on the sloping deck, carried him to the derelict's side. Two of the sailors climbed up and helped him lower the old man to the boat.
Meantime the other boat had made fast and the second lieutenant joined him. He was a man of considerable experience, and while Eric was quite proud of his knowledge and skill as a life-saver, he was amazed at the deft handling of his superior officer.
"I think this one's gone," said Eric in a low voice, pointing to the first man he had seen.
The other cast a quick look at him and shook his head.
"Pretty far gone, but not quite," he answered. "There's always a fighting chance that we can pull him through. I'll take these two into my boat and get back to the cutter. We'll probably blow this craft up, afterwards; we couldn't ever tow her this way."
"Why, sir? Because she's too heavy?"
"Not only that, but she lies too low. On end, the way she is now, she's probably drawing thirty-five or forty feet of water. She might stick in a channel somewhere and that would be worse than getting rid of her out here."
The boats raced back to the ship and the survivors were handed up to the Miami where the surgeon immediately took charge. All preparations had been made, meanwhile, for the placing of mines and Eric was told off in the boat under the second lieutenant to see to the placing of the charges.
This was work to which Eric was unaccustomed and he watched with considerable interest the gunner's handling of the mines. It was easy enough to place the charges in the upper works of the stern where they would be sure to blow that part of the ship to pieces, but so much of the forward portion of the hulk was under water that the problem there was more difficult. In order to make sure of the job, five mines were set and connected with each other by electric wiring. A long strand of insulated wire was then carried to the boat, over a hundred feet in length.
At a signal given him by the lieutenant, Eric pressed the button. There was a tremendous roar as a waterspout shot up from the surface of the sea. As though some vast leviathan had passed underneath the old bark and shouldered her out of the water, the long black hull heaved herself up slowly. She seemed to hang poised for a fraction of a second on the surface of the water as if, in her death agony, she had for a moment thought of her old life when, under press of sail, she flew bounding over the billows, defying the very elements which at last had worked her ruin. Only for a moment she hung there, then with a dull crash she broke her back. The bow plunged downward with a sullen plunge, but the stern still held poised. Then, quite suddenly, the air imprisoned in the hull broke free and slowly, almost, it seemed, with dignity, the remainder of the vessel sank forever beneath the surface of the waters.
It was the end of the Luckenback and somewhere at the bottom of the sea her distorted steel plating marks the spot where rest the nine members of her crew lost before the rescuing Coast Guard cutter hove in sight.
THE WRECKERS OF THE SPANISH MAIN
"Well, Eric," said Homer Tierre to his friend, as they stood together one evening a few days after the rescue of the survivors of the Luckenback, watching the phosphorescence of the sea, "we're getting down to the old Spanish Main, now."
"Isn't that a great word for bringing up ideas!" exclaimed Eric in reply. "It makes one think of the old stories we used to read as kids, of the black flag with the skull and crossbones and all that sort of thing. Too bad there aren't any pirates left!"
"I suppose you'd want us to go chasing them!"
"Of course. We should have to, if there were any, wouldn't we?"
"Certainly," his friend answered. "Don't you remember how the old bos'n of the Itasca used to tell us about the early days of the Revenue Cutter Service when chasing pirates was a regular part of its duties? Officially it is still, I suppose, but there aren't any more pirates to chase."
"What has put them all out of business?" Eric said thoughtfully. "I've often wondered."
"Steam, mainly," his friend replied, "that 'insult to a seaman's intelligence,' as our friend the fluent skipper of the Northwestern called it."
"But I don't see why," persisted Eric. "After all, in the days of sailing ships, the pirates only had sailing ships—and they weren't always such an awful lot faster. Why couldn't pirates to-day have steamships, just as fast in comparison to the steamers of to-day as their clippers were to the sailing ships of old? They'd get much bigger hauls. Why, one good hold-up of an Atlantic steamer would make a pirate crew rich for life!"
"You'd better take to the trade," suggested his companion.
"I'd sooner do the chasing," replied the boy; "it's much more fun, anyway, and I'd rather be on the right side, every time. But don't you think that there really would be a chance for a big Atlantic greyhound pirate?"
"I don't think so," the other answered meditatively. "For one thing, we'd have pirates if there was any such chance. After all, Eric, you've got to remember that a pirate was successful because of his own personality. They were a mighty forceful lot—Kidd, Blackbeard, Lolonnois, and all those early pirates. On a big steamer, the pirate captain wouldn't have the same sort of chance. There's too many in a crew, for one thing. Then he'd be practically at the mercy of his engineers and engine hands. In a mutiny, he'd be up against it for fair."
"But if a pirate captain could bluff a couple of mates and forty sailors in his crew, I don't see why he shouldn't he able to bluff a couple of engineers and fifty stokers," suggested Eric.
"Even supposing he did," said the other, "suppose he had every man on board terrorized, or so heavily bribed that they would obey him to the letter, still his troubles would have hardly begun. In the old days, as long as there was food and water aboard, a sailing ship could cruise around for months at a time. A steamer needs coal."
"She could take the coal from the bunkers of the ships she held up," suggested the boy.
