The Wrecker

On the edge of the Great Bahama, near the turn of the Caicos bank,
the hull of the _Stella Polare_ lay high on the coral reef. She was a
passenger steamer, and had made the run many times between Havana and
the Mediterranean ports. She had run with an easy company, and many
passengers had changed their countries in her; for she had been a crack
packet in her day; and her day had passed, joining the vast host in
limitless time.

From a distance the black hull loomed large and sinister, a long iron
mass standing out clearly in the surrounding whiteness of coral and
foam. Closer observation showed the rusty plates, the paintless cabin
houses, and the weather-worn woodwork that still remained. Her two
rakish funnels stood slantwise, holding their places by the aid of
rusty guys, the chains and all valuable metal work having long ago
been stripped from her. And so she lay as the _Buccaneer_, a wrecking
schooner from Nassau, came slowly across the bank.

The rays of the setting sun shone strongly upon the iron hull, and
the crew of the schooner gazed at her from various positions of ease
and lassitude; for the day had been hot and sultry and the air filled
with a brassy coloured humidity that was as thick as a heavy haze on
the horizon. The master of the wrecker was an American named Sanders,
formerly master of the _Sea-Horse_, and his mate was William Haskins,
known as “Bahama Bill.” He was a good-looking fellow, bronzed and fine
featured, and his black hair was streaked with gray. Heavy lines in his
face suggested suffering rather than exposure, although his vocation
was rigorous enough.

The master had gazed for fully a quarter of an hour at the wreck as the
vessel fanned along before the light breeze, when his mate addressed
him.

“Shall we get the gear ready, cap? I got a box ob Atlas powder and
twenty fathom of fuse with exploders. Dat’s enough, hey?”

“Yes, get what you need in the small boat,” said the master absently.
“You can haul down the jib and let go when you’re ready. Give her not
more than four fathoms; for we won’t stay here long–looks like it’s
coming on bad, and the glass is falling. The bank isn’t safe this time
of year. We ought to get into some pocket and tie up.” The master spoke
absently, still gazing at the wreck, and the mate noted it.

“She shuah don’ look much like what she do when yo’ had her, Cap,” said
Bahama Bill.

“What, the _Stella Polare_?”

“Yes, sare, an’ it warn’t so long ago neither. A few years on de reef
make a lot o’ difference in her. Seems like yesterday you run her into
Havana fer de last voyage in de old charter. It shuah do, Cap.”

“When you’re ready with the small boat I’ll go with you,” said the
Captain, still gazing at the black hull.

Anchoring with the fore and mainsails still up, the small boat went
slowly into the bay. There was little or no surf on the lee of the
bank, and the party landed without difficulty. Then they began carrying
their outfit to the wreck. They would break her up, stripping the
plates from her sides for old iron and tearing apart the most valuable
portion of her engines to sell at Key West. It was a job that the men
who had been there before them had declined as unprofitable, for it
required considerable work to strip the plates, and the engines were
well rusted in the half-submerged hull. At high water there was little
of value uncovered in her hold; but the wrecking crew had not been
successful that season, and it was a case of getting what they could.
Wrecks had been few, and the sponging industry, which all wreckers of
the bank usually follow during the summer and hurricane season, had
paid small returns. Dynamite was expensive to use; but it was just as
well to explode a part of it as to have it spoil on their hands. They
could still keep enough for a few loads of fish, for the law of the
reef and bank was never enforced in regard to high explosives, and they
were far away from any prying eyes.

The crew carried sledges and hydraulic jacks, with a spare tackle or
two, and the mate carried the explosive. They reached the high side
where the dry sand had banked against it, and one by one mounted to the
deck, the Captain going aft, still gazing at the old hulk in an absent
manner. She was a long ship, and he walked the entire length of her
deck until he reached the taffrail. Then he turned and looked at the
cabin house. His mind was far away from the work he intended. He saw
that deck as it had been in the days gone by, the days of his youth,
and as he looked a strange feeling of loneliness came upon him.

The deck was there before him, and upon it he saw the faces of the
people who had walked or sat upon it. Even a blistered bit of paint
on the deck-house recalled a certain day in the time gone when he sat
there with the one woman he had lived for, the wife of his youth. A
soft voice called to him and spoke the words he remembered so well. He
almost started, and a choking feeling came in his throat. Yes, he had
sat near that particular spot many times and listened to that voice;
now still, but which seemed to call again. There were the stitches
in the canvas deck covering she used to rub with her foot while
talking, sitting there as they used to do in the old days when the
company allowed him to take his wife with him on the run across. The
deck seemed to slant away and roll from side to side, and he balanced
himself to meet the roll of the ship. The stillness about him was
unbroken save by the distant murmur of the sea and the low voices of
the men waiting forward for the work to begin; but he heard nothing
save the voice of the past.

