The Cruise of the Dry Dock
By T.S. Stribling
Illustrated by Herbert Morton Stoops
The Cruise of the Dry Dock
Lovingly Dedicated to My Mother
I The Dry Dock II Adventure Begins III The Last of the Vulcan IV An Interrupted Meeting V Sail Ho! VI The Cul de Sac VII Trapped VIII The Mystery Ship IX A Modern Columbus X The Strange End of the Minnie B XI Caradoc Shows His Mettle XII The Return of the Vulcan XIII The Sea Serpent XIV Caradoc Wins His Fight XV Towed! XVI Caradoc Takes Command XVII The Get-Away XVIII Nerve Versus Gunpowder XIX Chased by a Submarine XX The Lone Chance XXI The Battle XXII The Victoria Cross
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
They Were at Last Under the Overhang of the Mysterious Schooner
Out There Lay Adventure, Mystery—More Than Either Dreamed
Caradoc Stands the Acid Test
THE DRY DOCK
"She's movin'!" cried a voice from the crowd on the wharf side. "Watch 'er! Watch 'er!"
A dull English cheer rippled over the waterfront.
"Blarst if I see why she moves!" marveled an onlooker. "That tug looks like a water bug 'itched to a 'ouse-boat—it's hunreasonable!"
"Aye, but they're tur'ble stout, them tugs be," argued a companion.
"It's hunreasonable, just the same, 'Enry!"
"Everything's hunreasonable at sea, 'Arry. W'y w'en chaps put to sea they tell we're they're at by lookin' at th' sun."
"Aw! An' not by lookin' at th' map?"
"By lookin' at th' sun, 'pon honor!"
"Don't try to jolly me like that, 'Enry, me lad; that's more hunreasonable than this."
By this time the cheers had become general and the conversation broke off. An enormous floating dry dock, towed by an ocean-going tug, slowly drew away from the ship yards on the south bank of the Thames, just below London. The men on the immense metal structure, hauling in ropes, looked like spiders with gossamers. A hundred foot bridge which could be lifted for the entrance of ocean liners, spanned the open stern of the dock and braced her high side walls. These walls rose fifty or sixty feet, were some forty feet thick and housed the machinery which pumped out the pontoons and raised the two bridges, one at each end. The tug, the Vulcan, which stood some two hundred yards down stream, puffing monotonously at the end of a cable, did seem utterly inadequate to tow such a mass of metal. Nevertheless, to the admiration of the crowd, the speed of the convoy slowly increased.
Tug and dock were well under way when the onlooking line was suddenly disrupted by a well-dressed youth who came bundling a large suit case through the press and did not pause until on the edge of the green moulded wharf.
"Boat!" he hailed in sharp Yankee accent, gesticulating at a public dory. "Here, put me aboard that dry dock, will you? Hustle! the thing's gathering way!"
"A little late," observed a voice at the newcomer's elbow.
"Yes, I hung around London Tower trying to see the crown jewels, then I broke for St. Paul's for a glimpse of Nelson's Monument, then I ran down to Marshalsea, where Little Dorrit's father—make haste there, you slowpoke water-rat! Rotton London bus service threw me six minutes late!" he concluded.
The American's explosive energy quickly made him a focus of interest.
"What are you trying to do?" smiled the Englishman, "jump out of a Cook's tour into a floating dock?"
The American turned on the joker and saw a tall, well-set-up young fellow with extraordinarily broad shoulders, long brown face, stubby blond mustache, who looked down on him with amused gray eyes.
"In a way," grinned the man with the suit case. "I'm knocking about all over the map, trying to see if the world is really round. Got a job aboard that dock—going with her to Buenos Aires—Say, slow-boy, is that dory of yours anchored, or is it really coming this way?"
"Coomin' that way, sor!" wheezed the waterman from below.
"That's a coincidence," observed the stranger, twirling his pale mustache. "I had a berth on her, too." He indicated a huge English kit bag at his feet.
"Then you'd better get a move on if you're going!" snapped the American, instantly taking charge of the whole affair. "Shoot your grip here!" He stood ready to receive and deliver it to the boatman who had landed below.
"Had about decided not to go," frowned the Briton with an odd change of manner. "It looks—er—so nasty over there—still, if you can endure it I suppose I—" the final phrase was lost in the swing at his big kit bag.
The American followed the luggage hurriedly; the tall fellow lowered himself calmly and with a certain precision into the stern of the dory. The boatman set out toward the gliding mass of iron.
The blond youth surveyed their distance from the great dock and marked its deliberate but deceptive speed.
"I doubt whether we catch it after all," he remarked with slight interest in his voice.
"Then we'll take a train to Gravesend and get aboard boat there," planned the American promptly.
A smile glimmered on the long brown face for a moment. "That's very Yankee-like, I believe," he said complimentarily.
With the brisk friendliness of his nation, the Yankee drew a morocco case from his pocket. "Leonard Madden is my name," he said as he offered a bit of engraved card.
The Englishman started to reach inside his coat but paused. "I am Caradoc Smith," he replied gravely. Then, as an afterthought, he drew a small silver-mounted flask from his pocket, unscrewed the cap, poured it full of a liquor and offered it.
"To a pleasant acquaintance and a profitable journey, Mr. Madden," he began ceremoniously.
A slight flush reddened the white skin at Madden's collar, but did not show on his tanned face. It always embarrassed him to be forced to reject friendly overtures.
"Sorry," he shook his head; "don't use it. But the wish goes."
The Englishman looked his surprise. "Then, if you don't object—" he lifted pale brows.
"Certainly not; do as you like."
Smith tossed the capful down his throat. "You know, I've met several Americans," he commented more warmly, "and half of them don't use alcoholics. Strange thing—can't fancy why."
Madden went into no explanation. They were nearing the dock by this time and their boatman began a hoarse calling for some one on board to toss a line.
It was like shouting for a man in a city block. The basal pontoon rose twelve feet above their heads; beyond this towered the thick side walls spanned by the bridge. The waterline of the whole dock was painted a bright red, some four feet high, and above this rose an expanse of raw black iron, punctuated with long rows of shining rivet heads.
The boatman was rowing at top speed and bellowing like an asthmatic fog horn. "We'll never git nobody," he wheezed. "Nobody seems to stay around this section of th' dock, sor."
Madden raised a lusty shout; the great structure was slowly increasing her speed.
"Yell, Smith, yell!" he counseled between shouts. "We may not be able to get a train to Gravesend in time!"
"I'm not that eager to go," observed the Englishman with a shrug.
The dory was falling behind. Madden leaped up, ran to the oars and began pushing as the boatman pulled. Their united efforts just kept the blunt little dory in the hissing wake of the dock.
"Help! Line! Aboard dock! Lend a line!" the two of them roared discordantly.
"We're not going to make it!" cried Madden desperately. "Lend a hand here, Smith!"
At that moment a dark head with sharp black mustaches popped over the stern of the dock.
"Ah-ha! A race!" cried the man above in a French accent. "Come, Mike, zee the English sporting speerit! Voila! What a race—a dory and a dry dock!"
"Throw us a line!" shrieked Madden, "you blithering—think this is fun?"
"Ah, pardon, a thousand pardons! I hasten!"
He disappeared and a few seconds later a coil of rope came hurtling down. Madden caught it and his toil was over. A moment later another sailor, of distinct Irish physiognomy, dropped down a rope ladder to the boat. They paid the sweating boatman a double fare, climbed up and hoisted their bags with the line.
Only when on board did the lads appreciate the enormous size of the dock. It would have been impossible to throw a baseball from one end to the other. The black sides rose above them like an iron canyon. Ranging down these precipices were innumerable huge iron stanchions for the shoring of ocean liners. Toward the forward end of the dock was a two hundred ton pile of coal, for the use of the tug, but it was dwarfed to the size of a kitchen supply by the black expanse around it. On the other side there were erected a few temporary wooden houses to serve as kitchen, dining room, and quarters for the crew on the voyage. There were a group of men loitering about these cabins.
The newcomers still stared at their gigantic surroundings when the interested Frenchman said politely:
"It ees large, beeg, yes?"
"Where's the boss?" inquired Leonard. "We've got jobs aboard this craft."
"He is making out the papers now, I think, and ees in a bad temper, too."
With this discouraging information, the two young men started for the officers' cabin. As they entered the place they met a crew of typical London longshoresmen coming out. Inside, a stocky purple-cheeked cockney stood at a little desk and glowered at them with small red eyes.
"'Ow's this?" he growled sharply, and in some surprise. "You are not in th' crew Hi picked hup."
"No, we applied at the office—"
"Hoffice, hoffice," snarled the man. "W'ot do they know about men, settin' hup there with their legs cocked hup? W'ot is it ye want anyway?"
Leonard silently offered a paper he had received from the British Towing and Shipping Company. The mate wrinkled his half inch of knobbly brow as he read the paper in a low undertone, after the manner of illiterate men.
"And by the way, my man," began Caradoc in stiff condescension, "we would like one of those cabins to ourselves."
The mate flung up a club-like head and threw back his blocky shoulders. "My man!" he gasped. "Ye call me my man, ye little cigarette-suckin' silk-hatted Johnny—orderin' private cabins! W'ot ye think this is—a floatin' 'otel?"
Madden bit his lip to keep from smiling at the odd play of anger and surprise on Smith's long expressive face.
"No harm meant, Mr. ——" began the American soothingly.
"Malone—Mate Malone!" stormed the angry officer by way of introduction.
"You understand how friends prefer to bunk together instead of with strangers. We thought we would ask you about it."
This soothed the irascible fellow somewhat. Still glowering, he spraddled out of the cabin with the boys after him, and presently indicated one of the small temporary cabins with a jerk of his thumb. As to whether his intentions were kindly or cruel, Madden could not determine, but their lodgment was a low kennel-like place, the smallest in the row. Nevertheless it was very clean and smelled of new lumber. It held four bunks, two on a side. The boys dropped their luggage inside with the pleasure of travelers reaching their destination.
