THE CAPTAIN OF THE KANSAS
AUTHOR OF "THE WINGS OF THE MORNING," "THE PILLAR OF LIGHT," ETC.
GROSSET & DUNLAP
PUBLISHERS — NEW YORK
Copyright, 1906, by
EDWARD J. CLODE
Entered at Stationers' Hall
ITEMS NOT IN THE MANIFEST
WHEREIN THE CAPTAIN KEEPS TO HIS OWN QUARTERS
WHEREIN THE CAPTAIN REAPPEARS
ELSIE GOES ON DECK
THE KANSAS SUSTAINS A CHECK
—BUT GOES ON AGAIN INTO THE UNKNOWN
UNTIL THE DAWN
IN A WILD HAVEN
A PROFESSOR OF WITCHCRAFT
"MISSING AT LLOYDS"
THE FIRST WATCH
IN WHICH THE UNEXPECTED HAPPENS
A MAN'S METHOD—AND A WOMAN'S
A FULL NIGHT
WHEREIN THE KANSAS RESUMES HER VOYAGE
The Captain of the Kansas
ITEMS NOT IN THE MANIFEST
"I think I shall enjoy this trip," purred Isobel Baring, nestling comfortably among the cushions of her deck chair. A steward was arranging tea for two at a small table. The Kansas, with placid hum of engines, was speeding evenly through an azure sea.
"I agree with that opinion most heartily, though, to be sure, so much depends on the weather," replied her friend, Elsie Maxwell, rising to pour out the tea. Already the brisk sea-breeze had kissed the Chilean pallor from Elsie's face, which had regained its English peach-bloom. Isobel Baring's complexion was tinged with the warmth of a pomegranate. At sea, even in the blue Pacific, she carried with her the suggestion of a tropical garden.
"I never gave a thought to the weather," purred Isobel again, as she subsided more deeply into the cushions.
"Let us hope such a blissful state of mind may be justified. But you know, dear, we may run into a dreadful gale before we reach the Straits."
"All the better!" she cried. "People tell me I am a most fascinating invalid. I look like a creamy orchid. And what luck to have a chum so disinterested as you where a lot of nice men are concerned! What have I done to deserve it? Because you are really charming, you know."
"Does that mean that you have already discovered a lot of nice men on board?"
Elsie handed her friend a cup of tea and a plate of toast.
"Naturally. While you were mooning over the lights and tints of the Andes, I kept an eye, both eyes in fact, on our compulsory acquaintances of the next three weeks. To begin with, there's the captain."
"He is good-looking, certainly. Somewhat reserved, I fancied."
"Reserved!" Isobel showed all her fine teeth in a smile. Incidentally, she took a satisfactory bite out of a square of toast. "I 'll soon shake the reserve out of him. He is mine. You will see him play pet dog long before we meet that terrible gale of yours."
"Isobel, you promised your father—"
"To look after my health during the voyage. Do you think that I intend only to sleep, eat, and read novels all the way to London? Then, indeed, I should be ill. But there is a French Comte on the ship. He is mine, too."
"You mean to find safety in numbers?"
"Oh, there are others. Of course, I am sure of my little Count. He twisted his mustache with such an air when I skidded past him in the companionway."
Elsie bent forward to give the chatterer another cup of tea.
"And you promised to read Moliere at least two hours daily!" she sighed good-humoredly. Even the most sensible people, and Elsie was very sensible, begin a long voyage with idiotic programs of work to be done.
"I mean to substitute a live Frenchman for a dead one—that is all. And I am sure Monsieur le Comte Edouard de Poincilit will do our French far more good than 'Les Fourberies de Scapin.'"
"Am I to be included in the lessons? And you actually know the man's name already?"
"Read it on his luggage, dear girl. He has such a lot. See if he doesn't wear three different colored shirts for breakfast, lunch, and tea. And, if you refuse to help, who is to take care of le p'tit Edouard while I give the captain a trot round. Don't look cross, there's a darling, though you do remind me, when you open your eyes that way, of a delightful little American schoolma'am I met in Lima. She had drifted that far on her holidays, and I believe she was horrified with me."
"Perhaps she thought you were really the dreadful person you made yourself out to be. Now, Isobel, that does not matter a bit in Valparaiso, where you are known, but in Paris and London—"
"Where I mean to be equally well known, it is a passport to smart society to be un peu risque. Steward! Give my compliments to Captain Courtenay, and say that Miss Maxwell and Miss Baring hope he will favor them with his company to tea."
Elsie's bright, eager face flushed slightly. She leaned forward, with a certain squaring of the shoulders, being a determined young person in some respects.
"For once, I shall let you off," she said in a low voice. "So I give you fair warning, Isobel, I must not be included in impromptu invitations of that kind. Next time I shall correct your statement most emphatically."
"Good gracious! I only meant to be polite. Tut, tut! as dad says when he can't swear before ladies, I shan't make the running for you any more."
Elsie drummed an impatient foot on the deck. There was a little pause. Isobel closed her eyes lazily, but she opened them again when she heard her friend say:
"I am sorry if I seem crotchety, dear. Indeed, it is no pretense on my part. You cannot imagine how that man Ventana persecuted me. The mere suggestion of any one's paying me compliments and trying to be fascinating is so repellent that I cringe at the thought. And even our sailor-like captain will think it necessary to play the society clown, I suppose, seeing that we are young and passably good-looking."
Isobel Baring raised her head from the cushions.
"Ventana was a determined wooer, then? What did he do?" she asked.
"He—he pestered me with his attentions. Oh, I should have liked to flog him with a whip!"
"He was always that sort of person—too serious," and the head dropped again.
The steward returned. He was a half-caste; his English was to the point.
"De captin say he busy, he no come," was his message.
Elsie's display of irritation vanished in a merry laugh. Isobel bounced up from the depths of the chair; her dark eyes blazed wrathfully.
"Tell him—" she began.
Then she mastered her annoyance sufficiently to ascertain what it was that Captain Courtenay had actually said, and she received a courteous explanation in Spanish that the commander could not leave the chart-house until the Kansas had rounded the low-lying, red-hued Cape Caraumilla, which still barred the ship's path to the south—the first stage of the long voyage from Valparaiso to London.
But pertinacity was a marked trait of the Baring family; otherwise, Isobel's father, a bluff, church-warden type of man, would not have won his way to the chief place in the firm of Baring, Thompson, Miguel & Co., Mining and Export Agents, the leading house in Chile's principal port. Notwithstanding Elsie's previous outburst, the steward was sent back to ask if the ladies might visit the bridge later. Meanwhile, would Captain Courtenay like a cup of tea? All things considered, there was only one possible answer; Captain Courtenay would be charmed if they favored him with both the tea and their company.
"I thought so," cried Isobel, triumphantly. "Come on, Elsie! Let us climb the ladder of conquest. The steward will bring the tea-things. The chart-house is just splendid. It will provide a refuge when the Count becomes too pressing."
There was a tightening of Elsie's lips to which Isobel paid no heed. The imminent protest was left unspoken, for Courtenay's voice came to them:
"Please hold on by the rail. If a foot were to slip on one of those brass treads the remainder of the day would be a compound of tears and sticking-plaster."
"I think you said 'reserved,'" whispered Isobel to her companion with a wicked little laugh. To Courtenay, peering through a hatch in the hurricane deck, she cried:
"Is the brass rail more dependable than you, captain?"
"It will serve your present purpose, Miss Baring," said he, not taking the hint.
Gathering her skirts daintily in her left hand, Isobel tripped up the steep stairs. Elsie followed. Courtenay, who had the manner and semblance of the first lieutenant of a warship, stood outside a haven of plate glass, shining mahogany, and white paint. The woodwork of the deck was scrubbed until it had the color of new bread. An officer paced the bridge; a sailor, within the chart-house, held the small wheel of the steam steering-gear. Somewhat to Isobel's surprise, neither man seemed to be aware of her presence.
"So this is your den?" she said, throwing her bird-like glance over the bright interior, before she gave the commander a look which was designed to bewitch him instantly. "Surely you don't sleep here, too?"
"Oh, no. This room is the brain of the ship, Miss Baring. We are always wide-awake here. My quarters are farther aft. I think I can find a chair for you if you care to sit down while I have my tea."
The captain led the way to a spacious cabin behind the chart-house.
"I hope you don't mind the chairs being secured to the deck," he said, taking off his hat. "So far above sea line, you know, everything that is loose comes to grief when the ship rolls."
"Then what becomes of your photographs?" demanded Isobel, promptly, her quick eyes having discovered the pictures of two ladies in silver frames on a writing-table.
"I take care to put them away. There is always plenty of warning. No ordinary sea can trouble a big hulk like the Kansas."
"Is that your mother, the dear old lady in the lace cap?"
"Yes, and the other is my sister."
"Oh, really! Is she married?"
"No. Like me, she is wedded to her profession."