"It would be a good deal more of a job than you reckon," the other answered. "She couldn't do it at all if there was any sea running, and even on a calm day, it's a tricky proposition. If you've ever seen a man-o'-war on a sea cruise trying to coal from a naval collier, that's built just for that very purpose, you'd get an idea how hard it is. Meantime, what would the crew and passengers of the liner be doing?"
"Putting in coal, or getting shot down if they resisted."
"You've a bloodthirsty turn of mind," his friend rejoined. "I know the idea, 'scuppers pouring blood,' and that sort of business, eh?"
"Sure," answered Eric.
"You're forgetting a lot of things," the other said. "An old time sailing-ship just had the one deck. When a boarding pirate crew had won the deck, they were masters of the ship. But a modern steamer is like a building with several floors, one on top of the other. A pirate crew which could put aboard a steamer as many men as the steamer itself carried, and still handle itself, would be a small army. What's more, on a modern steamship, with half a dozen stairways and the whole inside a labyrinth of rooms, the pirates would be ambushed like rats in a trap a dozen times over."
"Yes, there's something in that," the boy agreed.
"Then there's the wireless," continued Homer. "Supposing a pirate steamer hailed a craft. Long before the first boatload of men could board, or before the ships could have grappled, the wireless operator would send an 'S O S' call, with a description of the piratic vessel and the latitude and longitude. The pirate couldn't get coal aboard in less than twelve hours, and by that time half a dozen vessels would be steaming at full speed to the spot."
"What difference would that make?" said Eric. "If the pirate were armed with heavy guns, she could stand off a fleet of commercial vessels that didn't have any armament."
"Your imagination is working in great shape, Eric," his engineer friend replied. "It's a pity you don't think far enough ahead."
"I suppose you'd have your pirate vessel chosen for speed?"
"Of course," the boy answered. "She'd have to be fast in order to make a getaway."
"Here's where you're forgetting your ship-building," his friend warned him. "Could she have speed if she were armed with heavy guns? Wouldn't she necessarily have to be partly the build of a man-o'-war, say a cruiser?"
"Perhaps she would," said the boy thoughtfully.
"And if she had the build of a cruiser, would she have the speed of an Atlantic greyhound?"
"That's true," admitted Eric, "she wouldn't. Still that wouldn't matter, if the only craft that could chase her was a craft without guns."
"Wouldn't it?" his friend queried. "Do you know how they chase wolves in some parts of Western Canada?"
"They use a couple of greyhounds and two or three heavy dogs, like bulldogs or Airedales or wolfhounds. The wolf can easily outrun the heavy dogs, but when it comes to real speed he isn't in it with a greyhound. The greyhounds overtake Mr. Wolf in less than no time, nip at him, worry him, anger him until he turns on them. They won't even try to fight and he hasn't a chance of catching them. Meantime, the heavy dogs, following up the scent, come pounding along the trail. The wolf sees them and lopes off again, the greyhounds after him. They badger and worry him again, and again he turns. By the time this has happened three or four times, the heavy dogs have caught up to their quarry, and the fight is on. Two or three minutes and it's all over, and there's one wolf the less to harry the flocks of sheep."
"That's just about what would happen to this pirate of yours. Suppose he did stop an Atlantic steamer, suppose he did board her successfully, suppose he got his coal bunkers full, suppose he carried a heap of treasure to his own vessel flying the Jolly Roger and got away with it. He'd have the other ships around, wouldn't he?"
"I suppose he would," Eric admitted.
"You can bet your last dollar he would. And their wireless would be working overtime, wouldn't it?"
"Piracy is a matter that every maritime nation is interested in. The newspapers of the world would have the story by wireless the next morning, the governments of the world would know almost as quickly. By noon the next day half a dozen warships would be steaming from different directions in search of the pirate, led as straight as a magnet to the pole by the radio information constantly being sent from the light passenger steamers that were pursuing. If the naval fleet included a destroyer with a thirty-knot speed, where would your pirate get off at?"
"He wouldn't have a show. I see," continued Eric, regretfully, "I'll have to give up the hope of being able to join in a real pirate chase."
"Of course," the young engineer said thoughtfully, "a pirate in a submarine might be able to do something."
"Now there's a real idea," exclaimed Eric. "Maybe there's a chance yet!"
"I'm afraid not, even there," answered the other, smiling at his friend's eagerness, "mainly because of that same question of fuel. The captain of the submarine would have to be in cahoots with some supply station, and with the howl that would be made all over the world by modern piracy, it would be hard for the fuel contractor to hide his output. The only way that I can see would be for such a pirate to watch out for ships loaded with what was most needed, run up and threaten to torpedo the craft with everybody on board unless they took to the boats, put a prize crew aboard and run that steamer to a lonely beach on an uninhabited island and start a supply depot of his own there."
"But a submarine couldn't carry a large enough crew to conquer a steamer."
"They wouldn't need to," said Homer. "It would be enough to send one man aboard to demand the treasure."