"Got no fire arms nor whiskey?" growled the mate, looking through the door at his new men.
Both answered in the negative.
"All right; step lively now. We want to raise that waterline 'igh enough to work in the waves before we reach th' Channel."
The lads shut the door after them, then started under Malone's direction for whatever work he had.
They found the whole crew swinging along the hundred foot front of the dock, broadening the brilliant red waterline with all possible dispatch. The reason for attacking the front first was obvious. In case of rough weather, the way of the dock would pile the waves higher ahead than anywhere else. Leonard and his new friend lowered themselves on a swinging platform over the twelve-foot pontoon and joined in the work.
Tug and dock were now passing through the congested traffic of the lower Thames and the enormous English shipping spread in a panorama before them. Here were barges, smacks, scows, sailing vessels; big liners plowing through the press with hoarse whistles; rusty English tramps, that carried the Union Jack to the uttermost ends of the earth. Even a few dreadnoughts lay castled on the broadening waters. On both sides of the river, dull warehouses and factories stretched out rusty wharves, like myriad fingers, to receive the tonnage that converged on this center of the world's activities.
American curiosity almost prevented Madden from working at all. He painted intermittently, between wonders, so to speak. As for Caradoc, he made no pretense to labor, but propped a broad shoulder against the supporting rope, stuck a cigarette under his white mustache and fell to regarding the waterscape in a serious, preoccupied fashion.
"Say, old man," warned Leonard in an undertone, briskly plying his brush, "that mate looked down at us then. He'll raise a rough house if we don't get a move on and keep our section up."
Caradoc came out of his muse, tossed his cigarette into the swirling water a few feet below him. "Impudent chap!" he snapped.
Madden laughed. "His trade is to get work out of men and it requires impudence."
Caradoc grunted something, perhaps an assent. The two fell briskly to work and soon made an impression on the blank iron wall. At first the American chatted of this and that, rehearsing his own aimless ramblings as men will, but presently he observed that Smith was painting away and paying no attention to his partner's chatter.
"What's the worry, old man?" queried Madden lightly. "'Fraid the paint'll give out?"
"I presume they have sufficient paint," answered Smith stiffly, as he flapped his brush across the bright head of a big rivet.
"Why—yes," agreed Madden, a little taken aback, "but you look like you might be getting up a grouch at something—"
"About time to pull up, isn't it?" interrupted Smith.
The brusqueness in the speech grated on Madden, but they hauled up their platform without further remarks on either side. The Englishman seemed to work slower than the American, but somehow covered as much ground.
The coat of red paint had risen considerably on the dock when the bosun's whistle gave a faint shrill from the deck. The whole string of painters facing the pontoon's bow began hauling up their platforms. The lads followed their example.
Malone was hastily pulling his crew together in the mess room on the middle pontoon. He came by waving his short heavy arms in the direction of the long eating room.
"Get along aft; you're to sign the ship's papers!" he bawled monotonously. "Get along!"
Most of the men walked faster when the mate flung his arms at them. Leonard felt the impulse to step livelier but held himself to Caradoc's deliberate stride.
In the mess room the boys found a compact, black-haired, serious-faced young man of unknown nationality reading the ship's articles in an expressionless tone. Nobody listened, although various penalties were prescribed for desertion, quitting ship without leave, disobedience of orders, each with its particular fine or punishment. When the reader finished, the men walked around one by one and signed the register. Then a copy of the articles was pointed out on the side of the mess room, and again no one observed.
The performance was hardly completed when the gong rang for supper. There were not more than a dozen men at mess. Most were of stolid English navvy type, dirty uncouth men whose gross irregular features told of low birth and evil life. The foreign element comprised an Irishman named Mike Hogan and the Frenchman whom the boys had met when they first came aboard. The crowd called him Dashalong. Upon inquiry, Leonard found it to be Deschaillon. The young man who read the articles was named Farnol Greer. However, he proved a silent, taciturn youth, who seemed to converse with no one and to have no friends.
In the long narrow eating cabin mingled the clean smell of newly sawed lumber and the odor of poor cookery. The meal proved rather worse than ordinary steerage food. After the first taste Smith put it by, grumbling. Leonard, who was hungry, consumed about half of his.
Beef stew and boiled white fish formed the menu. Perhaps there is nothing quite so slippery and disheartening as boiled white fish grown luke warm or cold. The navvies ate ravenously enough, but Hogan and Deschaillon were not so wolfish.
Mike speared a bit on his fork and regarded it sadly. "This fish reminds me uv a fun'ril," he observed, "an' yonder lad looks to be chief mourner," he nodded toward Farnol Greer.
"He ees not mourning over the feesh," declared Deschaillon gayly. "He ees struck on heemself, and found his affection ees misplaced."
Madden laughed. The spirits of the Celt and the Gaul seemed to improve as their fare grew worse.
"Oh, av course a frog-atin' Frinchman loike you, Dashalong, would think any kind av fish a reg'lar feast."
Deschaillon leaned over to inspect his portion. "Now eet does very well—to wax zee mustache, Mike." He twirled his own.
Caradoc grunted disapproval of such doubtful table talk, arose and left the rough company and rough fare with supercilious condemnation.
"Your friend's appetite sames as dilicate as his wor-rkin' powers," observed Hogan as he watched the Englishman stoop and disappear through the doorway.
Madden smiled. "We didn't work any too hard this afternoon, did we?"
Mike and Pierre proved droll companions, ready to jibe at anyone or anything in perfect good nature, so that it was an hour before Leonard strolled outside. As he had no further duty, he climbed a long ladder to the top of the high dock wall and walked forward toward the bridge.
By this time the sun had set and left the world filled with a luminous yellow afterglow. The estuary of the Thames had widened abruptly off Sheerness, and far to the south was the dim line of chalk cliffs that England thrusts toward France. Overhead stretched a translucent yellow-green sky with the long black line of the Vulcan's smoke marking it.
Leonard moved across the bridge slowly.
There was almost perfect silence over the great structure below him, save for the slow creaking of new joints in the iron plates, the softened chough-choughing of the tug ahead.
There were several paint barrels piled up on the bridge, slung there no doubt by machinery, to prevent the men having to toil up with it from below. The boy leaned against one of these barrels, gazing into the yellow flood of light that bathed everything in its own saffron. His heart beat high with a feeling of the hazard of the ocean. He tried to fancy what would happen to the huge dock as it adventured through tropic seas. His imagination readily conjured up a kaleidoscope of incidents—cannibal proas, shark fights, sea serpents, typhoons, mutinies, what not.
And at every turn of the tug's propeller all this bright dashing world of adventure drew nearer and nearer. For some reason he recalled what the bystander on the dock had said—"Everything is unreasonable at sea," and he laughed aloud.
As a sort of gloomy echo of his laugh, his ear caught a groan from the other side of the paint barrels. With the utmost surprise and curiosity, he straightened up and moved silently around the pile.
Then he saw the tall Englishman leaning across the bridge rail, face in hands, staring at the line of land silhouetted in black between the brazen sky and the reflecting water. Smith's whole attitude was so suggestive of trouble that Madden moved forward in generous sympathy.
The Englishman heard the movement, straightened, looked around; his long face wore a look of suffering in the colored light.
"Sorry you're so blue, old man," sympathized the American, making a guess at the cause of his bad spirits. "Let's have a turn around this old tub and forget homesickness."
"Home!" echoed Caradoc gruffly. "It's—it's all England I'm leaving. It's England and honor and—" he stiffened suddenly and snarled out: "Do you think I climbed away up here on this bridge hunting your company?"
Leonard was utterly nonplussed by this shift. "I'm sure I meant no harm—"
"Certainly not," sneered Caradoc. "You Americans have the undesired friendliness of stray puppies—you have no conception of personal reserve—you turn your souls into moral vaudevilles."
A flush of indignation swept over Madden. "That's no decent return for a friendly approach!" he declared hotly, "and I'd rather be a puppy than a hedgehog any day!"
Caradoc made no reply, but seemed to erase Madden from his mind and shifted slowly around to his staring and his thoughts.
This last bit of impudence fairly clanged on Madden's temper. He felt a desire to tell this coxcomb just what he thought of him. If Caradoc had remained facing the American, Madden might have done so, but it feels foolish to rail at a profile. Madden wheeled angrily, tramped across the bridge, then down the high side of the dock toward the ladder. From far below him came Hogan's voice, a concertina, and the sound of clacking feet. Apparently the Irishman had induced someone to dance a jig.
Fortunately for the British Towing and Shipping Company, the next few days were glassy calm, and as the Vulcan coughed along the South England coast, the crew had fair opportunity to raise the coat of paint out of danger.
They had finished the ends by this time and were now working on the high exterior sides of the dock. The labor was distasteful to Leonard, not within itself, but it is disagreeable to dangle in midair over a huge iron wall, blue water gurgling below, and sit beside a man who has affronted one by calling one's manners puppyish and one's soul a vaudeville. Even if one really be fond of puppies and enjoy vaudeville, the implication is unpleasant.
On the third morning after, Caradoc wielded his brush listlessly and looked sick. His fine shoulders sagged and his eyes were hollow in his long face. Leonard, whose spirits naturally mounted with the sun, found it hard to continue the three days' silence. He wanted to talk about the splendid English coast with its gemlike villages set in green, the red-sailed fishing smacks, the social gulls feeding in the long trail behind the dock. It is difficult to be reserved under such conditions. Then, too, Caradoc was so obviously ill, Madden felt sorry for the fellow.