"Will you think it rude if I ask what that is?"
"She is a hospital nurse; the matron, indeed, of a public institution in the suburbs of London."
"How wonderful! I do admire hospital nurses so much. They are so clever and self-sacrificing, and they always have a smile on their sweet faces. Only dad wouldn't hear of such a thing, I should love to be a nurse myself."
And Isobel sighed, dropped her long eyelashes, and examined the toe of a smart brown shoe with a wistful resignation. Courtenay was politely incredulous, but the arrival of the steward with the replenished tea-tray created a diversion.
"Do let me pour your tea," cried Isobel. "I make lovely tea, don't I, Elsie?"
Elsie laughed so cheerfully that Isobel flashed an interrogatory glance at her. Certainly, the notion of Isobel Baring claiming the domestic virtues was amusing. But Elsie answered at once:
"I know few things that you cannot do admirably, dear."
So Isobel filled a cup, asked if Captain Courtenay took milk and sugar, and said demurely, with a sip of a spoonful:
"Let me see if I can guess your tastes."
Elsie's blue eyes assumed a deeper shade. Men might like that kind of thing, but she felt that her face and neck would be poppy red in another moment. Thus far she had not addressed a word to Courtenay, though by his manner he had included her in the conversation. She now resolved to break in on the attack which Isobel was beginning with the adroitness of a skilled campaigner. And she, too, could use her eyes to advantage when she chose.
"What a curious library you have, Captain Courtenay," she said, looking, not at him, but at a row of books fitting closely into a small case over the writing-table. Instantly the sailor was interested.
"Why 'curious,' Miss Maxwell?" he asked.
"First, in their assortment; secondly, in the similarity of their binding. I have never before seen the Bible, Walt Whitman, and Dumas in covers exactly alike."
"That is easily explained. They are bound to order. My real trouble was to secure editions of equal size—an essential, you see—otherwise they would not pack into their shelf."
"But what a gathering! Shakespeare, the Pilgrim's Progress, Montaigne's Essays, Herbert Spencer, Goethe's Life, by Lewes, Marcus Aurelius, Martial, Wordsworth, The Egoist, Thoreau, Hazlitt, and Mitford's Tales of Old Japan! Where have I heard or read of that particular galaxy of stars before?"
"Go on. You are on the right track," cried Courtenay, setting down the teacup and hastening to Elsie's side. She was leaning on the table, reading the titles of the books. The motive of her exclamation was merged now in the fine ardor of the book-lover. She had an unconscious trick of placing the forefinger of her right hand on her lips when deeply engaged in thought. Elegant as Isobel Baring might be in her studied poses, Elsie need fear no comparison as she examined the contents of the bookcase with eager attention.
"Why the Vicomte de Bragelonne only, and not the Three Musketeers?" she mused aloud. "And if the Life of Goethe, why not his poems, his essays, Werther?—Ah, I know—'the crowning offence of Werther.' A Stevenson library! Each volume he recommends in 'Books which have influenced men,' I suppose? What a charming idea! I shall never forgive myself for not having thought of it long ago."
Courtenay laughed and blushed like any schoolgirl. Elsie's appreciation had a downright, honest ring in it that went far beyond the platitudes. She accorded him the ready comradeship of a kin soul.
"Many people have been surprised by my collection; you are the first to discover its inspiration," he said.
"That is not strange. There are so few who read. Reading means discerning, interpreting. I am a worshiper of R. L. S., but I have been shocked to find that for a hundred who can talk glibly of his novels there is hardly one who has communed with him in his essays."
"We have actually hit upon a topic that should prove inexhaustible. Believe me, Miss Maxwell, that is my pet subject. More than once, needing a listener, I have even lectured my long-suffering terrier, Joey, on the point."
Isobel laughed softly. The two standing in front of the bookcase started apart, with a sudden consciousness that they were speaking unguardedly, for Isobel's mirth had mockery in it—"there was a laughing devil in her sneer."
"By the way, where is Joey?" she asked.
The dog answered her question by appearing, with a stretch and a yawn, from beneath a bunk. He had heard his name in Courtenay's voice. That sufficed for Joey at any time.
"What a strange animal!" went on Isobel. "I should have thought that he would bark, or peep out at us, at the least, when we came in."
"Joey had a disturbed night," said Courtenay. "We passed the evening in the Hotel Colon, and he regards South American hotels as the natural dwelling-place of cats, and other bad characters. Here, he is at home, and he knew that I was present."
"Otherwise, he would have classified us as suspicious?"
"He is far too discriminating. What do you say, pup?"
Joey looked up at his master. Apparently, he found the conversation trivial; he yawned again, capaciously.
"You darling! You must have slept with one eye open," said Elsie, stooping to pat him.
"Oh, take care!" cried Isobel. "He may bite you."
"Not he! When you see that wistful look in a dog's eyes, have no fear. He wants to speak then. You won't bite me, will you, dear?" And Elsie sank on one knee, to stroke Joey's white coat; whereupon Joey tried to lick her face.
"Between the Stevenson Library and the captain's dog you are installed as a prime favorite on board the Kansas," commented Isobel. The other girl rose hurriedly. She had caught the touch of malice in the smooth voice.
"Captain Courtenay is too polite to remind us that we are intruders," she said lightly. "We forget that he is busy. Joey, candidly canine, did not try to hide his feelings."
Isobel swung her chair round to face the door.
"This is quite the best place in the ship," she said. "I am very comfortable, thank you. Please don't send us away, captain."
Before Courtenay could answer, the officer of the watch looked in.
"Cape Caraumilla bearing sou'west of the Buei Rock, sir," he announced, and vanished again.
"Don't hurry," said Courtenay, taking up his cap. "I must leave you for a few minutes."
He was gone, with Joey at his heels, and there was a brief silence.
"Really, Isobel, we should go back on deck," urged Elsie, uneasily. Already she half regretted the impulse which led her to intervene in her friend's special hobby.
"I like that. I didn't credit you with such guile, Elsie Maxwell. You snap up my nice captain beneath my very nose, and coolly propose that I should vacate the battlefield. Oh dear, no! I can't talk literature, but I can flirt, and I have not finished with Arthur yet by a long chalk."
"Isobel, if you knew how you hurt me—"
Miss Baring crossed her pretty feet, folded her arms, and gave her companion a smiling glance.
"So artful, too. 'Love me, love my dog,' eh? You actually took my breath away."
"It may amaze you to learn that I meant to achieve that much, at any rate," was Elsie's quiet retort as she turned to select a volume from the queer miscellany in the bookcase.
"Oh, don't be cruel. Leave me my Frenchman! Say you won't wheedle Edouard by quoting the classics of his native tongue! Poor me! Here have I been warming a serpent in my bosom."
With a moue of make-believe anguish Isobel leaned back in her chair. She was insolently conscious of her superior attractions. Was she not the richest heiress in Valparaiso? Had not her father chartered this ship? And was not Elsie even now flying from an unwelcome suitor? She knew full well that her friend would resent the slightest semblance of love-making on the part of any man on board. Already her astonishment at Elsie's unlooked-for vivacity was yielding to the humor of meeting such a rival. The Count might serve as a foil, but the real quarry now was the captain. That very night there would be a moon. And the sea was calm as a sheltered lake. Isobel's lips parted in a delighted smile as she tried to imagine Courtenay deserting her to discuss those celebrities whom Elsie had made the most of. And how she would play off the Count against the captain! They ought to be at daggers drawn long before the Straits of Magellan were reached. Certainly she never expected such sport on board such a humdrum ship as the Kansas.
Suddenly they both heard an excited bark from the dog, and the quick rush of feet along the deck; Courtenay's voice reached them with a new and startling note in it.
"Stop that!" he shouted.
There was an instant's pause. Their alert ears caught the sounds of a distant scuffle. Then a pistol shot jarred the peaceful drone of the ship.
"Sheer off, there!" roared Courtenay again. "Next time I shoot to kill!"—
With terror in their eyes, with blanched cheeks, they rushed to the door and peeped out. Courtenay was not to be seen, but the officer of the watch was swinging himself over the canvas shield of the bridge. He disappeared. Joey, barking furiously, trotted into view and ran back again. Creeping forward, they saw the stolid sailor within the chart-house squint at the compass and give the wheel a slight turn. That was reassuring. Yet another timorous pace, and through the curving window they could discern Courtenay, holding a revolver in his right hand, but behind his back.
Even in their alarm they realized that nothing very terrible would happen now. But why had the shot been fired, and what had given that tense ring to Courtenay's threat?
Venturing a little further, they gained the bridge. On the main deck, a long way beneath, near an open hatch, a half-caste Chilean was lying on his back. He had evidently been wounded. Blood was flowing from his leg; it smeared the white deck. The officer who had climbed down so speedily from the bridge was directing two other men how to lift him. Close by, the chief officer, Mr. Boyle, was stanching a deep cut on his chin with a handkerchief. At the same time he curtly ordered off such deck hands and stewards as came running forward, attracted by the disturbance.