He went into the deck-house. There was the old settee, now without the
red upholstered cushions. He remembered how many times he had sat there
in the evenings after the voyage was run, and how for years they had
chatted under the light of the saloon lamp when the passengers had all
gone ashore and the ship was deserted by all save the crew. About him
were the signs of wreck and ruin, and he stood for some minutes gazing
about the cabin. A woman’s shoe lay mouldy and green upon the floor
near a stateroom door, and it brought a dull pain in his heart as he
noted it. The owner was dead, long dead, probably lost in the hurricane
when the vessel went into her last resting-place. Far away in Nassau
was a mound, grass grown and storm swept, the resting-place of the one
who had made life worth living for him. Soon the sand would bank up
and cover the old hull, and the long beach grass would grow over it,
blotting out all.

He looked into a deserted room. The door was broken and hung slantwise
upon its one rusty hinge. Then he stepped softly back into the middle
of the saloon and listened. A thousand little things brought back
memories, and he raised his head. “Oh, God! the loneliness of it all!”
he cried.

In the stillness he thought he heard the laughter of a woman’s voice.
No, it was the sobbing, and he started. A land crab scuttled across the
floor of the cabin, making a disagreeable rattling as it went. In the
ghastly stillness of the lost ship a thousand sounds seemed to fall
upon his listening ears. He saw the table set and the people sitting
about it, the stewards getting the dinner, and the old questions asked
him of the day’s run; but foremost and always was the form of one woman
whose bright smile welcomed him from the table end. He stole forward
and went into his room, the Captain’s room of the liner. The wreck and
confusion here were even greater than aft; but he saw nothing now save
the time when they used to sit there, she sewing upon some piece of
woman’s work and he poring over the chart which held his course.

His heart seemed bursting. The ghastly wreck was awful,–it was the
wreck of his hopes,–and he bowed his head and covered his face with
his hands as he sat upon the edge of the bunk. The light was fading;
but he failed to note it. Fifteen, twenty, thirty minutes he sat there,
and the mate, who had returned with the rest of the gear left in the
boat, was searching for him. The sun sank below the sea before that
officer broke into the room and saw him sitting there.

“It’s dun gitting too late toe do enny mo’ this evenin’, Cap,” said he
with a tone of complaint.

“All right. Go aboard, I’ll stay here awhile,” said Sanders.

There was something in the seaman’s face that caused the big mate to
forget his temper at the delay.

“De men want dere grub, sare,” he said quietly, “but I reckon I ken
wait. Shall I send de boat in fo’ yo’, sare?”

“Good Lord! let me alone!” he cried. “Go! Leave a boat for me. I’ll row
out aboard myself when I’m ready.”

The mate went forward, and the men followed him in the small boat. They
went aboard the schooner for the evening meal, and afterward turned in
for the night. A small boat was towed in by a man in the craft they had
used, and it was left upon the sand.

Comment was made forward at the Captain’s absence. No one understood.
Even the mate, who had an idea, did not think it of enough real
importance to dwell upon it; and so the tropic night fell over the
reef, the haze deepened, and the darkness grew intense.

In the dull, heated quiet of the early night the Captain sat upon
the ship’s rail. He could not stand the oppressive stillness of the
blackness in the cabin. The outline of the surf upon the sea side of
the wreck shone in a line of phosphorus, but the dull glare failed to
outline the vast bulk of the hull. The wind had all died away and the
warmth of the air was felt, being heavy with a moisture and sultriness
that bespoke of a falling glass. But he sat and wandered through the
memories of a past life which was all the more bitter because of the
happiness that would never return.

“She will never come back–never!” he whispered into the void about
him. “I’m so tired–tired of it all!” and he groaned aloud in his
anguish. He would not break up the ship. In the morning he would find
some excuse to tell the mate and crew. He could not tell them the real
one. They would not understand. How could they–poor devils? What had
they known of life, life as he had known it? No, he would weigh his
anchor and sail away over the tropic seas to live out his existence
as Fate had demanded of him. He might kill himself; but there were
others dependent upon him for a living, and he would not do a cowardly
thing, would not cause them suffering to alleviate his own. He must
live on–just on and on to help the few who trusted in his strength
to provide for them. It was no pleasure save to ease their burden. It
would be to-morrow–and to-morrow–and to-morrow–a broken life of
unending work and hardship.

“God grant I’ll not have to make it too long! Let me go to a long–a
long, an unending rest! I want to sleep, to sleep for ever; for I’m
tired out!”

