A story of the sea and a lover's heroic answer to the challenge of Destiny
NORMAN REILLY RAINE
THE fact that a half gale, wet and salty, was blowing in from the Grand Banks that wild November night was inconvenient, but not important, to the gathering of friends at Major Freddy Grenfell’s North Arm dinner party. Grenfell himself was not important except as a music lover and a host, but as his heritage absolved him of the need to appear familiar with night-club hostesses and head waiters he sought other roads to fame. Dinner parties such as this, for example, at which he gathered congenial people interested in music and the graphic arts, to listen to a radio broadcast of chamber music from a distant studio by one or more of their friends.
Cars ripped up the drive, fanning water and gravel over the lawn, the headlights picking out shrubs and foliage in vivid high spots of wind-lashed green. They stopped at the door and the rude Atlantic gale blew the
guests into the warm and friendly interior with laughter, and billowing wraps, and a spatter of icy rain. Grenfell’s friends were smart and often brilliant; the men clean in the run, the women attractive and just clever enough; and Grenfell himself stood smiling inside the door, the black and white of his evening kit in pleasing contrast with his face of cheery, hunting-field red.
“Come in, come in!’’ he boomed. “Hello, Patricia. You’re looking charming, as usual. You’ll appreciate the programme tonight. But of course you know Rupert is singing.”
hat is the programme, Freddy?” someone else cut in. “I haven’t seen the paper.”
“The Philharmonic. And Rupert Block is the guest artist. Excuse me . . . What did you say, Patricia?”
“I said I want to talk to you for a minute.” She took him aside, two slender fingertips playing with the satin of his lapel. “Does—Rupert know you are listening in tonight?”
“Why, yes. Of course. What—?”
“Does he know that I will be here?”
“I told him that, expressly.” He smiled. “It will make him do his best.”
Wil) it, I wonder?” There was a hint of brooding in her eyes. “I’m going to tell you, because you are a dear, and because you understand things without talking too much about them. I told Rupert last Monday that I did not care to see him again.”
He waited for her to go on. She said slowly, almost inaudibly: “You see, I never loved him. He took my interest for something else. It was never love with me. I thought it best to tell him so because-—” A new influx of guests made Grenfell’s presence imperative. She patted his arm and flashed him a grateful smile. “Never mind now. I’ll tell you later.”
After an excellent dinner they gathered in the drawdngroom.
The radio cabinet was a lovely reproduction of a Cellini chest; the programme a special arrangement for a famous Philharmonic orchestra. Grenfell tuned in.
A window rattled under the fist of the gale, and Grenfell apologized and directed a servant to adjust it before the main programme came on. The announcer talked; then, light as the breath of a zephyr over the rippling grass of the great Pinsk marshes, a violin wove the beauty of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony into the stillness of the room. In the intervals between the tinkling March of the Bells, from Coppelia, and the Minuet and Farandole from Bizet’s first Arlesienne Suite, the rampant bellowing of the rising gale made itself heard, but served only to sharpen the snug security of the room. “O begli occi di fata," said the station announcer—“O Lovely Eyes of Fate.” As it came to an end there was a crash and the tinkle of falling glass; but the challenge of the storm was lost in the smashing chords of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C Sharp Minor. It drifted to silence.
“Rupert comes next, I think,” said Grenfell. “Listen ...”
1 he announcer spoke briefly; and, effortless as the flute of a nightingale, the haunting beauty of “Goin’ Home,” Fisher's adaptation from the largo of Dvorak’s New World Symphony, rolled from the unseen singer's throat. Patricia, who was sitting beside Grenfell, stirred and a shadow deepened her eyes. She settled in her chair. The voice throbbed on.
“Goin’ home, goin’ home,
I’m a-goin’ home;
Quietlike, some still day,
I’m jes’ goin’ home.
It’s not far, jes’ close by,
Through an open door;
Work all done, care laid by,
Gwine to fear no more—”
Abruptly into the golden notes there swept an undercurrent of staccato buzzing, repeated and repeated, strong, importunate, chilling in its intentness, terrible in its urgency, drowning out the tenor’s exquisite voice.
He stopped; then, deep and clear, the alien sound cut through the silence unopposed.
“What in the world—?” someone began irritably, but Grenfell held up his hand. The announcer was heard.
“I am sorry, but the programme must be suspended for an indefinite period to clear the air for the emergency signals of a vessel in distress.”
While he was speaking the ship signals had become fainter. When he ceased, the buzz of the International Morse Code—three dots, three dashes, three dots— swelled in volume against the background of the beating gale. Grenfell went to the cabinet and turned the dial. All the Eastern stations were dead. “Damned nuisance,” he said, and when he returned the dial to its original wave length all that they heard, riding down the whistling ether, was the steady, urgent broadcast of the S.O.S., interspersed with longer messages. These spelled to tensely listening shore stations, and to the radio operators of ships at sea, the information that in latitude 40.32 north, and longitude 66.05 west, the liner Aztec Prince, Southampton for New York with 400 passengers on board, had struck a submerged derelict and was sinking rapidly by the head.
T>LUE sparks knitted frantic appeal under the skilful fingers of the vessel’s chief radio operator, as he hunched over his set and sent the S.O.S. crackling unceasingly from lofty aerials into the night. A string of dark hair was lank across his sweating forehead, an unlighted rag of cigarette between young lips pinched with strain. The door swung open, and the chief officer entered on a gust of cold wind and spindrift, the oilskins that wrapped his stocky body gleaming in the light. He was bluff and bandy-legged with white hair as he revealed when he removed his headgear to wipe his streaming face. A hard case but a proper seaman.
“What’s the latest, Sparks? The Old Man wants to know.”
“The Paris is sixty miles off, southwest. She’s turning back to us under forced draught. There’s a German tramp too, but that’s no good. She’s in 42.10 north, 57.00 west. The Majestic answered from mid-Atlantic, and there’s a Ward liner and a couple of coasting vessels trying to reach us. But the Paris is closest.” Sparks’ knuckles whitened. He tried to light his cigarette but gave it up. His hand was steady only when it rested on the key. “What do you think, Mr. Bowman? Can we last?”
The chief officer’s big fist closed on his shoulder.
“Don’t you fret, Sparks. I’ve been in worse fixes than this. Set your teeth into it and keep steady. How’s the emergency set, case the dynamos go?”
“It’s working. I tested it.”
“Good lad. Keep sending.”
The chief officer closed the door and stepped out upon the deck. The vessel’s forward slope was becoming acute, and as the liner wallowed without forward propulsion in the heavy seas, great walls of black water coped with hissing white advanced endlessly from the darkness and broke aboard. Slipping, stumbling, grasping the handrail, he made his way back to the bridge and reported to the master.
Captain Adams’ tall, wide-shouldered bulk stood in the lee of the wheelhouse. His bony, weather-hammered face was set, the cold blue eyes and straight, stubborn line of mouth indicative of inflexible purpose. At ordinary times he gave the impression of a man who wore a cloak of unnatural patience over an essentially turbulent nature. Now, when the turbulence might have blazed forth, he was restrained and quiet. He seemed numbed, moved and gave orders automatically. As the vessel flinched under the battering ram of a gigantic sea, he clung to a handrail. He shouted to the chief officer rounding the corner of the house.
“Everything’s ready sir. We can’t keep afloat for more than an hour longer.” He gave the news from the radio room. “The boats are ready to swing out. The passengers are gathered in the first-class smoking saloon, waiting for the word.”
The master said dully: "The port boats are useless. The list is too much, and there’ll only be the starboard boats. That means there won’t be room for all and the men 11 have to stay. When the time comes, get the others up out of the smoking saloon. Then break it to the men.”
The mate nodded, his grey face unseen, in the dark. “Aye, sir. Well, it’s a toss-up who’ll be worse off— us^on board here when she sinks or them in the boats wi’ that sea running and the perishing cold.”
The master said harshly: “You’ll take command of your boat!”
“There's plenty o’ juniors, sir. We've sailed together a few years, and I thought mebbe ye knew me better.” The master did not reply. He said, eventually: “If only it didn’t mean women and kids in the open boats. You and me now, Mr. Bowman. We’re not youngsters, eh? And a man can’t live forever.”
The chief officer agreed. The master said: “There’s nothing we can do now but wait. How are the passengers behaving?”
Oh, so so. Not bad, sir, considering. But there’s one man who s got me thinking. He’s a big fellow, athletic type, fine-looking man once, I should say. His name’s Hartry. He’s been sucking the bottle a bit—”
Captain Adams interrupted sharply: “Didn’t the steward shut down the bar?”
“Aye, sir, but Hartry had some in his room. It's not the drink. It’s some devil in his past that’s got him. First part of the voyage he seemed sociable enough, though one of the deep, quiet sort. Then tonight, after we struck that wreck and the passengers had been gathered in the smoking saloon, I went in and talked with them. And he came up to me after I d done. He was like a man sleepwalking.
Ts the vessel going to sink?’ he asked, and when I told him yes, he called me a liar. Said she couldn’t.
He had to get home. He seemed to be burning up inside.”
The master asked mechanically: “Was he frightened?”
“Underneath, I think. But this thing in his mind crammed fear below the surface. He sat down in a chair and said some queer things about his wife that a man shouldn’t say, especially at a time like this.
The other passengers heard him and he began to get on their nerves. Sitting there, babbling—”
Captain Adams crossed the bridge with difficulty and looked aft along the gale-swept deck, then out into the wailing dark. There was nothing he could do but wait. Talk helped him to keep a grip on things. He returned to the chief officer.
“Is he bothering the passengers—this what’shis-name—Hartry?”
“He’s not interfering with them, sir. But they’re pretty well keyed up, and him sitting there talking like that doesn’t help any.” “What’s he saying?”
“It's all about his wife. She’s a beauty, to hear him tell it, and she’s a famous pianist or something. I imagine he was jealous of her music. Said it was husband and child to her, and he didn’t count so long as he paid the bills. Anyway they had a bust-up and separated two years ago, and he went to Europe. But it’s plain to me that he’s still mad about her. Now she s going to get a divorce. There’s another man in it, of course—a singer; although Hartry called him more than that.”
Both men hung on as a great sea battered the helpless liner. When the wreck had cleared away the chief officer spoke again.
I had better get aft to the smoking saloon and have another look at him. I tell you, sir, if there was any mortal chance of us getting safe out of this, I’d try to get in touch with her and warn her to look out. The man’s dangerous. Says he’s going home to kill them both.” The chief officer’s smile was bitter. How long before you give the ‘Abandon ship,’ sir?”
111 wait another half hour. No need to send them out in the boats to scull around in that mess before we have to. They’ll be safer here, and warm. It’s going to be a nasty enough business getting the boats away when it’s time. The remaining boats are properly found?”
“I saw to them all, sir, right after we struck.” Good enough. Go along to the smoking saloon again, and see that the passengers don’t get out of hand. And no need yet to tell them there’ll be no boats for the men.”
“Very good, sir.”
'T'HE chief officer went aft and down the ^ ladder to the promenade deck. The thick windows had been smashed in by the seas. A freezing wind was blowing along it, and water coursed to and fro with the motion of the ship. He splashed through it and opened a door to the long, cabin-lined corridor that led aft to the smoking room, then through the public rooms; the music room, the tea lounge, the grand salon. Their deserted grandeur seemed tawdry now, like a tired, overpainted woman, alone.
As he pushed through the swinging doors of the smoking room there was a swift dimming of the lights and a frightened outcry. “Dynamos gone,” he thought, and apprehension tugged at him. But in a moment they blazed full on again. Passengers surrounded him with frantic questioning. He reassured them, not minimizing their danger but creating fortitude. The big room with its table-tops of colored linoleum tiles and deep leather easy chairs was crammed with muffled-up passengers, each with adjusted life belt. Every pillar, bulkhead and partition groaned and complained with the working of the vessel as she rolled heavily in the trough. The great seas that hurtled over the partly submerged forward deck and rolled aft formed a thunderous diapason of terror, against which the clink and clack of small movable gear sounded as the ticking of innumerable clocks.
The passengers clung to the bolted-down furniture in
an attitude of passive waiting that was only a second removed from fright. The presence of the chief officer, stalwart, matter-of-fact and calm, appeared to soothe them. Stewards moved about examining life belts, giving a joke, a word of courage and hope. Stout fellows, stewards, in a pinch, and too often sneered at, the chief officer thought.
He looked for Mr. Anderson, the chief steward, and not seeing him, enquired of one of his assistants.
“Mr. Anderson, sir? ’E’s over in the corner there with Mr. ’Artry, trying to keep ’im quiet.”
Hartry had the chief steward grasped firmly by one protesting arm. The chief steward, in his short, brassbuttoned jacket, round, chubby-faced, with light blue, rather piglike eyes and a baby mouth under a wispy black mustache, adjured his companion, between ineffectual jerks to free himself, to be calm.
“There’s no immedjet danger, sir, so collect yourself,” he stammered at nervous intervals:
The chief officer stepped forward.
“Get these people separated, Mr. Anderson. Men on the port side, women and bairns to starboard. We abandon ship in a half hour. When the order is passed, the starboard crowd will file through that door and up to the boats as quickly as possible. The men will remain here. Now then, sir”—as Hartry retained his grip— “let the man go about his duties.”
Hartry released the steward and faced the chief officer. His big face was haggard, the whites of his smoldering eyes shot with blood. He spoke low and fast, with a soft intensity that was more disturbing than a shout.
“He’s a good man, that steward. He listens to me. He tells me his wife’s no good, too. Look here, Bowman —did I tell you what I’m going home for?”
. The chief officer said: “You'd best go over there and sit down. There’s some hard hours before us, sir, so don’t use yourself up.”
h°urs?” Hartry’s laugh was almost soundless.
There are hard years before me. But I’m going home first. She wrote and said she wanted me. Wanted me because he’s through with her, of course. Well, I’m going!”
A thin, grey-haired man with tortured eyes came up to them. He said: “Aren’t you the chief officer?”
“Can’t you do something to shut this man up, then? His talk has us all ragged. My wife
Hartry turned. He said intensely: “You go to h_____,
you scrawny-faced old buzzard. I’ve paid my passage and I’ll talk as I like.”
The chief officer interposed.
"That’ll do, Mr. Hartry. You’d best keep quiet. Your wife is no affair of these people, and they’ve enough to worry about. Help ’ll be along in a few hours, and in the meanwhile the boats will be got away. And then—” “Not me. No boats for me. This vessel's all right. She’ll float long enough to carry me home.”
Before the chief officer could reply, a seaman stood panting at his elbow.
“The captain wants you on the bridge at once, sir. The second officer’s coming down here to take charge.” The chief officer’s heavy jaw set. Time was closing in. “Tell him I’ll be right up.” He turned to Hartry and rasped: “Ye may be a passenger, Mr. Hartry, but you’ll behave yourself or I’ll have ye yanked out of here. Now mind!” He followed the seaman out.
With the going of his stocky, capable figure, reassuring in its nide strength, security also seemed to depart from the room. A minority of the passengers bolstered their courage to a show of impassiveness; others were hysterical. The chief steward circulated among the passengers. “Be calm, please. Calm, please. There is no danger yet.” His endless litany, delivered through trembling lips, failed to reassure. An infant cried in a high, thin, maddening wail, the frantic-eyed young mother smothering its congested face with kisses. The vessel lurched. A crashing sea broke overhead and the roar of the receding water for a minute drowned all other sound. Hartry’s voice again became audible in ceaseless, nerve-fraying monologue. He buttonholed a frightened steward.
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“That’s why she married me,” he said without preamble. “No money, and she wanted to study music. Of course I promised. You’ve got to, promise them something if you want them bad enough. Isn’t that right?”
“I—I suppose so, sir.”
“You suppose, you whelp! What do you know about it? You’ve never dared in all your frowsy little life to raise your dirty face to a woman like that. Listen! She didn’t marry a man; she married a musical education. That’s all I ever stood for to her. And I loved her. Do you hear? I loved her. But she was in love already. She denied it, but I knew. Oh, he could sing, yes. He sang me out of my housewhile he made love to my wife. Music. The house was full of it! Strum, strum, thump, thump. Day and night. I kicked up enough rows about it, heaven knows. Here! Where are you going?”
But the man broke loose and became lost in the crowd. The plump chief steward passed again. “Don’t get excited, people, please. There’s help coming. So keep cool. You’ll be going home by morning.”
He staggered and put out a hand to steady himself against the vessel’s gyrations.
Hartry caught up his words. “We’ll be on the way home in the morning. And my wife’s waiting for me. That’s fine!”
The grey-haired man accosted him again, desperation on his strained features.
“You are driving my wife frantic, sir. For her sake, will you please keep quiet?”
Hartry’s deep eyes stared back at him. He said: “Go to the devil!” He slumped in a chair, talking still, with an appalling, restrained violence.
“The steward’s Jezebel is dark; a ‘Spanish type’ he calls her. Mine’s a lily, an Easter lily, in love with a grace note. She’s studied in Vienna, in Budapest, in Prague. She’s been praised by Paderewski, so she must have a career. ‘You’re my wife,’ I told her, ‘and that's career enough for any woman. Woman’s place is in the home, not on a cursed concert stage,’ I said. But it was two of them against me. And there was one piece—her favorite—they’d sing and play. It meant something to me before she wanted a career and smashed up our lives. A simple thing, and she used to play it, soft, on winter evenings, with snow on the housetops and a pale light over the bay. ‘Goin’ Home,’ it was called. She’d twist my heart with it. Until one
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evening I came home and she was playing it softly in the half dusk, and him standing beside her singing it, with his lips not two inches from her lovely hair. Then they turned and saw me. She said nothing; just smiled, as though it was nothing that they should share that thing together. But he looked guilty. I told him to get out, and he didn’t wait for his hat. And after that nothing meant anything to me any more.”
He glared around, his eyes fiercely bright, not seeing the huddled passengers in their life belts, their bulky clothes, their dead-white strained faces; not hearing the wash of the sea and the strain of the laboring ship. The chief steward passed, his lips repeating mechanically: “Keep calm . . . Don’t lose your head ...”
Hartry reached for him suddenly, caught him by his short jacket. The man said: “Now, Mr. Hartry, do be quiet, sir. This is no time to go on like that.” “I’m all right, steward. No—wait a minute. Listen. We had a row over that, and she told me that she was going her own way—to fame on the concert stage. I knew what that meant. That forever after I’d just be Junius Hartry, husband of the famous pianist. But I waited— until she was to give her début—her first big public recital. I warned her that I wouldn’t have it; said I’d go there and kick up a scene. She’s a thoroughbred. She defied me—and I think she really believed I wouldn’t do it. What do you think? Do you believe I would?”
“I—I don’t know, sir.”
“You don’t know! Of course you don’t! But on the night of her concert I was there, cold sober. In an aisle seat in the front row, trying to think out what I would do. She saw me, and for a moment her face went white; then she smiled and played, and I forgot what I’d come for. I was filled with a queer, proud happiness. She and her music—I saw then what a lovely thing it could be. And at the end, the very end, when the audience clapped and whistled and would not let her go, she gave a last encore. She came back to the piano' and sat down. She' looked into my eyes and smiled; and I smiled back, and the world was a lovely dream. Her fingers, long and slim and white, came down’on the keys and she played ‘Goin’ Home.’ Her smiling eyes looked straight into mine and I saw a new life open up. Then I heard someone behind me, humming the thing softly under his breath. I turned—and it was him.”
The roar and crash of a boarding sea swept the vessel. When the noise of it died away Hartry still was talking, his voice louder, with nerve-wracking intentness.
“I saw then what a colossal fool I’d been. I knew then for whom she had smiled. So I dragged him over the seats and thrashed him, while people screamed and tore at me and the hall was in an uproar. And when I’d done with him I threw him into the orchestra pit.”
“You must let me get away, sir—” the steward began. Hartry was not listening.
“I left her that night. Europe for two years. I’ve had my fun. And now I’m going back. I’m going home.” He reached up and gripped the terrified steward by the lapel and shook him savagely. “You know why I’m going home, steward, after two years of torture? To still those slim white hands of hers forever!”
A girl screamed hysterically. “Stop him! Stop him! Mother! Oh, can’t anyone make him stop?”
The lights dimmed again suddenly, and as the vessel wallowed and floundered an old woman sang with quavering voice:
“Jesus, Lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly—”
Feet stamped in the passage outside the room and the second officer entered, a tall, rangy, capable-jawed Swede, with a shock of tow-colored hair. His heavy voice cut through the near panic of the crowded saloon.
“You are taking to the boats in ten minutes. It won’t be pleasant in the boats, but help is on the way. You’ll not be in them long. You’ll be all right if you do what you're told. We’ll do our best for you.’’
j Hartry left his chair and approached him on uncertain legs, against the pitch and roll of the floor. His eyes burned.
“You mean you are going to abandon the ship now?”
"Yes. You fall in over there on the port side with the other men.”
With an oath, in a frenzy, he tried to rush past, but the tall seaman held him fast. Hartry stormed. “Take your filthy hands off me.”
“Stop your jaw and get over there!” the other shouted.
The chief officer came into the room, his face a heavy lined mask.
“What’s the matter, Mr. Johansen?” “This man, sir. He won’t obey orders.” “Mr. Hartry, we’ve no time to pamper you. Come now, sir, be sensible. There’s women and bairns on board what’s got to be looked after.”
Using bus weather-toughened body, he herded the pstssenger across the saloon. A man or two left the group to dart across and fold their women in a last frantic embrace. Again the old woman raised her hymn. A few of the others took it up.
“That’ll do now. Ye can sing in the boats,” the chief officer told them with brusque kindliness. “Out ye go. Look out for that step, mother. Don’t worry, and keep tight hold of the handrails when you get on deck. Mr. Johansen, I’ll stay here with the men for a bit.”
VY/TIEN the last of the women had vv been shepherded through the door, the chief officer stood in the centre of the saloon, a hard, determined figure in his bulky oilskins. His wrinkled blue eyes were troubled but his voice was steady.
“It’s my duty to give ye some unpleasant news, gentlemen,” he said, “and I want you to bear it like men. The women and bairns has gone, I hope, to safety. They’ll get into the boats, and the boats’ll be launched, and from then on they’ll be in the hands o’ God. For us, there are no boats. There’ll he wreckage—and help is on the way; and it may be that some will live to carry the message of how we met our end. So bear that in mind to give ye courage and strength. I’ll not disguise from you that ye’ll he needing both.”
For a minute, except for the outer noise of sea and gale and the creaking of the ship, the room was deathly still. The grey-haired elderly man choked and pulled at his collar. Another said desperately: “Is there nothing we can do-?” “Nothing, sir.”
Someone groaned, and for a swift second a breath of panic swept the group. Then a beefy, red-faced man, wearing only loud-striped pyjamas under his greatcoat and lifebelt, stepped forward.
“You’re staying, Mr. Mate—and the captain?"
"Aye, sir, of course. And others of the
crew. We’ve known it for an hour past.” The big man turned a sweating face to the room. His voice was strained and I cracked. “Anybody got a deck of cards?” ihe asked.
I Apart from the group, with the shock of full realization coming like a dash of ; ‘cy water on his fevered mind, J unius
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Hartry stood with bloodless fists and face of stone. His brow was hot, but the back of his neck, as he passed his hand across it, was damp and cold. The fire went out of his eyes, leaving them black and dead, and his lips moved without words. The chief officer went up to him. He said soberly:
“Mr. Hartry, sir, the ways o’ Providence is inscrutable, hut they work to well-ordered ends. And tonight your slate's going t;o be rubbed clean.”
Hartry said: “It’s nothing to you.” “True enough, perhaps, but it may mean something to you that when there’s been love between man andwoman there’s a spark in the ashes to the end o’ time.”
Hartry jibed. “Love never dies, eh?” The seaman responded quietly. “Just that.”
“It’s easy for you to say.”
“No, sir, it’s not easy for me to say— for I’ve had occasion to learn the truth of what I’ve just told you. And it’s making things easier for me this night.” Hartry said: “Will our friends ever know how we passed?”
“Aye, sir. All the courage and the fortitude of it. Look at this room. Men in fear of death fighting it down; making a last sporting gesture at life. That’s something for them that loved us to remember. And the memory will heal many an old wound. It’s a grand thought to take with us, sir.”
Hartry did not reply.
The slope of the deck sensibly was increasing. A muffled, sullen explosion deep in the liner’s bowels sent a shiver of apprehension through the room. The lights went out, but emergency oil lamps had been prepared and lighted.
Out in the turmoil of the gale-battered deck the women and children milled like terrified sheep. A searchlight fed from batteries on the bridge sent a shaft of dazzling light along the dripping boat deck. The hurricane voice of Captain Adams, standing solitary on the bridge, rose above the gale and the crashing seas! “Mr. Myers!”
The chief engineer, at the end of a long line of hard-featured oilers and stokers, shivering in thin cotton singlets and with sweat rags knotted about their corded throats, stepped out into the light. A spanner was gripped in his heavy fist “Sir?”
“Got all your men up from below?”
“All up, sir.”
“Mind that order is preserved, Mr. Bowman.”
“Aye, sir—hang on, everybody!”
A leaping sea rose, white-fanged, above the edge of the deck, then subsided with a thundering roar and a widening pattern of phosphorescent foam. Far overhead, stars shone frostily in a sky swept clear by the rushing wind. The cold was intense. The chief officer again communicated with the bridge.
“Everything’s ready, sir.”
“Get started then. And pass the word that the Paris is only forty miles away and coming up fast.”
“Very good, sir.”
The chief officer passed rapidly among the boats.
“This boat all ready here?”
“All tidy, sir.”
“And this? There’s a tarpaulin not cleared, mister! Look smart! That’s well. Wait for the word, now.”
He again hailed the bridge.
“Ready to swing out, sir.”
The cumbersome lifeboats were released and the patent gears began to grind. Each minute the black wave crests lipped nearer as the vessel settled with tiny, almost imperceptible jerkings. One after another the boats were filled, until of the women and children onlv a small group remained. Stiff hands, blue lips, in the freezing blast, were unfelt then. “Starboard boats swing out, sir!”
THE creaking gears of one lowered boat sounded in a lull, and it began to drop from sight. A wall of thundering black was tossed against the stars. Higher it soared, with the phosphorescent gleam of smoking foam along its grinning crest. It dropped, with an engulfing roar, and when it cleared wet falls snapped in the wind. The boat was gone.
The chief officer, beaten to his knees, arose. “Get those other boats away before the next one comes,” he bellowed, and the screams of the terrified occupants were lost as the gears again began to turn.
Two of the boats got safely down, cast off, and danced like chips from crest to trough, as the oars were broken out and they were pulled away from the murderous proximity of the liner’s side. A third was crushed like matchwood in the maw of a tremendous comber, and black dots of heads bobbed for a second in the maelstrom of splintered planks and seething foam.
Again the vessel lurched. The starboard rail went under, poised, swung back, and the liner hung. Captain Adams, in an agony of waiting, cupped his hands and shouted from the bridge.
“Shake it up, mister. Get those other I boats away.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
As the chief officer turned back to his J job the vessel gave another quick lunge and settled deeper; then her lofty masts j cut a slow arc across the sky to port and she rolled, deep under forward but with almost level decks. Immediately the chief officer grasped the significance. He roared out:
“Ahoy, the bridge! She’s settling on an even keel, sir. We can swing the port boats out now if it’s not too late.”
The master responded instantly.
“Get the men up here, then.”
In the smoking room the men passengers, waiting tense and white for further j word, heard the pounding of the chief | officer’s feet in the passage outside, and their nerves tightened as they braced themselves for what was to come. He burst in at the door.
“Up ye go, gentlemen ! The port boats is cleared, and you’ve just a chance if ye move lively.”
Out on the boat deck they clustered, j slipping and scrambling, dodging the roaring, hungry seas. The chief officer and his juniors worked swiftly, and one after another the boats were loaded, lowered and cast off. But there was still an overflow for the final boat, and the iron repression of those who remained slipped a notch.
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“None of that!” the chief officer commanded and his heavy body forced them back. “Stand clear o’ that boat till I give the word. You, and you”—he selected several of the older, more feeble men— “get in. Look smart!” He turned to the remainder. “Who of you can handle an oar?”
One or two responded.
“Any more? She’ll be short o’ men to handle her. Mr. Hartry—what about you?”
Hartry said: “I can’t row.”
“But ye told me you were stroke oar o’ your university crew.”
“I can’t row.”
In the chief officer’s harried eyes comprehension flashed. Rapidly he chose among the remaining men, and the boat was lowered, the last of the passengers bearing a hand. He turned to these.
“There’s gratings in the house on the poop,” he told them, “and I’ve had bundles of deck chairs lashed together. Lay along and throw them adrift. Then take your chance. It’ll be better, perhaps, than stopping with the ship.”
When they had gone, with some of the officers and engineers, he turned to Hartry who stood beside him, one spray-soaked arm around a davit, his face turned to the stormy sea.
“Ye’ll find peace, sir, that you’d never have found ashore.”
“I’ve found it,” Hartry replied.
Slowly the liner tilted, and a few remaining members of the crew ran to the side and dived, preferring their chance of swimming and a piece of floating wreckage. The searchlight fizzled out; and as the last overladen boat fought a racing comber and pulled clear of the back suck, there was a series of thudding detonations and a shower of fiery sparks shot up the giant funnels as the boilers went. Majestically the liner’s stern rose in the screaming night, hung poised for a minute; then with a shuddering roar the Aztec Prince slipped under, bows first, and plunged a thousand fathoms down.
THE eerie voices of static, crying in the blackness of stellar space, alone rewarded Grenfell as, after an hour of conversation, he sought again to tune in. Faint in the background was the barnyard chorus of Morse as vessels, stormbattered, sought port; but there was not one definite note to fill the windy void. He shrugged.
“It’s no good, I can’t get a thing.” He hesitated for a second’s fraction, his big good-natured face perplexed. Then he returned to his place. “Patricia,” he said in a low tone, and laid his hand on her arm, “won’t you be a sport, and play for
us, until we can get a programme? It’s spoiling my party. I know it’s anticipating the triumph of your recital next week, but—”
She moved in her chair, looked startled, | and a faint tinge of color deepened her cheeks.
“It’s funny you should ask that. I was ; just thinking. I have not played in public I for more than two years. Not since that night when—well, you know.”
“It’s time you did, then,” he assured her : cheerfully. “There’s surely no reason I now why you shouldn’t. You’ll be free before long.”
She shook her head. “Junius is coming i home.”
“I wrote and asked him to.”
He stared. “Surely you don’t love him still.”
“I’ve always loved him.”
“Why? Because perhaps, in spite of everything, I know that he still loves me.”
“But your divorce.”
“Oh, Freddy, it has all been a horrible mistake. It was my music he was jealous of. And Rupert. He needn’t have been, the poor blind darling. I have never cared for Rupert that way. I was interested in his career. That was all. And that awful night of my début Junius was j, sitting there in the front row. I saw him. ! Smiled at him and played to him alone in all that big hall, and won him back to , me. Then I saw Rupert sitting behind ¡ him. Junius followed my eyes. And because, lately, I have felt that he planted ' himself deliberately there behind Junius,
I have let him go.”
Her hand closed on his. “But it’s all over now. And Junius is coming home.” “If he comes—you’ve got to face it, my dear—it will mean the old life, the old bickering and incessant jealousy all over again. Why will you do it?”
“I’ve told you why.” She smiled again. “I’ll play now if you like. What shall it be?”
“Oh, anything you please. That thing Rupert was singing when that ship station cut him off.”
Her eyes blazed suddenly. ‘Tm glad it cut him off. He was singing that because he knew that I’d be listening in. It—well, that piece belongs to me. But because I’m happy tonight after all these months, I’ll play it for you-—and sing it j too.”
She ■ moved to the grand piano in a corner of the room, her slim, beautiful i body clad in a trailing frock of ivory satin with a single orchid. There was a dreaming light in her deep, fringed eyes as she sat upon the bench, and one hand smoothed the mass of ash-gold hair that framed her lovely face and flowed to a simple Grecian knot behind.
Delicately she flexed her fingers and looked around. She caught Grenfell’s ; steady, encouraging gaze and turned back, her eyes lost among unseen stars. Her hands dropped, and a wine of melody flowed from her petalled fingertips into the ivory keys.
Res’less dream all done;
Shadows gone, break o’ day,
Real life just begun.
Dere’s no break, ain’t no end,
Jes’ a-livin’ on,
Wide awake, with a smile Goin’ on and on—”
She played it through, singing in a soft, throaty contralto; and as the last yearn, ing note floated upon the room’s hushed j air she dropped her head. Her white i hands brushed the keys, then rested upon them, light, like a benediction, like a caress.