The girls were gazing wide-eyed at this somewhat unnerving scene, when Courtenay approached.
"Better go below," he said quietly. "I am sorry this trouble should have happened, at the beginning of the voyage, too. I hope it will not upset you. That rascally Chilean tried to knife Mr. Boyle, and those other blackguards were ready to side with him. I had to shoot quick and straight to show them I meant what I said."
"Is he dead?" asked Isobel, with a contemptuous coolness as to the fate of the mutineer which Courtenay found admirable.
"Not a bit of it. Fired at his legs. Only a flesh wound, I fancy."
"Poor wretch!" murmured Elsie. "Was there no other way?"
"There is only one way of dealing with that sort of skunk," was the gruff answer. The pity in her voice implied a condemnation of his act. He resented it. He knew he had done rightly, and she knew that she had given offence by her involuntary sympathy with the suffering Chilean, who, with the passing of the paralyzing shock of the bullet, was howling dolefully now as the sailors carried him towards the forecastle.
The man's groans tortured her. Her eyes filled with tears. Joey, yelping with frenzy, leaped up to invite her to lift him above the canvas screen so that he might see what was going on. But Elsie could only reach blindly for the rail of the companion-way, and Isobel, after a smiling word of farewell to Courtenay, followed her.
So it came to pass that neither Stevenson nor the moon had power to draw the captain of the Kansas to the promenade deck that night.
WHEREIN THE CAPTAIN KEEPS TO HIS OWN QUARTERS
Doctor Christobal brought some additional details to the dinner-table. He was not the ship's doctor. The Kansas, built for freight rather than passengers, did not carry a surgeon on her roll; Dr. Christobal's presence was due to Mr. Baring's solicitude in his daughter's behalf. It chanced that the courtly and gray-haired Spanish physician had relinquished his practise in Chile, and was about to pay a long-promised visit to a married daughter in Barcelona. Friendship, not unaided by a good fee, induced him to travel by the Kansas.
He had been called on to attend Mr. Boyle and the wounded Chilean, and he reported now that the chief officer's injury was trifling, but the Chilean's wound might incapacitate him during the remainder of the voyage.
"So far as I can gather," he said, "Mr. Boyle had a narrow escape. These half-breeds have a nice anatomical knowledge of the situation of the lung; they also know the easiest way to reach it with a sharp instrument. Captain Courtenay fired as the knife fell, otherwise our first mate would have attended his own funeral this evening."
"What was the cause of the affair?" Isobel asked.
"The man is not one of the ship's crew, I understand. His name is Frascuelo, and it appears that he was engaged to place some bunker coal aboard early this morning. He says that he was drugged, and his clothes stolen; that he came off to the ship at a late hour, and that some one flung him headlong into a hold which, luckily for him, was nearly full of cotton bales. He was stunned by the fall, and were it not for Captain Courtenay's custom of having all hatches taken off and a thorough examination of the cargo made before the holds are finally battened down for the voyage, Frascuelo might now be in a tight place in more than one sense."
Dr. Christobal was proud of his idiomatic English. He spoke the language with the careless freedom of a Londoner.
"Frascuelo seems to have passed an eventful day," said the little French Comte, who had been waiting anxiously for a chance to join in the conversation.
"But why should he want to kill poor Mr. Boyle?" inquired Isobel, after giving the Frenchman an encouraging glance. Incidentally, she smiled at Elsie. "Why puzzle one's brains over foreign tongues when all the world speaks English?" she telegraphed.
"Mr. Boyle is a peculiar person," said the doctor dryly. "I happen to have known him during some years. You and I might regard him as a man of few words, but he has acquired a wonderful vocabulary for the benefit of sailor-men. I believe he can swear in every known lingo. His accomplishment in that direction no doubt annoyed Frascuelo, who became frantic when he heard that the ship would not call at any South American port. I imagine, too, that the unfortunate fellow is still suffering from the drug which, he says, was administered to him. Anyhow, you know how the affair terminated."
"I, for one, think some consideration might have been shown him," said Elsie.
"There is no time for argument when a Chilean draws a knife, Miss Maxwell."
"But, if his story is true—"
"There never yet was a stowaway who did not invent a plausible yarn. Nevertheless, I believe, and Mr. Boyle agrees with me, that the man is not lying."
They felt the ship swing round on a new course, and the rays of the setting sun lit up the saloon table through the open starboard ports.
"Due south now, ladies!" cried Dr. Christobal cheerily. "We have rounded Cape Cardones. We practically follow the seventy-sixth degree until we approach Evangelistas Island. Thus far we are in the open sea. Then we pick our way through the Straits discovered by that daring Portuguese, Fernando de Magallanes, to whose memory I always drink heartily once we are clear of the Cape of the Eleven Thousand Virgins. I never pass through that gloomy defile without marveling at his courage, and thinking that he deserved a better fate than murder at the hands of some painted savage in the Philippines. Peace be to his ashes!"
And the doctor lifted his glass of red wine with a quasi-masonic ritual which lent solemnity to his discourse.
"You are a long way ahead of your toast," said Isobel.
"Just as Magellan was ahead of his times," was the rejoinder.
"Yet he was a man of leisurely habit," put in Elsie, who found Dr. Christobal's old-world manners full of charm and repose.
"How so?" said he, puzzled, for the worthy Portuguese navigator was notoriously a swashbuckler.
"Otherwise he never could have christened any unhappy promontory by such a long-winded name," she explained.
"Perhaps he met a contrary wind in that region," said Christobal, laughing. "Monsieur de Poincilit here, were he in a very bad temper, might exclaim, 'Mille diables!' Why should not our excellent Fernando rail against the almost inconceivable fickleness which could be displayed by eleven times as many young ladies?"
"I came out last time on the Orellana, and I don't even remember passing such a place," said Isobel. She was a Chilean born and bred, but she always affected European vagueness as to the topography of South America. Dr. Christobal knew this weakness of hers; he also remembered her beautiful half-caste mother, from whom Isobel inherited her flashing eyes, her purple-red lips, and a skin in which the exquisite flush of terra-cotta on her checks merged into the delicate pallor of forehead and neck.
But, being a tactful man, he only answered: "Your English sailors, my dear, who gruffly dubbed the adjacent point 'Cape Dungeness,' have shortened Magellan's mouthful into 'Cape Virgins.'—Yet, Ursula was a British saint, and her memory ought to be revered, if only because it keeps alive a classic pun."
A born raconteur, he paused.
"Go right ahead, doctor," came a voice from the lower end of the table.
"Well, the story runs that Princess Ursula fled from Britain to Rome to escape marriage with a pagan—"
"How odd!" interrupted Isobel, and Elsie alone understood the drift of her comment.
"Not at all odd if she didn't happen to like him," said Christobal. "She reached Cologne, and was martyred there by the Huns. Long afterwards a stone was found with the inscription Ursula et Undecimilla Virgines, which was incorrectly translated into 'Ursula and her Eleven Thousand Virgins.' Some later critic pointed out that a missing comma after Undecimilla, the name of a handmaid, made all the difference, assuming that two young ladies were a more reasonable and probable number than eleven thousand. But what legend ever cared for a comma, or reached a full stop? If you go to Cologne, the verger of the Church of St. Ursula will show you the bones of the whole party in glass cases, and, equally amazing, the town of Baoza in Spain claims to be the birthplace of the lot. Clearly, Magellan had a man from Baoza on board his ship."
"All mail steamers ought to provide a lecturer on things in general and interesting places passed in particular," said Isobel.
Dr. Christobal bowed.
"I am sure that some of the officers of the Orellana could have told you the history of Cape Virgins, but they, not to mention the other young gentlemen in the passenger list, would certainly find you better sport than puzzling your pretty head about the ship's landmarks."
"I also came out on the Orellana, but there was no Miss Baring to be seen," murmured the Frenchman.
"You had a dull trip, I take it?" said the doctor, quietly.
"I was very ill," was the response; but, after a stare of surprise, he joined in the resultant laugh quite good-naturedly.
"It is a standing joke that my countrymen are poor sailors," he protested, "and that is strange, don't you think, seeing that France has the second largest navy in the world?"
"Console yourself, monsieur," said Christobal. "Three great sea-captains, Nelson, Cook, and, it is said, Columbus himself, always paid tribute to Neptune. And, if I am not mistaken," he added, glancing through the port windows, "we shall all have our stamina tested before twenty-four hours have passed."
Heads were turned and necks craned to see what had induced this unexpected prophecy. Behind the distant coast-line the inner giants of the Andes threw heavenward their rugged outlines, with many a peak and glacier glinting in vivid colors against a sky so clear and blue that they seemed strangely near.