His voice was deep and vibrant; but it fell upon the empty air, and he
more than ever noted the silence. He gazed to the southward. There was
nothing upon the dark sea. To the eastward it seemed a little blacker;
but over the desolate ocean there came no sound of even a breaking wave
top. For several hours he sat there gazing out into the blackness, and
then sometimes watching the riding light of his vessel as it flickered
upon the oily sea. All was quiet upon the schooner. The tired men were
sleeping, for they expected heavy work on the morrow.

A low murmur came from the sea. It seemed to come from some distant
point, and rose and fell faintly. Then a flash of lightning lit the
inky darkness to the southeast. He waited to hear the following
thunder; but none came. Minutes afterward the murmur rose again.

In the sultry air even his breathing oppressed him, and he turned to
fix his limbs in a more comfortable posture. He sat easily now and
waited. Over the sea from the southeast came a low rushing sound, the
sound of a mighty wind, and as he gazed toward it he felt the first
puff in his face. The noise of the surf on the outside of the bank grew
louder. A spurt of sand whistled up against the steel side beneath him.
Then came a fiercer blast, and the storm burst over the reef with a
wild, swirling roar of wind and rain.

He stood up and faced it. It relieved his feelings, this fury of the
elements, and he seemed to be again upon his ship at sea facing the
hurricane of the West Indies. The dry sand of the upper bank struck the
sides of the wreck with great force, and flying over it cut his face
so that he could not see any longer. He made his way to the lee of the
deck-house and looked out over the water to see how his vessel stood
the strain. The riding light was still showing in the same place; but
a faint rattling told plainly that both anchors were now on the bottom,
and that the mate, with the instinct of the true sailor, was giving
them chain as fast as he could, with the hope of holding on. How it
blew! The wind came in fierce gusts, rushing, tearing, over the lost
ship.

The sails of the anchored schooner had been lowered just after dark. He
had heard the creaking of the halliards. There would be no great sea
where she lay, but enough to test the strength of the ground tackle she
possessed. He wished vaguely that he had gone aboard. It was the place
for him, upon the deck of his ship.

He watched the riding light for some minutes. It was jumping now with
the rise and fall of the schooner. It was a desperate undertaking to
row a small boat out to her; but the struggle appealed to him strongly.
He should have gone aboard. He would go, and let himself down over
the side of the wreck, with no concern save for the safety of the
schooner and the crew aboard her. If he failed to make her, it was of
no particular matter.

The small boat was made fast on the shore, and he reached her easily.
The oars were in her, and she was all ready to row out, for the inside
of the bank was partly sheltered, and there was no sea there yet. It
would be a row across the wind with it a little astern, and he was a
strong man. The wildness of the night seemed to stir something within
him, and he grasped the oars eagerly for the struggle. He sent the
small boat’s head out into the night and across that hurricane swept
reef with a feeling of something akin to exhilaration. A blast of wind
flung a sea over her, and the salt sea flew in his face, taking his
breath for the instant; but he spat out the brine and drove the boat
ahead.

The riding light appeared to get nearer. He was making good headway,
although the water was flying over the boat and tossing her about
like a cork. All around and about him the sea was white with a
phosphorescent light from the breaking seas; but it failed to outline
the hull of his vessel. He headed for the riding light, and he must
make it, or–

He turned his head now and again to keep the course. The light did not
draw closer very fast, and he knew he was rowing furiously. Then he
noticed that it drew more and more to leeward. He was rowing with the
wind now well aft. He knew what it meant: that his vessel was dragging
her anchors and that there was little or no hope that he would board
her. She might strike, or she might make the open sea. The mate was
an able seaman and would get some canvas on her if he could to try
to fight her off. Out on the wild, storm-swept ocean there might be
safety. To leeward lay certain death.

He rowed now with increased vigour. He would endeavour to get close
enough to hail her at least, even though he could not board her. Over
the tops of the breaking seas the small boat fairly flew. She was
gaining upon the receding light. The Captain turned his head and saw
he was almost alongside. He made out the voices of the men calling to
each other as they close reefed the mainsail. He could hear the mate’s
orders, howled into a shriek, sounding faintly but unintelligible above
the roar of the wind and sea. He now made out the hull of the vessel.
He was close aboard. Then the riding light went out.

He knew he had seen the ending; for they had put the forestaysail on
her and were driving her out to sea. As for himself, he was a lost man.
He was so close to her now that he stood up and hailed.

“Keep her east southeast!” he roared out.

A questioning hail came through the night, a wild, terrified cry.

“Keep her east southeast! Good-bye!” he answered.

“Ay, ay, sir! Good-bye, sir!” came the voice of the mate booming
hoarsely above the gale.

