Page images

"What are you carrying?" he shouted to the water-tender. "We 've got to keep a full head of steam on her to-night."

"We 've got it, Mr. Neville-one hundred and sixty, an' we 've held between that and sixty-five ever since I 've been on."

"The captain says we 've made Tortugas. We lost three hours on the run from Jupiter," Neville answered, and went back to his engine.

During the next hour no one on deck had to tell these men, toiling far below the water-line, that wind and sea had risen. They had warnings enough. Within their steel-incased quarters every bolt and rivet sounded the overstrain forced upon it. In the engine-room the oiler could no longer move from the throttle. Every few minutes now, despite his watchfulness, a jarring shiver spread through the hull as the propeller, thrown high, raced wildly in air before he could shut off steam.

At eleven-thirty the indicator clanged, and its arrow jumped to half-speed ahead. A moment later the men below decks "felt the rudder" as the San Gardo, abandoning further attempts to hold her course, swung about to meet the seas head


Eight bells-midnight-struck, marking the end of the shift; but no one came down the ladders to relieve Neville's watch. The growls of the tired men rose above the noise in the fire-room. Again Neville came through the passage.

"The tube to the bridge is out of commission," he called, "but I can raise the chief. He says no man can live on deck; one 's gone overboard already. The second watch can't get out of the forecastle. It's up to us, men, to keep this ship afloat, and steam 's the only thing that 'll do it."

For the next hour and the next the fire-room force and the two men in the engine-room stuck doggedly to their work. They knew that the San Gardo was making a desperate struggle, that it was touch. and go whether the ship would live out the hurricane or sink to the bottom. They knew also, to the last man of them, that

if for a moment the ship fell off broadside to the seas, the giant waves would roll her over and over like an empty barrel in a mill-race. The groaning of every rib and plate in the hull, the crash of seas against the sides, the thunder of waves breaking on deck, drowned the usual noises below.

The color of the men's courage began to show. Some kept grimly at their work, dumb from fear. Others covered fright with profanity, cursing the storm, the ship, their mates, cursing themselves. Larry, as he threw coal steadily through his fire-doors, hummed a broken tune. He gave no heed to Dan, who grew more savage as the slow hours of overtoil dragged by.

About four in the morning Neville called Larry to the engine-room. On his return Dan blazed out at him:

"Boot-lickin' Neville ag'in, was you? I'd lay you out, you shrimp, only I want you to do your work."

Larry took up his shovel; as usual his silence enraged Sullivan.

"You chicken-livered wharf-rat, ain't you got no spunk to answer wid?" Dan jerked a slice-bar from the fire and hurled it to the floor at Larry's feet. The little man leaped in the air; the white-hot end of the bar, bounding from the floor, missed his legs by an inch.

Larry's jaw shot out; he turned on Sullivan, all meekness gone.

"Dan," he cried shrilly, "if you try that again-"

"Great God! what 's that!"

Dan's eyes were staring; panic showed on every face in the room. The sound of an explosion had come from the forward hold. Another followed, and another, a broadside of deafening reports. The terrifying sounds came racing aft. They reached the bulkhead nearest them, and tore through the fire-room, bringing unmasked fear to every man of the watch. The crew stood for a moment awed, then broke, and, rushing for the ladder, fought for a chance to escape this new, unknown madness of the storm.

Only Larry kept his head.

"Stop! Come back!" His shrill voice

carried above the terrifying noise. "It's the plates bucklin' between the ribs."

"Plates! Hell! we 're sinkin'!" Neville rushed in from the engine


"Back to your fires, men, or we 'll all drown! Steam, keep up-" He was shouting at full-lung power, but his cries were cut short. Again the deafening reports started at the bows. Again, crash after crash, the sounds came tearing aft as if a machine-gun were raking the vessel from bow to stern. At any time these noises would bring terror to men locked below decks; but now, in the half-filled cargo spaces, each crashing report was like the bursting of a ten-inch shell.

Neville went among the watch, urging, commanding, assuring them that these sounds meant no real danger to the ship. He finally ended the panic by beating the more frightened ones back to their boilers.

Then for hours, at every plunge of the ship, the deafening boom of buckling plates continued until the watch was crazed by the sound.

