The Praying Skipper and Other Stories/Chapter 6
CAPTAIN ARENDT'S CHOICE
HIS wife half raised herself from the couch which had been her abiding place for more than twenty years. "My broken flower," the captain named her in his prayers at sea. The One to whom these petitions arose each night his liner throbbed along the Western Ocean track had granted that the heart and soul of the wife should wax in strength and sweetness while her body lay bound in chains of suffering. Because to-night there was worry in the tired, brave eyes which strove so well to mirror only gladness when the captain was at home, he was much disturbed, the more because he had made the cloud to come.
She looked, indeed, like a "broken flower" beside the towering strength of the captain, who growled through his flaming beard when he would speak most softly, who moved in a series of small earthquakes as he tried to pace with gentlest tread, while they thrashed out the momentous problem.
"To think of the new home is wonderful," she said in German, for this they talked when together. "Do the doctors truly believe I shall be stronger if we live at New York? Is there, indeed, hope of health again? Ah, but it is risking all we have saved in these twenty-five years, and——"
The captain no longer withheld his voice and it boomed through the little house with a hurricane note, though he meant it to be only reassuring:
"But the gain is wonderful. Such a home as I have found last voyage—in the country, in the hills, near New York. There is life in the air, and it will make you well every day. And better than that, what is everything to you and me, I shall be with you almost a whole week every voyage—almost a week in a month. Now, when I must sail from Liverpool, I am home here in Antwerp with you perhaps two days a month, perhaps not at all when storm and fog delay my ship, or when the passage is bad for the North Sea packet in winter.
"The doctors say you cannot live in wet, gloomy England, and here it is not much better. You will get well where we are going. We can be together as much as when I was chief officer in the old Deepdale, running out of Antwerp. The deeds of the home are ready to sign. I pay the ten thousand dollars when I come to New York this voyage. Then you come out the voyage after with me, for the company makes for us exception to the rule that a wife cannot sail on her husband's vessel."
She wistfully smiled as if led by a beautiful dream, thinking in her heart that to be sure of seeing her husband so often would be more than ever she dare hope for. Even beckoning health must yield first place to such a gift as this, but not yet satisfied she asked with tremulous insistence:
"But the bank will send the money over without risk, and it is all we have in the world, dear Max. Do you remember how the nest-egg was put away so long ago, when we hoped for children, and this was to be the beginning of their fortune? Why carry the money on your ship? Why take it with you?"
"Mein Gott, sweetheart mine, is not the old Wasdale safe as the dry land? Is not the old vessel safer than the banks, which, as they say in New York, bust higher as a kite every little while? Perhaps they give me a piece of paper worth ten thousand dollars in Antwerp. When I dock in New York, perhaps the bank has gebust while I am in mid-ocean, then my paper is worth nothing; the money is a total loss. In the Wasdale, in my room, in my safe, it is mine, and I have never lost a life, much less ten thousand good dollars. You do not worry when I go to sea. Am I not worth as much as our stocking full of gold? Answer me that, my Flora."
He did not know through how many nights, when she heard the winter gales from the North Sea cry over the roof, a quivering agony of fear had gripped her wide-eyed lest the Wasdale might have met disaster. But experience had taught the wife that no argument could prevail in which the safety and strength of the ship were questioned. Helpless to make reply, she accepted defeat, for the parting hour was far gone and the separation always taxed her fitful energy near to breaking.
Always as he raised her for the last kiss, and then halted reluctant in the doorway, he was to her as her bright youth had first seen him, a red viking, born to master steel and steam instead of the galleys of his forebears. This night he smote his chest resoundingly before he vanished into the hallway, and said in comforting farewell:
"It is here, in the old brown wallet, next my heart, where thou dwellest, my Flora. Our money is soon on the old Wasdale. God keep you!"
The biting wind of early March fairly whipped the captain up the side of the liner lying, with shortened cable, mid-stream in the Mersey. Clutching a stiff hat with one hand, baggy trousers fluttering, the tails of his frieze ulster tripping him, it was an odd and ungainly figure of a man that gained the deck and lumbered forward. A quartermaster near the gangway grinned when the pot-hat bounced from the bristling red head and carromed merrily off the deck-house, but a glance from the tail of Captain Arendt's eye froze the mahogany countenance of the offender into instant solemnity. It was a hint that the master of the ship was coming into his own. A few moments later he emerged from his quarters transformed. The smartly setting uniform of blue and the flat cap jammed down hard were so evidently what he belonged in, that the shore-going clothes had been like a clumsy disguise. A small boy flattened himself against the rail and saluted with immense dignity. The captain pinched him with a hairy paw and chuckled:
"Hello, Moses, or vas it Josephs I calls you last woyage? Holy Schmokes! If you keep my room no better dis woyage, I bites your head off close to your neck. You hear? Scoo-o-t."
