CUTCLIFFE HYNE

FORTUNES ADRIFT

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WITH ILLUSTRATIONS FROM PEARSON'S MAGAZINE


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First published in Pearson's Magazine, October 1897

Collected in:
The Adventures of Captain Kettle, Pearson's, London, 1898

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version Date: 2019-08-13
Produced by Terry Walker and Roy Glashan

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Illustration

The Adventures of Captain Kettle, 1898,
with "Fortunes Adrift"


Illustration

CORTOLVIN came out under the bridge deck awning up through the baking heat of the companion way, and dropped listlessly into a deck chair. He was dressed in slop-chest pyjamas of a vivid pattern, and had a newly-shaven chin, which stood out refreshingly white against the rest of his sun-darkened countenance.


Illustration

He was dressed in slop-chest pyjamas of a vivid pattern.


"Well," said Captain Kettle, as he shoved across the box of cheroots, "are we any nearer getting under way?"

"I looked in at the engine room as I came past," said the tall man with a laugh, "and the chief had a good deal to say. I gathered it was his idea that the fellow who last had charge of those engines ought to die a cruel and lingering death."

"It's a sore point with McTodd when she breaks down. But did he say how long it would be before he could give her steam again? I'm a bit anxious. The glass is tumbling hand over fist; and what with that, and this heat, there's small doubt but what we'll have a tornado clattering about our ears directly. There's the shore close aboard, as you can see for yourself, and if the wind comes away anywhere from the east'ard, it'll blow this old steamboat half way into the middle of Africa before we can look round us. It's a bad season just now for tornadoes."

The clattering of iron boot-plates made itself heard on the brass-bound steps of the companion way. "That'll be the chief coming to answer for himself," said Cortolvin.

Mr. Neil Angus McTodd always advertised his calling in the attire of his outward man, and the eye of an expert could tell with sureness at any given moment whether Mr. McTodd was in employment or not, and, if so, what type of steamboat he was on, what was his official position, what was his pay and what was the last bit of work on which he had been employed.

The present was the fourth occasion on which the Saigon's machinery had chosen to break down during Captain Kettle's two months of command, and after his Herculean efforts in making repairs with insufficient staff and materials, Mr. McTodd was unpleasant both to look upon and associate with. He was attired in moist black boots, grey flannel pyjama trousers stuffed into his socks, a weird garment of flannel upon his upper man, a clout round his neck, and a peaked cap upon his grizzled red hair, anointed with years of spraying oil. His elbows and his forehead shone like dull mirrors of steel, and he carried one of his thumbs wrapped up in a grimy, crimson rug. His conversation was full of unnecessary adjectives, and he was inclined to take a cantankerous view of the universe.

"They'd disgrace the scrap-heap of any decent yard, would the things they miscall engines on this rotten tub," said he, by way of preface.

"They are holy engines, and that's a fact," said Kettle. "How long can you guarantee them for this time?"

The engineer mopped his neck with a wad of cotton waste. "Ten revolutions, if you wish me to be certain. It's a verra dry ship, this."

"And how many more? We shall want them. There's a tornado coming on."

"I'm no' anxious to perjure mysel', Captain, but they might run on for a full minute, or they might run on for a day. There's a capreciousness about the rattle-traps that might amuse some people, but it does not appeal to me. I'm in fear of my life every minute I stand on the foot-plates."

"I'd not have taken you for a frightened man."

"I'm no' that as a usual thing, but the temperature of yon engine-room varies between a hundred and twenty and a hundred and thirty of the Fahrenheit scale, and it's destroying to the nerves. All the aqueous vapour leaves the system, and I'm verra badly in need of a tonic. Is yon whusky in the black bottle, Captain?"

"Take a peg, Mac."