"The submarine could lie to, with her submerged torpedo tubes pointing full at the vessel. If within a given space of time the treasure was not shipped and the pirate lieutenant returned safe, a torpedo would be fired which would send the steamer to Davy Jones with all hands. As a captain is more responsible for the lives of his passengers than for their gold, he would have to consent. One might easily get half a million dollars from one of the larger vessels. Three or four cruises of that kind would be quite enough, and our friend, the imaginary pirate captain and all his crew, could retire from the profession."
"But do you really think such a thing is possible?"
"It's very unlikely," his friend replied, "but there's no doubt that it's possible. Several submarines have been sunk in the Great War, and one or more of these might be fished up by wreckers. Being hermetically sealed, no water would have got in, and their machinery would be as good as ever, even if they had been lying under the water for some months. As for crew—if the pay were big enough, there would be always enough desperate fellows to be found to make the venture. Yes, that plan is feasible enough. And, what's more, it would be hard to stop. Really, the more you think of it, the more possible it seems. The only weakness is the coaling."
"It seems to me," Eric said, "that if she could coal at sea, sink the ship and tow the boats containing the crew within reach of land, she would be pretty safe."
"Yes," his friend answered, "if she could stay at sea indefinitely until treasure enough had been accumulated, I believe a submarine could get away with it. There might be difficulty afterwards in getting rid of the bullion and the jewels, but, after all, that's a different question. It has nothing to do with the piracy."
Eric peered into the darkness, putting his hand over his eyes as though to look intently.
"Pirate, ahoy!" he called softly. "Three points off the starboard bow!"
The young lieutenant of engineers laughed.
"You'll be dreaming of pirates in your next watch below," he said, as he turned away, "or you'll be running up the skull and cross-bones instead of the Stars and Stripes and we'll have to court-martial you."
"Little chance of that," replied the boy, "but maybe there'll be a submarine pirate some day that we'll have a chance to chase. I'll live in hopes!"
By a somewhat curious coincidence, a few days after this conversation, the Miami passed the Dry Tortugas, the old-time capital of that Buccaneer Empire which for forty years held the navies of the entire world at bay. It was a curious chapter in the history of the seas, and Eric caught himself wondering whether the future of navigation held any such surprising and adventurous period in store. He was to learn shortly, however, that the Coast Guard was thoroughly fitted to meet similar emergencies and that her naval powers could be made swiftly operative even in times of peace.
As the cutter was proceeding to her station at Key West, she sighted a schooner, which, by signal flags, reported that she had that morning passed a bark flying the reversed ensign, with her yards awry and her sails aback. On running close to the schooner the Miami learned that the bark had changed her course when the schooner approached, and when the schooner fell on her course the bark came aback again. A second time the schooner went to her relief, and again the bark squared off on her course.
"Queer thing," said Eric, after the flags had been read. "What do you suppose it is?"
"Looks like mutiny," said his chum. "I suppose we'll chase her and find out. Too bad the schooner never got near enough to see her name."
"What's the odds? We've got a description. Hello! Forced draft, eh?"
"Yes, it looks like trouble. You wanted to see a pirate chase, Eric. I don't believe that's on the boards, but at least a mutiny chase smacks of the old days."
The information given by the schooner proved to be startlingly correct, for a couple of hours later the lookout in the crow's-nest reported,
"Sail on the port bow!"
"Where away?" asked the chief officer.
"Nearly dead ahead, sir," was the reply.
The captain leveled his glass at the craft. Eric watched him closely, for his expression was puzzling. In an hour's time the Miami which, under forced draft, was flying through the water, overhauled the vessel. Just as the schooner had reported, the bark was in irons, with her yards braced athwartwise and her sails aback. The British merchant flag was flying at her mizzen-gaff, with the ensign down.
No sooner was the Miami within a mile or two of the bark than the vessel squared around her yards and began to scud before the wind. She had a good pair of heels and it was not surprising that the schooner had not started to pursue. There was no real reason why she should interfere. But with the Coast Guard cutter it was another matter. A signal of distress had been seen, an American vessel had called on the cutter, and now the suspected craft was running away. The chase began.
No sooner did the bark realize that she was actually being chased than men were sent aloft, and the fore-royal and main sky-sail were set, a heavy press of the sail for the full breeze. This absolutely determined the fact that the Coast Guard cutter would chase, for the bark was fleeing. It was getting late in the afternoon, and within a couple of hours darkness would close down. The moon would not rise until nearly midnight, so that there would be two or three hours in which the sailing vessel could give the cutter the slip. Little by little, however, the Miami began to close up. The breeze freshened, increasing the chances of the fugitive, but still the cutter lessened the distance between them.
Immediately after dinner, a few minutes before eight bells struck in the second dog watch, the first lieutenant, at the captain's direction, gave orders to clear away the bow gun. The gun crew sprang to stations, and a moment later the sharp crack of a rapid fire six-pounder sounded across the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, an order from Uncle Sam for the fleeing bark to stop.
But the stranger paid no heed. With the glass, figures could be seen on the main deck and on the poop, but it was too far away to determine what they were doing.
The captain turned suddenly to the officer of the deck. "Did you see anything, Mr. Keelson?" he asked.
The officer, who had his eyes glued to his glass, replied,
"I thought I saw the smoke of shots!"