"Moses-Josephs" fled, and Captain Arendt turned on his heel to go back to his room, remembering with a start that he had not placed the precious wallet in his safe, but had transferred it to his blouse. He clapped his hand to the breast pocket, hove an explosive sigh of relief when he found it there, and was instantly bent on banishing all chance of loss, when the chief engineer popped up from below and sought him out in breathless haste with these tidings:
"Sorry to trouble you, sir, but a drunken dock-rat of a Liverpool fireman refuses to go on watch, and he's reinforced the argument with a slice-bar, and laid out two of my oilers and a stoker, and I need more help to get him in irons. He's raising hell, and no mistake, sir."
The captain was halfway down the ladder before the chief had done speaking, and despite the bigness of him, made his way to the fire-room like a squirrel. The pallid, sodden mutineer, backed into a corner, was swinging the iron bar in empty circles, fighting the dancing shadows from an open furnace door, cursing and muttering. His bleary vision had no time to focus on the big man with the red face and snapping blue eye, who ducked under the weapon, smashed him in the face with one hand, squeezed his neck in the other, and flung him against a bunker door with such force that he lay as he fell, a dirty, huddled heap.
"Vash him off on deck, and put him in the hospital," said the captain. "He's a goot man ven sober. He vas vit me in anudder ship once. I knows him. Only his ribs is cracked, I t'ink."
When the five thousand ton Wasdale began to crawl down the Mersey, a hundred emigrants clustered along the after-rail, and shivered as they chattered. Two score cabin passengers walked the saloon deck amidships, and watched the great gray docks slip past. Twilight brooded over the Irish Sea and the filmy Welsh coast when dinner called them to make swift acquaintance, from which the ponderous good humor of the captain was missing. He dined alone in his room, and hastily, because he preferred to keep close to the bridge in these jostling waters. Yet the night had become almost windless, and so clear that the twin lanterns of the lightship off Carnarvon Bay gleamed like jewels on a canopy of black velvet. Captain Arendt leaned on the rail at the end of the bridge, and sniffed the sparkling air as the evening wore late.
"It looks goot," he muttered; "but I schmell fog. Yes, I schmell fog, and the rail is schticky, and the paint is schticky, and dere will be fog before morning."
He rubbed a massive shoulder and turned to the chief officer:
"And my rheumatism tells me dere vill be wet fog. I am coldt, and vill change my coat. I am also an old fool; but tell the engine-room to stand by for fog, not before morning, but before midnight, by Chiminy! I schmelled it strong dot time, and I never schmelled him wrong."
"Moses-Josephs" was caught in the act of brushing and laying away the captain's shore togs with absorbed attention to detail.
"Choke dot vistlin' noise off, and run avay," was the order that sent the boy scurrying toward the door. "Vait, I tells you," halted him as if he had fetched up against a wall. "How is your mudder, boy? She was pretty sick last voyage, you tells me. Better? Dot is fine. When we come again to Liverpool, if you are a goot boy, you can lay off one trip mit wages, and help her get well. Now scoo-o-t. I don't want you around. You is a tamned nuisance."
"Moses-Josephs" ducked in thanks, and the captain locked the door behind him, and sat at his desk with the "old brown wallet" before him. "I vill count him once," he confided to the barometer, "for fear he may have ewaporated while I forgot him."
His glance fell next on the picture of his wife, framed in silver against the wall. As he slowly counted the rustling notes, he talked aloud to her in German, as he had done many times in sheer loneliness and longing:
"Four hundred pounds—the first four hundred pounds came hard, my Flora, didn't it? Ten years we saved it while I was fourth and third officer in the company. One thousand pounds—we had a grand celebration when that was landed high and dry, eh? Fifteen hundred—it is a grand investment this. Two thousand pounds—it is a fine fortune, but we would be rich with nothing."
The square-hewn face softened and the flinty blue eye was misty as the captain bundled the notes into the wallet and stooped to open the little safe beneath the desk. The combination, always puzzling for him, was unusually tricky, and as he wrestled with it the speaking tube whistled near his ear.
"There's thick fog ahead, sir. We'll be into it before long," rumbled the voice of the chief officer from the bridge.
The captain hastily thrust the wallet into the top drawer of his desk, wriggled into a heavy reefer, and went on the bridge. A dense belt of darkness hung low ahead on the water and curtained the stars. Presently this barrier strangely streaking the clear sky was changed to dirty, gray clouds, then into blinking mist. Thus the fog shut down like wool.
The lamenting whistle of the Wasdale at once began to protest against this game of hide-and-seek. The bridge indicator signaled "half speed," and the vessel stole ahead as if in nervous dread, like a blind horse in a crowded thoroughfare.