"Yes, this wonderful atmosphere of ours is enchanting," said the doctor, when assailed by a chorus of doubts. "But it carries its deceptive smiles too far. The very beauty of the Cordillera is a sign of storm. I am sorry to be a croaker; yet we are running into a gale."
"I shall ask the captain," pouted Isobel, rising.
The Count twisted his mustache. He knew that both ladies were in the forbidden territory of the bridge when the fracas occurred.
"You, perhaps, are a good sailor?" said he, addressing Elsie.
"I am afraid to boast," she answered. "I have been in what was called a Number Eight gale, whatever that may mean, and weathered it splendidly, but I am older now."
"It cannot have been long ago, seeing that you recall it so exactly."
"It was six years ago, and I was seventeen then," said Elsie, her eyes wandering to the purple and gold of the far-off mountains.
"But you are English. You are therefore at home on the rolling deep," murmured Monsieur de Poincilit, confidentially. She did not endeavor to interpret his expressive glance, though he seemed to convey more that he said.
"Not so much at home at sea as you are in my language," she replied, and she turned to Dr. Christobal, whom she had already known slightly in Valparaiso.
"Are you coming on deck?" she inquired. "I am sure you are a mine of information on Chile, and I want to extract some of the ore while the land is still visible. It is already assuming the semblance of a dream."
"You are not saying a last farewell to Valparaiso, I hope?" said her elderly companion, as they quitted the salon.
"I think so. I have no ties there, save those of sentiment. I shall not return, unless, if a doubtful fortune permits, I am able some day to revisit two graves which are dear to me."
There was a little catch in her voice, and the doctor was far too sympathetic to endeavor forthwith to divert her sad thoughts.
"I knew your father," he said gently. "He was a most admirable man, but quite unsuited to the environment of a new country, where the dollar is god, and an unstable deity at that. He was swindled outrageously by men who stand high in the community to-day. But you, Miss Maxwell, with your knowledge of Spanish and your other acquirements, should do better here than in Europe, provided, that is, you mean to earn your own living."
"I am proud to hear you speak well of my father," she said. "And I am well aware that he was badly treated in business. I fear, too, that his advocacy of the rights of the Indians brought him into disfavor. Of all his possessions the only remnant left to me is a barren mountain, with a slice of fertile valley, in the Quillota district. It yields me the magnificent revenue of two hundred dollars per annum."
"How in the world did he come to own land there?"
"It was a gift from the Naquilla tribe. He defeated an attempt made to oust them by a big land company. The company has since asked me to sell the property, and offered me a fair price, too, as the cultivable land is a very small strip, but it would be almost like betraying the cause for which he fought, would it not?"
"Yes, indeed," agreed the doctor, though his heart and not his head dictated the reply. "May I ask you to tell me your plans for the future?" he went on.
"Well, when Mr. Baring heard I was going to England, he was good enough to promise me employment in his London agency as Spanish correspondent. That will fill in two days a week. The rest I can devote to art. I paint a little, and draw with sufficient promise to warrant study, I am told. Anyhow, I am weary of teaching; I prefer to be a pupil."
"I cannot imagine what the young men of Valparaiso were thinking of to allow a girl like you to slip off in this fashion," said Christobal with a smile.
"Most of them hold firmly to the belief that a wife's wedding-dress should be made of gilt-edged scrip."
"Poor material—very poor material out of which to construct wedded happiness. And as to my young friend, Isobel? She joins her aunt in London, I hear?"
"That is the present arrangement. She means to have a good time, especially in Paris. I should like to live in Paris myself. Dear old smoke-laden London does not appeal so thoroughly to the artist. Yet, I am content—yes, quite content."
"Then you have gained the best thing in the world," cried the doctor, throwing out his arms expansively.
The two became good friends as the voyage progressed. Christobal was exceedingly well informed, and delighted in a thoughtful listener like Elsie. Isobel, tiring at times of the Count, would join in their conversation, and display a spasmodic interest in the topics they discussed. There were only six other passengers, a Baptist missionary and his wife, three mining engineers, and an English globe-trotter, a singular being who appeared to have roamed the entire earth, but whose experiences were summed up in two words—every place he had seen was either "Fair" or "Rotten."
Even Isobel failed to draw him further, and she said one day, in a temper, after a spirited attempt to extract some of his stored impressions: "The man reminds me of one of those dummy books you see occasionally, bound in calf and labeled 'Gazetteer of the World.' When you try to open a volume you find that it is made of wood."
So they nicknamed him "Mr. Wood," and Elsie once inadvertently addressed him by the name.
"What do you think of the weather, Mr. Wood?" she asked him at breakfast.
He chanced to notice that she was speaking to him.
"Rotten," he said.
Perhaps he wondered why Miss Maxwell flushed and the others laughed. But, in actual fact, he was not far wrong in his curious choice of an adjective that morning. Dr. Christobal's dismal foreboding had been justified on the second day out. Leaden clouds, a sullen sea, and occasional puffs of a stinging breeze from the southwest, offered a sorry exchange for the sunny skies of Chile.
Though the Kansas was not a fast ship, she could have made the entrance to the Straits on the evening of the fourth day were not Captain Courtenay wishful to navigate the most dangerous part of the narrows by daylight. His intent, therefore, was to pick up the Evangelistas light about midnight, and then crack ahead at fourteen knots, so as to be off Felix Point on Desolation Island by dawn.
This was not only a prudent and seamanlike course but it would conduce to the comfort of the passengers. The ship was now running into a stiff gale. Each hour the sea became heavier, and even the eight thousand tons of the Kansas felt the impact of the giant rollers on her starboard bow. Dinner, therefore, promised to be a meal of much discomfort, cheered only by the knowledge that as soon as the vessel reached the lee of Desolation Island the giant waves of the Pacific would lose their power, and all on board would enjoy a quiet night's rest.
There were no absentees at the table. Dr. Christobal strove to enliven the others with the promise of peace ere many hours had passed.
"Pay no heed to those fellows!" he cried, as the ship quivered under the blow of a heavy sea, and they heard the thud of many tons of water breaking over the bows and fore hatch, while the defeated monster washed the tightly screwed ports with a venomous swish. "They cannot harm us now. Let us rather thank kindly Providence which provided Magellan's water-way; think what it would mean were we compelled to weather the Cape."
"I am beginning to catch on to the reasonableness of that toast of yours, doctor," said one of the mining engineers, a young American. "I happen to be a tee-totaler, but I don't mind opening a bottle of the best for the general welfare when we shove our nose past the Cape of the large number of young and unprotected females."
Christobal raised his hand.
"All in good time," he said. "Never halloo for the prairie until you are clear of the forest. If the wind remains in its present quarter, we are fortunate. Should it happen to veer round to the eastward, and you see the rocks of Tierra del Fuego lashed by the choppy sea that can run even through a land-locked channel, you will be ready to open two bottles as a thanks-offering. Is this your first trip round by the south?"
"Yes, I crossed by way of Panama. Guess a mule-track over the Sierras is a heap better than the Pacific in a gale. Jee-whizz!"
A spiteful sea sprang at the Kansas and shook her from stem to stern. The ship groaned and creaked as though she were in pain; she staggered an instant, and then swung irresistibly forward with a fierce plunge that made the plates dance and cutlery rattle in the fiddles.
"I suppose we must endure five hours of this," said Elsie, bravely.
"I don't like it. Why does not Captain Courtenay, or even Mr. Boyle, put in an appearance? I have hardly seen either of them since the day I came aboard."
Isobel was petulant, and perhaps a little frightened. She had not yet reached that stage of confidence familiar to all who cross the open seas. The first period of a gale is terrifying. Later there comes an indifference born of supreme trust in the ship. The steady onward thrust of the engines—the unwavering path across the raging vortex of tumbling gray waters—the orderly way in which the members of the crew follow their duties—these are quietly persistent factors in the gradual soothing of the nerves. Many a timid passenger, after lying awake through a night of terror, has gone to sleep when the watch began to swab the deck overhead. Not even a Spartan sailor would begin to wash woodwork if the ship were sinking.
"All ladies like to see an officer in the saloon during a storm," commented Christobal. "I plead guilty to a weakness in that direction myself, though I know he is much better employed on the bridge."
"The captain cannot be on the bridge always," said Isobel.
"He is seldom far from it in bad weather, if he is faithful to his trust. And I fancy we would all admit that Captain Courtenay—"
A curious shock, sharper and altogether more penetrating than the Thor's hammer blow of a huge wave, sounded loud and menacing in their ears. The ship trembled violently, and then became strangely still. The least experienced traveler on board knew that the engines had stopped. They felt a long lurch to port when the next sea climbed over the bows; at once the Kansas righted herself and rode on even keel, while the stress and turmoil of her fight against wind and wave passed away into a sustained silence.