"I'll just have a sma' three fingers now ye mention it." He laid the thickest part of his knotty knuckles against the side of the tumbler, and poured out some half a gill of spirit. "Weel," said he, "may we get as good whusky where we are going to," and enveloped the dose with a dextrous turn of the wrist. After which ambiguous toast, he wiped his lips with the cotton waste, and took himself off again to the baking regions below; and presently a dull rumbling, and a tremor of her fabric, announced that the Saigon was once more under way.

The little steamer had coaled at Perim Island, in the southern mouth of the Red Sea, had come out into the Indian Ocean through the Straits of Bah-el-Mandeb, had rounded Cape Guardafui, and was on her way down to Zanzibar in response to the cabled orders of her Parsee owner in Bombay. Cortolvin was still on board as passenger. His excuse was that he wanted to inspect the Island and City of Zanzibar before returning to England and respectability; his real reason was that he had taken a fancy to the little ruffian of a slipper, and wished to see more of him.

"Cheerful toast, that of McTodd's," said Cortolvin.

"Those engines are enough to discourage any man," said Kettle, "and the heat down there would sour the temper of an archangel."

Cortolvin loosened a couple more buttons of his pyjamas, and bared his chest. "It's hard to breathe even here, and I thought I'd learnt what heat was out in those Arabian deserts. There's a tornado coming on, that's certain."

"It will clear the air," said Kettle. "But it will be a sneezer when we get it. Mr. Murgatroyd!" he called.

The old, grizzled-headed mate thrust down a purple face from the head of the upper bridge ladder—"Ay, aye?"

"Get all the awnings off her," the shipmaster ordered; "put extra grips on the boats, and see everything lashed fast that a steam crane could move. We're in for a bad breeze directly."

"Ay, aye," mumbled the mate, and clapped a leaden whistle to his mouth, and blew it shrilly. A minute later he reported; "A big steamer lying-to just a point or two off the starboard bow, Captain. I haven't seen her before because of the haze." He examined her carefully through the bridge binoculars, and gave his observations with heavy deliberation. "She's square-rigged forrard, and has a black funnel with a red band—no, two red bands. Seems to me like one of the German mail boats, and I should say she was broke down."

Captain Kettle rose springily from his deck chair, and swung himself on to the upper bridge. Cortolvin followed.

A mist of heat shut the sea into a narrow ring. Overhead was a heavy, purply darkness, impenetrable as a ceiling of brick. The only light that crept in came from the mysterious unseen plain of the horizon. From every point of the compass uneasy thunder gave forth now and then a stifled bellow; and, though the lightning splashes never showed, sudden thinnings of the gloom would hint at their nearness. The air shimmered and danced with the baking heat, and, though lurid greys and pinks predominated, the glow which filled it was constantly changing in hue.

The scene was terrifying, but Kettle regarded it with a satisfied smile. The one commercial prayer of the shipmaster is to meet with a passenger steamer at sea, broken down, and requiring a tow, and here was one of the plums of the ocean ready to his hand and anxious to be plucked. The worse the weather, the greater would be the salvage, and Captain Kettle could have hugged himself with joy when he thought of the tropical hurricane's nearness.

He had changed the Saigon's course the instant he came on the bridge, and had pulled the siren string and hooted cheerfully into the throbbing air to announce his coming. The spectral steamer grew every moment more clear, and presently a string of barbaric colours jerked up to the wire span between her masts. There was no breath of wind to make the flags blow out; they hung in dejected cowls, but to Kettle they read like the page of an open book.

"Urgent signal H.B.!" he cried, and clapped the binoculars back in the box, and snapped down the lid. "H.B., Mr. Cortolvin, and don't you forget having seen it. 'Want immediate assistance,' that means."

"You seem to know it by heart," said Cortolvin.

"There's not a steamboat officer on all the seas that doesn't. When things are down with us, we take out the signal book, and hunt up H.B. amongst the urgent signals, and tell ourselves that some day we may come across a Cunarder with a broken tail-shaft, and be able to give up the sea and be living politely on 200 a year well invested, within the fortnight. It's the steamboat officer's dream, sir, but there's few of us it ever comes true for."