Before long she began to feel her way with frequent pauses, while those on watch, from bridge to crow's nest, listened, listened. Their eyes were useless; their ears dreaded lest they hear too loud reply to the siren that shouted over and over again to this world of gray nothingness that the Wasdale was abroad. The ship crept ahead, slowed to listen, crept ahead again, but the responses to her outcries so soon became softened or silent that they held no menace.
The hour was near midnight. In their staterooms, the cabin passengers awoke to cast sleepy abuse at the fog-horn, and turn over again to slumber, warm and dry, believing themselves as secure as in their own homes. On the bridge an uncouth, dripping specter in oil-skins suddenly threw back his head and spun round to face the starboard quarter as if he had felt the sting of a bullet.
A moment's waiting, the fog-horn of the Wasdale moaned again, and from out in the baffling pallor came the ghost of a reply, nearer than when last heard, louder than when its previous warning had startled the captain.
The other steamer, groping to nose a clear path through the hazards of these waters, steadily became more clamorous.
The Wasdale called with loud, imploring blasts as if asking the stranger to speak more distinctly. The chief officer said as he glanced at the helm indicator:
"She's barely got steerage way now, sir."
"Let her go as she is for a liddle bit," replied the captain. "Dot feller is going up channel, I t'ink. But vat he do heading our way in such a devil of a hurry?" For a deadened hoot told that the unknown was drawing close aboard. The straining eyes on the Wasdale's bridge could see not more than two ship-lengths into the midnight fog.
"It is like dot game they play in the steerage," was the captain's whispered comment. "Two fellers is blindfold, and the udder sundowners make 'em chase one anudder round the deck."
The warnings from beyond had assumed definite direction, as if the stranger were guided by a fell instinct beyond the ken of her own officers. The Wasdale's siren ripped the night with quavering exhortation to hold hard and beware.
Suddenly the captain gripped the bridge rail and lifted himself on his toes with a smothered "Gott!" that was wrenched from the depths of his broad chest. Two lights blinked, red and green, almost abeam, and between them a towering mass dead black against the shrouding night, while amazed voices were heard screaming a flurry of orders from the fog, even before the roar of both whistles sounded a belated duet.
Captain Arendt was at his indicator with a leap and was like to pull the handle from its sockets as he signaled to reverse his engines, while his chief officer was shouting down the tube the same momentous summons. The third officer was softly treading a little jig-step, in a frenzy of impatience to have the thing done without more suspense. The Wasdale groaned and trembled to the furious reaction of her screw, lost headway, hung helpless, and showed a fair broadside to the assault of the other ship, which, wholly at fault, had begun to swing in fatal blundering, as if trying to pass under the Wasdale's stern.
The blow came, therefore, a little abaft the bridge. Succeeding a prodigious crash and rending of plates came a moment of impressive stillness, as the Wasdale tried to right herself from the shock, and then a foolish clatter of falling china and glass.
"He's waltzed clean through our pantry," said the third officer to himself.
Captain Arendt had only to rise from the planks where he had been flung, to command a bird's-eye view of the disaster. He looked down on the crumpled bows of the other ship, driven twenty feet into his own saloon-deck, and making a trumpet of his hands, shouted across to the other bridge, on which he could see figures moving like agitated black smudges:
"You is cut us half in two. Keep going ahead. Don't back out, vatever you do. Keep the hole plugged until I gets my peoples off."
The other ship seemed to hang as if wedged in the gap she had made, but before the officers of the Wasdale could reach the saloon deck the hideous, rending noise was renewed. The black bows of the stranger wrenched themselves loose, slid clear, and with a sobbing roar the sea rushed in as water falls over a dam. The withdrawn mass ground alongside, tearing woodwork into kindling, and then began to melt softly into the fog. Captain Arendt clambered back to his bridge, shouting as he ran:
"Ship ahoy, you! You have sunk us. Stand by to safe life. Get out mit your boats. Blow your vistle. You pig swine of a ——!"
Without reply the slayer faded like a phantom and was gone. From far down in the Wasdale's hold came a sound which made her captain thrill to feel that discipline had stood its first grim test. Collision doors in bulkheads were grinding shut with the mutter of far-off thunder.
The electric lights on deck and in the saloons had been snuffed out. The ship was in darkness almost everywhere. From staterooms came screams of women and the wails of little children. The few stewards on watch were first to join the seamen on deck and those who had been flung from their bunks forward by the shock of collision. Into the ruck began to pour firemen and coal-passers from below, already flooded out of their compartments. It was perhaps three minutes before a welter of men began to flow in eddies toward the boats.