As for the Englishman, he paid little attention to his working mate, but languidly splashed the iron wall, and himself, with red paint. After some two hours' work, he stood up on the platform as if sore, made an irresolute start, finally climbing the rope ladder to the top. Madden wondered about the queer fellow, but was rather relieved by his absence. Within twenty or thirty minutes, however, he was back, but in perceptibly better spirits. He worked briskly for a few minutes, then dropped brush in pail and turned to Leonard as if no shadow had crossed their acquaintance.
"Well, Madden, we can hardly blame the old Phoenicians for guarding the secret of the Cassiterides, can we?"
The American almost fell off the platform in surprise.
"Why—er—no, I don't blame 'em," he blurted, not having a ghost of a notion what the Englishman was talking about. "No, I—I never blamed 'em a bit—never did."
"Those were poetic days, Madden."
The American stared, his mind as much at sea as his body.
"Think of that Phoenician sailing his galley for the Isles of Tin. The Romans follow him, day after day, week after week. But does he betray the secret of Tyre's wealth?" Caradoc made a gesture. Madden was about to answer that he didn't know, when the orator went on.
"He does not. Rather than expose the rich mines of Cornwall, he dashes his galley upon a reef and risks his life among the early English barbarians."
"Was it here where that happened?" asked Madden interestedly, fishing some such tale from the bottom of his recollection.
Caradoc stood upright on the swinging platform, hands thrust in jacket pockets, thumbs out, Oxford fashion. His tall form swayed slowly with the steady rise and fall of the dock.
"Certainly, the Cassiterides is Cornwall, and that point of land just ahead is the spot where the Tyrian wrecked his ship, so the legend goes."
Madden's eyes followed Caradoc's gesture. "I've read that story, but I never thought of seeing the place."
"Cornwall is entrancing if you care for antiquities," went on Smith in the polished style of a collegiate. "Four or five miles up that cape are the Boskednan Circles and the Dawns-un, old Druidic stone temples. Just across the peninsula is St. Ives, where the virgin Hya appeared miraculously. It is really regrettable, Madden, that you are leaving England before you tour Cornwall. A wonderful little island, England. A land to live for—or to die for, God willing."
Caradoc stared toward the coast, frowning, with the old familiar look of pain coming into his eyes. His hearer and his extemporaneous lecture plainly slipped out of his mind.
"You've been along here before," suggested Madden with a hope of diverting Smith's mind.
"Oh, yes," replied the Englishman gloomily.
"Not another dry dock, I trust," laughed Madden, turning to work.
Leonard nodded at his painting. "Fishing smack, I'll bet."
The cross-questioning was interrupted by a raucous voice overhead, and both boys looked up to see the mate's thick torso hanging over the rail. He was shaking his fist at the tall Englishman.
"W'ot you think we brought you along for?" he bawled savagely. "To give lectures? If you don't paint and quit blowin', you win' bag, I'll ship you at Penzance!"
Caradoc's face went white, leaving threadlike purple veins showing on nose and cheeks. "I'm willing to do my duty," he said with a quiver in his tone. He glanced at his empty paint bucket. "If I'm to work, bring me paint—I'm out!"
Caradoc seemed to be able to make the mate madder and do it quicker than anyone else.
"Paint! Bring you paint!" roared Malone, apoplectic. "Git out an' git your paint, or I'll put a longer, uglier head than that on your shoulders."
Caradoc gave a shrug, stooped for the bucket, then began composedly climbing the ladder straight at the sputtering officer.
"Be careful there, Smith," warned Madden in an undertone; "he'd as soon as not slug you without giving you a dog's chance."
Caradoc said nothing but continued his climbing. The men on the platform fore and aft ceased work, watching the mate and the climbing man intently. The silence following the usual drone of conversation was noticeable.
Caradoc was just reaching up to climb into Malone, when at that moment something happened that drew and held everybody's attention.
The whole face of the sea around the dock broke into a sort of sputtering. The ocean seemed to boil. To his astonishment, Madden saw the commotion was caused by millions of small fishes leaping and running along the surface.
Cries came from all over the dock at once: "Pilchards! Pilchards are shoaling! Pilchards are shoaling!"
The few gulls in the sky now seemed to multiply and settled in a fluttering cloud to strike such easily captured food. Among the press of little fish leaped cod, hake, dog fish, all feasting on the annual migration of the pilchards. The crew on the dock scrambled up and over the sides, flung down boxes, buckets, anything and scooped the fish from the sea.
The diversion saved the Englishman from any bellicose intention of the mate, who hurried off to take a hand in the sport. Madden sat on his platform watching the fun, for it was a remarkable sight. Caradoc swung around on the ladder facing Leonard.
"There, Madden," he cried, "is a sight characteristic of no other sea. Every season Cornish fisheries capture millions of these fish. They pickle 'em, can 'em. They even sell them to you Yankees for sardines. You are fortunate to have seen this phenomenon."
Leonard studied the novel sight. Hundreds of fishing smacks converged on the area where the pilchards were breaking, their red sails glowing warmly against the green of the land and the blue of the sea. Gulls whirled about the tall dock, filling the air with thin creakings. Madden admired the sudden picturesque activity. Some of the smacks were so close now that he could see their long trawls stringing out behind, and little figures running about their decks, winding in nets, bringing in a flood of silver fishes.
The metallic noise of the gulls grew so loud as to blanket all else. In the midst of this fluttering and shrieking, Leonard heard the shouting of human voices. He paid little attention. Then some of the men on top of the dock's side began yelling. At that moment, Caradoc shouted down Madden's name. Madden looked up. On the instant the swinging platform under him tipped violently.
Next moment, Madden saw right beneath him a smack. The vessel was floating by, and the peak of its boom scraped the high iron wall of the dock. This boom had struck his platform.
Madden clutched impotently at the blank iron wall, then flung an arm for one of the supporting ropes and missed.
"Jump to me!" yelled Smith. The Englishman was still on the rope ladder, but had climbed down rapidly when he saw his mate in distress. The boom was tilting the platform straight up and down. The deck of the smack below promised to mash the American into a pulp. The fishermen were shouting. Leonard made a falling leap toward Caradoc's extended hand. He caught it in both his own. The Englishman's other hand gripped the rope rung. Unfortunately Madden's body flung out with a twisting motion, and he could feel Smith's arm grow tense in an effort to keep from being wrenched.
Madden was scrambling with his legs for a foothold on the ladder when the boom dragged past the platform and the whole thing swung back on the distressed boys. A flying end caught Madden in the side. The blow sickened him. He clung desperately to Caradoc's hand, his grip weakening, his senses swimming with the feeling of an awful void beneath him. The strength in his fingers gave way, and he felt a chill sensation before the coming downward plunge. But even in his twisted, straining position, the Englishman's long fingers did not loose Madden's wrist. A moment later, Leonard had lost consciousness completely, swung in midair, limp as a bag.
The American had a dim impression of being drawn to the top of the side wall, and the crew clustering about him. Someone splashed water in his face and the world cleared up before his eyes. The young fellow called Greer was whisking on the water, but when Madden opened his eyes, he set the bucket down and returned silently to his work.
"There, ye're bether now," grinned Hogan stooping over the wounded man. "That platform caught yez a little love lick in the slats—break any of 'em?"
Leonard reached across and felt his side. "How came the smack there?" he inquired weakly. "Why didn't I see it?"
"Ye was lookin' astern, an' th' vissil barely turned the bow of th' dock an' her boom kissed us all th' way down. I yilled at ye, so did Dashalong an' th' silent man. Thin I got so interested in l'arnin' he could say a worrd, I quit lookin' at you complately."
"I couldn't hear for the gulls—I'll be all right in a minute."
Leonard looked around and saw Caradoc massaging his twisted arm. He had an impulse to thank the Briton, but he changed it to, "I hope your arm isn't badly wrenched, Smith."
"Quite all right," assured the tall fellow cheerfully.
The men began to scatter to work again.
That day at lunch the ship's fare was garnished with an abundance of delicious pilchards. The whole crew wore a holiday air. During the afternoon the men sang at their work and labored so merrily and so well that a broad wash of paint was added to the outside wall.
Leonard, whose side was sore enough from the thump, did not work. Even the mate suggested that he take a leave of absence, and stay in his bunk if he would.
The boy went at once to his cabin and began hunting in his suit case for a little medicine chest which he always carried. He wanted arnica for his bruised side. To his surprise he could not find it. He gave his bag a thorough search, tumbling garments, trinkets, souvenirs, curiosities, helter skelter over his bunk, but failed to find his case.
The loss of the medical carry-all distressed Madden. It had proved useful in the past. However, he hunted up the mate and begged a liniment, which must have had a wonderful virtue if a powerful odor was any indication.
Leonard rubbed the stuff on his side and turned into his bunk. His side grew so sore he wondered whether or not his ribs really were broken after all. In his dark den he could still hear the gulls wailing, although the tug had passed the major portion of the shoaling pilchards. There also came to him the constant creaking of the dock, the slow dull recurrence of the ground swell against her bow. The boy's mind centered fretfully on his lost medicine chest. No doubt it was stolen, and he began wondering which of the crew had taken it. His suspicion played idly over the crew, and then settled on the youth called Greer. His reason for this was that Greer said very little. Madden thought this must be the sign of a guilty conscience.
He did not brood long, however, as the monotonous sounds exerted a hypnotic effect on his senses. Once or twice as he was almost falling asleep, he felt himself clinging desperately to Caradoc's hand, his grip weakening, the fearsome void gaping under him, then he would awake with a start that sent a knife of pain through his bruised ribs. After that he would be forced to feel once more to test his costal region for broken bones. Finally the vision failed to paint itself, or did not rouse him, and he slept.
After an indeterminate interval, he was awakened by someone entering the room. It was fairly dark now and by lifting a head over the side of his berth, he saw the outline of the Frenchman standing by the door. Madden thought of the stolen medicine chest and remained silent.