"Skipper," said Cortolvin, "I needn't tell you how pleased I'll be if you come into a competence over this business. In the meanwhile if there's anything I can do, from coal-trimming upwards, I'm your most obedient servant."

"I thank you, sir," said Kettle. "And if you'd go and carry the news to the chief, I'll be obliged. I know he'll say his engines can't hold out. Tell him they must. Tell him to use up anything he has sooner than get another breakdown. Tell him to rip up his soul for struts and backstays if he thinks it'll keep them running. It's the one chance of my life, Mr. Cortolvin, and the one chance of his, and he's got to know it, and see we aren't robbed of what is put before us. Show him where the siller comes in, sir, and then stand by, and you'll see Mr. McTodd work miracles."

Cortolvin went below, and Kettle turned to the old mate. "Mr. Murgatroyd," said he, "get a dozen hands to rouse up that new manilla out of the store. I take you from the foredeck, and give you the afterdeck to yourself. I'll have to bargain with that fellow over there before we do anything, and there'll be little enough time left after we've fixed upon prices. So have everything ready to begin to tow. We'll use their wire."

"Ay, aye," said the mate. "But it won't do to tow with wire, Captain, through what's coming. There's no give in wire. A wire hawser would jerk the guts out of her in fifteen minutes."

Kettle tightened his lips. "Mr. Murgatroyd," said he, "I am not a blame' fool. Neither do I want dictation from my officers. I told you to rouse up the manilla. You will back the wire with a double bridle of that."

"Ay, aye," grunted the mate; "but what am I to make fast to? Them bollards aft might be stepped in putty for all the use they are. They'd not tow a rowboat through what's coming. I believe they'd draw if they'd a fishing-line made fast to them."

"I should have thought you'd been long enough at sea to have known your business by this time," said Kettle unpleasantly. "D'ye think that every steamboat that trades is a bran new 'Harland and Wolff'?"

"Well," said the mate sullenly, "I'm waiting to be taught."

"Pass the manilla round the coaming of the after hatch, and you won't come and tell me that's drawn while this steamboat stays on the water-top."

"Ay, aye," said the mate, and stepped into his slippers and shuffled away. Captain Kettle walked briskly to the centre of the upper bridge and laid a hand on the telegraph. He gave crisp orders to the Lascar at the wheel, and the Saigon moved in perfect obedience to his will.

Ahead of him the great slate-coloured liner lay motionless on the oily sea. Her rail was peopled with the anxious faces of passengers. Busy deck-hands were stripping away the awnings. On the high upper bridge were three officers in peaked caps and trim uniform of white drill, talking together anxiously.

The little Saigon curved up from astern, stopped her engines, and then, with reversed propeller, brought up dead, so that the bridges of the two steamers were level, and not more than twenty yards apart. It was smartly done, and (as Kettle had intended) the Germans noticed it, and commented. Then began the barter of words.

"Howdy, Captain," said Kettle, "I hope it's not a funeral you've brought up for? This heat's been very great. Has it knocked over one of your passengers?"

A large-bearded man made reply: "We haf seen a slight mishap mit der machinery, Captain. My ingeneers will mend."

"Oh, that's all right. Thought it might be worse. Well, I wish you luck, Captain. But I'd hurry and get steam on her again if I were you. The breeze may come away any minute now, and you've the shore close aboard, and you'll be on it if you don't get your steamboat under command again by then, and have a big loss of life. If you get on the beach it'll surprise me if you don't drown all hands."

Captain Kettle put a hand on the telegraph as though to ring on his engines again, but the bearded German, after a preliminary stamp of passion, held up his hand for further parley. But for the moment the opportunity of speech was taken from him. The passengers were either English, or for the most part understood that tongue when spoken; and they had drunk in every word that was said, as Kettle had intended; and now they surged in a writhing, yelling mob at the foot of the two bridge ladders, and demanded that assistance should be hired, let that cost what it might.

