The Captain’s Holiday
"I’M THROUGH, sir!”
“You’re through? . . . through with what?”
Gillespie, cagy old ship-owner, and President of the Blue Band Line surveyed the mahogany-tinted features of Captain William Stratton across his desk, with keen, twinkling eyes.
“I’m through with sail! Finished!
“But look here, Captain Bill! you told me tthat—”
“I know just what you’re going to say—that I’ve threatened to chuck it'before—but I’m in dead earnest this time! Why, sir—” and memory of the bitter passage, just completed, of the barque Doris from Melbourne for London with eucalyptus oil and hides, rose in his throat and he choked with rage,
“iMnfc of it! Twice the time of my average runs—and for why? Not a fine breeze that should be, but was foul; hardly a day that we needed a puff but was flat as that desk. Head winds and head seas for weeks on end, and then the doldrums where they’d no dum busi-. ness to be! Standing-rigging rotted, and running-gear parted almost as soon as it was rove, you might say, and two of my best men plucked off the foretops’l yard, off Cape o’ Good Hope, like ye’d pick berries off a bush. Short o’ grub, water gone rotten, and scurvy aboard; decks started and mainmast sprung, and I’m dummed if we weren’t up and bumped by a stinkpot of a trawler, when we did sight home! Thirty years I’ve heen in sail, sir, boy and man, and never had such a passage!” He dug in his pocket for his pipe.
“Well, it’s the last I make in a wind-ship. I’m going into steam for a holiday!”
“You’re talking through your hat, Captain Bill!” said Gillespie, concealing, by the crispness of his tone, his fear of losing from the company his old friend, and the best master of sail he ever had known. “Granted you had a hard-luck voyage, that’s no reason why you’ll not have better ones. You’ve had no experience in steam, but there’s no other master can get as much out of the Doris as you. She’s only one more passage to make before we cut her down for a barge, and we’re getting in her place a fine big fullrigged ship from Stockholm that maybe you’ve heard of —the Viking King. ■ She’s going into the South African trade; fast trips and a quick turn round, and she’s yours for the say-so.”
Would a mailman go mountain climbing for a rest? Perhaps not, but Captain Bill, who was a barnacled sea dog of the old school, left sail for steam, to get a holiday. No connection? Read this little story and see.
A year ago, Captain Bill would have jumped át it. Now, his firm lips closed.
“My mind is made up, sir. I’m fagged out and need a rest. If ye cannot let me have one of the company’s steamers I must look for one with another concern. I’m through with sail. In steam I can take things a bit easier,
Norman Reilly Raine
and give my nerves and temper a chance to simmer down.”
“Wait a minute, Captain. Don’t go— sit down again.”
Gillespie thought quickly. He needed the old man for the Viking King, for skippers who had served their time in the booming days of the old wind bags were all too rare in these decadent days of steam. Captain Bill was a wonderful sailing ship master, but his value as commander of a steamer was problematical—and his knowledge of sailing skill had been a factor in the purchase of the new vessel. Gillespie couldn’t afford to lose him out of sail, but Captain Bill was determined. Then the ship owner had an idea. The grim ghost of a smile wreathed about the corners of his canny lips and he looked up.
“All right then, dammit,” said he, “you can have your steamer!”
“Thank you, sir,” said Captain Bill. “That’s what I want.”
A month later, Captain William Stratton, pacing the bridge of the S.S. Baltic Belle, Newcastle for the River Plate with a cargo of machinery in crates, puffed at a long Rangoon cheroot and surveyed his little world with a deep content. To starboard rose the chalk daub of the Dover cliffs; to port, stretching from the light on Cape Griz Nez, the jade-streaked purple of the French coast; the sky was a deep and summer blue, and piping gulls wheeled over the creaming wake as the vessel pushed astern her forty knots a watch.