"That's what I thought," the captain answered. Then, in a quick voice of command, he added,
"You may use solid shot!"
A few seconds sufficed to carry out the work.
"Try for her upper spars!" was the next order.
The sharp crack of a shot from the six-pounder was the reply, and simultaneously, holes appeared in the gaff topsail and the main topgallant staysail. The wind immediately slivered the sails to ribbons and they began lashing about the rigging. At this, the main yards were swung round, the mainsails came aback and ten minutes later the Miami was alongside.
Two boats' crews, fully armed, were sent aboard. The situation which greeted Eric, in the second lieutenant's boat, was unusual. A rope ladder had been thrown over the ship's side from the main deck. Above the ladder was an excited group, all shouting at the top of their voices. The senior second lieutenant, who was in charge of the boat to which Eric had been assigned, took command of the party. He asked for the captain. One of the men pointed to the helmsman.
"Are you the captain?" the Coast Guard officer demanded.
"Si, signor," the man answered, "I the captain."
"Johnson," said the lieutenant, "relieve the wheel!"
One of the Coast Guard men saluted, stepped forward and took the wheel. The vessel was hove to.
"Are you English?" the lieutenant asked, when this manoeuver had been completed.
"Italiano!" the captain of the bark replied.
"Then what's that flag doing there?" the Coast Guard officer asked, pointing to the reversed British merchant flag which still hung at the gaff.
The other shrugged his shoulders.
"The only one I have. The mate he take the others," he answered.
"Where's the mate?"
An evil-looking fellow with rings in his ears and a long knife stuck in his belt slouched forward. He did not come alone. Half a dozen sailors, evidently part of a gang, came aft with him.
Thinking that a little example might be salutary, the lieutenant turned to the file of men who had come on board with him. The men had their rifles at the carry.
"'Tion! Order arms!"
The butts of the rifles came down on the ship's deck with the precision of clockwork and the rattle was ominous. The Coast Guard officer had a steely note in his voice, as he continued.
"You're the mate?"
"Yes," the man said sulkily, but in good English, "I'm the first mate, all right."
"Did you remove the signal flags from the locker?"
"What if I did?"
"Did you receive orders from your captain to do so?"
"Yes or no!"
"And was he on deck at the time?"
"Did he order you not to haul down the flag?"
"I don't have to do everything he tells me."
"Did he order you not to haul down the flag? Yes or no?"
"And did you haul it down several times?"
"I don't want to hear your excuses or your reasons. That's mutiny," the lieutenant said, simply. Then, turning to the captain, he said,
"Do you accuse him of mutiny?"
"Yes," the master answered, "he mutiny."
"Put the irons on him, Quartermaster," said the lieutenant, and handcuffs were snapped on the first mate's wrist.
"Any more of your men mutiny, Captain?" asked the lieutenant.
"I tell you whole story," the shipmaster answered. "You speak Italian?"
"French," the Coast Guard officer answered, "but not Italian."
"French? Fine!" the captain replied, and stepping forward, he told the story of the trip. It appeared that the ship had part of her cargo consigned to Vera Cruz, consisting of cartridges, designed for the Mexican government. The mate had practically seized the ship and demanded that the captain sail her to Puerto Mexico, one of the southern ports, in the hands of the Zapatistas. The Mexican rebel general was to pay a good price for the ammunition, and then the captain was to be allowed to proceed with the ship unmolested on the rest of his cruise.
As the ammunition had been shipped from an American port, the Coast Guard lieutenant realized that complications might ensue. Accordingly, since it was only a few hours' run to Apalachicola, and the wind was fair, the lieutenant advised the Italian captain to run for that port and deal with the question of the mate and the other three mutineers before the proper court.
A file of men, under command of Gunner Sternow, was left on board the bark to preserve order. The mate and the three other mutineers were thrust in irons into the carpenter's shop, which was converted into a prison for the purpose, one of the cutter's men standing on guard. The following morning, the harbor authorities of Apalachicola having been notified by wireless, a tug came off bearing authority for the formal arrest of the four men, who were taken ashore and put in prison, pending action by the Italian consul and the civil authorities.
"I suppose this mutiny business is rather rare," said Eric to Homer, as the Miami swung out of Apalachicola Bay.
"Not so rare as you'd fancy," his friend answered. "There's not a season goes by that some of the cutters don't have to take a hand in settling mutiny. Why, only last year, a crew seized a vessel, in the real old-fashioned pigtail and tarred-trousers style, imprisoned the master in the cabin, and started to sail the ship back to the United States on their own hook."
"Where were they bound for?"
"'Frisco, from Philadelphia, round the Horn. She was the Manga Reva, an American full-rigged ship with a crew of twenty-three men. She was about 600 miles out when the men mutinied and sailed her back to Delaware Breakwater. The master succeeded in running up a distress signal, which was reported to the Onondaga. You know her station is just north of Hatteras. The Onondaga put an armed crew on board, and took the mutineers on board the cutter, steamed up the river to Wilmington, Delaware, where they were turned over to the Federal authorities to await trial."
"What did they get?"
