McClure's Magazine/Volume 9/Number 6/Flanagan and His Short Filibustering Adventure
AND HIS SHORT FILIBUSTERING ADVENTURE.
By Stephen Crane,
Author of "The Red Badge of Courage," "The Third Violet," etc.
" I HAVE got twenty men at me back who will fight to the death," said the warrior to the old filibuster.
"And they can be blowed for all me," replied the old filibuster. "Common as sparrows. Cheap as cigarettes. Show me twenty men with steel clamps on their mouths, with holes in their heads where memory ought to be, and I want 'em. But twenty brave men, merely? I'd rather have twenty brave onions."
Thereupon the warrior removed sadly, feeling that no salaams were paid to valor in these days of mechanical excellence.
Valor, in truth, is no bad thing to have when filibustering, but many medals are to be won by the man who knows not the meaning of pow-wow, before or afterwards. Twenty brave men with tongues hung lightly may make trouble rise from the ground like smoke from grass because of their subsequent fiery pride, whereas twenty cow-eyed villains who accept unrighteous and far-compelling kicks as they do the rain of heaven may halo the ultimate history of an expedition with gold and plentifully bedeck their names, winning forty years of gratitude from patriots, simply by remaining silent. As for the cause, it may be only that they have no friends or other credulous furniture.
If it were not for the curse of the swinging tongue, it is surely to be said that the filibustering industry, flourishing now in the United States, would be pie. Under correct conditions, it is merely a matter of dealing with some little detectives whose skill at search is rated by those who pay them at a value of twelve or twenty dollars each week. It is nearly axiomatic that normally a twelve-dollar-per-week detective cannot defeat a one-hundred-thousand-dollar filibustering excursion. Against the criminal the detective represents the commonwealth; but in this other case he represents his desire to show cause why his salary should be paid. He represents himself, merely, and he counts no more than a grocer's clerk.
But the pride of the successful filibuster often smites him and his cause like an ax, and men who have not confided in their mothers go prone with him. It can make the dome of the Capitol tremble and incite the Senators to overturning benches. It can increase the salaries of detectives who could not detect the location of a pain in the chest. It is a wonderful thing, this pride.
Filibustering was once such a simple game. It was managed blandly by gentle captains and smooth and undisturbed gentlemen who at other times dealt in the law, soap, medicine, and bananas. It was a great pity that the little cote of doves in Washington was obliged to rustle officially, and naval men were kept from their berths at night, and sundry custom-house people got wiggings, all because the returned adventurer pow-wowed in his pride. A yellow and red banner would have been long since smothered in a shame of defeat if a contract to filibuster had been let to some admirable organization like one of our trusts.
And yet the game is not obsolete. It is still played by the wise and the silent, men whose names are not display-typed and blathered from one end of the country to the other.
There is in mind now a man who knew one side of a fence from the other side when he looked sharply. They were hunting for captains then to command the first vessels of what has since become a famous little fleet. One was recommended to this man, and he said: "Send him down to my office, and I'll look him over." He was an attorney, and he liked to lean back in his chair, twirl a paper-knife, and let the other fellow talk.
The seafaring man came, and stood, and appeared confounded. The attorney asked the terrible first question of the filibuster to the applicant. He said: "Why do you want to go?"
The captain reflected, changed his attitude three times, and decided ultimately that he didn't know. He seemed greatly ashamed. The attorney, looking at him, saw that he had eyes that resembled a lambkin's eyes.
"Glory?" said the attorney at last.
"No-o," said the captain.
"No-o. Not that, so much."
"Think they'll give you a land grant when they win out?"
"No. Never thought."
"No glory. No immense pay. No land grant. What are you going for, then?"
"Well, I don't know," said the captain, with his glance on the floor, and shifting his position again. "I don't know. I guess it's just for fun, mostly." The attorney asked him out to have a drink.
When he stood on the bridge of his out-going steamer, the attorney saw him again. His shore meekness and uncertainty were gone. He was clear-eyed and strong, aroused like a mastiff at night. He took his cigar out of his mouth and yelled some sudden language at the deck.
This steamer had about her a quality of unholy mediaeval disrepair which is usually accounted the principal prerogative of the United States revenue marine. There is many a seaworthy icehouse if she was a good ship. She swashed through the seas as genially as an old wooden clock, burying her head under waves that came only like children at play, and on board it cost a ducking to go from anywhere to anywhere.
The captain had commanded vessels that shore people thought were liners, but when a man gets the ant of desire-to-see-what-it's-like stirring in his heart, he will wallow out to sea in a pail. The thing surpasses a man's love for his sweetheart. The great tank-steamer "Thunder Voice" had long been Flanagan's sweetheart, but he was far happier off Hatteras, watching this wretched little portmanteau boom down the slant of a wave.
The crew scraped acquaintance, one with another, gradually. Each man came ultimately to ask his neighbor what particular turn of ill-fortune or inherited deviltry caused him to try this voyage. When one frank, bold man saw another frank, bold man aboard, he smiled, and they became friends. There was not a mind on board the ship that was not fastened to the dangers of the coast of Cuba and taking wonder at this prospect and delight in it. Still, in jovial moments, they termed each other accursed idiots.
At first there was some trouble in the engine-room, where there were many steel animals, for the most part painted red, and in other places very shiny, bewildering, complex, incomprehensible to anyone who don't care, usually thumping, thumping, thumping with the monotony of a snore.
It seems that this engine was as whimsical as a gas-meter. The chief engineer was a fine old fellow with a gray mustache, but the engine told him that it didn't intend to budge until it felt better. He came to the bridge, and said: "The blamed old thing has laid down on us, sir."
"Who was on duty?" roared the captain.
"The second, sir."
"Why didn't he call you?"
"Don't know, sir." Later the stokers had occasion to thank the stars that they were not second engineers.
The "Foundling" was soundly thrashed by the waves for loitering while the captain and the engineers fought the obstinate machinery. During this wait on the sea, the first gloom came to the faces of the company. The ocean is wide, and a ship is a small place for the feet, and an ill ship is worriment. Even when she was again under way, the gloom was still upon the crew. From time to time men went to the engine-room doors and, looking down, wanted to ask questions of the chief engineer, who slowly prowled to and fro and watched with careful eye his red-painted mysteries. No man wished to have a companion know that he was anxious, and so questions were caught at the lips. Perhaps none commented save the first mate, who remarked to the captain: "Wonder what the bally old thing will do, sir, when we're chased by a Spanish cruiser?"
The captain merely grinned. Later he looked over the side and said to himself with scorn: "Sixteen knots! Sixteen knots! Sixteen hinges on the inner gates of Hades! Sixteen knots! Seven is her gait, and nine if you crack her up to it."
There may never be a captain whose crew can't sniff his misgivings. They scent it as a herd scents the menace far through the trees and over the ridges. A captain that does not know that he is on a foundering ship sometimes can take his men to tea and buttered toast twelve minminutes before the disaster; but let him fret for a moment in the loneliness of his cabin, and in no time it affects the liver of a distant and sensitive seaman. Even as Flanagan reflected on the "Foundling," viewing her as a filibuster, word arrived that a winter of discontent had come to the stoke-room.
The captain knew that it requires sky to give a man courage. He sent for a stoker and talked to him on the bridge. The man, standing under the sky, instantly and shamefacedly denied all knowledge of the business. Nevertheless a jaw had presently to be broken by a fist because the "Foundling" could only steam nine knots and because the stoke-room has no sky, no wind, no bright horizon.
When the "Foundling" was somewhere off Savannah, a blow came from the northeast, and the steamer, headed southeast, rolled like a boiling potato. The first mate was a fine officer, and so a wave crashed him into the deck-house and broke his arm. The cook was a good cook, and so the heave of the ship flung him heels over head with a pot of boiling water, and caused him to lose interest in everything save his legs. "By the piper," said Flanagan to himself, "this filibustering is no trick with cards."
Later there was more trouble in the stoke-room. All the stokers participated save the one with a broken jaw, who had become discouraged. The captain had an excellent chest development. When he went aft, roaring, it was plain that a man could beat carpets with a voice like that one.
One night the "Foundling" was off the southern coast of Florida and running at half speed toward the shore. The captain was on the bridge. "Four flashes at intervals of one minute," he said to himself, gazing steadfastly toward the beach. Suddenly a yellow eye opened in the black face of the night, and looked at the "Foundling," and closed again. The captain studied his watch and the shore. Three times more the eye opened and looked at the "Foundling" and closed again. The captain called to the vague figures on the deck below him. "Answer it." The flash of a light from the bow of the steamer displayed for a moment in golden color the crests of the inriding waves.
The "Foundling" lay to and waited. The long swells rolled her gracefully, and her two stub masts, reaching into the darkness, swung with the solemnity of batons timing a dirge. When the ship had left Boston she had been as encrusted with ice as a Dakota stage-driver's beard; but now the gentle wind of Florida softly swayed the lock on the forehead of the coatless Flanagan, and he lit a new cigar without troubling to make a shield of his hands.
Finally a dark boat came plashing over the waves. As it came very near, the captain leaned forward and perceived that the men in her rowed like seamstresses, and at the same time a voice hailed him in bad English. "It's a dead sure connection," said he to himself.
At sea, to load two hundred thousand rounds of rifle ammunition, seven hundred and fifty rifles, two rapid-fire field guns, with a hundred shells, forty bundles of machetes, and a hundred pounds of dynamite, from yawls and by men who are not born stevedores, and in a heavy ground swell and with the search-light of a United States cruiser sometimes flashing like lightning in the sky to the southward, is no business for a Sunday-school class. When at last the "Foundling" was steaming for the open, over the gray sea, at dawn, there was not a man of the forty come aboard from the Florida shore, nor of the fifteen sailed from Boston, who was not glad, standing with his hair matted to his forehead with sweat, smiling at the broad wake of the "Foundling" and the dim streak on the horizon which was Florida.
But there is a point of the compass in these waters which men call the northeast. When the strong winds come from that direction, they kick up a turmoil that is not good for a "Foundling" stuffed with coal and war-stores. In the gale which came, this ship was no more than a drunken soldier.
The Cuban leader, standing on the bridge with the captain, was presently informed that of his men thirty-nine out of a possible thirty-nine were seasick. And in truth they were seasick. There are degrees in this complaint, but that matter was waived between them. They were all sick to the limits. They strewed the deck in every posture of human anguish; and when the "Foundling" ducked and water came sluicing down from the bows, they let it sluice. They were satisfied if they could keep their heads clear of the wash; and if they could not keep their heads clear of the wash, they didn't care. Presently the "Foundling" swung her course to the southeast, and the waves pounded her broadside. The patriots were all ordered below decks, and there they howled and measured their misery one against another. All day the "Foundling" plopped and foundered over a blazing bright meadow of an ocean whereon the white foam was like flowers.
The captain on the bridge mused and studied the bare horizon. He said a strong word to himself, and the word was more in amazement than in indignation or sorrow. "Thirty-nine seasick passengers, the mate with a broken arm, a stoker with a broken jaw, the cook with a pair of scalded legs, and an engine likely to be taken with all these diseases, if not more. If I get back to a home port with a spoke of the wheel gripped in my hands, it'll be fair luck."
There is a kind of corn whisky bred in Florida which the natives declare is potent in the proportion of seven fights to a drink. Some of the Cuban volunteers had had the forethought to bring a small quantity of this whisky aboard with them, and being now in the fire-room and seasick, and feeling that they would not care to drink liquor for two or three years to come, they gracefully tendered their portions to the stokers. The stokers accepted these gifts without avidity, but with a certain earnestness of manner.
As they were stokers and toiling, the whirl of emotion was delayed, but it arrived ultimately and with emphasis. One stoker called another stoker a weird name, and the latter, righteously inflamed at it, smote his mate with an iron shovel, and the man fell headlong over a heap of coal which crashed gently, while piece after piece rattled down upon the deck.
A third stoker was providentially enraged at the scene, and assailed the second stoker. They fought for some moments, while the seasick Cubans sprawled on the deck watched with languid, rolling glances the ferocity of this scuffle. One was so indifferent to the strategic importance of the space he occupied that he was kicked in the shins.
When the second engineer came to separate the combatants, he was sincere in his efforts, and he came near to disabling them for life.
The captain said, "I'll go down there and—" But the leader of the Cubans restrained him. "No, no," he cried, "you must not. We must treat them like children, very gently, all the time, you see, or else when we get back to a United States port they will—what you call—spring? Yes—spring the whole business. We must—jolly them. You see?"
"You mean," said the captain, thoughtfully, "they are likely to get mad and give the expedition dead away when we reach port again unless we blarney them now?"
"Yes, yes," cried the Cuban leader, "unless we are so very gentle with them they will make many troubles afterwards for us in the newspapers and then in court."
"Well, but I won't have my crew—" began the captain.
"But you must," interrupted the Cuban. "You must. It is the only thing. You are like the captain of a pirate ship. You see? Only you can't throw them overboard like him. You see?"
"Hum," said the captain, "this here filibustering business has got a lot to it when you come to look it over."
He called the fighting stokers to the bridge, and the three came meek and considerably battered. He was lecturing them soundly, but sensibly, when he suddenly tripped a sentence and cried: "Here! Where's that other fellow? How does it come he wasn't in the fight?"
The row of stokers cried at once eagerly: "He's hurt, sir. He's got a broken jaw, sir."
"So he has. So he has," murmured the captain, much embarrassed.
And because of all these affairs the "Foundling" steamed toward Cuba with its crew in a sling, if one may be allowed to speak in that way.
At night the "Foundling" approached the coast like a thief. Her lights were muffled so that from the deck the sea shone with its own radiance, like the faint shimmer of some kinds of silk. The men on deck spoke in whispers, and even down in the fire-room the hidden stokers, working before the blood-red furnace doors, used no words and walked tip-toe. The stars were out in the blue-velvet sky, and their light with the soft shine of the sea caused the coast to appear black as the side of a coffin. The surf boomed in low thunder on the distant beach.
The "Foundling's" engines ceased their thumping for a time. She glided quietly forward until a bell chimed faintly in the engine-room. Then she paused, with a flourish of phosphorescent waters.
"Give the signal," said the captain. Three times a flash of light went from the bow. There was a moment of waiting. Then an eye like the one on the coast of Florida opened and closed, opened and closed, opened and closed. The Cubans, grouped in a great shadow on deck, burst into a low chatter of delight. A hiss from their leader silenced them.
"Well?" said the captain.
"All right," said the leader.
At the giving of the word it was not apparent that anyone on board of the "Foundling" had ever been seasick. The boats were lowered swiftly, too swiftly. Boxes of cartridges were dragged from the hold and passed over the side with a rapidity that made men in the boats exclaim against it. They were being bombarded. When a boat headed for shore, its rowers pulled like madmen. The captain paced slowly to and fro on the bridge. In the engine-room the engineers stood at their station, and in the stoke-hole the firemen fidgeted silently around the furnace doors.
On the bridge Flanagan reflected. "Oh, I don't know," he observed, "this filibustering business isn't so bad. Pretty soon I'll be off to sea again, with nothing to do but some big lying when I get into port."
In one of the boats returning from shore came twelve Cuban officers, the greater number of them convalescing from wounds, while two or three of them had been ordered to America on commissions from the insurgents. The captain welcomed them, and assured them of a speedy and safe voyage.
Presently he went again to the bridge and scanned the horizon. The sea was lonely like the spaces amid the suns. The captain grinned, and softly smote his chest. "It's dead easy," he said.
It was near the end of the cargo, and the men were breathing like spent horses, although their elation grew with each moment, when suddenly a voice spoke from the sky. It was not a loud voice, but the quality of it brought every man on deck to full stop and motionless, as if they had all been changed to wax. "Captain," said the man at the masthead, "there's a light to the west'ard, sir. Think it's a steamer, sir."
There was a still moment until the captain called: "Well, keep your eye on it now." Speaking to the deck, he said: "Go ahead with your unloading."
The second engineer went to the galley to borrow a tin cup. "Hear the news, second?" asked the cook. "Steamer coming up from the west'ard."
"Gee!" said the second engineer. In the engine-room he said to the chief: "Steamer coming up to the west'ard, sir."
The chief engineer began to test various little machines with which his domain was decorated. Finally he addressed the stoke-room. "Boys, I want you to look sharp now. There's a steamer coming up to the west'ard."
"All right, sir," said the stoke-room.
From time to time the captain hailed the masthead. "How is she now?"
"Seems to be coming down on us pretty fast, sir."
The Cuban leader came anxiously to the captain. "Do you think we can save all the cargo? It is rather delicate business. No?"
"Go ahead," said Flanagan. "Fire away. I'll wait for you."
There continued the hurried shuffling of feet on deck and the low cries of the men unloading the cargo. In the engine-room the chief and his assistant were staring at the gong. In the stoke-room the firemen breathed through their teeth. A shovel slipped from where it leaned against the side and banged on the floor. The stokers started and looked around quickly.
Climbing to the rail and holding on to a stay, the captain gazed westward. A light had raised out of the deep. After watching this light for a time he called to the Cuban leader, "Well, as soon as you're ready now, we might as well be skipping out."
Finally the Cuban leader told him: "Well, this is the last load. As soon as the boats come back you can be off."
"Shan't wait for the boats," said the captain. "That fellow is too close." As the last boat went shoreward, the "Foundling" turned, and like a black shadow stole seaward to cross the bows of the oncoming steamer. "Waited about ten minutes too long," said the captain to himself.
Suddenly the light in the west vanished. "Hum," said Flanagan, "he's up to some meanness." Everyone outside of the engine-room was set on watch. The "Foundling," going at full speed into the northeast, slashed a wonderful trail of blue silver on the dark bosom of the sea.
A man on deck cried out hurriedly, "There she is, sir." Many eyes searched the western gloom, and one after another the glances of the men found a tiny black shadow on the deep, with a line of white beneath it. "He couldn't be heading better if he had a line to us," said Flanagan.
There was a thin flash of red in the darkness. It was long and keen like a crimson rapier. A short, sharp report sounded, and then a shot whined swiftly in the air and blipped into the sea. The captain had been about to take a bit of plug tobacco at the beginning of this incident, and his arm was raised. He remained like a frozen figure while the shot whined, and then, as it blipped in the sea, his hand went to his mouth and he bit the plug. He looked wide-eyed at the shadow with its line of white.
The senior Cuban officer came hurriedly to the bridge. "It is no good to surrender," he cried; "they would only shoot or hang all of us."
There was another thin red flash and a report. A loud, whirring noise passed over the ship.
"I'm not going to surrender," said the captain, hanging with both hands to the rail. He appeared like a man whose traditions of peace are clinched in his heart. He was as astonished as if his hat had turned into a dog. Presently he wheeled quickly and said: "What kind of a gun is that?"
"It is a one-pounder," cried the Cuban officer. "The boat is one of those little gunboats made from a yacht. You see?"
"Well, if it's only a yawl, he'll sink us in five more minutes," said Flanagan. For a moment he looked helplessly off at the horizon. His under jaw hung low. But, a moment later, something touched him like a stiletto point of inspiration. He leaped to the pilot house and roared at the man at the wheel. The "Foundling" sheered suddenly to starboard, made a clumsy turn, and Flanagan was bellowing through the tube to the engine-room before anybody discovered that the old basket was heading straight for the Spanish gunboat. The ship lunged forward like a draught-horse on the gallop.
This strange manoeuver by the "Foundling" first dealt consternation on board. Men instinctively crouched on the instant, and then swore their supreme oath, which was unheard by their own ears.
Later, the manoeuver of the "Foundling" dealt consternation on board of the gunboat. She had been going victoriously forward, dim-eyed from the fury of her pursuit. Then this tall, threatening shape had suddenly loomed over her like a giant apparition.
The people on board the "Foundling" heard panic shouts, hoarse orders. The little gunboat was paralyzed with astonishment.
Suddenly Flanagan yelled with rage and sprang for the wheel. The helmsman had turned his eyes away. As the captain whirled the wheel far to starboard, he heard a crunch as the "Foundling," lifted on a wave, smashed her shoulder against the gunboat, and he saw, shooting past, a little launch sort of a thing with men on her that ran this way and that way. The Cuban officers, joined by the cook and a seaman, emptied their revolvers into the surprised terror of the seas.
There was naturally no pursuit. Under comfortable speed the "Foundling" stood to the northward.
The captain went to his berth chuckling. "There, now," he said. "There now!"
When Flanagan came again on deck, the first mate, his arm in a sling, walked the bridge. Flanagan was smiling a wide smile. The bridge of the "Foundling" was dipping afar and then afar. With each lunge of the little steamer the water seethed and boomed alongside and the spray dashed high and swiftly.
"Well," said Flanagan, inflating himself, "we've had a great deal of a time, and we've come through it all right, and thank heaven it is all over."
The sky in the northeast was of a dull brick-red in tone, shaded here and there by black masses that billowed out in some fashion from the flat heavens.
"Look there," said the mate.
"Hum," said the captain. "Looks like a blow, don't it?"
Later the surface of the water rippled and flickered in the preliminary wind. The sea had become the color of lead. The swashing sound of the waves on the sides of the "Foundling" was now provided with some manner of ominous significance. The men's shouts were hoarse.
A squall struck the "Foundling" on her starboard quarter, and she leaned under the force of it as if she were never to return to the even keel. "I'll be glad when we get in," said the mate. "I'm going to quit then. I've got enough."
The steamer crawled on into the northwest. The white water sweeping out from her deadened the chug-chug-chug of the tired old engines.
Once, when the boat careened, she laid her shoulder flat on the sea and rested in that manner. The mate, looking down the bridge, which slanted more than a coal-chute, whistled softly to himself. Slowly, heavily, the "Foundling" arose to meet another sea.
At night, waves thundered mightily on the bows of the steamer, and water, lit with the beautiful phosphorescent glamour, went boiling and howling along the deck.
By good fortune the chief engineer crawled safely, but utterly drenched, to the galley for coffee. "Well, how goes it, chief?" said the cook, standing with his fat arms folded, in order to prove that he could balance himself under any condition.
The engineer shook his head slowly. "This old biscuit-box will never see port again. Why, she'll fall to pieces."
Finally, at night, the captain said: "Launch the boats." The Cubans hovered about him. "Is the ship going to sink?" The captain addressed them politely. "Gentlemen, we are in trouble, but all I ask of you is that you do just what I tell you, and no harm will come to anybody."
The mate directed the lowering of the first boat, and the men performed this task with all decency, like people at the side of a grave.
A young oiler came to the captain. "The chief sends word, sir, that the water is almost up to the fires."
"Keep at it as long as you can."
"Keep at it as long as we can, sir."
Flanagan took the senior Cuban officer to the rail, and, as the steamer sheered high on a great sea, showed him a yellow dot on the horizon. It was smaller than a needle when its point is toward you.
"There," said the captain. The wind-driven spray was lashing his face. "That's Jupiter Light on the Florida coast. Put your men in the boat we've just launched, and the mate will take you to that light."
Afterward Flanagan turned to the chief engineer. "We can never beach her," said the old man. "The stokers have got to quit in a minute." Tears were in his eyes.
The "Foundling" was a wounded thing. She lay on the water with gasping engines, and each wave resembled her death blow.
Now the way of a good ship on the sea is finer than sword-play. But this is when she is alive. If a time comes that the ship dies, then her way is the way of a floating old glove, and she has that much vim, spirit, buoyancy. At this time many men on the "Foundling" suddenly came to know that they were clinging to a corpse.
The captain went to the stoke-room, and what he saw as he swung down the companion suddenly turned him hesitant and dumb. He had served the sea for many years, but this fire-room said something to him which he had not heard in his other voyages. Water was swirling to and fro with the roll of the ship, fuming greasily around half-strangled machinery that still attempted to perform its duty. Steam arose from the water, and through its clouds shone the red glare of the dying fires. As for the stokers, death might have been with silence in this room. One lay in his berth, ;his hands under his head, staring moodily at the wall. One sat near the foot of the companion, his face hidden in his arms. One leaned against the side, and gazed at the snarling water as it rose and its mad eddies among the machinery. In the unholy red light and gray mist of this stifling dim inferno they were strange figures with their silence and their immobility. The wretched "Foundling" groaned deeply as she lifted, and groaned deeply as she sank into the trough, while hurried waves then thundered over her with the noise of landslides.
But Flanagan took control of himself suddenly, and then he stirred the fire-room. The stillness had been so unearthly that he was not altogether inapprehensive of strange and grim deeds when he charged into them, but precisely as they had submitted to the sea so they submitted to Flanagan. For a moment they rolled their eyes like hurt cows, but they obeyed the voice. The situation simply required a voice.
When the captain returned to the deck, the hue of this fire-room was in his mind, and then he understood doom and its weight and complexion.
When finally the "Foundling" sank, she shifted and settled as calmly as an animal curls down in the bush grass. Away over the waves three bobbing boats paused to witness this quiet death. It was a slow manoeuver, altogether without the pageantry of uproar, but it flashed pallor into the faces of all men who saw it, and they groaned when they said: "There she goes!" Suddenly the captain whirled and knocked his head on the gunwale. He sobbed for a time, and then he sobbed and swore also.
There was a dance at the Imperial Inn. During the evening some irresponsible young men came from the beach, bringing the statement that several boatloads of people had been perceived off shore. It was a charming dance, and none cared to take time to believe this tale. The fountain in the courtyard plashed softly, and couple after couple paraded through the aisles of palms where lamps with red shades threw a rose light upon the gleaming leaves. High on some balcony a mocking-bird called into the evening. The band played its waltzes slumberously, and its music to the people among the palms came faintly and like the melodies in dreams.
Sometimes a woman said: "Oh, it is not really true, is it, that there was a wreck out at sea?"
A man usually said: "No, of course not."
At last, however, a youth came violently from the beach. He was triumphant in manner. "They're out there," he cried. "A whole boatload!" He received eager attention, and he told all that he supposed. His news destroyed the dance. After a time the band was playing delightfully to space. The guests had donned wraps and hurried to the beach. One little girl cried: "Oh, mamma, may I go too?" Being refused permission, she pouted.
As they came from the shelter of the great hotel, the wind was blowing swiftly from the sea, and at intervals a breaker shone livid. The women shuddered, and their bending companions seized opportunity to draw the cloaks closer. The sand of the beach was wet, and dainty slippers made imprints in it clear and deep.
"Oh, dear," said a girl, "supposin' they were out there drowning while we were dancing!"
"Oh, nonsense!" said her younger brother; "that don't happen."
"Well, it might, you know, Roger. How can you tell?"
A man who was not her brother gazed at her then with profound admiration. Later she complained of the damp sand, and drawing back her skirts, looked ruefully at her little feet.
A mother's son was venturing too near to the water in his interest and excitement. Occasionally she cautioned and reproached him from the background.
Save for the white glare of the breakers, the sea was a great wind-crossed void. From the throng of charming women floated the perfume of many flowers. Later there floated to them a body with a calm face of an Irish type. The expedition of the "Foundling" will never be historic.
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.
This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.