Captain Bill cocked an eye at the funnel crown, pouring its black plume to leeward; at the hands, busy with red-lead and chipping hammers about the for’ard well-deck; at the carpenter making his leisurely way, sounding rod in hand, about the bilge and ballast tanks. The cooks, peeling spuds outside the galley door, whistled a merry tune. Instinctively he stepped forward to rate them, then stopped. Things were done differently in steam. Turning, he noted with quiet satisfaction, that the breeze was dead ahead. “No more trying to cheat the eye of the wind,” he mused, comfortably. “Into the face of it, and push it out of the way. That’s the ticket!” “What’s that scrimshanker playin’ at up under the fo’castle head, Bosun?” he roared suddenly, just to assure himself he really was at sea, and had the pleasure of seeing the fellow dart out
with a startled glance at the bridge, and resume his
The crew left much to be desired, it is true. They were not seamen of the tarry-fingered tribe to which Captain Bill was accustomed. He thought, with faint regret, of an episode in the North Sea a few days back, when the Mate had sent O’Flaherty, one of the hands, up to the fo'castle-head on lookout, on a dark, thick night. It was O'Flaherty'a first trip to sea. The apprentice struck eight bells on the bridge, but there was no response from the fo’ceetle head, so the watch officer hailed.
“Lookout, there!” he cried. “Is all well!?”
“Yie, thank you,” returned O’Flaherty affably, “an’ how ia everything wid you. sorr?”
A half hour later a whacking big Danish mailboat had surged without warning across the bows of the Baltic Bellt, who cleared her stern by inches. The Mate went for’ard stamping with temper, and found O’Flaherty on the flat of his stomach on the deck, peering out the hawse pipe.
“What the blue blaies are you doing down there, you oxV‘ be shouted.
“I’m lookin’ out, sorr," said O’Flaherty.
‘Then why aren’t you standing up here, to do it?” demanded the Mate.
“That’s not lookin’ out, sorr,” said O’Flaherty, “that’s lookin’ over!”
No. they were not sailors, reflected Captain Bill, still, in steam what «ras there for them to do, but painting and chipping and dodging the bosun—and a man can’t have everything. After all. steam «ras the life, and he leaned his arms on the «reather-cloth and finished his smoke.
In the Bay of Biscay the glass fell. It continued to drop with startling celerity, which, to the initiated, was a sign that the coming disturbance, though it might be severe, would be of short duration. As it happened, this was the exception that leavens rules. By the morning of the second day the Baltic Belle was taking solid green seas over the bows, and making hard work of a bare three knots. The Bay of Biscay has a nasty reputation and knows it.
Below for a short nap after a sleepless "night on the bridge. Captain Bill, who had been comparing his present easy circumstances against what he and his old crew would have been enduring in such.a blow under sail, was aroused, first by that dim sixth sense which tells a sailor something is «rrong, second, by a hammering on his door.
"Come in!” he bawled. It was the Mate.
“I’m afraid, sir—” he began. The skipper held up his band for silence, listened intently for a moment, then nodded.
“I know!" he said, “I can hear ’em smashing about. Rouse all hands and get a comer off Number Three hatch.”
The crates of machinery were adrift in the lower hold.
There followed a six-hour battle with the deadly, smashing rushes of great crates of machinery on the loose, and given terrifying motive power from the heavy rolling of the ship. Although at first bidding fair to batter the plates out of the vessel’s side they finally were subdued, although it cost one man a finger, and the bosun a broken leg. Through it all, Captain Bill was below, and fighting the thing through with his men. Meanwhile, the gale continued.
When everything was made fast Captain Bill, after dressing the sailor’s finger and putting efficient splints about the bosun’s leg, suffered a few minutes of doubt. Then his face cleared, and he was cheerful once more.
"I suppose,” he reassured himself, “the same thing might have happened in sail, and as soon as this little kick-up flattens I’ll have my rest.”
The little kick-up grew into a hell-for-leather hurricane, vrith the wind Force Twelve, and the Baltic Belle shuddered and stopped dead at times under the impact of the seas. During the day a Swedish barkentine zoomed past, going like a vritch in the grey smother, with only a rag of stormsl showing, and the Old Man looked appraisingly after her, and then around, at his own storm-battered decks. “Hm-m-m!” he murmured.
Just after daybreak an ordinary seaman name of Barker was sent to the fo’castle to rouse the hands for relieving the watch. A few hours later the acting bosun spoke a few hurried words to the Mate who immediately ordered him to muster all hands. They staggered aft, keeping their feet with difficulty, and having one eye out for boarding 3eas. In the meantime, the Mate had reported to Captain Bill.
“I’m afraid poor Barker’s gone into the ditch, sir,” said he. “At six o’clock he called the watch and hasn’t been seen since. I’ve mustered the hands so we can check them over, but I’m afraid it’s little use.”
Search of the vessel was fruitless, and to about ship was dangerous in such a seaway; but about she came, notwithstanding, to satisfy the men, and steamed back on her wake until noon. It was clear, long before that, that there was no hope, so the Baltic Belle was brought back on her course.
Three days later the weather moderated a bit. The sea still was lumpy and inclined to climb aboard, but the sun
shone in dabs of brilliant green on the troubled waste, and Captain Bill’s spirits arose with the glass.
“Wait now,” said he to himself, hugging the bought, "and when it clears up I can take it a bit eas—”
He was interrupted by an ominous hiss, followed immediately by an exploding roar that shook the vessel fore and aft. A cloud of steam shot from the fidley and the after end of the engine house, shouting figures darted clear, and the engines stopped. Captain Bill’s stomach seemed to drop into his boots as he ran aft and collided into the Third Engineer who was running for the Chief. "What is it, man?” he demanded, and at the Third’s answer Captain Bill’s tongue performed marvels of repression. One of the cylinder tops had blown out.
Oblivious, now, of the fair weather that developed, was Captain Bill, as, temporary measures having been effected with a stoke-hold plate, the Baltic Belle crawled into Las Palmas for repairs. With one thing and another, she was delayed there a week, and in that time, the skipper’s natural good temper re-asserted itself. When sailing day came, one of those sparkling mornings when this planet seems the most desirable in all the universe, he was recovered so far as to resurrect his buried hope.
“Now it’s coming!” said he to himself on the bridge as the fair wind stirred his greying curls, “I can feel contentment in my bones. Mister—send a man to shut that steam off the windlass!”
The Mate called O’Flaherty, who was on “stand-by.”
"Shut the steam off the windlass,” said he.
"Yis, sorr!” said O’Flaherty, and the stupid man shut the steam off the steering gear instead.
The wheel was hard over at the time, and the wheelsman couldn’t get it back. The Baltic Belle gave a schooner’s crew the thrill of their lives as she shot past her counter, and missed cutting a liner in two by the span of a baby’s breath. Then she made for the beach. Forgetful of his blessings in steam, Captain Bill used language that would bring a blush to a Bluenose gurry-butt and jumped for the telegraph. He rang “full astern,” and brought his vessel up, just before she shoaled, then stamped the bridge, wiping the sweat out of his eyes and nearly crying with rage. But he wouldn’t give in—not he! After he’d cooled down a bit, and the Baltic Belle was plowing a calm blue sea—“ ’Twas not the steam that did it . . . ’twas that fool, O’Flaherty,” he assured himself, and felt better almost directly.
The weather was as only Western Ocean weather can be, when it sets out to be fine, and for several days after leaving Las Palmas the Baltic Belle pushed steadily through the long swells, with flying fish skittering like truant rainbows across the bows. Captain Bill, stretched in a long Hongkong chair under, the blue shadow of the lower-bridge awning, half dozed in a peace broken only by the musical chiming of the ship’s bell, and the interesting profanity of firemen at the ash-hoist. About to turn to a more comfortable position, Captain Bill involuntarily suspended animation for a moment and sniffed. He sniffed again.
“Hello! One of the stewards been pinching my private brand of tobacco?” he muttered, and sniffed once more. It was stronger.
He arose softly from his chair, and going to the head of the ladder looked about for the culprit. But what had disturbed him was from a different source, for he saw, wreathing from a corner of the starboard bunker pocket, a thread of thin, blue smoke, that was disturbed in its gentle unravelling by an occasional vicious puff. The starboard coal bunkers were on fire.
After four days of incessant and heart-breaking labor, when every man on the ship was a grime-strained nervous wreck, and several hundred tons of coal had been retrimmed in the smoke and heat and gases of the burning bunker, the fire was brought under control. The Chief so reported to the Old Man—“and then, thank heaven, sir, as soon as we’ve found O’Flaherty, we’ll be done.!”
“ O' Flaherty! What the devil—?” roared Captain Bill.
“Oh, aye—” said the Chief, “it’s a little detail I forgot to mention. O’Flaherty got himself buried in the bunker, and it’ll take us three or four hours to dig him out.”
Barring an unprecedented amount of engine slip which considerably reduced her speed, found later to be due to a propeller blade twisted out of pitch, nothing further occurred to disturb the holiday of Captain Bill, and thirty-five days later she was alongside, in Buenos Aires, discharging cargo. When she was light, the propellor was adjusted and a new bosun signed on, and Captain Bill was in great fettle.