This new terror began between four and five in the morning, when the men had served double time under the grueling strain. At sunrise another misery was added to their torture: the rain increased suddenly, and fell a steady cataract to the decks. This deluge and the flying spray sent gallons of water down the stack; striking the breeching-plates, it was instantly turned to steam and boiling water. As the fagged stokers bent before the boilers, the hot water, dripping from the breeching, washed scalding channels through the coal-dust down their bare backs. They hailed this new torment with louder curses, but continued to enIdure it for hours, while outside the hurricane raged, with no end, no limit, to its


Since the beginning of the watch the bilge-pumps had had all they could do to handle the leakage coming from the seams of the strained hull. Twice Neville had taken the throttle and sent his oiler to clear the suctions. The violent lurching of the ship had churned up every

ounce of sediment that had lain undisturbed beneath the floor-plates since the vessel's launching. Sometime between seven and eight all the bilge-pumps clogged at the same moment, and the water began rising at a rate that threatened the fires. It became a question of minutes between life and death for all hands. Neville, working frantically to clear the pumps, yelled to the oiler to leave the throttle and come to him. The water, gaining fast, showed him that their combined efforts were hopeless. He ran to the boiler-room for more aid. Here the water had risen almost to the fires; as the ship rolled, it slushed up between the floor-plates and ran in oily streams about the men's feet. Again panic seized the


"Come on, lads!" Sullivan shouted above the infernal din. "We'll be drowned in this hell-hole!"

In the next second he was half-way up the ladder; below him, clinging to the rungs like frightened apes, hung other stokers.

"Come back, you fool!". Neville shouted. "Open that deck-door, and you 'll swamp the ship!"

Dan continued to climb.

"Come down or I'll fire!"

"Shoot an' be damned to you!" Dan called back.

The report of Neville's revolver was lost in the noise; but the bullet, purposely sent high, spattered against the steel plate above Dan's head. He looked down. Neville, swaying with the pitching floor, was aiming true for his second shot. Cursing at the top of his voice, Dan scrambled down the ladder, pushing the men below him to the floor.

"Back to your boilers!" Neville ordered; but the stokers, huddled in a frightened group, refused to leave the ladder.

It was only a matter of seconds now before the fires would be drenched. Bilgewater was splashing against the under boiler-plates, filling the room with dense steam. Neville left the men and raced for the engine-room. He found Larry and the oiler working desperately at the

valve-wheel of the circulating-pump. Neville grasped the wheel, and gave the best he had to open the valve. This manifold, connecting the pump with the bilges, was intended only for emergency use. It had not been opened for months, and was now rusted tight. The three men, straining every muscle, failed to budge the wheel. After the third hopeless attempt, Larry let go, and without a word bolted through the passage to the fire-room.

"You miserable quitter!" Neville Neville screamed after him, and bent again to the wheel.

As he looked up, despairing of any chance to loosen the rusted valve, Larry came back on the run, carrying a coalpick handle. He thrust it between the spokes of the wheel.

"Now, Mr. Neville, all together!" His Celtic jaw was set hard.

All three threw their weight against the handle. The wheel stirred.

As they straightened for another effort, a louder noise of hissing steam sounded from the boilers, and the fire-room force, mad with fright, came crowding through the passage to the higher floor of the engine-room.

"Quick! Together!" Neville gasped.
The wheel moved an inch.
"Once more! Now!"

The wheel turned and did not stop. The three men dropped the lever, seized the wheel, and threw the valve wide open. "Good work, men!" Neville cried, and fell back exhausted.

The centrifugal pump was thrown in at the last desperate moment. When the rusted valve finally opened, water had risen to the lower grate-bars under every boiler in the fire-room. But once in action, the twelve-inch suction of the giant pump did its work with magic swiftness. In less than thirty seconds the last gallon of water in the bilges had been lifted and sent, rushing through the discharge, overboard.

Neville faced the boiler-room crew sternly. "Now, you cowards, get to your he said.


As the men slunk back through the passage Dan growled :

"May that man some day burn in hell!" "Don't be wishin' him no such luck," an angry voice answered; "wish him down here wid us."

THE morning dragged past; noon came, marking the sixteenth hour that the men, imprisoned below the sea-swept decks, had struggled to save the ship. Sundown followed, and the second night of their unbroken toil began. They stuck to it, stood up somehow under the racking grind, their nerves quivering, their bodies craving food, their eyes gritty from the urge of sleep, while always the hideous noises. of the gale screamed in their ears. The machine-gun roar of buckling plates, raking the battered hull, never ceased.