There was no making a hail carry above that frightened uproar, and the German shipmaster raved, and explained, and reasoned for full a dozen moments before he quelled it. Then, panting, he came once more to the end of his; bridge, and addressed the other steamer.


Illustration

The German shipmaster raved.


"Dose bassengers vas nervous," said he, "because dey thought dere might come some leetle rain squall; so I ask you how mooch vould you take my rope und tow me to Aden or Perim?"

"Phew!" said Kettle "Aden! That's wrong way for me, Captain. Red Sea's where I've come from, and my owner cabled me to hurry and get to Zanzibar.

"Vell, how mooch?"

"We'll say 100,000 as your passengers seem so anxious."

"Hondred tousand Teufeuls? Herr Gott, I haf not Rhodes on der sheep!"

"Well, Captain take the offer or leave it. I'm not a tow-boot, and I'm in a hurry to make my passage. If you keep me waiting here five minutes longer, it will cost you 120,000 to be plucked in anywhere."

The shipmaster on the other bridge went into a frenzy of expostulation; he appealed to all Captain Kettle's better feelings; he dared him to do his worst; he prayed him to do his best. But Kettle gazed upon the man's gesticulating arms, and listened to his frantic oratory unmoved. He lit a cheroot, and leant his elbows on the white railing of the bridge, and did not reply by so much as a single word.

When the other halted through breathlessness, even then he did not speak. He waved his hand towards the fearsome heavens with their lurid lights, and pointed to the bumping thunder, which made both steamers vaguely tremble, and he let those argue for him. The clamour of the passengers rose again in the breathless, baking air, and the Captain of the liner had to yield. He threw up his arms in token of surrender, and a hush fell upon the scene like the silence of death.

"My gompany shall pay you hondred tousand pound, Captain, und—you haf der satisfaction dot you make me ruined man."

"I have been ruined myself," said Kettle, "heaps of times, and my turn for the other thing seems to be come now. I'll run down closer to you, Captain, or do you bid your hands heave me a line from the fo'c's'le head as I come past. You've cut it pretty fine. You've no time left to get a boat in the water. The wind may come away any moment now."

Captain Kettle was changing into another man. All the insouciance had gone from him. He gave his orders with crispness and decision, and the mates and the Lascars jumped to obey them. The horrible danger that was to come lay as an open advertisement, and they knew that their only way to pass safely through it—and even then the chances were slim—was to obey the man who commanded them to the uttermost little.

The connection between the steamers had been made, the shaky steel-wire hawser had been hauled in through a stern fair-lead by the Saigon's winch, and the old mate stood ready with the shackle which would link it on to the manilla.

The heavens yielded up an overture like the echo of a Titan's groan. "Hurry there, you slow-footed dogs!" came Kettle's voice from the bridge.

The Lascars brought up the eye of the hawser, and Murgatroyd threaded it on the pin of the shackle. Then he cried "All fast," and picked up a spike, and screwed home the pin in its socket. Already the engines were on the move again, and the Saigon was steaming ahead on the tow-line. It was a time for hurry.

The air thickened and grew for the moment if anything more hot, and the tornado raced down upon them as a black wall stretching far across the sea, with the white water gleaming and churning at its foot. It hit the steamers like a solid avalanche, and the spindrift in it cut the faces of the men who tried to withstand it, as though whips had lashed them.

The coolie quartermaster clung on to the Saigon's wheel- spokes, a mere wisp of limp humanity, incapable of steering or of doing anything else that required a modicum of rational thought. The little steamer fell away before the blast like a shaving in a dry street; the tonnage of the tornado heeled her till her lee scuppers spouted green water in-board; and she might well have been overturned at the very outset. But Kettle beat the helpless Lascar from his hold; and spoked the wheel hard up, and the engines, working strongly, brought her round again in a wallowing circle to face the torrent of hurricane.

She took five minutes to make that recovery, and when she was steaming on again, head to the thunderous gusts, the tale of what she had endured was written in easy lettering. On both fore and main decks, the bulwarks were gone level with the covering boards; the raffle of crates, harness casks, gang planks, and so on, that a small trader carries in view to the sky, had departed beyond the ken of man; and, indeed, those lower decks were scoured clean to the naked rusted iron. The port life-boat hung stove from bent davits, and three of the coolie crew had been swept from life into the grip of the eternal sea.

Cortolvin fought his way up on to the upper bridge step by step against the frantic beating of the wind, and, without being bidden, relieved at the lee spokes of the wheel. Captain Kettle nodded his thanks. The Saigon had no steam steering-gear, and in some of the heavier squalls the wheel threatened to take charge, and pitch the little shipmaster clean over the spokes.

Amid the bellowing roar of the tornado, speech, of course, was impossible, and vision, too, was limited. No human eye could look into the wind, and even to let it strike the face was a torture. The sea did not get up. The crest of any wave which tried to rise was cut off remorselessly by the knives of the hurricane, and spread as a stinging mist throughout the wind. It was hard indeed to tell where ocean ceased and air began. The whole sea was spread in a blur of white and green.

The big helpless liner astern plucked savagely at the Saigon's tail, and the pair of them were moving coastwards with speed. Left to herself, and steaming full speed into the gale, the little Saigon would have been able to maintain her position, neither losing ground nor gaining any. With the heavy tow in charge, she was being driven towards the roaring surf of the African beach with perilous speed.

It was possible to see dimly down the wind, and when Cortolvin turned his face away from the stinging blast of the tornado, he could understand with clearness their exact position. Close astern was the plunging German liner, with her decks stripped and deserted, and only the bridge officers exposed. Beyond was cotton-white sea; and beyond again were great leaping fountains of whiteness where the tortured ocean roared against the yellow beach.


Illustration

Close astern was the plunging German liner.


Thirty minutes passed, each second of them brimmed with frenzied struggle for both man and machinery. The tornado raged, and boomed, and roared, and the backward drift was a thing which could be measured with the eye.

Then the old mate heaved himself up the bridge ladder by laborious inches. His clothes were whipping from him in tattered ribbons; his hat was gone; and the grizzled hair stood out from the back of his head like the bristles of a broom. He clawed his way along the rail, and put his great red face close to Kettle's ear. "We can't hold her," he roared. "She is taking us ashore. We shall be there in a dozen minutes, and then it will be 'Jones' for the lot of us."

Captain Kettle glared, but made no articulate reply. If he could have spared a hand from the wheel-spokes, it is probable that Mr. Murgatroyd would have felt the weight of it.

The old fellow bawled at him again. "The hands know it as well as me, and they say they're not going to be drowned for anybody. They say they're going to cast off the hawser."

This time Captain Kettle yelled back a reply. "You thing!" he cried. "You putty man, get back to your post! If you want to live, keep those niggers' fingers off the shackle. By James, if that tow is cast off I'll turn the Saigon for the beach, and drown the whole crew of you inside three minutes. By James! yes, and you know me, and you know I'll do it too. You ham-faced jelly-fish, away aft with you, and save your blooming life!"

The man winced under the little Captain's tongue, and went away, and Captain Kettle looked across the wheel at his assistant.

Cortolvin shrugged his shoulders, and glanced backward at the beach, and nodded. Kettle leant across and shouted:

"I know it, sir, as well as you do. I know it as well as they do. But I've got a fortune in tow yonder, and I'd rather die than set it adrift. It isn't one fortune either; it's a dozen fortunes, and I have just got to grab one of them. I'm a married man, sir, with a family, and I've known what it was to watch and see 'em hungry. You'll stand by me, Mr. Cortolvin?"

"It seems I promised. You know I've been long enough with Mohammedans, skipper, to be somewhat a fatalist. So I say: 'God is great! And our fates are written on our foreheads, and no man can change by an inch the path which is foreordained he should tread.' But they are queer fates some of them. I went away from England because of my wife; I step out of the middle of Arabia, and stumble across you, and hear that he is dead, I look forward to going home and living a peaceful country life; and now it appears I'm to be drowned obscurely, out of the touch of newspapers. However, I'll be consistent. I won't grumble, and you may hear me say it aloud: 'La Allah illah Allah!'"

Captain Kettle made no reply. Through the infernal uproar of the tornado he did not hear much of what was said, and part of what did reach his ears was beyond his comprehension. Besides, his mind was not unnaturally occupied with more selfish considerations.

Astern of him, in the German liner, were some thousand passengers, who were all assets for salvage. The detail of human life did not enter much into his calculations. He had been brought up in a school where life is cheap, and not so pleasant and savoury a thing that it is set much store on. The passengers were part of the ship, just as much as were her engines, and the bullion which he hoped she carried.

The company which owned her was responsible for all; their credit would be damaged if all or a part of her was lost, and he, Owen Kettle, would reap a proportionate reward if he could drag her into any civilised port. And when he thought of the roaring beach so terribly close astern, he bit his beard in an agony of apprehension lest the fates should steal this fortune from him.

And, meanwhile, the line of surf was growing ever nearer. So close, indeed, were they to the hateful shore that, when for a moment the fountains of white water subsided where the breakers raged upon the beach, they could see dimly beyond through the sea smoke, palm trees, and ceibas and great silk cotton woods, whipping and crashing before the insane blast of the tornado.

All hands on the Saigon's deck had many minutes before given themselves up for as good as dead. Their only chance of salvation lay in casting off the tow rope, and no one dare touch the linking shackle. They quite knew that their savage little skipper would fulfil his threat if they disobeyed his orders. Indeed, old purple-faced Murgatroyd himself sat on the hatch-coaming with an opened clasp-knife, and vowed death on any one who tampered with either shackle or manilla. The clumsy mate had swallowed rough words once, but he preferred drowning to living on and hearing Captain Kettle address him as a coward.

The shore lay steep-to, but the back-wash creamed far out into the sea. Already the stern of the German liner was plunging in the whitened water, and destruction seemed a question of seconds.

Then a strange thing happened. It seemed as though the Finger of God had touched the wind; it abated by visible graduations, and the drift of the steamers grew more slow; it eased to a mere gale, and they held their place on the lip of the boiling surf; and then with a gasp it sank into quietude, and a great oily swell rose up as if by magic from the bowels of the deep, and the little Saigon forged ahead and drew the helpless passenger liner away from the perilous beach. Those tropical hurricanes of the Eastern Seas progress in circles, and this one had spurned them from its clutch, and let them float on a charmed ring of calm.

Cortolvin bowed over the wheel in silent thankfulness, but the shipmaster rejoiced aloud.

"How's that, umpire?" said he. "By James! wasn't it worth hanging on for? I've got a wife, sir, and kids, and I'm remembering this moment that they'll always have full bellies from now onwards, and good clothes, and no more cheap lodgings, but a decent house semi-detached, and money to plank down on the plate when they go to chapel on Sundays. The skipper of that Dutchman will be ruined over this last half-hour's job, but I can't help that. It's myself I have to think of first; one has to in this world, or no one else will; and, Mr. Cortolvin, I'm a made man. Thanks to McTodd—"

From below there came a sudden whirr of machinery as though the engines had momentarily gone mad, and then a bumping and a banging which jarred every plate of the Saigon's fabric, and then a silence, broken only by the thin distant scream of a hurt man. Presently the boom of steam broke out from the escape pipe beside the funnel, and a minute later the chief engineer made his way leisurely up on to the bridge.

He was bleeding from a cut on the forehead and another gash showed red amongst the grime on his stubbly cheek. He was shredding tobacco with a clasp-knife as he walked, and seemed from his manner to be a man quite divorced from all responsible occupations. He halted a minute at the head of the bridge ladder, replaced a tobacco cake in the pocket of his pyjama coat, and rolled up the shreddings in the palms of his crackled hands. Then he filled a short briar pipe, lit it, and surveyed the available universe.

"Yon'll be the tornado, 'way ahead there, I'm thinking," said he.

"Are those blame' engines broke down again?" asked Kettle sharply.

"Aye, ye may put it they're broke down."

"Then away with you below again, Mr. McTodd, and get them running again. You may smoke when we bring up in Aden."

McTodd puffed twice more at his pipe, and spat on the wheel grating.

"By James!" said Kettle, "do you hear me?"

"My lugs are a bit muzzy, but I can hear ye for a' that, Captain. Only thing is, I can't do as you'd like."

Captain Kettle stiffened ominously. "Mr. McTodd," he said, "if you force me to take you in hand, and show you how to set about your work, you'll regret it."

"Man," said the engineer, "I can do some kind of impossibeelities. Ye've seen me do them. Ye've seen me keep them palsied rattle-traps running all through that blow. But if ye ask me to make a new propeller out of rod iron and packing cases, I'll have to tell you that yon kind of meeracle's beyond me."

"My great James!" said Kettle, "you don't mean to tell me the propeller's gone?"

"Either that, or else all the blades have stripped off the boss. If ye'd been below on my foot-plates, ye'd have kenned it fine. When it went those puir engines raced like an auld cab- horse tryin' to gallop, and they just got tied in knots, and tumbled down, and sprawled fifteen ways at once. I was on the platform, oiling, when they jumped, and that second of mine tried to get at the throttle to close her down."

"Well, get on, man, get on."

"Weel, he didn't, that's all; he's lying in the lowpressure crank pit this minute, and the top of his skull'll be to seek somewhere by the ash lift. Mon, I tell ye, yon second o' mine's an uncanny sight. So I had to do his work for him, and then I blew off my boilers and came up here.

"It would have been verra comforting to my professional conscience if I could have steamed her into Aden. But I'm no' as sorry as I might be for what's happened. I have it in mind that yon Parsee owner of ours in Bombay'll lose siller over this breakdown, and I want that beggar punishing for all the work he's given me to do on a small wage. Mr. Cortolvin, ha' ye a match?"

A hail came from the liner astern.

"Saigon ahoy! Keep our hawser taut."

"You're all right for the present," Kettle shouted back.

"Der vind might return onless you get in the middle of him."

"Then if it does," retorted Kettle, "you'd better tell your passengers to say their prayers You'll get no further help from me. I'm broken down myself. Lost my propeller, if you want to know."

"Du lieber Gott!"

"I shouldn't swear if I were you," said Kettle. "If the breeze comes this way again, you'll be toeing the mark in the other place inside five minutes." He turned and gave an order: "After deck, there. Mr. Murgatroyd, you may cast off their rope; we've done towing."

Now after this, a variety of things might have happened. Amongst them it was quite possible that both steamers, and all in them, might have been spewed up as battered refuse high upon the African beach. But as Providence ordered it, the tornado circled down on them no more; a light air came off the shore which filled their scanty canvas, and gave them just steerage way; and they rode over the swells in company, as dry as a pair of bridge- pontoons, and about as helpless. All immediate danger was swept away; nothing but another steamer could relieve them; and in the meantime it was a time for philosophy.

Captain Kettle did not grumble; his fortune was once more adrift and beyond his grasp; the Parsee in Bombay would for a certainty dismiss him from employment; and Mrs. Kettle and her family must continue to drag along on such scanty doles as he could contrive to send them. All these were distressing thoughts, but they were things not to be remedied; and he took down the accordion and made sweet music, which spread far over the moving plains of ocean.

Illustration

Captain Kettle.


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But Mr. McTodd had visions of more immediate profit. He washed with soap until his face was brilliant, put on a full suit of slop-chest serge, took boat, and rowed over to the rolling German liner. It was midnight when he returned, affluent in pocket and rather deep in liquor. He went into the chart-house, without invitation, smiled benignly, and took a camp-stool.

"They thought they would get me down into the mess-room over yonder," said he, "and I'll no' deny it was a temptation. I could ha' telled those Dutch engineers a thing or two. But I'm a' for business first when there is siller ahead. So I went aft to the saloon. They were at dinner, and there were puir appetites among them. But some one spied me standing by the door and lugged me into a seat, and gave me meat and drink—champagne, no less!—and set me on to talk. Lord! once I got my tongue wagging, you should have seen them. There was no more eating done. They wanted to know how near death they'd been, and I telled 'em; and there was the Old Man and all the beautiful brass-edged officers at the ends of the tables fit to eat me for giving the yarn away. But a (hic) fat lot I cared. I set on the music, and they sent round the hat. Losh! There was twenty-four pound English when they handed it over to me. Skipper, you should go and try it for yourself."

"Mr. McTodd," said the little sailor, "I am not a dashed mendicant!"

The engineer stared with a boiled eye, and swayed on his camp- stool. He had not quite grasped the remark.

"I'm Scotch mysel'!" exclaimed he, at length.

"Same thing," said Kettle; "I'm neither. I'm a common, low- down Englishman, with the pride of the Prince of Wales, and a darned ugly tongue; and don't you forget it either."

McTodd pulled a charred cigar stump from his waist-coat pocket and lit it with care. He nodded to the accordion.

"Go on with your noise," said he.

Captain Kettle's fingers began to twitch suggestively; and Cortolvin, in order to keep the peace, offered to escort McTodd to his room.

"I thank ye," said the engineer; "it's the climate. I have malaria in the system, and it stays there in spite of all that drugs can do, and effects the perambulatory muscles of the lower extremities. Speaking of which, ye'll na doot have seen for yoursel'—"

"Oh, you'd better come along to bed," said Cortolvin.

"Bide a wee, sonny," said the man in the blue serge solemnly. "There's a thought come to me that I've a message to give. Do ye ken anybody called Calvert?"

"Archie Calvert, by any chance?"

"'Erchie' was the name he gave. He said he kenned ye weel."

"We were at Cambridge together."

"Cambridge, were ye? Weel, I should have been a D.V. of Aberdeen mysel' if I'd done as my father wished He was a Free Kirk meenister of Ballindrochater—"

"Yes, but about Calvert?"

"Ou ay, Calvert! Erchie Calvert, as ye say. Weel, I said we'd you aboard, and this Calvert—Erchie Calvert—said he'd news for you about your wife."

"All right, never mind that now. She's dead, I know, poor woman. Let me help you down to your bunk."

"Dinna be so offensive, man, and bide a wee to hear ma news. Ye're no a widow after all—widowman, that is. Your guid wife didna dee as ye think. She'd a fall from a horse, which'll probably teach her to leave horse-riding alone to men in the future; and it got in the papers she was killed; but it seems a shaking was all she earned. And, talking of horses, now, when I was a bairn in Ballindrochater—"


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"Dinna be so offensive, man.


Cortolvin shook him savagely by the arm. "My God!" he cried; "do you mean to say she's not dead?"

"Aren't I telling you?"

Cortolvin passed a hand wearily over his eyes. "And a minute ago," he whispered, "I thought I was going home." His hand dropped limply to his side, and his head slid to the chart-house deck in a dead faint.

McTodd swayed on the camp-stool and regarded him with a puzzled eye. "Losh!" he said, "here's him drunk as well as me. Two of us, and I never kenned it. It's a sad, immoral world, skipper. Vera sad, skipper, I say. Here's Mr. Cortolvin been—Oh, Lord, and he isn't listening either."

Captain Kettle had gone out of the chart-house. The thud of a propeller had fallen upon his ear, and he leant over the Saigon's rail, and sadly watched a triangle of lights draw up through the cool, purple night. A cargo steamer freighted with rails for the Beira railway was coming gleefully towards them from out of the north, to pick up the rich gleanings which the ocean offered.


THE END