“It’s a quick discharge and a smart turn round, Mister,” he told the Mate, “and then off for home we go, after a little trip up the Plate.”
“What are we taking, sir?” asked the Mate, a little red-headed man from Kerry.
“We’re proceeding to Rosaria and by-ports up the river, to load maize in bags, and then to Fray Bentos for a deck load of horses. Back to B.A., to complete loading, discharge at Liverpool and proceed to Antwerp in ballast. That’s owners’ orders up to the present,” elucidated the Old Man.
Leaving Buenos Aires, the Baltic Belle surged up the wide, muddy flood of the River Plate. Captain Bill, on
the navigating bridge with the pilot, watched closely the swirling eddies, that were too murky to reflect the wet shining and banks. The water was low in the stream, and great care was necessary in working the vessel through the winding channel that twisted back upon itself in a series of interminable, sharp curves.
“Once clear of the estuary,” said the pilot, optimistically, “and we’ve fair going for Rosario—provided we don’t get held up on Martin Caziere Bar.”
There is a perversity, common to most women and some ships. At eight bells that afternoon, the Baltic Belle, while steaming half-speed, struck, hard and fast, upon Martin Caziere Bar. Then it was, that Captain Bill, his new-found complacency utterly deserting him, committed a regrettable lapse.
“I’d rather—” gritted he, apostrophising with proper orchestral accompaniment the bland, blue tropic sky, “I’d a dum sight rather, be out on a main uppér-tops’l yard, reefing in a winter gale off the Horn, than aboard this damn coffee-pot in a millpond!”
By morning, though, when, by pumping out her tanks, and with the help of tugs, the Baltic Belle was dragged off the Bar and again proceeded upstream, his temper was so far recovered as to allow him to reflect that once, many years ago, when he was second mate of the full-rigged ship Firth of Clyde, she, too, had gone ashore, on that very bar, and was over two weeks snaking off. “So that, too,” he ruminated, “was nothing that could not 'happen in sail.”
At Rosario, where the Baltic Belle loaded her cargo of maize in bags, Captain Bill took up his abode in a hotel ashore. Not that his quarters on the ship were not comfortable, but, he reluctantly admitted to himself, it would be a relief to be clear of the vessel for a few days.
On the fourth morning as he stepped aboard to see how the work was getting on, the second mate met him at the head of the gangway.
“Well, Mister,” greeted Captain Bill, genially, “how are things going?”
The second mate was troubled with a sudden cough. When he had recovered, though still a bit red in the face, he replied:
“Why—er—fairly well, sir, except that—I suppose you haven’t run across the chief steward ashore, sir?”
“The steward? No—why—isn’t he aboard?”
“No, sir! He’s not been seen since day before yesterday, when he gave me the keys of the saloon and your cabin, and asked me to keep them until he came back, as he feared he might lose ’em while drunk.”
“Oh, he’ll show up, I expect,” said Captain Bill, confidently, “we’ll have a scunner about for him, by-and-bye,” and the second mate, glad to escape the blowing up he expected, quickly effaced himself. But the steward had gone for good, and so had £100 of Captain Bill’s.
With her cargo of maize stowed safe below hatches, the Baltic Belle steamed blithely up to Fray Bentos for her deckload of horses moored in the stream, fairly close to the bank. An aerial was rigged from the shore to the masthead, with leads to the deck winches, and the animals were swung aboard in slings. Then it was that Mr. 0’0’Flaherty again distinguished himself.
While carrying a big black stallion aboard, the sling broke in midair and the beast fell into the river. O’Flaherty, who had been dozing on the bunker watch, was awakened by the splash. “Murther! murther! man overboard!” roared O’Flaherty, who couldn’t swim a stroke, and plunged in after the horse. By the grace of heaven and the luck of the Irish he managed to make fast to the animal’s tail, and the delighted crew were entertained to the spectacle of horse and man, assisted by the current, making for the Atlantic Ocean at a good three knots an hour. They grounded in safety a mile or so down, however, and Captain Bill relieved his feelings by logging O’ Flaherty two days’ pay for going ashore without leave.
The following day it was discovered that, due to the current, and the shifting river bed, the Baltic Belle had worked closer inshore than was thought safe, so the Mate was detailed to lay out a kedge anchor, to keep her off. Captain Bill, whose confidence in the ship’s company was none of the best, summoned the Mate before he started.
“Think you can do it without making a hash of it, Mister?” he asked.
The Mate drew up his sixty four inches.
“I’ll have ye know, sir,” said he, “that I’ve been sailing—”
“Steamboating—” corrected Captain Bill.
“At sea—” amended the Mate, “for a matter o’ fifteen years or more, and—”
“All right, Mister,” said Captain Bill with a wave of his hand, “go and do it, and don’t stand gassin’ about it!” And he went to his cabin to get his head down for an hour or two.
It was while thus congenially occupied, that the skipper dreamed a dream, and in this dream he saw himself standing on a desolate, rock-ribbed and weatherbeaten plateau. A few yards off, separated from him by a frightful although narrow abyss, was another plateau—a land of sunshine, and flowers, and fragrant meadows, and the name of this pleasant land was the Garden of Ease. As Continued on page 43
The Captain’s Holiday
Continued from vage 10
Captain Bill stood, pondering on how he was to cross, a bridge appeared—a solid, substantial appearing bridge. Boldly the skipper strode forth to reach that happy land, but midway his step faltered, for the bridge was slowly changing, and, looking at his rapidly sinking feet he saw that it was but made of steam. Then, just as he dropped into the abyss—
“Captain'. . . . Captain'. . . . the Mate’s in the river!” the mighty voice of the new bosun bellowed into his ear.
“I might have known it was only a dream,” Captain Bill snapped, as he tumbled out on deck.
When the Mate and his dripping boatsscrew climbed aboard, and he sheepishly explained how the chain of the kedge anchor had fouled his boat and pulled them under, Captain Bill sighed.
“Mister,” said he, sadly. “You’re
worse than Barney’s bull”—the delicate indelicacy of which will be appreciated by all true seafaring men.
With the fifty-two horses stowed on the after well-deck in boxes, and the Blue flying from the signal halliard, Captain Bill felt better, Steam was up, and the pilot aboard, and the Baltic Belle nosed downstream, on her way to Buenos Aires to complete loading for home. Watching the mud flats reel swiftly astern, the heart of Captain Bill recovered its cheer.
“Now we’ll show ’em!” he said to the wondering Mate, who didn’t know what he was driving at. “Down we go, like a dose of oil. No jiggling and jockeying about, with the crew half mad, what with manning braces to catch the wind at every twist of the stream! In steam, now, you just can lie back and let the engines do it all. Steward—bring me a bottle of Bass!”
While enjoying his breakfast in the saloon the following morning the sudden jangle of the engineroom telegraph, ringing “Stop! . . . Full astern!” brought him to his feet with a jump. “By the two-toed sailor, what now!” he muttered, and raced up the saloon ladder as the vessel quivered with the sudden reversal of the screw. “What is it? What’s the matter?” he rapped, as he reached the bridge, and the little Portugese pilot dashed past him, yelling for his boat boy.
“Let him go, sir!” growled the Mate in disgust. “The little swine has put us ashore!”
It was true. The Baltic Belle lay with her nose in the soft mud and her stern swung round with the current, so that she lay athwart the stream. After Captain Bill had refreshed himself with an interval of bad language addressed to the grinning navigating officer of a steamer passing up, all hands were called, and the bower anchors put out to lighten ship. Two days of kedging followed, and the Baltic Belle floated free again. Captain Bill walked to the engineroom speaking tube.
“All ready, Mr. Dunphy?” he asked the Chief.
“All ready, sir!”
The Old Man nodded to the third mate who rang the telegraph, and the propeller began slowly to revolve. Suddenly there came a horrible grinding from astern, followed by several frantic whistles from the poop, and the voice of the second mate shouting “Stop her! Stop her!”
“What the hell’s the matter now?” Captain Bill roared back, mentally cursing him into the overcrowded limbo of second mates.
“O’Flaherty’s been paying out the
stern line instead of haulin’ it in, sir, and it’s fouled the propeller!” was the reply.
Twenty-four hours later, the Baltic Belle again was [ready to proceed, and Captain Bill was on the bridge, his nerves jumping like a broken tooth. “All ready!” he told the Mate. “Where the devil’s the pilot?”—but the pilot had deserted.
At Buenos Aires, reached without mishap after taking a fresh pilot aboard, the vessel was loaded to her marks, and, with three farewell blasts of her whistle proceeded down the river toward the open sea. Beyond dragging the bottom from Buenos Aires to Montevideo, the result of deep draught and low water, she got out into the Atlantic undisturbed and turned her nose for home.
