Signor Joseppi lifted his voice, but not in song. In very bad English he wanted to know how long the Captain thought it would be before they were rescued, and when he was informed that it might not be for weeks or even months, he cried out in worse English that he was ruined. He would have to violate his contract! No impressario would think of engaging him again! His wonderful American tour! If he was not rescued within a week—Oh, my God, the consequences! He did not regret the paltry two thousand a week—for thirty weeks—but to violate a contract!
Mr. Mott looked rather helpless. He appreciated the fact that Signor Joseppi was a very great personage, but what was he saying? Was it—could it be mutiny?
"I'm sorry, Mr. Joseppi," he broke in, "but if Madame Amori is willing to take her regular turn at making up berths, I guess it won't hurt you to help every now and then in the dining-room."
Signor Joseppi did not understand a word of it. He turned to the man at his elbow for enlightenment.
"What did he say?" he whispered.
"He says you have a perfectly marvellous voice and that he'd give two thousand any time to hear you sing," replied his neighbour in excellent Italian.
Whereupon the Signor favoured the severe-looking Mr. Mott with a beaming smile and as deep a bow as he could make in such close quarters.
"A most courteous officer," he said to his neighbour. "It will be a joy to serve him, my friend. We should, one and all, do what he asks of us, no matter how mean the task. I, Joseppi,—you have heard of Joseppi, my friend?—I shall be the example for all of you. Should he say, 'Wash the dishes, Joseppi,' then will I wash the dishes. I, Joseppi, who never washed a dish in his life. Should he say, 'Cook the meals, Joseppi,' then will Joseppi, who never cooked a thing in his life, then will Joseppi cook the meals. Should he say, 'Joseppi, scrub the floor,' then will I scrub the floor. Should he say, 'Signor, steer the ship,' then will I do my best to steer the ship. I who have never steered a ship. So let me be your example, my friend."
"That's fine," said his neighbour, as they moved off together. "But supposing he asks you to sing occasionally to amuse the rest of us,—what then?"
"Amuse?" cried the Signor. "Amuse?"
"Well, then, entertain."
The great Joseppi pursed his lips. His brows grew dark with trouble.
"Ah, but that would be violating my contract," he said. "My contract specifically states that under no circumstances may I—" Then suddenly, as if renouncing a sacred principle, his brow cleared, and he cried out: "Damn the contract! Joseppi's voice is his own. Joseppi will do as he pleases with it. Let him but make the request, my friend,—and Joseppi will sing till he drops from exhaustion." Lowering his voice to a confidential undertone, he went on: "And that, my friend, is more than you will find Careni-Amori willing to do. There is one cold-blooded, grasping woman for you. Money! She thinks of nothing but money. And flattery! Ah, how she thrives on flattery. That woman, my friend, beautiful as she is, has no more heart than a—"
"Excuse me, please," broke in his listener, in English. "I've got to beat it."
He had caught sight of a slim young figure at the head of the stairs,—a girl in a rumpled blue serge tailor-suit and a tan-coloured sport hat pulled well down over her dark hair. He made his way through the crowd and caught her up as she passed out on the deck.
"I've been terribly worried about you," he began without other greeting, planting himself in front of her. "I thought maybe you might have—but, thank the good Lord, you weren't."
She looked momentarily bewildered. Then she recognized him and held out her hand. Her face was serious, unsmiling, her voice low and tired.
"Isn't it dreadful, Mr. Percival? What a terrible experience it has been. Oh—and I am glad you came through safely, too. But—" as her eyes narrowed anxiously,-"you were hurt. Your hands?"
"I can't very well shake hands with you, Miss Clinton," said he. "Scorched a little, that's all. You'd think it was serious, the way they're bandaged. One of the sailors fixed them up for me last night. I can't tell you how glad I am that you are all right. And your aunt? Is she—" He paused.
"Auntie is all right, Mr. Percival. She's in bed. Shock and exposure. We were out there all night. In one of the boats. Katherine,—" her voice shook a little,—"Katherine is gone. She leaped overboard. I—I saw her go. I shall never forget it,—never. Aunt Julia's maid. For, oh, so many years, Mr. Percival." She spoke in sharp, broken sentences, as if breathless. "You must have been terribly burned. Your hair,—your eyes, how bloodshot they are."
"Smoke," he said succinctly. "Singed on this side only. Really nothing serious. I got off very lightly."
"Some of the men were frightfully burned," she said with a shudder. "I am trying to be a nurse. There are two men in my—in my—"
"I know," he broke in hastily. "Don't talk about it, Miss Clinton. It's corking of you to take hold like this. Corking!"
"Tell me about yourself. Where were you when it happened?"'
"I hate to admit it, but I was having a bite to eat down in the galley. You see, they'd somehow forgotten to give me anything to eat,—in the excitement, of course,—and I had been so busy myself it didn't occur to me to be hungry till rather late in the day. I managed to get on deck but not until after the bombs had all gone off. My friend, Mr. Gray,—the Chief Engineer, you know,—was down in the engine-room. That's how I got my hands burned. Not badly, I assure you, but—well, they may be a little scarred. You may not know it, but Mr. Gray and I came from the same place. Baltimore. He belonged to a fine old family there—and he'd been very kind to me. Poor fellow! Penned in. They never had a chance down there. He was—well, he died a few minutes after he was dragged out here on the deck. His clothes were on fire. But let's not talk about it. Tell me, is there anything I can do to make you more comfort-able? Or your aunt? I'm what you might call officer of the deck at present. Mr. Mott—"
"You ought to be in bed, Mr. Percival," she interrupted sharply. "Your face is burned, too,—you must be suffering terribly. Wait! Now don't tell me you are not. I know better. I've seen those other men who were burned. I—"
"It's nothing, I tell you," he interrupted, almost roughly. "There are dozens of men worse off than I am, and are they in bed? Not much. This is no time to lie down, Miss Clinton, if you've got a leg to stand on. See that little chap over there with his head and hands covered with bandages,—and barely able to drag his feet after him? He's an American jockey. I don't know his name. He was blown twenty or thirty feet across the after-deck. Brought up at the bottom of a companion-way. He's nothing but cuts and bruises from head to foot. But he's around on his wobbly little pins today, just the same, trying to edge in on some sort of a job. Couldn't keep him in bed."
Miss Clinton's eyes were full of wonder and incredulity. "I cannot understand it," she said. "My cousin was with the American Ambulance in France. He says that the slightest flesh wound sends a soldier to the hospital."
"They haven't any choice in the matter. Besides, it isn't the same. Poor devils, they may have been at it in the trenches for weeks and months. A wound of any sort means a pleasant vacation. Still," he went on after a moment, a faint derisive smile on his lips, "we had a big husky up in Camp who insisted on going to bed every time he had the nosebleed."
She was looking into his blood-shot eyes, infinite pity and concern in her own.
"Will you let me dress your hands, Mr. Percival, whenever it is necessary? I am getting used to it now."
"It's good of you, Miss Clinton," he replied gratefully. "But I think you'd better stick to the fellows who really need attention. Don't add an extra ounce to your burden. You'll need all of your strength and courage to face the demands of the next few days. Those chaps have just begun to suffer. They're going to have a tight squeeze getting through,—if they get through at all. You have not answered my question. Is there anything I can do for you or your aunt?"
"No,—not a thing," she said. "We are quite all right. As Mr. Mott said, we are all in the same boat, Mr. Percival. We've got to make up our minds to that. We can't have the comforts and the luxuries we had day before yesterday. Whatever is left of them, we must share with others."
"Even with stowaways," he ventured, but not fatuously.
"No one is likely to forget how our only stowaway came by his wounds," she said simply. "Despite your modesty, I am quite certain who it was that carried the Chief Engineer on deck, Mr. Percival. While his clothes were burning, too."
Percival turned his face away and many seconds passed before he spoke.
"By the way," he said at last, a trifle unsteadily, "at regular intervals the gun up there in the bow is to be fired. You must not be alarmed when it goes off. There is a chance that some ship may hear the report. The British have a few warships down here, you know. They would investigate if they got word of big guns being fired anywhere in these parts. Mr. Mott will give warning when the gun is to be fired, so that every one will understand. I—I just thought I'd tell you."
"Thank you. Good-bye for the present. I must get back to my wounded."
"Keep your spirits up," he said. "That's the principal job now, Miss Clinton. Good-bye,—and thank you."
He watched her as she moved off down the deck. He could not help noticing that her figure drooped perceptibly. In his mind's eye he saw her as she was but two days before, straight, graceful, full of the joy of living, with a stride that was free and swinging. He recalled her lovely, inquiring grey eyes as she stared at him on that ignominious afternoon, the parted red lips and the smile that came to them, the smartly dressed hair, the jaunty hat, the trim sport suit of tan-coloured jersey—he recalled the alluring picture she made that day, and sadly shook his head.