With each crawling minute the men grew more silent, more desperate. Dan Sullivan let no chance pass to vent his spleen on Larry. Twice during the day his fellow-stokers, watching the familiar scene, saw the big man reach the point of crushing the small one; but the ever-expected blow did not fall.

Shortly after midnight the first hope came to the exhausted men that their fight might not be in vain. Though the buckling plates still thundered, though the floor under their feet still pitched at crazy angles, there was a "feel" in the fire-room that ribs and beams and rivets were not so near the breaking-point.

Neville came to the end of the passage.

"The hurricane 's blowing itself to death," he shouted. "Stick to it, boys, for an hour longer; the second watch can reach us by then."

The hour passed, but no relief came. The wind had lost some force, but the seas still broke over the bows, pouring tons of water to the deck. The vessel pitched as high, rolled as deep, as before. As the men fired their boilers they rested the filled scoops on the floor and waited for the ship to roll down. Then a quick jerk of the fire-door chain, a quick heave of the shovel, and the door was snapped shut before the floor rolled up

again. Making one of these hurried. passes, Larry swayed on tired legs. He managed the toss and was able to close the door before he fell hard against Dan. His sullen enemy instantly launched a new tirade, fiercer, more blasphemous, than any before. He ended a stream of oaths, and rested the scoop ready for his throw.

"I'll learn yuh, yuh snivelin'-" The ship rolled deep. Dan jerked the fire-door open-"yuh snivelin' shrimp!" He glared at Larry as he made the pass. He missed the opening. His shovel struck hard against the boiler front. The jar knocked Dan to the floor, pitched that moment at its steepest angle. He clutched desperately to gain a hold on the smooth-worn steel plates, his face distorted by fear as he slid down to the fire.

Larry, crying a shrill warning, sprang between Sullivan and the open furnace. He stooped, and with all the strength he could gather shoved the big stoker from danger. Then above the crashing sounds. a shriek tore the steam-clouded air of the fire-room. Larry had fallen!


As his feet struck the ash-door, the ship rolled up. A cascade falling from Dan's fire had buried Larry's legs to the knees under a bed of white-hot coals. shrieked again the cry of the mortally hurt as Dan dragged him too late from before. the open door.

"Mouse! Mouse!" Horror throbbed in Sullivan's voice. "You 're hurted bad!" He knelt, holding Larry in his arms, while others threw water on the blazing coals. "Speak, lad!" Dan pleaded. "Speak to me!"

The fire-room force stood over them silenced. Accident, death even, they always expected; but to see Dan Sullivan show pity for any living thing, and, above all, for the Bunker Mouse

The lines of Larry's tortured face eased. "It's the last hurt I 'll be havin', Dan," he said before he fainted.

"Don't speak the word, Mouse, an' you just after savin' me life!" Then the men in the fire-room saw a miracle, for tears filled the big stoker's eyes.

Neville had heard Larry's cry and rushed to the boiler-room.

"For God's sake! what's happened now?"

Dan pointed a shaking finger. Neville looked once at what only a moment before had been the legs and feet of a man. As he turned quickly from the sight the engineer's face was like chalk.

"Here, two of you," he called unsteadily, "carry him to the engine-room." Dan threw the men roughly aside. "Leave him be," he growled. "Don't a one of you put hand on him!" He lifted Larry gently and, careful of each step, crossed the swaying floor.

"Lay him there by the dynamo," Neville ordered when they had reached the engine-room.

Dan hesitated.

"T ain't fittin', sir, an' him so bad' hurt. Let me be takin' him to the storeroom.

Neville looked doubtfully up the nar row stairs.

"We can't get him there with this sea running."

Sullivan spread his legs wide, took both of Larry's wrists in one hand, and swung the unconscious man across his back. He strode to the iron stairs and began to climb. As he reached the first grating Larry groaned. Dan stopped dead; near him the great cross-heads were plunging steadily up and down.

"God, Mr. Neville, did he hit ag'in' somethin'?" The sweat of strain and fear covered his face.

The vessel leaped to the crest of a wave, and dropped sheer into the trough beyond. "No; but for God's sake, man, go on! You'll pitch with him to the floor if she does that again!"

Dan, clinging to the rail with his free hand, began climbing the second flight. At the top grating Neville sprang past him to the store-room door.

"Hold him a second longer," he called, and spread an armful of cotton waste on the vise bench.

Dan laid Larry on the bench. He straightened his own great body for a

[graphic][ocr errors]

"Dan, clinging to the rail with his free hand, began climbing the second flight"

« PreviousContinue »