The half-caste stewards glanced at each other and drew together in whispering groups, but the chief steward, an Englishman, who had turned to leave the saloon, changed his mind and uttered a low growl of command which sent his subordinates' attention, if not their thoughts, back to their work. In the strained hush, the running along the deck of men in heavy sea-boots was painfully audible. Water could be heard pouring through the scuppers. Steam was rushing forth somewhere with vehement bluster. These sounds only accentuated the extraordinary truce in the fight of ship against sea. The Kansas was stricken dumb, if not dead.
"Something has gone wrong," said Elsie in a low voice.
Doctor Christobal nodded carelessly.
"A burst steam-pipe, probably. Such things will happen at times. We are hove to for the moment."
He traded on the ignorance of his hearers. The chief steward heard his explanation and looked at him fixedly. Christobal caught the glance.
"I suppose we shall lose an hour or so now?" he asked.
"Yes, sir. It will be all right by the time you have finished dinner."
The meal drew to its close without much further talk. The American engineer was the first to rise, but the chief steward whispered in his ear; he returned to the table.
"Say," he said calmly, "we can't quit yet. The companion-hatch is closed. We must remain here a bit."
"Do you mean that we are battened down?" demanded Isobel, shrilly, and her face lost some of its beauty in an ashen pallor.
"Something of the sort, Miss Baring. Anyway, we can't go on deck."
"But—I insist on being told what is the matter."
The American knew little of ships, but he knew a great deal about mines, and, in a mine, if an accident happens, the man in charge cannot desert his post to give information to those who are anxious for it. So he replied laconically:
"Guess the captain will tell us all about it after a while, Miss Baring."
"Que diable! I feel like the rat in the trap," said Count Edouard, suppressed excitement rendering his English less fluent.
At another time the phrase would have sent a ripple of amusement through that cheery company. Now, no one smiled. They knew too well what he meant to pay heed to the mere form of his words. No matter how large or sumptuously equipped the trap, the point of view of the rat was new to them.
WHEREIN THE CAPTAIN REAPPEARS
The fierce hissing of the continuous escape of steam excited alarm in those not accustomed to machinery. Men and women share the unreasoning panic of animals when an unknown force reveals its pent-up fury. They forget that safety-valves are provided, that diminished pressure means less risk; the knowledge that restraint, not freedom, is dangerous comes ever in the guise of a new discovery.
The mining engineers, of course, did not share this delusion.
"There must be something serious the matter, or they would not be wasting power like that," murmured the American to one of his fellow-professionals.
"A smash-up in the engine-room. Nada es mas seguro,"  was the answer.
"Wonder if any one is hurt?"
The Spaniard bent a little nearer. "What can you expect?" he whispered sympathetically.
In the unnatural peacefulness of the ship's progress, disturbed only by the roar of the superheated vapor, they all heard the opening of a door at the head of the saloon stairway. The third officer appeared—his wet oilskins gleaming and dripping.
"Dr. Christobal, the captain wishes to speak to you," he said.
Christobal rose and crossed the saloon.
"As you are here, won't you tell the ladies there is nothing to be afraid of in the mere stopping of the engines?" he suggested.
"Oh, the ship is right enough," was the hasty response. "There has been an accident in the stokehold. That is all."
"Want any help?" demanded the American.
"Well—I'll ask the captain."
Evidently anxious to avoid further questioning, he ran up the companion. Christobal followed, the door was closed and bolted again.
"I hate the word 'accident.' It covers so many horrid possibilities," said Isobel.
"I am afraid some poor fellows have been injured, and that is why Captain Courtenay sent for Dr. Christobal," said Elsie.
"Oh, of course, I meant that. I was not thinking of the mere delay, though it is annoying that a breakdown should occur here."
"It would be equally bad anywhere else," put in the missionary's wife, timidly.
"By no means," was the sharp response. "If we were in the Straits, for instance, we could signal to San Isidro or Sandy Point; and there would be other vessels passing. Here, we are in the worst possible place."
Miss Baring's acquaintance with the chief features of the South American coast-line had seemingly improved. To all appearance, she alone among the passengers, now that Christobal was gone, realized vaguely the perilous plight of the Kansas. The fact was that even a girl of her apparently frivolous disposition could not avoid the influences of environment.
In a maritime community like that of Valparaiso there was every reason to know and dread the rock-bound coast which fringed the southern path towards civilization. Strange, half-forgotten stories of the terrors which await a disabled ship caught in a southwesterly gale on the Pacific side of Tierra del Fuego rose dimly in her mind. And the advancing darkness did not tend towards cheerfulness. In her new track, the Kansas had turned her back on the murky light which penetrated the storm-clouds towards the west. Unhinged by the external gloom and the prevalent uncertainty, and finding that no one cared to dispute with her, Isobel felt that a scream or two would be a relief. For once, pride was helpful—it saved her from hysteria.
The curious sense of waiting, they knew not for what, which dulled the thoughts and stilled the tongues of the small company at the table, soon communicated itself to the stewards. The men stood in little knots, exchanging few words, and those mostly meaningless; but the chief steward, whose trained ear caught the regular beat of the donkey-engine, woke them up with a series of sharp orders.
"Switch on the lights," he said loudly. "Clear the table and hurry up with the coffee. Get a move on those fellows, Gomez. Have you never before been in a ship when the screw stopped?"
The Gomez thus appealed to was the Englishman's second-in-command; he acted as interpreter when anything out of the common was required. He muttered a few words in the Hispano-Indian patois which his hearers best understood, and the scene in the saloon changed with wondrous suddenness. The glow of the electric lamps banished the gathering shadows. The luxurious comfort of the apartment soon dispelled the notion of danger. Coffee was brought. The smoking saloon was inaccessible, owing to the closing of the gangway, but the chief steward suggested that the gentlemen might smoke if the ladies were agreeable. Under such circumstances the ladies always are agreeable, and the instant result was a distinct rise in the social barometer.
The noise of the steam exhaust ceased as abruptly as it began. The ship was riding easily in spite of the heavy sea. Drifting with wind and wave is a simple thing for a big vessel. There is no struggle, no tearing asunder of resisting forces. Thus might a boat caught in the pitiless current of Niagara glide towards the brink of the cataract with cunning smoothness.
And then, while the occupants of the saloon were endeavoring to persuade each other that all was well, the loud wail of the siren thrilled them with increased foreboding. It was not the warning note of a fog, nor the sharp course-signal for the guidance of a passing ship, but a sustained trumpeting, which announced to any steamer hidden in the darkening waste of waters that the Kansas was not under control. It was a wild, sinister appeal for help, the voice of the disabled vessel proclaiming her need; and the answer seemed to come in a fiercer shriek of the gale, while the added fury of the blast brought a curling sea over the poop. The Kansas staggered and shook herself clear. The wave smashed its way onward; several iron stanchions snapped with reports like pistol-shots, and there was an intolerable rending of woodwork. But, whatever the damage, the powerful hull rose triumphantly from the clutch of its assailant. Shattered streams of water poured off the decks like so many cascades. Loud above the splash of these miniature cataracts vibrated the tense boom of the fog-horn.
It was a nerve-racking moment. It demanded the leadership of a strong man, and there are few gatherings in Anglo-Saxondom which cannot produce a Caesar when required.
"Say," shouted the American, his clear voice dominating the turmoil, "that gave us a shower-bath. If we could just stand outside and see ourselves, we should look like an illuminated fountain."
That was the right note—belief in the ship, contempt of the darkness and the gale. The crisis passed.
"There really cannot be a heavy sea," said Elsie, cheerfully inaccurate. "Otherwise we should be pitching or rolling, perhaps both, whereas we are actually far more steady than when dinner commenced."
"I find these lulls in the storm most trying," complained Isobel. "They remind me of some wild animal hunting its prey, creeping up with silent stealth, and then springing."
"I have never before heard a fog-horn sounded so continuously," said the missionary's wife, a Mrs. Somerville. "Don't you think they are whistling for assistance?"
"Assistance! What sort of assistance can anybody give us here? Unless the ship rights herself very soon we don't know what may happen."
Isobel seemed to have a premonition of evil, and she paid no heed to the effect her words might have on the others. Although the saloon was warm—almost uncomfortably hot owing to the closing of the main air-passages—she shivered.
Mr. Somerville drew a book from his pocket. "If that be so," he said gently, "may I suggest that we seek aid from One who is all-powerful? We are few, and of different religions, but in this hour we can surely worship at a common altar."
"Right!" said the taciturn Englishman, varying his adjective for once. The missionary offered up a short but heartfelt prayer, and, finding that he carried his congregation with him, read the opening verse of Hymn No. 370, "For those at Sea."
The stewards, most of whom understood a few words of English, readily grasped the fact that the padri was asking for help in a situation which they well knew to be desperate. They drew near reverently, and even joined in the simple lines:
O hear us when we cry to Thee For those in peril on the sea.