Days ran into weeks, and the dawns and sunsets unerringly bracketed beautiful hours of calm sea, sunshine and peace. The Baltic Belle did a fair rate of speed, considering the water she was drawing, and, under the spell of the tropic seas, the drooping spirits óf Captain Bill recovered. They were helped, perhaps, by the recollection of long periods of inertness which he had spent aboard the Doris in these waters, when, in flat calms, for weeks on end, there was no movement save for idle sails slatting against the blistering masts.
“Surely,” thought he, as the shadow of his misfortunes grew smaller and finally was lost in distance astern, “every steamer that goes up the Plate doesn’t meet with what we had. It must just have been coincidence, and perhaps I’ll completely rest after all.”
_ If there was a fly in the ointment of his new content it was, perhaps, a certain small hostility in the attitude of the Chief Engineer, who felt some resentment at taking orders from a man who had spent all his life in sail. His engines were his fetish—as they are of all engineers worth a curse, and some who aren’t—in which latter class, without doing him injustice, you could include Mr. Dunphy. But he gave no tangible sign, nor any direct cause for offense. As to the Mate, however, Captain Bill, finding his previous estimate of the man wrong, for, in spite of his debacle with the kedge he was a thorough seaman, did not hesitate to make amends. By and large, the afterguard of the Baltic Belle at this period was fairly happy.
•The Bay of Biscay lay, motionless as a • watchful cat, while the Baltic Belle : steamed across the floor, then, like a cat she came to life, and the mouse was in hér grasp. Captain Bill awoke one morning to the slap of flying spray against his port,' and à long, uneasy roll of the ship, and she stagge. ad for a fraction as a solid comber smote her on the bows. Captain Bill dressed, and went top-side. The Mate, bundled in oilskins, stood in the lee of the wheelhouse, with a mug of coffee and a slice of toast.
“The weather was makin’ when I camé • on the bridge at four o’clock to relieve the second mate, sir, and it’s been climbing ever since. The glass isn’t doing much one way or the other, but it feels like a buster to me.”
It was. They ducked as a shower of hail and spray rattled across the top of the wheelhouse and cascaded down their backs. The cook in his galley rattled his pans and sang:
“Oh, Bosun Smith, make haste forthwith,
And hemstitch the for’ard sail,
And accordion pleat the dory sheet, For we’re going to have a gale!”
And the cook’s boy earned himself a smack on the skull by adding:
“Oh, the galley shook, as it blew our cook
Right out o’ the port-hole dim,
And pots and pans, and kettles and ' cans
Went clatterin’ after him—”
For a day and a night and a day the Baltic Belle fought the surging greybeards, making scarcely steerage way. Then the wind shifted suddenly, and blew with increased violence from the port quarter, piling up a tremendous and confused beam sea. The vessel, low in the water, and with a heavy cargo, was slow to rise, so that the whole for’ard length of her was washed constantly by the green seas. The horses, boxed on the after well-deck, were half mad with fright, and fought to get loose, so that it was necessary to secure them with extra lashings.
Captain Bill, coming on the bridge, found the Mate pacing up and down, and
pausing for his footing now and then, as, a particularly heavy roll put the vessel almost on her beam ends. He was worried and the Old Man saw it.
“What’s bothering you, Mr. Taylor?” he asked.
I don’t like the way she’s actin’, sir,” the Mate responded. “She’s too sluggish, and she doesn’t recover as quick as she c°uld. We’re shippin’ too many seas!”
Hmm-m!” said Captain Bill. “I thought that same, myself. Tell the carpenter to sound the tanks.”
Ten minutes later the carpenter, whitelipped, clambered up the bridge ladder.
Number Three ballast tank is full of water, sir!” he reported.
Captain Bill and the Mate exchanged quick glances.
All right, Chips. Go below—and keep your mouth shut!” Captain Bill ordered quietly, then—“Send word to the Chief that I want him in my cabin, Mr. Taylor.”
When the Chief appeared the Old Man came straight to the mark.
“Number Three ballast tank is full o’ water, Mr. Dunphy. How’d it happen?” Mr. Dunphy flushed.
I ordered it filled. The engines were racin so I was afraid something would come adrift, or the propeller carry away.” “Without going into the obvious fact that a vessel down to her marks should keep the propeller sufficiently submerged, Mister, I’ll ask you—is it not the rule to consult the Master, before monkeying with ballast tanks—eh?”