The _Buccaneer_ fought her way out that night. She lost her foresail
and half her other canvas before the finish; but she went to sea safely.

Three days later she came in and anchored near the wreck of the
steamer. The mate and two men went ashore and searched the reef for
signs of their Captain. The boat was gone, and so was he. This told
the story. Two hours later they were tearing up the rusted hulk of the
_Stella Polare_, and they carried tons of her to Key West in the little
schooner, with the mate in command.

Mr. Booker, of the firm of Booker, Benson & Co., closed the door of the
inner office.

“Now, Captain Johns, let’s have an understanding at once,” said he
in a low tone, “let’s make no mistake about this thing. You know we
represent the best there is in the shipping business. You know I’ve
stood by you. You know how long you’d have been inspector of hulls if
I hadn’t fixed it for you with the commissioner. Now, we want James’s
certificate returned. He’s been master of the _Enos_ for years, and we
can’t afford to lose him—-”

“But he abandoned his ship in mid-ocean with passengers aboard,”
snapped Captain Johns. “How can we give him a certificate after that,
hey? How’ll I get around the fact—- What? I know what I owe you. I
know I’m inspector, but I don’t owe you any such rascality as that–no,
sir. I’ll lose my place if I do give it to him–you know that–and if I
don’t you threaten me—-”

“I threaten no man,” interrupted Mr. Booker solemnly. “I simply put it
to you as a business proposition. Captain James is our man. We want
him. Now will you give him back his certificate or not?”

The inspector thought a minute. He was a big man, big, strong, capable
of filling the office of inspector of hulls perfectly. He had been
to sea for more than twenty years and was a first-class navigator, a
first-class seaman. He knew the duties of inspector, and he knew the
law. Upon him rested the responsibility of issuing masters’ and mates’
certificates, and he had generally conducted the examinations without
fear or favour. He prided himself upon this point, for it was generally
understood that a Board of Trade license was good. It meant something.
But he knew Mr. Booker and he knew his man, Captain James, who had
abandoned his vessel in mid-ocean.

“As far as the taking his license away from him is concerned,” said he,
looking straight at the head of the firm, “I had no more to do with it
than others. We did the only thing we could do under the evidence.” He
seated himself in a chair and crossed a leg, rubbing his knee as though
to gain time for the struggle he knew would take place. Mr. Booker was
a leading shipper and also a politician of note. It was he who had
swung the party, he who had practically made the inspectors. It would
not do to act hastily. Booker was an able and deadly foe to any one who
blocked his trade. He was unscrupulous when it came to acting against
an enemy of the firm.

“I don’t want to tie your vessel up,” he went on, “and if I can do
anything in reason I’ll do it. Why not let the mate come up? There’s
nothing that can’t be argued away about him. He had to obey orders.
I’ll give him a ticket all right.”

A strange light shone in Mr. Booker’s eyes. He saw his man was
weakening. It was what he wanted, this mate’s ticket, but to state it
openly would have meant ruin to his scheme. He held out strongly for
his captain, but not strong enough to carry his point. If the inspector
chose to promote his mate, it was not Mr. Booker’s fault. That would
lie entirely and healthily with others. After a futile struggle lasting
half an hour he gave in.

“Very well, then. If you’ll give Mr. McDuff a master’s license and let
him take the _Enos_ out, it’ll have to go. I don’t stand for him, you
know, and I want that distinctly understood. But I’ll compromise on
that–and not a little bit less. You know what she’s carrying?”

The inspector did not. It was not his business to keep track of all
cargoes before they were shipped. He felt irritated. His victory had at
first seemed a good thing, a fine thing to get out of the hole yawning
before him. Now there seemed to be some complications.

“It’s dynamite,” went on Mr. Booker indulgently. “Dynamite for the
Canal, and while it’s all right, you want a man who’s mighty careful
to carry it through the tropics along with the mercury exploders.
Climate affects mercury, and it don’t need much to send the whole kit
to kingdom come. But let it go. I’ll pay a premium the underwriters
can’t refuse. We’ll have to stand a heavy insurance with a man like
McDuff–but of course, if you say so, let it go at that. James might go
as mate. You won’t take away his living, will you? You’ll let him go as
mate–on his old ticket? You know we’ve got to have men aboard a ship.
A vessel won’t run herself.”

He arose to show the inspector that further conversation meant a loss
of valuable time to the head of the firm. Captain Johns knew it and
put on his hat. He had certain misgivings about granting McDuff a
certificate, but he had passed his word. To break it would mean almost
loss of position to himself, for Mr. Booker would do what he could to
make him trouble, and he knew that trouble with Booker was trouble
indeed. The inspector before him had cause to know this. There was no
necessity for history repeating itself.