During the brief silence which followed the singing of the hymn it did, indeed, seem to their strained senses that the fierce violence of the gale had somewhat abated. It was not so, in reality. A steady fall in the barometer foretold even worse weather to come. Courtenay, assured now that the main engines were absolutely useless, thought it advisable to get steering way on the ship by rigging the foresail, double-reefed and trapped. The result was quickly perceptible. The Kansas might not be pooped again, but she would travel more rapidly into the unknown.
Yet this only afforded another instance of the way men reason when they seek to explain cause from effect. The hoisting of that strip of stout canvas was one of the time-factors in the story of an eventful night, for it was with gray-faced despair that the captain gave the requisite order when the second engineer reported that his senior was dead, the crown of two furnaces destroyed, and the engines clogged, if not irretrievably damaged, by fallen debris. None realized better than the young commander what a disastrous fate awaited his ship in the gloom of the flying scud ahead. There was a faint chance of encountering another steamship which would respond to his signals. Then he would risk all by laying the Kansas broadside on in the effort to take a tow-rope aboard. Meanwhile, it was best to bring her under some sort of control, the steam steering-gear, driven by the uninjured donkey-engine, being yet available.
In the saloon, Elsie had shielded her face in her hands, to hide the tears which the entreaty of the hymn had brought to her eyes. Some one whispered to her:
"Won't you sing something, Miss Maxwell?"
It was the American. He judged that the sweet voice which unconsciously led the singing of the hymn must be skilled in other music.
She looked up at him, her eyes shining.
"Sing! Do you think it possible?" she asked.
"Yes. You can do a brave thing, I guess, and that would be brave."
"I will try," she said, and she walked to the piano which was screwed athwart the deck in front of the polished mahogany sheath of the steel mainmast. It was in her mind to play some lively excerpts from the light operas then in vogue, but the secret influences of the hour were stronger than her studied intent, and, when her fingers touched the keys, they wandered, almost without volition, into the subtle harmonies of Gounod's "Ave Maria." She played the air first; then, gaining confidence, she sang the words, using a Spanish version which had caught her fancy. It was good to see the flashing eyes and impassioned gestures of the Chilean stewards when they found that she was singing in their own language. These men, owing to their acquaintance with the sea and knowledge of the coast, were now in a state of panic; they would have burst the bonds of discipline on the least pretext. So, as it chanced, the voice of the English senorita reached them as the message of an angel, and the spell she cast over them did not lose its potency during some hours of dangerous toil. Here, again, was found one of the comparatively trivial incidents which contributed materially to the working out of a strange drama, because anything in the nature of a mutinous orgy breaking out in the first part of that soul-destroying night must have instantly converted the ship into a blood-bespattered Inferno.
Excited applause rewarded the song. Fired by example, the dapper French Count approached the piano and asked Elsie if she could play Beranger's "Roi d'Yvetot." She repressed a smile at his choice, but the chance that presented itself of initiating a concert on the spur of the moment was too good to be lost, so M. de Poincilit, in a nice light tenor, told how
Il etait un roi d'Yvetot Pen connu dans l'histoire, Se levant tard, se couchant tot, Dormant fort bien sans gloire.
The Frenchman took the merry monarch seriously, but the lilting melody pleased everybody except "Mr. Wood." The "Oh, Oh's" and "Ah, Ah's" of the chorus apparently stirred him to speech. He strolled from a corner of the saloon to the side of Gray, the American engineer, and said, with a contemptuous nod towards the singer:
"Not a bit of it. He's all right. Won't you give us a song next?"
If Gray showed the face of a sphinx, so did "Mr. Wood," whose real name was Tollemache. He bent a little nearer.
"Seen the rockets?" he asked.
"No. Are we signaling?"
"Every minute. Have counted fifteen."
"You don't say. Things are in a pretty bad shape, then?"
"Well, like Brer Rabbit, we must lie low and say nothing."
This opinion was incontrovertible. Moreover, Tollemache was not one who needed urging to keep his mouth shut. Indeed, this was by far the longest conversation he had indulged in since he came aboard; nor was he finished with it.
"Ship will strike soon," he said.
Gray turned on him sharply. "Oh, nonsense!" he exclaimed. "What has put that absurd notion into your head?"
"Know this coast."
"But we are far out at sea."
"Fifty miles from danger line, two hours ago. Thirty now."
"Are you sure?"
"Do you mean to tell me that in three hours, or less, the ship may be a wreck?"
"Will be," said Tollemache. "Have a cigar," and he passed a well-filled case to his companion.
The American was beginning to take the silent one's measure. He bit off the end of a cigar and lit it.
"What's at the back of your head?" he asked coolly. The other looked towards the Chileans.
"Those chaps are rotters," he said.
"You think they will cut up rough? What can they do? We must all sink or swim together."
"Yes; but there are the women, you know. They must be looked after. You can count on me. Tell the chief steward—and the padri."
Gray felt that here was a man after his own heart, the native-born American having a rough-and-ready way of classifying nationalities when the last test of manhood is applied by a shipwreck, or a fire.
"Got a gun?" he inquired.
"Cabin. Goin' for it first opportunity."
"Same here. But the captain will give us some sort of warning?"
"Perhaps not. Die quick, die happy."
Then Gray smiled, and he could not help saying: "Tell you what, cousin, if you shoot as straight as you talk, these stewards will come to heel, no matter what happens."
"Fair shot," admitted Tollemache, and he stalked off to his stateroom, while the Count was vociferating, for the last time:
Quel bon p'tit roi c'etait la! La, la!
Between Elsie and de Poincilit the chorus made quite a respectable din. Few noticed that the saloon main companion had been opened again, until the sharp bark of a dog joining in the hand-clapping turned every eye towards the stairway. Captain Courtenay was descending. In front ran Joey, who, of course, imagined that the plaudits of the audience demanded recognition. Courtenay had removed his oilskins before leaving the bridge. His dark blue uniform was flecked with white foam, and a sou'wester was tied under his chin, otherwise his appearance gave little sign of the wild tumult without. Joey, on the other hand, was a very wet dog, and inclined to be snappy. When, in obedience to a stern command, he ceased barking, he shook himself violently, and sent a shower of spray over the carpet. Then he cocked an eye at the chief steward, who represented bones and such-like dainties.
Courtenay, removing his glistening head-gear, advanced a couple of paces into the saloon. He seemed to avoid looking at any individual, but took in all present in a comprehensive glance. Elsie, who had exchanged very few words with him since the first afternoon she came on board, thought he looked worn and haggard, but his speech soon revealed good cause for any lack of sprightliness.
"I regret to have to inform you," he said, with the measured deliberation of a man who has made up his mind exactly what to say, "that the ship has been disabled by some accident, the cause of which is unknown at present. The unfortunate result is that she is in a position of some peril."
There was a sudden stir among the Chilean stewards, whose wits were sharpened sufficiently to render the captain's statement quite clear to them. Isobel uttered a little sob of terror, and Mrs. Somerville gasped audibly, "Oh, my poor children!" Elsie, her lips parted, sat forward on the piano-stool. Her senses seemed to have become intensified all at once. She could see everything, hear everything. Some of the Chileans and Spaniards crossed themselves; others swore. Count Edouard breathed hard and muttered "Grand Dieu!" She wondered why the captain and Mr. Tollemache, who had returned from his stateroom, and was standing in the half light of a doorway, should simultaneously drop their right hands into a coat pocket. Mr. Tollemache, too, gave a queer little nod to the American, who had moved near to Isobel and placed a hand on her shoulder. Elsie was quite sure that Gray whispered: "For goodness' sake, don't cause a scene!" And, indeed, he did ask Isobel and Mrs. Somerville, with some curtness, to restrain themselves.
Courtenay, with one cold glance, chilled into silence the muttered prayers and curses of the Chileans.
"It may be necessary, about daybreak, to endeavor to beach the ship," he continued. "I wish you all, therefore, to guard against possible exposure by wearing warm clothes, especially furs and overcoats. Money and jewelry should be secured, but no baggage of any sort, not even the smallest handbag, can be carried, as all other personal belongings must be left on board. Passengers will gather here, and remain here until I send one of the officers for them. The companion doors will not be closed again, but the decks are quite impassable. You hear for yourselves that they are momentarily swept by heavy seas."
He turned to the chief steward.
"Your men, Mr. Malcolm," he said, "will begin at once, under your directions, to draw stores for each boat. There need be no hurry or excitement. We are, as yet, many miles distant from the nearest known land. If the wind changes, or one of several possible things happens, the Kansas will suffer no damage whatever. I wish all hands to be prepared, however, for the chance, the remote chance, I trust, of the ship's being driven ashore, and I beg each one of you to remember that discipline and strict obedience to orders are not only more necessary now than ever, but also that they will be strictly enforced."