"Pretty heavy terms of imprisonment," the other answered; "mutiny on the high seas is a mighty ticklish thing."
"What do you suppose this mate we collared will get?"
"Hard to say," the other answered. "After all, he's an Italian, sailing under Italian colors. Uncle Sam's always careful about international law. But the Italian maritime laws are very strict, and if he's sent back to Italy, I'm sorry for him."
For the next two months, little of adventurous importance occurred. The Miami disposed of several more dangerous derelicts in the gulf of Mexico. She assisted a small steamer belonging to the Public Health Service of Key West, which had anchored in an exposed position, and towed her to safe moorings. She rescued two men in a small motor boat, out of sight of land, who had drifted after the machinery had broken down. In addition to this, she floated and towed to harbor three sailing-vessels which had struck on the treacherous reefs of the waters of the Florida Keys. The work was constant, and the Coast Guard cutter was on the job without ceasing, but there was little to stir the complement to their utmost.
Then came trouble. From the wireless station,—that continuous recorder of difficulty and disaster, came word that a Norwegian steamer was ashore on Twisted Cay, and asking for immediate assistance against native wreckers. The Miami immediately started for the scene of the disaster, and about noon of the next day arrived in sight of the vessel.
"They've been having trouble of some sort," said Eric, as the cutter steamed up to the scene of the wreck. "And look at the nerve of them; they don't seem to pay any attention to us!"
The boats' crews were ordered out, and Eric, as before, was in the smaller craft. The two boats pulled to the side of the vessel, and the boy accompanied the second lieutenant on board. The steamer was lying with her head to the southward and westward, with a decided list to starboard. Twenty or thirty small sailing-boats were clustered round her, like ants round a piece of sugar. What was still more daring, while most of the wreckers had left the stranded steamer on the arrival of the cutter, others actually stayed on board. They were an evil-looking lot, and heavily armed.
The scene on board was a striking one. The first thing noticed by Eric was the presence of two men propped up against the starboard rail, pale and roughly bandaged.
"Where's the captain?" was the lieutenant's first question.
"I'm Captain Jorgsen," was the reply, as a finely built, ruddy middle-aged man advanced. "Glad to see you on board."
"Good morning, Captain. You reported by wireless having trouble with these wreckers," the Coast Guard officer remarked; "are these men of yours badly hurt?"
"One of them is," the captain answered. "Have you a doctor in your party?"
"We've one aboard. Mr. Swift," he continued, turning to Eric, "will you please take the boat and bring Dr. Fuhrman here?"
Eric saluted and was in his boat almost on the instant. The doctor, guessing that possibly the call might be for him, was waiting at the ladder with his instrument-bag in case he should be needed. Formalities were unnecessary, so that when the boat pulled alongside and Eric, looking up, saw the doctor at the rail he called,
"Couple of patients for you, Doctor."
"Right you are," was the answer, and the surgeon came down the ladder as nimbly as Eric could have done himself. On arriving at the wrecked steamer, it was found that the injuries were knife-wounds, one of them deep and necessitating an immediate operation.
As there was a good deal of likelihood that the steamer might go to pieces on the reef if a storm blew up, it was decided to take the two injured men to the Miami, where the doctor could give them better attention. Owing to the difficulty of the steamer's position on the reef, with the surf breaking over her to the windward and the rocks to lee, this trans-shipment of the injured men was not accomplished without difficulty, but by three o'clock in the afternoon, the men were safely on board the cutter.
Meantime the lieutenant had been trying to place the responsibility for the crime, but this was impossible. All that the captain of the steamer could say was that, during a fight with the wreckers the preceding night, these two men had been knifed. In response to questions, Captain Jorgsen expressed the hope that some of the wreckers had got hurt themselves, but he regretted that his crew had been defenseless, with nothing but belaying pins and such like weapons for their protection. As the belaying pins in question were iron and twice as heavy as a policeman's club, Eric could not help smiling at the suggestion of inoffensiveness that the captain conveyed.
At the request of the captain of the steamer, the Miami agreed to lie by her through the night, until the arrival of a wrecking tug from Havana, a message having been received by the Miami that the tug had started for the scene of the disaster. Steam had been kept up on the wrecked steamer for the handling of the winches and so forth.
Suddenly, in the middle of the night, about two bells in the middle watch, a succession of short, sharp whistles from the steamer pierced the darkness. The first lieutenant of the Miami was on the deck in a few moments. Meantime, the officer of the watch had ordered the searchlight thrown on the steamer.
The light revealed the deck a struggling mass of men. In the darkness all the wreckers had gathered to board their victim, and at a given signal not less than a hundred and fifty men had swarmed on to the vessel's decks.
The crew was pinned back into two groups, fighting like wild-cats. Most of them, powerfully built Scandinavians, were sweeping aside the natives before them, but the odds were overpowering. The negroes shouted and yelled as they tried to beat the sailors down. Already the main hatch had been forced open and a stream of men was pouring down, for the wreckers knew of valuables which formed a part of the cargo.
A few sharp orders, and the cutter's boats were off to the wreck, the crews armed, their rifles loaded with ball. At the same time, one of the six-pounders was let loose and sent a few shots whistling over the steamer, illumined only by the patch of intense white light thrown by the searchlight of the Miami.