“I’ll send McDuff down to you–good morning,” said Mr. Booker, bowing
him out.

Captain James and Mr. McDuff were staying at St Lucia. It had been
convenient for them both to keep well away from the curious gaze of the
government officials after the supposed loss of the _Enos_, and St.
Lucia was a beautiful, far-removed spot. Upon the crumbling ramparts of
the fort near the entrance Mr. McDuff sat cogitating a few days after
Mr. Booker had made his little deal with the inspector, and when a
small black lad handed him an envelope bearing the firm’s name in the
corner the taciturn mate trembled. It was so beautiful, so far removed
from modern business, so restful at St. Lucia. The trade-wind blew
steadily across the point and the Caribbean sparkled in the sunshine.
The harbour, devoid of shipping save when the week-end steamer from
the States came to load bananas, lay like a deep azure pool unruffled
by the lively breeze outside. It made a picture of quiet repose, and
even the old dismounted guns used hundreds of years before to repel
the buccaneers before Morgan’s day seemed to have sunk into attitudes
of profound peace. Then this letter from the world of business and
strife. McDuff hesitated about opening it. It was probably a scouring,
scathing, blistering sheet, edited in the cutting language of the head
of the firm. “Ah, what’s the use?” sighed McDuff. He held the missive
in his hand and was about to fling it over the rock and watch it go
fluttering to the sea beneath. Then curiosity came to his aid.

“Might as well open it; if there’s any hot stuff in it, I don’t have to
read it,” he muttered. “Here, boy–here’s a tuppence–git out.”

He tore the paper, pulled the letter out and read it carefully, and as
he did so his fingers clinched and his back straightened. He was wanted
to go as skipper of the old ship. Would he? Well, he would do almost
anything except eat bananas. He walked swiftly to the town and stopped
only long enough to drink three high-balls of rum and cola. Ah, the
sparkling cola! He must have that. Then he took the train for Kingston.

“The _Enos_ is lying at the dock at Port Antonio,” said Mr. Booker,
after he had greeted his man coldly and formally. “You will proceed
there and take command. Go down at once and see Johns. He’ll give you
your examination at once. Get your ticket and go. Then wait for further
orders. James will be mate.”

McDuff grinned.

“Ah, weel, I ken he’ll be a noddy wan–ah, man, man, but I’ll fair
dress him down into shape,” he said, shifting his watery gaze over the
room.

“You can dress him all you want,” said Mr. Booker. “If I were you,
however, I would not tempt Providence too far. James will not stand too
much foolishness. He can lick you.”

“Ah, na fear, me laddie, na fear–do I fergit th’ times he gie me? Na,
na. Wait till I trim him–my mate–at last, at last,” said McDuff with
unction.

“Well, we’ll let that go,” said Booker; “you’re carrying dynamite and
it won’t do to get too frivolous. Do you know anything about carrying
dynamite?”

“Na, an’ I’m that old to learn,” said McDuff, eying the owner
quizzically. All his Scotch canniness was alert.

“Oh, it’s all right,” said Booker; “only you don’t want to make
rough-house aboard your ship the first time you take her out as master.
You’re chartered for Colon again, carrying supplies for the Canal.”

“Ah, weel,” said the mate.

“I reckon that’s about all, Captain McDuff. Do your duty like a man.
If you do we’ll forget some of your past–understand?”

“I ken it, I’ll do it,” said the man, dropping his eyes to the floor.
His past was not a thing to speak lightly upon.

“Drink as much cola and good rum as you think you need. It doesn’t hurt
a man used to it, like yourself.”

McDuff gave the owner a long searching look. The idea tickled him. He
threw back his head and laughed, showing his yellow fangs.

“Good day, Captain McDuff,” said Booker, bowing him out.

The new master of the little cargo carrier _Enos_ had hardly arrived
aboard his vessel when James came slinking into the office. He had been
laying up at Montego Bay, well up the hills, where the natives took
care of him for sixpence a day. Booker appeared to have expected the
visit. He closed the door of the inner office as the former skipper of
the ship entered and they were alone.

“You know why I sent for you?” began Booker.

“I’m a good guesser,” snarled the captain, his bloodshot eyes roving
furtively about. “Make it short, don’t cut in too deep. I’m here for
orders.”

“I haven’t sent you up for life for desertion, have I?” asked the calm
owner, eying him with a cold look.

“No, an’ what’s more you ain’t going to,” growled the captain.

“Lord, what a man!” sneered the owner. “You don’t think I’m afraid to,
do you?”

“There’s mighty little you fear, Mr. Booker,” said Captain James
sourly, “but I understand you’re not trading in morals–not yet. If you
were, you might. If there’s anything you’ve got to say, say it and let
me go. I didn’t come here for any lecture.”