The concluding sentence was uttered very slowly and clearly. It was evident he meant the ship's company to understand him. Before any of his hearers attempted to question him, he jammed the sou'wester on his head and ran up the stairs. The dog followed, somewhat ruefully, the cozy saloon being far more to his liking than the wind-swept, spray-lashed chart-house. Mr. Malcolm promptly stirred his myrmidons with a command to fall in by boats' crews, and Gomez won his chief's approval by quietly translating the captain's orders. Beyond Mrs. Somerville's subdued sobbing there was little outward manifestation that another crisis in the history of the Kansas and her human freight had come and gone.
"The skipper did turn up, you see," said the American, when Tollemache came to him. The silent man screwed his lips together as if he would put a padlock on them.
"From your knowledge of the coast, do you think he will be able to beach the ship?" went on Gray, some humorous imp prompting him, even in that tense moment, to draw the expected answer from his new friend and ally.
"Yes, in pieces," said Tollemache, and the reply was neither humorous nor expected.
 Nothing is more certain.
ELSIE GOES ON DECK
As a little yeast leavens much flour so does the presence of a few stout-hearted men give strength and courage to a multitude. Although the rumor soon went the rounds that the giant wave which pooped the ship had carried away two of her six boats, there were no visible signs of flurry in the measures taken to equip the remaining boats for use. The men had confidence in their officers; every one worked smoothly and well.
All told, there were eighty persons on board when the Kansas left Valparaiso. Of these, seventeen, including the officers, were of European birth or lineage. The remaining sixty-three were men of mixed nationalities, ranging from Spanish-speaking Chileans to negroes. There were eight under-stewards, a cook and his assistants, and nearly fifty sailors and firemen. Unfortunately, the explosion in the stokehold had killed the chief engineer and one of his juniors, while six stokers were dead and several injured.
It was discovered that, before he died, the chief had shut off steam, and thus prevented the accident from assuming far more serious proportions. The second engineer, a Newcastle man named Walker, who rushed to the engine-room at the first indication of a mishap, found his chief lying in collapse on the lever platform. Walker promptly opened certain levers which allowed the steam to escape freely; then he carried his comrade out of the spume to the deck. It was too late. Partial suffocation had placed too great a strain on a diseased heart; by the time Dr. Christobal was summoned, a brave man was dead.
Courtenay, who had left instructions that he was to be called when the Evangelistas light was sighted, was sound asleep. In the elevated quarters assigned to the captain, the noise of the explosion differed little from the thunderous blows of the sea. But the stopping of the engines awoke him instantly. He felt the ship lurch away from her course, and saw the quick swerve of the compass indicator over his head. As he ran down the gangway leading from the bridge he heard the officer of the watch say:
"Something given way in the engine-room, sir."
Several minutes elapsed before he, or Walker, aided by willing volunteers, could penetrate the depths of the stoke-hold. The place was a charnel-house, a stifling pit, filled with the charred contents of the furnaces, which gave off the most noisome fumes owing to the rapid condensation of steam and water escaping from the damaged pipes. But the gale raging without served one good purpose in driving plenty of air down the ventilating cowls. Gradually, the choking atmosphere cleared. Courtenay was the first to reach the lowermost rung of the iron ladder, whence he looked with the eyes of despair on a scene of death and ruin.
The electric light was uninjured. It revealed the bodies of several men, either dead or insensible, lying amidst the scattered coal. Shovels, stoking-rods, and pieces of iron plate had been hurled about in wild confusion. The door of one furnace was blown clean out of its bolts; furnace bars and fire-bricks strewed the iron deck, while, each time the ship rolled, the heavy clank of loose metal somewhere in the engine-room proved that the damage was not confined solely to the stoke-hold.
If Courtenay could have dropped quietly into the sea through the stout hull of the Kansas he would have welcomed the certain result in that bitter moment. But he was the captain, and men would look to him for salvation. Well, he would do all that was possible, and, at any rate, die at his post. So, choking back his misery, he organized the work of rescue. Slings were formed of ropes, and those men in whom any signs of life were visible were the first to be lifted to the upper deck. The stoke-hold was quickly emptied of its inanimate occupants; living and dead alike were carried to the untenanted second-class saloon forward. Then Courtenay left Walker to solve the puzzle of the accident and report on its extent, while he climbed back to the bridge, there to tackle the far more pressing problem of the measures to be adopted if he would save his ship.
It was typical of the man that his first act was to wipe the grime of the stoke-hold off his face and hands. Then he drew a chart from the locker in which he had placed it two hours earlier. Mr. Boyle, who had been attending to the signals both by siren and rocket, joined him. Courtenay pointed to a pin-mark in the sheet.
"We were there at six o'clock," he said, and his voice was so steady that he seemed now to be free from the least touch of anxiety. "The course was South-40-East, and, against this wind and sea, together with a strong current to the nor'east, we would make eight knots under easy steam. Therefore, by eight o'clock, when the furnaces blew out, we were here."
He jabbed in a pin a little further down the chart. Mr. Boyle, whose peculiar gifts in the way of speech were accurately described by Dr. Christobal, grunted agreement.
"Huh," he said.
Courtenay glanced at a chronometer.
"It is now a quarter to nine," he went on, "and I reckon that since the ship swung round we have been carried at least six knots to the nor'east."
"Huh," growled Mr. Boyle again, but he bent a trifle nearer the chart. To his sailor's eyes the situation was quite simple. Unless, by God's providence, some miracle happened, the Kansas was a doomed ship. The pin stuck where the Admiralty chart recorded soundings of one hundred fathoms with a fine sand bed. The longitude was 75-50 west of Greenwich and latitude 51-35 south. Staring at them from the otherwise blank space which showed the wide expanse of the Pacific was an ominous note by the compilers of the chart:
"Seamen are cautioned not to make free with these shores, as they are very imperfectly known, and, from their wild, desolate character, they cannot be approached with safety."
Right in the track of the drifting ship lay a vaguely outlined trio of dread import: "Breakers; Islet (conical); Duncan Rock." Behind this sinister barrier stood the more definite White Horse Island, while, running due north and south a few miles away to the eastward, was a wavering dotted line which professed to mark the coast of Hanover Island. Lending a fearful significance to the unknown character of the region, a printed comment followed the dotted line: "This coast is laid down from distant observations on board the Beagle." So the sea face of Hanover Island had not been visited by civilized man for nearly sixty years! There, not three hours' steaming distance from the regular track of Chilean commerce, was a place so guarded by reefs on one hand, and impenetrable, ice-capped mountains on the other, that a proper survey was deemed impracticable even by officers of the British Navy, a service which has charted nearly every rock and shoal and tiny islet on the face of the waters.
Neither man spoke while their practised scrutiny took in these details. The roaring chaos of the gale told what fate awaited them. The elemental forces had donned the black cap of the judge and sentenced them to speedy destruction.
Mr. Boyle pursed his lips; he looked sideways at Courtenay.
"Huh," he said. "What's to be done?"
"I propose," answered the captain, coolly, "to endeavor—"
It was then that the giant wave leaped madly over the poop, as though the sea were resolved to swallow its prey without further warning. The second officer, outside on the bridge, had to cling to a stanchion for his life. Courtenay and Boyle saw two boats wrenched from their davits and carried overboard, while a bulkhead forward was smashed into matchwood. The half-caste quarter-master at the wheel muttered "Madonna!" and tried to remember a prayer.
"I propose," continued Courtenay, raising his voice so that the other might hear, "to give the ship steering-way by hoisting the foresail. Will you see to it? Then I intend to warn the passengers, and make such preparations as are possible before we strike."
"Huh," agreed Mr. Boyle. He took the short cut over the rails. In a few seconds the captain heard a flow of ornate Spanish, and he knew that Mr. Boyle was getting the scared Chileans to work.
Then Courtenay went to his own cabin, in which, in the haste of his exit, he had imprisoned Joey. The dog received him with delight, for Joey knew a real gale from a sham one, as well as any man before the mast. Courtenay patted his head, opened a drawer in the writing-table, and drew forth two photographs, which he kissed. He replaced them, locked the drawer, and went out, letting the dog come with him. That was his farewell to his mother and sister; it was the first and last sign of sentiment he exhibited during that night of great endurance.
When he returned from the saloon, he found the chief officer examining the chart.
"Do you think we have any chance of making Concepcion Strait?" he asked, pointing to the doubtfully marked channel which separates Hanover and Duke of York Islands.
"If we set the mains'le we might bear up a bit."
"Huh," said Mr. Boyle, and he was off again into the spindrift.
Be it understood that the sails carried by a big vessel like the Kansas are of little practical value save under certain conditions of wind and sea, when they are rigged to steady her, and thus give help to helm and propeller. Still, they might serve now to carry the ship a point or two towards the north, and this was the sole avenue of escape which remained. Here, again, was one of those trivial circumstances which are so potent in the shaping of events. Had either of the sails blown out, or had the mainsail been set at the same time as the foresail, the course followed during the next few hours must have been deviated from to some extent, and the alteration of a cable's length in direction could not fail to exercise the most momentous result on the fortunes of the Kansas. But ships are singularly akin to men in respect to the apparent vagaries of fate. A moment's hesitation, a mere pace to right or left, may mean all the difference between success and failure, safety and danger.