The Gaul was about to withdraw when Madden called out.
"What is it, Deschaillon?"
"I just came by to say your frien' ees in trouble. Zay play cards in zee salon. Smeeth he win beaucoup. Zay quarrel, perhaps zay fight. He ees your frien', and—"
Leonard smiled when he heard the mess hall dignified into a salon; but at the latter end of the sentence he sat up suddenly in his bunk and began pulling on his jacket despite the twinges in his side.
"Eh, how's that—fight?"
At that instant Hogan lolled against the jamb and announced his entrance with a laugh.
"What's this Deschaillon's telling me, Mike—the men fighting over cards?"
"Sure now I heard him and told him not to be wakin' a sick man up for sich trifles. They was a few raymarks ixchanged, but nawthin' ser'us." He turned reproachfully on the Gaul. "Nixt time be advised by me and don't be wakin' a sick man for nawthin'."
The two walked away and Leonard leaned back in his bunk, quite sleepless now. He stared into the blackness, his mind a moving picture show of the last three days. The Englishman was chief actor on this stage, and his disagreeably mixed character puzzled and disturbed the American. Caradoc's language and manners showed him to be a man of breeding, but he was full of contradictory habits. His uncosmopolitan moodiness, his vulgar quarreling over cards, were typical instances.
Leonard almost regretted that he had formed an uncomfortable intimacy with the fellow, but he could not very well break it off now since Smith had saved him from a fall that might easily have proved fatal.
Just then the Englishman entered the cabin silently. He lighted the bracket lamp quietly and looked about to satisfy himself that his mate was asleep. Later Madden heard him open his big kit bag and take something out. A moment after, the odor of alcohol scented the little cabin.
Leonard lifted his head and saw the fellow under the lamp, just lifting the silver cap to his lips. A disagreeable smile moulded the long face, wrinkled the nostrils and slid away under the choppy blond mustache. The strong light from the overhead lamp brought out an almost sinister countenance.
The thought that such a man had probably saved his life filled Madden with a kind of repulsion. He turned in his bunk with a little disgusted grunt.
Caradoc dropped the little cap and came to the bunk.
"Side hurt, old man?" he asked anxiously.
"Yes—no—nothing the matter."
"Oh, maybe you don't like this odor—forgot you didn't drink." He stepped quickly to the kit bag, replaced the bottle and cap inside and closed it. Like many alcohol users he labored under the delusion that alcohol was not offensive on his breath.
"Nervous shock you received seemed to upset you more than the punch," he diagnosed in a concerned voice. "You Americans are a high-strung nation." He paused a moment philosophically. "I daresay you're right about not drinking spirits. With your nervous organism, it would set you on fire. But our foggy English climate and stodgy people call for it. Sets our pulses going. A thought just here—Climate and Alcoholism. Not a bad subject for a scientific investigation, is it?"
"I'll blow out the light unless you'll have me rub some more of that villainous stuff on your ribs?"
The patient declined this.
"Need water or medicine during the night throw your boots at me—I'm hard to wake,"
Then he puffed out the light.
THE LAST OF THE VULCAN
A temporary rudder had been installed on the unwieldy dry dock, and each twenty-four hours Mate Malone detailed seven men to stand watch, which gave the regulation dog watch, although there was no need of it with a double complement of men. Thanks to his bruised ribs, the American had thus far escaped duty at the wheel. About a week after the pilchard incident, he reported ready for this service, when a twist of circumstance rendered it unnecessary.
A long stretch of fair weather had been enjoyed by the dock painters on a steadily dropping barometer. On this particular day a cold puffy wind developed out of the northeast, bringing with it a rack of clouds and spreading a choppy sea below.
From where Madden painted on the corner of the dock, he had a good view of these chasing waves that rose a moment in the gray seascape, nodded a white cap, then dropped back into the waste of water.
"Wonder if a storm would affect this old box much?" he queried of Caradoc.
"Probably have a chance to see," opined Smith, looking out with a speculative eye. "By the by, what's that?"
Caradoc pointed toward the Vulcan, which already exhibited the motion of the rollers.
Madden looked. A sailor stood on the tug's round stern waving two flags toward the dock.
The American arose from his work, funneled his hands before his lips and called to the man, but the spitting wind whisked away his words, and the sailor went on with his flag.
Madden regarded it attentively a few moments. "He's wig-wagging—wants to speak to the mate. I'll go for him." He trotted aft.
Leonard found the officer in his cabin and told his mission. The mate arose at once and came out with the lad. "Don't know w'ot 'e wants, do you?" he inquired.
"I only spelled his message till I found he wanted you."
"Huh—understand flag signals, do ye?" grunted Malone, shifting his inflamed eyes to Madden's face.
"Learned it in my engineering course," explained the lad.
The two passed on to the bow, when the sailor on the tug starting waving once more. Mate Malone watched the man until he had finished spelling out the message, then he turned to Leonard and asked:
"Know w'ot 'e said?"
"Parker's sick and they need you," translated the American.
"Good," grinned the mate with more fellowship than he had ever shown before. "Now, lookee here, young chap. They're going to send a cutter for me to come and take Parker's place. You strike me as a decent sort, so I'll leave you in my berth till I get back. You won't have nothin' to do hexcept tell off th' watches an' keep th' boys paintin'. Softer'n your fo'cs'l job, though you won't git no hextra pay—wot about it?"
"That goes with me," agreed Madden readily.
"All right, you signal me about anything you don't understand. Make the men step, lively, same as if you was me."
By this time the tug had slowed down a trifle and a boat put out from her. While it came bobbing over the water, Malone bawled his men together and briefly explained his transfer of authority.
"Be back jest as soon as Parker's all right," he said as he climbed from dock to dancing boat below. "And, by the way, Mr. Madden, you will bunk in my cabin."
That "Mister Madden" from the mate was the great seal of authority. The men looked at him with new eyes.
Somehow, Malone's confidence pleased Madden. That uncouth, bullet-headed officer had not spent his whole life on the high seas, belaboring all classes of men into serviceableness, without being able to judge the genus homo pretty shrewdly.
The navvies accepted the new officer in stolid submission, but Hogan clapped his hands. "Hey, a spache fr-rom th' new boss!" he grinned.
Leonard laughed. "My speech is to get back to work, and I'll do the same," said the boy, returning to his bucket.
This appealed to the cockneys, who gave a dull English cheer, and then everybody settled back to their tasks once more.
"What's the use in your painting, Madden?" asked Caradoc, "You don't have to."
Leonard was amused, "They tell me a chap whose work is no bigger than his contract, never gets a contract for bigger work."
"What's that?" frowned Smith. "That sounds like Yankee smartness to me—seems to make a great deal more sense than it really does."
"Anyway, I don't want to rat on you fellows, just because Malone left me in charge for a day or so."
Caradoc made no answer, but stared after the rowboat which was just rounding into the tug. "If I'd played up to that officer a bit," he smiled dourly, "I could have had the mate's berth, Madden."
The American glanced up. The Englishman's smile recalled the look Leonard had seen under the bracket lamp.
"Well, there's very little in it for anyone, I'm thinking."
"Certainly, certainly," Smith shrugged a broad shoulder and the subject was dismissed.
The blustery weather increased steadily, and by lunch time the wind was blowing half a gale. Regiments of waves marched against the dock and snapped spray high up the red sides. Their constant blows rang through the big iron structure. A feeling of security came to Madden as he saw the gray-green waves break white, and yet not shake the huge barge sufficiently to tip the paint from the men's buckets. Certainly the dock was monstrous.
The sea grew rougher as evening wore on and finally the boy went to the mate's cabin to pick out his men for the night's work. After his own cramped quarters, Malone's room proved delightful. Three glass ports admitted light. A table in the center of the room spread over with a Mercator's projection showed that Malone dutifully pricked the Vulcan's course on the chart, although it was not required of him. A sextant and quadrant told the American that the stolid Briton worked out his own reckonings. The sight of these things filled the boy with a respect for the uncouth fellow. He understood how doggedly Malone must have labored to acquire mastery over the instruments of navigation. Beyond this there were a number of flaring chromos on the walls, a decanter of wine and glasses in a chest. He found what he was looking for in the desk drawer, a roll of men checked off for watches. The coming night was arranged for, but for morning, the names of Heck Mulcher, Ben Galton and Caradoc Smith stood in order. Madden was just marking these men when there was a tap at the door.
Upon call, Gaskin, the cook, entered, bearing a big tray of dishes, "Yer dinner, sir," he said, very respectfully.
Madden had not anticipated having the mate's meals served to him, and for a moment he came near asking the cook if he had not made a mistake; but the steaming tray and the pleasant odors kept the question unspoken. Only with this diet before him did he realize that he had been fairly starving on the poor ship's rations.
When Gaskin placed the soup on the table, Madden became aware that the dock was rolling rather heavily, for the liquid spilled over the side of the plate, while dishes and tureens went coasting up and down the boards.
"Getting rough outside," remarked the lad to the servant, who was lighting a lamp.
"A bit 'eavier, sir," replied Gaskin self effacingly.
Madden held the soup plate in his hand for steadiness, and sipped the hot, satisfying liquid while the great dock rose and fell. The fact that he was really in command of the vast iron fabric put the American in a serious humor. He ate dinner slowly, listening to the heavy clang of the waves against the iron hull, and to the wind whining and sobbing over the great metal sides.
When he had finished his meal, the youth arose with the intention of going to the sailors' mess house to see about the watches. He had no sooner stuck his head out of the door, however, than a whisk of spray leaped at him out of the darkness and drove him inside. He was preparing to venture out again, when Gaskin opened a locker and brought out an oilskin.
"Hit'll 'elp you keep dry, sir," holding up the garment.
Swathed in its folds, Madden made a new start and walked out on the heaving, shifting pontoon.