“How would you like to get your ticket back again–on some other
vessel?” James eyed his former employer steadily. The effects of
debauch made his swollen features seem grotesque in their red ugliness,
but he was sober enough for business. He had dreaded the meeting. He
knew his owner’s moral tone, but he had not expected a reward where
punishment was plainly indicated. He had given the ship a bad name.

“Let’s have it fair and square–out with it,” said the seaman.

“You know the ship is old–fit only to carry supplies,” said Booker.
“We’re chartered to carry one hundred tons of blasting powder with
exploders to Colon–enough to blow the whole Canal through. Can you see
the point?”

“You don’t want the stuff to get there–is that it?” asked James
bluntly.

“If you can help us in the matter you shall be treated properly–your
past forgotten,” said Booker solemnly, eying him with a strangely
insistent look.

“How much?” asked the practical navigator in a whisper.

“You’ll get a thousand straight–my personal recommendation for any
ship you wish. Perhaps in New York you’ll find employment. We do a
heavy business there—-”

“Anything in writing?” asked James, without moving.

“Nothing,” said Booker carelessly.

“Is McDuff wise?”

“He is not–some men you can’t trust when drunk–some you can.”

“How’ll I manage? How’ll I make him understand? I can’t blow the ship
under him–kill all hands for a paltry thousand dollars,” hissed James.

There was a long silence. Booker lit a cigar with a steady hand and
puffed slowly. He was in no hurry. James gazed at him fixedly for a
long time. He shifted uneasily in his chair.

“Suppose I refuse?” he said.

“You know the consequences,” said Booker quite calmly.

“Try to hang me for deserting my ship, hey?” snarled the seaman. “Want
me to do a dirty job for the insurance–won’t even tell me how you want
it done.”

“It’s up to you. You are a seaman–a captain. That’s what I’ve been
hiring you for. If I were a sailor I might give you directions. I’m
not. Will you do it or not? Let’s have it.”

“Yes, I’ll do it, you devil,” snarled James. “I’ll do it–somehow. Good
day.”

“Good day, Captain–Mr. James,” said Booker without enthusiasm. He
opened the door and the fat form of the disreputable seaman slouched
out. A clerk met him at the door and handed him a note. It was
permission to draw a hundred dollars for travelling expenses. James
took it to the cashier and handed it in.

“Thought you were in jail,” sneered the cashier as he took the paper.

“You are a liar,” murmured James smoothly.

The official made no further comment. The glare from the old seaman’s
eyes did not justify it. He handed the money through the window with
the air of one handing a bone to a starving dog. James stuffed it away
in his clothes and pulling his hat over his eyes, went his way down the
street to his favourite haunt when in town. No one appeared to notice
him. He was not recognized.

“You can get me a bottle of rum,” said he to the waiter.

“What kind, sare–three or six?”

“I’ll drink somethin’ about ten shillin’s a bottle,” said James. “Wake
up!”

The waiter brought a bottle and drew the cork. The odour filled the
air. It caused James to smack his lips and he drained four glasses in
as many minutes. Then he sat back in his chair and seemed to study the
negro’s face.

“Do you know whether Mr. Jackson–firm of Wells & Jackson,
underwriters–is in town?” he asked.

“Yo’ mean de insurance company, sare–yes, sare, he’s here. Seen to-day
on de street,” answered the waiter. “He took a drink with Mr. Booker
befo’ closing time.”

“Thank you, you can wrap up that bottle–I’ll go along now,” said the
sailor.

It was plain to him that there had been a special deal, that Booker was
carrying an extra heavy risk on his cargo. What if he should tackle
Mr. Jackson? Jackson might listen to him, might even believe there
was something in his warning, but he was a pariah and Mr. Booker was
a gentleman. Then he had nothing whatever to offer as proof. His word
against that of the owner? No, that wouldn’t do at all.

He thought the matter over and finished off the bottle of rum while
doing so. The more he drank the more he became convinced that the only
thing to do was to follow Mr. Booker’s wishes. The only thing was how
would he do the job. How was it possible to sink a ship, blow her up,
without killing all hands? He would not kill any one. No, he would not
stoop to that. He must have time to think over the matter. It would
require some nice adjustment to carry off the affair properly and not
land in prison for life. He wondered whether McDuff knew anything of
the deal. It was not likely; Mr. Booker had never made a confidant of
the Scotchman, though the fellow had a close head and never talked,
drunk or sober. James slept over it and took the train for Port
Antonio, arriving there in the afternoon. He at once made his way to
the docks and boarded the _Enos_ without being quizzed, though several
persons seemed to show surprise at his presence. The story of his
deserting his ship was now public property.