The boats were half-way across to the steamer, where there was a sudden cessation of the fighting, and over the side of the vessel the wreckers came swarming like rats leaving a sinking ship. But the Miami's men had been too quick for all to escape and more than a dozen of the natives were pinned on board.
As soon as the wreckers had heard the Miami's guns and fled, the tide of battle turned, and on the dozen which remained, the crew of the steamer had taken a swift vengeance. None of them was seriously hurt, but they had been beaten up in a way that they would remember to the end of their days. Captain Jorgsen, who had been in the thick of the fight, was to the front when the cutter boats landed.
"I wish you'd put a hole in every one of those thieving boats," he growled.
"They deserve it, all right," the Coast Guard officer answered, "but I doubt if the Department would approve."
"If I had a gun like yours," said Captain Jorgsen, grimly, "I'd fire at 'em an' keep firing until I didn't have a shot left in the locker."
"I'm afraid we can't very well send you over one of our six-pounders," said the other, "but it seems to me you have a right to protect yourself from being boarded in this way. I'll send over some small-arms and ammunition in the morning and we'll stand by you and keep these black rascals in order. But I wanted to ask you, Captain Jorgsen, how did you come to be so far out of your course?"
"I was right on my course," the skipper growled. "That's what makes me so sore. But when I passed Cross Keys light, I thought I must have figured wrong. I never stopped to think why the light was nearly a quarter of a degree from where she should have been by my reckoning, and I changed my course by that."
"One of my men heard those chicken-livered black-hided cowards laughing to themselves about the way they fooled vessels with their 'patent light.'"
"You mean that the wreckers have put up a false light to lead vessels on to the reefs?"
"It's that decoy light that brought me here," said the skipper, "and if you hadn't come when you did, I reckon every one of us would have had our throats cut and the vessel would have been skinned by this time."
THE GRAVEYARD OF THE DEEP
Following on the information given by the captain of the Norwegian steamer, which had so nearly been looted by wreckers, the Miami started on a search for the decoy light that had led that steamer to her fate. The captain was an able navigator, and, until the moment he had seen the false light and been led astray by it, he had been absolutely upon his right course. Under such circumstances it was not difficult to find the latitude and longitude where the captain reported having first seen the light. He had also given the bearing in the log, so the Miami crept slowly forward in the direction indicated, heaving the lead constantly for treacherous shoals.
From where the captain of the steamer had cited his position there was not a single sign of a lighthouse or a light. But, as the Miami crept on, far out of the regular ship's channel, as suddenly as though it had been just placed there, rose a spar, held in place with three wire stays. On the top was a little round platform, not more than a foot across, and spikes had been driven into the mast to act as a ladder by which to climb it. The Miami was almost on the tiny outcrop of rock before the mast was visible. It was painted a watery blue, which merged in with the color of both sea and sky, and was exceedingly difficult to see.
A boat's crew was sent ashore to demolish the mast and also to make a search for the light. To Eric, who went ashore with the men, it was quite an exciting hunt, "almost like looking for Captain Kidd's treasure," as he said afterwards to his chum, the young lieutenant of engineers. The quest was in vain, for though every inch of the islet was searched, there was no sign that the ground had been disturbed. So far as that went, there was very little ground to disturb, for the islet was little more than a coral rock, nearly covered at high tide. It was evident that the wreckers, when they were ready for their work, brought the light with them.
As the light for which the decoy was intended to be a substitute was quite a powerful light, with a regular occulting flash, the decoy itself must be powerful, and the Miami was anxious to trace it. If the native wreckers had such a lantern in their possession, probably they had some kind of clockwork and could alter the occultation of their decoy so that it would duplicate any one of several different lights on the coast.
It was not until some time afterwards that the Lighthouse Service learned that there actually had been such a light in the hands of the wreckers at one time. In a quarrel among themselves, however, over the division of the spoils of a small schooner which had run ashore, one of the disgruntled wreckers had thrown the lantern overboard in deep water.
"I hadn't supposed there was anything of that sort going on now, sir," said Eric to one of the junior lieutenants, discussing the question of the wreckers' lights.
"Nor had I," was the rejoinder. "The business of being a wrecker has changed a good deal. There's plenty of it, still, but it has become a recognized profession. A wrecker, now, has offices in a big seaport, with a fleet of ocean-going tugs and a big bank-roll. When a ship is reported ashore, either her owners pay him to float her, or he buys the wreck outright and takes his chances of being able to recover the purchase price. If luck is with him, he may get a good ship and cargo cheap, but if fortune frowns and a storm breaks her up before he can save the cargo, then he suffers a heavy loss. It's a good business, but a big gamble."
"I should think there was a lot of excitement in that business, yet!"