Outside a renewed noise smote his ears. The air was full of flying spume that whipped in through the stern of the dock. Malone had planked up this open gateway to a height of thirty feet, which made it forty-two feet above the salt water line, but the spray already leaped this barrier and pelted throughout the dark heavy iron canyon.
The dock was made in three huge sections, in order that it might be self-docking when fouled. Now in the darkness, the groaning of these joints smote the blustering gale in a sort of vast distress. The many iron stanchions for the shoring of vessels began thrumming a devil's tattoo against the high iron walls, like a myriad giant fingers.
In the corners of the bow pontoon, Madden could see the signal lights heaving and dropping with the motion of the vast fabric. Now and then he caught a glimmer of the tug's light, and its erratic motions told how the staunch little vessel fared.
There was a faint radiance around the shut door of the mess hall, and Madden walked toward it rather unsteadily, with the spumy brine dashing into his face.
A signal lantern was attached to one of the shoring stanchions near the mess hall, and as Madden moved into its dull glow, another bundled form entered from the other side. The figure stopped and saluted.
"If you please, sor," he bawled in Madden's ear, "th' nixt watch is sick."
"Sick! The whole watch sick? What do you mean, Mike?"
The Irishman grinned in the dim light, "Yis, sor, they're in their bunks wishin' to die. They've niver been in a blow before. It's say-sick they ar-re."
Both men were holding to the stanchion.
"Seasick!" ejaculated Madden. "How about Heck Mulcher and Ben Galton?" he recalled the names on the list.
"The whole sit of navvies, sor, ar-re down on their backs, not carin' at all, at all, whether we float, sink, swim, or go to Davy Jones' locker."
"Well, Caradoc's next—come with me."
They took hold of each other and went sliding and slipping along the iron deck, now skating down hill, now climbing a sharp tilt, shoulders hunched against the gusty spume, until they reached Smith's little cabin past the mess hall. Here they paused and rapped on the door. As this could not have been heard inside for the wind and the waves and the groaning of the dock, they pushed open the shutter.
Madden no sooner entered than his nostrils caught a pervading odor of alcohol. The Englishman's long figure lounged fully dressed on a bunk; a demijohn was jammed behind his kit bag to keep it from rolling.
"Smith!" called Madden, "I'll have to ask you to stand watch to-night; nearly all the navvies are sick."
Caradoc lifted his head from the bunk and blinked at the two men in the door. "What?" he asked vacantly.
"You're to stand watch to-night," Madden raised his voice.
"Stand watch!" cried the Englishman, sitting up, his face flushing darkly under the bracket lamp. "You have turned master, haven't you—bootlicker ordering me to stand watch!"
"It's your turn on the list!" commanded Madden brusquely, with ill-concealed disgust that Smith should be maudlin just when needed.
"My turn—Bah! I'd have been mate myself if I had toadied and flattered that upstart Malone as you did!" He laughed sarcastically. "Then I could have had decent dinners, been wearing the mate's sou'wester, been—"
"Cut it out!" snapped Madden. "Will you do your duty or not?"
The dock gave a great lurch that flattened both men against the door, juggled Caradoc in his berth and sent kit bag and demijohn sliding toward the visitors.
"Not!" bawled Smith. "I, Caradoc Smith-Wentworth, can't think of going to stand watch for a gang of siz-seasick navvies an' a t-toady American Yankee—Not!" he reiterated and laughed in tipsy irony.
A flush of anger went over Madden. He reached down suddenly and caught up the demijohn.
"You—you bet' not drink th-that, y-you little bossy Yankee; it-it'll m-make you d-drunk."
"You sot!" trembled Madden. "Whiskey will not be your excuse next time!" He caught the Irishman's arm, "Come on!" And before Smith realized what had happened, the two men and his liquor were out of the door and gone.
Madden slammed the shutter viciously, and the tilt of a wave helped give it a loud bang. Then he gave the jug a wrathful swing and smashed it against the nearest stanchion.
"Smith'll have some sense when he can't get any more," he shouted in Hogan's ear. Then after a moment, "Is there nobody else to take the watch?"
"There's Dashalong, sir," bellowed Mike, "but he stood last night."
"How about you?" inquired Leonard.
"All roight." The Celt was about to turn for the high bridge at the stern, when Madden stopped him.
"When was your last watch, Mike?"
"This afternoon, sor."
"When did Greer stand watch?"
"He's niver told anywan, sor; I think it must be a saycret."
"Get to your cabin and turn in," directed Madden. "I'll take it myself till midnight, eight bells. Then send Greer."
Hogan saluted in the darkness and turned about for his cabin. Madden began a careful journey aft toward the wheel.
He fought his way to the ladder and climbed up into the night, sometimes clinging like a fly to the underside of the reeling wall, sometimes going up a steep slant. Gusts of spume and foam whipped him all the way up. Once on top of the wall, he clung to the inside rail and began pulling himself carefully around toward the rear bridge. At this height the full force of the wind almost tore him from his reeling anchorage. At last he turned onto the bridge and moved toward the binnacle light.
"You'll find 'er a little 'ard, sir," remarked the steersman as he turned over the wheel to Madden. "Good night, sir."
"Good night," returned the American, and he watched the fellow's form disappear in the darkness.
Madden gripped the spokes of the wheel and fell to watching the signal light in the center of the forward bridge and the stern lantern of the distant tug. These two plunging spots in the black void of night he must keep aligned.
The enormous dock leaped and shivered under his feet. Huge waves roared by, of such vastness that Madden could hear their crests crashing and thundering high above the level of the bridge. These moving mountains shook tons of black water into dim, ghostlike spray, and sent it hissing down into cavernous troughs. The weight of the wind-swept spume flashing out of darkness through the binnacle light almost took the boy off his feet. It pounded his oilskin, stung his face. The enormous iron dock groaned and clanged under the mad bastinado. The long arms of the shoring stanchions smote the walls in a kind of terrific anvil chorus to the blaring orchestra of the tempest. The joints of the three huge pontoons sounded as if they were being rent asunder every moment. One minute the great structure would rise dizzily, high into the black blast, a skyscraper flung up on a mountain Madden could look far below on the lights of the struggling Vulcan. Up there the storm yelled and screamed at every corner and brace of the weltering dock, and wrenched at the midget helmsman. Then came the sickening drop, down, down, down, into the profound, and the Vulcan would swing far above her towering consort. For the instant the storm would be blanketed by the prodigious waves. Wild, formless ghosts of foam would stretch wide arms about the falling dock as if they were clasping it into the lowest crypts of the dead, and the night would be filled with a vast and dreadful whispering.
For hours it seemed that every ascent, every descent, must mark the end. But the storm was so terrific, Madden's sense of personal fear was blotted out in the tremendous conflict about him. Indeed, there was something deeply moving, almost gratifying in this elemental rage. Then he discovered that he was taking a part in it. Mechanically he had been straining and pulling at the wheel to hold those signal lights in line. Now he realized that his tiny human force formed a third contender in this vast battle. As he eased the great dock down the rushing sheer of a wave so the shock would not break the straining cable, he had won a point over two violent antagonists. His puny arm, that could raise perhaps two hundred pounds, was lifted against enemies that could fling about billions of tons. Without his force, tug and dock would part company instantly. Each watery mountain that he climbed, each gulf that he fathomed, was a victory over infinite odds.
However, if the man worked with subtlety, the sea likewise worked with subtlety. As the long hours of Madden's watch roared by, one thing was borne in on the youth: the rudder gradually was becoming harder to manage. Madden thought this was caused by the rising storm and strained more rigidly against the wheel.
Then, in the latter part of his vigil, an odd thing happened. A blast of spray struck Madden with some slimy thing that whipped about his neck and chest and almost tore him from the wheel. With convulsive repugnance, he jerked it loose and held the clammy stuff toward the binnacle light. He saw it was seaweed. Presently more strands came beating down on the spume to sting him.
The youth was crouching in his oilskins for protection, when he was surprised by a hand laid on his arm. He looked around and saw it was Deschaillon and the silent Farnol Greer.
"Eet makes bad weather," remarked the Frenchman, peering at the dark rolling Alps about the dock.
"Good thing both of you came," shouted Madden, turning the tiller over to the men. "It's as stiff as cold molasses—how are the sick ones?"
The boy saw Deschaillon grin and twirl his pointed mustache in the faint illumination. "Zay are very numerous," he laughed. But the Gaul had no sooner swung his weight against the wheel than his grimace vanished.
"Parbleu! Here, Greer, pull zis wheel with me!"
The two men caught the spokes and set their weight to it. Greer remained silent.
"Zis ees bad!" exclaimed Deschaillon. "Zis wheel will not go around!"
"What's the matter, do you think?" cried Leonard.
"Zee gear ees clogged, I think me."
"Go get a lantern and some men, Hogan—anybody who isn't lifeless. We've got to do something!"
The Frenchman obeyed, hurrying off into the darkness. Leonard resumed his place at the wheel with Greer to aid him. But both men could not swing the big dock around. The tiller was growing utterly unmanageable. Nearly every dash of foam brought with it biting bits of seaweed now. The silent Greer endured the whipping without wincing or speaking. Even in the midst of their work, Leonard found time to wonder why this fellow had stolen his medicine chest.
Presently the two helmsmen could barely turn the wheel. Madden could feel the jerking of the cable even through the great mass of pitching iron. Then the wheel clamped viselike. The dock's headlight and the intermittent glow of the tug teetered, swung out of line, crossed each other, like dancing fires. In a sort of panic, the two strained at the solid wheel. A huger wave came roaring by, flung the enormous square prow high in air. As it fell off with a shock, Madden felt a little quiver pass over the lumbering pontoons. The dock ceased taking the upheaved water with her slow, constant, aggressive movement.
The cable had parted!