“I’m rare glad to see ye,” said McDuff. “I’d na take ye for th’ sneak
they say ye are, Mr.–Mister James. I’ve been told ye wanted a place as
mate wid the ould hooker. How is it?”

“Yes, I’ll go as mate for you, Scotty,” said James, thinking of the
peculiar accent his former mate laid upon the word Mister. It was just
as well to let the fellow know at once how much respect he felt for
him. Then there would be no trouble in the future. He had served under
him for several years, and it would swell his head, of course, to have
command.

“I’m thinkin’–Mister–Meester James, that’ll be about time ye took a
reef in your tongue-lashin’s. When ye have th’ honour to speak to me,
ye canna call me out of me name–that’s Captain McDuff, sir–don’t
forget the SIR.”

“No, Mack, I won’t forgit it, an’ don’t you forgit who’s talkin’ to you
either. If you do we’ll have trouble–and Mr. Booker don’t want any
more of it in his ships–see? Let’s have a drink, for the sake of old
times?”

McDuff appeared to think a moment. It would hardly do to dress his mate
now while at the dock. James would not stand it. He would drink–and
wait.

“They handle that stuff mighty careless like,” suggested James, gazing
out of the stateroom door at the men loading cargo. “Seems to me if
that’s dynamite there’s apt to be trouble–but then you only have it
once,” he added reflectively.

“That’s the cargo, but not all dynamite. I dinna ken how much–but we
pull out before dark. See to the gear aft–Meester James–an’ remember
the trouble I had with that old stern line last voyage. Ye wouldna gie
me a new wan.”

“Where do we go?” asked James.

“To New Orleans–git the cargo there, the rest of it. D’ye think,
Meester James, that the British will furnish the powder? ‘Tis good
Yankee stuff we’ll take wi’ us, good New Orleans powder. Also we’ll
take a bit o’ men, I’m thinkin’, some o’ that Dago gang for blasters.
They make fine blasters, do Dagoes; an’ if ye lift a few o’ them to
heaven, it makes little difference–there’s plenty more. But they are
an ugly lot to handle, all armed with pistols or knives, ready to shoot
or stab any one.”

“It’s the Dago nature to go heeled,” said James, drinking his rum and
pondering over his scheme. The run to New Orleans offered nothing new
in the way of developing his plans. He arose, went aft and made ready
to get to sea. He was in an ugly mood, but all who knew him addressed
him as “Captain,” and the “Mister” was forgotten in the usual turmoil
of getting the _Enos_ under weigh.

A few days later in New Orleans the dynamite was aboard and the gangs
of labourers who were to mine came down to the dock. James had studied
many ways of getting the ship into trouble, but each one seemed too
dangerous. It would not do to kill the crew. He would not do that, but
to fire the cargo without almost certain death to all aboard appeared
impossible. Then a thing occurred which seemed to be like the hand of
Fate helping him on his way.

“‘Tis a light cargo–an’ she’ll sit high, roll like a log,” quoth
McDuff the day after the powder had been safely stowed. “We’ve cleared
and the insurance agent has had his claim settled. We’re all ready for
sea–Meester James–and we’ll gie along; but I must ha’ a wee bit o’
drink first. Will ye coom along up the town, or will ye bide here till
I come back?”

It still gave him pleasure to address his former captain in a
patronizing manner with an emphasis upon “Meester.”

James looked at him sourly and declined.

“Go on, Scotty,” said he; “I’ll stay by the ship. No drink for me until
we get clear of this foul river. The stinks would spoil the taste of
any kind of poison you’d put aboard ye.”

“Weel, have a bit of a care, an’ don’t let them Dagoes get scuffling on
the lower deck. There’s a bit o’ powder up there in them boxes,” and
McDuff went his way up the levee.

Sengali, the foreman of the gang, stood upon the string-piece of the
wharf and glowered at the small ship. He was not a sailor, but he knew
she would be a dirty and lively vessel in a blow. He had brought his
wife with him, and together they surveyed the scene.

“We will go aboard and look–see,” said he to his stout spouse, and
they forthwith stepped upon the ship’s deck. As nearly everybody had
gone ashore as soon as McDuff’s back had been seen upon the levee,
they met no one and wandered over the _Enos_ at will. Finally Sengali
sat upon the boxes of powder and, lighting his pipe, began to smoke
placidly. He was aware of the contents of the cases, but being an old
hand at the handling of dynamite, he had developed that serenity and
carelessness which is one of their distinguishing qualities. He feared
not either fire or shock.

Mrs. Sengali wandered over the apparently deserted ship and finally
found her way into McDuff’s room in the rear of the pilot-house. Here
she made herself comfortable.

