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Title: Dan Merrithew
Author: Perry, Lawrence, 1875-1954
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Dan Merrithew" ***

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[Frontispiece: Tongues of flame reached hungrily for them, licking
above Dan's red-gold hair, but never touching the girl.]



Dan Merrithew

By Lawrence Perry



Author of "From the Depths of Things," "Two Tramps," "The Bounder,"
"The Sacrifice," etc.



WITH FOUR ILLUSTRATIONS IN COLORS

BY J. V. McFALL



A. L. BURT COMPANY

PUBLISHERS                NEW YORK



COPYRIGHT

By A. C. McClurg & Co.

A.D. 1910



Entered at Stationers' Hall, London, England



Published, March 12, 1910

Second edition, March 19, 1910



_Thanks are due Mr. Arthur W. Little, president of the Pearson
Publishing Company, for permission to use in this novel several
incidents in the life of Dan Merrithew which originally appeared in
"Pearson's Magazine."_



TO

LARRY



CONTENTS

CHAPTER
TOC
    I.  THE GIRL ON THE "VEILED LADYE"
   II.  DAN'S SEARCH FOR THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT
  III.  A FIGHT IN THE DARK
   IV.  DAN STAKES HIS LIFE, AND WINS
    V.  THE LOSS OF THE "FLEDGLING"
   VI.  THE BRAVE AND THE FAIR
  VII.  DAN IS COMMANDED TO A PARTY
 VIII.  WITS VERSUS MACHINE GUNS
   IX.  AN ATTEMPTED ASSASSINATION
    X.  THE WRAITH IN THE MOONLIGHT
   XI.  THE BURNING OF THE "TAMPICO"
  XII.  ALONE IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE
 XIII.  NIGHT ON THE DERELICT
  XIV.  DAN AND VIRGINIA
   XV.  CONCLUSION



ILLUSTRATIONS

Tongues of flame reached hungrily for them, licking above Dan's
red-gold hair, but never touching the girl . . . . . . . _Frontispiece_

"Oh, father," broke in the girl, "tell him it was noble!"

In the flash of an eye, Dan was making for the assassin

Opposite, smiling at him as though they had breakfasted together for
years, was the radiant girl



DAN MERRITHEW


CHAPTER I

THE GIRL ON THE "VEILED LADYE"

The big coastwise tug _Hydrographer_ slid stern-ward into a slip
cluttered with driftwood and bituminous dust, stopping within heaving
distance of three coal-laden barges which in their day had reared
"royal s'ls" to the wayward winds of the seven seas.

Near-by lay Horace Howland's ocean-going steam yacht, _Veiled Ladye_,
which had put into Norfolk from Caribbean ports, to replenish her
bunkers.  There were a number of guests aboard, and most of them arose
from their wicker chairs on the after-deck and went to the rail, as the
great tug pounded alongside.

Grateful for any kind of a break in the monotony of the long morning,
they observed with interest the movements of a tall young man, in a
blue shirt open at the throat and green corduroy trousers, who caught
the heaving line hurtling from the bow of the nearest barge, and hauled
the attached towing-cable dripping and wriggling from the heavy waters.

He did it gracefully.  There was a fine play of broad shoulders, a
resilient disposition of the long, straight limbs, an impression of
tiger-like strength and suppleness, not lost upon his observers, upon
Virginia Howland least of all.  She was not a girl to suppress a
thought or emotion uppermost in her mind; and now she turned to her
father with an exclamation of pleasure.

"Father," she cried, "look!  Isn't he simply stunning!  The Greek
ideal--and on a tugboat!"  Her dark eyes lightened with mischief.  "Do
you suppose he'd mind if I spoke to him?"

"He'd probably swear at you," said young Ralph Oddington, with a grin.
Then, seized by a sudden impulse for which he afterwards kicked
himself, being a decent sort of chap, he drew his cigarette case from
his pocket and, as the tug came to a standstill, tossed a cigarette
across the intervening space.  It struck the man in the back, and as he
turned, Oddington called,

"Have a cigarette, Bill?"

The tugman's lips parted, giving a flashing glimpse of big, straight,
white teeth.  Then they closed, and for an instant he regarded the
speaker with a hard, curious expression in his quiet gray eyes, and the
proffered cigarette, as though by accident, was shapeless under his
heel.

It was distinctly embarrassing for the yachting party; and partly to
relieve Oddington, partly out of curiosity, Virginia Howland leaned
over the rail with a smile.  "Please pardon us, Mr. Tugboatman.  We
didn't mean to offend you; we--"

The young man again swept the party with his eyes, and then meeting the
girl's gaze full, he waited for her to complete the sentence.

"We," she continued, "of course meant no harm."

He did not reply for a moment, did not reply till her eyes fell.

"All right--thanks," he said simply and then hurried forward.

At sunset the _Veiled Ladye_ was well on her way to New York, and the
_Hydrographer_ was plugging past Hog Island light with her cumbersome
tows plunging astern.

It came to be a wild night.  The tumbling blue-black clouds of late
afternoon fulfilled their promise of evil things for the dark.  There
were fierce pounding hours when the wrath of the sea seemed centred
upon the _Hydrographer_ and her lumbering barges, when the towing-lines
hummed like the harp strings of Aeolus.

It was man's work the crew of the _Hydrographer_ performed that night;
when the dawn came and the wind departed with a farewell shriek, and
the seas began to fall, Dan Merrithew sat quiet for a while, gazing
vacantly out over the gray waters, wrestling with the realization that
through all the viewless turmoil the face of a girl he did not
know--never would know, probably--had not been absent from his mind;
that the sound of her voice had lingered in his ears rising out of the
elemental confusion, as the notes of a violin, freeing themselves from
orchestral harmony, suddenly rise clear, dominating the _motif_ in
piercing obligato.

When he arose it was with the conviction that this meant something
which eventually would prove of interest to him.  One evening some
three months before, he had visited the little sailors' church which
floats in the East River at the foot of Pike Street in New York, and
listened to a preacher who was speaking in terms as simple as he could
make them, with Fate as his text.

Fate, he said, works, in mysterious ways and does queer things with its
instruments.  It may sear a soul, or alter the course of a life in
seeming jest; but the end proves no jest at all, and if we live long
enough and grow wise with our years, we learn that at the bottom, ever
and always, in everything, was a guiding hand, a sure intent, and a
serious purpose.

It was a good, plain, simple talk such as longshoremen, dock-rats,
tugmen, and seamen often hear in this place, but it impressed young
Merrithew; for, although he had never accepted his misfortunes, nor
reasoned away the things that tried his soul in this philosophical
manner, yet he had always had a vague conviction that everything that
happened was for his good and would work out in the end.

The words of the preacher seemed to give him clearer understanding in
this regard, taught him to weigh carefully things which, as they
appeared to him, were on the face insignificant.  This had led him into
strange trends of thought, had encouraged, in a way, superstitious
fancies not altogether good for him.  He knew that, and he had cursed
his folly, and yet on this morning after the storm, on the after-deck
of a throbbing tugboat he nodded his head sharply, outward acquiescence
to an inward conviction that somehow, somewhere, he was going to see
that face again and hear that voice.  That was as certain as that he
lived.  And when this took place he would not be a tugboat mate.  That
was all.

Whatever he did thereafter he had this additional incentive, the future
meeting with a tall, lithe girl with dark-brown hair and gray
eyes--brave, deep eyes, and slightly swarthy cheeks, which were crimson
as she spoke to him.



CHAPTER II

DAN'S SEARCH FOR THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT

Daniel Merrithew was one of the Merrithews of a town near Boston, a
prime old seafaring family.  His father had a waning interest in three
whaling-vessels; and when two of them opened like crocuses at their
piers in New Bedford, being full of years, and the third foundered in
the Antarctic, the old man died, chiefly because he could see no clear
way of longer making a living.

Young Merrithew at the time was in a New England preparatory school,
playing excellent football and passing examinations by the skin of his
teeth.  Thrown upon his own resources, his mother having died in early
years, he had to decide whether he would work his way through the
school and later through college, or trust to such education as he
already had to carry him along in the world.

It was altogether adequate for practical purposes, he argued, and so he
lost little time in proceeding to New York, where he began a business
career as a clerk in the office of the marine superintendent of a great
coal-carrying railroad.  It was a beginning with a quick ending.  The
clerkly pen was not for him; he discovered this before he was told.
The blood of the Merrithews was not to be denied; and turning to the
salt water, his request for a berth on one of the company's big
sea-going tugs was received with every manifestation of approval.

When he first presented himself to the Captain of the _Hydrographer_,
the bluff skipper set the young man down as a college boy in search of
sociological experience and therefore to be viewed with good-humored
tolerance--good-humored, because Dan was six feet tall and had
combative red-gold hair.  His steel eyes were shaded by long
straw-colored lashes; he had a fighting look about him.  He had a
magnificent temper, red, but not uncalculating, with a punch like a
mule's kick back of it.

As week after week passed, and the new hand revealed no temperamental
proclivities, no "kid-glove" inclinations, seemingly content with
washing down decks, lassooing pier bitts with the bight of a hawser at
a distance of ten feet, and hauling ash-buckets from the fireroom when
the blower was out of order--both of which last were made possible by
his mighty shoulders--the Captain began to take a different sort of
interest in him.

He allowed Dan to spend all his spare moments with him in the
pilot-house; and as the Captain could shoot the sun and figure latitude
and longitude and talk with fair understanding upon many other elements
of navigation, the young man's time was by no means wasted.  Later, Dan
arranged with the director of a South Street night school of navigation
for the evenings when he was in port, and by the time they made him
mate of the _Hydrographer_, he was almost qualified to undergo
examination for his master's certificate.

Mental changes are not always attended by outward manifestations, but
all the crew of the _Hydrographer_, after that mad night off the
Virginia Capes, could see that something had hit the stalwart mate.
The edge seemed to be missing from his occasional moods of abandon;
sometimes he looked thoughtfully at a man without hearing what the man
was saying to him.  But it did not impair his usefulness, and his
Captain could see indications of a better defined point in his
ambitions.

So that was the way things were with him when, on a gray December
afternoon, the day before Christmas, the _Hydrographer_, just arrived
from Providence, slid against her pier in Jersey City, and the crew
with jocular shouts made the hawsers fast to the bitts.  Some months
before, the _Hydrographer_ had stumbled across a lumber-laden schooner,
abandoned in good condition off Fire Island, and had towed her into
port.  The courts had awarded goodly salvage; and the tug's owners,
filled with the spirit of the season, had sent a man to the pier to
announce that at the office each of the crew would find his share of
the bounty, and a little extra, in recognition of work in the company's
interest.

"Dan," said the Captain, as the young man entered the pilot-house in
his well-fitting shore clothes, "you ought to get a pot of money out of
this; now don't go ashore and spend it all tonight.  You bank most of
it.  Take it from me--if I'd started to bank my money at your age, I
would be paying men to run tugboats for me now."

"Oh, I've money in the bank," laughed Dan.  "I'll bank most of this;
but first I'm going to lay out just fifty dollars, which ought to buy
about all the Christmas joy I need.  I was going to Boston to shock
some sober relations of mine, but I've changed my mind.  About seven
o'clock this evening you'll find me in a restaurant not far from
Broadway and Forty-second Street; an hour later you'll locate me in the
front row of a Broadway theatre; and--better come with me, Captain
Bunker."

"No, thanks, Dan," said the Captain.  "If you come with _me_ over to
the house in Staten Island about two hours from now, you'll see just
three little noses pressed against the window pane--waiting for daddy
and Santa Claus."  The Captain's big red face grew tender and his eyes
softened.  "When you get older, Dan," he added, "you'll know that
Christmas ain't so much what you get out of it as what you put into it."

Dan thought of the Captain's words as he crossed the ferry to New York.
All through the day he had been filled with the pleasurable conviction
that the morrow was a pretty decent sort of day to be ashore, and he
had intended to work up to the joys thereof to the utmost of his
capacity.

Now, with his knowledge as to the sort of enjoyment which Captain
Bunker was going to get out of the day, his well-laid plans seemed to
turn to ashes.  The trouble was, he could not exactly say why this
should be.  He finally decided that his prospective sojourn amid the
gay life of the metropolis had not been at all responsible for the
mental uplift which had colored his view of the day.

It had come, he now believed, solely from the attitude of the Captain
and Jeff Morrill the engineer, and Sam Tonkin the deck-hand--soon to
become a mate--and Bill Lawson, another deck-hand; all of whom had
little children at home.  Well, he had no little children at home.
That settled the matter so far as he was concerned.  Blithely he began
to plan his dinner and select the theatre he should attend.  But, no;
the old problem returned insistently, and at length he was obliged to
confess that he could devise no solution, and that he did not feel half
as good as he had a few hours before.

At all events he would be as happy as he could.  After leaving the
company's office, where he received a hearty "Merry Christmas" and a
fat yellow envelope, he went to the neat little brick house on Cherry
Street where he had rooms, and learned that Mrs. O'Hare, his landlady,
had gone to her daughter's house on Varick Street to set up a Christmas
tree and help to start things for the children.  Dan was sorry.  He had
rather looked forward to meeting this cheerful person with her
spectacles and kindly old face, who mothered him so assiduously when he
was ashore.

Why the devil had he not thought of finding out about those
grandchildren and of buying them something for Christmas?  But he had
not, and now he did not know whether they were girls or boys or both,
nor how many of them there were.  So he had no way of knowing what to
buy, or how much.  Somehow he had here a feeling that he had been on
the verge of an interesting discovery.  But only on the verge.

He walked slowly out of the house and turned into South Street.  In the
life of this quaint thoroughfare he had cast his lot, and here he spent
his leisure hours; not that he had ever found the place or the men he
met there especially congenial.  But they were the men he knew, the men
he worked with or worked against; and any young fellow who is lonely in
a big city and placed as Dan was is just as liable, until he has found
himself and located his rut in life, to mingle with persons as strange,
with natures as alien, and to frequent places which in later years fill
him with repulsive memories.

At all events Dan did, and he was not worrying about it a bit, either,
as he sauntered under the Brooklyn Bridge span at Dover Street and
turned into South, where Christmas Eve is so joyous, in its way.  The
way on this particular evening was in no place more clearly interpreted
than Red Murphy's resort, where the guild of Battery rowboatmen, who
meet steamships in their Whitehall boats and carry their hawsers to
longshoremen waiting to make them fast to the pier bitts, congregate
and have their social being.

Here, on this day, the wealthy towboat-owners and captains are wont to
distribute their largess to the boatmen as a mark of appreciation for
favors rendered,--a suggestion that future favors are expected,--and
here, also, punch of exalted brew is concocted and drunk.

An occasional flurry of snow swept down the street as Dan reached the
entrance.  Murphy was out on the sidewalk directing the adornment of
his doorway with several faded evergreen wreaths, while inside, the
boatmen gathered closer around the genial potstove and were not sorry
that ice-bound rivers and harbor had brought their business to a
temporary standstill.  They were discussing the morrow, which logically
led to a consideration of the ice-pack, among other things, and thence
to Cap'n Barney Hodge's ill luck.

"Take a hard and early winter," old Bill Darragh, the dean of the
boatmen, was saying, "then a thaw in the middle o' December, and then a
friz-up, and ye git conditions that ain't propitious, as ye may say,
fur towboatmen--nur fur us, neither."

"True fur ye," said "Honest Bill" Duffy.  "Nigh half the tugs in the
harbor is in the Erie Basin with screw blades twisted off by the
ice-pack, or sheathin' ripped.  And it's gittin' worse.  They'll be
little enough money for us this year--an' I was countin' on a hunder to
pay a doctor's bill."

"Well, maybe you'll get more than you think," said Dan, whose words
always carried weight because he was mate of a deep-sea tug.  "Captain
Barney Hodge's _Three Sisters_ was laid up yesterday; a three-foot
piece of piling bedded in an ice-cake got caught in her screw,
and--zip!  The other fellows are feeling so good about it that I think
they'll be apt to be generous."

"We'll drink to Barney's bad health," said Darragh, raising his glass.
"I saw him half an hour gone.  He looked like a dead man.  Cap'n Jim
Skelly o' the _John Quinn_ piloted _Gypsum Prince_ inter her dock last
night.  No one ever handled her afore but Cap'n Barney.  An' the
_Kentigern_ from Liverpool is due to-night.  Skelly's layin' fur her
too; an' he'll git her.  That'll take two vessels from Barney's private
monopoly."

Darragh was right.  The towboatmen had Captain Barney where they wanted
him, and they meant to gaff him hard.  He had always been too sharp for
the rest, too good at a bargain, too mean; and what was more, he was in
every way the best towboatman that ever lived.  No one liked him; but
the steamship-captains engaged his services for towing and piloting,
nevertheless, for the reason that they considered him a disagreeable
necessity, believing that no other tugboatman could serve them so well.

As a matter of fact, there were several tugboat-captains hardly less
skilful than Captain Barney, and in the time of his idleness they bade
fair to secure not a few of his customers.  It was an old saying that
Captain Barney, touched in his pocket, was touched in his heart and
brain also--they meant to touch him in just those places.

"I see him this morning," said Duffy, "when he heard that Cap'n Jim
Skelly 'd come in on the bridge of the _Gypsum Prince_.  He was
a-weepin' and cursin' like a drunk.  Hereafter he'll have to divide the
_Gypsum_, and she arrives reg'lar, too."

"And he'll lose the _Kentigern_ to-night," laughed Dan.  "Well, I don't
care.  It'll do him good.  I hope they put him out of business."

"Thankee, gents, for your Christmas wishes.  I'm glad my friends are
with me."  The words, in low, mournful cadence, came from the doorway;
and all eyes turning there saw the stout, melancholy figure of Captain
Barney, his great hooked nose falling dejectedly toward his chin, his
hawk eyes dull and sombre.  He had been drinking; and as Duffy made as
though to throw a bottle at him, the fallen great man turned and
stumbled away.

A few minutes later Dan left the resort, faced the biting north wind,
and walked slowly up South Street.  Somehow he could not get Captain
Barney out of his mind.

The year before, in violation of an explicit agreement, Captain Barney
had worked in with an outside rowboatman from West Street, towing him
to piers where vessels were about to dock.  This, of course, got that
boatman on the scene in advance of the Battery men, who had only their
strong arms and their oars to depend upon.  Thus the rival had the
first chance at the job of carrying the lines from the docking
steamships to men waiting on the pier to make them fast.  Captain
Barney received part of the money which this boatman made.  It was
little enough, to be sure, but no amount of money was too small for
him.  And so Dan, the Battery boatmen being his friends, was glad to
see Hodge on his knees--yet he was the slickest tugboat-captain on
earth.

Dan could not help admiring him for that; and now he could not dismiss
from his mind the pitiable picture which Murphy's doorway had framed
but a few minutes before.  He tried to, for Dan was an impressionable
young fellow and was worrying too much about this Christmas idea,
endeavoring to solve his emotions, without bothering about the troubles
of a towboat-skipper who deserved all he got and more.

All along the street were Christmas greens.  The ship chandlers had
them festooned about huge lengths of rusty chains and barnacled anchors
and huge coils of hawser, and the tawdry windows of the dram shops were
hidden by them.  A frowsy woman, with a happy smile upon her face,
hurried past with a new doll in her arms.  Dan stopped a minute to
watch her.

Something turned him into a little toyshop near Coenties Slip and he
saw a tugboat deck-hand purchase a pitiful little train of cars, laying
his quarter on the counter with the softest smile he had seen on a
man's face in a twelvemonth.

"Something for the kid, eh?" said Dan rather gruffly.

"Sure," replied the deck-hand, and he took his bundle with a sort of
defiant expression.

He saw a little mother, a girl not more than twelve years old, with a
pinched face and a rag shawl about her shoulders, spend ten cents for a
bit of a doll and a bag of Christmas candy.

"Going to have a good time, all by yourself?" growled Dan.

"Naw, this is fur me little sister," said the girl bravely, if a little
contemptuously.  A great lump came into Dan's throat, and feeling
somewhat weak and ashamed, he left the shop.  Elemental sensations
which he could not define thrilled him, and the spirit of Christmas,
now entirely unsatisfied, rested on his soul like an incubus.  He began
to feel outside of everything--as though the season had come for every
one but him.

Near Pike Street a little group of the Salvation Army stood on the
curb.  One of them was a fat, uncomely woman, and she was singing,
accompanying herself upon a guitar.  The music was that of a popular
ballad, and the verses were of rude manufacture.

There were perhaps half a dozen listeners scattered about the sidewalk
at a distance sufficient to prevent possible scoffers from including
them in the service.  Two of them were rough workmen, and they stood in
the middle of the sidewalk staring vacantly ahead, trying to look
oblivious.  Two longshoremen sat on the curb ten feet away, and a man
and a woman leaned against the door of a near-by warehouse.  When the
song was finished the two workmen hurriedly approached and threw
nickels on the face of the big bass drum lying flat on the street,
retreating hastily, as though ashamed; the woman did likewise, and one
of the longshoremen.

"Buying salvation," grinned Dan, as he walked on up the street.  But
the pleasantry made inadequate appeal.  Every one was getting more out
of the season than he was.  Once he drew a dollar from his pocket and
started back.  But no.  What was a dollar to him?  He knew where there
were more.  That wasn't it.  He put the money in his pocket and walked
on.

Dan's mental processes leading to a determination to help Captain
Barney were too clouded for clear interpretation, but he knew there was
no more uncertainty in his mind after he had sought the Captain out and
offered to put him on board the _Kentigern_.

Hodges fairly wept his gratitude.  "Dan, Dan, you say you can put me
aboard the _Kentigern_!  You'll save my business if you do.  I don't
care about the towing part, because if I can get aboard and pilot her
in, I can hand the towing over to those who'll take care of me.  Dan,
you're a good boy.  How'll you do it?"

"No time to tell now," said Dan.  "Meet me at Pier 3 in an hour."

"Say," cried Captain Barney, as Dan hurried away; "how much'll it be?
Not too much--"

Dan stopped short.

"Nothing!" he roared.  "It's--it's a Christmas present."



CHAPTER III

A FIGHT IN THE DARK

The short gray December twilight was creeping over the bay as Dan
pulled out from the Battery basin in a boat which he kept there for
recreative jaunts about the harbor.  Hard pulling and cold it was, but
the boatman bent his back and shot up the East River with the strength
of the young giant he was.  He could see Captain Barney, muffled to the
ears, stamping impatiently about on the end of the designated pier.
Without a word he swung his boat in such a position that the Captain
could drop into it.

Barney was delighted, so far forgetting himself, indeed, as to attempt
to establish cordial understanding.

"Hello, my boy," he said genially, "we're a-goin' to fix 'em!"  Then
noting a blank expression on Dan's face, his jaws closed with a click
and he lowered himself from the pier and into the boat without further
words, while Dan shoved out into the river and started for the pier
above, where Captain Jim Skelly's tug, the _John Quinn_, was lying.
She had steam up and was all ready for her journey to meet the
_Kentigern_.  That vessel had been reported east of Fire Island and
would be well across the bar by eight o'clock.  She would anchor on the
bar for the night, and it was there that Captain Jim Skelly meant to
board her in order to forestall any possible scheme that wily Captain
Barney might devise to gain the bridge of the freighter.

As Dan paddled noiselessly around the other side of the pier, they
could see the pipe lights of the Quinn's crew.  Finally the rowboat
turned straight under the pier, threading its way among the greasy
green piles.  Reaching under the seat, Dan drew out a stout inch line.

"When I back in on the _Quinn_," he whispered, "make that line fast to
the rudder post.  We'll let her tow us to the _Kentigern_."

"What!" hissed Captain Barney, and his face turned pale.  But it was
only for a second, after which he chuckled.

Slowly, gently, quietly, the rowboat slid among the green piles until
the stern of the big tug loomed overhead.  When it was within reach
Captain Barney leaned out, made one end of the line fast to the tug's
rudder post and then, paying out about twenty feet, he fastened the
other end to the bitts in the bow of the rowboat.

It seemed an hour's waiting before the _Quinn's_ crew cast off the
lines, but in reality it was not more than ten minutes.  As the screw
began to thresh the water and the tug to move swiftly out into the
river, it required rare skill on the part of the young boatman to
manoeuvre the boat so she should not be upset at the start.  But Dan
had the skill required and more besides, as he knelt in the stern with
one oar deep in the water to the port side.

In the course of a few minutes they were fairly on their way, and
Captain Jim Skelly was losing no time.  He had full speed before the
tug was a hundred yards from the pier, and the spray and the splintered
chips of ice flew back from the sharp bow, smiting the faces of the two
men in the little boat dragging astern with three-quarters of her
length out of water.  Dan, kneeling aft, watched with eagle eye each
quirk and turn of the tow-line.

It is the hardest thing a man has to do--to tow behind a tug or
ferryboat, even under fair conditions.  In this case, the conditions
were far from fair, for there was the ice, lazily rolling and cracking
in the heavy wake of the tug, grinding against the sides of the
rowboat, until it seemed that they must be crushed.  There was great
danger that they would be.  There was danger also that the tow-line
might slue both men into the icy waters and upset the boat.

Captain Barney was tingling with fear.  Dan knew it, and smiled.  It
was not often that any one had the privilege of seeing Captain Barney
frightened.

As the tug veered to starboard to round Governor's Island the tow-line
slued to port and thence quickly to starboard.  The rowboat was snapped
over on her gunwales and the water poured in like a mill-race.  A roar
of an oath escaped Captain Barney's lips, but before he had closed them
the boat had righted.

"Shut up, will you?" hissed Dan.  "Do you want them to discover and
drown us?  Ugh--she skated clean over that ice-cake!"

"You've got me out here to kill me, Dan," whimpered Captain Barney.
"'A Christmas present!'  I see--now."

"Will you keep still?" whispered Dan.  "If they hear us, you'll find
out who wants to kill you.  The root she took that time was nothing.
There'll be worse ones--this boat is not through rooting yet."

Neither was she.  Ahead the tug loomed, a great dark shape; and the
pulse of her engines was lost in the roiling water rising from the
screw blades and the hiss of it as it raced by the row-boat.  There was
a dim blur of light from one of the after-cabin portholes and the
shadow of figures passing to and fro inside could be seen.  The decks
were deserted.  It was too cold to brave the night wind except under
necessity--a night wind that cut through the pea-jackets and ear-caps
and thick woollen gloves of the two men in the rowboat.  Captain Barney
felt a fierce resentment that the _Quinn's_ men should be so warm and
comfortable while he was shivering.

"Christmas Eve!" he exclaimed.  "Fine, ain't it?" and he flailed his
arms about to keep the blood in circulation.

"Christmas Eve," said Dan solemnly, as though to himself, "the finest I
ever spent"; and he added apologetically, "even if I am making an
eternal fool of myself."

On they sped.  Frequently the tug would hit a large stretch of clear
water, and at such times the jingle-bell would sound in the engine-room
and the _Quinn_ would shoot forward at a rate that fairly lifted the
rowboat out of the water, while Dan, kneeling astern, oar in hand,
muscles tense, and mind alert, was ready to do anything that lay in his
skill to prevent an untoward accident.

Swish!  Zip! and the rowboat would suddenly shoot to one side or the
other, compelling Dan to dig his oar way down into the water, bending
all his strength in efforts to keep the bow straight.

"She's rooting every second," he grumbled, opening and shutting his
hand to drive away the stiffness and then casting a vindictive glance
at Captain Barney, the source of all the trouble.

And as for the tugboat-skipper, he sat and watched his companion, and
resolved that, after all, there were a few things he did not know about
watermanship.

Between the shadowy banks of the Narrows shot the _Quinn_.  Out of the
harbor in a rowboat!  Even professional Battery boatmen do this about
once in a generation.  The immense, shadowless darkness smote their
eyes so that they turned to the cabin light for relief.

There was likely to be little ice out there, and the northwest wind had
knocked the sea flat, as Dan knew would be the case when he figured his
chances at the start.  It was bad enough though, for there was certain
to be something of a swell--and other things; and now that he was in
the midst of it, he had grave doubts as to what would happen.  But his
strange exaltation rose supreme to all fears; no danger seemed too
great, no possibility too ominous, to dampen the ardor of this, his
first big act of self-sacrifice.  The song the Salvation woman sang
passed through his mind.

  "Gawd is mighty and grateful;
    No act of my brother's or mine
  Escapes His understandin',
    In the good old Christmas time."

"As soon as we get near the _Kentigern_," he said, "we'll cut loose
from the _Quinn_, and while she is warping alongside we'll make a dash,
and you can hail 'em and get 'em to lower a ladder.  You can beat
Skelly that way.  That's what I'm banking on."

"You just put me alongside and I'll see to the rest," replied the
Captain impatiently.  He would have attempted to scale the steel sides
of the vessel themselves, if only to escape from that little boat,
tailing astern of the _Quinn_ in the heart of the darkness, rooting,
twisting, threatening to dive under the water.

"What are you goin' to do after I get aboard?" asked Captain Barney,
rubbing his hands as though the victory were already won.  "I declare,
I never thought of you!  You can't row back."

Dan raised his head angrily and started to utter a sneering reply, when
the first good swell caught the boat--a great lazy, greasy fellow.  The
_Quinn_ went up and then down, and after her shot the rowboat, like a
young colt frisking at the end of her tether, then careening down the
incline on her side as though to ram the stern of the tug ahead, which,
fortunately, was climbing another hill.

What the rowboat had been through before was child's play to this, and
Dan's face grew very stern.  Reaching down with one hand, he seized the
other oar and shoved it along to Captain Barney.  "Put that down on the
port side.  Hang on for your life and keep her steady!" he cried.

Then he gave his attention to his side of the boat while Captain Barney
struggled in the bow.  It was a fight that would have thrilled the soul
of whoever could have seen it.  But that is always the way in the
bravest, most hopeless fights--no one ever sees them.  They are fought
alone, in the dark, on the sea; and sometimes the lion-hearted live to
make a modest tale of it around a winter's fire; but more often the
sequel is, "Found drowned"--if even that.

Captain Barney, frightened into desperate courage, and Dan, in grim
realization that the measure of his good deed this night was the
measure of the soul he was getting to know, fought sternly.  They were
on the open sea with all its mystery and lurking fate, and the dark was
all about.  There was not even the impression of distance; the swells
arose as though at their elbows, tossed them with great, slimy ease,
let them down again, plucked them this way and that, while the humming
tow-line ran out to the vague, phantom, reeling tug ahead.

There was a suspicion of snow in the veiled sky, and the wind stabbed
like a knife.  Twice the tug cut through a field of ice making out on
an offshore current, and the thumping the little row-boat received
seemed likely to rend her into drift-wood.  But that was only one of
the chances; and the two men went on into the icy blast with jaws so
tightly clenched that their cheek muscles stood out in great knots.

The silence, the danger, the vagueness hung heavily.  As Dan cast his
eyes gloomily into the wake of the tug, he saw a dark object shoot out
of the foam and dart down upon them like a torpedo; in fact a torpedo
could not have worked more serious effect upon the boat than did that
heavy, water-soaked log.

"Starboard your oar!" shouted Dan, at the same time digging his own oar
deep down on the port side and pulling upon it with all the magnificent
strength of his arms until it bent like a reed.  There was just time to
avert the direct impact, not to escape altogether.

It was a glancing blow just above the water line; it punched a great,
jagged hole and gouged out the paint clear to the stern.  Dan drew a
long breath and murmured in a half-sick voice, "They might as well kill
a man as scare him to death," while Captain Barney's face made a gray
streak in the darkness.