Madden wondered dully what sort of cataclysm had occurred on the little tug at that tremendous strain.
Both men still hung to the hand-grips on the useless wheel as the dock rose and dropped, thundered and groaned. Now and then from the storm-swept wave tops Madden could catch the glimmer of the Vulcan's light. This slipped farther and farther into the void, heaving night, then he saw it no more.
A sense of vast desolation swept over the American, and he was still staring into the black pandemonium ahead when Deschaillon, Hogan and a third man came struggling toward him.
"You may go back!" he yelled wearily above the uproar. "Go back—there's nothing to do. The cable's broke—the Vulcan is gone."
AN INTERRUPTED MEETING
Convinced that there was nothing else to be done on the big dock, Madden went to his cabin, threw himself on the bunk, and there tumbled and tossed through the stormy night, sleeping brokenly and dreaming of the missing Vulcan.
Finally a bleary dawn whitened his cabin ports and the lad scrambled into damp clothes, picked up the mate's battered telescope and went on deck.
He fully expected to see the Vulcan lying close by, but as he glanced around in the dull light, an extraordinary scene shunted all thoughts of the tug from his mind. The wind had lulled, but there still rolled high a most unusual ocean. As far as he could see moved a long solemn procession of hills covered with splotches and serpentine lines of grays, olives, yellows—an ocean in motley. The great waves wove these sinuous markings up and down, in and out, confusing the eye with changing mazes.
Madden went forward and studied the nearer formations under the dock's prow. This astonishing effect was caused by seaweed. It was the seaweed spray of this seaweed ocean that had whipped him during the night.
A glance toward the stern of the dock solved the mystery of the balky steering gear. The temporary sheathing was choked with the slimy stuff. Tons of it had beaten over into the dock so that there was a week's work of cleaning ahead. The whole interior of the pontoons looked gutted; empty kegs, barrels had gone overboard, boats had been washed away, the big coal pile was scattered like pebbles and some half of it lost. And one odd trifle gripped Madden's heart—the fresh paint over which the crew had toiled so patiently looked old and dingy.
As he studied the scene, two seasick navvies tottered out on deck to sniff the clean air. They dismally surveyed the traces of the storm. Then they moved weakly toward the boy, who was now scrutinizing the horizon with his glass.
"See any sign of 'er, sir?" asked Galton saluting.
Madden took down the binoculars. "Not a trace—feel better?"
"Some better, sir, but my stomach is still like th' hocean, sir, a bit unsettled. May I arsk where we are, sir? I never saw such streaky water before."
"Sargasso Sea," replied Leonard.
Galton grunted and stared at the spangled waves. Under its load of seaweed, the sea was falling rapidly, and presently other seasick navvies came on deck. A dismal lot they made, pasty and sick and draggled.
"You fellows that are able," Madden addressed the group, "get buckets and shovels and pile up that scattered coal. The exercise will make you feel better. When the sea is smoother, we'll rig a jury mast on the forward bridge for a signal."
A few of the men were still too sick, but most of the crowd shuffled off to work. Some of the laborers drew off their pea jackets as they went, for the murky day was filled with a rising humid warmth.
Coal piling was just getting under way in the heaving dock, when the door to Caradoc's cabin swung open and the Englishman stepped out.
A glance at the tall fellow told Madden how he fared. The narrow-set eyes were inflamed, the long bronze face had lost firmness and seemed inclined to sag in lines.
"Smith," called Madden friendlily, "you may help pile coal if you feel like it."
"I—that demijohn that you took last night," began the Briton nervously.
"Yes," Madden became serious.
"I want it, if you please."
Madden looked at the unstrung fellow. "Can't get it, Smith; you've had too much already."
"Can't get my own property?" demanded Caradoc, raising his voice so all the men could hear.
"No," snapped Madden, "you know sailors are not allowed to keep liquor in their dunnage."
"That's my demijohn and I'll——"
"I smashed it, and the pieces washed overboard long ago."
"Overboard!" cried the big fellow. He turned hot eyes seaward as if searching the waters, then for the first time noticed the fantastic ocean around him. He stared at it with a strange expression.
"What—what is that—where are we, Madden?" he asked with a catch in his breath.
The fellow's tremulous condition touched the American. "Tug broke away last night—we're adrift in the Sargasso."
A look of relief came over the long face, but he still gazed at the serpentine patternings. "I—I thought I was seeing—ugh, isn't it horrible!"
"You're unstrung, Caradoc; better go lie down," suggested Madden in considerate tones.
The mood of the Briton underwent a characteristic quick shift. "Me lie down?" he rasped. "I'll have my property. You're grabbing authority fast enough, but you'll learn Englishmen don't submit to impositions. Threw it overboard!" he laughed with sour incredulity. "Bet you have it in your cabin."
The men stopped work, gaping at the insubordination. Madden flushed under the implication. He stepped forward to smash the long insolent face and white mustache, but it was plain the Englishman was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Madden caught himself, stood drawing short breaths through expanded nostrils. "Go to your bunk, Caradoc, and wait till you're sane," he ordered in fairly even tones, then turned abruptly, leaving the big fellow scowling and biting his choppy mustache.
The navvies turned back to their work, distinctly disappointed; they had expected a fight.
Within the next few days the crew dropped into the routine of derelict life. When the sky cleared and the sea flattened, it left the big dock amid breathless heat beneath a molten tropical sky.
As far as the eye could reach, the castaways saw no signs of life, not a sail, not a smoke, not a gull, not even the ripple of a wave; nothing but gaudy, motionless markings from one flat horizon to the other, dead traceries that swiftly became uninteresting, then monotonous, then disagreeable, then maddening in the aching eyes of the crew.
As much for the mental health of the men as anything else, Leonard worked them steadily. The day's work was divided into morning and evening watches, because during the midday the iron barge reached a temperature where labor was impossible. During the cooler watches, the men painted desperately to cover the black expanse of the dock with red in order to reflect part of the palpitating heat rays.
Through the idle noon periods, the crew lay about on gunny sacks under improvised awnings, with a man posted on the forward bridge as lookout.
The colorful mazes of the Sargasso were as irritating as flowered wall paper in a sickroom. Even Hogan's and Deschaillon's spirits sagged under the brilliant sweltering sameness. The navvies moved about half naked, and burned brown as nuts. The men fought over trifles. Caradoc became a raw mass of nerves. Once or twice Madden attempted to make things pleasanter for his former friend, but was repulsed rabidly.
Near sunset one day, the American was in the mate's cabin trying to work out his daily reckoning. According to the lad's inexpert calculations, the dock was drifting southeast at the rate of some six or seven miles each day. The dock was a prisoner in that vast central swirl between the North and South Atlantic, that was swinging in stagnating circles when Columbus sailed for the new world; it lay exactly the same when the Norsemen beat down the coasts of Europe; it would continue as long as Africa, Europe, and the Americas deflected ocean currents to produce its motion. Its vast flaring dial was the clock of the world, marking the passing ages. In all that stretch of time the Sargasso must have received strange prey, triremes, caravels, galleons, schooners, men o' war, derelicts ancient and modern, but certainly never before had the art of man placed such a colossal and extraordinary fabric within its swing.
Some such thoughts as these passed through Madden's mind as he pursued his reckoning through trigonometric tables. The light fell redder and dimmer through the ports and he hurried to finish his work before darkness required a lamp in the steamy cabin. A furnace-like breath, laden with malodorous ship smells, drifted in upon him. Madden's thin undershirt clung sweatily to the muscular ridges down his back and moulded the graceful deltoid at the shoulder.
Madden pushed back his figures as Gaskin entered with a tray. The cook's face was scarlet and dripping.
"How much provisions have we on board, Gaskin?"
"Another month's supplies, sir—most of the stores was on the Vulcan, sir." Gaskin was dignified even in the heat.
Leonard turned to his map showing the drift of the dock; she was swinging farther and farther out of the trade routes every day. The probability of a rescue steadily decreased.
"In the future, Gaskin, cut rations one third."
The cook covertly swabbed his fat jowl. "Yes, sir—are we about to—" he checked his question. "Yes, sir," he agreed instead.
"Yes," said Leonard, answering the half question, "it's a very necessary precaution, and I hope this small reduction will be sufficient."
"Thankee very much, sir." Gaskin made a little bob and withdrew ceremoniously. Madden knew that Gaskin would continue to bob and thank as long as he had strength to do either.
Reducing the rations was not a sudden impulse with Madden. Ever since the first expectation of the Vulcan's return had lost its immediate edge, the American knew that the hope of final rescue depended upon conserving their food supply.
The Sargasso Sea is a great oblong whorl in the Atlantic some four hundred miles wide and fifteen hundred long. Trade routes cut along its northern boundaries, and skirt its southwestern boundary. The dock might very well traverse two thousand miles without seeing a sail. At a rate of six miles a day, it would take eleven months to reach waters in which a rescue might be hoped.
In the meantime, the men grew more and more intractable and insubordinate. That day, when Madden had ordered Heck Mulcher to paint in a certain place, the navvy had grumbled out a "That's all very well for you, sir," and the rest was lost in a mutter.
The uncertain discipline of his men made Madden hesitate to cut the rations more decidedly. He felt that his command was questioned by the sailors.
As the boy gloomily dispatched his own supper, his ear caught a faint persistent tapping on the iron wall which faced the mate's cabin. At first he paid no attention to it, assuming it was the contraction of the iron in the cooling temperature of the oncoming night that made the popping. But as he ate it was at last borne in that these taps came in the irregular but orderly sequence of a telegraphic code.
With this thought in mind, he listened attentively. In his work as engineer he had had occasion to study up Morse in heliographing.
It proved one of the most senseless messages the boy had ever translated:
"Tiny arm, men plan mu." Then it was repeated, "Tiny arm, men plan mu." This odd sentence was retapped four or five times and at last ceased. It was perhaps some beginner learning the code, but who in that crew could be working out the telegraphic code? Leonard thought over the men, one by one, but struck nobody who appealed to him as an incipient telegrapher.
The American continued thinking over the incident idly, the odd time the telegrapher had chosen to practice his art, the queer message he had rapped out, when suddenly the message whirled around in his mind, and he perceived he had begun listening in the middle of a very alarming sentence, and had been reading from one middle to the next. The message was: "Men plan mutiny—Arm!" "Men plan mutiny—Arm!"
Madden got to his feet with nervous quickness, and stood listening intently. The question of who sent the message now became of sharp importance. If the men planned mutiny, he could rely upon the telegrapher—perhaps.
There was still enough light in the steamy cabin to discern objects. The American began rummaging through table drawers, lockers and racks for some effective weapon, preferably a revolver.
At that moment he heard footsteps approaching his cabin door. An instant later the shutter swung open without the formality of a knock and two dark figures entered.
"Well?" inquired the American sharply.
"It's us!" put in two voices at once.
"What do you want?"
"It's a bit of a disthurbance, Mister Madden, that's——"
"Zat Smeeth," put in a pinched French accent excitedly, "he says zare ees no mate, zat you——"
"Be quiet, Dashalong; th' gintilman can't understhand yer brogue. Smith siz ye have no authority by rights; that we should run things as we plaze; that th' bhoys should have all they want to ate; that we should have rum with aitch male, sor."
"And have you two fellows come to get these things?" inquired Leonard in a hard voice.
"No, no, no," trilled out Deschaillon. "Eem-possible!"
"We sthrolled around to till ye, and bide wid ye a bit, and whiniver th' romp starts, me and Dash here ar-re going to swing partners, eh, Dash?"
"Oh, beg pardon," apologized Leonard frankly, "but I had just been warned and I was looking for trouble—"
"Thot's all r-right, Misther Madden. We ar-re wid ye. I am always for law and ordher, Misther Madden, aven whin I am most disordherly,"
"That ees true, he ees," nodded Deschaillon.
"And I always fight on th' wakest side no matther whether it's roight or wrong."
"Hogan ees a chevalier, no matter eef he does have to paint," corroborated the Frenchman.
"Are all the other boys in with Smith?"
"In with him, sor? Fr-rum th' way they stick around him ye'd think he was a long-lost rilitive come back wid a million pounds."
"I'm glad you fellows are with me, Mike. I was just looking for a gun, but if you'll stand by me—"
"Oh, don't pull a pistol, Misther Madden. A man who would pull a gun in a free-for-all—why he would smash th' fiddles at a dance."
"As you deed not fight zee day Smeeth said you stole zee whiskey, zee men—"
"Think ye'll be aisy," finished Hogan.
"I've just ordered a change in diet," observed Madden dryly.
"Oh, thin ye're goin' to give in to th' spalpeens?"
"No, I've cut rations one-third—and that goes!" There was a finality about the dictum that reassured his allies.
"Uh-huh, Dashalong, I towld ye Misther Madden wasn't no——"
The sentence was interrupted by more feet approaching outside, then a heavy knocking at the door. The two men automatically moved over to Madden's side and faced the entrance.
"Light a lamp, Deschaillon," directed Madden crisply,
"Yis, two of 'em—I want to watch 'em fall out o' th' tail o' me eye."
The Frenchman struck a match for his task. Madden invited the men to enter.
The whole crew came through the door in an orderly but somewhat embarrassed manner. A few of the men had on shirts, some undershirts, others were stripped to the waist, their torsos shining with moisture, Deschaillon's hand trembled slightly as he lighted two bracket lamps, Hogan's little eyes sparkled in anticipation.
"What is it, Galton?" Madden picked out the nearest man bruskly.
Gallon shuffled his bare feet on the hot boards. "We hev been thinkin'," he began in a throaty cockney voice, "that since ye was not mate to begin with——" he looked back over the crowd toward the real leader, Caradoc, for moral support.
The men gave Smith an opening toward the American. In the oppressive heat of the crowded, lamp-lit room everyone was crimson and dripping except Caradoc, whose face was curiously bloodless beneath its sunburn.
"If you are spokesman, Smith, what do you want?" demanded Leonard with rising inflection.
"We are all workmen together," began Caradoc with an obvious effort, panting in the heat. "We're working together, living together, roasting together in this awful furnace. Your authority was only meant for a few days. Now the Vulcan is gone. Nobody knows for how long. We think all men should share and share alike."
"All this demonstration to tell me you want me to eat at the regular mess?"
"No," quivered Caradoc, "it's not just eating. We are not pigs. We want a hand in running things, and we want a portion of rum served at meals, as every decent ship allows. We want—"
"Oh, so it's drink, not eating," satirized Madden.
"Rum's our right as sailormen," mumbled Galton.
"Rum in this climate?" Ridicule tinctured the American's tone. "Smith, I believe you once proposed to write an article on Climate and Alcoholism." He turned to the men. "Do you fellows want to build a fire inside yourselves when your lungs and hearts are strained to breaking already?"
"It cools you off in hot weather," answered a voice in the crowd.
"Cools nothing! It heats you up." He leaned forward and tapped the table decisively at each word, "It won't be served, y'understand!" His last tap was a thump. "I'm boss here—no rum! And I'll tell you right now, I'm going to cut your rations one-third, too—hear? Now, get out, all of you—move out o' my cabin!"
There was a shuffling among the navvies toward the arrowy lad who confronted them. Deschaillon balanced himself on one leg, French boxing fashion, ready to kick out with the deadly accuracy of an ostrich. Hogan gave a brief happy laugh, broken by his jump, the crack of his fist against some jaw and the stumbling of a man.
As the fight flamed down the sweating line, Farnol Greer suddenly rushed through the door. "This is mutiny!" he shouted aloud. "Every man-jack will hang for it by the ship's articles! I'm for you, Mr. Madden!" and he made a surprising assault from the rear.
Madden and Caradoc squared away at each other. The Englishman headed his men, his long face sinister in the lamplight. But he had hardly taken a step when an absolute pallor whitened his countenance, he halted, shaking, gasping, then flung back an arm to Galton.
"I—I'm fizzled out!" he stammered with twitching lips. "Go ahead—fight!"
"You'll hang—you'll hang for it!" bawled Greer, mauling at the men behind.
Caradoc crumpled down on the floor. The navvies, with an English dread of legal authority, hesitated, thinking perhaps Caradoc had deserted them purposely to clear his own skirts in the mutiny.
Madden instantly caught up the loose ends of his raveling authority.
"Lay him on the bunk, Galton!" he commanded.
Galton obeyed instinctively, half carrying the long sagging form to the bunk.
"Hogan!" he thundered at the cyclone on his right, "you and Mulcher stop that! Stop it, Mulcher!" he turned to some of the men. "Part 'em there! Stop 'em!"
Six navvies, three to the man, jumped and grabbed the combatants.
"Just look, will you?" Madden pointed to Caradoc on the bunk. "You fools have followed a man half mad with a sunstroke! He has blown his nerves all to pieces with a rum bottle, and you bunch of mush-heads have mutinied to give him more rum so he could finish the job!"
The leaderless insurgents stared at Caradoc's still form, then began filing out of the cabin.
"Deschaillon, get that medicine chest out of my bag!"
The Frenchman moved toward the bag indicated, when Madden remembered.
"Here, come back, every one of you!" he cried.
The mutineers flowed in again, entirely subdued now.
Madden was loosening what few clothes Smith wore. He twisted about, facing the crew.
"Some of you fellows stole my medicine chest," he accused boldly. "I want it! The man who has it bring it here!"
The men stood very still, looking from one to the other uneasily.
"Listen, men," repeated Leonard intensely, "I've got to have it—understand? I don't mind your stealing it. I won't say a word to you about that, but I'll manhandle the scoundrel that's keeping it now!"
There was a growled chorus of protests. Madden quivered at his impotence to put his hand on the thief in the crowd.
One of the navvies caught the expression on Madden's face, and blurted, "If I 'ad it, I'd bring it back—'onest!"
Leonard suddenly recalled his suspicions. He looked at Farnol Greer, whose timely shouting and attack had practically quelled the rising. For a moment Madden's old friendship for Smith and his new gratitude for this silent unknown youth struggled, then he said:
"Greer, do you know anything about that chest?"
A look of blank surprise, then indignation went over Greer's heavy serious face, then he said bitingly:
"You sure stand by your pal, all right," and moved out of the cabin without another word.
Caradoc lay dry and burning on the hot bunk, his big hands pressed to his forehead, eyes clenched shut.
"I don't know what to do!" cried Madden miserably. "Hogan, Deschaillon, for God's sake, if you know anything about that medicine chest, tell me—I'm not accusing anybody!"
"Sure, sure," cried Hogan sympathetically, "Oi'm sorry Oi ain't got it. If Oi only had me chance again I'd stole it long ago!"
"I'm sorree, but I never stole eet either, Meester Madden."
"If I only had bromide!" growled the American, watching Smith's broad hairy chest lift and drop in short breaths.
The Englishman opened his hot red eyes. "What's that to you, Madden?" he asked thickly. The choppy white mustache pulled down in a sneer. "I might as well die now—I'm nothing but a remittance man. A remittance man," he repeated the term with mingled self contempt and bravado. "My people have shipped me—flung me away, broken, no use," he flung out a long hot hand at Madden. "Why do you try to pick up the pieces?" He laughed thickly, which sent wild pains through his head and stopped him suddenly.
Madden stared penetratingly at this outbreak.
"Pour water over him, Deschaillon, Hogan," commanded the American briefly.
As his two helpers hurried out after buckets, Leonard came close to the sufferer.
"Where is it?" he asked shortly.
Madden stooped over him. "Where's that medicine chest? What did you do with it? You wouldn't have started that tirade unless you had it."
"You Americans—very keen," panted Caradoc in the midst of his rackings. "Think you're d-deuced smart—it's in my bag's lining—there was some alcohol in it, so I took it—let it go—don't do anything—for—me."
Deschaillon entered with a bucket of seawater. They stretched the sick man on the floor, and a moment later, the Englishman shuddered under the deluge.
"This ought to be an ice pack," observed Madden, then: "I believe I remember laying that medicine case in my old cabin; I'll see," and he walked out of the mate's room into the darkness.
Caradoc lay stretched out in a deck chair, on top of the broad wall of the dock, a cool dawn breeze playing over him. He looked across the motley sea toward an opalescent sky reddening in the east.
"No," replied Madden without great interest, from his seat on the rail, "I've no idea what you mean by a 'remittance man.'"
The Englishman's eyes strayed wearily from the limpid dawn to the tiny image of a lion couchant on a small blue enameled shield which he used as a watch fob.
"Among the English—" He paused and began again: "Among a certain class of English families," he proceeded in an impersonal tone, "when a member goes hopelessly astray, that member is sent abroad to travel indefinitely. Remittances are forwarded to him from place to place, wherever he wishes to go, but—" there was a scarcely noticeable pause—"he can't come back to England any more."
"O-o-h!" dragged out Madden in a low voice, comprehending the man before him for the first time.
"So they are called remittance men—always remitted to." Caradoc's long fever-worn face, that was filling out in convalescence, colored momentarily.
"So that's what you were," said the American after a pause; "a remittance man, simply drifting over the face of the earth, supported by your family, boozing your life away, and always longing to see England again?"
"You can put things so raw, Madden," responded Caradoc with a ghost of a smile. "I am, not were."
"Were," insisted the American quickly. "Before your collapse you were a confirmed alcoholic, but you are slightly different now. Your eight days of fever, when Hogan and I had to hold you in bed, must have burned you out, cleaned up your whole system. You are nearer normal now than you were. You have a fresh start. It's up to you what you do with it."
The Englishman looked at his friend with a sort of slow surprise on his face. "I hadn't noticed it, but I don't believe I do crave drink as keenly."
"No, sickness is often not so bad a thing as folks think. It is nature's way of putting us right. Sometimes," he added thoughtfully, "we crumple up in the process, but we can hardly blame the old lady for that."
"You're an odd fellow, Madden," laughed Caradoc, getting slowly out of his chair and stretching his arms. "Well, for some reason or other, I feel fine this morning—let's take a constitutional around the dock."
The young men walked off, side by side, and began the circuit of the dock's quarter-mile outline. The breeze was such a rarity in the becalmed region that the two paused now and then to take long grateful breaths, and to watch the little wind waves ripple the glassy Sargasso lanes.
As they walked, navvies came out with buckets brushes and set to work painting the maze of iron stanchions that lined the long interior of the dock.
"I'm afraid I'll have to stop that painting," remarked Leonard after watching them a moment.
"They'll be very glad of it—but why?"
"It consumes too much energy. The men can live on less if they quit work."
"Oh, I see."
"I think I shall have to cut their food down to half rations. We've been adrift nearly sixteen days now and not a smoke plume from the Vulcan. She has lost us—if she didn't founder."
"Any chance of meeting some other vessel?"
"Here in the ocean's graveyard?"
"Are we far in?" inquired Smith with rising concern.
"Close to three hundred miles, and getting deeper every day."
The two walked on mechanically, with the precise step of those who seek exercise. The rim of the sun cut the edge of the ocean and a long trail of light made the east difficult for their eyes.
"Any danger of starving?" questioned Caradoc, staring moth-like at the blinding disc of flame.
"Perhaps not," meditated Madden. "I've been thinking about it. As a last resort this seaweed is edible, at any rate certain species of it. The Chinese and Japanese eat it, but that isn't much of a recommendation to a European. Then the water is full of fish that come to nibble at the stuff."
Caradoc was obviously inattentive to this consoling information. "Yes," he murmured politely, "Japanese do nibble at the fish."
Madden looked around at his abstracted friend, who was still staring into the molten sunrise.
"When the Japanese come to nibble at the fish, we might get some food from them," suggested Madden with American delight in the ridiculous.
"And fans, parasols, and little ivory curios—souvenirs of the Sargasso, when we roll up the dock and take it home."
Smith nodded soberly, still gazing.
"What are you looking at, Caradoc?" laughed the American.
"I say, Madden, just look at that sun, will you? I thought I saw a little black fleck against it straightaway to the east right down on the horizon."
"You're injuring your sight, that's all," the American was still smiling. "You know black specks will dance before your eyes if you stare at the sun too long."
"But this was shaped like a sail," persisted Smith, staring again.
"Illusion," diagnosed Madden promptly, but his eyes followed Caradoc's eastward nevertheless.
As far as his sight could reach up the golden path, he saw the black markings of seaweed; then his vision became lost in a mist of illumination. However, in this region, he could distinguish things dimly and in flashes.
Presently, in one of these clear instants, he saw flashed, like the single film of a moving picture, the tiny black silhouette of a ship's sail against the dazzling east. Next moment it was lost in light.
"I told you!" cried Caradoc, getting his friend's expression. "It's there! We've both seen it! A ship, Madden!"
Then he turned with more strength than Madden thought was in him. "Sail ho, men!" he sang out. "A sail!"
"Come up, fellows, and take a look!" chimed in Madden just as eagerly. "We believe we see a sail!"
The crew dropped work at once, and came climbing the ladder up the deep side of the canyon like a string of monkeys; then they came running across the red decking.
"Where?" "Wot direction?" "Where ees eet?" came a chorus of inquiries.
The two were pointing and soon the whole crew was lined up staring into the brilliance. Their fresh eyes caught the glimpse immediately and held it long enough to make sure.
"A sail!" "There she is!" "Oi see her!" bellowed half a dozen voices.
The whole crew fell into tense, happy confusion, laughing, staring, yelling, speculating, slapping backs.
"Will she see us?" cried someone.
"Do ye think she'd overlook the whole west half o' th' sea, Galton?"
"She weel run against us eef she cooms thees way."
"But she might not know we are in distress?"
"Disthress, is it ye're sayin'? We're not in disthress, ye loon. This is th' happiest day o' me loife."
Leonard turned to the Irishman. "Hogan, go dip that flag on the jury mast—wiggle it up and down—let 'em know something is wrong—make 'em think we have the rickets if nothing else."
Two men ran off with Hogan to the forward bridge; the others stared, waved, shouted and let their excitement bubble down.
"But I don't understand a sailing vessel in these waters," speculated Leonard.
"Maybe it's a derelick?" surmised Galton. "I've 'card as 'ow this was a great place for derelicks."
"'Ow could she be a derelick," argued Mulcher, "w'en she 'as so much canvas aloft? You run up on derelicks an' git sunk, ever' cove knows that."
"I carn't think of hall these things at once!" retorted Galton.
"Perhaps she ees the Vulcan under sail with deesabled engines?" suggested Deschaillon.
This explanation was accepted unanimously and joy broke out afresh.
"Why sure, th' Vulcan, th' good old Vulcan! Now, lads, let's give three cheers and maybe it'll reach 'er!"
Madden left the men trying to reach her with their bellows and went below after the mate's binoculars. When he returned the sun had swung up above the rim of the ocean and the sail was plainly discernible. He leveled his glasses and his eyes went searching among the distant markings of seaweed, until it finally rested on the sail. The vessel was hull down. There was nothing to see except a little canvas stretched neatly aloft and ship-shape masts and spars. He observed her attentively for some time. She seemed to be making very little headway. All in all, Madden made little of the craft, so he handed the glass to Smith. The Englishman was likewise puzzled, and the binoculars went down the line of curious men.
There was something in the way the youth named Farnol Greer handled the instrument that caused Madden to ask:
"What do you make out, Greer?"
"She is lying to, sir. She's backing her tops'ls flat against the breeze, and her mains'l's reefed and drawing with it."
"Lying to!" cried three or four voices. "W'ot does she mean by that? Looks as if she'd be bloomin' glad to get out o' such a bally place as this!"
"Let me have another look." Madden resumed the binoculars.
Now that Madden's attention was called to this unusual disposition of the sails, he could make out their position for himself.
This started another tide of speculation buzzing among the castaways. Was the Vulcan crippled? Had she run short of coal? But why should she voluntarily lay-to in the very sight of her quarry?
"They're fishin'," surmised Deschaillon, "off in th' boats fishin'; they're weethout food also."
This wild surmise was the only reasonable hypothesis that had been struck on. Another group of men rushed for the jury mast to show the fishermen that their presence was desired. At any rate the faint breeze was very slowly bringing the two vessels together.
If the men had been heretofore anxious that the cool breeze continue, now their anxiety was redoubled. At any moment it might die away and leave the Vulcan stranded beyond communication. In painful uncertainty, they watched the tug drag her hull slowly into sight, then slowly eat her way down the long mazy lanes of the Sargasso.
Then, when she was well in view, Farnol Greer said:
"She is not the Vulcan, sir."
By this time all the men had their brown faces wrinkled up against the glare of the sunshine. Now they redoubled their gaze on the distant vessel.
"Faith, and sure enough she isn't!" cried Hogan.
Greer was right; the strange vessel was not the tug. She had a funnel amidship and two masts, but there her resemblance to the Vulcan ceased.
The crew stared, talked, speculated, until the sun swung up like a white-hot metal ball in the sky, and the quivering heat drove them below under the awnings. From here they could still view the stranger, but not to so good advantage. The breeze, by good fortune lasted till deep in the morning, but finally dropped down in the blanketing heat, with the unknown craft a good three miles distant.