FICTION

HARD CASE

R. V. GERY November 15 1931
FICTION

HARD CASE

R. V. GERY November 15 1931

HARD CASE

R. V. GERY

The story of a sea-going slavedriver who met his Waterloo and conquered

MR. GENTRY came briskly through the dock gates, suitcase in

An ancient mariner, apparently the watchman, sat on an upturned barrel just inside, regarding the bustle about him with rheumy and misanthropic eyes. Mr. Gentry looked round for a second and then addressed

“Where’s the Barracuda lying, dad?”

The old man took his pipe out of his mouth, spat, and inspected his interlocutor with great dis-

"You 'er new second?” he demanded.

Mr. Gentry nodded his red head cheerfully. “That’s atout the ticket, dad,” he said.

"Where’ve they got her?”

“There she is.” The custodian jerked the stem of his pipe toward a squat, flare-bowed, turtlebacked freighter of 4,000 tons or so with a long funnel and a general air of rust and sea weariness. “And you better hump yourself and get aboard, mister. 'E was through ’ere not five minutes back, carryin' on somethin' wicked. Got one of ’is tantrums on, 'e ’as.”

Gentry looked surprised. “Who d’ye mean?” he enquired. "Mean?” The ancient blinked little pig’s eyes. “Mean? You tryin’ to tell me they didn't tip you off about ’im?” "Who? 1 don't know what you're talking about.”

The other chuckled. “You will,” he said comfortingly. “You will. You go down an’ report, mister, and you will."

He lapsed once more into malign meditation, and Gentry failed to stir him further. After a few minutes earnest effort in that direction, he went down to the Barracuda.

He had not set foot on the gangplank when he was made aware that all was not entirely well on that vessel. A monotonous and chesty bellowing came from the bridge, where a lean, angular man with a truculent goatee stood at the rail, looking down into the forward well-deck at a group of the crew engaged with the first mate in stowing cargo. The master for such w’as obviously the lean man’s rank - was enthusiastically condemning the cargo party to the nethermost pit, and doing it with a fervor and fluency that made Mr. Gentry pause for a moment and oper. his eyes.

"Mister Siddons I” came from the bridge “Mister Siddons! Yes, you, Mister Siddons I'm talking to you, mister! What kind of humpbacked, slob-si fled, lily-handed

sons of Jezebel have you got down there? Call that work? I’d get more work in ten minutes out of a girl’s school. Make 'em jump, Mister Siddons, or I'll come down to you myself, and if I do—" He stopped suddenly and gulped with pure fury. "That man there! Him with the case, Mister Siddons — He looked at me. Looked at me oldfashioned. What’s his ugly name? Jenks, isn’t it? All right for you, Jenks. You give me another look like that, my man. and I’ll turn you over to the dock police. You hear me?”

It flowed out of him, an equable, smooth-running stream of contumely, and Mr. Gentry grinned ruefully. He had heard this kind of thing before and it did not presage a very comfortable voyage.

The hand addressed as Jenks, a long, ineffective looking fellow, tripped at this moment, dropping the case he carried on the iron deck. The first mate swore mildly at him for a clumsy ape; but the master whose name Gentry understood to be Pollard suddenly raised his voice to a shriek of rage and danced on the planking. Then he whipped off his coat, rolled up his sleeves over bony wrists, and cascaded down the ladder.

At the foot of it he saw Gentry standing on the gangway and stopped.

“What's this?” he snarled. "Who're you, cornin’ aboard my ship? Eh?"

ENTRY told him with respect.

Pollard snorted. "Oh." he said venomously, “that’s who you are, is it? Well, get below, Mr. Gentry, and then come up and take hold here. I don’t supjjose you’re any good, but you'll be better than the weak-hammed Sister Mary I've got forward this minute. Mister Siddons!” he yelled. “Send that man to me; then you’d better tell the rest of em to take a spell, and go and lie down yourself. You ain’t well, Mister Siddons. That’s what’s the matter with you.”

Siddons, a stocky, red-faced man, turned away from the savage sarcasm, and Pollard whirled on the deck hand. For five minutes he loosed a flood of insult upon him, hands on hips and his little chin beard wagging ferociously. Then he looked round, to find Gentry still watching him.

"Didn’t I tell you to get below, mister?” he demanded. “You’ve one or two things to learn yet, I see. Fjrst is, that when I say a thing on board here, it goes, mister - it goes, and that’s flat. You’ll jump when I speak, see? Jump, mister. Now get below to your quarters, and I’ll see you in the cHrtroom in ten minutes.”

He ran actively up the ladder again, and Gentry took his traps below. In the alleyway he met Siddons. The man’s normally sanguine cheeks were crimson and congested, and he was almost foaming at the mouth.

“You hear that?” he choked. “Nice way for a master to talk to his first officer, ain’t it? Damme, one o’ these days he’ll go a bit too far and I’ll stoush him! Silly, shoutin’ old geezer—”

“Is he always that way?” Gentry put his bag down.

Siddons swore comprehensively. “Nine days out of ten."

he said. “And the tenth he’s wors Of all the—” He spluttered with helpless wrath.

“Why d’you stand it?” asked Gentry.

“What else is there?” Siddons complained. “He’d log you for insolence as soon as look at you. and you know what boards are these days. But you mark me—there’ll be mutiny aboard this hooker yet.”

“Well, he’d better keep his tongue off me,” said Gentry shortly. “I’m not one of that kind, Mr. Siddons.”

The first officer shrugged. "Fve heard all that before,” he said gloomily. “Burt, the man you’re replacing, said that, and tried to act up to it coming home last trip. Pollard had him in irons in a jiffy and kept him there till we docked: and he went up town today to give evidence against him. Burt got a month and lost his ticket as well.”

"Phew!” Gentry’s red hair bristled. “What kind of a menagerie is this anyhow?”

“What’s that?” Pollard’s icy face and grey eye appeared suddenly at the alleyway door. “Did I hear you call my ship a menagerie, Mister Whippersnapper?”

He advanced velvet-footed in rubber shoes, hands in his side pockets, chin jutting.

Gentry' stood up to him.

"I was remarking to Mr. Siddons, sir,” he explained, “that I’m not the kind of officer to stand bulldozing. That's all, Captain Pollard, sir.”

Pollard’s eye glowed suddenly. “So?” he enquired. “Like that, is it, mister? Well, we’ll see. I’ve had to deal with quite a few cocksparrows before, you might remember, and one more or less won’t make much odds to me. However, we’ll talk about that when we get outside. Mr. Siddons”— he turned to the first officer—“we sail at six. Not six-five, mind you, but six.”

He went into his cabin, shutting the door after him with a slam. Gentry looked at Siddons, rubbing his chin.

“H’m!” he said. “I see.”

'T'HE Barracuda was at sea in dirty weather. Her engines groaning and wheezing but continuing to drive her ahead under the expert cockering of Mr. Lochie, the sour Greenock genius to whom they were a daily crucifixion, she ploughed and wallowed through the Atlantic rollers. For three days now the glass had dropped—a steady, determined slide downward that boded no good for the next twenty-four hours. The wind, which had been shifting all day, had now swung finally into the southwest as if prepared to blow in real earnest at last.

Gentry and Siddons stood on the bridge behind the dodger, peering dubiously ahead into the falling light. Visibility was low— not more than a mile at the most—and the curtains of grey flume seemed to be hourly closing in on the ship. Every now and then the Barracuda would fail to lift to a wave, and tons of green water would roar over her disreputable bows and away into the churned foam of her wake.

“Rotten old tub,” Siddons growled, with a glance over his shoulder at the chartroom door. "Oughtn’t to be at sea at all.”

Gentry nodded grimly. The last few days had brought home to him very forcibly that the Barracuda was one of those perils of the waterways—a badly found ship commanded by a fanatic. Bare Board of Trade scale was all that Captain Pollard and his owners budgeted for; mere precautions to keep on the windward side of the law, w hether it was a matter of food or stores.

Already, six days out from the Mersey, there had been trouble in the fo’c’sle over rations. A deputation, self-styled, had come to Siddons; and he, sensing the opportunity of getting a little of his own back, had peered them on to the master. From Pollard they had got short shrift.

"Get for’ard out o’ my sight, ye scum!” he had bellowed. “Think I’ve time to listen to a lot of complaining old women? For’ard now, or I'll log the lot of ye!"

They had stayed, facing him and reiterating their grievances, until Pollard had flown into a frenzy and carried out his threat of irons. The two leaders of the deputation were at that moment locked in the forepeak.

• “There’ll be a fuss if he holds her into this,” Gentry said. “Her engines weren’t meant for this sort of thing.”

A husky whisper came from the voice-pipe as if in confirmation. Mr. Lochie enquired if the master was available.

“He’s sleeping, Mr. Lochie." said Gentry.

“Eh, he is, is he?” came the voice up the pipe. “Then he’ll have to waken, for I've a wee worrd or twa with him. I'll come up.”

Lochie mounted to the bridge, a stringy personage in oil-soaked carpet slippers and with the aspect of an embittered Aberdeen terrier.

Since that evil day when he had taken over the Barracuda’s engine room he had not been known to smile, and there was little wonder. The aortic mumble underfoot might have told even an unmechanical mind the reasons for his moroseness.

“Whaur’s Pollard?” he enquired acidly.

"Sleepin’, ye say? In the chartroom? Weel, let’s have him not !”

With complete irreverence he began to thunder at the panels of the door. It slid open a foot, and Pollard’s face, furious and touslebearded. thrust itself out.

"Who the devil’s that?” he demanded.

"Didn’t I leave word—”

IOCHIE cut him short. “See here, sirr !” he exploded.

J “I’m just servin’ ye due notice that there’s to be a cutdown in speed. Ma engines—if ye like to call them so—are fair ditherin’ on their bedplates this minute, and I’ll no answer for consequences in anither hour.”

The master glared at him. “You have my orders,” he said shortly. “Carry them out, Mr. Lochie—or you know the consequences.”

“Man, ye’re crazy!” retorted Lochie. “Ye’ll carry somethin’ away and she’ll broach. Fair warnin’ now!”

Pollard had come out on the bridge by this time and was looking about him at the threatening sky.

“Capful o’ wind,” he said contemptuously. “Call this a blow, Mr. Lochie? You’d better get a job on a Clyde penny steamer next time you’re home. You’re not fit for much else. You keep her as she goes, Mr. Lochie. And that’s fair warning, too.”

“Why, ye auld caterpillar—” Lochie began, but the skipper had turned on his heel and gone back into the chartroom, taking no notice of his furious underlings. The engineer gazed bitterly after him for a long minute, then he snorted and went rapidly down the ladder. In a moment or two the mates heard the driven engines slacken their speed; the Barracuda commenced to rise to the seas instead of thrusting her nose through them.

Immediately the chartroom door flew open again and Pollard rushed out.

“Has that Scotch animal reduced?” he volleyed. “Come you here, Mr. Gentry, with me—Mr. Siddons, remain in charge up here—and I’ll show him who he is!”

He went below like a thunderstorm and faced the engineer on his own platform.

“Did you slacken speed without orders?” he asked dangerously.

“Ay,” said the Scot coolly. “I’m no bein’ a party to yer fulishness longer, ma mannie. I’m no so anxious to be in swummin’ in what’s out yonder; and that’s where ye’ll be in two twos.”

“Stand aside!” Pollard’s lean arm sent Lochie spinning against the bulkhead, and he set a gnarled hand on the throttle. “Now,” he said, jamming it wide open, “let me see any man touch that again. Mr. Lochie, go to your cabin. I’m master here.”

“111 no dae onything o’ the sort!” Lochie’s jaw began to protrude ominously. “Keep yer dirty hands aff my engines—”

Pollard suddenly lashed out with a fist like a rock and caught the Scot unawares under the ear. He dropped as if poleaxed on the gratings, and the skipper turned to the second engineer, a meek-faced little man.

“Keep her so !” he said. “And don’t let me hear her drop a revolution. Give us a hand here, Mr. Gentry.”

He stooped and took Lochie’s limp shoulders. Together they carried him up the ladder and to his cabin, where

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Continued from page 17

Pollard unceremoniously dumped him on his bed and threw a jugful of water over him. The Scot sat up, gasping and dripping.

"What was it hit me?” he demanded, struggling to his feet; then, as his dazed eye fell on Pollard: “Was it you, ye crawlin’

The master of the Barracuda stepped up close to him, so close that his wagging goatee almost brushed the engineer’s face.

“Yes, it was me!” he said. “And if you want any more, Mr. Lochie, you know where to come for it. For two pins I’d put you in irons with the others the same as I did Burt. Mutinous dog !”

Lochie swallowed convulsively and his face turned livid.

“Ye dom southron baboon—” he was beginning, when he stopped short and a startled look slid over his face. From below there came a thunderous flutter and a roar, and the pitching Barracuda quivered from stem to stem as if palsied.

Lochie thrust Pollard aside unceremoniously and darted to the door. “Propeller!” he jerked over his shoulder as he vanished.

For an instant Pollard and Gentry gazed at one another dumbfounded. Then the skipper was out of the cabin and up on to the bridge once more in half a dozen strides. Gentry ran at his heels; and as he ran he heard the Barracuda’s racing engines slow and stop, and felt her head begin to pay off to the pounding seas.

AN HOUR later, soaked, bruised and 4Y half-drowned. Gentry clung to the bridge rail, wiping the water out of his eyes and looking anxiously at the endless waves making a half-tide rock of the Barracuda.

She was broached to, rolling almost gunwales under before the seas, swept and battered momentarily by relentless mountains of solid water. Her decks were untenanted, because foothold there was a precarious matter, and until the steamer’s head could be brought to the sea there was nothing to be done on them. The crew were in the fo’c’sle, behind closed doors, awaiting any orders that might come to them—-

wretched, sulky, and more than half insubordinate.

Of Pollard and the first officer there was no sign. They were below somewhere, wrestling with the problem of the lost propeller. The skipper had ordered Gentry to the bridge as lookout, and, with Siddons behind him, had descended to the engine room to confer with Mr. Lochie. Gentry grinned in spite of himself as he imagined the scene. The waspish Scot would lose none of his opportunity of allocating the blame for the disaster.

Siddons clawed his way up the ladder and round the rail to him.

"He wants you down there,” he said. “I’ll relieve you here. What’s it looking like? Any sign of a lull?”

Gentry shook his head. “There’s more behind this,” he said. “Glass is still dropping.”

The red-faced Siddons made a grimace. “Looks bad,” he said laconically. Then he hooked his arm round a stay and stood impassively, giving to the Barracuda’s triangular roll. Gentry left him there and staggered below.

He found Pollard and Lochie braced against the guards on the upper platform, in an atmosphere that appeared to be three parts escaping steam and the remainder oil. The skipper had a long cut under one eye, and Lochie was mechanically strapping up a set of smashed fingers. Both of the men were plastered with grease and filth, and both flew the signals of a towering rage. Lochie was speaking, or rather shouting.

‘‘No, ye donnert auld fule, there's naething to be done. What’s in that thing ye call yer mind—me to cut ye a propeller from baccy tins, eh, and swum round to stick it on vá’ fish glue? Is thot it? Weel. it’s no possible, Captain Pollard, odd as it may seem. She’s done.”

“Done my eye!” Pollard’s grimy face was even blacker with fury. “Don’t let me have any of that talk. You say you can do nothing with this business?”

“Naethin’ ava, laddie; naethin’ ava.” If ye’d been anything but a skinflint we’d

have had a spare propeller aboard, and we might—I’m no sayin’ it’s possible, but we might—have replaced it. But we’ve no spare, Captain Pollard, an’ that’s that. So ye micht just as well stand by to abandon ship, if it’s my advice ye’re after.”

“When I want your advice I’ll ask for it,” Pollard snapped. “You’re engineer here, Mr. Lochie, not master yet awhile. You’d better draw fires and send the stokehold gang up to me. I may want ’em. ’

“They’ll not obey ye.” Lochie spoke with obstinate certainty.

“They will, Mr. Lochie. I’ve never been worsted yet by any pack of hairy ashheavers, and I’m not starting now. Mr. Gentry”—he swung round on the second— “get forward and dig me out both watches at once. Bring ’em aft to me.”

JOCHIE sneered. “An’ whit may ye be goin’ to do now?” he asked.

“Do? Do?” Pollard roared his contempt. “I’ll do two things, Mr. Lochie. I’ll get sail on her. If she won’t steam, she’ll sail. And when I’ve got sail on her, Mr. Lochie, I’ll log you for incompetence, and you can be mighty relieved I don’t disrate you. That’s what I’m going to do, Mr. Lochie, and you can chew on that. Now, Mr. Gentry, I told you to get those watches out for me. What are you hanging about for?”

The second mate fought his way forward through the swirl and turmoil of the welldeck, and hammered furiously on the fo’c’sle door. It took him some minutes to make himself heard above the roar of the wind and the creaking of the Barracuda; but finally a crack was opened, and a white face—that of the man Jenks—was thrust out.

“Tumble out, all hands!” Gentry called loudly. “Lay aft now—slippy about it!” There was a murmur from the darkness, a sulky and reluctant grumble. No one stirred, and the second mate repeated his

“No, sir, it’s murder.”

“Can’t work in that.’

“Wait till the sea drops. No sense in

A dozen sullen voices objected. Gentry wrenched the door wide.

“You men coming?” he asked. "I’ll not tell you again.”

There was a silence, pregnant and ominous. Mutiny was hovering in the spindrift-laden air.

“I’ll report to the master, men. You’d better tumble out.”

“Report and be sugared to ye. Some illconditioned unit among the dock-sweepings that made up the Barracuda’s complement shot it out from the background. Gentry jumped through the door, but before he was fairly inside, a hand took him by the shoulder and pulled him roughly back.

“Stay outside and catch 'em as they comef” Pollard’s voice rasped in his ear, and the skipper plunged head-first into the dark, flailing with fists and feet and inarticulate with fury.

A man shot out of the doorway landing on all fours on the wet deck and shooting across to the bulwarks. He was followed by another and another. Then there was a gasping struggle in the fo’c’sle and Pollard appeared, grasping a subdued-looking individual in each hand and shaking him like a

“Now/6 he stormed, dropping them with the others, "any more trouble here? Lay aft, you rats!”

They gathered themselves up, and the rest of the two watches filed out on to the reeling deck. Pollard looked them over and snorted.

“There’ll be no refusing duty on my ship,” he said. "Mr. Gentry, take them and get the trysail on her. Jump, now !”

The next twenty minutes were, for Gentry, the sheerest physical toil of his career. The triangular trysail had to be dragged from its locker it was part and parcel of the Barraciula’s unseaworthiness that it was not already bent— and lashed by main force to its boom. Great weltering masses of water swept over them as they toiled, flinging men against ironwork, washing them clear of their task. One man was

within inches of going overside when Gentry grabbed him and hauled him to safety.

And standing over them, imperturbable under the buffets of wind and water, Captain Pollard howled threats and abuse. With the salt crusted in his beard and eyebrows and his steely eyes red-rimmed, he looked like some fierce Old Man of the Sea. Gentry began to feel something akin to respect for this iron creature.

Side by side with the deck hands, stripped to the waist still and with the seas sluicing ingrained ashes out of their skins, the black gang tugged and swore and fought. So much had the blistering tongue and quick fists of Captain Pollard done to abrogate the traditions of the sea.

JT WAS done at last and a scrap of black canvas crept slowly up the Barracuda's stub mast. The wind caught it. It bellied out, and Siddons, at the wheel, bore down on the spokes. Steerageway slowly came to the vessel; and even more slowly, with torrents of water sweeping over her, she wore round nose to wind and lay heaving but at least moderately dry.

Pollard stood with his arms akimbo, his eye on the peak of the straining sail.

“She’ll do now,” he said half to himself; then, returning to his familiar bellow: “All hands there! Turn to and clean ship. You stokers as well. Mr. Gentry, put ’em through it—insubordinate scum !”

He turned on his heel and tramped up to the bridge, where he stood looking down at the crew working about the deck, an expression of supreme contempt on his face. Then he glanced to windward and overside at the sea.

“Letting up a bit,”' he said to Siddons. The mate nodded offendedly. Pollard sniffed and went into the charthouse to try and work out his position by dead reckoning.

Gentry finished repairing the storm’s havoc and dismissed his men, then he came up to the bridge to Siddons. The red-faced mate was watching the Barracuda 's pitching bows with attention. Before Gentry could ask why, he called down for the bos’n, a big silent T ynesider.

“Get off and sound the well,” he said to him quietly. “Report to me when you’re done and to no one else.” Then, as the man went off, he turned to Gentry. “Notice it?” he said under his breath.

The second mate also fixed his eyes on the

“Now that you mention it,;? he said, “she does seem a bit heavy. I wonder—” “Here you are.” The skipper stuck his head round the chartroom door. “Come and check these figures.”

They went inside out of the blustering wind—it was definitely lulling a little and verified Pollard’s calculations. He stood looking down at them, his gashed face lit by a grim smile.

“We'll hang about here until it drops a little,” he said, “and then I’m going to sail her into Payai. No salvage for me. She’ll do four or five knots in a fair breeze and we’ll go on half rations.”

Siddons raised his eyes from the paper. “The men ” he began.

Pollard’s smile left him abruptly. He had his mouth open for some scathing retort, when there was a tap at the door. The bos’n entered, whitefaced.

“Well?” Pollard jerked round on him. “What the devil do you want?”

“There’s there's near four foot in the well, sir,” the man stammered. "It’scornin’ in like a race.”

There was a d^ad silence for a long moment, and then Pollard, for the first time anyone had ever heard him do so, laughed.

“Leaking, eh?” he said creakily. "Let's see this leak of yours.”

He went heavily to the well, and the bos’n sounded again. The water had risen once more, and the Barracuda was appreciably down by the head now.

Pollard looked at the measurements, then turned to Siddons.

“All hands!” he ordered again. And as the mate glanced at the pumps he laughed once more. “No,” he said. “What’s the

use in that? Might keep her afloat another hour or two—no longer. We'll get it over.”

THE men hustled round him with the frightened stares of poor human material. He surveyed them coolly.

“Now,” he said, “there’s a very fair chance of your drowning, you squealing set of mutinous swabs. Abandon ship—and that’s the first time John Pollard’s given that order. Mister Gentry, go round the boats and see they’re provisioned. Food, water, medical stores and rockets, Mr. Gentry. You’ll find some extras in the lazaret in my cabin. There’s the key. Take ’em all, Mr. Siddons—chronometers, charts, compass. That’s your job. Look to it. Bos’n, tell the cook to whack out a hot meal inside the next forty minutes. Ah, Mr. Lochie, and how’s the chin? We’re leaving her in an hour. Look after your animals. .Now, the lot of you, jump to it ! You’ll find me on the bridge if Pm wanted.”

With crisp, clear, unhurried orders he restored the shaky confidence of the crew and gave the officers heart for their tasks. While the Barracuda hummed with activity and the electrics shone down on disciplined preparations, Pollard stood on the bridge, gripping the rail and watching his vessel sink under him. The shifting light fell on his hard features, breaking them into weird blocks of light and shadow as the Barracuda lurched wearily lower and lower in the waves. He said nothing for the better part of an hour and pushed aside the cup of steaming coffee Gentry brought him. He seemed to be entirely occupied in taking a last look at the dying ship.

Then, with the boats swung out and ready to lower, he went quickly back into the charthouse behind him, to emerge a moment later and walk to the rail once more.

"All right, Mr. Siddons!” he called down. “Lower away !”

The three boats splashed into the sea. Siddons stood in the stem sheets of his, fending her off with a boathook.

“Come on, sir!” he cried. “She’ll be gone in a minute.”

Pollard leant down toward him. “Mister Siddons,” he shouted above the wind, “you obey orders and don’t argue. I’ve told you that before. Push off !”

The mate hesitated. At that instant the Barracuda gave an ominous lurch and her bows dipped deeper into the sea. There was a babble of frightened shouting from behind Siddons in the boat, and three or four men dropped their oarblades and pulled lustily away from the ship’s side. Siddons cursed them impotently, but the gap was there and widening.

“Jump, sir!” he called. "We’ll pick you up !”

Pollard made no answer, but stood, an impassive statue, on his bridge. The lights flickered and failed as the water reached

the dynamos. There was another chorus of voices in the dark, and the boats began to scutter away like frightened ducklings on a pond.

There was a splash from Gentry’s boat.

“What’s that?” Siddons shouted.

“Second mate,” came the reply. “He’s overboard—swimmin’ for the ship, the bloomin’ fool! Tryin’ to save him, I s’pose. Well, that’s his look-out. Pull away, boys, or she’ll take us with her yet.”

Siddons, peering, could see Gentry's head and the swirl of his flailing arms as he rode over the swell.

“Come back, Gentry, you crazy ass!” he yelled.

But Gentry made the Barracuda's side, caught a rope’s end, and slung himself up it. The ship’s bulwarks were nearly awash.

A crack like a gigantic whiplash sounded from somewhere in the vessel’s bowels. In the darkness, men, resting open-mouthed on their oars, saw her stagger and settle, lift the bulk of her stem into the air and begin her downward plunge. Frantically they gave way,, urging the boats beyond the fatal suck of her whirlpool. She slid down in one smooth swoop and vanished.

Lochie in the third boat called across to Siddons.

“Did ye see yon?” he asked in a hoarse

“I saw it,” Siddons replied. “Must have gone mad, I suppose.”

The engineer made no reply, but took his boat back among the scum and bubbling debris of th^Barracuda. The two other boats followed suit, and for ten minutes they quartered the patch of sea in the dark.

Then a startled exclamation from Gentry’s own boat brought the others resting on their oars. The bos’n leant overside and came up with his fingers fast in Gentry’s hair. Another couple of men helped him, and together they yanked two interlocked bodies over the gunwale. A cheer burst irresistibly from the boat’s crew and was echoed by the others.

“Are they alive?” called Siddons.

Captain Pollard suddenly sat up on the floor boards.

“Mr. Siddons,” he snarled across the water, “if you’ve the log book handy there, bring it across. I’m going to make an entry in it—the second officer goes down right away for disobedience to orders. Discipline’s discipline, Mr. Siddons.”

There was a scuffle as he scrambled to his feet and made his way over the thwarts to the stem. He grasped the tiller.

“Now, you cheese-hearted weaklings,” he thundered, "give way! I’m in command here, and the first skrimshanker gets a broken jaw to think about !”

The oars dipped as one, and Captain Pollard, erect and dominant in the stem of his boat, steered her confidently into the