It happened that Cellini, a young and amorous Dago, saw her. He had
been drinking heavily, and as the coast appeared clear he made his way
to the forward part of the ship, hoping to entertain the stout and
rosy Mrs. Sengali in a manner common to drunken Dagoes. He saw no one
forward and made his way to the captain’s room. Then he quickly entered
and swiftly closed the door.

Sengali, smoking and pondering upon the future to be had in the world
at Panama, was aroused from pleasant dreams by the shrill screams of
his wife. He sprang up the companionway and rushed for the vicinity of
the noise. The cries seemed to come from the captain’s room, and he
hesitated. It was a terrible crime to assault a captain upon his own
ship. But his wife. She was in terrible danger, her shrieks were now
being half muffled, showing that the person who had caused them was
stifling them as best he could. The Dago waited no longer; he crashed
against the door.

It gave way with the impact and Sengali landed in the room. Cellini was
holding his wife, but let her go instantly, and drawing a revolver,
fired at Sengali. The latter raced for the companionway, hoping to gain
his bundle, in which reposed his trusty knife. The bundle was lying
where he had sat smoking upon the cases of dynamite, and he tore it
apart, seized his weapon and turned to mete out a just revenge upon his
assailant.

“I keel you now,” he roared and rushed at Cellini, who had come
floundering down the stairs after him, but who, being drunk, had
tripped and had thus lost valuable time.

Cellini, lying upon one elbow, took deliberate aim at the enraged
husband. A fireman, who had seen the fracas, fled up the levee shouting
for the police, and James, who had been drowsing in his room, rolled
out of his bunk and went to the scene of the trouble, intending to
quell it, as a mate should. Cellini’s first shot from his position
where he had fallen tore through Sengali’s uplifted hand. He gave a
yell and drew it down, staggering and flinging the blood about. Then he
rushed again at his prostrate enemy, his knife upraised, ready for the
finishing stroke.

James gained the vicinity just as Cellini raised his weapon for the
last shot. Drunk and furious at the interruption of Sengali, he
appeared not to care for the retribution the husband was going to wreak
upon him. He aimed carefully at the foreman’s head and pulled the
trigger. Just then James kicked the pistol aside and it exploded.

A man on the levee at some distance vouched for this much of the final
act. He saw James kick the weapon, saw it explode. The next instant the
forward part of the _Enos_ disappeared in a mass of flame.

Men came running from all directions at the sound of the detonating
thunder. The rolling roar reverberated along the river-front for miles.
People at a distance saw a huge waterspout rise from where the ship had
been a moment before. Splinters, ironwork, rigging, spars and a piece
of her smoke-pipe rose to an appalling height. Then the scene settled
itself under a pall of dust and smoke.

The levee was destroyed for a distance of fifty fathoms. The dock had
melted into the surrounding air. Trees, fences, and houses, everything
at a distance of a quarter of a mile was razed flat. Men were knocked
stunned and senseless who had been within this radius and the whole
place seemed to have been shaved as with a mighty razor. Only a bit of
the ship’s stern, a tiny piece of her turtle-back, floated awash to
show that there had ever been anything like a ship in the vicinity. The
_Enos_, loaded with dynamite, had blown up with all on board and had
almost totally disappeared.

A few hours later McDuff came lurching down to his ship. He was
comfortably drunk and was in high good humour.

“I’ll trim Meester James–ah, yes, I’ll trim him guid an’ fine before
we gie th’ dock at Colon. ‘Tis a fine thing to be th’ boss—- What, am
I drunk, or has the knave run away wid me ship? He has run away–yes,
yes, he has run away. Ah, weel, what’ll I do– The rascal has stolen me
ship,” said McDuff, looking about him and seeing nothing to indicate
the whereabouts of the _Enos_. “Ah, weel, it was not my ship–but I
will have the police after him. I will have him in th’ calaboose. I’m
fair drunk, I’m fair drunk–but na sa drunk I canna see a ship.”

Mr. Booker read the cable despatch and handed it to his partner.

“That man James was certainly a genius,” said he. “I’m half sorry for
him. I guess he must have been too zealous–’twasn’t like him, yet he
must have been too anxious to please me.”

“He’ll turn up in time,” quoth his partner, the amiable Mr. Benson.
“The fact that he was aboard of her does seem a bit out of the
ordinary, but there’s probably some mistake about it. It’ll straighten
itself out later. He’ll be here to see you, or I’m clean disappointed
in him.”

“I reckon we might as well attend to the underwriters without waiting
for any complications,” suggested Mr. Booker.

“Oh, yes, get the insurance. We’ve had a bit of luck–that’s all.”

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