“Depends? ... on what? Why didn’t you come to me, first?”
“Well, sir, I thought, you bein’ a sailin -ship man, would hardly know much about—”
Captain Bill’s reply was pure brimstone and sulphur, and the frightened Chief left his room in a hurry to see what could be done.
Two hours later, water was reported m the engine-room, and the Baltic Belle took a sudden heavy list to starboard, which by noon was dangerous. At six o’clock, p.m., under the impetus of a colossal sea the vessel rolled nearly on her beam ends, and when at length, dripping brine from the freeing ports, she recovered, it was with a list of thirtyfive degrees. The lashings about the horse boxes on the after well-deck parted, and the maddened beasts on the weather side rushed in an avalanche to leeward among their hapless fellows. Many of the boxes were smashed to kindling, and the released animals, unable to keep their footing on the slippery reeling deck, shot over the gunwale into the sea, or under the hoof of the others where they speedily were kicked to death.
Captain Bill, grasping the rail at the after break of the boat-deck, was unable to stand idle witness of the brutes’ misery. Armed with a pistol, and reckless of risk to himself, he descended to the well-deck, and, followed by the little Mate and three or four volunteers from the fo’castle, among whom was the redoubtable O’Flaherty, shot those horses which were too badly injured for salvage, and hove their bodies over the side, and then succeeded in passing wire cables about the boxes which still were intact, and made them again secure.
By the time this job was done the hurricane showed its first sign of abatement, but it was too late to help matters aboard the Baltic Belle. At midnight the
Chief staggered up onto the bridge and addressed the skipper.
“The water is gaining in the engineroom, sir,” said he, “and the firemen have deserted the fire hole.”
“Where’d they go?” roared Captain Bill.
“They’ve gone, sir,” confided the Chief, “into the fo’castle to pray.”
Into the fo’castle like a towering devil boomed Captain Bill, and the deserters flew out like chaff before a gale. Down below he drove them, with fist and boot, and there, joined by a number of the deck force, a platform was rigged in the fire hole, onto which coal was shovelled, and from there to the fires. But the fight was too unequal. Before dawn the water rose and put the fires out, and the straining men, scalded and dead beat, escaped to the gale-swept deck.
With fourteen feet of water in the engine-room, waterlogged and helpless in the grip of the giant combers, daylight found the Baltic Belle rolling, gunwales under, the plaything of the Atlantic. As the day broadened a streamer of smoke showed on the horizon, and Captain Bill hoisted a distress signal, but without result. Twice during the morning vessels passed which must have seen the mute appeal for aid, but there was no response. With the stopping of the dynamo, the wireless set was out of commission, and there was no emergency set.
“Looks rather as if the old girl’s up against it,” muttered the Mate gloomily, at which Captain Bill took fresh hold with his teeth on the ragged stump of his cold cigar.
“Up against it, Mister? Not by a dum sight!” he snorted. “Get the hands to work with buckets and commence bailing out the engine room. She’s shipping no more water, and it’ll give ’em something to think about. Set others to jettison some of that maize; it’s safe to open the hatches, now, and it’ll help lighten her.” He’d show this two-by-four steamboat man that “up against it” had no place in the lexicon of the wind-ship sailor.
By infinitesimal degrees the water in the engineroom was fought down. Then the donkey engine on the main deck was started and connected with a pump, and soon a steady stream of salt water poured from the scuppèrs into the seá. Ten days later, battered and decrepit, but still on top, the Baltic Belle limped into Queenstown harbor. On the poop stood O’Flaherty, madly waving a red flannel undershirt until someone pointed out his error.
“What kin I wave, then?” asked he. “’Tis all I’ve got.”
“Just stand there,” said the second Mate, who overheard. “You’re green enough!”
The door of Gillespie’s private office opened, and there entered Captain Bill, red of face, wild of eye; and Gillespie’s greeting died on his lips. Without a word the Captain took his seat and glared at the boss.
“I want a ship—a wind ship!” said Captain Bill.
Gillespie, discreetly concealing a smile, simulated astonishment.
“A wind ship, Captain? Why, what’s the matter? I thought you were going to stay in steam—for a holiday?”
Captain Bill displayed reprehensible loss of temper.
“Holiday be damned and steam be damned!” he roared. “I’m going back into sail where it’s safe!”