The _Quinn_ was now past the point of Sandy Hook and was skirting the
shore.  The muffled beat of the breakers could be heard through the
gloom, which was riven every second by the great, swinging search-light
in the Navesink.  Not a mile ahead was the bar; and the masthead light
of the _Kentigern_ could be seen, twinkling like a planet.

In twenty minutes the dark hull of the _Kentigern_ came looming out of
the night.  A hail shot from the _Quinn_, and a faint reply came back.
Dark figures could now be seen, outlined by the cabin lights in the
forward section of the tramp.

"Hello, what tug is that?" sounded from the bridge.  "Is that you,
Captain Barney?"

"No, it's the _Quinn_, Cap'n Jim Skelly.  Hodge is laid up to-night;
I'll take you into dock."

"All right; come aboard," and after a minute's scurrying of figures on
the deck a flimsy companion-ladder rattled down over the side of the
freighter.

Dan heard it and ground his teeth in disappointment.

"Gripes!" he exclaimed.  "They've that ladder down an hour before I
thought they would.  Now we're up against it, sure."

With a growl Captain Barney whipped out his knife and made a pass at
the tow-line.  He missed it and dropped back in the stern as Dan struck
at him with his oar.

"Wait!" hissed the young boatman.  "We'd have no chance at all.  We've
got to get nearer.  The tug 'd beat us a mile.  Sit tight, you old
fool!"

Captain Barney recognized the wisdom of the words with a groan.  He was
far past the arguing point.  The tide was boiling past the side of the
vessel, swashing like a mill-race.  All they could do under present
conditions was to cast off when the tug was very near the freighter,
cut in across, and get under the ladder before the tug could properly
warp alongside.

Nearer lumbered the _Quinn_.  When within twenty feet of the
_Kentigern_ she swung broadside on, ceasing all headway and drifting
into position on the tide.

"Now, then," cried Dan, suddenly leaping into the thwarts and manning
the oars.  "Haul on the line.  Bring her right under the Quinn's stern
and then cut, quick!"

Hand over hand hauled Captain Barney and the rowboat came under the
stern with a jump.  Then he cut the line.  Dan dug his oars into the
water and the slim boat shot for the ladder, while the great tug came
down, more slowly, on the side.  Ten, twenty strokes; and then, as Dan
with a great sigh unshipped his oars, Captain Barney chuckled, seized
the sides of the ladder, and hauling himself on the bottom rung,
skipped up with the agility of a monkey.

With a swish and a splash up pounded the _Quinn_.

"Look out!" roared Dan, "there's a boat here!"

It saved him; for a bell clanged in the engine-room, and the tug began
to make sternway.  It saved him for but a minute, though.

Thoughtless, selfish, and for once an utter fool, the exultant skipper
of the _Three Sisters_ sought to gloat over his rival.

"On board the _Quinn_," yelled Barney.  "Say, Jim Skelly, this is
Barney Hodge talkin'.  You didn't know he had friends in the rowboat
business, did you?"

A curse rang from the Quinn's pilot-house, and Dan did not wait for
anything else.  Well he knew what would happen next, and he bent all
his strength to his oars.  He heard the jingle of a bell, and the tug
started right for him.

"Look out!" yelled Dan, working the oars like a madman.  But not a word
came from the tug, moving silently, inexorably upon him like, some
black, implacable monster.

Suddenly Dan cast aside his oars and dived over the side.  The next
instant the sharp, copper-bound nose of the tug struck the rowboat
fairly amidships, grinding it against the steel side of the freighter,
crushing it into matchwood.

A great numbness passed over the man.  He was dazed; and as wave after
wave splashed over his head, he struggled dumbly to reach the ladder.
Then under the reaction from the icy shock, an electric thrill of
energy and vitality passed through his body.

He saw that he had been carried to about amidships, and the ladder was
well toward the bow.  With lusty strokes he struck out along the steel
sides, rising over the waves like a duck.  Five minutes elapsed, and
then with a sudden fear, Dan realized, in glancing at the bow, that he
had not made ten feet in all that time and effort.

It was the current, which was ripping along the hull at the rate that
would have affected the speed of a powerful steam launch.  Dan had not
noticed it before.  He struggled desperately, but to no avail, and then
he uttered his first cry for help.  He could not see the deck, being so
close to the hull; and for the same reason he could not have been seen
had his cry been heard.  Again he called for assistance, but there was
no answer, no sound, save that of the water buffeting past the vessel.

He ceased to waste his strength in fruitless cries, devoting all that
remained to his struggle to reach the ladder.  But his strokes were
weaker than before and he found he was being carried back upon the
current instead of making headway against it.  Fight as he would, he
could feel that sliding, hopeless drag against which he was powerless
to combat.  His strength vanished ounce by ounce.  His arms grew so
numb with fatigue and cold that he could do nothing but move them up
and down, dog fashion.  On he went, down toward the stern of the vessel.

He was moving as swiftly as the current was, whirling, twisting like a
piece of wood.  His mind dulled.  He longed for death now.
Instinctively he wished to get out of all the worry and struggle
against dissolution.  His one dominant idea was to throw up his hands
and go down, down the deep descent.  With a great cry of relief he
yielded to the alluring thought.  Up flew his arms above his head--and
he felt so warm and cheerful!  Something struck his outstretched hand
and the fingers closed upon it.  For a minute they gripped the swinging
piece of rope.  Then he opened his eyes to find he was hanging to a
flimsy Jacob's ladder, suspended from the stern.  With a new strength
born of hope he flung up his feet, shooting them through the hempen
rungs; and there he stayed for a while--it seemed almost an eternity.
Then laboriously climbing the ladder, he made the deck and there
dropped as insensate as a log.


It was the happiest Christmas Day that Dan had ever known, and he told
himself so as he walked slowly down South Street.  Unschooled in the
ethics of self-sacrifice as he was, he yet knew he had done something
for a fellow man, for a man he despised; and something indefinable yet
unmistakable told him it was very good.  He felt bigger, broader, felt
as though he had attained new stature in something that was not
physical.  And always, vaguely, he had been as anxious to feel this as
he had been to get on in a material way.  He had lost his rowboat in
the act.  And yet withal there was a certain fierce satisfaction in his
loss--he had caught the spirit of Christmas.  How much wiser, how much
stronger he was to-day than on the previous afternoon.

So deep were his thoughts that he almost ran into Captain Barney.

"Hey, there!" snarled the tugboatman, most ungraciously, "I just left a
new rowboat down in the Battery basin for you."  And that was all he
said.

And Dan, as he trembled with rage, knew that Captain Barney might have
said the right word and made Christmas Day all the more glorious.  But
he had said the wrong thing, done the wrong thing, and he had by his
words and in his act taken much from Dan's Christmas happiness.  Dan
knew it well; something told him so.  He gazed at the tugboatman
silently for a minute,--and then he knocked Captain Barney to the
sidewalk.



CHAPTER IV

DAN STAKES HIS LIFE, AND WINS

Before the Winter passed, Dan had taken his master's examination with
flying colors and was made Captain of the _Fledgling_, owned by the
Phoenix Towboat Company.  She was a new boat, rugged, powerful, one
hundred and twenty-five feet water line, designed and built to go
anywhere and do anything.

The Phoenix Company was known as a venturesome organization, as willing
to send its fleet ramping out through the fog to the assistance of a
distressed liner as to transport arms to West Indian or Central
American revolutionists.  Before Dan had commanded the _Fledgling_ many
months he had done both, and was beginning to be known up and down the
coast as a captain to be called upon in emergencies verging upon the
extraordinary, not to say extra-hazardous.

All of which he accepted joyously, as the portion of youth in search of
experience that life has to offer.  He was sufficiently introspective
to rate the temper of his spirit at something approaching its real
value, and he knew it was to be cherished, guarded, lest the fine edge
be lost.  As the world reckons things it was a humble calling upon
which he had entered, a calling hardly qualified to enlist the pride of
the family whose name he bore.

As a matter of fact, the pride of his few relations was not enlisted.
He had been made to feel that.  He did not complain.  He appreciated
their attitude.  But that did not curb a high-hearted ambition to lift
his vocation to the ideals he had formulated concerning it--and the
future lay before him.

But he was not thinking of these things now.  The face of the sea was
gray in sullen fury.  From a blue horizon, dulled and almost
obliterated by long, jagged layers of steely clouds, came the ceaseless
rush of deep-chested waves, as even, as fascinating as the
vermiculations of a serpent.  And the wind, tearing along the floor of
the sea, whipped off the wave crests and sent them shivering,
shimmering ahead, like the plumes of hard-riding cavalry.

The storm had passed.  The effects remained, and Dan Merrithew shifted
his wheel several spokes east of north and took the brunt bow on.  She
bore it well, did the stout _Fledgling_; she did that--she split the
waves or crashed through them, or laughed over them, as a stout tug
should when coaxed by hands of skill, guided by an iron will.  The Long
Island coast lay to port, a narrow band of ochre, and all about lay the
heaving gray of mighty waters, in which the _Fledgling_ was a black
speck.

Dan's hat was off and his red-gold hair was flying wild; his teeth were
bared.  He was always thus in a fight.  This was one; a dandy--a
clinker!  He gave the wheel another spoke and the _Fledgling_ slued
across a sea and smashed down hard.  From below came a sliding rattle,
a great crash of crockery, and then a series of imprecations.  The next
instant Arthur M'Gill, the steward, dashed up the companionway and
burst into the pilot-house.

"Doggone it all, Cap'n!" yelled the angry man, "why in hell don't ye
let me know when ye're goin' to sling 'er across seas?  Here I had the
table all set fur breakfast, an' ye put 'er inter a grayback afore I
could hold on to anything; and smash goes the hull mess on the
floor--plates, forks, vittles.  Holee mackerel!" he exclaimed under
increasing impulse of anger, "what am I?--a steward, or a--or a monkey?"

Dan, clutching grimly at the wheel, turned a genial smile upon his cook.

"Sorry, old man.  Fact is, I forgot.  But never mind.  Pick up the best
you can."  He smiled again.  "Just a little bit dusty out here, eh,
Arthur?"

"That's what it is, Cap'n," replied Arthur, mollified by Dan's words of
regret.

The steward looked at Dan admiringly.  In a way he was the skipper's
father confessor, not alone because he had a glib, advising tongue, but
because he was possessed of a certain amount of raw, psychological
instinct and knew his Shakespeare and could quote from Young's "Night
Thoughts."  Arthur had something of a fishy look and a slick way with
him; but he was a good cook.

"It seems funny to call such a kid 'Cap'n,'" he said.  And then he
added apologetically, "It's 'cause I've sailed under so many grayheads,
ye know."

"Oh, I'll be gray enough before long," laughed Dan, and his momentary
inattention to his duties at the wheel was promptly seized upon by the
wily sea, which smacked the rudder hard and nearly spun the wheel out
of his grip.  "Stop talking, will you!" roared Dan, wrestling at the
spokes.  "Do you want me to put you all into the trough?"

Mulhatton, the mate, stumbled into the pilot-house and glared at the
cook.

"Artie," he cried, "you go below, or I'll just gently heft you down!  I
went in to git grub just now and 't was all on the floor.  Go on
now--git!"  And Arthur went, grumbling and sighing that a man's stomach
should govern his temper.

"Take the wheel a while, Cap'n?" said the mate; and as Dan nodded he
stepped in close, braced his feet, and took the strain as Dan's hands
left the spokes.

"We'll both be on the wheel together before long," remarked Dan,
sitting heavily on the chart locker and opening and shutting his
stiffened fingers.

"Where is she and what's ashore?" asked Mulhatton.  "You jumped us out
in such a hurry this morning, I ain't had time to ask you."

"It's an old lumber hooker, and she's ashore on Jones Inlet bar;
stranded just before midnight last night.  Lord knows how much there is
left of her by this time.  But I took it a good salvage job to go
after.  Cripes!"  The _Fledgling_ on her altered course had topped a
wave forward, which wave, travelling swiftly aft, had withdrawn from
the bow the support of its mighty shoulder.  Down went the bow with a
great slap and up went the stern, screw racing and racking the engines,
sending Mulhatton crashing to the floor.  But bruised as he was and
dazed, he was on his feet with the quickness of a cat, and seizing the
spokes, assisted Dan in bringing up the tug's head to where it ought to
be.

"It's a-goin' to be lively work salvin' any hooker to-day," said the
mate.

"It is," replied Dan, "but I'll tell you this, Mul; we'll land her if
anybody can.  For I've a tug under me built under my very eyes.  I know
every beam and bolt in her.  And I've a crew of rustlers," he added,
gazing proudly at Mulhatton's broad back--Mulhatton, with round, red,
bristly, laughing face and eyes like raw onions.

The next minute Dan, in all the delight of the struggle, was making his
way along the lower deck to the engine-room door.  The water was racing
past the rail like a wet blur and the deck sloshed ankle deep.  High up
a wave climbed the _Fledgling_, and as she paused on the top for a
downward glide, Dan hastily opened the door and clambered down the iron
ladder.

"Well, Sam, how are they working?" he shouted to Crampton, the chief,
bending over a fizzing valve bonnet.

Sam rose, pushed back his oily peaked cap until the straight raven hair
flowed out from under like a cataract, and gave his thin, waterfall
moustache a twist, while his swarthy, parchment face cracked into a
hundred smiles.

"Workin'," he said, "as sweet as a babe breathin'."

Up reared the stern, lifting the propeller clear of the water.  The
engines expending their force in air, raced free.  The clatter was
infernal; the pistons seemed trying to jump out of the cylinders, while
the throws and eccentrics lost all semblance of good order.

"Oh, damn!" cried Sam, who, being hurled to the iron floor, swore as
though he enjoyed it.

Whitey Welch, the fireman, burst into a huge guffaw, in which Sam
finally joined.

"You're all right down here," laughed Dan, "as happy as a sewing
circle!  There may be some pulling to do later."

"You get something to pull; we'll tend to the rest," and Sam Crampton
grinned.

Emerging on deck, Dan collided with Pete Noonan, the deck-hand, with
shoulders as big as Dan's and a bigger chest.  Pete smiled genially.

"This'll put hair on yer teeth, eh, Cap'n, this will," he said, while
from the galley below floated Arthur's voice in a deep sea chanty:

  "I'll go no more a-roaming,
  No more a-ro-o-o-a-ming with you, fair maid."

"Go on back to harbor, you little lobster pot; we'll take care of the
wreck."

The corpulent captain of the great wrecking tug _Sovereign_, lying
outside the breakers off Jones Inlet, megaphoned this insult to the
deck of the _Fledgling_, as she drew near the scene of the wreck,
rising and falling on the waves like a piece of driftwood.

It was a deadly day.  The promise of the sunlight had waned with the
earlier hours, and heavy blue-black clouds palled the heavens.  Not one
hundred yards apart lay the two tugs, rolling and pitching in the
seaway; the _Fledgling_ trim and stanch, the _Sovereign_ big and
cumbersome, the funnel belching thunderclouds of sepia, her derrick
booms creaking and rattling and slatting infernally.

Straight on ahead, where the line of swelling waves burst into
breakers, where the spume sang like whip-lashes, and where the whine of
the wind tore itself into a nasty snarl, lay the wreck of the schooner
_Zeitgeist_.  She lay half on her side and the waves licked up and over
the faded gray hull, completing the work that time already had begun.
One mast was very far forward, the other very far aft--Great Lake rig;
and between the two was a deck-load of thousands of feet of Maine
lumber.  The topmasts had snapped off, leaving the stumps.

Lashed in the foremast were two men; and in the mainmast were Captain
Ephraim Sayles and three more of his crew.  At first glance they seemed
lifeless; at first glance, indeed, they seemed nothing more than faded
lengths of canvas.  But an occasional lifting of a hand, a flash of a
gray face, showed that they were men and that they still lived and
hoped.  Under them, over the deck raced the breakers, waist deep, each
one a swift, excited trip-hammer.  It was only the lumber that was
holding the aged hull together.  As it was, sections of the sides had
ripped out and planks and pieces of deal issuing from the gashes
littered the waters.  Three times had the life-savers launched their
boats, and three times they had been cast on the beach like logs, while
thrice had the lines from their mortars fallen short.

"Go on back; we'll take care of her."

And Dan, his teeth bared and coated with blood from anger-bitten lips,
gave the wheel to Mulhatton, ran from the pilot-house, and shook his
fist at the big wrecking tug.

"Why don't you take care of her then, curse you!  Why don't you take
care of her?  Don't you see there are lives to save?  Oh, you cowardly
beasts!"

"Nothin' doin' till the sea goes down," came the reply, and Dan sobbed
aloud in his rage as he entered the pilot-house, where most of the crew
were gathered, peering out of the windows at the tragedy across the
waters.

The men in the rigging could be seen plainly now.  There was no
excitement.  They kept very still, watching the futile efforts of the
life-savers, waving their hands occasionally as though in token of
their thanks and their knowledge of the utter futility of human
efforts.  No, there was no excitement; the uncertainty that breeds that
was lacking.  Fate was simply clamping its damp hand down over those
men.  Such things are always quiet--there is nothing to thrill the
heart or stir the soul in them.  It is just a mighty thing dealing
death to weaklings, that is all.  And we wonder whether the All-seeing
Eye does not sometimes close in sheer pity, to shut out the inequality
of it.

While they looked, a venomous wave got under the bow and lifted it
high.  Then down it went as a man would crash his palms together,
bursting out the forepeak like a rotten apple.  Thus weakened forward,
the loss of the foremast was an imminent certainty.  And there were two
men in the fore rigging!  Captain Ephraim leaned far out from the
mainmast; the tug men could see him plainly as he pointed at the
tottering mast and then at the deck.

"He wants them to leave the mast and go into the mainmast," cried
Mulhatton.

"But they won't--see, they are shaking their heads 'no,'" shouted Dan.
"They couldn't; the breakers would sweep them away in a minute."

"Look!"

For man is brave and man does fight, even in the face of injustice, in
the face of odds.  Thus did Martin Loughran, in the fore rigging of the
_Zeitgeist_, as with set jaws he struggled upward toward the stump of
the topmast.  Between the trucks of the fore and maintopmasts ran a
horizontal line of wire.  It is called the "triatic stay," and Loughran
was climbing to it.  Dan--all the _Fledgling's_ crew and the crew of
the _Sovereign_--foresaw his intention, and stentorian shouts, "You
can't do it!" bounded over the water.  But the sailor did not pause,
if, indeed, he heard their warnings.

Slowly, laboriously he climbed.  He stretched up one hand and grasped
the stay.  Up went the other hand.  Then out against the glooming sky
was limned the swaying form, working its way along the triatic stay
hand over hand, in an effort to reach the mainmast.  A faint cheer came
from the men in the main rigging, while two of the _Fledgling's_ crew
cheered, and two bowed their heads in agony, and Dan sobbed aloud.

"Look at him," cried Dan.  "Oh, God!"

"A sandy man cashin' in," muttered Mulhatton solemnly.

Out, out worked the swaying form.  But he had more than one hundred
feet to go.  Twenty-five feet--progress ceased.  It hung there silent,
that figure--it seemed almost an eternity.  It hung as silent as a
piece of sail and as fitfully swaying.  Suddenly one hand relaxed and
fell limp.  It was as though something had sucked the breath from every
onlooker.  The hand was feebly raised in a futile clutch to regain the
lost hold.  It fell again.  Still there was silence.

A dark form cleaved the gloom and lay in a black huddle upon the lumber
amidships, until a boarding wave kindly removed it and spurned it upon
the beach as it would a drowned dog.  Ten minutes later the foremast
went and the life-savers, dashing into the surf, took out of the
rigging a dead sea-cook.

And still the tugs lay like vultures awaiting carrion.  Both had come
down to the wreck in the hope of getting a line over her and pulling
her from the sands, for which there would have been ample reward.  But
it was too rough to approach her and she was too far gone to warrant
salving, even were it possible.  But there were men dying before their
eyes and no one was lifting a hand.  Dan was in a red-headed glare of
emotion.  He was too young to look upon such things calmly.  He turned
his eyes from the wreck to the _Sovereign_, just as her bow went up on
a wave, showing the red underbody.  And it reminded him of the yawning
mouth of some sea monster hungry for prey.

"We're lying here like bloodsuckers!" he yelled.  "Waiting for salvage
while good men are dying!  Dying--and we're doing nothing!  Fellows,"
he roared, "I'm going to take the tug in to her.  I'm not afraid of a
risk to save the lives of brave men."

"All right, Cap'n," said Mulhatton, "you know we'll go with you.  But
there's no use in bein' fools.  Take the tug in--yes.  But how'll you
take her out again?"

Dan glared across the heaving waters with bloodshot eyes.  "No use; you
couldn't, couldn't get her out again.  No, you couldn't."  He repeated
this several times.  "Is there anything that could?" he added finally.

He looked at his men for the answer, but their eyes were still fastened
on the wreck with almost hypnotic fascination.

"Her deck-load's beginning to shift.  It'll be clear off soon and
that'll take the other mast," announced Noonan.

One of the men in the rigging, a giant, tow-headed fellow, suddenly
went crazy,--at least so it seemed.  For his lips writhed in a haunting
scream as he whipped out his knife and cut his lashings.  Then he
turned a bloodless face toward the _Fledgling_, uttered a short,
rasping shout, and jumped into the sea.  A great wave seized him
greedily and swirled him high.  Dan caught a fleeting glimpse of that
face, turned reproachfully, it seemed, toward him.

It set him crazy too.  His mind was working like lightning.

"Mul," he screamed, "launch the lifeboat, with you fellows holding on
to a line from her bow!  We're to windward, and she'll drift right down
to the wreck.  Then you can haul us back again.  It's been done before.
God, why didn't I think of it sooner!"

Mulhatton looked at his Captain closely.

"One chance in a thousand that our boat would live to make the trip,
Cap'n," he said.

Dan snarled his impatience.

"One chance in ten thousand, one chance in a million, I'll take it!" he
cried in a sharp, metallic voice.  "I never saw a man die until
to-day--I'll see no more, God willing."

Without a word Mulhatton turned and rushed for the lifeboat.

"Remember, I go in that boat," yelled Dan as he followed his mate.  But
Mulhatton only turned back a defiant look.  Together they wrenched the
boat from its blocks and lowered it to Noonan, standing below on the
main deck astern.  Crampton, the engineer, was at the wheel, while
Whitey Welch stood by the engines.  As the lifeboat was straining on
the top of a swell, Mulhatton attempted to leap in, but was viciously
punched back by Dan, who then sprang out five feet and sprawled in the
stern sheets.

"Damn!" cried the disappointed mate as he sprang to Noonan's side and
seized the line, which was already paying out.

Into the riot went Dan.  There was neither mercy nor tolerance in the
waters,--the waves ripped all about in wanton fury; the spume cloaked
the face of them in wet clouds and the sea hollows lay like black pits.
But merciless and intolerant as were the waters, Dan asked no odds of
them.  Crouching in the stern with one oar dug deep, he was hurled on
his errand of mercy.  The _Sovereign_ whistled its commendation, while
ashore the spectators and life-savers stood breathless.  A stealthy
wave slashed the oar, almost pulling his shoulder from its socket, but
he kept the oar.  Aye, he kept it and cursed the wave that sought to
take it away.  On, on, as determined, as indomitable as the elements.
A wave cut the boat full.  It skidded on its side and righted.  A
comber rose green behind, hiding the _Fledgling_.  It caught the
lifeboat before it broke.  It hoisted it high and then, passing on,
expended its crushing force against the wreck ahead.  And Dan laughed,
and the spindrift flying like buckshot beat against his teeth.  On, on,
until the wreck, boiling in water, loomed ahead.  On past the stern of
the wreck shot the small boat, until it was just under the lee of it.
There he signalled to his men to pay out the line no more.

"Jump!" he called to the three men in the rigging.  First jumped Daniel
James, and Dan caught him out of the waters and hauled him in.  And he
caught the next, the boat careening, shipping a rush of water.  As
Captain Ephraim crouched for the leap, the sough of the rotten hull,
working and heaving like the carcass of a shark, was bursting out in a
score of places and the lumber deck-load rose and fell and quivered and
flailed huge planks into the waves.  The end was near.  Dan shouted the
skipper to hurry.  Ephraim obeyed, and had fought his way through the
caldron to the boat and was dragged aboard, when suddenly, with a great
straining sigh, the hull of the wreck parted amidships, both ends
sinking in the waters.  A comber rushed in between, swelling and
hissing.  The lumber deck-load rose in the air like a living thing.
The remaining fastenings holding it to the deck parted, and there was a
rending and grinding as it slued off into the sea, carrying with it the
main-mast, which crashed down and impaled the bar on which the wreck
rested.

The currents had carried the rowboat almost--quite, in fact--in front
of this terrible heaving mass of wood, one hundred feet long and
chained together to a height of ten feet--and only the mainmast, which
seemed to be serving as a sort of anchor, held it.  Dan saw the danger,
and the shouts of those on the _Fledgling_ told him that they had seen
it too.  The line leading from the boat to the tug was taut and
singing, evidence that the men were hauling upon it.  But the pull of
the shoreward rushing waters was as great as their strength.  The boat
made no movement out of her dangerous position.  Dan was sculling like
mad, but his efforts, compared to the might of the sea, were puny.  In
deep silence the mass of lumber worried at its unforeseen anchor.  It
ripped free and, rolling and twisting in spineless abandon, bore down
upon the lifeboat with crushing momentum.  On it came.  They began to
pay out the line in order that the boat might keep ahead of it for a
few extra minutes.  But Dan knew there could be no salvation in that.
He could see every foot of the advancing mass.  He could see the
hundreds of planks flailing out in the air like arms; he could see the
thick water spurting through thousands of cracks and crevices; could
hear the gnashing of plank on plank.  Nearer it came, as powerful, as
inexorable as the glacial drift.  It rose before him in all its
crushing might.

Then he felt the boat, as though suddenly endowed with life, start
forward, and, glancing at the _Fledgling_, saw that she had made a
tangent course to the wreck in order that the boat could be pulled
outward from it and away.  Dan knew in an instant that they had lashed
the line to the stern bitts and had taken the desperate chance, the
only chance, of making the tug pull her lifeboat from danger.  Could
the little line stand the strain?  That was the question.  It was so
tight that it vibrated like thin wire, and it was humming musically,
monotonously.  It held--the boat was moving!  But the lumber was moving
too.  On it came.  Ten feet--a plank wrenched clear of the mass and
shot on ahead, ramming out the lifeboat's stern-board, above the water
line.  Another plank, as though hurled by some sinister force, sailed
clear over Dan's head.  Ten feet--the line was fraying out at the ring
bolts.  Just a second now--five feet.  With one bound the lumber swept
down, and past the stern of the boat, and Captain Ephraim fell to his
knees and thanked his God.


The fight off Jones Island Inlet came at a time when it meant much to
Dan.  It was the deep sea, and he had measured his might with it.  And
as a man is dignified by the prowess of his opponent, so was Dan
dignified by the prowess of the sea.  Perhaps that was why the sea had
always called Dan--faintly, dimly; far away sometimes, but always
unmistakably.  It came in every wind that blew; a voice that involved
not the sea alone, but the things it stood for--a broader, deeper life
and bigger things; more to do, a final and definite place to make.  He
had never met or been influenced by the big men--the men who think and
teach and sing and do the world's work.  His environment in these, his
early years of manhood, had been far from them.  He could touch them
only in books, which were not entirely satisfactory.  And so he learned
from the sea and it spoke to him of breadth, and power, and
determination, and majesty of character.  Dan was instinctively seeking
all these things, and in the work he was now doing he felt that he was
nearer to them than he had ever been before.



CHAPTER V

THE LOSS OF THE "FLEDGLING"

One Fall afternoon, six months after the rescue of the men of the
_Zeitgeist_, the _Fledgling_, as though sentient with the instinct of
self-preservation, was struggling through the riot of wind and waves,
seeking the security of the Delaware Breakwater, while ten miles back,
somewhere in the wild half gloom off Hog Island, three loaded coal
barges which she had been towing from Norfolk were rolling, twisting,
careening helplessly to destruction--if, indeed, the seas had not
already taken deadly toll of them.

Dan and two of his men were at the wheel spokes, which had torn the
palms of their hands until they were raw and bleeding, and the dull
light flooding in through the windows revealed the indomitable will of
these men, the death-fight spirit which actuated them.

Dan's face was bloodless and strained, and his hair fell across his
eyes, while crouching beneath him, with hands on the under spokes, were
the gigantic shoulders of his mate, the sweaty gray hair and the red,
thick nape of the neck suggesting the very epitome of muscular effort;
and on the other side, writhing and quivering, was the deck-hand, a
study in steel and wire.

The afternoon was still young, but the heavens were darker than
twilight, and the rocking sea was as black as slate, save where a
comber, as though gnashing its teeth in fury, flashed a sudden white
crest, which crumbled immediately into the heaving pall.

"Now, boys, together!  Catch back that last spoke we lost!"

And while Dan's words were being shattered into shreds of sound by the
shriek of the gale, the three men bent their backs in a fresh effort to
put the _Fledgling's_ nose a point better into the on-rushing waves.

They did it too.  With a hiss and a crunch the bow swung in square to
the watery thunderbolts and the stanch craft, survivor of a hundred
perils, a ten-foot section of her port rail gone, a great dent in the
steel deck-house forward, began to climb over the water hills with much
of her usual precision--down on her side, clear to the bottom of a
hollow, then settling on an even keel with a jerk, climbing the slaty
incline, stiff as a church, then down, down, half on her side again,
then up once more.

"She's making good weather of it," and Dan took his hands from the
wheel, stood erect, and gazed through the after windows, searching a
horizon which he could see only when the tug climbed to a wave top.  He
turned to his mate.

"There's no use hunting for those barges," he said tentatively.  "When
that tow-line broke back there, it seemed as though one of my heart
strings went too.  But there was nothing to do about it; nothing we
could do.  It was all we could do to work the _Fledgling_ through."

"Most captains would 'a' cut them barges adrift long before the line
broke," replied the mate; "no use thinkin' about them now; they've
gone, long ago."

Dan worked his way along the pitching floor to the side windows.  His
face was tense and drawn.  He had never lost a tow before--this was a
part of his reputation.  And now. . . .  He turned slowly to resume his
place at the wheel, when suddenly, as the tug was sidling down a wave,
the tail of his eye caught a glimpse of a buff funnel protruding above
the wave tops a good quarter of a mile away.  His first impression was
that the water had claimed all but the funnel.  He was not sure.  He
waited.  It seemed an age while the tug climbed to the top of the next
comber.  Slowly, slowly the buff funnel again came into view, and then
as the tug still climbed he saw it all--a white, broad-waisted yacht
cluttering in the grip of the waters, throwing her stern toward heaven,
reeling over, taking water on one rail, letting it through the opposite
scuppers, sticking her bow into the waves and rising, shaking off the
water like a fat spaniel.  Puffs of steam were escaping jerkily from
the whistle valve, and, although Dan could not hear, he knew she was
whistling for assistance.

It was all a quick, pulsating scene, as one views something in a
kinetoscope, and then it was lost as the waters rose between them.  Dan
stumbled over to the wheel.  He was not a man of many words.

"Boys, there's work for us to do.  There's a yacht in distress about a
quarter of a mile off on the port hand.  We'll go over and see."

"It'll mean throwing her head off from seas that we've been bucking
since morning," said the mate.  And the inflection cast into the words
suggested no protest, only a reminder that it would be no child's play.

"Yes," said Dan simply, leaning forward to take advantage of the uproll
of the tug to locate the yacht more exactly.   "There--there--throw her
off three points----  That's it," he added, as the tug floundered on
her new course,--a course no longer into, but across, the waves, which
now began to come from everywhere, buffeting the tug, keel and bow,
rail and pilot-house--crazy cross-seas, fighting among themselves,
slashing, crashing, falling over one another.

But on the _Fledgling_ went, climbing the waves insanely now, sometimes
bow on, sometimes crab-wise--but ever on.  Each wave that was topped
gave a better view of the yacht, also enabling those on that wallowing
craft to see the tug, as evidence of which the continuous blasts of the
whistle were borne to the towmen's ears.

Nearer, until the yacht was never lost to view.  Evidently she was not
under control; but, even so, it was plain that no high degree of
intelligence was being exerted in handling her.  She was not steaming
at all, merely drifting in the trough, and none of the means to bring
her head into the seas which sailors utilize at a pinch had even been
attempted.  Whatever was the matter with the yacht, Dan and his men
were sure that the officers and crew were nothing less than blockheads.

Making a wide detour, they brought the tug around under the lee of the
craft and about fifty yards away, where Dan, leaving the wheel to his
men, seized a megaphone and ran on deck.

"What's the matter with you?" he shouted angrily through his megaphone,
aimed toward a group of men on the shattered bridge.  "Are you trying
to see how quickly you can sink?  Why don't you put her head up?"

A young officer in a wet and bedraggled uniform crawled along the
swaying platform to the megaphone rack and, seizing a cone, shouted
from a kneeling posture:

"Help us, for God's sake!  Our thrust shaft has cracked!"  The words
came faintly.  "Our Captain was washed from the bridge. . . .  Tried to
put out sea anchor, but couldn't make it hold without steerage
way. . . .  It broke adrift. . . .  This . . . the _Veiled Ladye_, with
Mr. Horace Howland and a party aboard."

The _Veiled Ladye_!  Absorbed as Dan was, he felt a momentary flash of
surprise that the announcement of that name came to him almost as a
matter of course.  Through the long course of nearly two years the
conviction that a time would come when he should once more meet the
girl who had spoken to him from the _Veiled Ladye's_ deck at Norfolk
had strengthened inexplicably, until he had come to accept it as an
assured fact.  Was she aboard that yacht now?  Aboard that laboring
section of gingerbread, in the hands of incompetents and poltroons?
Was she?  It could not be otherwise.  And this was the nature of the
meeting which had colored his dreams and intensified the ambitions of
his waking moments!

A strange thrill quivered through him, and he glanced dazedly at
Mulhatton, as a stout man in yachting garb stumbled to the officer's
side and snatched the megaphone from his hands.

"On board the tug!" he cried.  "I'm Horace Howland of the Coastwise and
West Indian Shipping Company.  We're helpless; we can't last an hour
unless you hold our head up.  Engineer making a collar for cracked
shaft . . . have it made and fitted in twelve hours.  Twelve hours.
Hold us up that long and we are safe!  Do you hear me . . . twelve
hours!"

Dan looked at the yacht, rolling to her beam ends almost every minute.
It would be a bad business fooling with that craft; and with iron will
he fought back his surging emotions.  He had his tug and his men to
consider, if not himself.  His tug was weakened by her long struggle,
and to the best of his judgment he knew it would be wiser for his own
interests to go his way, leaving the yacht to her life fight, while the
_Fledgling_ fought hers.  And yet he could not go away.  Aside from the
wild theory that the girl might be aboard, there were lives to save
over there.  That was it.  There were lives to save over there.  Duty
called--a stern, clear call; at least, Dan so heard it, and he was
willing to answer it with his life, if necessary.  But he did not think
of that part of it.  It was the lives of those imperilled persons that
concerned him.  He and his tug were there that they might live.  There
were women aboard; he had seen their white faces gazing imploringly at
him through the cabin portholes--bright, beautiful lives--and men in
the glorious prime of their youth.  His heart went out to them, and as
Mr. Howland laid aside his megaphone the problem was clear.  He waved
his megaphone in assent and then, levelling it at the yacht, he cried:

"All right.  Float a hawser down to us; you are pitching too wild-eyed
to come within heaving-line distance."  Passing the pilot-house on his
way below, he nodded and smiled at the men inside.  There had been no
need to question them.  They had been too long with Dan, and too
faithful, not to catch his drift of mind in all emergencies long before
he expressed it in words; too brave and hardened to danger, in fact, to
care what Dan wanted, just so that he was willing to lead them--to
share with them the work to be done.

In the course of a few minutes a small raft, bearing a heaving-line
which the yachtsmen had streamed, drifted down upon the tug, clearing
the bow by a few feet.  Dan leaned out and caught it with his
boat-hook, bringing the line aboard.  Then he and his fireman tailed on
to the end of it, bringing in the attached hawser hand over hand.  This
they hurried to the stern bitts, taking a pass also around the steam
winch.  Leaving the fireman to watch it, Dan dashed into the
pilot-house and sounded the jingle-bell in the engine-room.

For a few minutes the churnings of the screw were discounted by the
bulk of the yacht plus the elemental forces which sought to keep her
head just where it was--in the trough of the sea.  The tow-line
vibrated itself into a blur, the tug strained and quivered and groaned.

"Why don't you help us in some way, you fools!" roared Dan, struggling
at the wheel.  "You can at least steer, or--"

Before he could proceed there was a report like the bark of a cannon
and a torn and shredded end of hawser came writhing and twisting up out
of the sea, sluing across the face of the pilot-house as though
possessed of all the venom of the living thing it resembled--a python.

There was silence on both the tug and the yacht for a full minute.  Dan
watched the distressed craft as she tossed up her bow and glided
sternward from his view behind a jet of black wave, while the
_Fledgling_ seemed to slide from under his feet in the opposite
direction.  As the yacht came up again he could see that this mishap
had scattered all semblance of fortitude to the winds.  Except for the
young second officer, Mr. Howland, and a sailor, all holding their
places pluckily on the bridge, terror reigned.  Sailors, men in
yachting costumes, and women with hair flying flashed along the decks
or in and out of doorways, while forward a group of three young men
lashed to a big anchor held out their hands toward the tug.

Dan turned to his deck-hand, his face hard and determined.

"Pete," he said, "go down and get out the double cables.  Welch is
astern and will help you.  I'm going to swerve the tug in close and you
heave the lines aboard when we re near enough.  We won't trust any more
to their rotten hemp."

As a knight, with reckless abandon, might have urged his steed into the
very midst of his foes, so Dan urged the _Fledgling_ up to the wildly
pitching yacht.  Nearer the tug advanced, so near that the tugmen could
see the streaks through the red underbody.  Nearer yet, head on, and
then the wheel was swung broad, while Dan leaned out of the
pilot-house, looking down at the two men forward, who were whirling
weighted heaving-lines about their heads like lariats.  "Now, now
then!" yelled Dan, as the mate in response to a wave of his hand began
to sheer off from the yacht.  "Aye, aye," came the replies from below,
and a second later two lines whistled clean over the forward decks of
the white craft.  Eager hands seized them and hauled in the great
cables and made them fast.

Just for an instant Dan and the mate peered at the yacht to see if the
lines had carried, an instant of which the wily sea took full
advantage.  An oily wave reared the bow of the yacht while the swell of
its predecessor slued the _Fledgling_ in and around and upward, so that
the two craft reared, side by side, bows up and not more than five feet
apart.  A scream fluttered from the bridge; men's voices raised in
curses at the clumsy yacht were borne from the pilot-house.  Dan,
however, had not time for words; he stood with hands on the wheel
watching the red, reeking bow rearing almost in his face; watched it,
cool, ready to take the first chance of escape, if the present danger
offered such a chance.  Slowly, easily, the wave passed, and down came
the two bows with a crash.  The bow of the _Veiled Ladye_ just grazed
the _Fledgling's_ weather rail, tearing off a fender, while Dan
signalled full speed astern.  It was fortunate that he had his wits
about him, for the erratic yacht, instead of falling back as she
naturally should have done, suddenly moved forward under the impulse of
a swell, butting the tug, almost gently, about ten feet from the bow.
Then the tug backed clear, and, breasting the waves, began to take up
the slack cables.  A hundred yards she went and then stopped headway
with a jerk as the men slipped the cables over the bitts.

The collision had not hurt the tug apparently, although there was no
telling whether or not the jolt had weakened her structurally.  But Dan
was not the man to worry about eventualities.  An hour's straining and
hauling resulted in bringing the yacht's head full into the seas, and
then at four o'clock Dan snuggled his craft to, for the long eleven
hours' fight.

The afternoon waned into twilight, softly, impalpably, and the twilight
wavered into night.  A few lights quivered from the reeling yacht and
her mast-head lamps described glimmering arcs against the heavens.
Silent and grim, the tug took the brunt of all the seas had to
give--nose piercing the very heart of the waves, splitting them with
beautiful precision, rising, falling, reeling, pitching, but, through
all, hanging to the yacht with undying tenacity.  So she fought, as she
had ever fought.

Contrary to the promise of the afternoon, the gale had not abated; the
seas, if anything, raced more fiercely, and the wind, which tore the
dark with a wailing moan, departed with a venomous shriek.  Dan and his
mate stood hard at the wheel, Noonan, the deck-hand, was stationed
astern, and Crampton, the stanch old chief, and his fireman were down
in the heart of things, nursing the engines.

They were well nursed, too.  The steady throb, the clank of the throws,
and the hum of the eccentrics rose to the pilot-house in cadence as
regular as the heart-throbs of a healthy ox.  And the while Dan and his
mate gingerly manipulated the wheel so that the strain on the tow-line
was constant and even, with no slack or sudden jerks, which were truly
to be avoided in the face of the mad sea.

The sea grew indefinite in the dark,--as indefinite as the undulations
of a black shroud.  It was as though the tug were tossing through some
mysterious agency.  There were times when the tall mast-head lights
astern showed not a foot above the rim of that more intense darkness
which marked where the water ended and the horizon began.

Again there were times when the glowing specks seemed to scale the
heights of a sable vacuum.  Once a section of the rail went ripping
away in the gloom and once a shredded small boat was torn and hurled
into the waters.

One hour, two hours, three hours, four hours--and still the wild night
went on, and still the _Fledgling_ held to her work.  Crampton, the
chief engineer, struggled up from the engine-room at nine o'clock, his
swart face lined and creased.

"She's like an old man dyin'," he said, and his voice quivered.  "The
old injines are drivin' as hard and brave as a man with a club; but a
lot of the kick has gone out of them.  Nothin' the matter of 'em that I
can see--but just feel.  My old injines are feelin' about fur an excuse
to cave in."

"Well, hang on," replied Dan, "and don't tell me what you feel may
happen; I can think up enough things myself."

"Well," and Crampton hesitated.  "I didn't come up here fur anythin'
I've said--Cap'n," he added in a low voice; "we're takin' in water."

An imprecation trembled on Dan's lips, and one of his hands left the
wheel in an involuntary gesture of resignation.  Then he shut his teeth
tight and talked slowly through them.

"Where the yacht hit us?" he asked.

"Yes, forward; it's opened up a little under the floor plates--about
twenty strokes a minute I should say; the force-pump's kept it level so
far."

"Good," said Dan; "there's nothing else to do but keep it going."

"Nothing," said the chief, and he reeled out of the pitching
pilot-house.

Two, three, four hours more--the water had gained nine inches, so the
chief reported through the speaking-tube.  But still the _Fledgling_
held her tow, and Dan and Mulhatton stood silent at the wheel, the rush
of the wind, which had long torn out the double windows, swirling their
hair into their eyes and numbing their torn and bleeding hands.  The
elements, as though divining the weakening of the tug,--a tug which
often had laughed them to scorn,--were making mad work of it; there
were strange sounds, unforeseen blows--but still the tug hung on.

There came an hour in which she did not rise to the waves as she had
been doing,--an hour when the leak gained terribly, and when the
_Fledgling_, struggling bravely, if wearily, upward to meet a wave,
would stop half-way with a jerk and a sigh, the wave gouging along the
deck--breaking over the stern-board.

They could feel her going in the pilot-house.  But she hung on to her
lines with the grip of death.  Dan stood at his mate's side, his eyes
fixed straight ahead into the darkness.  He had cast his die; he had
chosen his lot--now the toll was to be paid.  He thought, too, of the
men who, without question, had taken their stand with him.  He reached
out his left hand and placed it gently on his mate's shoulder.

"Good boy, old Mul," he said, in words which, however inadequate,
revealed all the heart of his meaning.  And Mulhatton simply shifted
his feet and gazed ahead, his hard, light eyes as expressionless as
marble disks.

The dawn came filtering across the raven waters as the bloodless hand
of an old man quivers across a chess-board,--gray dawn, cold dawn, even
more merciless than the night, in that it heralded the rise of the sun
to smile over the evil wrought in the darker hours.  Astern, the white
yacht alternately pierced the sky with her bow and sought the depths.

Suddenly a long, triumphant scream of a whistle rang across the dawn--a
roll of water parted a retiring wave.  The big white yacht moved of her
own power.  Again the whistle sounded, as though in joy that the vessel
had at last found herself.  Once more. . . .  She mounted the waves in
proud defiance. . . .  The tow-lines slackened.

"Cast off, cast off!" megaphoned an officer, while two of his sailors
threw the ends of the cables into the sea.  The deck-hand and fireman
started to bring them in, while Dan gave the signal for Crampton to go
ahead.

The tug started timidly forward and then hesitated and trembled.  A
wave hit her, and she rocked like a cork.  The jump had all gone out of
her.  Another wave struck her and almost hove her down, and then
another wave snapped her back again, jerking out the funnel, which
hissed overside into the sea.  Half on her side, she clanked into the
trough.  She struggled to right herself and had partly succeeded, when
a mighty wave smote her viciously on her listed side.  She went over to
her beam ends and lay there a second, while Dan and his men shot
through the windows, off from the deck, into the sea.  Another instant
and the _Fledgling_ rolled her keel to the morning light and swiftly
disappeared.

As Dan rose on a wave he saw her go, saw too, the white face of his
engineer framed in the engine-room doorway, which a wave filled just as
she turned, obliterating the face forever.

The next few minutes were nothing but a buffeting, swirling confusion.
Suddenly a line struck Dan's face . . . his hands closed upon a
circular life preserver. . . .  The next instant he lay gasping on the
deck of the _Veiled Ladye_, beside his deck-hand and mate.

Half an hour later, Dan, in warm clothes, sat upon the pitching deck of
the yacht, at the doorway of the saloon.

The _Fledgling_ gone and Welch and Crampton--that was all he could
think of as he sat gazing into the gray of the waters, which in closing
over the black tragedy immediately presented a surface as free from all
evidence of guilt as the placid surface of a mill-pond.  He had made
himself in the _Fledgling_,--had rounded to the measure of a man aboard
of her,--had grown in the plenitude of man's strength and will and
courage and success.  He felt the loss of his tug; it hit him hard; he
suffered in every mental corner and cranny.  And when the two men who
had given their lives for him and for the yacht came to mind in all the
clearness of their personality and devotion to him, his head sank on
his hand and he groaned aloud.

A hand was laid gently on his shoulder, and looking up, he saw Mr.
Howland and a tall, beautiful girl by his side, both gazing at him from
the doorway with eyes filled with compassion.

"You were the captain of the tug?" asked Mr. Rowland.

"Yes, Captain Merrithew," and Dan ceased speaking and gazed at the deck.

"You owned the tug?"

"No," replied Dan.

"Captain Merrithew, I cannot say anything adequate.  I appreciate what
you have done--I cannot say how much."

"Oh, father," broke in the girl, "tell him it was noble!"

[Illustration: "Oh, father," broke in the girl, "tell him it was
noble!"]

"It was noble," resumed Mr. Howland.  "It was big and fine--you saved a
score of lives, and for them you gave your tug and part of your crew.
I cannot reward such men as you--I can pay just debts, though.  Your
men shall not suffer; neither shall the families of those who were
lost."

Then he paused a minute and reached behind the door jamb, bringing out
a water-soaked bit of plank.  "One of our best men picked this from the
water.  You had been clinging to it.  I thought you might like to have
it in your cabin."

It was the name board of the _Fledgling_.



CHAPTER VI

THE BRAVE AND THE FAIR

As Dan seized the strip with its gilt letters and was about to reply,
the yacht slung sideways, and a wave arising amidships smote the
deck-house a lusty, full-bodied blow.  It suddenly occurred to the
tugboat captain that the craft, all the time he had been aboard trying
to collect his bewildered senses, had acted strangely.  He turned to
Mr. Howland.

"What's the matter with your yacht?"

Howland was a good deal of a thoroughbred, and yet he could not conceal
his eagerness as he spoke.

"The yacht was just what I wanted to speak to you about, Captain," he
said.  "I know I have no right to ask anything more of you, but if you
have pulled together, I think we seem to need your assistance.  Our
Captain was washed off the bridge, and the first mate is below with a
broken leg.  The situation, I am afraid, is beyond young Terry, the
second mate; I--"

As the import of what Mr. Howland was trying to say flashed across
Dan's mind, he turned abruptly, without waiting for the completion of
the sentence, and ran for the bridge.

Without a glance at the second officer, who seemed on the verge of a
complete funk, he shouldered the two sailors from the wheel and hauled
on the spokes with all the strength of his long arms.  As the yacht
began to respond he seized the indicator crank and called for full
speed ahead.  The whistle of the bridge speaking-tube sounded
viciously, and Dan, placing his ear to the receiver, caught the words
of the old chief engineer as they flowed up in profane vehemence.

"Say, do you know what you want up there?  If I had a man down here who
knew an engine from a plate of fruit, I'd 'a' been up there and snaked
you off the bridge long ago.  I've been on my back under that triply
damned shaft for twelve hours and now--" the rest of the sentence was
an assortment of well-chosen oaths.

The outburst greeted Dan's ears sweetly.  Evidently Howland had a man
down below the water line, anyway.  He grinned as he clapped his lips
to the tube.

"I've just come aboard to take charge of this craft," he yelled; "now
you do as I say and do it quick.  See!"

A great relieved, blasphemous roar came up the tube, and the next
instant the engines were laying down to their work.

The bow began to cut nicely into the waves, and Dan turned to the two
sailors.

"Here, you boys, tail on here and steer as I tell you."  Whereupon,
fingering a pocket compass, he called the course, after which he
fastened the little instrument to the wreck of the binnacle.

"We will pull through," he said, turning to Mr. Howland, who, with his
daughter, had followed him to the bridge.  "We are somewhere off the
Winter Quarter Shoals; if I can get the sun at noon I'll know exactly;
anyway, we will make Norfolk if that shaft holds.  If it doesn't--well,
banking on that engineer you've got down below, I think it will hold."
Then inclining his head in the direction of Miss Howland, he added,
"I'd advise you to go below, Miss Howland."  He thrilled as he uttered
her name, "You're wet; and then--I may have to swear."

"I should love awfully to hear some one swear to some purpose," she
replied.  "Oh, I want to stay," she cried, speaking to her father, as
Dan suddenly turned his back and spoke to the second mate.  "Father, I
am going to stay.  The rest are seasick or frightened to pieces.  I
feel braver up here."

She was perfectly candid.  She did feel braver there on the bridge.
For Dan was the one dominant personality aboard the yacht.  In her eyes
he typified bravery, skill, strength--safety, in a word, for all.  It
was as though out of the wrack of despair and the overriding elements
had arisen the spirit of a man and all that at best he stands for, to
reclaim the lost honors of the darker hours.  And so she clung to him
with her eyes and felt she could smile at danger; her soul went out to
him and enveloped him with gratitude and tenderness.  And she neither
knew nor cared whether in these emotions was the uprearing of woman's
submerged, primal nature, giving all to the sheer power of the stronger
sex, or whether it was the result of a burden of dread suddenly lifted
from her heart--it made no difference which.  She was living the
moment--here and now--clear, serene, justified, and ennobled.

And standing thus she watched him as he snapped the yacht slantwise
from the grip of succeeding sea hollows and guided her over the gray
hills, panting and straining, with much of pudgy deliberation, but
surely.

"We will make it easily," said Dan, "if nothing happens."

"Good," cried Mr. Rowland, and, taking his daughter by the arm, he
added, "come below, Virginia, and give them the good news.  Your friend
Oddington has forgotten his cigarettes for a full twenty-four hours,
and the Dale girls are candidates for a sanitarium."  There was a
chuckle of relief in his voice.

Dan turned to watch the girl as she followed her father from the
bridge.  He was certain he had never seen anything so inspiring as
Virginia Howland standing braced square to the wind, her trim blue
skirt winding and unwinding; her cap in her hand; the wind tossing her
heavy hair in myriads of glowing pennons, which beat on the
blush-surged cheeks, alternately hiding and disclosing the sparkle of
the deep gray eyes or the flash of perfect teeth from between parted
lips.

It was a picture upon which he permitted himself to ponder but an
instant, however, for the wind was shifting again from the northeast,
growling ominously, and the yacht, humping along at a ridiculous speed
of six knots, made the situation less satisfactory than it had been.
He spoke to Terry over his shoulder.

"As you see," he said, "we're running into some new sort of hell," and
he glanced impatiently at the potential riot ahead.  "Have these men
keep the course and look out for things, will you?  I'm going down to
the engine-room for a few minutes."

"Very well, sir," said the young officer.

Dan found old Jim Arthur, the chief, swearing softly as he moved about
his engines with a long-spouted oil can.

"It is beginning to breeze again," said Dan.  "I'm the new Captain and
I came down to tell you I don't think much of your machinery, and to
ask if the shaft will hold out."

"The shaft'll hold," said the engineer.  Then he paused and looked at
Dan in supreme disgust.  "Engines!" he snorted.  "I've been holdin' 'em
together with my fingers since we left San Domingo.  Cap'n, they'd been
fine for a Swiss cuckoo clock.  Why, they're only held together by gilt
paint and polish.  See how old Howland's had 'em painted--like a
bedizened old maid!  I do believe he's got 'em perfumed.  Well, they
may hold--"

Dan, who had been glancing about the engine-room, interrupted the
engineer's pessimistic outburst.

"What are your force pumps going for?" he asked.

"Well, it ain't fur to water no flowers," said Arthur, beckoning Dan to
the shaft tunnel, where a foot and a half of frothy water was rolling
to and fro, slushing against the stuffing box, laving the engine-room
bulkhead.

Leaking!  Dan's first impulse was to drop his hands then and there and
let the yacht sink or do what she would for all he cared.  He had
fought out his fight with a better craft than this and had lost her.
He did not yield to this; in truth, before he could think of yielding
there came a second impulse--to relieve his mind of several hundred
accumulated metaphors, to which inclination he surrendered
unconditionally, while Arthur, in the face of the verbal torrent, gazed
at the source in humble admiration.

"How--how much is she taking in?" the young man finally gasped.

"About thirty strokes a minute.  I'd 'a' whistled up the tube about it
before, only I thought you had enough to fill your mind."

"How does it strike you?" asked Dan.

"It's gained only six inches in the past hour.  I will say that much.
But if you ask me my honest opinion, I'd say this rotten old pleasure
hull is a-gettin' ready to open up and spread out like a--like
a--balloon with the epizoötic."

"All right, when she begins, come on up with your men without asking
leave.  Report every half-hour.  I'll be on the bridge, of course.  If
I can pick up a steamship I'll call her and desert ship; if not--well,
we're somewhere outside the Winter Quarter light-ship.  I'll need about
five hours of the speed we're making to pick up the light vessel and
beach the yacht in the lee of Assateague; maybe not quite five hours, I
can't say exactly."

"I think we can keep ahead of the water we're makin' that long,"
replied Arthur, cheerfully.

As Dan regained the bridge, the bad news he had received below was
slightly compensated for by the fact that the storm seemed to be taking
a new kink, swirling away to sea.  The gray combers, however, were
still disagreeably to be reckoned with.  The second officer had by this
time pulled himself together, and as he reported to Dan, the young
Captain was happy to feel that he had at least a lieutenant who could
be counted on.  Now if Mulhatton were only with him--but "Mul" was
below, flat on his back, suffering technically from submersion, and so
were the other men of the _Fledgling_ who had been pulled aboard the
yacht.

At ten o'clock Arthur reported that the water had gained another six
inches.

As Dan snapped back the tube a burst of laughter from the saloon
reached his ears.  Seasickness, fear, everything evil had been
forgotten in the spirit of confidence and assurance of ultimate safety
which Dan's skill and personality had infused throughout the wallowing
craft.  He shrugged his shoulders, staring vacantly into the angry sea.

At length his eyes turned to the distress signals he had ordered
hoisted; and suddenly the gulf between his lot in life and theirs,
which the merriment suggested, disappeared, and his emotions thereby
aroused,--emotions not untinged with self-pity, changed to deepest
sympathy for those light-hearted ones who might soon be plunged into
that gloom which heralds death.  Grim, silent, he turned to his work,
determined that so far as in him lay no shadow of death should invest a
single one of those persons who must find so much in life to make it
worth while.  Another hour passed while the yacht stumbled her clumsy
course to safety.  Arthur reported another half-foot; in all three feet
six inches of water swishing against the engine-room bulkhead.

"It will keep seepin' through," he said, "and wop!  Suddenly the whole
bulkhead'll go."

"Don't get caught," replied Dan.  "Give us three more hours, chief.
Oh, I say, there's not a drop getting into the fire room yet?  Thank
God for that!"

"For what?"

He faced about quickly and looked into the eyes of Virginia Howland.
She was pale, but her face was brave.  "I had just come out on deck,"
she said, "because somehow I was getting nervous--I wanted to be--to be
near the Captain."  She smiled.   "I heard you talking through the
speaking-tube; I didn't mean to listen--pardon me; I couldn't help it.
We're in danger, then, are we?  Don't hesitate to answer truthfully,
Captain Merrithew."

"Why," replied Dan, "we--steady there, Mr. Terry; you men at the wheel
attend to your business.  Excuse me," turning to the girl,
"danger--why, we've been in danger all the time; else I wouldn't be up
here."

"You are evading," said the girl, slowly.  "But perhaps you are right.
I can say I trust you, Captain--we all do.  I want to tell you again
how we all appreciate your--what you have done--putting the yacht
straight and--"

"I am doing it for myself as much as for you.  More, perhaps; who
knows?"

The girl gazed intently at his square-cut, bronzed face.  Then she
looked straight into his steel-gray eyes, peering hard ahead from under
the flat peak of a cap he had picked up on the bridge.

"Yes," she said, as though speaking to herself, "I think I know."  Then
she started with an involuntary gesture.

"Haven't I seen you somewhere before, Captain Merrithew?  Yes, yes, I
have.  Where could it have been?  Do you recall?"

"Yes," was the simple reply.  "I recall.  It was about two years ago,
at Norfolk, when you were at the coal docks on this yacht."

Virginia flushed eagerly and was about to say something, when some
flashing thought, perhaps a realizing sense of their relative
positions, closed her lips.  "I remember very clearly now."  She spoke
quietly, then she closed her eyes for a second; when she opened them
they were stern and hard.

"Captain Merrithew," she said, as though to hasten from the subject, "I
know we are in danger.  Your silence has said as much.  Yet the yacht
seems to be going finely--"

Dan made no reply.

"Do you think I am a coward?  Is that the reason you are silent?"

Dan made no attempt to conceal his annoyance.

"Well, Miss Howland, if you are not a coward, if you can keep what you
know to yourself, listen: We're taking in a little water.  It's a race
between the yacht and the leak; the yacht ought to win out.  Now you
know as much as I do."

"I am not frightened; my curiosity is natural.  Is there a chance that
the yacht may not get where you are taking her?"

"To the Assateague beach--no, I don't think there is--if all goes well."

"If all goes well!  Then there is a chance--a chance we may--"

"Oh, we'll be all right."  Dan was temperamentally straightforward and
honest, and his assertions were uttered with a tentative inflection
which fell far from carrying conviction to the aroused senses of the
girl.

She stepped closer to Dan.

"May I say something?  We are in danger.  I have been thinking of
things since you came aboard--since I have been sitting in the saloon
with the men who are different--"

Dan could see that the girl, always evidently one of dominant emotions,
was overwrought, and something told him she had no business to express
the thoughts which filled her mind, that she would be sorry later that
she had spoken.  He had interrupted her by a gesture.  Now his voice
came cool and even.

"Miss Howland, don't.  I've got to take care of this yacht."

A quick sense of just what he meant shot through the girl's mind.  She
raised her eyes and looked at him straight.  They were blazing, not
altogether with anger.  She trembled; she flushed and moved
uncertainly.  Then, without a word, she turned and left him.

"A half-foot more water in the last half-hour," reported Arthur.

As Dan turned to Terry, that officer silently pointed to the northward,
where a tall column of black smoke seemed to rise from the waters.  A
steamship!  Yes, but was it coming toward them?  Was it going away?  Or
would it pass them far out to sea?  For fifteen minutes he watched it
through his binoculars, and then he glanced down to the deck and called
to a sailor to send Mr. Howland to the bridge.

"Mr. Howland," said Dan, as the owner approached him, "I suppose Miss
Howland has told you our fix."

"Yes, but she has told no one else."

"Bully for her!" exclaimed Dan.

"She said you were hopeful."

"More so now than ever before, I was making for the beach, but
now--there's a steamship coming down on us.  I wasn't sure at first, I
am now.  That smoke out there is heading dead for us.  I am going to
slow the boat down to steerage way and wait for her to come up.  It's
better than trying to make for Assateague; it's better to wait."

"Will the bulkhead hold?"

Mr. Howland asked his question in the even monotone which had
characterized all his questions.

"I think so; if it doesn't, we'll get everybody off in the rafts and
the launch; the sea is going down by the minute."

Mr. Howland glanced down at the deck where the crew of Scandinavians,
inspired by the cool, cheerful commands of their new Captain, were
working nonchalantly in preparing for eventualities.  From amidships
came the clatter of men trying to repair the launch, the one boat which
had not been carried away in the night's storm.  Others were clearing
the life rafts so they could be launched without delay.  He glanced at
Dan with admiring eyes.

"I want to compliment you, Captain Merrithew," he said.  "You have your
crew well in hand."

"Thank you," replied Dan, "if you will keep your party in hand there'll
be no danger at all.  I don't care what happens, with the sea falling."

Another half-hour.  The steamship, a stout coaster, had now climbed
over the horizon.  Mr. Howland, through the glasses, had picked out her
red-and-black funnel and recognized her as one of his own boats.  But
it had plainly come to a race between the steamship and the straining
bulkhead.  No need now to tell any one of the situation.  The _Veiled
Ladye_ was plainly settling astern.  The engine-room bulkhead was
quivering, ready to break.  Arthur and his men had piled up from the
engine-room, the engines still pulsing with no one to watch them.  The
sailors were splendid, going about their work quietly, calmly.  They
had carried the injured mate, groaning with his broken leg, to the
deck.  Mrs. Van Vleck, Mr. Rowland's sister, the chaperone, sat with
her niece's arms about her, passing in and out of successive attacks of
hysteria.  A sailor had knocked one of the young men of the party down
to quiet an incipient exhibition of panic.  Ralph Oddington and
Reginald Wotherspoon stood at the rail, trying with nerveless fingers
to roll cigarettes.  Two of the girls were weeping in each other's
arms.  The water bubbled under the turn of the yacht's counters.  Two
of the sailors were discharging blank shells from the rifle astern in
hopes of calling attention to the plight of the craft.  The deck was a
conglomerate, nervous confusion of smart yachting costumes, uniforms,
and greasy overalls.

Dan, noting the flutter, leaned back from the wheel.

"Don't get excited down there," he roared.  "If the bulkhead holds,
we're all right.  If it doesn't, there'll be plenty of time for all.
Do you understand?  We can float for a week on the ocean the way it is
now."

"It won't hold long, Mr. Howland," he added to the man at his side,
"but it will hold until that steamship reaches us.  She's seen us and
is coming like hell."

A few minutes later a joyous shout sounded from the men on the bridge,
a cry vibrant with electricity, which thrilled through the yacht and
finally trembled on all tongues.  For the steamship had sized the
situation and was fairly leaping toward them.  Great clouds of smoke
were belching from her funnel.  They could see sparks mingling with the
thunderclouds of sepia, and the _Veiled Ladye_ hobbled woundily to meet
her.  On came the freighter; her hull was plainly discerned now,
picking the waves from under her bluff bows and throwing them
impatiently to either side.

Cries of joy and appeals for the succoring vessel to hurry sounded from
the yacht's decks.

As the vessel drew nearer.  Miss Howland ran to the bridge and took her
father by the arm.

"Father!" she cried.  "You must come now.  Isn't there anything in your
cabin you want to save?"  With a muttered "By George!"  Mr. Howland
dived below and the girl faced Dan.

"Captain Merrithew--"

Oddington's voice thrilling in joyous, cadence sounded from beneath the
bridge.

"Virginia, Virginia, where are you?  Oh, up there!  Come down quickly!
Don't you see we are coming alongside?  And Merrithew, old
chap--Virginia, will you come!  You are to be put aboard after your
aunt.  Hurry!"  There was a half-note of proprietorship in his voice.

As the girl turned to leave, Dan gave the wheel to Terry and ran to the
deck with a speaking-trumpet in his hand.  As he passed Oddington, who
had assisted Miss Howland from the bridge, he spoke to him quietly.

"The man with the broken leg leaves this ship first."

Below there was a dull crash and clouds of steam burst through the
ventilators and the engine-room gratings.  The bulkhead had succumbed,
but no one cared now.  The steamship was turning in about a hundred
yards away.  Dan directed his trumpet to the bridge.

"Scrape close alongside," he yelled.  "Open one of your cargo ports and
we'll board you through it."

The freighter's Captain had already anticipated this suggestion, and as
the vessel slid alongside, Dan ranged the sailors along the deck.

In perfect order the mate with the broken leg was slid into the port as
though he were merely being passed into another room.  Then went the
women, then the men of the party, and after them the sailors.  Dan and
Mr. Howland alone were left now.  As the elder man prepared to enter
the port he looked at Dan a moment and smiled.

"Some day I hope to cancel this debt."

They were simple words, but potentially they meant much to Dan.  He was
to find they involved the realization of dreams, ambitions he had long
held; another rung on the ladder which eventually----  But there was no
time to think of the future now.  Turning from the porthole he ran
along the deck, calling to make sure that every one was off.  When he
returned, Miss Howland and several others were leaning over the rail
above.

"For heaven's sake, Captain Merrithew, will you please come off that
yacht!"  The girl's voice rang imperiously.

With a last look at the bridge upon which he had passed the recent
thrilling hours, he leaped aboard the freighter, and when ten minutes
later the white _Veiled Ladye_ threw up her bow with a great clanking
sigh and slid swiftly from view, Dan Merrithew was fast asleep in the
Captain's cabin.



CHAPTER VII

DAN IS COMMANDED TO A PARTY

A week later, Dan, in accordance with an engagement made with Mr.
Howland when parting with him at the railroad station at Norfolk,
whither the rescuing vessel had taken the shipwrecked party, called at
the office of the Coastwise and West Indian Shipping Company in the
Bowling Green Building and asked to see the president.

It was a large office, filled with clerks and all of them busy.  The
young man who received the caller's request looked at him sharply and
shook his head.

"Mr. Rowland's engaged now," he said, "at a company meeting.  If you'll
call in an hour or two I'll find out if he will see you."

Dan drew from his pocket a card with a pencilled memorandum and glanced
at it.

"He made an appointment with me for eleven o'clock to-day.  So I guess
I'll have to ask you to take in my card."

The clerk shrugged his shoulders and walked away.  When he returned a
few minutes later all signs of mistrust had vanished.  Opening the gate
with a sort of flourish he said:

"Mr. Howland says for you to come right in."

As Dan entered the president's office, Mr. Howland arose from a long,
polished oaken table littered with papers, at which several men were
seated, and advanced to meet him.

"Captain Merrithew," he said, "I am glad to see you again.  And now,"
he added, the formalities of introducing Dan to the various officers of
the company being completed, "I have gone into the matter of the men
lost when the _Fledgling_ sank and have sent a check for five thousand
dollars to the wife of your engineer, Crampton, who I understand
carried some life insurance, and a check for three thousand dollars to
Welch's mother."  His voice was crisp and business-like, but his manner
intimated clearly the sympathy and gratitude which had dictated his
gifts.

"Yes, sir, they are adequate," replied Dan, feelingly.

"I have sent checks to your mate, Mulhatton, who, I am informed, is
still in the employ of the Phoenix Company, as well as that fellow
Noonan and the steward; which brings us to you."

"Mr. Howland," said Dan, flushing, "I'm simply not--"

"Just a moment, if you please," interrupted Mr. Howland; "I assume you
are qualified to navigate the ocean?"

"Yes," replied Dan, trembling slightly; "I've the best of broad ocean
papers and seven harbor endorsements."

"That ought to be enough," smiled the vice-president, Mr. Horton, who
seemed perfectly in touch with the trend of the situation.

"Yes," resumed Mr. Howland, "what I am getting at is this, Captain
Merrithew.  The Coastwise Transportation Company is looking for men
like you.  We want you with us, in short.  As you probably know, we
have a fleet consisting of steamers of various sizes, but all pretty
much the same type; that is to say, seaworthy, comfortable, and well
engined.  We cannot place you in command of one of our newest vessels,
of course.  But there is the _Tampico_, the commander of which, Captain
Harrison, we are to retire for age.  She is a good boat, running to San
Blanco, and she is fitted for passengers; so you will find opportunity
to develop your social proclivities, if you have any to develop."

As Mr. Howland was talking the color had slowly departed from Dan's
face, and now, as the president ceased speaking and regarded the young
man, he spoke haltingly, with dry lips.

"Do I understand you to mean that you are going to make me Captain of
the _Tampico_?"

"You are to understand that we have," corrected Mr. Howland.

"Mr. Howland, gentlemen," said Dan, "I--I can't say anything
except--thank you--I--"  He hesitated, confusedly.

"There's nothing for you to say," interpolated the president, "except
that you'll go down to the ship, which is loading at Pier 36, East
River, and assume command.  Captain Harrison will remain aboard for two
or three trips to break you in to the trade."  There was that in his
voice which intimated the end of the interview, and Dan with a bow was
turning to leave, when Mr. Howland uttered an exclamation.

"Oh, by the way," he said, "here is a note my daughter asked me to give
you.  It will explain itself, I think; and since you are now serving
under the house flag of this company, I can say only that obedience to
orders contained therein is imperative.  We all obey orders from that
source," and with a chuckle Mr. Rowland turned to his confreres and was
speedily immersed in other important affairs of the company.

Dan did not open the envelope in the office.  First of all he wanted
fresh air.  The quick, calm, business-like manner in which his
promotion had taken place; the noiseless, well-ordered, automatic
opening of another door leading to the future of his ambitions, so
utterly at variance with preconceived ideas in this regard, had all but
unnerved him.  He had always held it as assured that some day he should
walk his own bridge.  But until a half-hour ago, this day seemed still
to lie far ahead, a day to be attained, well, he could not say exactly
how--but at least with a sort of metaphorical roaring of guns and
waving of flags, and great spiritual exaltation.

But now--a few short sentences, a handshake, and presto!  Captain
Merrithew, of the Coastwise line steamship _Tampico_, by your leave.
The wonder of it all dazed him; yet withal he knew he had never before
been so stirred to the very depths of his being.  He was not yet in a
position to estimate his good fortune in comprehensive terms.  As a
matter of fact, he did not try.  One thought alone kept flaming through
his brain--his age.  Twenty-six, twenty-six; the numerals flew through
his mind as though the years of his life were the most important
elements in the situation.

By the time he reached the Battery sea-wall, he had somewhat adjusted
his mental attitude, and, gazing with a degree of calmness over the
waters of the bay toward the hills of Staten Island, he recalled the
note from Miss Howland.

All along it had lain a pleasant substratum in his mind, and now as he
tore open the envelope and read the contents, a peculiar, grim smile
lighted his eyes for a second.


"DEAR CAPTAIN MERRITHEW:--Next Thursday we are going to have a reunion
of the castaways at our house.  It will be for dinner, and we have all
agreed it will not be complete without the man who made this gathering
possible.

"I am not going to let you make any excuse, for my dinner-party will
have an empty space without you.  It will be very informal.  Father for
several years has refused to wear evening dress at dinner, so none of
the other men will.  Now remember, I shall expect you on Thursday
evening, at seven; you need not bother sending an acceptance.

"Very sincerely yours,

"VIRGINIA WALTON ROWLAND."


Virginia met her aunt at the foot of the stairs, and, slipping an arm
about her waist, laughed nervously.

"Well, my dear, to-night we entertain the tug-boat hero.  It's horrid
to feel so, but do you know I wish I had suggested to father that we
have the dinner on one of his vessels.  Do you remember last Fall, what
fun it was?  I have the impression, don't you know, that things would
be less strained than here.  He would find the atmosphere more
adaptable."

"He?  Oh, the tugman," laughed her aunt.  "I shouldn't worry if I were
you."

"I'm not worrying about that," protested the girl; "but oh, I don't
know--I hate to have the success of a dinner in the air, especially
when you have a sort of reputation in that way, don't you know."

"Nonsense," replied the older woman, glancing admiringly at the tall,
lithe girl in her white evening gown as she moved through the
drawing-room to the dining-room, where the butler was adding the final
deft fillips to a centrepiece of roses, in which a candy yacht was
sinking.

"You see," said the girl, pointing to a dinner card bearing Merrithew's
name, "I am going to place him between you and me.  Will you--won't you
arrange things so he'll take you in.  No; never mind!  I'll arrange
that--you're always such a dear about such things, and you won't mind,
will you?"

"Certainly not," smiled her aunt, "I shall ask him to tow me in."

They both laughed.  Their understanding was perfect.  Ever since the
older woman had entered her brother's house, years before, to care for
a motherless child, the bond of sympathy between the two had been of
the strongest, and throughout she had remained the best friend and
counsellor, if only because she was the wisest.

When Dan entered the Howlands' drawing-room all the guests had arrived.
He accomplished this difficult feat, which is considered an art in
fashionable schools, with easy grace and unconsciousness and received
Virginia's welcome courteously.

He wore a well-fitting blue suit of conventional cut and neither his
hands nor his feet seemed to bother him a bit.  And yet among the men
of the company he stood out in sharp contrast.  Miss Howland marked
this particularly when Oddington presented himself with an air of
good-humored camaraderie,--he, the successful young lawyer, with a
growing reputation as a man about town and the glamour which surrounds
the most popular all-around man at his university still about him; a
man who did well everything he tried to do, and able to give the
impression that the things he could not do were not worth the attempt;
whose every action, every word, every expression was marked with the
undefinable stamp of the metropolis, and the various lessons it
teaches.  Merrithew, on the other hand, standing tall and
broad-shouldered, looking about him as he talked, with quick, observant
glances; a face weather-beaten, but not rough, a typical Anglo-Saxon
fighting face, but kindly withal; certainly not truculent.  Miss
Howland had met young army and navy officers who had aroused in her
similar impressions; she had, in fact, no difficulty in defining
Merrithew's type.  He was of the class which does strong things out of
the beaten track; men who in the process of civilization have retained
some of the wandering or combative or predatory instincts of earlier
ages and have been set apart in the scheme of natural selection to
fight battles, explore countries, kill wild beasts, navigate waters, to
the end that a greater proportion of their fellow men may peaceably
advance the interests of commerce, science, the arts, and, other
affairs of a humdrum world.

Oddington took Miss Howland in.  At the last moment her father had
telephoned from the office he would be late and not to wait for him.
This necessitated a hasty rearrangement of the dinner cards; and Mrs.
Van Vleck was further disturbed by the butler, who was batting his eyes
fiercely at the cringing second man, token that something had occurred,
or more probably had been about to occur, to mar that service which was
his pride.

Dan, therefore, who sat at her right, finding relief from the
rapid-fire conversation which she had directed at him, obviously with
intention to put him at his ease, found time to glance up and down the
table.  There were perhaps a dozen persons, and he recognized most of
them as members of the _Veiled Ladye's_ party.  Reginald Wotherspoon,
upon dry land once more, out of danger, sure of himself, was bantering
one of the girls across the table, in the dry, masterful tone of one
who fancies he understands women; and the rest were laughing at the
confused indignation which marked her replies.

Dan recalled this girl.  She had been especially cool aboard the yacht;
and certain pictures of Wotherspoon flashing through his mind, an
amused smile lighted his eyes for an instant.  Miss Howland, who at the
moment had turned from Oddington, caught the smile, and following his
gaze, instinctively divined the cause.  She was not annoyed.  On the
contrary, she was pleased, for it indicated to her that Dan was
perfectly at ease, and she noted, moreover, that he was dealing with
the various courses with a greater degree of _savoir faire_, so to
speak, than she had thought probable.  She dismissed forthwith all
fears she had entertained regarding Wotherspoon's prediction that
"among the features of the dinner would be a lifelike imitation of a
towboat skipper swallowing his knife."

He followed Mrs. Van Vleck's leads in conversation, and once responded
with crisp cleverness to a gay remark addressed to him by a girl across
the table.  But he seemed to take it for granted that Miss Howland
would be occupied with Oddington; and in fact he had spoken to her but
once, and then to thank her when she pushed a dish of almonds toward
him.

The girl had noted a similar tendency of late on the part of other men,
but had thought of it only in as far as it had impressed upon her the
fact that she and Ralph had grown to understand each other rather well
and were very good friends.  She had arrived at that age where she had
begun to feel that perhaps, after all, this might be what the world
called love and that women who attributed to the word emotions deeper,
more absorbing, more thrilling, were mere sentimentalists, who derived
their plans and ideas from a world of dreams or from fiction both
classical and popular; or else they were women of deeper feeling than
she knew herself to be.

It was all a problem.  She had reason to feel that a time was
approaching when Oddington might reasonably expect a clearer,
better-defined relation.  Whether she would be willing to grant this
was another matter.  It was possible she might; it was possible she
might not.  She did not know.  It was a situation which perplexed if it
did not inspire her, which interested if it did not thrill.

And yet now Dan's tacit aloofness piqued her.  She admitted she did not
understand him at all.  Here was a man, a tugboat captain, of course a
product of the water front; primarily, no doubt, a dock-rat, and yet a
man who had not tangled himself in the use of his forks, who spoke in
even, well-modulated tones, and looked like a gentleman.  Miss Howland
was not snobbish in these thoughts.  She had never been a snob; she was
simply considering facts.  And she did not want him to be aloof.

"Captain Merrithew," she said in a tone designed to draw him and the
others into general conversation, "Ralph--Mr. Oddington, has been
saying things again about my favorite cousin Percy Walton."

Ignoring the polite chorus of mild expostulation, Miss Howland turned
to Dan, speaking with great vivacity.

"Percy, you know, was educated to win football games for Yale, and at
the last moment went to Princeton.  But he did not play there, because
Uncle Horace, his father, in a fit of disgust, made him go to work."
She glanced smilingly at Oddington.  "Mr. Oddington and Mr. Wotherspoon
say he was proselyted by Princeton.  We've had more fights about it--"

"Well, he was proselyted," laughed Oddington, "stolen from us bodily."

"Wasn't it some time ago?" asked Dan.

"Why, that's just the point," said Mrs. Van Vleck.  "It was at least
five or six years ago.  I am afraid Ralph and Reggie will never be able
to realize they are not undergraduates."

Oddington smiled.

"Oh, I don't know," he said.  "At all events, it keeps us young.  As
for Walton, I'd be ashamed to own him for a cousin," winking at Dan.
"Why, Merrithew, all his family had been Yale from great-grandfather
down."

"There; you hear him, Captain Merrithew," cried Miss Howland; "don't
you think that's a horrid way to talk?"

Dan smiled, tapping lightly on the table with his fingers.

"I don't believe he was stolen," he said slowly, as though not quite
certain whether he ought to venture an opinion.  "Whether he was or
not, I don't believe he'd ever have made the Yale team or the Princeton
eleven either."

Virginia started in her chair and glanced at him swiftly.

"Indeed!" she said, flushing.  "You don't mean to say--what do you know
about Percy Walton?"

"Now you're in for it, Merrithew," grinned Oddington.  "What do you
know about Walton?"

Dan picked up his dinner card and spun it between his thumb and
forefinger for a few seconds, and then with a slight smile replied:

"Why, not a great deal.  Next to nothing, personally."  He paused a
moment, and then glancing down at the table added, "I was captain of
the eleven on which Walton played at Exeter."

      *      *      *      *      *      *

After the guests had gone, Virginia, her father, and Mrs. Van Vleck sat
for a few minutes in a small apartment between the drawing and dining
rooms.  The girl's eyes were bright.

"Well, father, I actually believe you could have knocked me down with a
feather to-night."

Mr. Howland drew his cigar-cutter from his pocket and slowly inserted
the end of a perfecto.

"I suppose you refer to Merrithew."

"Certainly," said Mrs. Van Vleck; "why in the world didn't you tell us,
Horace?"

"Yes, why didn't you?" The girl had arisen and approached her father's
chair.  "You might have known, father dear, that both Aunt Helen and I
lay awake nights wondering whether he would bring a boat-hook or a
sou'wester to the dinner, and do--oh, all sorts of outlandish things,
making us the joke of the season.  And to think--a football captain in
Percy's class at prep school, quiet, easy-mannered--"

Mr. Howland snapped the end from his cigar and placed the cutter in his
pocket.

"Are you quite through, Virginia?" he said.

"Quite," replied the girl, who thereupon disproved her assertion by
beginning where she had left off.  "And I do believe you knew all the
time and were simply teasing us."

"That is not exactly true," smiled her father.  "Of course I looked him
up a bit before offering him the command of the _Tampico_.  He comes
from near New Bedford.  You know my mother's family lived there."

The girl nodded.  "Yes?  Go on."

Mr. Howland lighted a match and held it burning for a while before
applying it to his cigar.

"You know," he said, "there are no better people in the world than some
of those New England seafaring families.  The Merrithews, I believe,
were very substantial. . . .  So you see where your supposed wharf-rat
acquired the manner which you marked in him, and his good English,
and--and well, whatever else you marked."

"What is he going to do now?" asked Mrs. Van Vleck.  "Oh, of course,
the _Tampico_.  Is he qualified to be a captain?"

"Why, naturally; I haven't the slightest doubt of it.  But Harrison
will stay with the ship for two or three more trips to break him in
thoroughly.  Both companies by whom he was employed while in tugboat
work speak of him in the highest terms.  It's all rather a departure.
But I feel I owe it to Merrithew; and besides, I have an idea he is the
sort of man we want.  This West Indian trade is not all beer and
skittles."

"It is very interesting," said Virginia, stifling a yawn.  "I hope to
see something more of him; he's a new sort and worth studying.
And--oh, father, is there any chance that we'll have that house-party
at our San Blanco estate next Spring?  I mean--of course you've
promised that.  What I meant was, will we go on the _Tampico_?  Now
don't smile, father; you have said a dozen times you were through with
steam yachts."

"I'm not smiling," said Mr. Howland.  "It is quite possible we'll go
down on the _Tampico_--unless Merrithew manages to sink her in the
meantime."

"Bully," cried the girl.  "Good-night. . . .  I think," she said,
speaking slowly over her shoulder--"I think we had a very successful
partee."  She paused and looked doubtfully at her father.  "The only
difficulty is that, now we know he is not hopelessly impossible in one
way, we have to face the fact that he is all the more impossible in
others."

"Yes," said her aunt, laughing, "as an interesting social freak we
might have used him; but as an ordinary, well-behaved steamship
captain--"  Mrs. Van Vleck shrugged her shoulders expressively and
raised her eyebrows.

"Well," said the girl, "he'll be eminently eligible for the Captain's
table of the _Tampico_.  Somehow I wish he had done something unusual
to-night.  I had developed all sorts of strange fancies concerning him."

Now, as a matter of fact, she did not wish that at all.



CHAPTER VIII

WITS VERSUS MACHINE GUNS

Dan brought to his new duties a well-grounded knowledge of the
fundamentals of his calling, and his deficiencies, such as they were,
were skilfully eliminated by his white-haired mentor, Captain Harrison.
Among other things, this prince of ancient mariners, who had taken a
great fancy to Dan, was at infinite pains to impress upon him the fact
that in the duties of captain of a vessel calling regularly at the
ports of small Latin republics many requirements aside from mere
ability to navigate a ship are involved.  Seductive arts, such as
verbal or financial propitiation; knowledge when to give a dinner and
when to threaten to invoke the "big stick"; when to hold to a position
and when to recede from it;--all these attributes of diplomacy were
acquired by Dan under Harrison's tutelage, so that when the old Captain
finally retired to his well-earned rest on a Long Island farm, he
"allowed" that young Merrithew had the stuff in him of which smart
officers are made.

On his own account, Dan, by keeping his mouth shut and his eyes open,
learned not a little of the methods which characterized the relations
of his company with various Governments; and while not all that he
learned could in the widest implication of the phrase he designated as
morally--or, say, rather, ethically--elevating, it afforded an
interesting side-light upon the business character of Horace Howland.

In this connection it is well to state that the ultra clamorous days in
San Blanco had long ceased, and that the new _Presidente_, Rodriguez,
who had arisen to his honors out of the midst of the travail of fire,
powder, and a modicum of bloodshed, was conducting affairs of state
much to the liking of the San Blanco Trading and Investment Company, of
which company Mr. Howland was the brains and guiding spirit.  Need it
be suggested that this amounts to saying that Mr. Howland was the
brains and guiding spirit of the San Blanco Republic as then
constituted?

At all events, with peace smiling over troublous San Blanco, Mr.
Howland sent word to Dan that early in April he, his daughter, Mrs. Van
Vleck, and a party of ten, would sail on the _Tampico_ for Belle View,
the Howland estate, just outside of San Blanco City.

Dan was not altogether surprised at this message.  The passenger
accommodations of the _Tampico_ were elaborate, and hints of Mr.
Howland's intention had reached him in one way or another.  But now
with definite assurances in hand life took on added zest.  He had not
seen Miss Howland since the dinner; but it would have been futile for
him to attempt to convince himself that she had not formed a more or
less vague background for many of his thoughts and moods since that
epochal event.  Occasionally he saw her name in the newspapers, and one
of them once printed a picture purporting to be her photograph.  But it
was not.  Otherwise he might have been tempted to cut it out.

Now, with her presence aboard the _Tampico_ assured, the steamship
became involved with a new significance.  He pictured her on the bridge
with him.  He selected her place at the table in the saloon, and
dreamed of all the life and laughter and grace and beauty she would
bring to it.

As for himself, he had the proud realization that in measuring his
opportunities on the broadest possible gauge, he had lived up to them
sincerely, and he knew the results to be good.  On his own bridge he
had faced the blind fog with the lives of passengers hanging upon his
judgment; he had met the elements at their work, and out of the ordeal
he had come with greater self-reliance, broader, kindlier, better.  For
the first time in his life he was looking beyond his dreams, although
the work in hand was all-absorbing; there would be more for him to do.
He felt it, he knew it, for such is youth.

One beautiful April morning, a company, wonderfully well selected
according to the view-point of Virginia and her aunt, boarded the
_Tampico_ and merrily set sail.  Not the least of that company was
Howland himself, who, standing upon the bridge beside Dan, smiled as he
thought of the dozen Hotchkiss guns and the two very grim eight-inch
rifles resting in the darkness of the forward hold, and then spoke
almost in parables.

"It is always well, Captain, to divine the trend of the wind before
weather vanes give information to all who care to look for it."

"Yes?" replied Dan, not comprehending.

"Yes.  Those playthings, strategically placed at the capital, will
insure an era of Government integrity for some time to come; and that
will be very good; for the kind of integrity existing there is much to
my liking.  Vasquez is restless; Sanches is uneasy; but there will be
no radical action for some time to come.  When it does--well, Captain,
I have taken the liberty to store some pieces of ordnance below--they
appear as household furniture in the manifest of cargo.  I consider
them qualified to maintain all sorts of Government integrity."

"No doubt," smiled Dan; "if you have any one down there to handle them."

"I have a very large office staff in Domingo City, unusually large.  I
did not hire the men for their penmanship, nor for their ability as
clerks, either."  Here Mr. Howland raised his eyebrows slightly, and
Dan, taking his cue, raised his eyebrows too.

And so the _Tampico_ sailed peacefully south-ward.  The April sun
softened the air, the sea was like glass, and by the time the steamship
had picked up the Southern Cross, the little company had been tried in
the balance of propinquity and found not wanting.

It was brilliant moonlight, and eight bells chimed sweetly over the
silvery waters from the forecastle head, as Dan, with a cheery good
evening, followed the first mate to the bridge.  The second mate smiled
genially, gave the course as south half east, and, with his dog-watch
ended, went to bed.  A gruff voice rolled along the deck.

"The watch is aft, sir!"

Dan's voice hurled astern before the echoes died.

"All right.  Relieve the wheel--and the lookout!"

Virginia, addressing a merry group on the hurricane deck, just below
and aft the bridge, paused in the middle of a sentence and listened to
the sharp, crisp words.  Then she smiled slightly and resumed her
discourse.

Dan paced up and down with the mate, taking up the thread of the talk
where it had been left the previous watch; but neither was in a talking
mood, and they soon fell silent.  Presently a girl's rich voice rose to
the accompaniment of Oddington's banjo, an instrument but poorly
adapted to the motif of the music, which was plaintive, yearning.  The
deep contralto notes brought full meed of meaning, although the words
were German; low, deep, uncertain at first--the ponderings of love, of
devotion, of doubt--then swelling loud and full and free at the end;
love justified, undying, triumphant, overpowering.

  "Könnt' fühlen je das Glück das ich würd nennen mein
  Hätt' ich nur Dich allein!  Hätt' ich nur Dich, nur Dich allein!"

Then suddenly in wild rapture she broke from the German, repeating the
refrain in English--

  ". . .  The rapture that would be my own
  If I had you . . . if I had you . . . you."

Piercing sweet it ended, filled with tenderness.  Just you, you, you,
going on far across the moon-lit waters into infinity.  Dan walked to
the lee of the bridge and with hands on the dodger's ridge, leaned
forward, peering bard and straight to the rim of the sea.

For every heart there is a song, and for every song a heart; for this
earth is not so big that the dreams, the passion of some song-maker,
humble or not, may not strike a responsive chord, at the other end of
the world, it may be.  And this for Dan; this simple love song with its
swelling iterations.  It awakened sleeping poetry in the heart of the
young commander, awakened a tenderness long hidden under the rough
exterior of a tumultuous life.

There was no mistaking the identity of the singer, no mistaking those
deep, full notes, vibrant, rounded, and so melodious.  To whom was she
singing?  Could a woman sing like that, sing as Miss Howland sang, to
no one?  Impersonally?  Dan turned his face down at the group.  The
women were muffled in greatcoats, for the soft evening, which had
tempted them to the deck, was growing chill, and he could see the dark
forms of the men and the red lights of their cigars.  Wotherspoon had
just finished a comic song, and they were all laughing and applauding.

Somehow it all emphasized in Dan his aloofness.  He heard Oddington
address some jocular remark presumably to Miss Howland, for he caught
her laughing reply.  And the thought came, how eminently eligible
Oddington was to sit at her side; how fitting that he should be
there--wealthy, distinctly of her set, a good fellow at the university,
and now a law partner in the practice which his hard-working father had
prepared for him.  For the first time, perhaps, in his life Dan felt
himself humbled, and a great wave of bitterness flooded his mind. . . .
And yet Miss Howland had been very kind to him.  Ah, but that was not
the point.  He did not want persons to be kind; that suggested charity,
or pity.  No; he wanted exactly what he earned--what he could take with
his bare hands and his bare soul.  He wanted equality--or nothing; and
if at the end of his struggle it had to be nothing, all right--but the
end was not yet.

Toward nine o'clock the deck party began to break up.  Some one had
suggested bridge, and some opposed the suggestion.  At the end of a
laughing discussion Oddington and three others went to the
smoking-room, while the rest dispersed in various directions.  Dan,
filled with his thoughts, was in the act of lighting his pipe, when the
clicking of footfalls and the rustling of skirts sounded on the bridge
steps.  The next instant Virginia stood before him.  The moonlight fell
upon her, outlining the girl distinctly in her long, blue,
double-breasted coat and the wealth of rippling dark hair flowing from
under an English yachting cap.  She was smiling.

"Do I intrude upon your sacred precincts?" she asked, "or am I welcome?
I want to talk to you."

"You are welcome, Miss Howland," said Dan, knocking the fire from his
pipe and stuffing the briar-wood into his pocket, at the same time
glancing quickly toward the wheel where the mate and the quartermaster
were busy over a slight alteration in course.

"I feared that incident at the table--Reggie Wotherspoon's behavior, I
mean, might have upset you.  Of course you know he meant nothing by it.
We all understand how he hates to be beaten in an argument.  Really he
admires you--which is well for him, I can assure you."

Dan, deeply embarrassed, muttered something about understanding
perfectly about Wotherspoon, and that he knew him to be a decent enough
sort of chap.

"Do you know," went on the girl, "I myself was rather startled at first
when you said that no man--that you could not tell whether you would
flunk in time of danger.  I was so glad when you made your reservation
that in the past, at least, you had not shown the white feather.  'What
the past has shown,'" she quoted, "'who can gainsay the future?'  Oh,
it was glorious," she exclaimed impulsively, "the night you stuck to
our yacht until your own tug was battered to pieces!  I suppose I have
said that a hundred times; but it grows more thrilling every time I
think of it."

She looked at him with open interest.  His uniform became him well; the
trim sack coat fitted his great, deep chest and almost abnormal
shoulders snugly; and above were the square, smooth face, the steady
gray eyes, and the red-gold hair; and the long, straight limbs
supported a lithe, almost aggressive poise.

She started slightly forward.

"Have you ever thought how much we owe you?  Oh, I have so often wished
I could show you how much we appreciate all you did, in some way!"

"You must not think of it in that way."

"Why not, please?"  Miss Howland was a straightforward girl who faced a
situation squarely.

"Why, because the debt is all on my side.  Your father has given me my
first command; and you--you have been fine to me.  I have had more than
an ordinary sailor deserves."

"But you are not an _ordinary_ sailor," said the girl quickly.  "Father
knows of your people--"  She paused.  "Oh, I beg your pardon," she
cried.

"Listen," said Dan, quietly.  "When I was younger, about to enter
college, a careless, happy life ended.  I began all over again then.  I
date everything from that beginning--from the time I went aboard a
tug-boat--the Lord knows why--and tried to do something.  What I have
done, what I shall do, dating from that time, I stand on.  Before that
my battles were fought for me.  After that the fight was my own.  And I
have never regretted one bit of it; nor am I ashamed of one single
minute from the time I slung hawsers on the _Hydrographer_ until I
commanded the _Fledgling_.  And I shall always rejoice, and my friends
must rejoice, in that part of the fight, and never seek to hide a
single incident.  It's all behind now, but it was worth while.  And a
man must go on--"

"Yes, I know," replied the girl, softly.  She turned her face from the
silvery path on the water.

"And you are not going to stop fighting.  Oh, you will not stop!  You
will go on and on.  Men like you never stand still.  I know it is the
truth.  What difference can your past life make to your friends?  It is
never what a man was or might have been that counts, or what he may be;
it is what he is."

And then she turned and left him.

One evening as the dark came creeping over the purple waters, the
_Tampico_ cluttered up to the mouth of the harbor of San Blanco City.
Captain Merrithew and Mr. Howland stood on the bridge, while Virginia
and most of her guests were assembled at the rail, all eyes straining
shoreward.  A rattle of musketry tore through the evening air--a
muzzle-loading cannon spoke grouchily; then all was still.  A sailboat
was drifting out to sea and the fishermen, being hailed, informed those
on the steamship that revolutionists were pounding at the city walls
and pounding hard, but thus far without avail.  The uprising, as usual,
they said, had its inception in the fastnesses of Monte-Cristi and,
spreading through the country, had brought up with a bang against the
walls of the city itself.

Mr. Howland was seriously perturbed.

"We must get in quickly and land our guns, Captain," he said.  "It's
too bad we have this party with us.  However, you must not consider
their comfort.  If you land this cargo of ordnance, we can break the
revolution easily and pleasantly."

He glanced at the Blancan navy--two gunboats, formerly pleasure yachts,
and a "battleship," once a steam-lighter--which lay at strategic
intervals across the harbor mouth and moved impatiently.

"The scoundrels!" he ejaculated.  "Why don't they shell those
insurgents?  They could end this promptly if they wished to.  I shall
have something pleasant to say to them and to Señor Gaspard of the
Marine when I see him.  Still, perhaps they are waiting for me.
President Rodriguez expects us."

Mollified at this thought, Mr. Howland straightened to a dignified and
commanding posture.  The honors accorded an arriving Howland vessel
were the honors accorded a United States warship, and he scanned the
fleet eagerly for the first sign of the invariable welcome.  He turned
to Dan.

"Better dive into your cabin, Captain, and get on your double-breasted
regalia," he said.  "There will be a round of diplomatic calls and
felicitations generally--and of course they will ask for wine; for of
all half-starved, thirsty natives, give me those of this bob-tailed
republic."

The fighting had evidently stopped for the night, and Mr. Howland waved
his hand at the flag-ship.  He dearly loved all the punctilio of
international etiquette and the deference that had ever been his
portion in San Blanco.

And so this captain of industry smiled and hearkened for the first gun
of the expected salute.  But it did not come.  There was silence
somewhat grim and certainly sullen.  He ground his teeth impatiently,
angry disappointment growing as they drew near the fleet.  "What is the
matter with those rascals?" he growled, turning to Dan, who,
resplendent in blue and gold, had just joined him on the bridge.

"They don't seem to be happy to see us," replied the Captain, shortly.

"Not happy!" exclaimed Mr. Howland, who began to feel that the
situation approximated _lèse-majesté_.  "Not happy?  Confound them!
When we're bringing guns to support their mangy and tottering
Government!"

"Well," replied the young commander, who scented trouble and thought of
the party on board, "they don't seem to be, anyway."

A sharp hail rang out from the nearest gun-boat, the flag-ship.

"What vessel is that, and whither bound?"

Mr. Howland tore at his collar and stuttered in purple fury.

"Impudence!  Impertinence!  Lunacy!  Here, Captain, tell them they know
very well what ship this is--and--and--wait!" as Dan raised the
megaphone to his lips.  "Don't waste time talking to the villains.
Tell them--tell them to go--well, you know what to tell them."

And Dan demonstrated that he did--so vigorously, so eloquently that the
answer came in the shape of a blank shot across the _Tampico's_ bows.

Dan looked gravely at the owner.

"The thing is pretty plain, Mr. Howland," he said; "the navy has
evidently joined the insurrection.  Why they have not bombarded the
city I don't know; but you can be sure they are going to.  We will have
to stop," and without waiting for a reply he jerked the signal
indicator, to cease headway.  Mr. Howland was at no pains to conceal
his chagrin.

"A mighty bad stumbling-block; a mighty bad stumbling-block if the navy
has revolted, Captain Merrithew.  If this Government falls, it means a
great deal to me; means the loss of considerable money--and prestige.
I must look to you to land those guns, Captain."

Dan did not reply, but gazed earnestly toward the city as though
meditating a dash.  But that was out of the question, considering those
aboard.  As the chug of the engines died out and the cough of the
exhaust hit the glooming air and the clumsy black hull slid to a
gurgling standstill, a gig was lowered from the _El Toro_, the
flag-ship, and the officer, Admiral Congosto, was soon stumbling up the
gangway of the freighter.  Mr. Howland was inclined to have him thrown
overboard at once, but the better counsel of the Captain prevailed.

"Very well," growled the ruffled owner, "have your fling."

Admiral Congosto was a pompous Spaniard, obese, with bristling brows
and moustaches, who wrinkled his forehead and winked his eyes
constantly.

"So," he said, with unctuous dignity, as Dan met him at the rail, "the
Capitan?"

"Yes; the Capitan," and Dan bowed courteously.

"You are for San Blanco with supplies?--and--and--ah!"  The Admiral
completed his sentence with a significant shrug of the shoulder.  Dan
was equally cautious.

"We were putting in for water, for fresh water," he said.  "Our
condenser's filled with bread crumbs or something, and we can't make
enough for our boilers, let alone drinking."

With an ample shrug of his shoulders, the Spaniard suggested that the
Captain might obtain all the water he wished if he would go in, leaving
his cargo outside.  And then, as though weary of the subject, he turned
to more congenial topics.  He thirsted for good wine; that fact was
early elucidated, after which he rambled along indefinitely, allowing
Dan to gather that all the officers of the fleet were also thirsting
for wine.  At last he came straight to the point.

"A case--a dozen bottles--it would suffice--it would be
appreciated--ah!"

Dan had an idea, and began to build upon it forthwith.

"Admiral," he said, "there is much of what you seek aboard.  As you
well know, Señor Howland never travels with empty lockers--there is
much of a certain wine that sparkles--see?"

"I see, but I do not hear what I mean," replied the perplexed Admiral,
indulging nevertheless in anticipatory internal gratulations.

"Why, hang it, man, champagne!"  The Admiral's beady eyes danced.  "Mr.
Howland desires me to say that it is his wish that the friendly
relations between his officers and those of the navy of San Blanco
shall never wane.  There will, in short, be a dinner in half an hour to
the officers of the fleet."

"A dinnaire!"  Congosto sprang forward and embraced his prospective
host, and five minutes later was speeding to his ship, the bearer of
glad news.  For, behold, where he thought to meet an enemy, devious and
tricky, he had encountered instead, a friend, generous, hospitable!

"I fail to see your play, quite, Captain Merrithew," grumbled Mr.
Howland.

"Well," interpolated Virginia, "it was a very interesting play.
Captain, I had no idea you could be so eloquent."

"Thank you," laughed Dan.  "Mr. Howland," he added, "I shall make my
play plain very shortly.  All I ask now is that you have your party
assemble at the rail when the officers arrive and receive them as
though they were representatives of the British Navy.  They will be
conducted to the saloon.  Let no one of the party follow them in.
Please make that clear."

The guests came--in gigs, in launches, dinghies, and longboats--came
with laughter, came with rejoicing, for they were to dine with the
señor of the open hand, Señor Howland, who always opened wine as they
would open tins of beef.  The gods never repaired more blithely to a
Bacchanalian revel on Parnassus.  Two by two, in rigid order of rank
they were escorted into the saloon, and the eloquent popping of corks
was as music in their ears.  The Admiral took his place at the head of
the table; the rest disposed themselves suitably.

With a muttered excuse, Dan slipped out of a near-by door; the stewards
disappeared; every one on the _Tampico_ stole quietly away.

Admiral Congosto had no sooner raised his glass for the first toast
than the two iron bulkhead doors slid together with a clang, followed
by the rasp of bolts flying home.  The Admiral of the fleet and his
lords commanders were hopelessly imprisoned amid the luxury of saloon
surroundings, as hopelessly imprisoned as though they had been shut
into the darkness of the lower hold.

In the meantime, the _Tampico_, from hold to masthead, was blazing like
a tall Sound steamboat.  Dan gained the bridge and gazed at the
illumination with a smile; for all this splendor of electrical display
was for a purpose.

"You've locked them in, eh?" said Mr. Howland, abruptly.  He had been
pacing the bridge, the victim of many doubts.

"Yes," replied Dan; and there was a sharp inflection in the
monosyllable which precluded further questioning.  The owner had
instructed his Captain to land the guns which were lying in the hold of
the steamship, and the young Captain was intent on the matter in hand.

He pulled a certain crank, upon which the steam winches began to
revolve with ghostly creakings, bringing the anchor up out of the mud.
Then he signalled for full speed ahead.  There was a creaking, a sound
of roiling water, and then, still blazing with light, the steamship
made out for the open sea.

They had gone but a quarter of a mile when those who were left on the
fleet suddenly came to a realizing sense of the diabolical plot hatched
under their very noses.  A gun boomed, a six-pounder shell squealed
past the bridge, but the _Tampico_ slipped on her way seaward, while
the funnels of the fleet belched clouds of smoke blacker than the
velvet skies.  From the saloon came muffled shouts and ineffectual
poundings on the bulkhead doors.

"The walls are good and thick," said Dan, grimly.  "I doubt they will
be heard--unless some one of the craft gets within a hundred yards of
us.  They ought to have full steam up by this time.  I might as well
stop her right here; this is about right."

As the steamship swung heavily on the tide, the Captain shouted an
order, which was taken up on deck and carried down a hatchway.  The
next instant the lights in the lower part of the hull went out.  A few
minutes later, another stratum of lights disappeared, and still later
the deck lights.  Then out went the port and starboard lamps.  Then
there was a ten-minute wait, while Mr. Howland, Virginia, and the rest
of the party who had ventured on deck, thrilled and delighted with the
situation, held their breath.  Dan pulled another switch and the
masthead lights went out.  The _Tampico_ was now a part of the night.

"Oh!" exclaimed Virginia, "I see.  You have given them an imitation of
a vessel disappearing hull down in the darkness.  How clever!"

An exclamation from Mr. Howland broke the silence.  "Oh!" he cried.  "I
see."  And he placed his hand on Dan's shoulder.

The stillness was intense.  The water swept softly past the hull; the
extremities of the vessel were lost in a blur of black.  Mr. Howland
became impatient.

"What can be the matter with those fellows?  Why don't they chase us
and be done with it?"

Dan touched him on the shoulder.  From the outer darkness floated a
mysterious bourdon, which rapidly outgrew that definition and became a
veritable commotion.  One light twinkled, then another, and still
another.  Finally the swift pulsation of engines at high pressure rived
the night.

"They are coming."  The Captain turned to those who had gathered on the
bridge, adding, "Now I want this place cleared, please.  If this scheme
falls through, we shall have our perch raked with machine guns.  Go
down on deck and either keep below, or to the side of the forward steel
deck-house, which is away from the warships--and no noise.  Not a
sound!  Understand?"

Virginia, Mrs. Van Vleck, Oddington, and two others of the party
decided to take their position in the shelter of the deck-house, where
they could see and yet be protected if the vessel were fired upon.  All
amusement had gone from the situation for Virginia.  She knew that her
father, who insisted upon remaining on the bridge, might at any moment
be placed in jeopardy.  And there was another emotion, which she sought
not to deny--the Captain, what if he should fall?  Ah, she did not want
that--particularly now he was risking himself, not for honor, not for
any interest of his own, but because he was her father's employee.
Then, too, she wished to study, to know him better; yes, that was what
she wanted, and she had been conscious of it all along, to see, to
learn, to know more of him.  She could distinguish his tall, straight
figure against the darkness, moving swiftly.

She had forgotten about the pursuing warships and what might follow,
until her aunt tugged at her sleeve.

"They are coming, Virginia," she said.

They were indeed, and angry craft they were, a spectacle to marvel at,
viewed from the shrouded _Tampico_, lying black and motionless, with
every light out, with tarpaulins over the engine-room hatches and
gratings; with even the ventilator hoods blanketed.

"There they are!"  The whisper shot through the _Tampico_ like a draft
of cold air.  Virginia was quivering with excitement.  She could see
the leading boat as it passed not three hundred yards away, and the
next, both spouting flames from their funnels, throwing up water, which
fell in silvery, phosphorescent spray--racketing, clawing the restless
sea, chugging, hissing with shouts of vengeance hurtling from their
decks, First ploughed the flag-ship _El Toro_, next _El Teuera_, and
last the "battleship" _El Manuel_, sitting almost on her stern,
plugging along doggedly in a Herculean effort to be first in at the
death of the presumptuous kidnappers.

It was alarming, too, and the young people, trembling behind their
shelter, gave a great sigh of relief as the last avenger passed, and
the head of the _Tampico_ swung slowly around in the direction of the
harbor.  Virginia again turned her eyes to the bridge.  The young
Captain was standing like a statue, with his hands on the engine-room
indicator, jumping the _Tampico_ across the waves under full headway.
He was looking back over his shoulder, and the girl, following his
gaze, saw to her great trepidation that the flag-ship, _El Toro_, had
ceased headway and was lying motionless, as if those aboard her had
divined the trick and were pausing a moment for fresh bearings.

Suddenly came a crash of heavy glass; a girl screamed.  One of the
saloon dead-lights had crashed out, the thick glass rattling down the
steel hull to the sea.  There was another crash and a yellow glow
flared into a bright blaze, illuminating the hull of the shrouded
vessel.

"Now they've done it!" cried Oddington.  "They have soaked a
table-cloth with kerosene; it's all off now!  So much for Captain
Merrithew's scheme.  I--"  A voice rang from the bridge.

"Everybody down, quick!"  The warning was none too soon, for a second
later a rain of lead from the _El Toro_ swept through the top of the
funnel.  Then with straining engines the gunboat made a swinging
detour, with the intention, plain to every one, of heading off the
freighter.

The firing was incessant now, and every one of the Howland party, as
well as the crew, grovelled flat on the deck and heard lead whistling
above.  Virginia, glancing at the bridge in an agony of terror, saw the
Captain crouching just a trifle, but still at his post.  One man, a
quarter-master, knelt at the wheel.  But she missed her father, and a
great dread filled her mind.  It was but momentary, however, for Mr.
Howland joined the party behind the deck-house.

"Oh father!" cried the girl, "I feared you were hurt.  Why doesn't
Captain Merrithew stop the boat and leave the bridge?  Surely his life
and those of his men there are of more value than your interests in
Blanco!"

"I told him to stop, to throw ourselves upon the protection of our
flag," and Mr. Howland laughed nervously.  "But it was no use.  I
believe I reared a Frankenstein monster when I selected him as the man
to land our guns.  Frankly he as much as told me to mind my business.
He's in a fighting mood now; his jaws are set like steel-traps--I know
his kind.  And do you know, Virginia, he will land us and the guns,
too.  You wait!"

The _El Toro_ had stopped firing, and was bending all energies to
heading off the freighter; it looked as though she would do it, too,
for she had once been a private yacht and had evidently lost none of
her speed.  It was a mighty race.  The _Tampico_ was by no means a
slouchy craft, and she ripped her way through the waters, clawing for
the harbor mouth and San Blanco City like a thing possessed.  Swinging
on a tactical semi-circle, the trim little flag-ship flew like a white
ghost, tearing the waters, curling them up on deck until they ran out
of the scuppers.  She unlimbered another gun and the leaden hail swept
away the _Tampico's_ port lifeboat, crumpling the stanchions and davits
like thin wire.

"Their marksmanship is bad, as usual," said Mr. Howland, trembling
nevertheless, in suppressed excitement.

But if their marksmanship was bad their speed was not.  The _El Toro_
was, in fact, shooting up rapidly; and as she began to circle in on the
freighter it was plain to every one that her path would cross that of
the fugitive.  There seemed nothing to mar the success of the gun-boat
in her efforts to prevent the steamship entering the harbor.  Dan could
judge of this better than any one else.  And yet he kept on.  His
spirit dominated the entire vessel.  Virginia, as she watched him, with
all that anger that a loser must feel, knew that she was brave, too,
felt that to be otherwise would be a sacrilege.  Suddenly her eyes were
riveted on the Captain; she saw him run to the megaphone rack and take
up a cone.  Then she saw him dash it to the deck and turn and speak a
few words to the man still kneeling at the wheel.  The man nodded and
moved aside, and Dan took his place, erect, immovable.

As he did so, the pursuing gun-boat, not more than four hundred yards
away, let fly another rain of lead, and a few minutes later she slowed
down, swinging broadside across the course of the _Tampico_, firing a
six-pounder shell over the bow of the advancing steamship.

"Too late, too late!" exclaimed Mr. Howland.  "All this trouble and
danger for nothing!  Now we are caught!  But some one will pay--"

His daughter seized his arm.

"Father!  Oh, father!  We are not stopping.  Look!"

It was true.  The _Tampico_ was not stopping; she swept on as if
endowed throughout all her length of great black hull with her master's
burning energy and fierce resolve to succeed.  A sharp cry came from
the gun-boat, a cry sharply in contrast with its crew's former yells of
triumph.  There came another six-pounder shell, this time cutting
cleanly through the Tampico's bow.  But that was the last.  On, on like
an avenging sea-monster swept the _Tampico_, sullen, silent, with the
potential energy of dynamite lurking in the force of her momentum.  And
straight, inexorable, Captain Merrithew stood on the bridge with his
hands on the wheel spokes.  No longer was he young in the eyes of
Virginia Howland.  No, he was old, old as the avenging ages and as
cruel, as cold as the march of time.  Straight he made for the pretty
white side of the gun-boat, as some grim executioner might measure for
the blow of the sword which was to sever the white neck of some captive
maid, some Joan of Arc.  And the girl caught his spirit and became
cruel too.  She laughed at the gun-boat, as she fired again; she
laughed as the _Tampico_ quivered and went to the heart of the quarry;
she laughed as Dan, with another twist of the wheel, made more sure of
his victim.

The screw of the gun-boat revolved desperately.  She was backing; but
it was too late.  Another sound now!  A heaving swell rose in between
and threw the bow of the steamship slightly off.  With an angry cry Dan
jerked at the wheel.  But the lost point could not be regained, and the
_Tampico_, instead of hitting the gun-boat amidships and cutting her in
two as intended, struck the quarter obliquely, slicing off a triangle
of the hull and stern as a big knife cuts a cheese.

There was a terrible crash and grinding, shrill screams, with the
sharp, taunting laughter of Dan ringing clear, as his vessel swept
clear of the wreckage, flashing by the crowded small boats which had
been lowered a few seconds before the crash came.  Hardly knowing what
she was doing, utterly beside herself, Virginia turned to her friends,
her lips parted, her eyes flashing.

"There!" she cried, "did you ever see a man?  I recommend you to look
at Captain Merrithew--"

"Yes, Virginia, it was bully."  Oddington's cool, thoroughbred manner
chilled her ardor like a cold blast.  "It was mighty fine.  You are
excited, girl."  And the young man removed the cigarette which had been
between his lips.  Virginia regarded him steadily.

"You are right, Ralph," she said at length; "I was excited."

In the meantime, the _Tampico_ was dashing into the harbor at full
speed, her whistle blowing like mad, bringing all officialdom,
including the _Presidente_, to the water front; for, as Mr. Howland had
said, they were expected.  Soldiers from the guard-boats swarmed aboard
and took the rebel admiral and his fellow-officers ashore, and a few
hours later well set-up mercenaries were dragging Mr. Howland's machine
guns and eight-inch rifles from the quay to strategic points, where in
the morning the insurrection would be broken as a strong man breaks a
rattan cane.

Later, at the end of a sunrise collation, _Presidente_ Rodriguez rose
and, with one hand on his heart and the other clutching the stem of a
wine glass, metaphorically presented the keys of San Blanco to the
"Saviour of his country," and intimated not only a permanent suspension
of tariff regulations in his favor, but a future statue of heroic size
in the palace plaza.  Whereat Mr. Howland turned swiftly to Dan at his
side, and from behind his napkin momentarily altered an expression of
beatific if humble gratitude, and winked almost grotesquely.



CHAPTER IX

AN ATTEMPTED ASSASSINATION

The next morning Dan stood at the rail of the _Tampico_, gazing out
over the quay to the distant walls of the city, over which hung a heavy
saffron pall.  The faint pat-a-pat-pat-pat of machine guns and the roar
of heavier ordnance was incessant.  At first he had been disposed to go
out and participate in the fighting.

But second thought had altered his inclination.  He had come to know
something of the business methods of Mr. Howland and men like him; and
while he had no doubt that his employer considered them legitimate, and
could, if he had to, submit many strong reasons for various measures
which capital seems to find it necessary to employ in its relations
with Latin-American Governments, yet he decided that the wholesale
slaughter then in progress had far better be left to those who were
employed for that purpose.

How did he know but the men who had been fighting to capture the city
and were now being shot down like sheep were not the real patriots,
anxious to govern their own country in their way and not in the
interests of foreign corporations?  As for Rodriguez, he knew enough of
him to--

Virginia Howland, coming up from behind, touched him on the arm, while
her father, who followed her, placed his hand on Dan's shoulder.

"Captain," said the girl, "I am disappointed.  I wagered a box of candy
with father that you were already out fighting."

Dan, unable to suppress the thoughts which had filled his mind, smiled
grimly.

"I don't think I have any desire to turn butcher," he said, with just a
tinge of bitterness.

The girl flushed and regarded Dan for a moment with a curious
expression, and then glanced at her father.

"Is it really--that?" she said.

Mr. Howland smiled easily.

"Butchery?  It seems to amount to about that.  Poor beggars!  But war
is war," Mr. Howland tapped the rail with his finger by way of
emphasis, "and those who attempt to overthrow governments generally do
either one of two things: they succeed, or they pay the penalty of
failure."

"In this case," said Dan, coolly, "they seem to be paying the penalty."

"Yes, thanks to you," replied Mr. Howland, "which is what I wish to
speak to you about."

He paused, and as Dan made no reply he continued:

"You did a mighty fine piece of work for us in landing those guns--you
have placed my company considerably in debt to you; but of that more
later.  At the present time I want to tell you that these infernal
revolutionists have burned Belle View--which," turning to his daughter,
"may alter your sympathies a trifle, Virginia--and therefore
necessitates more or less of a change of programme--"

"Belle View burned!" interpolated Virginia.  "Why, father, what--"

"As I was saying," resumed Mr. Howland, "we've got to shift things
about.  In the first place, if Belle View were not burned, I should
hardly feel safe in having the crowd there with conditions as they
are--and things are not especially pleasant in this city.
However,--how long will it take to get away from here, Captain?"

"We must take on some coal, and Hendrickson has drawn the fires and is
reaming in some new boiler-tubes.  We could get away inside of
forty-eight hours, I think."

"Good; let's do it, then.  We'll call at San Domingo, Hayti, Jamaica,
and other places to make up for spoiling your house-party, Virginia.
In the meantime I have secured good quarters for our guests at the
Hotel Garcia, where to-night I give the Government a dinner.  I shall
expect to see you there, Captain."

Dan would have preferred to stay away from that dinner.  The thought of
his practical connivance at the day's slaughter, so obviously suggested
by Mr. Howland, grated on him, and the implied command in the
invitation to the dinner bothered him too.  The day was to be filled
with duties about ship, and he wanted the evening to himself, to sit in
his cabin with his pipe and his books and mull over these and other
things.

Of course he might have known what would follow the landing of the guns
from the _Tampico_.  He did know, as a matter of fact, but orders are
orders, and duty is duty; and when you are employed by a man you accept
your salary and any other accruing benefits solely upon the
understanding that you shall serve his interests to the best of your
ability.

Yes, Dan could see that perfectly, and he could also see the bad taste
that lay in intimating dissatisfaction with his employer's methods
while wearing the uniform of Mr. Howland's company and receiving good
pay therefor.  And anyway, Mr. Howland had not asked him to cut Blancan
warships in two and endanger the lives of the entire ship's company and
guests.  No, that was on his own head, his own hot head.

In the days of the present voyage he had felt a strong tendency to look
beyond the bridge of the _Tampico_ into the future.  Of course he liked
adventure, but of late he had begun to feel that perhaps he had had
enough of the strenuous life to last him the remainder of his years.
He certainly did not intend to grow gray on coastwise lines.  Bluff,
gnarled old Harrison, his predecessor on this vessel, had served as a
striking object lesson.  He could spin yarns of his adventures by the
hour, but at best no one would call him anything but an interesting old
character, a retired shell-back on half pay.  Dan found no pleasure in
looking forward to anything of the sort.

Since he had gained a command in the famous Coastwise and West Indian
Shipping Company, he had begun to commend himself to persons who never
before had played a part in his life, principally a cousin of his
father's, a wealthy merchant of Boston, who had written him a long
letter, received just before the _Tampico_ sailed on her present
voyage, expressing a desire to meet him.

"It is not possible," the letter read, "you will want to follow the sea
all your life.  There must be plenty of opportunities ashore for men of
your evident executive ability and initiative.  I want you to come to
Boston at your first opportunity.  I know I can give you good advice,
and it may be I can prove of material assistance to you."

When he first read the letter, Dan smiled to himself, not failing to
note the interest taken in him by relatives, now he seemed to be
proving his ability, who, heretofore, had known little about him and
cared less.  But that is life, and he had a great deal rather be
accepted for what he had done than because of mere ties of blood.  Thus
thinking, he came to attach greater significance to the letter.  He
would go on to Boston when the _Tampico_ returned to the United States.
In the meantime he was Captain of a Howland boat, and he would obey
orders, he smiled grimly, and go to the dinner.

The dinner was a memorable one in San Blanco City.  The revolution had
been shattered.  The Rodriguez Government was supreme.  The
_Presidente's_ palace was a blaze of lights.  Conspirators were being
arrested and cast into prison.  Vehicles of all sorts were bearing
dinner guests to the Hotel Garcia and dashing away.  There were foreign
consuls in uniforms, and their wives; there was Rodriguez and his
cabinet, and officers of the army in resplendent garb, and women who,
when they threw their mantillas aside, revealed tawny necks and
shoulders.

The _Presidente_, Mr. Howland, and high officers of the Government sat
on a long dais at the head of the room; the other guests, including the
_Tampico's_ party, were at round tables with red-shaded lamps.  It was
a pleasing picture, and Dan, for the first few courses, was glad he had
come.  However, when he found that those with whom he was seated could
not speak English, while he could understand little of Spanish, the
evening began to wear.  At length, with the long post-prandials at
hand, he arose.

Flanking one side of the room, which was large, were windows reaching
from the floor almost to the ceiling, which, when the weather was fair,
were opened, giving access to a garden of small, twisted trees and
tropical plants with small tables beneath, to which the pleasure-loving
population came at night, to sip iced drinks and listen to the music of
the orchestra as it flowed out of the dining-room.

Here Dan made his way and, stepping out of one of the windows, paused
on the garden's edge.  The cool air was grateful, and with a sigh of
relief he drew a cigar from his pocket and lighted it slowly, From
beneath the trees came little patters of conversation, and the red
lights of cigarettes and the glint of white gowns enlivened the
darkness.

As he stood there, Virginia Howland and Oddington came out of one of
the windows.  The girl was talking vivaciously, familiarly, and
Oddington was laughing.  She was in what she would have termed one of
her "Oddington moods," when his personality appealed to her most, when
the congenial bond seemed closest.  To-night the lights, the music, the
soft air rustling the lampshades, after all the long days on shipboard,
exalted her.  She looked at her companion with kindling eyes.

It seemed hardly the moment to run full upon the Captain of the
_Tampico_, who had just thrown his cigar away with the intention of
returning to the dining-hall.

Dan realized this instinctively.  He smiled at the two in an abstracted
manner, as though his mind were occupied with thoughts which he did not
care to interrupt, and turned toward the window, when Virginia, who had
greeted him simultaneously with a smile obviously designed to convey a
similar impression, and, piqued to perversity by the fact that Dan had
so readily interpreted her wishes, paused in the middle of a sentence
and looked back over her shoulder.

"Captain," she said, "is it possible you prefer speeches in Spanish to
our company?"

Dan paused.  Oddington was smiling in an exceedingly perfunctory
manner, and the young Captain was about to make some laughing
acknowledgment when the girl, still looking at him, said:

"Mr. Oddington and I were just arguing about the night air of San
Blanco.  He says it is filled with malaria.  Is it?"

Dan walked slowly toward them.

"Not any more than the day air," he replied, declining Oddington's
proffered cigarette case and drawing his pipe and pouch from his
pocket.  "I should say that San Blancan air is filled with malaria at
all times--and with other bad things."

Oddington laughed.

"It is like most of these cities," he said; "things get pretty messy
here, I imagine.  I could not exactly commend its sanitary--"

A voice calling him from the window broke the sentence.  It was Reggie
Wotherspoon.

"Yes," said Oddington.

"That you, Ralph?  Oh, I see you.  Say, come in here like a good chap,
will you?  I've run across a sort of an anarchist circular about
Rodriguez.  I want you to come up with me while I put it up to him."

"All right," replied Oddington.  "Will you go in, Virginia?"

"Thank you, I'll wait here for you.  I've had enough of that dreary old
dinner; at least until father speaks.  And now," said the girl, smiling
at Dan, "what have you to tell me that is thrilling?"

Dan looked at her as she stood framed against the light of the window,
tall, straight, in the full glow of youth and health and animal
spirits.  One bare arm was stretched down, clutching the train of her
dress.  With the other hand she was idly lashing her gloves against her
skirt.  As she spoke she reached out a gleaming slipper, extremely
small for a girl of her height, to push an overturned flower-pot away,
and Dan caught the flash of the silk ankle and a foam of lace.

He felt he was viewing the girl in a new way.  Hitherto he had regarded
her as something almost intangible, an essence of elusive femininity,
radiant, overpowering, and in nowise to be considered as a material
embodiment of young womanhood.

But now, while the old spell was still potent, with the moods of the
day still strong, he found new viewpoints struggling for mastery.
Clearly the girl had shown a deep interest in him, and entirely on her
own initiative.  If it was to be in the future an interest born of
friendship, why, it should be, he told himself, an engaging future for
him.  But he did not desire that her interest in him from now on should
be offered as a sort of largess, or that he should be placed in the
position of posing as an object of merely charitable attention from
her.  As these thoughts formulated themselves flashingly in his mind,
he could not but marvel at the sudden transition in his attitude
concerning her.  But nevertheless, the transition had taken place, as
well defined as though it had come of weeks of pondering--and
unchangeable.

"I can't think of anything thrilling to talk about--unless I select you
as a subject."

The girl glanced at him swiftly and then turned her face toward the
harbor, where a few lights quivered on a velvet floor.  She caught the
new note perfectly and her bosom rose in a quick breath.

"I am sure we might select a more interesting topic.  I detest
personalities.  Tell me how you have enjoyed your first dip into
Blancan society."

"But that would be personal," smiled Dan.

The girl laughed.

"The women here to-night are a great deal less dowdy than one would
imagine, don't you think?"

"I wonder if you realize your responsibility?" said Dan.

Virginia did not reply for a moment.  She had not considered this
outgrowing phase of her unreserved interest in the young Captain.  So
long as he had remained a sort of quiescent _protégé_, there could be
no possible harm in her attitude toward him.  Evidently he did not
intend so to remain.  There was of course, therefore, nothing to do but
reestablish their relations.

"I am afraid my responsibilities are too varied and serious for
discussion with--with any one," she said at length.

"But where they concern me?"

The girl stepped back slightly, drawing her skirts about her as though
recoiling, or, rather, withdrawing from the question.  Yet despite her
desire to end the conversation, she really was curious as to his drift;
and, besides, he made the most romantic sort of picture as he stood at
her side, clean cut, bareheaded, and as self-assured evidently as any
man she had ever talked with.  Her wish was to dismiss him with
admonition, gently, if plainly to be understood.  But this she could
not do just then, and the realization of the fact irritated her.

"I suppose," she said slowly, "at least I have read that our
responsibilities do not cease with one's friends, but extend,
sometimes, even to--to acquaintances, or to persons, perhaps, whom one
does not know.  What have I done or not done that suggested in your
mind ideas of my responsibility to you?"

Dan shook the fire from his pipe and smiled.  "Why, you haven't done a
thing or left a thing undone," he said.  "I thought the humor of my
suggestion would strike you as funny, make you laugh.  But it didn't,
so I'll be serious.  You were decent to me on the _Tampico_ and before;
and to-night, I don't know, but the lights and the music and the night
and all seemed to have gone into me, and I wanted to talk to a
woman--to you--out here in the moonlight, not as we've talked before,
but as a man and woman who feel pretty much the same way about many
things might talk.  This was what I had in mind when I spoke of
responsibility.  Not an alarming one, would you say?"

The girl gazing out into the darkness did not speak.

"I wanted you to look down at the harbor there and exclaim over the
path the moon is cutting from the horizon to that queer little
lighthouse on the point; and I wanted you to talk enthusiastic nonsense
about the big, soft stars and the cigarette lights under the trees; and
I--I just wanted to listen and, of course, agree with all you said."

Dan was smiling as he spoke; but the girl, whose eyes had fallen
beneath his steady gaze, was aware that no jest underlay his light
words.  By no means could she construe what he had said into
impertinence, but she did feel he was presuming upon the kindly
attention she had paid him.

"Captain Merrithew," she said at length, "I have been thinking.  I have
been wondering whether I do not think you more inspiring on the bridge
of the _Tampico_, cutting warships in two, or fighting a storm than--"

"Than talking with you in the moonlight?" interpolated Dan.

"_About_ the moonlight," corrected the girl. . . .  "If we are to be
friends you must not devise responsibilities--unadvisably."

Dan made a slight gesture, as though to assure her she had made her
meaning quite clear.

"If we are to be friends, Miss Howland, you must not devise
restrictions unadvisably."

Dan was still smiling, and he was speaking easily.  But no man had ever
spoken to her in that way before.  She flushed, and her eyes sparkled
angrily as he ceased.  Her glance did not disconcert him.  He stood
looking at her--not masterfully, but with the quiet dignity of
conviction.  It was plain that if their association were to continue,
it must be at the price of something more than the scientific, aloof,
touch-and-go interest which had hitherto characterized her attitude
toward him.

She must be his friend in all that the term implies.  Until to-night,
had the alternative been proposed, she would have had no hesitation in
deciding, if only because she had no viewpoint other than their
relative positions in the past year.

But his words had opened a new perspective.  She could see that he
might be regarded in a different light, that he already so regarded
her.  The transformation bewildered her, and when the heated reply died
behind her lips and she smiled quiveringly instead, she felt for the
first time in her life the thrill which all women, however strong, have
when they yield to the dominant personality of a man.  She tried to
fight back the overpowering, undefinable surge; she succeeded
partially.  All she could now ask was time to think to recover her
equilibrium.  She put out her hand involuntarily and touched Dan
lightly on the arm.

"Let us not say anything more about it," she said.  "Tell me--tell me
something about San Blanco."

As she ceased speaking, she turned slowly toward the banquet hall.
Dan, following her, complied with what he knew to be a purely
perfunctory request, talking in an easy conversational tone.

"I have looked into the history of the country a good bit," said he.
"It is quite interesting.  They have had just twenty-three
_presidentes_ and four dictators, and there have been twelve
assassinations.  I believe candidates for the office are liable to
arrest for attempted suicide--"

The girl paused at the window.  She had not been listening.  Her eyes,
were fastened upon the figure of a man whose skulking form she had made
out where the glow of the window almost opposite the speakers' table
fell upon the garden.  Now she saw him again.  He had a gun in his
hands and was beginning to kneel.

Breathless and rigid the girl slowly stretched out her hand and touched
Dan on the shoulder; with the other she pointed silently at the
crouching figure.  The gun was now being raised to aim, probably at the
_Presidente_, who was speaking, possibly at Mr. Howland.  Dan
apprehended the situation at once.  In the flash of an eye he was
making for the assassin like an antelope.  Hearing the approaching
footfalls, the man turned his head, and then, with a cry, Virginia saw
him arise and shift his weapon toward Dan.

[Illustration: In the flash of an eye, Dan was making for the assassin.]

But he was too late.  At least ten feet away Dan left his feet and
launched himself into one of those old-time tackles which even in
Exeter had attracted the eyes of the football authorities of three
universities.  Hard and straight he went, head to one side, jaws shut
tight.  Then he struck, one brawny shoulder snapping full into the
man's midriff.  You have to know how to fall when tackled by a good
man.  This San Blancan did not.  He went down like a falling tower.
The gun was discharged in the air with a resounding report and flew
into the bushes.  The man lay still, gasping.  The dinner ended
abruptly and in great confusion.  Guests poured out of the windows,
tables were overturned.

Dan quickly dragged the prostrate man into a clump of mesquite.  His
first impulse had been to turn him over to the soldiers.  But the
defiant, if faint murmurs of the patriot, "Long live San Blanco; death
to Rodriguez!" bringing back to him his emotions of the morning, caused
him to decide differently.  He seized the man by the collar.

"Stand up," he said, "you are not hurt; only a bit winded.  I guess
Rodriguez has had enough heads without yours.  You thought you were
acting for your country's good; I guess you were, from all I hear."

The man had been looking at the speaker wonderingly, not understanding
a word.  Dan turned to him impatiently.

"Get out!" he said.  He pushed the man, searching his brain for the
Spanish equivalent.  "What the mischief--oh," he glared at the
trembling prisoner.  "_Vayase Vd!  Largo de aqui!_"

The poor wretch needed no more.  With a quick, smiling gleam of white
teeth he bowed, and the next instant was loping through the garden.
Dan sauntered slowly toward the hotel.  Soldiers acting upon
information given by Miss Howland were beating the grounds, and there
was much shouting and occasionally a pistol shot.

But the hotel was deserted of the brilliant guests who had filled it
but a quarter of an hour before.  The spell of darkness lay upon the
banquet hall.  A few men and women were loitering in the court,
awaiting developments.  Oddington was there, and another man of the
party, but the rest, including the Howlands, had evidently gone to
their rooms.

"Miss Howland told us you made rather an interesting tackle,
Merrithew," said Oddington as Dan nodded to him.  "I am sorry I missed
it.  Where is your prisoner?"

Dan smiled.  "The tackle was so artistic," he said, "that I jarred most
of my senses out of me.  He got away.  Here's his gun," and Dan held up
an old-fashioned carbine.

Oddington glanced at the weapon.

"Howland will be sorry you let your man escape, if only because he
prevented the carefully prepared speech he had been laboring over.  It
was pretty nervy of you, although Howland tells me they are all the
time potting at Rodriguez and missing him.  Still, I should think they
would give you the Order of San Blanco."

"I think I can struggle along without it," said Dan.  "Good-night."

He turned toward the harbor and the _Tampico_.  The moon had now broken
from the clouds which had partially hidden it all evening, and the
hotel grounds and the slope leading to the water front were bathed in
light.  Dan's mood was rather bitter.  They might have waited for him,
he thought.  At least, Miss Howland and her father might have, in view
of what had happened.  But still, why should they?  The old feeling of
aloofness filled him, and all the self-assurance which had
characterized his attitude with Miss Howland a half-hour before
vanished.  He was angry with himself for having dared to maintain such
an attitude.

He turned to look at the hotel and bowed gravely.

"It seems that one Daniel Merrithew has been forgetting he is a mere
steamship captain.  He will remember it in future--at all times."

And then he walked slowly to his ship.



CHAPTER X

THE WRAITH IN THE MOONLIGHT

Twenty-four hours later the _Tampico_ was at sea.  The itinerary proposed
by Mr. Howland had been altered for the reason that cable despatches from
New York had contained financial tidings that made it incumbent upon him
to return to the United States without more delay than was necessary; and
Ralph Oddington's firm had been retained by a corporation seeking
protection against assaults of the Attorney-General's office, and he was
wanted in the city at his "earliest convenience," which he had
interpreted as meaning "right away."

And so there was to be no stopping at various ports, but a quick run to
the States.  Mr. Howland imparted this information to Dan as the two sat
at table in the saloon over cigars and coffee the evening after the
departure from San Blanco.  The other members of the party had gone on
deck.

"They can do their sightseeing at Galveston and Savannah, where you can
call for your cotton and naval stores as usual."  As Dan raised his
eyebrows, Mr. Howland shook his head emphatically.  "Can't help it," he
said.  "You see by this despatch," pointing to a pile of papers on the
table, "that the _Tybee's_ out of commission for a month; and business is
business, party or no party.  And now, Merrithew," stuffing the papers
into his pocket as though all matters concerning them were finally
settled, "I want to ask you about something else.  Of course you're in
this Central American service here and will be for a time.  I've been
thinking what you said about the fighting the other morning." He lit a
cigar and pushed his case toward Dan.  "I gathered you did not exactly
approve of it.  Didn't you?"

"Mr. Howland," replied Dan, "it was not the fighting that bothered me, it
was the idea I had landed guns which your men were using to shoot down
other men like sheep.  It was a new sensation, and it got into me, I'll
say that.  Still it was none of my business; I was carrying out your
instructions.  I am sorry I was so unwise as to give you the impression I
did."

"Not at all."  Mr. Howland gazed at his cigar a moment, flicking the
ashes off with his little finger.  "Is that why you let the assassin go?"

Dan rose to the situation without hesitating.

"Mr. Howland, you were fishing when you asked that question.  You don't
have to do that.  I did let that chap go.  I believed he had attempted a
good job.  I saved Rodriguez's worthless life and took a risk in doing
it.  I would not have done so, but I thought the man was aiming at you;
but since I did, the only reward I was entitled to, or wanted, was to do
as I pleased with the man."

"Undoubtedly," said Mr. Howland.  "Of course it occurred to you that
Rodriguez's life, however worthless you hold it in other ways, might be
extremely valuable to the San Blanco Trading and Investment Company,
which is myself?"

"Yes, I did think of that," replied Dan, "although I am employed by the
Coastwise Company, I know you practically own both.  I realize, too, your
kindness to me in the past; but I did look on the fellow as a man
honestly trying to serve his country; and when it came to deliver him up
to be hanged--why I simply could not do it."  Dan rose slowly.  "I showed
myself ungrateful to your interests.  As I say, I appreciate what you
have done.  I am going to show that I do by asking you to consider my
resignation in your hands to act upon as soon--whenever you please."

"Sit down, Captain Merrithew," said Mr. Howland, as though he had not
heard the last words.  "In the first place, you recognize that where
there is no law and order legitimate business cannot be carried on.
Where a country is governed in a haphazard manner, while it may be easy
to secure contracts, it is impossible to collect on them.  Business
interests having connections with such countries find conditions
intolerable, and where we can we rectify them.  If you have studied San
Blancan affairs you know that under Rodriguez (who, despite his cruelty,
is honest) business here, whether controlled by myself or any one else,
may for the first time in history be conducted on an honest and reliable
basis.  That is all I ask or have asked.  I have no benefit of
discriminating duties.  I am largely interested in the business affairs
of this country; but I obtained those interests fairly, and it is my duty
to myself and my daughter and my business associates to maintain and
develop them.

"I talk to you this way, Merrithew, because I have felt you were going
wrong, and I wanted to set you right.  I'll say frankly I know I'll not
lose anything in so doing.  I owe you a great deal.  I am glad I do; for
I like your sort.  I wish I had a boy growing up as you have grown.  You
have a future before you--if you will only watch that damned hot head of
yours."

Much that Mr. Howland had said in regard to the disinterested nature of
his business activities was true; some things involved tactical evasion.
In expressing his attitude toward Dan he was sincere.  The Captain did
not attempt to analyze.  He was completely won, just as Mr. Howland
wanted him to be.  As he essayed to speak, Mr. Howland placed his hand on
Dan's shoulder.

"Now, not a word, Merrithew.  We'll forget it all and start fresh."

In the days of the voyage that followed, while it might not have been
said that Virginia Howland snubbed Dan, neither could it have been said
she was not at pains to see that she was never alone with him.

In fact, the attitude of either in relation to the other might in no way
have been termed receptive.  So far as Dan was concerned, he felt that,
whether unwisely or not, he had made quite clear to her the terms upon
which their friendship could continue; she had expressed her views no
less clearly.  The stand of both was irrevocable.

The second day out, feeling it to be his duty, he made tentative advances
which, if not directly declined, at least left him the impression he had
been gently and skilfully rebuffed.  Since then he had been careful not
to place himself again in a similar position.

At the table she would address him in the line of general conversation,
and was at pains to greet him cordially whenever they met about the ship.
But otherwise she left no doubt as to her wishes concerning him.  Once
she came into the saloon for breakfast before the rest of the party had
taken their places.  Dan was in his accustomed seat at the head of the
table; he arose and wished her good-morning.  She replied faintly, and
then she sat toying idly with her rusk, her eyes for the most part
fastened upon Dan, who had resumed his breakfast as though oblivious of
her presence.  She seemed trying to make up her mind to speak; but she
failed.  When Dan arose, bowed slightly, and left the saloon, she was
still sitting silent with her breakfast untasted.

At Galveston Oddington left for New York by train, but Mr. Howland,
receiving more assuring despatches, decided to remain with the party.
They crammed cotton into the _Tampico's_ holds, and later at Savannah
they put pine-tar and pitch and other naval supplies aboard; thereby
increasing Dan's responsibilities a hundredfold.  But business was
business, as Mr. Howland had said; and Dan had but to accept his worries
and keep them from the party, which had fared well at the hands of
friends in the two ports.

The _Tampico_ left Savannah one afternoon about an hour after a trim
Savannah liner had dropped down the river.  At dinner that night the
merriment was supreme, for in four days the _Tampico_ would be in New
York, and the Howlands' guests had had about all the excitement and salt
air they wanted.  The air was soft; there was brilliant starlight.

Dan had spent most of the evening on the bridge, Mr. Howland having
requested him to make up the coast well out to sea in order to give the
party a "final soaking" of real ocean air.  He had not complied
absolutely.  Still, the Tampico was a good ninety miles off shore, well
outside the track of south-bound vessels.

Shortly after nine o'clock he left the bridge and walked along the deck.
The party was breaking up.  Miss Howland had sauntered away from the
group, and was leaning over the rail with her chin resting on her hands.

"Good-evening, Miss Howland," said Dan, pausing.

Virginia looked up quickly, and then resumed her former position.

"I don't know whether I ought to be nice to you or not, Captain
Merrithew," she said.

Something in her voice gave Dan encouragement to make his reply.

"Won't you please try to be?  In less than four days now you will be
ashore--and then you'll probably never have any more opportunities."

The girl settled her chin more deeply into her palms.

"But _you_ have not been nice.  You have been horrid, ever since we left
San Blanco."

Here was a phase of feminine character which Dan, not knowing, had not
reckoned upon.  However, he instinctively said the tactful thing.

"I--I am sorry.  I thought I was pleasing you."

The girl slowly dragged her chin sidewise along her palms until she faced
the Captain.

"Oh, you did!  Has your experience with women taught you that is the best
way to please them?"

Dan, now completely at sea, simply regarded her in silence.  Virginia,
inwardly triumphant, smiled.

"Now what can you do in four days to atone?"

"I might jump overboard."

"That would be romantic, but hardly--"

As the girl was speaking she turned her eyes to the water rushing past
the hull, just as a dull, wallowing shape flashed by the bow, assuming
form right under her eyes--a dark, soughing, coughing derelict, moving in
the waves spinelessly, like a serpent; black, slimy, repulsive, with
broken, hemp-littered masts and rusty chains clanking over the bow.

"Oh!"  Virginia jumped back with a startled cry and looked fearfully at
her companion.  He was smiling, and intuitively she recognized that it
was not a smile of amusement, but of sympathy, reassurance.

"Oh, wasn't it horrid!"

"Yes, it was not a pretty sight," replied Dan.  "Derelicts never are.
There are lots of them around here; they travel in currents, sometimes in
short orbits, sometimes hundreds of miles in a straight line."

The terror had not left her eyes, and she glanced astern to where the
ugly shape was burying itself in the gloom.  She was an impressionable
girl, and that loathsome object, rising as it were out of the bottom of
the deep, clanking, sighing, brought to her an epitome of all the fear
and mystery of the great, dark, silent waste.  And she looked at the
Captain with new interest.  Here was one of the men who brave these
things, who brave great big problems, who face the unknown and a future
as full of mystery, as fraught with evil possibilities as when the first
mariner put out to the Beyond in a boat hollowed from a tree.  In a flash
that derelict taught her to read Dan better; gave her a better insight
into the look that she sometimes caught in his steely, inscrutable eyes,
and the grave lines in his sun-bronzed face.  And in the light of this
knowledge her soul went out to this man, this type of man, so strange, so
utterly foreign to a girl brought up in an environment where such types
do not exist.

She held out her hand.

"I am going to my stateroom now, Captain.  Good-night.  We are going to
be better friends, aren't we?"

"Thank you," said Dan; and he watched her tall, white form as it
disappeared down the deck.  He gazed moodily out at the dark horizon.
Friends!  He searched himself thoroughly, and he could not deny the truth
as formulated in his mind.  Friends!  How hollow the word sounded!  He
knew how hollow it would seem all through his life.

Better it should be nothing.  Yes, far better, instinct told him that.
Miss Howland had come into his existence, radiant, pure, beautiful, and
so utterly feminine; as a meteor flashing across the night pauses for a
brief instant in the sky before shivering to nothingness.  This simile
occurred to Dan, who, though no poet, was at least a sailor and as such a
student of the heavenly bodies.  Yes, a meteor which had illumined his
life.

He had never permitted himself to think in this way before.  It is
doubtful if before to-night he could have felt as he now did.  It had all
come over him suddenly with a rush.  When he talked with her at the hotel
in San Blanco he was filled with thoughts of his future, and assumed as
granted his footing upon her plane.  How absurd, how ridiculous this
seemed now!

Why, why was it, he asked himself, that society or convention or whatever
it was had drawn the grim _chevaux de frise_ between those who had
accomplished, or whose forebears had accomplished for them, and those who
were yet to accomplish; with hosts eager to applaud the achievements of
finality, but who had no adequate encouragement for those who had yet to
achieve their mission, who fought their battles in the dark and won them
in the glorious light, or losing, sank back into that oblivion out of
which they had striven to emerge?

If fate had been different--yet if fate had been different he would never
have seen her, perhaps.  Yes, he should be satisfied; he had seen his
star.  And when it faded, as fade it must, in the vastness of the
dark--why, what then?  Well, at least he had seen his star; even this
much is denied many.  So, he would live it out and be thankful he had
been permitted to feel the great thrill--to know that at least he had the
heart for the greatest passion the world knows.  Poor consolation, he
told himself with a grim smile.  And yet he who hitches his chariot to a
star might well be content with less.



CHAPTER XI

THE BURNING OF THE "TAMPICO"

Just an hour later the _Tampico_ lay burning at a point in the Atlantic
where if the white lights of Cape Fear and Cape Lookout had converged
ninety-two miles farther out to sea they would have rested full on the
reeking hull.

Dan had been fearful of the results of Mr. Howland's policy in loading
the _Tampico_ with inflammable cargo.  He had been reared with the fear
of fire in his heart.  From one of his voyages his grandfather, Daniel
Merrithew, had never returned.  A charred name board had told the grim
tale, and so Dan had gone out into the world with a long, red, flaming
line across his fate, as in knightly days a man might have included the
bar sinister or some other portentous device among his symbols of
heraldry.

Pacing the forward deck with his pipe, thinking deeply of his talk with
Virginia, Dan had seen pitch bubbling out of the deck seams and
spilling into rich black pools.  And thus the fire was discovered--some
fifteen minutes too late, however, to effect the rescue of several of
the crew, who shrieked and pounded at the bulkhead door, warped and
welded tight by the heat; shrieked and pounded, until the throttling
smoke bade them hold their peace.

First, Dan had the vessel swung about with her stern to the wind, the
fire being forward; and the crew had piled up on deck and rushed
without confusion or undue noise to their various stations.  Some
unscrewed deck valves over the burning hold, fastening thereto the ends
of seven-inch rubber hose; while below, the engine-room staff, with
soldierly precision, attached the other ends to the boilers and stood
like statues until a signal gong sounded through the black depth.
Whereupon they handled certain valves, and with a hissing scream great
volumes of hot vapor poured into the blazing compartment.  On deck
other seamen dragged lengths of hose forward, forced the nozzles
through narrow deck-vents, and held them there while the force pump
sent up thousands of gallons of brine.

Dan, ubiquitous, cheerful, commanding, lending a hand to one set of
men, directing another, came upon a station two short of its quota.

"Where are Phillips and Fagan?" asked Dan, sharply.

"They bunked in the steerage," replied a sailor, choking in the smoke
weltering up through the hose vent.

The young Captain's breath caught; but there was no time for sentiment.
He inspected the vessel, bow and stern, marshalled the members of the
Howland party into the saloon and bade them stay there until otherwise
ordered, and then went up to his men and fought with them.  An hour
passed, and twenty more minutes.  The lurid tinge to the smoke,
bellying up through the deck-vents, gave sharp hint of the undiminished
fury of the flames raging below.

"It's like pouring in oil," muttered Dan to himself; and then he added
aloud, "Keep right to it, men, you're holding it," and thus saying he
left them and ran aft to where the second mate and the reserve section
of eight men were growling impatiently.

"Take up your hose, men, and come with me down into hold No. 2.  The
fire's going to clean out No. 1 to the skin, sure.  We'll have to keep
it from breaking through to the other holds.  Come on!  Hurry!"

Without a word the men picked up the three lengths of emergency hose
and followed their Captain.  As Dan ran along the deck, leading the way
to the hatch, he heard his name called, and looking up quickly, saw Mr.
Howland and Virginia approaching.  The girl's hair was flying loose and
she had a long blue coat thrown over her shoulders.  The deck was
filled with heavy smoke.

"Captain," said the shipping magnate, "how are we now?"

Dan paused just an instant.

"Fighting hard," he replied, and then he added quickly, "Mr. Howland,
we need men.  Two of the crew are gone.  Ask some of the men of your
party, please, to go forward and report to Mr. Jackson.  And you, Miss
Howland, go into the saloon right away--and stay there.  Tell the
others that if they appear on deck before I give the word I shall have
them locked in."

The girl obeyed silently, but Mr. Howland paused irresolutely a second,
in which time Dan had turned and was hastening after his men.

"I will do as you say," Mr. Howland called after the retreating form of
the Captain, "but I want to talk to you first."

"All right, sir, come on then.  You'll have to talk to me down in the
hold, I'm afraid."

The second mate and his men had in the meantime pried the battens from
the hatch and thrown it open.  The hold was about half full of cotton
bales, railroad ties, oakum, resin, and the like, and they descended to
them by means of a scaling ladder, clambering thence toward the forward
bulkhead.  One of the men had a lantern which cast a pallid glow about
the immediate vicinity, bringing into vague relief the well-ordered
masses of cargo, and ending suddenly against a hard wall of dark as
palpable as a barrier of stone.  The air was heavy with musty sweetness
and with yellow smoke which streaked lazily past the lantern globe--and
with silence, save for the dull roar in the adjoining hold.

"Make a stand right here," and Dan's voice sounded hollow through the
gloom.  "Stand right here.  You've got water in your hose; I want that
bulkhead kept soaked.  Let her go."

As the streams of water plunged against the steel wall Dan turned to
his employer.

"You wanted to speak to me, Mr. Howland?"

"Yes, I want to compliment you on your discipline and--and what is the
exact situation?"

"Not so good; but a working chance.  It will be a short and sharp go;
for the hold's lined with tar and sugar reek--otherwise the cotton
might go for days.  It won't in that hold, though.  The fight'll be
right here.  If it breaks through into this we've got to run; if not,
it will burn out where it is."

"What are the chances that it won't?"

"Why, you know more about the structural strength of this boat than I
do.  To be honest, I never liked your bulkheads, else I would have
opened a stop-cock and flooded the hold long ago.  Still, what water
would burst through, fire might not."

Horace Howland, who had paid his own price for the _Tampico_, and who
by the same token had his own opinion of her, said nothing.

"I have arranged about the boats," resumed Dan.  "If the worst comes,
my men know what to do and they are the men to do it.  It's not too
rough to launch safely.  Now, Mr. Howland, I've wasted too much time
talking.  Don't forget to send two men to Mr. Jackson," and he sprang
up the ladder and hurried forward.

The feet of the men at work over the burning hold were blistering.  Dan
yanked out an inch hose and set a cabin boy to sluicing the deck where
they stood, sending up dense clouds of enveloping steam.  A broad
tongue of blue flame curled out of the port hawse-hole, licked along
the half-protruding anchor, rose above the rail, and then burst into a
puff of red fire which floated away in the wind.  A cargo port door
warped in the heat, buckled outward, tearing plates and rivets with a
rasping screech, and dropped hissing into the black waters; and the
wind, blowing from astern, was sucked into the opening, fanning the
flames to screaming ferocity.

The tale was plain for every one, and Dan read it to the last word.
Water would be of more service elsewhere, that was certain.  So he
withdrew the four crews from their hose vents, ordered two of them to
take their lines into the second hold, and set the others flooding the
deck.  He shifted two of his seven-inch steam lines to the midship
plugs, and then followed the hose men, who had joined their comrades in
the darkness of the second hold.  Streams of water were hissing against
the steel barrier and flying back at the faces of the nozzle men in hot
spray.

"There's a bulge in the centre," reported the second officer.

"Yes," said Dan, who seized a lantern and held it above his head,
pointing out new objective marks for the water.  The smoke had grown
thicker.  One man gagged at a nozzle; but drinking from the pipe the
air which the water brought, he lowered his head and fought on.

They fought as men should fight, in the pungent half-gloom, colliding
or falling prone as the vessel pitched, eyes fixed straight ahead,
following the powerful silver lines of water which ribbed the dark and
splashed against the steaming steel; white-yellow smoke spirals writhed
about their heads like some grotesque saraband; coatless, shirtless,
their streaked, sweating bodies gleamed dull and ghastly.

One of them straightened from the nozzle and glared at his side
partner; and Dan, whose eyes were everywhere, saw him and moved close
to him, where his fist could do best work if necessary.  Any sign of
mutiny now called for decided measures.

"Say, Mike," said the man in a rich brogue, "give us a hunk o' yer
'bacca--this makes the mout' dry"; and Dan chuckled his admiration for
the fighting spirit of the Irish.

Once a tiny lance of flame leaped out through some hidden
crevice--leaped far out at the men as a rifle spits its deadly fire,
and then, curling about a sugar sack like a serpent's tongue, withdrew
so suddenly, so silently, that it seemed to those who saw it as
something which had flashed through their imaginations.  A stream of
water sought the outlet and the flame came no more then.

Suddenly a cry came from one of the men, and all eyes turned to a point
in the bulkhead where a hectic flush glowed like a death's head.  Four
streams struck it simultaneously.  It went out, but reappeared in
another place.  The water quenched this also, but it came back again
and widened, and the plunging water was dried to mist at the instant of
contact.  The glow grew brighter, then dim, and then brighter, rising
and falling as life pulses in a fevered body.  A flood of smoke choked
in from a viewless breach.  Two of the men cried out, gurgled, fell on
their faces, and turned over on their backs, struggling; then they lay
still.  Dan carried them to the deck, and returned with a sailor.  The
two had just gained the sugar sacks when the centre bulkhead quivered.
A cross section collapsed into a V.  A score of rivet holes yawned wide
and red-hot bolts fell on the sacks and set them on fire.  A line of
plating, separating from its fellows, sagged open in a red grin and
gave view of the raging hell within.

"Now, into it, boys!" yelled Dan, and the men, bowing their heads,
advanced five feet, directing the streams into the fiery pit.  For a
minute the flames were driven back by the concentrated rush of water;
two minutes, and then a gush of fire flared through the break.  It
broke as a stream hit it, but its ghost, in the guise of hot gases,
choked the men.

A great roar of flame almost enveloped them, and the heat crisped their
hair and seared their bodies, and they dropped their hose and raced for
the ladder.

"Go on, men!" shouted Dan as they struggled out of the hold.  "You've
done all I can ask.  Hurry!  Get out!" and they got out and then turned
to batten the hatch cover down.  But the rush of fire was too swift to
be denied.  A thick-bodied pillar choked through the opening and
spouted to the top of the funnel--great gouts of the devouring element
pulsed softly, but with lightning swiftness, down the deck, and
shrivelled a life raft.  Long tongues and jets of fire were bursting
everywhere out of the forward deck.

It had come at last, just as Dan had seen it coming all through the
night--all through the years.  His voice roared from the bridge:

"To the boats--every man to his station!"

The command was taken up and carried along, and noiseless shapes limned
briefly in the fire glow, scuttled quickly to their appointed places.
Mr. Howland and his party stumbled out of the saloon with blanched
faces and parted lips, but quietly.

"Women to the rail!"  The cry echoed out over the sea,--over the sea,
which has heard these chivalrous words so often.

"Women first--women to the rail!"  Dan's cry was taken up by the
officers.  Silent figures in trailing garments moved as they were bid.

From the port quarter a gruff voice sounded.

"Ready, men--ease away."  Came the creak of tackle, the thud of iron
upon steel--then a silence--then a rattle of oars in thole-pins--then a
clear hail from the darkness: "All's well, Captain Merrithew!"

Another boat clattered down the steel sides and cleared safely, and
still another.  The last boat was filling with the last of the crew.

"Everybody accounted for?" Dan's shout as he rushed down from the
curling bridge brought Mr. Howland up with a sudden fear.  He had taken
his daughter to the starboard boat only to find it full, and had sent
her across to the third boat, while he superintended the adjustment of
a wedged block.  This done, he had hurried to the starboard, only to
find the third boat overboard and well away.  He had assumed that she
was all right.  But a cold rush of doubt assailed him.

"Virginia, Virginia--are you all right?" he called in tones of agony.

"I saw her at the third boat," said the first officer.  "You must look
alive, Mr. Howland--we'll have to lower directly the Captain comes.
The deck's going now."

The ship-owner heard these words with a sigh of relief and stepped into
the boat without further ado.

"Every one accounted for?" repeated Dan as he dashed along deck to the
boat.

Something, a faint suggestion of sound rather than sound itself caused
him to pause.  He heard nothing more, though he listened for a full
minute.  Instinctively he turned to a stateroom in the midship
deck-house.

"Captain Merrithew--are--you--coming?" The first officer's voice arose
in impatient cadence.

"Yes--hold there a minute!" replied Dan, twisting the knob of the door.
It was locked.  He ran back a few paces and sprang at it with his
shoulder.  It trembled and gave.  He rushed again and the door crashed
inward.  The room was filling with smoke.

And on the bunk sat Virginia, her hands on her knees, her head hanging
low and swaying dazedly from side to side.  She was on the verge of
collapse; but she looked up and smiled faintly as Dan burst in.  Then
her head fell again.

"I knew you would come," she muttered.

Without a word Dan seized her by the arm and led her swiftly to the
shattered door.  As they reached the threshold there came a dull boom
from below--the vessel shivered.  A sheet of flame swept the entire
forward deck, and Dan looked out into a red, pulsing wall.

In terror the men in the fourth and last boat, the fire licking their
faces, let go the falls, and the little craft struck the water with a
crash, but on an even keel.

Knowing he could not reach the boat even were it still on the davits,
Dan left the stateroom and half led, half carried the girl toward the
stern.

The forward deck was now a seething inferno.  The foremast, a pillar of
thin name, flickered like a pennon of gold until it broke in the middle
and sent up a shower of sparks.  The shrouds and ratlines which went
with it had barred the black heavens with ruddy lines.  From all the
openings dull red clouds rolled and bellied skyward, cloud upon cloud;
the funnel spouted like a blast furnace.

But the vessel slowly, but very surely, was falling off the wind; it
would soon blow astern.  The shelter of the after deck-house would
serve for a while, perhaps until some vessel, attracted by the terrible
light, would bring them succor.  Dan placed the girl behind this steel
structure and then, running to the taffrail, leaned far out and called
to the boats.  But the roar of the flames drowned his cries, and the
boats, which had moved out to windward, could not see him.  Foot by
foot crept the fire; but the stiff wind which finally came over the
stern did its work well, and the red avalanche began to slant toward
the bow.  This meant respite.  But he knew that at the very best it
could be only a respite, and short at that.

Again and again and again he called for the boats, until his voice grew
husky and faint.  Then, hopeless of aid from his men, he returned to
the girl.  She was exactly where he had left her, slightly crouching as
though to shut from her eyes the fearful red light.

The wind rush had revived her smoke-dimmed senses.  When she was
approaching the star-board boat to which her father had directed her
she had lost her head, as persons will do in time of fire, and had
wandered mechanically, unconsciously, to her cabin and locked herself
in.  But she was not frightened now.  There was that in Dan which she
trusted.  She looked at him strangely and smiled.  She caressed him
with her eyes, trusting in, hanging upon, the strength of a man who
possessed in divine measure all of man's strength.

A half-hour they crouched together, until the steel walls of their
shelter burned to the touch, until the flames licked up over the
forward end, ran over the roof, and looked down upon them.  But still
they remained as they were, while the _Tampico_ circled again and
brought the wind in their faces, which they drank greedily.

There came a time when the fire hissed constantly on the
deck-house--when, indeed, flames plunged around it and touched the two
figures.  Swiftly Dan reached out his arm and encircled the waist of
his companion and drew her to the taffrail.

Four feet below the gilded name on the stern was a six-inch ledge.  He
lifted the girl as he would a child and placed her on this ledge,
bidding her hold to the rail.  Then he passed a section of small chain
about a stanchion, allowing the end to hang over.  If the rail became
too hot for their hands they could hold by the chain.

As Dan joined Virginia on the ledge the vessel slued around, bringing
the wind full over the bow.  With a roaring shout of exultation the
fire bridged the last gap, bursting clear over the stern.  It bit at
their hands; they withdrew them, supporting themselves by the swinging
chain.

The girl moaned.  Nearer drew the hot breath.  She felt Dan's arm
tighten about her waist.  It was like a curved bar of steel.  Looking
down, she saw the water racing below--she saw a wave leap up--she felt
it touch her foot with its feathery head, gently, beneficently, and yet
traitorously; for how quickly would it quench the lives that it seemed
to tempt from the flames!

"Put your face tight against my chest--put your hands over your nose
and mouth--quick!"

She obeyed upon the word and a thrill, not of pain, shot to Dan's
brain.  He could feel her, soft and trembling, against him, and her
warm hair brushed his cheek.  With an effort he choked back the
flooding emotion.  Was it fair, was it right to her--now?  But his arm
unconsciously tightened about her.

The red glow shone through the girl's closed eyelids--a great heat
scorched the back of her neck, and she felt a quiver in the body
shielding her; but the grip of the arm remained.  There came a blast of
God's merciful salt cold air, and she opened her eyes.  He was looking
down at her--and he saw what he saw.  For they were two souls hanging
together on the verge of eternity--alone; two souls with death all
about fusing them until they were as one.  She looked at him long.

"Are you hurt?" she asked.  The words sounded thick.

"No--a little.  It got my neck and ears.  The ship was yawing, though,
and that saved us.  It was like snapping your hand through a gas flame."

"I'm afraid," said the girl with a sob catching her voice.

"No--don't be afraid!  I'll save you--some way."

She opened her eyes and looked in his face again.

"My nobleman! my--"

"Don't!" cried Dan, interrupting her.  "You don't know what you are
saying.  It's so different now."  He well knew that impulses which
might move a woman in the arms of a man, no matter who, battling for
her life, might be for the moment only and lead to nothing but regret
and alarm afterwards.  How could it be otherwise with Virginia Howland?
The girl, as though she had not heard him, as though she had forgotten
the emotions which had swayed her, closed her eyes wearily and turned
her face away.

The ship was yawing again.  Tongues of flame reached hungrily for them,
licking above Dan's red-gold hair and his back, but never touching the
girl.  Then the swing of the vessel and the wind again; then the fire
and the torturing heat.  Once Dan saw his grandfather's vessel burning
as he had often pictured it in boyhood, and he trembled horribly for a
second, but only for a second; then he became rigid and smiled at the
apparition.  The girl had evidently fainted; she hung a dead weight
upon his arm.  Again the wind drove the flames far out over the stern.

There came a time when the fight for life was waged mechanically, when
all sense of thought vanished, and the carrying on of the struggle came
down to mere animal instinct.  At such times a brave man need not be
ashamed to die--the time has long elapsed when cravens perish.  But the
very brave, the physically as well as mentally brave, fight on to the
end, instinctively.  And so Dan fought.  He knew that Virginia Howland
hung on his arm--but the fire had gone from his ken; he was fighting
something, that was all he knew, or cared, since it was for her.  Once
the red sheet enveloped them for a flashing second, but the merciful
wind came to save.  It could not last long, though.  Dan's arm weakened
about the limp form of the girl.  He closed his eyes and ground his
teeth and brought new force to the encircling arm.  He glared down at
the mass of soft hair scattering over his breast; he thought of that
beautiful life and quite impersonally asked himself if all this beauty
must die.  Where would all the beauty of the world be then?  This
question ran deliriously through his mind.  Eh! where would it all be?
If they died together, would they wake together?  And the flames came
again.

But as they swooped down with redoubled fury he saw almost
subconsciously a great tangled litter of wreckage passing beneath him.
He uttered a little cry, and with the girl still in his arm he dropped
from the ledge.  With a sigh of relief he felt the cooling, revivifying
water, and the sharp, cold taste of brine in his mouth was like the
touch of a new life.

Instinctively he had put his free arm around a section of cargo boom,
with a grating caught in the twisted gear.  Upon this he pushed and
lifted the half-unconscious girl.  Then he clambered astride the boom.
Thus they drifted, while Dan, his mind slowly clearing, struggled
pitifully for full possession of his faculties.  He had a dull sense of
pain, but the one dominant idea was the girl.  Leaning slightly over,
he twisted his hand in the folds of her dress lest she slip into the
waters.  The stars were paling; on the horizon were the first vague
hints of dawn.  He gazed at the faint gray curtain with interest.  It
was a dawn he had not expected to see, he told himself.

Then, as he looked, a shape arose before his eye out of the gloom.  Dan
watched it with dumb fascination.  Suddenly a realizing sense of the
nature of the apparition shot through his mind.  A vessel--God!  Dan's
voice raised in a long, hoarse cry for assistance.  But there was no
answer.  Yet the craft was bearing toward them, not a hundred yards
away, silently as a ship of the dead.  Dan cried again, rising on his
rolling perch.  But the hail died on his lips.  He could see now.  It
_was_ a ship of the dead.  It was the derelict they had viewed from the
fancied security of the _Tampico's_ deck, a few short hours before.  An
imprecation trembled upon Dan's lips.  For the last half-hour Virginia,
who had crawled to a kneeling posture, had been watching Dan with
unlighted eyes.  Now as he turned to her and pointed at the slowly
advancing vessel, she nodded slowly, as though comprehending his
meaning, and stretched out her arms to him.

Softly, quietly the bow of the hulk slid up and nuzzled gently among
the wreckage.  Quickly Dan secured the litter to the bow by twisting a
length of wire cable through the rusty green fore-chains of the
derelict.  Then gaining a footing in the mess of gear, he assisted the
girl to her feet on the tottering grating, and placed her hand on the
chains.

"Hold here tight," he said.  She nodded, and Dan looked about for the
easiest way to the deck.  It was not difficult to find.  The end of the
jib-boom had dropped into the water, making an easy incline, and the
foremast had also fallen over the bow and was directly alongside.  Both
were covered with sections of canvas and a maze of gear and rigging.

Dan clambered up, and then, lying flat across the bowsprit and the
mast, he put his arms under the girl's shoulders and literally pulled
her to his side.  Hand in hand they slowly worked their way up among
the wreckage to the deck.

And there with the dawn beginning to glow rosily far on the eastern rim
of the slaty waste the girl sighed and sank to her knees; and Dan, his
head reeling with sleep and exhaustion, sank also.  When the darkness
had all gone and the sun had cleared the horizon, the first level rays
flooded the sullen deck of a gray-green hulk, sodden, desolate, and
fell upon the faces of a man and woman sleeping, her head resting on
his shoulder, strands of her dark hair lying across his face.



CHAPTER XII

ALONE IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE

As the sun rose higher still they slept.  The genial rays flowed over
them, drying their wet, clinging garments, filling their stiffened
frames with languorous warmth.

Finally the girl sighed and smiled.  Half waking now, she thought she
was at home in her own bed.  The sunlight always awakened her there.
She wondered if it was time for her maid to enter.  She hoped not; it
was so comfortable, and she was, oh, so sleepy!  She turned on her
side.  Then suddenly she started.  Certainly she was lying on nothing
that would remotely suggest a bed.  Sleepily she tried to open her
eyes, but the long lashes were glued together by the heavy salt water.

Arousing still further, she rubbed them open.  And then as a heaving,
littered deck, with patches of blue sea showing through the shattered
rail bore upon her vision, a realizing sense of the situation and the
tragic events leading to it came to her.

For a moment she lay still, shuddering.  Her head still rested upon
Dan's arm.  She knew it, but she was afraid to arise.  Somehow that arm
seemed the only thing which assured her she was in a living world.
Even in the brilliant morning sunlight the vessel, soughing, creaking,
groaning, as it moved slouchily over the waters impressed her as the
shape of terror.  From the deck little mist spirals arose like spirits
of the men who had deserted the ship.  And hovering all about was the
gray, sordid reek of desolation, eerie, awe-inspiring.

And yet the Captain must not find her thus.  Slowly she withdrew her
head.  She hated to awaken him.  Yet she felt she must hear his voice,
for the all-pervading loneliness was unbearable.  She sat up and shook
him gently by the shoulder.  It was as though she had applied an
electric shock.  With a muffled exclamation he lifted himself by his
elbow, and the next instant he was on his feet.

"Miss Howland!" he exclaimed.  The sound of his voice echoed hollow
along the deck, but it was the most joyous sound Virginia had ever
heard.  Leaning down, he assisted her to her feet.  Their eyes met, and
they gazed at each other, wondering, uncertain.  Alone of all the
world, these two, in the midst of a vast, lonely domain where hidden
terrors lurk, where elements unharness their might and work their harm
unchecked, where wind and wave whisper of murderous deeds, where the
rime of dead ages is still fresh.  It was all too big for minds to
encompass, for their senses to grasp.

A great sob shook the girl.

"Will--will you please go away--a moment?  I think I am going to cry,"
she stammered.  She turned from him hurriedly and walked toward the
rail.  She tottered as though about to fall.  Dan sprang to her side
and placed his hand lightly on her arm.  The touch seemed to strengthen
her.  With a convulsive effort she gained control of herself, and as
Dan's hand dropped to his side she looked at him with a quivering smile.

"I am going to be brave.  I am not going to cry.  Captain, tell me, is
my father safe, and my aunt--and the rest?"

"There is not the slightest question about that," replied Dan.  "They
got overboard smartly.  The lifeboats were steel, well manned and
supplied with provisions for a week.  If they weren't picked up last
night by some steamship attracted by the fire, they will be within a
short time."  The girl regarded him closely, as though trying to
determine whether he was speaking from conviction or merely to
dissipate her fears.  Interpreting her expression, Dan shook his head
impatiently.

"I am sincere, Miss Howland.  I have no more doubt of the safety of
your father and the others than I have that I am alive.  The sea has
been comparatively smooth, the weather clear.  Our situation is the one
to bother about."

"But some steamship will surely see us."

"I hope so, but remember we are on a derelict.  Where we are, or where
we are going heaven only knows.  Sometimes--there is no sense in trying
to avoid the truth--derelicts go for weeks and even months without
being sighted.  Still, I don't think we shall.  At night we'll have our
distress lights.  We shall come out all right.  In the meantime we may
not even have to be uncomfortable.  Usually when men desert these
schooners they go in a hurry, leaving almost everything behind.  I am
going to investigate affairs.  Will you come?  You may never have
another opportunity of this sort."

Dan's voice, at first grave, had gradually assumed a lighter tone, and
at the humorous allusion in the last sentence she smiled.  Virginia was
a sensible girl, but it must be confessed that her position alone with
a man on a derelict in the middle of nowhere would have dazed a woman
who held even broader views of the ordinary conventions than she did.

As for the Captain, he evidently intended to accept the inevitable in a
matter-of-fact, common-sense way.  There was nothing for her but to do
likewise.  That he would be tactful and considerate in every way she
knew.  And he would save her too, in the end.  Something seemed to tell
her that.  She smiled at him bravely.

"I think it will be fun, Captain!  Lead on."

Their course aft was attended with difficulty.  All along the deck was
a thick mass of wreckage, broken casks, boxes, sections of spars,
tattered canvas, and enough wire rope and other gear, it seemed, to
encircle the world.  Amidships the hull sagged so that the deck was not
three feet above the water.

Ascending the slight incline, Dan led the way to the entrance to the
after cabin, containing four rooms--two on either side of a corridor.
The cabins were just below the level of the deck but were not flooded.

"Now," said Dan with his hand on the knob of the door at his right, "we
will pay the Captain a visit."

The bunk was mussed as though the skipper had left it hastily, but
otherwise the apartment was in good order.  There was a little oaken
desk containing a dictionary, several books on navigation, and writing
appurtenances.  In the middle, on a piece of blotting-paper, was an
overturned inkstand with a pen still in it.  Along the top were several
photographs of home scenes, probably New England, and a picture of a
rather comely young woman.

"And here's a woman's hat," cried Virginia, picking from a corner a
rather garishly trimmed creation.

Dan paused and looked at it.

"That's good," he said.  "His wife was evidently aboard."  He opened a
door leading into the next cabin.  "This was her room undoubtedly," he
said.

The girl peered in with a delighted expression.

"Why, of course."  Her eyes took a quick inventory.  An ornate if cheap
dressing-table!  Four waists on coat hangers!  Four skirts, beautifully
hung!  And what a litter of brushes and things on the floor!  She
turned to Dan, who had not entered, but was standing in the doorway,
smiling.  "It must have been perfectly maddening for the good lady of
the ship to leave all this behind."  She walked to the dressing-table
and peered into the mirror.  It must be said she saw a girl whom under
other circumstances she would hardly have recognized.  Her heavy hair
was dishevelled.  Her long, blue broadcloth ulster was stained with
salt water and altogether out of shape.  A great black smudge ran along
her cheek, and on her chin was a deep red scratch.

She looked at Dan from out the mirror, blushing.

"I am afraid I should compare rather unfavorably with the Captain's
lady.  I think, first of all, I shall sit right down and do my hair.
But no--of course not now."  She opened her eyes wide.

"Oh, yes, you can," laughed Dan.  "I am going to leave you now and look
about the ship."

"Oh, no, you're not," exclaimed the girl; "you're not to leave me alone
on this horrid ship just yet.  The hair can wait.  I'll go with you.
If everything is as nice as this cabin I shall feel quite at home."

The cabin opposite the Captain's had been the mate's, and behind it was
the mess cabin.  Here the greater part of crockery and glass was
shattered on the floor.  An overturned bird-cage with a dead canary in
it lay under the table.

"Well," said Dan, "we ought to be comfortable.  Now, Miss Howland, I
think you ought to go to your cabin and get off those damp skirts.  I
have got to take a look at the cargo, see what plans I can make to
render us something else than a log on the sea, and nose about in the
galley."  He started.  "By George!  I had forgotten about food.  That's
rather important."  He hastily left the cabin and started down the
corridor, with the girl's warning not to be long following him.

First he stopped in the carpenter's room and secured the very thing he
was looking for,--an axe.  With this he broke down the door of the
storeroom, which, as he had expected, was locked.  There were a barrel
of flour, tins of beef and of soups and vegetables, condensed milk, and
a number of preserve jars filled with coffee.

Taking one of the jars in which he saw the coffee was ground he poured
out a cupful and drew some water from a cask.  Then going into the
galley, he dug up a coffee-pot from the mass of cooking utensils which
covered the floor, and proceeded to light a fire in the range.  It was
soon roaring, and Dan had just mixed the coffee and water when Virginia
appeared at the door.

For an instant Dan hardly recognized the girl in her trim blue skirt,
white sailor waist, open at the throat, and a red leather belt with a
great brass buckle.

"You have done well," he said at length.  "I had no idea you would be
so fortunate."

"Yes, everything fits pretty well," laughed the girl, "except that the
skirt is a trifle short, but of course that doesn't matter here.
That's not the point, though."  She gazed at him sternly.  "Who gave
you permission to come in here and cook?"

As Dan looked at her in amazement she continued:

"Now see here, Captain Merrithew, we might just as well face our
situation.  This is no time for observance of the minor conventions or
gallantry.  We are shipwrecked.  We are nothing more nor less than two
human beings cast away on a derelict.  You are to regard me, not as
Virginia Howland, helpless, dependent, to be waited upon and watched
over, but as you would Ralph Oddington or any one else were he in my
place--as an assistant in the common cause of safety.  I am going to
help you in every way I can, and I am going to begin by establishing
myself as cook of this party from now on.  Please don't imagine I can't
cook.  I attended a French culinary school for two seasons.  And now--"
she stepped into the galley and seized Dan by the sleeve, drawing him
gently toward the door--"won't you please go so that I shall have elbow
room--this is such a tiny box of a place.  Please!"

Dan hesitated no longer.  Seizing his axe he left the galley and went
forward.  The mainmast had snapped about six feet below the truck; of
the other two masts nothing was left but the stumps.  He chopped away
the wreckage hanging over the bow, including the bowsprit and
foretopmast, and had made good progress in clearing away the forward
deck when Virginia, standing in the doorway of the after cabin, called
him.

"Breakfast, Captain," she cried.  "Breakfast is served."

The girl was laughing excitedly as she led the way to the dining-cabin
and seated herself in front of a great, steaming nickel coffee-pot.
Blushing radiantly she pointed to the other chair.

"Sit down, Captain Merrithew."  But Dan protested.

"Now, really, Miss Howland," he laughed, "I can just as--"

"Captain," interrupted Virginia, sharply, "don't be a goose.  There--"
She began to pour the coffee.  "It isn't really much of a breakfast,"
she added; "I shall do much better for luncheon.  But, as it is--" she
inclined her head with mock unction as she handed him his cup.

Dan never forgot that breakfast.  It was one of those events which
linger in memory, every detail indelibly stamped, long after more
important pictures of the past have lost even a semblance of outline.

Sunlight flowed in through the portholes and rested on the red
tablecloth and the glittering steel cutlery.  For a centrepiece she had
a half shattered clay flower-pot containing a geranium plant which she
had picked up from the deck outside the woman's cabin.  It was droopy
and generally woebegone, but it served its purpose.  In front of Dan
was a heaping dish of toast artistically browned, and a generous glass
jar of marmalade.

And opposite, smiling at him, talking to him as though they had
breakfasted together for a number of years, was the most radiant girl
he had ever looked upon.  The simple costume was wonderfully effective.
The white, full throat and the curves of the neck running to the
shoulders were revealed by the low rolling collar, and the hair coiled
low shone with lustrous sheen.

[Illustration: Opposite, smiling at him, as though they had breakfasted
together for years, was the radiant girl.]

Despite Dan's fears as to the manner in which their tenancy of the
derelict might terminate, he abandoned himself to the sheer charm of it
all.  When he finally arose, ending a light, laughing conversation, the
girl regarded him seriously.

"Now, Captain," she said, "I want to ask you something, and you must
tell me truthfully.  You have examined this vessel, and you have
doubtless some idea as to what we are to do.  Tell me the exact
situation."

Dan looked her straight in the eye a moment, and the girl returned his
gaze unflinchingly.

"I am perfectly honest," she said; "I want you to be."

"Well," said Dan, "first of all I'll tell you what I am going to try to
do: I am going to try to sail this derelict into some port.  There is
enough of the mainmast standing to allow some sort of a sail, and we
can't be so terribly far from land.  Besides, this hold is filled with
logwood and mahogany.  Now this is a valuable cargo, worth at least
fifty thousand dollars.  The vessel herself isn't worth a great deal,
but still something.  Here is the point: if we take this vessel into
port alone we can claim fifty per cent salvage, and we'll get it, too.
That means that we shall net, through our little experience, some
twenty-five thousand dollars between us."

Virginia stepped toward him with a delighted exclamation.  Dan raised
his hand admonishingly.

"But," he continued, "we must first get the vessel into port.  Several
things may prevent this.  The chief preventive will be a storm.  If God
gives us good weather for three or four days that is all I ask.  If He
doesn't, then we--"

"Go on," said the girl.

"Then we must simply pray for small favors."

Virginia nodded gravely.

"I understand," she said.  "I trust you, Captain."  She looked at him
fixedly.  "Can you imagine how much I trust you?  I shall be strong and
brave and do exactly as you tell me."  She started forward suddenly.
"What have you under your coat sleeves?  Are your arms bandaged?" she
cried.  "And your neck, too?"

Dan laughed.

"It's nothing," he said.  "My hands and arms and the back of my neck
were pretty well scorched.  I dug some picric acid out of the Captain's
medicine chest and tied myself up a bit.  I am all right now.  The pain
has all disappeared."

The girl flushed.

"And you didn't ask me to help you?"

"There was absolutely no need.  Honestly, if I had needed to bother you
I should not have hesitated.  The flames did not touch me, you know,
just their hot breath; the bandages do not amount to anything."

"Well," replied Virginia, shaking her head, "I don't like it one bit.
If I can do anything to repay you, however slightly, for all you have
done for me, please give me the opportunity."

"I shall remember that," said Dan.



CHAPTER XIII

NIGHT ON THE DERELICT

When the sun that evening sank like a red ball behind the purple
horizon, Dan laid aside various implements and went aft with the
realization of a day well spent.  He had cleared the deck.  Using the
mainboom and a goodly section of the tattered canvas he had improvised
a capacious leg-of-mutton sail which flapped idly in the almost
motionless air.

He found Virginia seated in a camp lounging-chair, with a paper-covered
novel lying open face downward in her lap, gazing thoughtfully at the
dusk which seemed rolling toward them over the sea like a fog.

"It was a beautiful sunset," she said; "but now it has gone, the ocean
seems to have such a cruel, cold look.  And there are whispering voices
on the water."

She shivered slightly and looked at him half humorously.

"I know," said Dan.  "But the stars will be out to-night, and, later,
the moon."

"It will be dreary at best," replied Virginia.  "I think it would be
nice if there weren't going to be any night until we--until we--" she
paused.  "Oh, Captain, you think we--"  She stopped short and frowned.
"There," she said reproachfully, "I told you I was going to be brave.
I'm succeeding admirably!"

"You _are_ succeeding admirably," said Dan.  "Yes, I think we are going
to get out of this.  Of course we are.  In the meantime, pending
dinner, or supper, rather, I am going into my cabin to see if I can't
confiscate some of the Captain's clothes.  I feel as if I had been in
these for years.  And--" he hesitated.

"And what?" she asked.

"And if the Captain has left a razor, I am going to shave."

"Are you really?" laughed the girl.  "And while you are about it, won't
you please telephone for my hairdresser?"

With the dark came a light breeze--and the stars, which Dan hailed with
delight as giving him something to go by.  The breeze came over the
starboard beam, the sail filling nicely, and Dan, taking a stand by the
wheel, directed the derelict toward land.  He had lighted the red
starboard lamp--the port lamp was missing--and hung a lantern at the
head of the foremast.  Virginia sat beside him.

For an hour Dan had been absorbed in the business of manoeuvring his
sodden charge.  Waterlogged as she was it was no easy matter to swing
her out of the current and head her upon a course.  But at last he had
succeeded.  Having but one sail it could not have been better placed
than amidships.  Placed in the mainmast it was easier to maintain
steerage way and at the same time it served to push the derelict
forward.  Turning to the girl, he laughed triumphantly; and she, who
had begun to be almost jealous of the derelict, inasmuch as it had
taken so much of his attention, smiled politely, if faintly.

"And now," said Dan, sitting beside her, with his hands on the lower
spokes of the battered wheel, "we are homeward bound.  The stars have
told me a great deal.  See them all.  Over there are Regulus and his
sickle, and in the northwest you see Queen Vega.  There is Ursa Major
up there, nearly overhead.  There's the Little Bear north of it; and
still north is the good old North Star.  We are going straight for
land, Miss Howland."

"You are awfully clever, Captain Merrithew."

Dan looked at her quickly.  She was smiling mockingly.

"Yes," she continued, as though communing with herself, "I really
believe he would rather talk about his old stars than bother coming
down to the level of a girl who is dying to bring him to earth.  I
cannot imagine a more disagreeable man to be shipwrecked with."

"Nor I a more agreeable--"  He checked himself.  "I am entirely at your
service, Miss Howland," he added; "which is to say, I have alighted."

She did not answer at once.  Instead she leaned forward with her hands
supporting her chin, her elbows in her lap, gazing solemnly at the
western stars.

"It is nearly eight o'clock, isn't it?" she asked, without moving her
head.

"Yes," replied Dan, "about that.  Why?"

"Just now in New York," said Virginia in her low, full tones, "they
have finished dining on Broadway.  All the lights are, oh, so bright!
and women in the most gorgeous spring gowns and men in evening dress
are pouring out of the Astor, the Waldorf, the Knickerbocker,--every
place,--and stepping into red and green taxi-cabs, or strolling
leisurely to see the latest play.  And on Fifth Avenue, in the club
opposite our house, the same five stout men are just about to occupy
the same five stout chairs in the big windows.  I have watched them for
years, and--"  The girl paused.  "Our house!  Do you suppose my father
is there now?"  She closed her eyes.  "I can almost see him.  Of course
he is mourning me for lost; and Aunt Helen is trying to comfort him and
other persons.  But there, I must not think of that, must I?"  She
turned to Dan and smiled bravely.

"No, you must not," he said gravely.  "He is a man; he will bear his
grief like a man.  And when you return--"

"When I return?" interpolated the girl, quickly.  "Have you thought
about that, Daniel Merrithew?"

"Not a great deal, except to resolve that if I ever get ashore I shall
never again go to sea as a sailor."

"Oh, I don't mean that," said Virginia.  "Ever since the night when you
were shielding me from the fire--"

Dan raised his hand.

"Anything you said that night, Miss Howland, need cause you no regret,
no misgiving.  As well judge the words, the actions, of a man who knows
he has but an hour to live."

Virginia looked at him puzzled.  She started to speak, but closed her
lips tight upon the words.  She was vividly flushed.

"Did I say anything so terrible then?" she asked at length.  "I am sure
I can remember nothing I regret.  Of course I don't remember much; I
suppose I was awfully flighty, then.  But you were fine and brave and
noble; and, whatever I said, I stand pat, as father says," the girl
laughed.  "This is such a conventional age that when a knight of modern
times revives the daring and chivalry of older ages, we women have no
adequate way in which to requite it, you know."

"You must not think about it at all," replied Dan.

"And why not?  That night I hung at the mercy of your strength and
endurance to pain, when you could easily have saved yourself by letting
me go.  Ah, don't deny it," as Dan made a gesture.  "I know!  My life
was in your keeping, to save it or let it go, as you willed.  Daniel
Merrithew, do you ever feel that now you have the right to be
interested in that life that you alone saved?"

"What do you mean?" Dan was looking at her curiously.

The girl laughed excitedly.

"Oh, I don't know exactly what I do mean--except, except that I have
simply felt, well, as though I have no right to be altogether my own
selfish self--in the way I used to be, I mean; that I have no longer an
absolute right----  Oh, how can I explain it clearly?  Let us say that
I have a conviction that any serious change I might wish to make in my
life should not be done without--well, not consent, exactly, but good
wishes--no, I mean consent.  There, that may be putting it clumsily,
but don't you understand?"

Dan flushed.  "I have saved lives before," he said; "and twice men have
saved my life, and I never felt,--felt the way you say toward my
rescuers."

"But that is different; it is impossible to compare man's attitude
toward man as you would a woman's."

"Yes, that's so."

"Then you, too, have felt as I feel?"

"No, I never thought of it in that way."

She was silent a moment, but she regarded him searchingly.  His face
was upturned, gazing at the flapping sail on the mainmast.  She caught
the strong, classic profile in the starlight, and over her flooded the
deep sense of her utter dependence upon him, upon his skill, his
strength, his resource, and the deeper sense of her implicit trust in
him as the embodiment of all these qualities.

She yearned now to express to him her emotions; she almost felt she
must.  And yet she hardly knew how.  She had tried to do so, but how
inadequate her words had seemed!  Bearing in upon her mood, Dan's cool,
even voice sounded miles away.

"Miss Howland, had you thought--"

She interrupted him.

"See here, Daniel Merrithew, I said before that ceremony had no part on
this boat.  Hereafter, if you won't call me by my first name you must
address me by my last.  It must be either one or the other."

Dan made no comment.  He hesitated just a moment, then he said:

"I was going to ask you, Virginia, if you had thought of going to your
cabin yet."

She smiled and blushed.

"I--I wanted to speak to you about that," she said, speaking rapidly.
"I saw you this evening taking things from the Captain's room into the
mate's cabin.  Now, if you have any idea that I am going to sleep on
this horrid, grisly boat, so far away from you, you are mistaken.  You
must sleep in the Captain's room--and the door leading into mine must
be ajar, too.  Oh, I am terribly unmaidenly!  I cannot help it; I shall
be horribly forlorn and frightened, and shall hear all sorts of sounds;
I can hear them now, and so can you--"

"But," interrupted Dan, "I cannot go to sleep, Miss--Virginia.  This
boat must be sailed to land.  There is a breeze.  She cannot be left
alone; she would go a hundred miles out of her course; and, besides, we
might meet a vessel."

For a moment the girl gazed at him uncomprehendingly.

"Do you mean to say you are going to stay up all night and sail?  But
you have not had a wink of sleep and I shall certainly not go into
that--" she suddenly arose.  "How stupid of me!  Of course both of us
must stand watch in turn.  While you are steering I shall sleep at the
wheel.  While I am steering you shall sleep there.  How simple!  Then
we need not be alone at all.  Here, I'll hold the wheel first and you
go to sleep.  I shall wake you at midnight, perhaps before if I get
frightened.  Then I shall be asleep through those creepy morning hours."

Dan demurred vigorously, but she was steadfast.  So he went to the
after cabin and brought out several blankets and a pillow, which she
arranged deftly.

As he prepared to lie down, he looked at the girl.

"See that star up there?" he said.  "Well, just keep the vessel going
the way she is, with that star over your shoulder.  Don't let it get
anywhere else.  If it does, wake me quickly.  If you become afraid, or
see anything, let me know at once."

"Yes," said the girl, "I understand.  Good-night, Daniel."

"Good-night, Virginia."

In a few minutes Dan was fast asleep.  Through the night sailed the
girl, alone, sore afraid, but comforted with the assurance that a touch
of her hand would bring to her the powerful man who slept at her feet.

Straight she stood at the wheel, and tall, like some figure of a
goddess of antiquity.  The moon rose, and its light glorified her.  It
fell upon the shattered deck, defining every dreary detail.  The waves
rose and fell with the lilt of music.  The tinkling breeze was cool and
fresh and invigorating.  Fear vanished from her.  She felt herself a
part of the elements, a part of the night, the lone representative of
life and consciousness, and God amid the waste of primeval desolation.

So she sailed, exalted, ennobled, until long after midnight.  When her
thoughts turned to the man sleeping at her feet, she leaned down,
gazing long and earnestly upon his face.  Then, as he stirred, she let
her hand rest on his forehead a moment.

"It is time to awaken, Daniel," she said.

He was upon his feet in an instant.  There was a strange expression
upon his face.

"I was far away from here," he said.  "I was dreaming, the bulliest
sort of a dream."

"Dreaming?  And what about, pray?"

"You."

"You were!  Tell me the dream."

"They say dreams that are told never come true," replied Dan, slowly.

Their eyes met.  Both were smiling.  Then her eyes fell; but she still
smiled.

"Then," she said, "I guess you had better not tell me--unless--"

"Unless?" asked Dan, as she paused.

Slowly she arranged the blankets, while Dan waited for the completion
of the sentence.  Then she lay down.

"Good-night," she said.

When she awoke, the sun was rising high.  The breeze had died away.
The wheel was deserted.  She looked down the stretch of deck, but Dan
was nowhere to be seen.  With a fluttering heart she arose and shook
out her skirts, hardly daring to peer into the cabin for fear her
dreadful intimations might prove true.

He was not in the cabin.  She called his name in a low voice, but only
the hollow echo resounded from the corridor.  In agonized suspense now
she ran out on the deck.

"Dan!" she called with all the power of her lungs, not expecting that
he would hear her now.  "Dan Merrithew, have you left me?"

There came an answering hail, and looking toward the bow she saw Dan
clambering out of the forward hatch.  His shoes and trousers were
dripping wet.  As he ran to her she waited, weeping.  He caught her
hands and held them.

"Oh, Dan, Dan!" she cried, "you frightened me so!  I thought you had
gone.  I thought you were dead.  You are not going to leave me again,
are you?"

"Never," said Dan.

Then both started as though the underlying significance of the question
and answer had suddenly dawned upon them.  Gently she withdrew her
hands, which Dan did not seek to retain.  In conversational tone, he
said:

"I am awfully sorry, Virginia.  While you were sleeping, the wind fell,
an hour or two after dawn, and the blue of the water struck me.  I
found the Captain's thermometer and lowered it overboard.  My best
hopes were realized.  We are in the Gulf Stream, Virginia, and moving
northward at about four miles an hour.  We are all right now if all
goes well."

"But why were you hiding?" asked the girl.

"I wasn't.  I wanted to see if the water had hurt the logwood, so as to
impair its value, and to learn the condition of the hull.  You know the
cargo is all that is keeping us afloat.  Everything is pretty soggy
down there, but we'll hold together, I guess; and I don't believe the
logwood will suffer a bit.  Of course the mahogany is all right.  We're
lucky.  One schooner in a million has mahogany these days."

She had been gazing at him almost vacantly while he was talking.  Now
she smiled beautifully.

"Oh, I am so glad to see you again," she said.  "It seems almost as if
you had been away a thousand years."

"That," said Dan, "almost pays me for frightening you.  Are you ready
for breakfast?  I knocked it together a while ago."

"For which you shall be punished--when we get ashore."



CHAPTER XIV

DAN AND VIRGINIA

After breakfast they drew chairs to the wheel and sat out on deck.  It
was a wonderful May morning.  Thin clouds hung in the blue, like little
yachts; and the cool, balmy air and the sparkling sunlight brought the
clear, steady call of work to be done, of life to be lived beautifully
and nobly, and strong things to overcome, or to accomplish--the call of
youth.

And they heard the call, these two, and responded to it with the
joyousness of youth, wherein a phrase is a lifetime, and a word,
volumes.  They talked of themselves, regarding each other wonderingly
as hidden depths of character were revealed, or a word, or a sentence,
or a sympathetic silence threw light upon a new element of personality.

He spoke of the _Fledgling_.  He used to see her through a golden haze.
She was his first command.  Yet each day came the old question, What
next?  And the answer.  Why, everything.  A future--bigger things and
better, broader work, not on the sea at the last.  No; landward,
somewhere, anywhere.  But onward, onward!

"Something is linked with every one's destiny, Virginia.  Fate fires no
salutes; every shot is solid and aimed at something.  And the thing
that is hit you have to step over and go on; if you stop to look at it
and think over it and try to look for something else for Fate to knock
down for you, something easier to step over and get away from, you
find, perhaps, years later, that just there you missed your chance."

She regarded him with kindling eyes.

"And so that has been your philosophy."

"For want of a better, yes."

"I think it is a splendid one, and it has stood its highest test--it
has served you well.  Do you know, the first time I had any idea you
were interested in the higher things was that day we were in your cabin
on the _Tampico_.  Do you remember my looking at your books and
exclaiming over the selection?  I don't know, but somehow the Bible
impressed me most."

"I had a pretty good English foundation at Exeter," replied Dan, "and I
kept it up after I left there.  That Bible--I think I did grow and
broaden after leaving school, but I never grew beyond Psalms and St.
Paul; which proves that a little knowledge is not dangerous."

The girl smiled.

"Most men would be ashamed to say that," she said.  "Most of the men I
have known," she added.

"I never would have said it to any one but you."  He said this with
quiet conviction, and the girl inclined her head slightly.

"I thank you. . . .  Do you remember that night at the dinner when I
told you that if our friendship was to continue it was to be one of
limitations?  How long ago that seems now--and how absurd!"

"Does it seem absurd?"

"Doesn't it?"  She laughed.  "It seems to me you were inclined to
regard it so that night."

"Much to your indignation."

"Is it so?  If you had asked me, I might have admitted that the fact I
ever could be indignant with you was the principal reason why that
night of the dinner seemed so long ago."  She hastened to qualify.
"For, you see, I count you now among my very closest friends."

"That is saying a great deal," smiled Dan.  "When we get ashore and you
are comfortably installed as queen of your father's drawing-room and
Dan Merrithew is--"

An exclamation from the girl interrupted him.

"Dan Merrithew, don't you dare!"

"And Dan Merrithew is just a--"  She had risen, and before he could
complete the sentence her hands were pressed tightly over his mouth.

"Will you be good?" she cried.  She released her hands and regarded him
with mock severity.

"But--" laughed Dan.

Again the hands flew to his face.

"Will you?"

"I will," said Dan.

"And you'll promise not to say or think such nonsense again?"

"I promise," said Dan.

And then for a while both fell silent, thinking of the future which lay
before them.  The girl smiled as her day-dreams opened and expanded.
Dan frowned, and the fingers of his well-shaped hands locked and
unlocked across his knees.

Suddenly Virginia sprang to her feet with an exclamation.

"Oh, I forgot," she said, and ran, laughing, to the galley, whence she
returned with a large plate of fudge.  At Dan's look of surprise she
tossed her head in mock disdain of what he might say or think.

"I unearthed two great cakes of chocolate last night," she said, "and
as I was simply dying for some candy I made fudge while preparing
breakfast.  I had to use condensed milk, watered; and as there was no
marble slab I had to stir it in the pan.  I don't know how good it is;
it's awfully grainy"; and thus, rattling on, she took a square of the
confection and placed it gingerly between her lips.

"Why, it's not so bad," she said.  "Here!  Open your mouth and shut
your eyes!"  Which Dan did, declaring that he had never eaten anything
half so delicious.

"Really!" she exclaimed, with falling inflection.  "Then I must say I
feel sorry for you. . . .  Now, why have you that little amused twinkle
in your eyes?  I used to see it sometimes at the table on the _Tampico_
when Reggie was boasting, and--and sometimes when I was trying to be
very brilliant.  Do you know, sometimes I felt like boxing your ears,
you seemed so superior."

"It was not superiority in your case," laughed Dan, "it was
appreciation."

"Thank you," said Virginia; "and now?"

"Oh," smiled Dan, "the thought of fudge on a derelict was and is
responsible for this twinkle."

"I don't care," she frowned.  "It is the person that rises superior to
conditions who triumphs in this world.  Anyway, you seem to be
disposing of your share, despite your notions of incongruity."

"Have you thought," said Dan, "that it might pay to be very economical
with your chocolate?  If we stay here two or three months and all our
food runs out we can live on ever so little chocolate each day."

"Two or three months!" echoed Virginia.  "Now, you are tactful, aren't
you?  And just as I was sitting here chattering away, with no thought
that we were not on a yacht ready to turn home the minute I wished to!"

Dan smiled.

"If we were on a yacht, how soon would you--wish to?" he said.

The girl met his eyes undauntedly.

"If I answered you in one way I should not be at all polite," she said;
"and if in another, I should not be--be--"

"Honest?" suggested Dan.

"That would depend upon what I said," she answered with a non-committal
shrug.  "Now I am going.  I've a lot to do in my cabin, and a luncheon
menu to make out.  _Au revoir_!"  She paused at the entrance to the
cabins, smiled brightly at Dan, and then disappeared.

Long he sat, gazing out over the serene waters, filled with a great
inward thrill.  The wonder of all the fast-crowding events of the past
fortnight was asserting itself potently in his mind, and it was
difficult to realize he was not now living some wild, improbable dream.
But, after all, he found the sense of responsibility dominant.  To his
care was committed a beautiful life,--a life that must be saved,
cherished, and ultimately restored to its proper environment.  Of late,
it seemed, an evil star had pursued him; everything he had commanded or
had anything to do with had either sunk or burned--an extraordinary
train of misfortune not lacking in the lives of many able masters of
craft.  What next?  He passed over that thought with a frown.  He was
living in a beautiful present; the future would be met as the past had
been, bravely and with no cry for quarter.

The present!  He was immediately to learn how dearly he prized it; for
as he gazed seaward, the smoke of a steamship, below the horizon,
appeared.  He sprang to his feet and watched it eagerly; and yet when
that faint column grew more dim and finally faded, he sat back
constrained to confess that he was almost glad the course of the
steamship was as it was.  He fought against it, thinking of the girl in
the cabin and her interests.  And yet--and yet?  He shrugged his
shoulders and walked toward the door, lured by the song which he
remembered so clearly.

  "If I had you!  If I had you!  You!"

"Will _I_ do?" he laughed, peering in at her open door.

"For the present, yes," she bowed, "because I want you to admire.  See,
I have been decorating my room with unbleached muslin.  Aren't those
curtains dear?  And those silesia bunk tapestries, aren't they
fascinating?"

"They are, indeed.  How much would you charge to beautify my cabin?"

Virginia blushed.

"You had better ask how much you owe me," she said.  Then, "You haven't
looked in your cabin!  And after all my labor, too!"

With an exclamation Dan darted across the corridor and beheld, with
kindling eyes, many evidences of that feminine touch without which
hardened bachelors may fancy their quarters complete.  She had followed
him to the door and was gazing over his shoulder.  Something caught in
Dan's throat.  Always a man's man, as the saying is, the full force of
the realization of his strange situation seemed rushing from the
interior of that cabin to overpower him.  A girl, a beautiful girl, one
whom he had looked upon as he had looked upon the beautiful
unattainable things of this life, planning and executing for his
pleasure, and blushing joyously to find that which she had done for him
pleasing in his sight, left him bereft of words.

He turned to her and strove to speak, and then suddenly he faced about
and walked hurriedly to the deck.  She came up behind him and placed
her hand upon his shoulder and smiled, understanding.  His eyes met
hers, and then, with an involuntary movement, his arm was about her
waist.  For a full minute they stood thus, neither moving, she
regarding him with wondering eyes, but still smiling slightly.

Suddenly he started; his arm swiftly dropped, and he glanced with a
jerk of his head towards the sail.

"Are we getting out of our course?" she asked.

"I was," he said, scowling, "but I won't again.  Can you forgive one
who is no better than a--than a blamed pirate?"

"I can forgive you everything but calling yourself names," she said
gently.

Before another hour had passed, clouds began to rise from out the sea.
There came a fitful breeze, with a little hum to it.  To the
southeast-ward the horizon assumed a grayish-white tinge.

Dan watched it anxiously, and the girl followed his gaze and then
glanced at him inquiringly.

"It's going to cloud over," he said.  "There may be some deviltry
before we make shore."

He moistened his fingers, moving them to and fro in the air.

"It isn't a storm," he said; "it is fog."

"Fog!"  The girl was trembling.  "What does that mean?"

"It means that for a while old ocean is going to destroy all our pretty
scenery, and that it is going to be cold and nasty and disagreeable."

Already, in fact, the ocean had lost its color.  Heavy blue-white
clouds with shredded, filmy foundations, which seemed almost to sweep
the waters, moved swiftly to the westward, while in the background the
wall of mist advanced silently to encompass them.  They could feel its
breath, heavy, clammy, chilling.

Presently a mass of vapor, like a detached squadron of cavalry, swept
about the derelict and then moved on, leaving little shredded patches
hanging about the foremast.

Quite unknown to the girl, Dan, the preceding day, had constructed a
raft, which he regarded as being quite as safe for ocean travelling, if
not quite so comfortable, as the derelict.  He had lashed supplies, a
small cask of water, and the like thereon, and now, with the fog-pall
gathering about, he went amidships, examined it carefully, and made
sure that nothing would prevent a hasty launching in event of disaster.

When he returned the murk had closed in thickly.  It was as though the
vessel were immured from the world.  Virginia was standing at the
wheel, and with the pall throwing the derelict into more sombre relief,
Dan caught more strongly than ever the utter contrast which her
presence brought to this abandoned hulk.  Whenever she had walked along
the deck it had seemed a profanation to him that the uneven planking
should know her tread; that she should be on the derelict at all was,
he felt, a working of Fate against everything that was beautiful and
graceful.

Now, as she stood there in the pallid gloom, she suggested some tall,
beautiful genius, presiding over the wrack of elemental things, facing
a more glorious future.

"How shut in everything seems!" she said, as Dan took the wheel from
her hands.  He had a long fog-horn which he blew at intervals.

"We haven't seen a speck of a ship," he explained, "but now the fog is
about us there's liable to be a fleet of them in our vicinity at any
time.  At least that has been my experience with fogs.  It would not be
much fun to be rammed, although in our present condition I fancy it
would hurt the other vessel more than it would this."

Hour after hour they went on blindly, silently, save at such times as
Dan's raucous horn blasts went tearing through the fog.  The wind had
died away.  Sometimes the forward part of the vessel was hidden from
their view.  Frequently it seemed distorted; strange phantom shapes
filled the deck, and the soughing of the yielding hull brought strange,
uncanny sounds to their ears.

Dan was seated on the deck, his eyes peering about on all sides, trying
to pierce the veil, every nerve taut, every sense alert.  The girl
crept close beside him, so that she touched him, and there she
remained, while all the terrors of the ghostly ship arose to confront
her.  The weed-hung, slimy rails and wave-bitten deck stretched away in
ever-fading perspective to the foremast where everything ended in an
amorphous blur.

There came a time when the two felt almost a part of the deep--two
mortals admitted into all the hidden evils that lurk thereon.  Their
lot to witness the inception of mighty tempests; to hear great gray
waves boast of the harm they had done and the winds to plan their
rending deeds.  Perhaps they themselves would be called to the work, to
deal to some proud vessel the death blow as so many derelicts have done.

Once far off there sounded a series of whistle blasts, hoarse,
tremulous notes of warning and inquiry.  But as the two listened with
straining ears the sounds became more dim.  Finally they ceased
altogether.

The girl eventually lost all sense of acute feeling.  She sat dumb, her
undeviating eyes fastened upon Dan's face, as though in him she found
all that was tangible or normal or real.  Her hand was resting on his
shoulder now, clutching it tight; but if he knew it was there, he made
no sign.

At length, toward evening, as though in a dream, Dan's voice bore upon
her ears.  For a moment she gazed at him dully, and then she
comprehended his words.

"It is beginning to rain, Virginia.  The fog will go away now."

"Oh, good!" she exclaimed.

"The wind is freshening, too," he added, "and it doesn't feel very
good.  I think we're going to have a blow for a change."

It seemed so.  Already the mists were beginning to scuttle away before
the increasing wind-rush which moaned with evil breath.

"Will you hold the wheel for a moment, please," said Dan.

As she placed her hands on the spokes he went forward and lowered the
sail.  There were two lines of reef points in the section of canvas and
Dan took in both.  When he hoisted it again there was just a patch of
three-cornered sail.

Within half an hour it was raining hard.  The wind was increasing
slowly but surely, and the sea was rising.  Dan asked the girl to go
into the cabin and to remain there either until the storm was over, or
he summoned her.  She obeyed him partially.  She went into the cabin,
but returned quickly with two slickers.

"Do you suppose," she cried, "I am going to let you be alone now?  I am
going to help you, and, if it must be, to die with you.  I am not a bit
afraid any more."

Dan placed his hand on her arm.

"Get down here, then, under the lee of this cabin.  We are not going to
die.  At least not yet a while."

So the storm came.  With his patch of sail Dan had headed the craft up
into the wind; and thus, with the boat already beginning to rise and
fall, with the broad bow groaning, and oozing ends of planking, and
dirty water, and the deck, contracting and expanding like the belly of
a stricken whale, he settled down to the long fight.

The fog had all departed now.  North, east, south, and west, nothing
but the gray of onrushing waves and a shrouded sky as implacable as the
morning of doom.  Darkness was falling swiftly.  Soon the terrible
night began.

Not that it was the worst storm in which Dan had ever been, but
certainly he had never faced North Atlantic tumult under such a
disadvantage, under conditions so desperately precarious.  The bow rose
but heavily to the seas, and never topped them.  The water rushing
over, poured down the deck in mill-races, filling it to the rails,
occasionally springing up over the poop and the top of the after cabin,
lashing the faces of the two crouching at the wheel behind it.

"It's a sou'easter, I'm almost certain," roared Dan in the girl's ear.
"It will work up to a climax gradually, and then gradually go down, at
this season of the year.  Don't be afraid of the water.  We can't sink,
I believe; the only danger is that we might break up--and we won't do
that."

But despite the optimism of his words, Dan was not altogether certain
that the wallowing wreck would hold together.  There was nothing to do
but wait and see.  The situation he grasped in all its grievous
details.  He had never been so happy, so utterly at peace as aboard
this derelict.  No gilded barge of antiquity had ever been so glorious,
so golden as this mangled wraith of the seas in the sunlit hours of the
immediate past.  Her voice, her laughter, had filled them with music,
her presence with all the poetry and romance of the world, and the
light in her eyes shining for him alone had filled him with a great
tenderness.

Now, the night, the storm, danger--death, perhaps.  He shut his jaws
and drove the flooding thoughts from his mind.  Anger,--the anger of
bereavement,--filled him, and he glared into the tempest and twisted
the wheel as though combating a sentient adversary.

An hour passed, Cimmerian blackness had fallen.  The waves came
savagely, ill-defined masses let loose from a viewless limbo to work
their harm.  Sometimes they caught the dull gray flash of breaking
waters, but more often everything was hidden.  The roar of the wind and
wave was incessant.

Dan's efforts to keep the derelict's head to the seas had failed.  The
hulk had slued around and was driving before the tempest, whither he
did not know.  Groaning, crashing, crackling, the hulk lumbered on.
Once a wave leaped over the stern, stunning them with its thunderous
impact, dragging at them powerfully, as though to draw them back into
the sea whence it came.

Plunging thus, helpless, unseeing, they seemed to be flying as swiftly
as the wind.  A wild ride--to where?  Were they driving out into the
lonely heart of the deep, there to perish in a last long dive?  Or was
it shoreward, with oblivion coming in the dreadful grinding and
crashing and shattering of timbers?

Neither had the heart for even a faint hope for safety; and yet Dan,
with his hands stiffened on the wheel spokes, fought on.  The girl,
with her head bowed, sat still, her hands clinging to his shoulders.
They did not speak.  Twice Dan had attempted to utter a cheering word,
but the wind had swept the sounds from his lips.

Both knew that at any moment the derelict might succumb to the forces
striving to destroy her.  And, as they sat waiting, the realization
came to both what a small part of the incidents of this heaving night
the dismemberment of their washing vessel would be.  In the vortex of
the riot, when the heavens and the ocean seemed united in the creation
of chaos, they sensed the littleness of their own lives and the vanity
of their affairs.

As a thunderous roar of wind smote the vessel Dan felt the pressure of
Virginia's hand on his shoulder suddenly tighten.  He turned to her,
and through the darkness caught the vague outlines of her face, which
was fixed on the faint blur which marked the forward part of the hulk.

His eyes followed just as her fingers loosened their grasp.  He saw
nothing save the dull flash of swirling waters and the amorphous blotch
of hull.  Slowly her hand tightened again; and then, as he looked he
caught above the deck an impression of something moving.  It seemed to
be something that was revealing itself to the instinct rather than to
their visual senses.

As the wind passed on, leaving that confused murmur, broken only by the
dogged rush of waters, Virginia spoke to Dan with trembling voice.

"What is it?"

Dan's eyes were still staring forward.  He spoke through his clenched
teeth.

"Wait a moment."  More accustomed to the gloom ahead he was able to
determine that the sail had torn from the boom and was waving out from
the shattered mast-top like a flag.  The mast itself seemed to be
reeling.  Was the hull opening and disintegrating?

Almost without volition he half arose to his feet.  The girl followed
his action, still clinging to his shoulder.  Dan inclined his head to
speak to her, when with a shriek the wind came again.  There was a dull
crash forward, a splintering and rearing of wood, a quivering of the
entire hull; and then, as though hurled by a giant hand, a huge section
of wood, whether a part of cargo or hull Dan could not tell, shot out
of the night, crashing a hole in the roof of the cabin behind which
they were crouching, and then bounded over their heads into the sea.

Both remained still, as though carved in stone.  Forward there was a
crashing sound, a series of blows, as though some great hammer were
engaged in disintegrating the hull.  There was a grinding of wood
against wood which caused the deck under their feet to tremble.  Still
neither moved.  The terrible thought that the derelict was going to
pieces was in both their minds.  They had no doubt of this now.  They
simply waited.

Virginia had no great fear.  Her dominant thought was the dread of the
first immersion in the cold, cruel, black waters.  But it would not
last long.  Not long, not long--these two words kept ringing in her
mind.  Her shoulders were drawn up, as though preparing for the shock.

Dan had not moved.  Half crouching, half kneeling, his eyes were
fastened upon the vague deck ahead.  Now, as though the elements had
worked to give him sight, the black sky was suddenly seared by a long,
lurid line of lightning.  It was but the fraction of a second; it was
long enough.  In that blue glow the derelict took form, grim, ghostly,
heaving, as a spirit picture might be thrown upon a black cloth, every
detail limned in filmy perfection.

With a cry Dan leaped to his feet and seized an axe lying by his side.

"We are not breaking," he shouted.  "The mast has torn out of its step
and is pounding us.  I am going to cut it away.  We shall be all right."

The girl heard his voice, caught the enthusiasm of it, but
distinguished not a single word.  As he crawled slowly by the side of
the cabin to the steps leading to the deck she half arose as though to
follow him.

"Dan, Dan," she cried, "don't leave me!"

He waved her back, and a second later had gained the deck.  For a few
minutes she sat there, wondering, fearing, and then in a lull in the
storm she heard the blows of the axe.  A great wave rose over the
quarter and ran forward with a roar.  There came a shout.  She
listened.  The sounds of the axe were heard no more.

"Dan!" she called.  "Dan!"  Her words were whistled away on the wind.

In desperation she worked her way to the steps and peered down upon the
deck.  She heard nothing but the wind and the waves.  And then with her
hair streaming wild, with lips bloodless, she stood upright and rushed
to the deck.  The wind tore at her, flying water buffeted her, and the
hulk swayed under her feet; but, as though endowed with superhuman
power, as though scorning the elements to which she had bowed through
the night she ran forward, heedless of everything but that her
companion was in danger.

Where she was going she knew not, nor cared.  A hand grasped the end of
her slicker and brought her to a halt.  She looked down and saw Dan
stretched upon the deck, the mast lying across his legs.  She knelt at
his side.

"Dan!"

He drew her head down so that her ear was near his mouth.

"Not hurt," he said coolly.  "The wave knocked the mast across me just
as I had almost cut it through.  Find the axe.  Two strokes will free
me.  Hurry.  Another wave may drown me."

The girl swept her hands hastily over the deck.  She found the axe a
few feet from Dan, and with that frenzied, nervous strength which comes
to women in times of stress, she hacked at the mast, which Dan had
almost cut through when the wave struck him.  Three times the edge of
the implement glanced.  She ground her teeth, raised it a fourth time
taking careful aim.  Then she let fly with all her strength, and the
axe bit deep.  She raised it again, smiling now.  Two strokes, three
strokes, four strokes.  The keen blade severed the last inch of wood,
the hulk pitched forward, and the mast with its boom and its tangle of
rigging and canvas rolled from Dan and plunged into the sea.

He was on his feet in a second, and with his arm about her waist they
ran astern and reached their posts at the wheel in safety.  But there
was no need to bother with the wheel now.  There was nothing to do, in
fact, but sit inactive and accept what came to them.

And yet, had they but known it, Fate, which it may be said takes the
lives of the young grudgingly, had worked for their ultimate good.  The
Gulf Stream had carried them to a point off Hatteras, and there the
storm had enveloped them.  As Dan had surmised, it was from the
south-east, and laboring and flailing as sorely as she might, the winds
and the waves had steadily lashed the vessel toward safety.

They could not know that.  It was only after an unusual interval in the
powerful wind-blast that Dan looked upward and suddenly held up his
hand.  He looked at the vague form of the girl and bared his teeth in a
quick, mirthless smile.

"The wind is changing," he muttered.  "What now?"

There came another rush of wind.  But it was not so strong as its
predecessors had been; and looking into the sky he could see the cloud
movement.  He shook Virginia by the shoulder, and there was a
triumphant ring in his voice as he shouted into her ear,

"The gale is passing!"

Gradually but surely the shrieking of the elements diminished; the seas
were palpably falling.  Great, dark shapes could now be seen rushing
across the lightening firmament, and once the girl, stretching her arm
upward, exclaimed, as through a rift overhead she caught a glimpse of a
little star.

Half an hour--there came a great peace.

Now, a man and a woman out of the chaos--with the world and all its
civilization and its manners and its men and its affairs as though they
had never been, as though the two had lived for a flashing minute in
some old dream--the strain of years that makes for ceremony and
diffidence and convention and custom suddenly stopped, turned backward.

They were the first man and the first woman on the verge of upheaval,
having felt fear, not as we feel it, but in a dull, instinctive
way--wondering horribly.  Just two, just a man and a woman, emerging
from all the destructive might of the world.

She--not Virginia Howland now--just She--turned toward the man who
crouched with one hand still clutching the wheel, the other lying
loosely, palm downward upon the deck.  Her face was filled with the
glow of returning blood, her hair streamed, her eyes shone.

Gone, the tempest.  The waves were lashing, surly, hissing a monotone
as old as Time is old.  The darkness was the gloom of an age before the
sun was born.  The air was filled with low sounds that had been dead
for aeons.  And she turned to him, and he turned to her.

Her bosom was rising and falling; he could hear her quick, hard
breathing.  As though without volition, she moved a step forward, and
with a low cry held out her arms to him, trembling no more, her heart
filled with a wild, joyous song.  Suddenly she felt his breath upon her
face, felt herself crushed in his arms, as she would be crushed.
Gently he kissed her upon the lips, and then again and again and again.
For a moment she lay dumb in his arms, and then as he drew back his
head she put her arms around his neck and held his lips to hers.  So
they stood.

A force far greater than the unharnessed might of the ocean now
thrilled and filled and exalted them.  Slowly she raised her hands and
passed them over his face, lingeringly; once more she felt herself
drawn to him, and laughed joyously.

As Dan turned, out of the darkness ahead he saw a light.  He looked
again.  He saw it plainly now, that steady white disc with its red
sector.

"Cape Henry!" he cried.  "Good God!"

The girl started.

"What?" she said, wonderingly.

"Cape Henry to port, Virginia.  We'll have a tug in an hour.  The dawn
is coming now.  The sun will see us in Newport News."

Virginia regarded him dreamily, and tightened her clasp about his neck.

"Newport News," she said; "and what do I care!  You have not kissed me
in an age."



CHAPTER XV

CONCLUSION

The next afternoon Horace Howland sat in his office at No. 11 Broadway,
staring moodily at his desk with its accumulation of papers.  For long,
it seemed, he had lived in an agony of suspense.  Friends had come and
gone and said their words, and passed on unrecognized and unheeded.

How many times had he wished that the Ward liner which had crossed the
path of the boats and picked them up the morning after the fire had
left him at least to perish.  A full half-dozen tugs and steamships had
been sent to the scene of the conflagration there to cruise about until
some trace of the missing should be found.  A Clyde vessel had sighted
the burned steamship, a mere mass of charred and twisted frames and
plates, sinking low in the sea.  A Government cruiser and a revenue
cutter had joined in the search.

But no word had come.  An hour before, a messenger boy had arrived with
a telegram.  It was one of many received by Mr. Howland every day, and
he tossed it, unopened, upon a pile of similar envelopes upon his desk.

Now, as he turned his eyes yearningly out of a window which gave upon
the harbor, the name of a reporter was announced.  Mr. Howland had
talked and talked and talked to reporters until he was sick of them as
of every one and everything else.  He turned to his secretary.

"See that fellow, will you?" he said.

In less than a minute the secretary hurried into the office with an
excited manner, the reporter at his heels, bearing a long sheet of
tissue paper filled with typewriting.

"I have come to see you about the rescue of your daughter, Mr. Howland."

The merchant wheeled quickly in his chair.

"What!" he cried.  Then he sprang to his feet and seized the manuscript
which the reporter held out to him.  Quickly he read it.  Then he read
it again, more slowly.  He read it a third time.  His hand flew to his
forehead, and he staggered back to his chair.  The secretary stepped to
his side, but Mr. Howland waved him away.

"When did this come?" he asked.

"A few moments ago," replied the reporter.

"Well," and Mr. Howland gazed at his informant with suffused eyes, "I
thank you for your kindness.  You must know how grateful I am.  Of
course there is nothing I can tell you--nothing you want to know."

The reporter hesitated a moment.

"No," he said, "I don't suppose you can tell me much.  Except--"

"Eh?" said Mr. Howland.

"Except--you read the despatch.  It speaks of Captain Merrithew as Miss
Howland's _fiancé_."

"Yes."  Mr. Howland's years of business resource and acumen were
beginning to assert themselves.  "Oh, _fiancé_!  I see.  Romance will
help your article.  Well, there isn't any.  Captain Merrithew and my
daughter were engaged before we started on this _Tampico_ jaunt."  He
looked at the reporter steadily.  "Merrithew, you know, is really the
Assistant Marine Superintendent of the Coastwise Company; also a
stock-holder.  He was sailing the _Tampico_ merely for experience."

The reporter smiled at Mr. Howland.

"Merrithew is to be congratulated," he said.

"I fancy so," replied Mr. Howland.  "In fact," he added, "do you know,
I have reason to be quite sure of it."



THE END





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