"Poor girl," he said to himself, and walked slowly in the opposite direction, favouring his left leg.
He went down to see the Captain. The old seadog was stretched out in his berth, a look of pain and utter despair in his eyes. One of the Russian dancers, a rather pretty girl of a distinctly Slavic type, was cleaning up the room. The ship's doctor had just left.
"Feeling a bit more comfortable, sir?" inquired the young man.
"I wish you'd get this girl out of here," growled Captain Trigger with difficulty. "I want to swear."
"I think it would be all right to go ahead with it, sir," said Percival. "She doesn't understand a word of English."
The Captain shook his head. "I'll let it wait." Then, looking at his visitor's bandaged hands: "How are your hands, my lad?"
"Fairly easy. The doctor says the burns are not deep. Mr. Mott asked me to step in and see you, sir, and give you my opinion as to the bombs. You see, I've had a great deal of experience with high explosives. There isn't the slightest doubt in my mind that you found and got rid of the worst of them. The officer in charge of the gun-crew agrees with me. They planted the big ones, the ones that were to destroy the ship, down in the hold, where there was less chance of discovery. The others, I am convinced, were much smaller. It would have been impossible to hide a bomb of any noticeable size in any of the places where the explosions occurred. They went about it very cunningly, very systematically. Of course, no one saw the bombs that exploded, but judging by the actual results, they could not have been very powerful."
"And I also," said the Captain, "thank God we dug out the big ones." He scowled forlornly. "Dr. Cullen says I am in for a week of this, Percival. You don't think so, do you?"
Percival smiled. "I am more or less of an expert on explosives, sir," he replied.
"Umph," grunted Captain Trigger. "I see. Just the same, I think I'll be up and about by tomorrow. If I were your age, young man, you can bet I wouldn't be lying here in this bed."
"On the other hand, if I were your age, Captain Trigger," said Percival, "I'd probably have sense enough to do exactly what the doctor ordered."
Captain Trigger's mouth fell open.
"Well, of all the damned—" he began, and then swallowed hard.
For three days and nights the Doraine drifted lazily in a calm and rippling sea, always to the southward. The days were bright and warm, the nights black and chill. It was the spring of the year in that zone. Without adequate navigation instruments, Mr. Mott was forced to rely to a great extent on speculation. He was able to make certain calculations with reasonable accuracy, but they were of little real significance. It was, of course, possible to determine the general direction in which they were drifting, and the speed. They were slowly but surely edging into the strong west wind drift. The Falkland Islands would soon be off to the right, with South Georgia and the Sandwich group farther to the south and east, the southernmost tip of Africa to the left.
Not a sail had been sighted, not a sign of smoke appeared on the spotless horizon. At regular intervals the gun on the forward deck boomed thrice in quick succession, startling the lifeless hulk into a sort of spasmodic vitality. Then she would sink back once more into the old, irksome lethargy, incapable of resisting the gentlest wave, submissive to the whim of the slightest breeze. The ship's carpenter and his men were making slow headway in the well-nigh impossible task of repairing the rudder. Attempts were being made to rig up makeshift sails to replace those licked from the supplemental spars by flames that had earned considerable progress along the roof of the upper deck building before they were subdued. Blackened, charred masts and yards, stripped of rigging, reared themselves like pines at the edge of a fire-swept forest. Sail-makers and riggers laboured stubbornly, but the work was slow and the means of restoration limited.
The occupants of the derelict had settled down to a dull, almost dogged state of resignation. There were several deaths and burials, incidents that made but little impression on the waiting, watchful survivors. Each succeeding day brought forth additional watchers to swell the anxious throng,—resolute and sometimes ungovernable men who, defying their wounds and the nurses, refused to stay where they could not have a hand in all that was going on.
Back of all this pitiful courage, however, lurked the unholy fear that they might be left to their fate in case the ship had to be hurriedly abandoned.
Mr. Mott watched the weather. Every seaman on board the Doraine scanned the cloudless sky with searching, anxious eyes. They sniffed the steady wind that blew them farther south. Always they scanned the sky and sniffed the wind.
"It's got to come sometime," repeated Captain Trigger, after each report from Mr. Mott.
"I've known weather like this to last for weeks," said the First Officer.
"In the South Pacific, yes," said the Captain grimly. "But we're in the South Atlantic, Mott."
On the sixth day the barometer began to fall. The breeze stiffened. The sea became choppy, and white-caps danced fitfully over the greenish stretches, growing wilder and wilder under the whip of a flouting wind. The two patchwork sails on the lumbering Doraine flapped noisily for awhile, as if shaking off their tor-por, then suddenly grew taut and fat with prosperity. The twisted, half-jammed rudder,—far from worthy despite the efforts of its repairers,—whiningly obeyed the man at the wheel, and once more the ship felt the caress of the deep on her cleaving bows.
The horizon to the north and west seemed to draw nearer, the contrast between the deepening blue of the water and the clear azure of the contracting dome more sharply defined. The sky that had been cloudless for days still remained barren, but the sailor knew what lay beyond the clear-cut rim of the world. The man of the sea could look far beyond the horizon. He could see the ugly clouds that were even now speeding down from the north, invisible as yet but soon to creep into view; he could see the mighty billows on the other side of that distant line; he could hear the roar and shriek of the tempest that was still hundreds of miles away. It was the matter of but a few hours before the wind and the billows would rush up to smite the Doraine with all their might under the cover of a black and storm-rent sky. And what was to become of the vessel, floundering in the path of the hurricane?
Late afternoon brought the forerunner of the gale, a whistling, howling squall that frantically strove, it would seem, to outrace the baleful clouds. Then the Doraine was in the thick of the furious revel of sea and sky, plunging, leaping, rolling like a monstrous cork....
How she managed to weather the storm, God knows, and He alone. At the mercy of wave and wind, she was tossed and hammered and racked for two frightful days and nights, and yet she remained afloat, battered, smashed, raked from stem to stern, stripped of everything the tempest could wrench from her in its fury. And yet on the third day, when the storm abated, the sturdy ship was still riding the waves, flayed but un-conquered, and the baffled sea was licking the sides of her once more with servile though deceitful tenderness.
But there was water in the hold. The ship was leaking badly.
Up from the stifling interior straggled the unhappy inmates. They looked again upon the unbelievable: a smiling, dancing sea of blue under a canopy clean and spotless. It was unbelievable. Even the stouthearted Captain and the faithful mate, blear-eyed and haggard from loss of sleep, were filled with wonder.
"I can't understand it," muttered Mr. Mott a dozen times that day, shaking his head in a bewildered sort of way. "I can't understand how she did it. By right, she ought to be at the bottom of the ocean, and here she is on top of it, same as ever."
"Do you believe in God, Mr. Mott?" asked the Captain solemnly.
"I do," said Mr. Mott emphatically. After a moment he added: "I've been a long time coming to it, Captain Trigger, but I do. Nothing short of an Almighty Being could have steered this ship for the past two days."
The Captain nodded his head slowly, his gaze fixed on something above and far beyond the horizon.
"I suppose it's too much to ask of Him, though," said he, audibly completing a thought.
Mr. Mott evidently had been thinking of the same thing, for he said:
"I'm sorry to say it's gained about two feet on the pumps since last night."
Captain Trigger's face was very grave. "That means a couple of days more at the outside." His eyes rested speculatively on the three lifeboats still hanging above the starboard rail. There was another being repaired on the port side. "More than six hundred of us on board, Andrew." His head dropped suddenly, his chin twitched. Mr. Mott looked away.
"I don't believe it will come to that," said he, an odd note of confidence in his voice. "'Tain't likely, old friend, that God would see us safely through all we've had to tackle and then desert us in the end. Something's bound to turn up. I've a feeling,—a queer feeling,—that we're going to pull out of this all right. I know it looks mighty hopeless, but—"
"Just the same, Mr. Mott," broke in the Captain, lifting his head and setting his jaw, "you'd better set all available hands to work on the rafts immediately. It's true God has helped us through a lot, but it strikes me we'd better be on the safe side and help God a little at this stage of the game. He is wonderful, Andrew, but He isn't wonderful enough to keep man afloat very long unless man himself builds the raft. So don't lose a minute."
Anxious, inquiring eyes followed the Captain and his First Officer wherever they went. On all sides were silent, beaten people who asked no questions, for they were afraid of the answers. Sick, dazed, haggard, they stared hopelessly, drearily out over the water; for all that their faces revealed the end was near at hand and they cared but little. They had been through one hell; death could bring nothing worse.
Here and there a stout-hearted optimist appeared among them, but his very cheerfulness seemed to offend. They did not want to hear his silly, stupid predictions that something was "sure to turn up." They knew that water was coming into the hold; they knew that there were but four lifeboats and seven hundred men and women; they knew that the Doraine was going down in a very few hours; they knew that the Captain had given up all hope of rescue. Nothing could "turn up" now but death.
Madame Obosky had taken a great fancy to Algernon Adonis Percival, and for a most peculiar reason. He had, it appears, abused her roundly on the first night of the storm for venturing on deck against orders, compelling him to risk what he considered a very precious life in a successful effort to drag her back to safety. As a matter of fact, he did not drag her back to safety. That feat was accomplished by two sailors who managed to reach both of them before another devastating wave came up to tear his grip loose from the broken rail to which he clung with one bandaged hand while he kept her from sliding into the sea with the other.
He was very angry. In the first place, his hands hurt him dreadfully, and in the second place she had forced him to disobey orders by going out to save her. He did not mutter his complaints. He told her in plain and violent English what he thought of her, and if she went out there again he'd be damned happy to let her drown.
Now, it had been some time since any man had had the hardihood or temerity to upbraid Madame Obosky. No male had cursed her since she left Petrograd,—and that was four years ago. She had been cursed often enough by her own sex,—professionally, of course,—but the men she had encountered since leaving Russia were either too chivalrous or too cowardly to abuse her, and she missed it terribly.
She had gone through a very hard school in order to become one of the principal dancers in her land. Teachers had cursed her, teachers had beaten her,—and they always were men.
When she was eighteen she married a lion-tamer. Who would have thought that a man who trained lions could be gentle and mild, and as tame as the beasts he had beaten for years? She was barely nineteen when he died, quite suddenly. There was a dark rumour that she had poisoned him. True or false, the rumour persisted, and she soon became one of the most popular dancers in the Empire. For three years she had a manager who treated her so vilely, so contemptuously that she tried to kill his wife, whereupon the unnatural husband refused to have anything more to do with her.
She was dancing in Germany when the War broke out, but succeeded in getting over into Holland within a week or two, thereby escaping what she was pleased to describe as "something zat no woman could endure, no matter how long she have live' in Russia." Paris and London had treated her kindly, courteously, but that was to be expected, she repined, because all of the real men were off at the front fighting. Instead of being scowled at and ordered about by managers and orchestra leaders, or brow-beaten by hotel-clerks and head-waiters, she met with nothing but the most servile politeness,—due, she was prone to argue, to the unquestioned decadence of the French and English races. They were a bloodless lot, those Frenchmen and Englishmen.
It was the same in Rio Janeiro, Buenos Aires and Santiago,—and it would be even worse in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. The Americans, she had heard, were the worst of them all. They didn't know the first thing about the majesty of sex. The Indian, she understood, was an exception. From all accounts, he knew how to treat his woman.
She was homesick. Her heart leaped with joy when she discovered in Percival what she believed to be a domineering, masterful man. He had been neither servile, nor polite, nor afraid. He had treated her,—at least for an illuminating, transcendent ten minutes,—as if she were the dirt under his feet,—and he was an American at that. True, he had apologized a little later on, and had blushed quite becomingly in doing so, but nothing,—nothing in the world,—would ever make her believe that he was not the sort of man who could be depended upon to put a woman in her place and keep her there. He might apologize until he was black in the face and still be unable to take back the words he had uttered. Notwithstanding that he, in his apology, professed to have mistaken her in the darkness for one of the Portuguese immigrant women who didn't understand a word of English, she forgave him quite humbly, and that was going pretty far for Olga Obosky, whose identity ought not to have been a matter of doubt, even on the darkest of nights.
She was a lithe, perfectly formed young woman, beautiful in an unusual way. Her body was as sinuous as that of a woodland nymph. Indeed, in one of her most spectacular dances, she appeared as a nymph, barefooted, bare-legged, and,—as Mrs. Spofford caustically remarked,—bare-faced. She possessed the marvellously clear, colourless complexion found only among the purely Slavic women. Her lips were red and sensuous, her eyes darkly mysterious and brooding, her hair as black as the raven's wing.
When she smiled her face became strikingly alive, radiant, transforming her into a jolly, good-natured, wholesome girl in whom not the faintest trace of the carnal was left. Every move, every thought, every impulse was feminine; her imagination was feminine; she cast the spell of her femininity over all with whom she came in contact. Primitively sensuous, she was also primitively wary,—and so she was ineffably feminine.
Prior to the time of her dramatic encounter with the American, she had favoured him with no more than a glance or two of curiosity. He was a stowaway; for a brief while he was suspected of being involved in the plot to blow up the ship. That was enough for her. Twice she had seen Miss Clinton talking with him, and once, just before the storm set in, she had paused to watch the young American girl renew the bandages on his hands after dressing the burns. Half an hour after he had apologized for speaking so roughly to her, she decided that it was her duty to hunt him up and minister to him. The ship was rolling terribly, the din of the elements was deafening, but Olga Obosky was not a faint-hearted person. She went forth boldly, confidently. Terrified, clinging observers marvelled at her sure-footedness, at the graceful way in which her sinuous body bent itself to the perilous heavings of the vessel.
She found him in the reading-room, seated in a corner. Miss Clinton was readjusting the bandage on one of his hands. Half a dozen people were in the room, manfully defying the turmoil that had sent nearly every one else to bed in terror and distress. Without hesitation the dancer joined the couple in the corner. Her smile was engaging; a faint line between her eyebrows signified the concern she felt for him.
WEST WIND DRIFT
Miss Clinton looked up from her work. Her smile was politely accusative,—and brief.
"It is all my fault," began Madame Obosky, standing before them, her feet wide apart, her knees bent slightly to meet the varying slants and lurches of the vessel. She spoke the English language confidently and well. Her accent, which was scarcely noticeable, betrayed the fact that she had mastered French long before attempting English. There was a piquant boldness in the occasional misplacing of words and in the haphazard construction of sentences. She was unafraid.
"I have subject him to much pain and discomfort," she went on, addressing the girl. "Those poor hand! It is I who should kiss them, Mademoiselle, not you."
"Kiss them?" gasped Miss Clinton.
"Of no doubt," said Madame Obosky readily. "Do they not pain because of me? Should I not kiss the hand who snatch me from the horrible death? From the Kingdom Come, as the doctor he say to me such a little time ago. And you, Mademoiselle, who have not been save by him from the Kingdom Come, you attend his hands and make him to be greatly comfortable."
"I am merely dressing the burns, Madame Obosky," said the other, coldly. "I have done as much for the other poor fellows who—"
"I know, I know," broke in the Russian, smiling. "You must not be offend with me if I speak your language so badly."
"It strikes me you speak it most acceptably," interposed Percival.
"What is your name?" she asked abruptly. "I have heard you called the stowaway. No one has speak your name to me."
"My name is Percival," said he.
"It is a pretty name," said she, dubiously. "But surely you do not approve of me to call you Percival so quick. What is the other name, the name I am to—"
"That's the trouble with a name like mine. It sounds so beastly informal when you leave off the Mister, and it sounds as if you'd been a servant in the family for at least one generation if you stick it on. If you could only call me Monsieur Percival, or Senor Percival, or even Herr Percival, it wouldn't seem so bad, but Mister Percival,—well, it's pretty soft, isn't it, Miss Clinton?"
"Please hold your hand still, Mr. Percival," ordered the girl. She smiled up at the puzzled dancer. "His name is Mr. Percival, Madame Obosky. That's the poor creature's last name."
"Oh, I see. Then even you, Mademoiselle, may not call him Percival?"
"No, I do not call him Percival."
"You see, she's known me such a very short time," explained the subject of these remarks.
For a few moments Madame Obosky watched the bandaging process in silence. When she spoke again it was to say:
"You are so skilful, so gentle, Mademoiselle. I am taking a lesson in gentleness from you."
"It is quite simple, Madame. I am very awkward. I have had no experience. But if we ever live to see home again, I shall prepare myself at once for work in France. We are needed over there. We will be needed more than ever, now that America has gone in. Our own soldiers are over there, God bless them."
Madame Obosky gave her a pitying look.
"You may thank your God that you do not live in a land of soldiers, Mademoiselle. If you did, you would not be so eager to nurse them back to life. Do I shock you? Voila! When you train a boy to be a soldier, as the boys are trained in my country and in Germany, you make an animal of him,—and not a very nice animal at that. You nurse him back to life and strength and in return for your kindness he outrages you, and goes his way rejoicing. No, I do not like the soldiers."
Miss Clinton did not look up. Percival stared at the Russian for a moment and then observed:
"I don't think you can say that of the French or the English, Madame."
She shrugged her shoulders. "Quite true. But the French and the English, Mr. Percival, are decadent races," she said coolly, as if there were nothing more to be said on the subject. "Please, Mademoiselle," she went on, briskly, "will you not let me see how you have prepared his hands? I mean, how have you,—is it right to say fixed them?"
"Dressed them, you mean, Madame Obosky."
"I see. First you undress them, then you dress them, is it not so?"
Ruth Clinton laughed. The woman was quaint.
"I am about to begin on the left hand. You may watch me, if you care to do so."
"Will it not make you embarrass?"
"Why should I be embarrassed?" inquired Ruth, flushing.
"I have said the wrong word," lamented the other. "Nervous,—zat,—that is the word."
"They're not very lovely things to look at," said Percival. "All red and blistery and greasy. Miss Clinton is a regular heroine to tackle 'em."
"I have witnessed some very terrible sights, Mr. Percival," said the Russian, her eyes narrowing. "Have you ever seen a little Jewish girl,—but no, Mademoiselle, no! I have catch the look in your eyes. I shall not tell you what I have seen. Go on! I shall be silent and take my first lesson."
Closely, intently she watched the process. When it was all over and the bottle containing ointment had been restored to the patient's pocket, she spread out her hands and exclaimed:
"It is not difficult. May I inquire where the gauze bandages are to be obtained, Miss Clinton? And do you always use the same safety pins?"
She arose early the next morning. Rousing her maid, she ordered her to apply to the ship's surgeon for bandages and to fetch them to her at once.
"I know,—yes, I know. You are dying, but do as I tell you. This instant! Why should you, a great hulking beast of a woman, be dying every minute of the day while I, not half your size, am tingling all over with life? Go!"
"But, Madame," groaned the wretched woman, rolling her eyes, "I shall be dashed to pieces against the walls. I cannot stand. My legs will not hold me up. They—"
"Enough! That is no excuse. My legs manage to hold me up."
"But, Madame, it is my legs I am speaking of. My legs are not like yours."
"Any fool can see that," retorted her mistress, and the ungainly maid staggered out on her mission.
Later on, supplied with a roll of gauze, Madame Obosky set out in quest of her preserver. Even the veterans among the seamen gazed upon her in wondering admiration as she made her way about the ship. She was a revelation to them. The increasing fury of the storm had driven all save the hardiest sailors and a few of the non-praying male passengers to their rooms. Now and then one or two of the courageous, devoted nurses appeared in the corridors, reeling from patient to patient, but except for them the ship seemed entirely bereft of women. Small wonder then that the lithe, undaunted Russian created a sensation among the sailors who themselves were cold with dread.
She discovered him at last, coming up the steps from the devastated engine room. He was with Mr. Mott and several other half-dressed men. Their faces were grave,—more serious than ever. They had been down to investigate the leak. Percival was stripped to the waist. The glare of the lanterns fell upon his broad shoulders and powerful arms, bronzed and burnished by the sun of the high hills.
"Come," she said, laying her hand on one of his brawny arms, "I have with me the bandages." She sent a swift glance over him, and smiled. "But I see you have not the bottle. Is it in your cabin, Mr. Percivail?"
He flushed darkly under his coat of tan. His companions stared for a moment, and then went on.
"I am busy," he said. "I haven't the time now, Madame Obosky. Thank you, just the same." Then a sense of loyalty to the girl who had been kind to him impelled him to add: "Besides, Miss Clinton has been taking care of my hands. She has got used to dressing them, so I—"
"But it is my duty now," she protested. "She owes so little to you and I so much. Come, let us procure the lotion. Where is your cabin?"
He held back. "You can't go to my cabin."
"And why not?" she exclaimed, in surprise. "Does not Miss Clinton go to your cabin?"
"No, she does not!"
"But she goes to the cabins of other men who are wounded. I have see her with my own eyes."
"That's different. They can't come to her."
She looked searchingly into his eyes.
"I see," she said after a moment. "You are in love with her."
"Ridiculous," he exclaimed, scowling.
"And so you prefer to have her fix your hands. I see, my friend. Voila! If so is the case, I am outcast."
"But, confound it, it isn't the case," he cried. "It's simply this: I wouldn't for the world have her feel that I am not grateful, and that's exactly what it would look like if I allowed you or any one else to butt in, Madame Obosky."
"Butt in?" she said, a puzzled look in her dark eyes. "What is that?"
"It's English for interfere," said he, shortly.
She removed her hand from his arm. He was conscious of the abrupt termination of an exquisite thrill.
"Very well," she said, lifting her chin. "I shall not interfere."
"Forgive me, please," he said. "It's mighty good of you. Please don't think me ungracious. You understand, however,—don't you?"
"No, I do not," she replied, shaking her head slowly. Suddenly her eyes widened. "Is it because I dance in my bare feet, in my bare legs, that you think so vilely of me?"
He stared. "Good Lord! I don't think vilely of you, Madame Obosky. I wasn't even aware that you danced in your bare feet and legs."
"You have never seen Obosky dance?" she cried in astonishment.
She frowned. "Then, my friend, I was wrong in what I say just now. Most men who have seen me dance think I am a bad woman, and so they either covet me or despise me. If you have not had ze pleasure of seeing me, Mr. Percivail, you do not either covet me or despise me. That is fine. It is good to know that you do not despise me." Observing the expression in his eyes, she went on calmly. "Oh, yes, I shall be very much please to have you covet me. Zat—that is all right. But if you despise me,—no, no, zat would be terrible."
For a moment he was dashed. He did not know how to take her remark. She was a new, a strange type to him. After a sharp, quick look into her eyes, however, he came to the conclusion that she was absolutely sincere. So far as she was concerned, it was as if she had said nothing more outrageous than: "I shall be please to consider you one of my admirers."
"My dear Madame," he said, smiling, "permit me to express the hope that both of us may go on to the end of our days without having our peace of mind disturbed."
She looked puzzled for a moment, and then favoured him with her broad, good-natured smile.
WEST WIND DRIFT 85
"Spoken like a Frenchman," she cried, and added, "and with equal sincerity, I fear. Go your way, Monsieur Percivail. I shall keep my gauze. Some day when we are very old people and very old friends I may then be permitted to bandage your hands. At present, however, the risk is too great, eh? I am so inexperience. I might by accident tie your hands in my clumsiness, and zat—that would make so much trouble for Miss Clinton to untie zem,—yes?"
Now there was mockery in her eyes. His face hardened.
"I must be on my way," he said curtly. "We have been looking things over down below. The Captain is waiting for our report."
He bowed and started off. She swung along at his side.
"What have you discover, Mr. Percivail?" she inquired anxiously.
"That, Madame Obosky, is something that will have to come from Captain Trigger."
"I see. That means it is bad. I see."
The lurching of the ship threw her body against his. She righted herself promptly, but did not reveal the slightest confusion nor utter a word of apology.
"By Jove, you're a cool one!" he exclaimed. "I don't believe you know the meaning of fear. Don't you realize, Madame Obosky, that we are in the gravest peril? Don't you know this ship has but one chance in a thousand to pull through?"
"Ah, my friend, but it has the one chance, has it not? Surely I know the meaning of fear. I am afraid of rats and snakes and thieves—and drunken soldiers. I am afraid of death,—terribly afraid of death. Oh, yes, I know what fear is, Mr. Percivail."
"Then, why don't you show it now?" he cried. "Good Lord, I don't mind confessing that I'm scared half to death. I don't want to die like this,—like a rat in a trap."
"But you are not going to die," she proclaimed. "I too would be groaning and praying in my bed if I thought we were going down to the bottom of zis dreadful ocean. But we are not. I have no fear. We shall come out all right on top, and some day we will laugh and tell funny stories about how everybody else was frightened but us,—us apiece, I mean."
"Well, you're a wonder! And how the deuce do you manage to keep your feet with the ship rolling like this?"
"Two things I have been taught, since I am ten years old. First, to keep my head, and second to keep my feet. In my profession, one must do both. You will always find me doing that. Good-bye,—we part here. You will not forget zat—that I have retain the bandage for you? And you will not ever despise me?"
As she turned away a roll that must have caused the wallowing vessel to list thirty-five degrees at the very least, sent her headlong across the passage. She slipped down in a heap. The same lurch had sent him reeling against the wall some distance away. She sat up but did not at once attempt to arise. Instead she clutched frantically at her skirt to draw it down over her shapely ankles and calves. In the lantern light he saw the dismayed, shamed look in her eyes and the vivid blush of embarrassment that suffused her pale cheeks. As the ship rolled back, he moved forward to assist her, but she sprang lightly to her feet and hurried on ahead of him, disappearing around a corner.
"Well, by gosh!" he muttered aloud in his surprise. "And she dances half naked before thousands of people every night! Can you beat it! The last person in the world you'd think would care a whoop, and she turns out to be as finicky about her legs as your grandmother. Women certainly are queer."
With this profound comment on the inconsistency of the sex, he took himself off in the direction of the Captain's quarters,—a forward cabin which served in lieu of the dismantled bridge.
He saw but little of her during the next forty-eight hours. She seemed to avoid him. At any other time and in other circumstances he undoubtedly would have resented her indifference,—a very common and natural masculine failing,—but in these strenuous hours he was too fully occupied with the affairs of life and death. Once she stopped him to inquire if Miss Clinton was still able to dress his wounds.
"Once a day," he replied. "She's even pluckier than you are, Madame Obosky."
Her eyes narrowed. "Indeed?"
"Yes, because she believes we are going to die—every one of us. It takes pluck to keep going when you've got that sort of thing to face, doesn't it?"
Her gesture took in the dozen or more men within range of her vision. "It should take no more pluck to keep a woman going than a man, my friend. You do not call yourself plucky, do you? I do not call myself plucky. On the contrary, I call myself a coward. I am afraid to stay in my stateroom. I like to be out in the open like zis. One has to be very, very brave, Mr. Percivail, to lie in one's bed all alone and think that death is waiting just outside the thin little walls. Miss Clinton is splendid, but she is not plucky. She is as I am: afraid of the darkness, afraid to be alone, afraid to be where she cannot know and see all zat is happening. She has a woman's courage, just as I have it,—if you please. It is the courage that depends so much on the courage of others. You think I am brave. I am brave because I am with trained, efficient men. But if the Captain were to come to me now as I stand here, and say zat the ship is to sink in ten minutes and that we all must go down with her, would I face it bravely? No! I would throw myself down on the floor and scream and pray and tear my hair. Why? Because the men had given up. I am kept up by the courage of others. That is the courage of woman. She must be supported in her pain, in her suffering, in her courage."
"Well, if you put it that way, there are very few men who would take such an announcement from the Captain calmly."
"Perhaps not, my friend. But if there were room for but few in the boats, who would stay behind and go down with the ship? Nine out of every ten of the men. Why? Not because they are all courageous, I grant you, but because of the horrible conceit that makes them our masters. Pride and conceit constitute what stands for courage in most men. The wild animal has no conceit, he has no pride. Does the male lion rush out to be shot in place of his mate? He do not. He sneaks off in the high reeds and leaves her to take care of herself. The Captain of this steamer is so full of pride zat he will stay on it till it goes under the wave. It is not courage, Mr. Percivail. It is his pride in the power zat—that God has give to his sex. These men here,—you, my friend,—face the danger now so unflinching for why? Because for ages and ages you have believe in and depend upon the man beside you, the men around you. Zat is the difference between man and woman. Woman believes in and depends on man. She has no faith in her own sex. So, you see, my friend, when I say I am brave and you say Miss Clinton is plucky, it is all because we have men about us who are so proud and conceited zat they will die before they will admit that they are not as helpless and as weak as we are in times like zis."
"You may be right," he mused, struck by her argument. "It's usually pride that makes a man stand up and fight another, even when he knows he's sure to be beaten. It's neither confidence nor courage. It's just plain fear of being a coward."
"You will admit then that I understand the wonderful male animal which struts on two legs and rules all the other animals of the world, eh? It is the only animal in the whole big world zat—that is completely satisfied with itself. So now, Mr. Percivail, you have the secret of the so-called courage of the male of our species."
"I hope all women haven't gone into the subject so deeply," he said, with a rueful smile. "You make rather small potatoes of us."
"Ah, do not say that," she cried, "for, alas, I am denied potatoes."
"Well, then," he said, laughing, "if all women understood us as well as you do, we wouldn't rule the world very much longer. They'd yank us off the pedestal and revile us forevermore."
"But you do not understand women, my friend. Did we not bring you into the world? Are you not our sons, and therefore begotten to be kings? We may despise our husbands, we may loathe our brothers and our fathers, we women, but our sons are the gods we worship. My dear Mr. Percivail, women will go on being ruled to the end of time unless they cease populating the world with sons. The mother of the man is the humblest subject of the son and yet the proudest. The mothers of kings, of emperors, of presidents,—do they think of them as kings, emperors, presidents? No. They think of them as sons. That is why man is supreme. That is why he rules. To be sure, we women are not always disposed to have our husbands rule, we even go so far as to say they are not fit to rule, but alas, the men we are permitted to know the best of all are always the sons of some one else, and so there you have the endless chain. Sons! Sons! Sons! Sons to create new sons,—sons without end, amen! God bless our sons!"
"And I say God bless our mothers!"
"In that one little sentence, Mr. Percivail, spoke from the heart, you have reveal the secret history of the world. You have account for everything."
"You are a million years old, Madame Obosky," he said, looking into her deep, unfathomable eyes.
She smiled. "So? And which of my sons, Mr. Percivail, do you think I love the most? Cain or Abel?"
"It would take a woman to answer that question. There's one thing certain, however. You loved both of them more than you loved Adam."
"True. But I followed Adam out of the Garden of Eden and I have never left his heels from zat day to this. What more could any man ask?"
On the second morning after the storm, the lookout fixed his straining eyes on a far-distant, shadowy line that had not been a part of the boundless horizon the day before. Dawn was breaking, night was lifting her sheet from the new-born day. He waited. He could not be sure. Minutes that seemed like hours passed. Then suddenly his hoarse shout rose out of the silence:
Down into the heart of the ship boomed the cry, taken from the lookout's lips by one after another of the weary men below. The sweating, exhausted toilers who manned the pumps paused for a moment, then fell to work again revitalized. Out from the cabins, up from every nook and corner of the ship scrambled the excited horde, fully dressed, their faces haggard with doubt, their eyes aglow with joy. Land! In every round little window gleamed a face,—for a moment only along the portside. Nothing but the same endless ocean on the port side of the ship. Water! Sick and wounded drew themselves up to the portholes and peered out from their cells for the first time.
"Where?... Where?" ran the wild, eager cry of the scurrying throng, and there was disappointment—bitter disappointment in their voices. They had been tricked. There was no land in sight! The glasses of the ship's officers, clustered far forward, were directed toward some point off the starboard bow, but if there was land over there it was not visible to the naked eye. A junior engineer saluted Captain Trigger and left the group.
"There is land ahead,—a long way off," he announced as he passed through the throng in the saloon deck.
Up above the clamour of questions shouted from all sides as the crazed people flocked behind the messenger of hope, rose the voice of Morris Shine.
"Land ahoy! Ahoy-yoy-yoy!" he yelled over and over again, his chin raised like that of a dog baying at the moon.
Every person on deck was either carrying a life-belt or was already encased in one. Grim orders of the night just past. Here and there were to be seen men who clutched tightly the handles of suitcases and kit bags! Evidently they were expecting to step ashore at once. In any case, they belonged to the class of people who never fail to crowd their way down the gang-plank ahead of every one else. The fashionable ocean liners always have quite a number of these on board, invariably in the first cabin.
Percival ranged the decks in quest of Ruth Clinton. She was well aft on the boat deck, where the rail was not so crowded as it was forward. Her arm was about the drooping, pathetic figure of her aunt. They were staring intently out over the water,—the girl's figure erect, vibrant, alive with the spirit of youth, her companion's sagging under the doubt and scepticism of age. He hesitated a moment before accosting them. Nicklestick, the Jew, was excitedly retailing the news to them. He went so far as to declare that he could see land quite clearly,—and so could they if they would only look exactly where he was pointing. He claimed to have been one of the very first men on board to see the land.
Ruth was hatless. Her braided brown hair had been coiled so hastily, so thoughtlessly that stray strands fell loose about her neck and ears to be blown gaily by the breeze across her cheek. Her blouse was open at the neck, her blue serge jacket flared in the wind. Every vestige of the warm, soft colour had left her face. She was deathly pale with emotion.
Percival was suddenly conscious of a mist bedimming his eyes.
Several people were grouped near them at the rail, listening to Nicklestick. The stowaway joined them. As if sensing his presence, Ruth turned suddenly and saw him.
"Oh!" she cried, tremulously. "Have—have you seen it, Mr. Percival?"
"No," he replied. "It won't be visible for an hour or so longer. It's off there all right, though. The lookout, Captain Trigger and several others got a glimpse of it before the sun began to pull the mist up to obscure it for a little while. That's mist over there," he went on, turning to Nicklestick. "You couldn't see the Andes Mountains if they were where that strip of land is hidden. It won't be long, Miss Clinton, before we all can see it."
"How far away is it?" she asked, controlling her voice with an effort. "Do they know? Can they estimate?"
"I'll tell you what let's do," he said abruptly. "Let's go up on the sun deck. I've got Mr. Gray's glasses. We can see better up there. Let me assist you, Mrs. Spofford. The sun deck is pretty badly smashed up and littered with all sorts of wreckage, but we can manage it all right."
Mrs. Spofford looked at him intently for a moment.
"I remember you now," she said. "Are you sure,—are you positive there is land over there?"
"I have Captain Trigger's word for it."
"And mine, too," added Mr. Nicklestick. "You may rest assured, Mrs. Spofford, that we will all be on dry land before many hours."
Percival leaned close to the speaker and said in a very low but emphatic tone:
"You don't know a damn thing about it, so keep your trap closed. If you're a man, you won't go on raising false hopes in the breasts of these women."
Nicklestick's jaw fell. He whispered:
"My God,—ain't we—you don't mean to say there is a chance we won't be able to—"
But Percival had turned away with the two women. Mrs. Spofford took his arm, leaning heavily against him. Her figure had straightened, however. He had given her the needed confidence.
They made their way up the steps leading to the topmost deck. Others had already preceded them. A dozen men and women were looking out over the sea through their binoculars. They recognized Landover, Madame Careni-Amori (clutching her jewel case), Joseppi, Fitts and one or two more. Olga Obosky was well forward, seated on the edge of a partially wrecked skylight and ventilator. Her three dancing girls were with her, closely grouped.
Percival purposely remained near the steps. He knew full well that the ship's hours were numbered. It was only a question of time when she would founder. In the lee of one of the big stacks they huddled close together and waited for the lifting of the veil. The wind was soft but strong up there at the top of the vessel. He took hope in the fact that it was blowing toward the shores of that unseen land, and that slowly but surely the Doraine was drifting thither.
Suddenly, as if a curtain were being raised, a far-off line appeared on the surface of the waters. Higher rose the curtain, and like magic the line developed into an irregular ridge, the ends of which sank below the horizon far to the right and left.
Percival felt the girl's hand on his arm. He shot a swift glance at her face. It was turned away. She staring at the mystic panorama that was being unveiled off there on the rim of the world. Her eyes were bright, her lips were parted in the ecstasy of hope revived, she was breathing deeply. The pulse in her smooth white neck was beating rapidly, rythmically. He could see it. He laid his bandaged hand firmly upon hers and pressed it tightly to his arm. She did not look around. Her every thought was centred upon the unfolding vision.
"There are trees," she murmured, enthralled. "Trees,—and hills! See, Auntie,—but oh, how far away they are!"
For many minutes they stood there without speaking. Then from all sides came the clamour of voices,—shouts of joy, cheers,—laughter! She looked down at the clumsy object that imprisoned her hand, then swiftly up into his eyes. A warm flush spread over her face.
"I—I couldn't help it," he muttered. "It—it looked so helpless."
"It isn't half as helpless as yours, Mr. Percival," she said, and smiled. She waited a moment before withdrawing her hand. "May I have the glasses, please? Had you forgotten them?"
"Completely," he replied.
Later, while Mrs. Spofford was peering through the glasses, she drew him aside.
"Tell me about the water in the hold," she said in a low tone. "Is it serious?"
He looked grave. "Very. If you will take a peep over the side of the ship, you'll see how low down she is in the water."
"My aunt doesn't know the ship is leaking," she went on, hurriedly. "I want to keep it from her as long as possible." He nodded his head.
"Mr. Mott figures we'll stay afloat for ten or twelve hours,—maybe longer. I will see to it that you and Mrs. Spofford get into one of the boats in case we—well, just in case, you know. We will be given ample warning, Miss Clinton. Things don't look as hopeless as they did last night." He pointed toward the land. "It looks like heaven, doesn't it?"
Her face clouded. "But only a very few of us may—" she stopped, shuddering.
"You poor little girl!" he cried brokenly. He steadied himself and went on: "It wouldn't surprise me in the least if every blessed one of us got safely ashore."
"You do not believe that, Mr. Percival. I can tell by the look in your eyes. I want you to promise me one thing. If we have to take to the boats, you will come with us—"
He drew himself up. "My dear Miss Clinton, there is quite a difference between being a stowaway on an ocean liner and being one in a lifeboat. I have no standing on this ship. I have no right in one of her boats. I am the very last person on board to be considered."
She looked searchingly into his eyes, her own wide with comprehension. "You mean you will make no effort to leave the ship until every one else is—"
He checked her with a gesture of his hand. "I may be one of the first to leave. But I'll not rob any one else of his place in a boat or his space on one of those rafts. I'll swim for it."
Slowly the land crept down upon the Doraine. The illusion was startling. The ship seemed to be lying absolutely motionless; it was the land that approached instead of the other way round. A thin white beach suddenly emerged from the green background to the left, to the right an ugly mass of rocks took shape, stretching as far as the eye could reach. Farther inland rose high, tree covered hills, green as emeralds in the blazing sunlight. On a sea of turquoise lolled the listless Doraine.
Soundings were taken from time to time. Even the bottom of the ocean was coming up to meet the Doraine. Its depth appreciably lessened with each successive measurement. From fifty fathoms it had decreased to ten since the first line was dropped.
At four o'clock, Captain Trigger ordered a boat lowered and manned by a picked crew in charge of the Second Engineer. The Doraine was about five miles off shore at the time, and was drifting with a noticeably increased speed directly toward the rock-bound coast. He had hoped she would go aground in the shallow waters off the sandy beach, but there was now no chance that such a piece of good fortune was in store for her. She was going straight for the huge black rocks.
The boat's crew rowed in for observations. Even before they returned to report, the anxious officers on board the vessel had made out a narrow fissure in the rocky coast line. They assumed that it was the mouth of a small river. The Second Engineer brought back the astonishing information that this opening in the coast was the gateway to a channel that in his judgment split the island into two distinct sections. That it was not the mouth of a river was made clear by the presence of a current so strong that his men had to exert themselves to the utmost to prevent the boat being literally sucked into the channel by the powerful tide, which apparently was at its full. This opening,—the water rushed into it so swiftly that he was satisfied it developed into a gorge farther back from the coast,—was approximately two hundred yards wide, flanked on either side by low lying, formidable bastions of rock. The water was not more than fifty feet deep off the entrance to the channel.
Gradually the prow of the Doraine swung around and pointed straight for the cleft in the shore. The ship, two miles out, had responded to the insidious pressure of the current and was being drawn toward the rocks,—at first so slowly that there was scarcely a ripple off her bows; then, as she lumbered onward, she began to turn over the water as a ploughshare turns over the land.
At precisely six o'clock she slid between the rocky portals and entered a canal so straight and true that it might have been drilled and blasted out of the earth under the direction of the most skilful engineers in the world.
Soundings were hastily taken. Discovering that the water was not deep enough even at high tide to submerge the vessel when the inevitable came to pass and she sank to the bottom, Captain Trigger renewed his efforts to release the anchor chains, which had been caught and jammed in the wreckage. He realized the vital necessity for checking the Doraine in her flight before she accomplished the miracle of passing unhindered through the channel and out into the open sea beyond. The swiftness of the current indicated plainly enough that this natural canal was of no great length.
The ship slid on between the tree lined banks. The trees were of the temperate zone, with spreading limbs, thick foliage and hardy trunks. There were no palms visible, but in the rarely occurring open spaces a large shrub abounded. This was instantly recognized by Percival, who proclaimed it to be the algaroba, a plant commonly found on the Gran Chaco in Argentina. While the woodland was thick there was nothing about it to suggest the tropical jungle with its impenetrable fastnesses.
The keel of the half-sunken Doraine was scraping ominously on the bed of the channel. She shivered and swerved from frequent contact with submerged rocks, but held her course with uncanny steadiness, while every soul on board gazed with stark, despairing eyes at the land which mocked them as they passed. Far on ahead loomed the lofty hills, and beyond them lay—What? The ocean?
Gradually the passage widened. Its depth also increased. The ship no longer scraped the bottom, she no longer caromed off the sunken rocks. On the other hand, water poured into her interior with increasing force and volume, indicating a disastrous rent forward. She was sloshing along toward the centre of a basin which appeared to be half a mile wide and not more than a mile long. Directly ahead of her the hills came down to meet the water. A dark narrow cut, with towering sides, indicated an outlet for the tiny, inland sea. This gorge, toward which the Doraine was being resistlessly drawn, appeared to be but little wider than the ship itself.
Almost in the shadow of the hills, and within a dozen ship-lengths of the sinister opening, the worn, exhausted, beaten Doraine came to rest at the end of her final voyage. She shivered and groaned under the jarring impact, forged onward half her length, heeled over slightly—and died! She was anchored for ever in the tiny landlocked sea, proud leviathan whose days had been spent in the boundless reaches of the open deep.
And here for the centuries to come would lie the proud Doraine, guided to her journey's end by the pilot Chance, moored for all time in the strangest haven ever put into by man.
Behind the stranded vessel stretched centuries incalculable, and in all these centuries no man had entered here. Screened from the rest of the world, untended by chortling tugs, unheralded by raucous sirens, welcomed only by primeval solitude, the Doraine had come to rest.
She settled down on her bed of rocks to sleep for evermore, a mottled monster whose only covering was the night; indifferent to storm and calm, to time and tide, to darkness and light, she sat serene in her little sea. Her lofty walls towered high above the waves that broke tremblingly against them, as if afraid of this strange object from another world that could rest upon the bottom of the ocean and yet be so far above them.