Leaving the chart on the table, where it was secured by drawing-pins, Courtenay went back to his cabin to obtain a pair of sea-boots. Seeing Joey sitting on his tail and shivering, unable to indulge in a comfortable lick because the taste of salt water was hateful, he hunted for a padded mackintosh coat which he had procured for the dog's protection in cold latitudes. He ransacked two lockers before he found it. Several articles were tumbled in a heap on the floor in his haste, and he did not trouble to pack them away again. He buckled Joey into the garment, fastened his own oilskins, and rejoined the second officer on the bridge. A glance showed him the dark wall of the mainsail rising abaft the after funnel. The quarter-master at the wheel, having recovered his wits, was keeping the ship's nose up to the wind by a steady pressure to port. The gale was as fierce as ever. The second officer shouted in Courtenay's ear:
"I am afraid, sir, the wind has shifted a point."
Courtenay looked at the compass. The ship was bearing exactly northeast. He had hoped that the sails would enable her to shape due north, at least; unquestionably some spiteful fiend was urging her headlong to ruin. Had the wind but veered as much to the south, he might have chanced the run through Concepcion Strait, or even weathered Duke of York Island. He nodded to his junior, whose presence on the bridge was a mere matter of form, owing to the powerless condition of the ship and the impenetrable wrack of foam and mist that barred vision ahead, and strode off on a tour of inspection. As wind and sea were now beating more directly on the port side, there was some degree of shelter along the covered-in deck to starboard. He found that two boats had been cleared of their hamper and lowered on the davits until they could be swung in on the promenade deck. The men were thus able to provision them more easily than in their exposed berths on the spar deck. He watched the workers for a few minutes, showed them how to stow and lash some biscuit tins more securely, and continued his survey, meaning to look in on Walker and the doctor.
He had to pass the cabins set apart for the two girls. The ports were lighted, and through one window he could see some one peering out at him. Owing to the thickness of the glass and its blurred condition, he could not tell whether the occupant was Elsie or Isobel, or Isobel's maid, but, whoever it was, a hand seemed to signal to him to open the door.
He unfastened the bolts, and held a half door slightly ajar. Joey, ever eager to be out of the pelting storm, hopped inside, and Courtenay heard Elsie exclaim:
"Good gracious, Joey! Where is your life-belt?"
"Do you want anything?" asked Courtenay, through the chink.
Elsie smiled at him. She was wrapped in a heavy ulster, and had a Tam o' Shanter tied firmly on her head by a stout veil.
"Mr. Malcolm thought we had better bring life-belts from our cabins. I came for mine, and I looked out and saw you. I wanted to ask you what had become of Dr. Christobal. I hope you don't mind?"
"Not in the least. I am just going to him. Would you care to come?"
"Oh, I shall be most pleased."
"He is attending the injured men, you know. And there are—others there, who are beyond his help."
"Perhaps I may be of some assistance."
"Come, then. When I open the door, step out quickly and hold tight to that rail. And don't move until I tell you."
His manner was curt enough to please the superioress of a nunnery. Elsie was awed instantly by the glimpse she obtained of the flying scud within the narrow area of the saloon lights, but she obeyed directions, and presently found herself clinging desperately to the brass hand-rail which ran, breast high, along the outer wall of her cabin. She saw Courtenay kneel to fasten a bolt, and she wondered how a man encumbered with heavy boots could be so active. Then she felt an arm grip her tightly round the waist, and she heard a voice, which sounded as if it had traveled down a long corridor, shouting in her ear:
"Lean well back and trust to me. Let go!"
She had no idea that wind could blow like that, especially when the ship was going in the same direction. It shrieked and whistled and tore at the canvas side-awnings with a vehemence that threatened to rip them from their stays. Courtenay held her glued to his left side, and there was something reassuring in his vice-like grasp. She had a dim notion that he need not squeeze her quite so earnestly, until she passed a gangway which led to the port side, between the deck cabins and the music-room. Then she changed her opinion; were it not for the strong arm which held her she would have been blown into the sea.
To reach the forward saloon they had to pass the boats near which Courtenay had halted. The sailors saw them. During the first lull one of the men said:
"The senor captain is escorting one of the English senoritas from the saloon."
"Where is he taking her to?" asked another.
"It will be all the same wherever she is. If the ship goes, we go."
"Who can tell? These English are stupid. They always try to save women first. Once, when I was on the—"
A few words in Spanish reached them from Mr. Boyle, and they went on with their work. But such muttered confidences are eloquent of mischief when the pinch comes.
At the forward end of the promenade deck, just beneath the bridge, Elsie received another reminder of the force of the wind, which was rendered almost intolerable by the lashing of the spray.
"I—can't—go on," she gasped. Courtenay felt, rather than heard, that she was speaking to him. Without further ado, he picked her up in his arms, and deposited her, all flushed and breathless, in the shelter of the fore saloon hatch. If she were so anxious to see her friend the doctor, he was determined she should not be disappointed.
"No time for explanations," he said, while she tremblingly clutched at a rail which gave support down the companion-way. "Dr. Christobal is below. But—I fear you will find a shocking scene. Perhaps you had better let me take you back."
"No, no, not on my account. I think I am past feeling any sentiment. I would far rather do something, be of some use, however slight."
A pungent smell of iodoform came to them up the hatchway. Joey, who had followed bravely in their wake, and was now a few steps down the stairs, crept back, awed.
"At least, let me ask Dr. Christobal if you may come. You will be quite safe here if you grip the rail. Even if a sea breaks over the hatch it cannot touch you. May I leave you? And do you mind holding Joey?"
Elsie detected a return to his earlier manner, and she was grateful to him for it. She did not like him so well when he was stern and curt.
"Yes," she said. "That is only reasonable; but please tell him I shall not be in the way, I know that there are wounded men to be attended, and dead men down there, too. I shall not scream or faint, believe me."
"I am sure of that. Not one woman in a thousand could have played and sung to cheer others, as you did after the accident happened."
It might have been the reaction from her exciting passage along the deck, but Elsie experienced a sudden warm glow in her face. Somehow, it was delightful to hear those words from such a man in the hour of his supremest trial. For she realized what it meant to him, even though his life were saved, if the Kansas became a wreck.
She stooped, ostensibly to grasp the dog's collar.
"Before you leave me," she said, "let me tell you how sorry I am for you."
He ran down the stairs, and entered the small saloon, which had been hastily converted into a hospital. Perhaps it would be better described as a mortuary, for it held more dead than living. Christobal, aided by two sailors, was wrapping lint round a fireman's seared arm. Happily, there was an abundance of cotton sheets available, and the men tore them into strips. But the comparatively small supply of cotton wool carried in the ship's stores, and in the doctor's private medicine chest had long since given out.
"Miss Maxwell is here. She asked me to bring her to you in case she might be able to render you some assistance," explained Courtenay.
Christobal drew himself upright, with the slowness of an elderly man whose joints are stiffening.
"Miss Maxwell here?" he repeated, obviously surprised, if not displeased. He waved a hand towards the men laid on mattresses on the deck. Most were quite motionless; others writhed in agony. "She cannot come—it is impossible."
"It is her wish."
"Quite impossible. Where is she?"
"Standing in the companion."
Courtenay saw that the girl could do no good now in that chamber of death; the mere memory of it would be an abiding horror. He wanted Christobal himself to send her away, but the doctor had taken off his coat and bared his arms. His appearance was grimly business-like.
"Will you tell her how much I am obliged to her for her kind thought. But you see—it cannot be permitted. Please say that I hope to join her in the saloon in a quarter of an hour. My work is nearly ended. I am sure you will make her understand that this is not a place for a woman."
Again he swept the row of silent bodies with a comprehensive hand. Yet the trivial thought intruded itself on the sailor that this elegant old Spaniard delegated the task of explanation to him solely because he did not wish to appear before Miss Maxwell in a somewhat disheveled state. He dismissed the notion at once.
"How many?" he asked, glancing at the quiet forms which bore no bandages.
"Eleven, now. By the way, just one word. What chance have we?" Christobal put the concluding sentence in French.
Courtenay answered in the same language: "A very poor one. But I shall come to the saloon and warn you. That will be only fair, don't you think?"
"Most certainly. Well—I may as well finish here." And the doctor signed to his helpers to lift the next sufferer on to the table.
Courtenay returned to the stairway. At the top stood Elsie, looking eagerly for his reappearance. A sense of unutterable anguish shook him for a second as he saw the sweet face, instinct with life and beauty, gazing down at him. How monstrous it was to think of such a fair woman being battered out of recognition against the rocks. He bit his lip savagely, and it is to be feared the words he swallowed were not those of supplication. But his eyes were calm and his voice well under control when he said: