CUTCLIFFE HYNE

THE LINER AND THE ICEBERG

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WITH ILLUSTRATIONS FROM PEARSON'S MAGAZINE


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First published in Pearson's Magazine, February 1898

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

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version Date: 2019-11-01
Produced by Terry Walker and Roy Glashan

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The Adventures of Captain Kettle, 1898,
with "The Liner and the Iceberg"


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CAPTAIN KETTLE had been thanking Carnforth for getting him command of the Atlantic liner Armenia. "But," he went on, "qualifications, sir, are all my eye. Interest's the thing that shoves a shipmaster along. Yes, Mr. Carnforth, interest and luck. I've got qualifications by the fathom, and you know pretty well what they've ever done for me. But you're a rich man and an M.P.; you've got interest; you come up and give me a good word with an owner, and look, the thing's done."

"Well, I sincerely wish you a long reign," said Carnforth. "The Armenia's the slowest and oldest ship on the line, but she was the best I could get the firm to give you. It's seldom they change their captains, and they promote from the bottom, upwards. You've got all the line before you, Kettle, and the rest must depend on yourself. I'd sincerely like to see you commodore of the firm's fleet, but you'll have to do the climbing to that berth by your own wit. I've done all I can."

"You've done more for me, sir, than any other creature living's done, and believe me, I'm a very grateful fellow. And you can bet I shall do my best to stick to a snug berth now I've got it. I'm a married man, Mr. Carnforth, with children; I've them always at the back of my memory; and I've known what it is to try all the wretched jobs that the knockabout shipmaster's put to if he doesn't choose his belongings to starve. The only thing I've got to be frightened of now is luck, and that's a thing which is outside my hands, and outside yours, and outside the hands of every one else on this earth. I guess that God above keeps the engineering of luck as His own private department; and He deals it out according to his good pleasure; and we get what's best for us."

Now the S.S. Armenia, or the old Atrocity, as she was more familiarly named, with other qualifying adjectives according to taste, was more known than respected in the Western Ocean passenger trade. In her day she had been a flier, and had cut a record; but her day was past. Ship-building and engine- building are for ever on the improve, and with competition, and the rush of trade, the older vessels are constantly getting outclassed in speed and economy.

So heavy stoke-hold crews and extravagant coal consumption no longer made the Armenia tremble along at her topmost speed. The firm had built newer and faster boats to do the showy trips which got spoken about in the newspapers; and in these they carried the actresses, and the drummers, and the other people who run up heavy wine bills and insist on expensive staterooms; and they had lengthened the Armenia's scheduled time of passage between ports to what was most economical for coal consumption, and made her other arrangements to match. They advertised first-class bookings from Liverpool to New York for 11 and upwards, and passengers who economised and bought 11 tickets, fondly imagining that they were going to cross in one of the show boats, were wont to find themselves consigned to berths in inside cabins on the Armenia.

The present writer (before Captain Kettle took over command) knew the Armenia well. A certain class of passenger had grown native to her. On outward trips she was a favourite boat for Mormon missionaries and their converts. The saints themselves voyaged first-class, and made a very nasty exhibition of manners; their wives were in the second cabin; and the ruck of the converts—Poles, Slavs, Armenians, and other noisome riff- raff—reposed in stuffy barracks far below the water-line, and got the best that could be given them for their contract transport price of three-pound-ten a head. Besides the Mormons (and shunning them as oil does water) there were civilised passengers who shipped by the Armenia either because the cheap tariff suited their purses, or because an extra couple of days at sea did not matter to them, and they preferred her quiet regime to the hurry and noise, and dazzle, and vibration of the crowded and more popular greyhounds.

On to the head of this queer family party, then, Captain Owen Kettle was pitchforked by the Fates and Mr. Carnforth, and at first he found the position bewilderingly strange. He was thirty- seven years of age, and it was his debut as an officer on a passenger boat. The whole routine was new to him. Even the deck hands were of a class strange to his experience, and did as they were bidden smartly and efficiently, and showed no disposition to simmer to a state of constant mutiny. But newest of all, he came for the first time in contact with an official called a Purser (in the person of one Mr. Reginald Horrocks) at whose powers and position he was inclined to look very much askance.

It was Mr. Horrocks who welcomed him on board, and the pair of them sized one another up with diligence. Kettle was suspicious, brusque, and inclined to assert his position. But the Purser was more a man of the world, and, besides, he was by profession urbane, and a cultivator of other people's likings. He made it his boast that he could in ten minutes get on terms of civility with the sourest passenger who was ever put into an undesirable room; and he was resolved to get on a footing of geniality with the new skipper if his art could manage it. Mr. Horrocks had sailed on bad terms with a captain once in the days of his novitiate, and he did not wish to repeat the experience.

But Kettle was by nature an autocrat, and could not shake down into the new order of things all at once. The Armenia was in dock, noisy with stevedores working cargo, when the new Captain paid his first preliminary visit of inspection. Horrocks was in attendance, voluble and friendly, and they went through every pelt of her, from the sodden shaft-tunnel to the glory-hole where the stewards live. The Purser was all affability, but Kettle resented his tone, and at last, when they had ended their excursion, and walked together into the chart-house on the lower bridge, the little sailor turned round and faced the other, and put the case to him significantly.

"You will kindly remember that I am Captain of this ferry," he said.

"You're Captain all the way, sir," said Horrocks genially. "My department is the care of the passengers as your deputy, and the receiving in of stores from the superintendent purser ashore; and I wish to handle them all according to your orders."

"Oh," said Kettle, "you'll have a pretty free hand here. I don't mind telling you I'm new to this hotel-keeping business. I've been in cargo boats up to now."

"Well, of course, Captain, a Purser's work is a profession to itself, and the details are not likely to have come in your way. I suppose I'd better run things on much as before to start with, and when you see a detail you want changed, you tell me, and I'll see it changed right away. That's where I come in; I'm a very capable man at carrying out orders. And there's another thing, Captain; I know my place: I'm just your assistant."

Captain Kettle pressed the bell. "Purser," said he, "I believe we shall get on well. I hope we shall; it's most comfortable that way." A bare-headed man in a short jacket knocked, and came in through the chart-house door. "Steward, bring a bottle of whisky, and put my name on it, and keep it in the rack yonder; and bring some fresh water and two glasses—Purser, you'll have a drink with me?"

"Well, here's plenty of cargo," said Kettle, when the whisky came.

"Here's plenty of passengers and a popular ship," said the Purser.

But if Mr. Horrocks was civil and submissive in words on the Armenia, it was because he had mastered the art of only saying those things which are profitable, and keeping his private thoughts for disclosure on more fitting occasions. When he sat at tea that night with his wife across in their little house in New Brighton, he mentioned that the new captain did not altogether meet with his august approval. "He's a queer savage they've got hold of, and no mistake this time," said he; "a fellow that's lived on cargo boats all his life, and never seen a serviette, and doesn't know what to do with his entertainment money."

"Tell the firm," suggested Mrs. Horrocks.

"Not much. At least, not yet. He's new, and so naturally they think he's a jewel. I'm not going to make myself unpopular by complaining too soon. Give this new old man string enough, and he'll hang himself neatly without my help."

"Like the last?"

"Oh, this one's worse than him. In fact I'm beginning to be sorry I ever did get our last old man the push. He was all right so long as I didn't make my perquisites too big. But as for this one, I don't suppose he'll understand I've a right to perquisites at all."

"But," said Mrs. Horrocks, "you're Purser. What does he suppose you live on? He must know that the pay don't go far."

"Well he didn't seem to know what a Purser was, and when I tried to hint it to him, he just snapped out that he was Captain of this blooming ship."

"And then?"

Mr. Horrocks shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, I agreed right away. May as well tickle a fool as tease him, my dear. He thinks because he's a splendid seaman—and he may be that, I'll admit—he's fit to skipper a Western Ocean passenger boat. He's a lot to learn yet, and I'm the man that's going to educate him."

Now the exasperating part of it was, that not only did this process of "education" promptly begin, but Captain Kettle knew it. Never before had he had any one beneath him on board ship who had dared to dispute his imperial will, and done it successfully. There was no holding this affable purser, no pinning him down to a specific offence. If he mapped out a plan of action, and Captain Kettle objected to it, he was all civility, and would give it up without argument. "Certainly, sir," he would say. "You're Captain on this boat, as you say, and I'm Purser, and I just know my place." And then afterwards would invariably come a back thrust which Captain Kettle could never parry.

There were three long tables in the saloon headed by the Captain, the Purser and the Doctor; and when the passengers came on board at Liverpool or New York, it was Mr. Horrocks who arranged their meal places. He had a nice discrimination, this Purser, and from long habit could sum up a passenger's general conversational qualities at a glance. He knew also Captain Kettle's tastes and limitations, and when that redoubtable mariner had been making things unpleasant, he rewarded him with dinner companions for the next run who kept him in a state of subdued frenzy. It was quite an easy thing to do, and managed craftily, it was a species of torture impossible to resent.

In fact it may be owned at once that as a conversational head to a liner's table, Captain Kettle did not shine. The situation was new and strange to him. Up till then he had fought his way about the seas in cargo tramps, with only here and there a stray passenger; and, at table, professional topics had made up the talk, or, what, was more common, glum, scowling silence had prevailed.

Here, on this steam hotel, he suddenly found himself looked up to as a head of society. His own real reminiscences of the sea he kept back: he felt them to be vastly impolite; he never dreamed that they might be interesting.

His power of extracting sweet music from the accordion he kept rigidly in the background. Accordions seemed out of place somehow with these finicking passengers. He felt that his one genteel taste was for poetry, but only once did he let it slip out. It was half-way across the Atlantic on a homeward trip, and conversation had lagged. The Purser's and the Doctor's tables were in a rattle of cheerful talk: Kettle's was in state of boredom. In desperation he brought out his sacred topic.

At once every ear within range started to listen: he saw that at once. But he mistook the motive. The men around him—they were mostly American—thought that the whole thing was an effort of humour. It never occurred to them that this vinegary- faced little sailor actually himself made the sentimental rhymes he quoted to them: and when it dawned upon them that this was no joke, and the man was speaking in sober, solemn earnest, the funniness of it swept over them like a wave. The table yelped with inextinguishable laughter.

Of a sudden Captain Kettle realised that he was his passengers' butt, and sat back in his chair as though he was getting ready for a spring.

In his first torrent of rage he could with gusto have shot the lot of them; but to begin with he was unarmed; and, in the second place, passengers are not crew: and moreover, after the first explosion, the laughter began to die away. One by one the diners looked at the grim, savage, little face glaring at them from the end of the table, and their mirth seemed to chill. The laughter ended, and an uncomfortable silence grew, and remained to the finish of the meal.

During the succeeding meals, moreover, up till the end of the voyage, that silence was very little encroached upon at the Captain's end of the middle table. Any one who ventured to speak had the benefit of Captain Kettle's full gaze, and found it disconcerting. Even to passengers on a modern steam ferry the Captain is a person of some majesty, and this one had a look about him that did not invite further liberties.

That batch of passengers dispersed to the four corners of the earth from Queenstown and Liverpool, and the Armenia saw them no more; but news of the fracas somehow or another reached the head-quarters' office, and a kindly hint was given to Captain Kettle that such scenes would be better avoided for the future.

"I quite know that passengers are awkward cattle to deal with," said the partner who put it to him, "but you see, Captain, we make our living by carrying them, and we can't afford to have our boats made unpopular. You should use more tact, my dear skipper. Tact; that's what you want. Stand 'em champagne out of your entertainment allowance, and they'll stand it back, and run up bigger bills with the wine steward. It all means profit, Captain, and those are the ways you must get it for us. We aren't asking you to drum round for cargo now. Your game is to make the boat cheery and comfortable for passengers, so that they'll spend a lot of money on board, and like it, and come again and spend some more. Tumble?"

The captain of the Armenia heard, and intended to conform. But, admirer of his though I must conscientiously write myself, I cannot even hope that in time he would have shaken down fitly into the berth; for, to tell the truth, I do not think a more unsuitable man to govern one of these modern steam hotels could be found on the seas of either hemisphere. However, as it happened, the concession was not demanded of him. His luck, that cruel, evil fortune, got up and hit him again, and his ship was cast away, and he saw himself once more that painful thing, a shipmaster without employ. More cruel still, he found himself at the same time in intimate touch with a great temptation.

The fatal voyage was from New York home, and it was in the cold, raw spring-time when passenger lists are thin. The day before sailing a letter addressed "Captain Kettle, S.S. Armenia," made its appearance on the chart-house table. How it got there no one seemed to know, but with the crowd of stevedores and others working cargo, it would have been very easy for a messenger from the wharf to slip it on board unobserved. The letter was type-written, and carried the address of an obscure saloon in the Bowery. It said:

"There is a matter of $50,000 (10,000) waiting for you to earn with a little pluck and exertion. You can either take the game or leave it, but if you conclude to hear more, come here and ask the barman for a five-dollar cocktail, and he will show you right inside. It you are frightened, don't come. We've got no use for frightened men. We can easy find a man with more sand in him somewhere else."

The little sailor considered over this precious document for the full of an hour. "Some smuggling lay," was his first conclusion, but the sum of money appeared too big for this; then he was half-minded to put down the whole thing as a joke; then as a lure to rob him. The final paragraph and the address given, which was in the worst part of New York city, seemed to point shrewdly to this last. And I believe the prospect of a scrimmage was really the thing that in the end sent him off. But any way, that evening he went, and after some difficulty found the ruffianly drinking shop to which he had been directed.


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The little sailor considered over this precious document.


He went inside and looked inquiringly across the bar.

The shirt-sleeved barman shifted his cigar. "Well, mister, what can I fix up for you?"

"You're a bit proud of your five-dollar cocktails here, aren't you?"

The man lowered his voice. "Say, are you Captain Cuttle?"


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"Say, are you Captain Cuttle?"


"Kettle! confound you."

"Same thing, I guess. Walk right through that door yonder, and up the stair."

Captain Kettle patted a jacket pocket that bulged with the outline of a revolver. "If any one thinks they are going to play larks on me here, I pity 'em."

The barman shrugged his shoulders. "Don't blame you for coming 'heeled,' boss. Guess a gun sometimes chips in handy round here. But I think the gents upstairs mean square biz."

"Well," said Kettle, "I'm going to see," and opened the door and stumped briskly up the stairway.

He stepped into a room, barely furnished, and lit by one grimy window. There was no one to receive him, so he drummed the table to make his presence known.

Promptly a voice said to him:

"Hawdy, Captain? Will ye mind shuttin' the door?"

Now Kettle was not a man given to starting, but he started then. The place was in the worst slum of New York. Except for a flimsy table and two battered chairs, the room was stark empty, and this voice seemed to come from close beside him. Instinctively his fingers gripped on the weapon in his jacket pocket.

He slewed sharply round to make sure he was alone, and even kicked his foot under the table to see that there was no jugglery about that, and then the voice spoke to him again, with Irish brogue and Yankee idiom quaintly intermingled.

"Sure, Captain, I have to ask yer pardon for keepin' a brick wall right here between us. But I've me health to consider, an' I reckon our biz will be safest done this way."

The little sailor's grim face relaxed into a smile. His eye had caught the end of a funnel which lay flush with the wall.

"Ho!" he said. "That's your game, is it? A speaking tube. Then I suppose you've got something to say you are ashamed of?"

"Faith, I'm proud of it. A pathriot is never ashamed of his cause."

"Get to business," said Kettle. "My time's short, and this waiting-room of yours is not over savoury."

"It's just a little removal we wish you to undertake for us, Captain. You have gotten a Mr. Grimshaw on your passenger list for this run to Liverpool."

"Have I?"

"It's so. He's one of the big bosses of your British Government."

"Well, supposing I have?"

"He's been out here as a sort of commissioner, and he's found out more than is good for him. He sails by the Armenia to- morrow, and if you can—well—so contrive that he doesn't land at the other side, it means you are set up for life."

Captain Kettle's face stiffened, and he was about to break out with something sharp. But he restrained himself and asked instead: "What's the figure?"

"$50,000—say 10,000 of your English sovereigns."

"And how do I know that I should get paid?"

The answer was somewhat astounding. "You can pocket the money here, right now," said the voice.

"And once I got paid what hold would you have on me? How do you know I'd shove this Grimshaw over the side? That I suppose is what you want?"

The voice chuckled. "We've agents everywhere, Captain. We'd have you removed pretty sharp if you tried to diddle us."

"Oh, would you?" snapped Kettle. "I've bucked against some tolerably ugly toughs in my time and come out top side, and shouldn't mind tackling your crowd for the sheer sport of the thing. But look here, Mr. Paddy Fenian, you've got hold of the wrong man when you came to me. By James! yes, you skulking, cowardly swine! You face behind a wall! Come out here and talk. I won't lift my hands. I'll use my feet to you and kick your backbone through your hat. You'd dare to ask me to murder a man, would you?"

Captain Kettle's eloquence had an unlooked-for effect. The voice from the speaking tube laughed.

The sailor went on afresh and spoke of the unseen one's ancestors on both sides of the house, his personal habits, and probable future. He had acquired a goodly flow of this kind of vituperation during his professional career, and had been compelled to keep it bottled up before the passengers on the liner. He felt a kind of gusto in letting his tongue run loose again, and had the proud consciousness that each of his phrases would cut like the lash of a whip.

But the unseen man apparently heard him unruffled. "Blow off steam, skipper," said he; "don't mind me."

Kettle looked round the empty room dejectedly. "You thing!" he said. "I could make a man with more spirit than you out of putty."

"Of course you could, skipper," said the voice with the brogue; "of course you could. I don't really exist. I'm only a name, as your beastly Saxon papers say when they abuse me. But I can hit, as they know, and I can draw cheques, as you can find out if you choose. You can have your pay yet if you see fit to change your mind, and 'remove' spy Grimshaw between here and Liverpool. We've plenty of money, and you may as well have it as any one else. It's got to be spent somehow."

"I'd give a lot to wring your neck," said Kettle. He tapped at the wall to test its thickness.

"You tire me," said the voice "Why can't you drop that? You can't get at me; and if you go outside and set on all the police in New York city, you'll do no good. The police in this city know which side their bread's margarined. I'm the man with the cheque- book, sonny, and you bet they are not the sample of fools that'd go and try to snuff me out."

"This is no place for me," said Kettle. "It seems I can't lug you out of the drain where you live, and if I stay in touch of your breath any longer, I shall be poisoned. I've told you who I consider your mother to be. Don't forget." And the little bearded sailor strode off down the stair again and into the street. He had no inclination to go to the police, having a pious horror of the law, and so he got a trolley car which took him down to the East River, and a ferry which carried him across to his ship.

The time was 2 a.m. and the glow of the arc lamps and the rattle of winch chains, and the roar of working cargo went up far into the night. But noise made little difference to him, and even the episode he had just gone through was not sufficient to keep him awake.

The master of a Western Ocean ferry gets little enough of sleep when he is on the voyage, and so on the night before sailing he stores up as much as may be.

As it chanced, Mr. Grimshaw took steps to impress himself on Captain Kettle's notice at an early stage of the next day's proceedings. The ship was warping out of dock with the help of a walking-beam tug, and a passenger attempted to pass the quartermaster at the foot of the upper bridge ladder. The sailor was stubborn, but the passenger was imperative, and at last pushed his way up, and was met by Kettle himself at the head of the ladder.

"Well, sir?" said that official. "I've come to see you take your steamer out into New York Bay, Captain."

"Oh, have you?" said Kettle. "Are you the Emperor of Germany by any chance?"

"I am Mr. Robert Grimshaw."

"Same thing. Neither you nor he is Captain here. I am. So I'll trouble you to get to Halifax out of this before you're put. Quartermaster, I'll log you for neglect of duty."

Grimshaw turned and went down the ladder with a flushed cheek. "Thank you, Captain," he said, over his shoulder. "I've got influence with your owners. I'll not neglect to use it."


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"Thank you, Captain," he said, over his shoulder.
"I've got influence with your owners."


It chanced also that Captain Kettle had been cutting down his Purser's perquisites more ruthlessly than usual in New York, and that worthy man thirsted for revenge. He had taken Mr. Grimshaw's measure pretty accurately at first sight, and was tolerably sure that eight days of his conversation would irritate his skipper into a state of approaching frenzy. So he portioned off the commissioner to the end right hand chair at the Captain's table, and promised himself pleasant revenge in overlooking the result.

Captain Kettle worked the Armenia outside the bar and came down to dinner. Horrocks whispered in his ear as he came down the companion. "Mr. Grimshaw's the man on your right, sir. Had to give him to you. He's some sort of a big bug in the government at home, been over in New York inquiring into the organisation of those Patlander rebels."

Kettle nodded curtly and went on to his seat. The meal began and went on. Mr. Grimshaw made no allusion to the previous encounter. He had made up his mind to exact retaliation in full, and started at once to procure it. He had the reputation in London of being a "most superior person," and he possessed in a high degree the art of being courteously offensive. He was a clever man with his tongue, and never overstepped the bounds of suavity.

How the wretched Kettle sat through that meal he did not know. Under this polished attack he was impotent of defence. Not a chance was given him for retort, and all the thrusts went home. He retired from the dinner table with a moist perspiration on his face, and an earnest prayer that the Armenia would carry foul weather with her all the way up to Prince's landing stage, so that he might be forced to spend the next seven or eight days on the chilly eminence of the upper bridge.

And now we come to the story of how Captain Owen Kettle's luck again buffeted him.

The Armenia was steaming along through the night, to the accompaniment of deep and dismal hootings from the siren. A fog spread over the Atlantic and the bridge telegraph pointed to "Half-speed ahead," as the Board of Trade directs. The engine- room, however, had private instructions as usual, and kept up the normal speed.

On the forecastle head four look-out men peered solemnly into the fog, and knew that for all the practical good they were doing they might just as well be in their bunks.

On the bridge, in glistening oilskins, Kettle and two mates stared before them into the thickness, but could not see as far as the foremast. And the Armenia surged along at her comfortable fourteen knots, with the five hundred people asleep beneath her deck. The landsman fancies that on these occasions steamships slow down or stop; the liner captain knows that if once he did so he would have little chance of taking his ship across the Atlantic again. A day lost to one of these ocean ferries means in coal and food, and wages, and so on, a matter of 1,000 or so out of the pockets of her owners, and this is a little sum they do not care to forfeit without strong reason. They expect their captains to drive the boats along as usual, and make up for the added risk by increased watchfulness and precaution, and a keen noting of the thermometer for any sudden fall which should foretell the neighbourhood of ice.

Now the Armenia was skirting the edge of the Banks, on the recognised steam-lane to the Eastward, which differs from that leading West; and by all the laws of navigation there should have been nothing in the way. Nothing, that is, except fishing schooners, which do not matter, as they are the only sufferers if they haven't the sense to get out of the way.

But, suddenly, through the fog ahead there loomed out a vast shape, and almost before the telegraph rung its message to the engine-room, and certainly before steam could be shut off, the Armenia's bow was clashing and clanging and ripping and buckling as though it had charged full tilt against a solid cliff.

The engines stopped, and the awful tearing noises ceased, save for a tinkling rattle as of a cascade of glass, and: "There goes my blooming ticket," said Kettle bitterly. "Who'd have thought of an iceberg as far south as here this time of year!" But he was prompt to act on the emergency.

"Now, Mr. Mate, away forward with you, and get the carpenter, and go down and find out how big the damage is." The crew were crowding out on deck. "All hands to boat-stations. See all clear for lowering away, and then hold on all. Now, keep your heads, men. There's no damage, and if there was damage there's no hurry. Put a couple of hands at each of the companion-ways, and keep all passengers below. We can't have them messing round here yet awhile."

The Purser was standing at the bottom of the upper bridge ladder half-clad, cool, and expectant. "Ah, Mr. Horrocks, come here."

The Armenia had slipped back from the berg by this time and lay still, with the fog dense all around her. "Now it's all up with the old Atrocity, Purser: look how she's by the head already. Get your crew of stewards together, and victual the boats. Keep 'em in hand well, or else we shall have a stampede and a lot of drowning. I'll have the boats in the water by the time you're ready, and then you must hand up the passengers, women first."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Wait a minute. If any one won't do as he's bid, shoot. We must keep order."

The Purser showed a pistol. "I put that in my pocket," said he, "when I heard her hit. Good-bye, skipper; I'm sorry I haven't been a better shipmate to you."

"Good-bye, Purser," said Kettle; "you aren't a bad sort."

Mr. Horrocks ran off below, and the chief officer came back with his report, which he whispered quietly in the shipmaster's ear. "It's fairly scratched the bottom off her. There's sixty feet gone, clean. Collision bulkhead's nowhere. There's half the Atlantic on board already."

"How long will she swim?"

"The carpenter said twenty minutes, but I doubt it."

"Well, away with you, Mr. Mate, and stand by your boat. Take plenty of rockets and distress lights, and if the fog lifts we ought to get picked up by the Georgic before morning. She's close on our heels somewhere. If you miss her and get separated, make for St. John's."

"Ay, aye, sir."

"So long, Mr. Mate. Good luck to you."

"Good-bye, skipper. Get to the inquiry if you can. I'll swear till all's blue that it wasn't your fault, and you may save your ticket yet."

"All right, Matey, I see what you mean. But I'm not going to shoot myself this journey. I've got the missis and the kids to think about."

The Mate ran off down the ladder, and Kettle had the upper bridge to himself. The decks of the steamer glowed with flares and blue lights. A continuous stream of rockets spouted from her superstructure far into the inky sky. The main fore-deck was already flush with the water, and on the hurricane deck aft, thrust up high into the air, frightened human beings bustled about like the inhabitants of some disturbed ant-hill.

Pair by pair the davit tackles screamed out, and the liner's boats kissed the water, rode there for a minute to their painters as they were loaded with the dense human freight, and then pushed off out of suction reach, and lay to. Dozen by dozen the passengers left the luxurious steam hotel, and got into the frail open craft which danced so dangerously in the clammy fog of that Atlantic night. Deeper the Armenia's fore part sank beneath the cold waters as her forward compartments swamped.

From far beneath him in the hull, Kettle could hear the hum of the bilge pumps as they fought the in-coming sluices; and then at last those stopped, and a gush of steam burred from the twin funnels to tell that the engineers had been forced to blow off their boilers to save an explosion.

A knot of three men stood at the head of port gangway ladder shouting for Kettle. He went gloomily down and joined them. They were the purser, the second mate, and Mr. Grimshaw.

Kettle turned with a blaze of fury on his suave tormentor. "Into the boat with you, sir. How do you dare to disobey my orders and stay behind when the passengers were ordered to go? Into the boat with you, or, by James! I'll throw you there."

Mr. Robert Grimshaw opened his lips for speech.

"If you answer me back," said Kettle, "I'll shoot you dead."


Illustration

"If you answer me back," said Kettle, "I'll shoot you dead."


Mr. Grimshaw went. He had a tolerable knowledge of men, and he understood that this ruined shipmaster would be as good as his word. He picked his way down the swaying ladder to where the white-painted lifeboat plunged beneath, finding footsteps with clumsy landsman's diffidence. He reached the grating at the foot of the ladder, and paused. The lifeboat surged up violently towards him over a sea, and then swooped down again in the trough.

"Jump, you blame' fool," the second mate yelled in his ear, "or the steamer will be down under us." And Grimshaw jumped, cannoned heavily against the boat's white gunwale, and sank like a stone into the black water.

At a gallop there flashed through Captain Kettle's brain a string of facts. He was offered 10,000 if this man did not reach Liverpool; he himself would be out of employ, and back on the streets again; his wife and children would go hungry. Moreover, he had endured cruel humiliation from this man, and hated him poisonously. Even by letting him passively drown he would procure revenge and future financial easement. But then the memory of that Irish-American at the speaking tube in the Bowery came back to him, and the thought of obliging a cowardly assassin like that drove all other thoughts from his mind. He thrust Horrocks and the second mate aside, and dived into the waters after this passenger.

It is no easy thing to find a man in a rough sea and in an inky night like that, and for long enough neither returned to the surface. The men in the lifeboat, fearing that the Armenia would founder and drag them down in her wash, were beginning to shove off, when the two bodies showed on the waves, and were dragged on board with boat-hooks.

Both were insensible, and in the press of the moment were allowed to remain so on the bottom gratings of the boat. Oars straggled out from her sides, frantically labouring, and the boat fled over the seas like some uncouth insect.

But they were not without a mark to steer for. Rockets were streaming up out of another part of the night, and presently, as they rode on over that bleak watery desert, the outline of a great steamer shone out, lit up like some vast stage picture. The other boats had delivered up their freights, and been sent adrift. The second mate's boat rowed to the foot of her gangway ladder.

"This is the Georgic," said a smart officer, who received them. "You are the last boat. We've got all your other people unless you've lost any."

"No," said the second mate. "We're all right. That's the Old Man down there with his fingers in that passenger's hair."

"Dead?"

"No, I saw 'em both move as we came alongside."

"Well, pass 'em up and let's get 'em down to our doctor. Hurry now. We wanted to break the record this passage, and we've lost a lot of time already over you."

"Right-o," said the Armenia's second mate drearily, "though I don't suppose our poor old skipper will thank us for keeping him alive. After piling up the old Atrocity, he isn't likely to ever get another berth."

"Man has to take luck as he finds it at sea," said the Georgic's officer, and shouted to the rail above him "All aboard, sir."

"Cast off that boat!" "Up gangway," came the orders, and the Georgic continued her race to the East.


THE END