Reported "Lost with all on board!"
Captain Trigger and a dozen men stood on the boat deck with guns and revolvers, facing several hundred sullen, determined men and women from the steerage. Night had not yet fallen; the shadow of the hills, however, was reaching half way across the oval pool; gloom impenetrable had settled on the wooded shores.
With the striking of the Doraine, nearly every one on board was hurled to the decks. As she heeled over five or six degrees in settling herself among the rocks, a panic ensued among the ignorant people of the steerage. They scrambled to their feet and made a rush for the boats, shouting and screaming in their terror. Other passengers were trampled under foot and sailors standing by the davits were hurled aside.
Captain Trigger, anticipating just such a stampede, rushed up with members of the gun crew. The gaunt, broken old master of the Doraine drove the horde back from the boats, but as he stood there haranguing them in good maritime English he could see plainly enough that they were not to be so easily subdued. The first panic was over, but they were crazed by the fear that had gripped them for days; they believed that the ship was soon to sink beneath their feet; safety lay not more than a hundred yards away,—and it was being denied them by this heartless, unfeeling despot.
They were mainly low-caste Portuguese bound for Rio and Bahia, and they had obeyed him through all those tortuous days out on the deep where he was the shepherd and they the flock. But now,—now they could well afford to turn upon and rend him, for he had brought them safe to land and they no longer owed him anything!
"My God, I don't want to shoot any of them," groaned the Captain, steadying himself against the rail. "But they've got guns, and they're crazy. I—"
Some one touched his arm, and a firm, decisive voice spoke in his ear.
"I'm used to handling gangs like this, Captain Trigger. They don't understand you, but they'll damn soon understand me, if you'll turn the job over to me. I'm not trying to be officious, sir, and I'm not even hinting that you can't bring 'em to their senses. I know how to handle 'em and you don't, that's all. They're not sailors, you see. And it isn't mutiny. They need a boss, sir,—that's what they need. And they need him damned quick, so if you don't mind saying the word,—they're ready to make a rush, and if—"
"Go ahead, Percival,—if you can hold them—"
"Say no more!" shouted Percival, and stepped resolutely forward. His hands were bare,—swollen, red and ugly; his eyes were as cold as steel, his voice as sharp as a keen-edged sword. He spoke in Spanish to the wavering, threatening horde.
"You damned, sneaking, low-lived cowards! What sort of swine are you? Have you no thought for the women you've trampled upon and beaten out of your path,—your own women, as well as the others,—think of them and ask yourselves if you are men. I'm in command of this ship now, and, by God, I'm going to let you get into those boats and start for shore. Don't cheer! You don't know what's coming to you. I'm going to turn that cannon on you up there and blow every one of you to hell and gone before you get fifty feet from the side of this ship. You don't believe that, eh? Well, that's exactly what I'm going to do. Lieutenant Platt!" He called over his shoulder in English to the young commander of the gun's crew. "Get some of your men up there and train that gun so as to blow these boats to smithereens. Quick!" In a half-whisper to the Captain: "It's all right. I know what I'm talking about." Then to the crowd: "We don't want you on board this ship a minute longer than we can help. We've got no room for dogs here among decent white men and women. Do you understand that? We don't want to have anything more to do with you, either here or on shore. I'm going to wipe you out, every damned one of you,—men women and children. You're not fit to live. You're going to climb into those boats now and get off this ship. You'll never realize how safe you are here till you get down there in the water and hear that gun go off. Come on! Get a move! We're through with you, now and for ever. Nobody's going to stop you. I'm even going to have the boats lowered for you, so as not to delay matters." He shouted after Lieutenant Platt: "Be lively, please. You've got your orders. We'll make short work of this pack of wolves." To Captain Trigger, authoritatively: "Withdraw your men, sir. I am going to let them leave the ship. At once, sir! Do you mean to disobey me, sir?" He gave the captain a sly wink.
Then as the bewildered master withdrew with his armed men, he turned once more to the mob. "Come on! Step lively, now! No rushing! Take your turn. Every blasted one of you, I mean. What the hell are you hanging back for,—you? You were so darned eager to go a little while ago, what's the matter with you now? No one's trying to stop you. Here are the boats. Put up your guns and knives, and pile in. You're absolutely free to go, you swine. We'll be damned good and rid of you, and that's all we're asking. It's a pity to waste powder and cannon-balls on you, when we may have use for all we've got later on, killing the lions and tigers and anacondas up there in the woods, but I'm going to do it."
He stepped back. Not a man or woman moved. They stood transfixed, packed in a huddled mass along the deck. Then a woman cried out for mercy. The cry was taken up by other women. Percival halted and faced them once more.
"Get into those boats!" he roared savagely. "It won't do you a bit of good to whine and pray and squeal. I'm through with you. You've got to—Well?"
Several of the men edged forward, some of them trying to smile.
"Would you kill us when we are only trying to save our lives?" called out one of them, finding his courage and voice.
"I don't want to talk to you. Get in!"
"We have as much right to remain on this ship as anybody else," shouted another. "We paid for our passage. We are honest, hard-working—"
"No use! I'll give you ten minutes to climb into those boats."
There was a moment's silence. "And what will you do if we refuse to leave the ship?" cried one of the men.
"Be quiet!" he bawled at the whimpering women. "We cannot hear what the gentleman has to say."
"You'll soon find out what I'll do, if you don't obey me inside of ten minutes," replied Percival.
"But the ship is not going to sink any more," protested another, looking over the rail timidly. "She is safe. We do not wish to leave now."
Captain Trigger and Mr. Mott joined Percival. In an undertone he told them what he had said to the mob.
"And now, gentlemen," he whispered in conclusion, "it's up to you to intercede in their behalf. They're as tame as rabbits now. They know the ship's all right, and they believe I intend to blow 'em to pieces if they once put off in the boats. Start in now, Captain, and argue with me. Plead for them. They know who I am. They know I come from the hills and they think I'm a bloodthirsty devil. They're like a lot of cattle. Most of them are simple, honest, God-fearing people,—and if we handle them properly now we'll not have much trouble with them in the future. And only the Good Lord knows what the future is going to bring."
So the three of them argued, two against one. Finally Percival threw up his hands in a gesture of complete surrender.
"All right, Captain. I give in. Perhaps you are right. I suppose it would be butchery."
There were a few in the crowd who understood English. These edged forward eagerly, hopefully. They called out protestations against the "slaughter."
"Tell them you have reconsidered, Mr. Percival," said the Captain. "They are to remain on board."
Excited shouts went up from the few who understood, and then the word went among the others that they were to be spared. There were cries of relief, joy, gratitude, and not a few fell upon their knees!
Percival stood forth once more. Silence fell upon the throng.
"The Captain has put in a plea for you, and I have decided to grant it. You may remain on board. Now, listen to me! No one is to leave this ship until tomorrow morning. We are safe here. We are stuck fast on the bottom, and nothing can happen to us at present. Tomorrow we will see what is best to be done. Every man and woman here is to return to the task he was given by Mr. Mott at the beginning of our troubles. We've got to eat, and sleep, and—Wait a minute! Well, all right,—beat it, if you feel that way about it."
He stood watching them as they excitedly withdrew toward the bow of the ship, breaking up into clattering groups, all of them talking at once.
Captain Trigger laid his hand on the young man's shoulder.
"If it had not been for you, Percival, this deck would now be red with blood,—and some of us would be dead. You saved a very ticklish situation. I take off my hat to you, and I say, with a full heart, that I shall never again doubt your ability to handle men. No one but an American could have tricked that mob as you did, my lad."
From various points of vantage the foregoing scene had been witnessed by uneasy, alarmed persons from upper cabins. Overwhelmed and dismayed by the rush of the yelling mob, the elect had fled for safety, urged by a greater fear than any that had gone before,—the fear of rioting men.
A few of them, more daring and inquisitive than the rest, had ventured recklessly into the zone of danger. Among them were Ruth Clinton and Madame Olga Obosky, who, disregarding the command of Mr. Mott, were the only women to venture beyond the protecting corner of the deck building. They stood side by side, bracing themselves against the downward slope of the deck. Half-way forward were Trigger and the armed gunners, and beyond them the dense, irresolute mass of humanity. Percival, in rounding the corner to go to the assistance of Captain Trigger, observed with dismay the exposed position in which the two women had placed themselves. He paused to cry out to them sharply:
"What are you doing here? Get back to the other side. Can't you see there is likely to be shooting? Don't stand there like a couple of idiots! You're right in line if that gang begins to fire."
"He is tearing off his bandages," cried Ruth, as Percival hurried on.
Madame Obosky was silent, her gaze fixed intently on the brisk, aggressive figure of the man who had called them idiots. She understood every word he uttered to the Portuguese. Her eyes glistened with pride when he stepped forward to tackle the mob single-handed, and as he went on with his astonishing speech she actually broke into a soft giggle. Her companion looked at her in amazement.