"Yes, there is. But it is organized now and wonderfully handled commercially. It's only in places like these outlying fringes of the Bahamas, that the native wrecker—the one who lives by robbery and loot—can still be found. In the old days, a decoy light was a regular thing. There were organizations that had offices in the cities, who used to make a business of this wrecking. Barnegat, New Jersey, was a famous point in the first part of last century. All the inhabitants were in league with the wreckers, there. Many and many a good vessel, in the early days of American shipping, was lured directly on to the treacherous beach, while the wreckers looted everything they could get, and plundered the passengers and crew. That's all done away with now. The United States coast is too thoroughly patrolled by the Coast Guard for any such business as that to flourish.
"I think the Wolf Rock story is perhaps the best example of the idea of deliberately wrecking vessels. You've heard of Wolf Rock?"
"Yes, sir," said the boy, "it's in the English Channel, off the coast of Devonshire."
"Did you ever hear why that particular rock was called Wolf Rock?"
"No, sir," answered Eric, "I don't think I ever did. Is it because of the shape of it, or because the sea breaking over it is like the fangs of a wolf or something like that? There generally isn't an awful lot of reason for the names of rocks and reefs."
"There is for this one," said his friend. "It isn't because it looks like a wolf, but because it howls like a wolf."
"You mean the fog-horn does?"
"No, I mean the rock does, or did," was the reply.
"You've heard of blow-holes?"
"Yes, sir," said Eric, "there's one at the Farallones Islands. You mean those holes that make a noise when the tide comes in and out?"
"That's the idea. The Wolf Rock was a most famous case of that. It had a large cavern inside and a very small hole through the rock at the ceiling of the cavern. Then there was a cleft or fissure through the rock right down to this little hole. You can see for yourself that when the tide started to come in, it closed the sea entrance to the cavern, imprisoning a lot of air. Then, as the tide rose steadily, the pressure of the water drove the air out of the cavern through this little hole, continually making an intermittent blowing sound. The great cleft in the rock acted like the horn of an immense megaphone. This gave rise to a roar, high-pitched—owing to the smallness of the hole—like a wolf's howl. Night and day, but more especially when the tide was coming in, the howl of the Wolf Rock sounded over the sea to warn mariners of the perilous crag."
"Handy," remarked Eric; "it would save the Lighthouse Service a good bit of money if every rock could be fixed like that."
"It didn't do the English Lighthouse Service much good," said his friend. "What do you suppose the good people of Devonshire did? They set to work and hunted for weeks to try to find the hole, but it was so small that they failed. At last, having made up their minds that the Wolf Rock should cease to give its warning, they combined together and carted boulders from the beach to the top of the rock, with incredible labor, and after a month's hard work filled up the entire lower part of the chasm and then shoveled small stones on top."
"And thus silenced the wolf's howl?"
"Very nearly. If you stand on Wolf Rock now, you can still hear a low moaning sound as the tide comes in, but it's very faint. So far as a warning is concerned, the wolf is chained forever."
"And did the people profit by it, sir?"
"Within three months from the time of the silencing of the wolf, over thirty vessels crashed to pieces on the rocks around, and the people of the villages were made rich by the wreckage of the cargoes that came floating in, or by the plunder they took from the vessels which held together after the storm had passed."
"And those who were drowned?"
"They were drowned, that was all," the other said. "Of course if any survivors were washed ashore, the coast folk treated them very kindly."
"I don't suppose," Eric remarked, "that they ever told these survivors that they had done their best to make them the victims of the hungry sea?"
"Hardly! You've got to remember that people often have queer local ways. There are superstitions you can't defend on any ground. You know, at one time, it was considered bad luck to try to save any one who had been partly drowned. There are plenty of people, even nowadays, who won't cut down a would-be suicide who has hanged himself because they think it's bad luck.
"So far as the sea and sailors are concerned, I believe there's more humanity than on land. It's very rarely that you ever hear of a vessel that has refused to go to another's assistance. I think, too, the whole work of the Coast Guard is a standing example of the modern idea that nothing is more important than the saving of life."
"It often takes some big disaster to start it, though," said Eric. "After all, this Ice Patrol that the Miami is going on next month, was only begun as a result of the sinking of the Titanic, wasn't it?"
"That's all. But wasn't that reason enough?"
"It surely was," agreed the boy.
"I think the summer ice patrol is a mighty useful thing. If the Seneca keeps the lane of ocean travel free of derelicts and we cover the Ice Patrol of that same steamship lane, it ought to make a difference in the safety of ships at sea. Ever see a big iceberg, Mr. Swift?"
"Heaps of them, sir," answered the lad. "I was on the Bering Sea patrol last year."
"That's right. But you'll find the Atlantic bergs are different. There's a lot of ice in the North Pacific but it's mostly in small pans. No big stuff comes through Bering Strait. It would strand. And then the Aleutian and Kuril Islands make a sort of breakwater to head off big bergs. But in the North Atlantic there's nothing to keep the big Greenland glacier breaks from floating south right into the very path of the steamers. In fact that's what they do. You'll see some real ones this summer."
As the lieutenant had pointed out to him, the whole ice question assumed great importance, viewed in the light of the Atlantic Ice Patrol. The Miami, on orders from the department, steamed north and relieved the Seneca on duty. She picked up the bergs which the Seneca had found and plotted their positions on the chart. Every day at eight bells of the middle watch (4 A.M.) the wireless operator on the Miami sent to the Hydrographic office a statement as to the exact position of all bergs that had been sighted and the amount of their probable daily drift. This information was sent out again as a daily ice warning to merchant vessels by the Hydrographic Bureau.