"Why do you laugh?" she demanded hotly. "Those dreadful creatures may tear him to pieces. He is unarmed and defenceless. They could sweep him—"
"You would laugh also if you understood," interrupted Olga, her eyes dancing. "Oh, what a grand—what do you call it?—bluff? What a magnificent bluff he is doing! It is beautiful. See,—they whisper among themselves,—they have back down completely. Wait! I will presently tell you what he have said to them."
"I never dreamed any man could be so fearless. Look at the odds against him. There are scores of them,—and they—"
"Pooh! Do you suppose he would stand up and fight them if they rushed at him? Not he! He would turn and run as fast as he could. He is no fool, my dear. He is a very intelligent man. So he would run if they make a single move toward him."
"I think this is rather a poor time to accuse him of cowardice, Madame Obosky, in view of what he—"
"Have I accused him of cowardice?"
"I'd like to know what you call it. You say he would run if they—"
"But that would not be cowardice. It would be the simplest kind of common sense. He is so very sure of himself. It is not courage. It is confidence. That is his strength. He would be a fool to stand in front of them empty-handed if they were to charge upon him. Maybe when you have known him as long as I have, you will realize he is not a fool,—about himself or any one else."
Ruth stared at her. "Unless I am greatly mistaken, Madame Obosky, I have known Mr. Percival as long if not longer than you have."
"You do not know him at all," rejoined the Russian brusquely. "Be still, please! I must hear what he is saying to them now." A little later she turned to the American girl and laid her hand on her arm. "For-give me, if I was rude to you. I am so very much older than you that I—how old are you, Miss Clinton?"
"I am twenty-five," replied the other, surprised into replying.
"And I am twenty-six," said Madame Obosky, as if she were at least twice the age of her companion. "See! They are dispersing. It's all over. Come! Let us go back to the other side."
"I am not ready to go back to the other side," protested the American girl, resisting the hand on her arm. "Why should we go back, now that the danger is over?"
"Because we must not let him catch us here," urged Olga in some agitation.
"And why not, pray?"
The Russian looked at her in astonishment. "But surely you heard him tell us to go back to the other side. You heard him call us idiots, Miss Clinton?"
And Ruth Clinton suffered herself to be hurried incontinently around the corner of the deck building.
"Once, in Moscow, I saw a Grand Duke confront a mob of students who had gathered in the street near his house. They were armed and they had come to destroy this man himself. There were hundreds of them. He walked straight toward them, his head erect, his shoulders squared, and when they stopped he spoke to them as if they were dogs. When he had finished, he turned his back upon them and walked away. They might have filled him with bullets,—but they did not fire a shot. At the corner he entered his carriage and disappeared. And then what did he do? He fainted, that Grand Duke, he did. Fainted like a stupid, silly young girl. But while he was standing before zat—-that mob of terrorists he was the strongest man in Russia. Nevertheless, he was afraid of them. You have therefore the curious spectacle to perceive, Miss Clinton, of one man being afraid of hundreds, and of hundreds of men at the same time being afraid of one. Man, he is a queer animal, eh?"
It was not long before the doubts and fears of all on board the Doraine gave way to a strange, unnatural state of exhilaration. It represented joy without happiness, relief without security, exultation without conviction,—for, after all, there still remained unanswered the question that robbed every sensation of its thrill. While they were singing the hymns of thanksgiving in the saloon that night, and listening to the fervent prayers; while they ate, drank and were merry, their thoughts were not of the day but of the morrow. What of the morrow? In the eyes of every one who laughed and sang dwelt the unchanging shadow of anxiety; on every face was stamped an expression that spoke more plainly than words the doubts and misgivings that constituted the background of their jubilation. They had escaped the sea, but would they ever escape the land? Had God, in answer to their complaints and prayers, directed them to a land from which the hand of man would never rescue them? Were they isolated here in the untraversed southern seas, cast upon an island unknown to the rest of the world? Or were they, on the other hand, within reach of human agencies by which the world might be made acquainted with their plight?
Uppermost in every mind was the sickening recollection, however, that for days they had ranged the sea without sighting a single craft. They were far from the travelled lanes, they were out of the worth-while world. Hope rested solely on the possibility that the hills and forests hid from view the houses and wharves of a desolate little sea-town set up by the far-reaching people of the British Isles.
The story of Percival's achievement was not long in going the rounds. It went through the customary process of elaboration. By the time it reached his ears,—through the instrumentality of Mr. Morris Shine, the motion picture magnate,—it had assumed sufficient magnitude to draw from that enterprising gentleman a bona fide offer of quite a large sum for the film rights in case Mr. Percival would agree to re-enact the thrilling scene later on. In fact, Mr. Shine, having recovered his astuteness and his courage simultaneously, was already working at the preliminary details of the most "stupendous" picture ever conceived by man. His deepest lament now was that he had neglected to bring a good camera man down from New York, so that on the day of the explosion he could have "got" the people actually jumping overboard, and drowning in plain sight—(although he did not see them because of the trouble he was having to get a seat in one of the life-boats),—and the wounded scattered over the decks, the fire, the devastation, the departure and return of the boats, the storm and all that followed, including himself in certain judiciously preserved scenes, and the whole production could have been made at practically no cost at all. There never had been such an opportunity, complained Mr. Shine the moment he felt absolutely certain that the opportunity was a thing of the past.
"No wonder he got away with it," said Mr. Landover to a group of rejuvenated satellites. "He is hand in glove with them, that fellow is. I wouldn't trust him around the corner. Why, it's perfectly plain to anybody with a grain of intelligence that he's the leader of that gang of anarchists. All he had to do was to speak to them,—in their own language, mind you,—and back they slunk to their quarters. They obeyed him because he is their chosen leader, and that's all there is to this—What say, Fitts?"
Mr. Fitts, who was not a satellite but a very irritating Christian gentleman, cleared his throat and said:
"I didn't speak, Mr. Landover. I always make a noise like that when I yawn. It's an awfully middle-class habit I've gotten into. Still, don't you think one obtains a little more—shall we say enjoyment?—a little more enjoyment out of a yawn if he lets go and puts his whole soul into it? Of course, it isn't really necessary to utter the 'hi-ho-hum!' quite so vociferously as I do,—in fact, it might even be better to omit it altogether,—if possible,—when some one else is speaking. There are, I grant you, other ways of expressing one's complete mastery of the art of yawning, such as a prolonged but audible sigh, or a sort of muffled howl, or even a series of blissful little shrieks peculiar to the feminine of the species,—any one of these, I admit, is a trifle more elegant and up-to-date, but they all lack the splendid resonance,—you might even say grandiloquence,—of the old-fashioned 'hi-ho-hum!' to which I am addicted. Now, if you will consider—"
"My God!" exclaimed the banker, with a positively venomous emphasis on the name of the Deity. "Who wants to know anything about yawns?"
Mr. Fitts looked hurt. "I am sorry. My mistake. I thought you were trying to change the subject when you interrupted my yawn."
"That fellow's a damn' fool," said the banker, as Fitts strolled off to join another group.
"Try one of these cigars, Mr. Landover," said Mr. Nicklestick persuasively. "Of course, they're nothing like the kind you smoke, but—"
"Is mine out? So it is. No, thank you. I'll take a match, however, if you have one about you."
Four boxes were hastily thrust upon the great financier.
"Haf you noticed how poor the matches are lately, Mr. Landover?" complained Mr. Block.
"As for this vagabond being superintendent of a mining concession up in Bolivia," continued Landover, absentmindedly sticking Mr. Nicklestick's precious, box of matches into his own pocket, "that's all poppycock. He's an out-and-out adventurer. You can't fool me. I've handled too many men in my time. I sized him up right from the start. But the devil of it is, he's got all the officers on this boat hypnotized. And most of the women too. I made it a point to speak to Mrs. Spofford and her niece about him this morning,—and the poor girl has been making quite a fool of herself over him, you may have observed. Mrs. Spofford owns quite a block of stock in our institution, so I considered it my duty to put a flea in her ear, if you see what I mean."
"Certainly, certainly," said Mr. Nicklestick.
"She should have been very grateful," said Mr. Block.
Mr. Landover frowned. "I'm going to speak to her again as soon as she has regained her strength and composure. Nerves all shot to pieces, you understand. Everything distorted,—er—shot to pieces, as I say. I dare say I should have had more sense than to—er—ahem!—two or three days' rest, that's what she needs, poor thing."
"Absolutely," said Mr. Nicklestick.
"You can't tell a woman anything when she's upset," said Mr. Block, feelingly.
"Miss Clinton is a very charming young lady," said Mr. Nicklestick, giving his moustache a slight twist. "I should hate to see her lose her head over a fellow like him."
"She is a splendid girl," said Landover warmly. "One of the oldest families in New York. She deserves nothing but the best."