The experiment of trying to demolish the larger bergs by gunnery was tried, and a six-pound shot was fired full at close range at one of the bergs. But it had no other result than to shake down a barrelful of snow-like dust. Following up the various bergs kept the Miami busy. At the same time she sent and received messages from passing steamers along the line of travel.
Only one large berg really got into a dangerous position, and this one was as carefully plotted and its position as thoroughly made known to vessels navigating the Atlantic as though it were a fixture. The course of the large Atlantic greyhound La France lay directly in the path of the berg and, had it not been for the warnings of the Miami, there might have been another ocean disaster to record. As the summer months approached, the cruising was delightful but not particularly interesting, and Eric, who craved excitement, was glad when, at the end of June, the Miami was ordered to resume her old station at Key West.
Two months passed before an emergency arose, but when it did come, it proved to be one to tax the Coast Guard cutter to the full. Toward the end of September a storm warning of a hurricane was issued, and the Miami, which was searching for a derelict reported two hundred miles west of Daytona, Florida, decided to run for Matanzas Inlet. About daylight the next morning, the first actual warning of the hurricane, aside from the notice sent out by the Weather Bureau, began to show itself in short gusty puffs. The barometer fell low, finally touching 28 deg., lower than Eric had ever seen before.
The sky clouded gradually, and by breakfast time, the wind was freshening from the southeast. By ten o'clock, the wind had risen to half a gale, and before noon it was blowing not less than forty to fifty miles an hour. The Miami made good weather, but in the afternoon the hurricane reached such a pitch of violence that it was decided to run before the storm and try for the lee of Cape Fear, possibly finding a safe anchorage in Masonboro Inlet.
As evening drew on the seas became appalling. The Miami pitched her nose down in the water, shipping it green with almost every dive, while her propeller raced ten feet clear of water; next instant her stern would settle as though she would never rise, while the bow climbed up and up as the trough rolled underneath her. Eric, who was absolutely free of any fear of the sea, enjoyed the storm extremely. It was tiring, however, for, every second of the time, one had to hang on to something for fear either of being washed overboard, or hurled around like a catapult from a sling. When, therefore, the gaunt figure of Cape Fear light was passed and the Miami slipped in behind the lee of Smith Island, every one felt a relief from the mad tossing.
They had not known this relief for more than about four minutes when the spluttering of the wireless began.
"I'll bet that's some one in trouble," said Eric.
"Probably," his friend, the second lieutenant said, overhearing him. "Haven't you been expecting it?"
"Hadn't thought of it, sir," said the boy. "We'd plenty to do to get in here ourselves. Yes, there goes Mr. Keelson down to the captain. Could we find out what's up, sir?"
The two young officers sauntered to the wireless operator's cabin.
"Somebody in trouble, I suppose, Wilson," the lieutenant said.
"Yes, sir," the operator answered, "two-masted steamer Union reported in distress, partly dismasted and with her engines disabled, anchored in deep water off the Lookout Shoal."
"Probably dragging, sir?" queried Eric, knowing that his companion knew the coast well.
"Most likely," the lieutenant answered. "If she's off Lookout, and the wind veers round to the south'ard—which it's doing—that'll send her to Cape Hatteras and Davy Jones' locker in a hurry. We may get there in time, but there's not much we can do while this weather lasts."
"Hatteras is called the 'graveyard of ships,' isn't it?"
"There are a good many places in the world thus honored," said the lieutenant, "and, so far as America is concerned, there are two, Cape Cod and Cape Hatteras. There are five times as many wrecks between Barnegat Point and Seguin Island as there are in all the other coasts of the United States put together, but in proportion to the amount of shipping that passes, Hatteras is the worst point in the world."
"Worse than the Horn?"
"A great deal," was the reply. "Shipmasters know the dangers of Cape Horn and give it a wide berth—though steamers nowadays generally use the Straits of Magellan—but Cape Hatteras is different. It juts right out in the path of vessels running down the coast so that a ship makes almost a right angle at that point."
"It's a wonder they don't build a lighthouse out on the shoals."
"It can't be done," said the other, shaking his head. "The contract was awarded once, but the project fell through. The builder found it impossible to carry it out. There's a New York firm that has been after the Lighthouse Department for a long time to get a contract for the building of a lighthouse on the shoals of Hatteras, but it wants four million dollars, and the government thinks that a bit steep. A first-class lightship can be kept in commission on the station for a fraction of that sum."
"But is a lightship just as good?"
"N-no," the other answered dubiously, "a lightship, as such, is not as good as a lighthouse, supposing both were at the same point. But a lightship can always be placed in a more advantageous position than a lighthouse, and in places where a lighthouse is impossible, a lightship is invaluable. I should be inclined to say that the Diamond Shoals Lightship off Cape Hatteras, the Frying Pan Shoals Lightship off Cape Fear and the Nantucket Shoals Lightship off Montauk Point would take rank as three of the most important lightships in the world."