Meantime a wonderful thing was being done. The compelling personality of one man rose dominant as if he had been given the strength of ten. Panic was on tiptoe, ready to make an inferno of these decks, when it was routed because a hundred and forty men in the Wasdale had learned by the hard drill of experience that what this man said must be done on the instant. Captain Arendt called for light, and four sailors came running with the globe lamps snatched from the steerage and the wheel-house. He swung one of these over the hole in the ship's side, and there was no need to wait for the reports of those sent below to make examination. Her bulkheads could not save her, and she was settling fast.
"The old Wasdale vas not builded for this," he said to the chief officer. "She will sink in one half hour—no longer. We must safe life. Get the men to their stations at the boats, joost like boat-drill we have every woyage. If they don't go, shoot 'em. But they vill go. I knows. Send an officer in charge of some goot men to handle the steerage."
The captain passed his own cabin door three times in the next handful of seconds. It was only a step, only an instant snatched from this priceless flight of time, to save the wallet in the top drawer of the desk. Each time he passed the door the desire to enter pulled him as if strong hands clutched his shoulders, but he went on.
Once he hesitated, and just then a grimy figure rushed past him headlong, and flung itself at the falls of the nearest boat, tearing at the canvas cover with teeth and nails, moaning as if hurt. At his heels came three others from below decks, knocking down all who blocked their escape. The captain tore their leader from the boat, and, like a red bear, seized him around the waist and tossed him overboard like a bundle of rags. Those near heard the choking yell of a drowning man.
The captain turned, and for the only time shouted at the top of his great voice:
"Men, the ship is in a sinking condition. The only coward on board vas gone. To your stations. We must all safe life."
A group of stokers huddled near the rail dropped the bundles of clothing they had brought on deck, and one of them, whose head was bound in rags, cried back:
"We're wid ye. You near kilt me to-day, you big Dutch —— ——, but by —— ——, you're a man. All right, sorr; we'll go after thim dummies in th' steerage."
It is consistent with few narratives of disaster at sea, but there was no more shouting among the crew of the Wasdale. They bent fiercely to their business, with whispers and muttered directions. It was not the nearness of death that stifled their outcries so much as the imminent neighborhood of a man with a stout heart and a cool head, who had hammered iron-fisted obedience into his crews through a stormy lifetime at sea.
The Wasdale had cleared with three hundred men, women, and children on board. There were boats to hold twice that number. It was only a question of time in which to stow these precious cargoes, a race with the sea which each moment sucked the Wasdale lower, as her decks sloped with a sickening list to starboard. A minute bungled meant many lives lost.
The captain seemed rather to drift than rush from one part of the decks to another. Going down the saloon stairway, he found a line of stewards passing passengers up as if they were so much baggage. The water was in the staterooms and washing along the alleys. Weeping women, clad only in their night-clothes, were shoved into cork jackets, bundled above, handed to the waiting seamen, and laid shivering in the boats without touching foot to deck. After ransacking the rooms to search out all the cabin people, the captain returned on deck to find confusion and some outcry where he had left an orderly flight to the boats. A white-faced passenger was on his knees, arms raised on high, his mouth contorted in trembling and husky appeal:
"We are doomed, and prayer alone can save. The ship is going down, the ship is going down, and we must be lost forever unless we gather in prayer. Come round me, and let us pray together. Oh, make a last appeal to your Maker to forgive us, before we go to meet Him with sin-stained souls. Man can do nothing, God can do all. Oh, save us, save our lives, we beseech Thee!"
A dozen half -naked passengers wavered, broke away from control, and fell around him, sobbing or trying to join in broken prayer. The voice of the suppliant rose to a shriek, and some of the crew balked, as if panic were stealing among them. Captain Arendt crashed through the pitiful circle and thundered:
"Choke dot idiot performance. Let the vimmen do the prayin'. Tumble into dot boat, you. You vill make the devil to pay here, I tells you. Be still!"
Fear had made the wretch deaf to reason. He subsided only to stagger to another corner of the deck, where his prayers again drew after him many who were convinced that death was inevitable.
"Jam him into the boat, and set on him," was the captain's order. "Break him in two pieces mit an oar if he makes one more yell."
Twenty minutes after the collision, the saloon deck of the Wasdale was only a few feet from the sea. The cheering creak of the falls as they ripped through the sheaves was sounding from one end of the deck to the other, as the boats descended while the captain counted them and held his breath, lest some unlooked-for lurch of the helpless ship should crush them against her sides like so many egg-shells. Were all hands out? He did not know, but it was time to leave. Some one jogged his elbow, and he turned to see little "Moses-Josephs," who said with trembling lip:
"I'm all ready to go when you are, sir. Anything more I can do? I took care of the stewardess and her cat, sir."
"Joost run to my room quick, and get the pocket-book in the top— No, stay here mit me. Yump into Number T'ree boat this minute, you liddle nuisance."
"I cannot let him go," groaned the captain, "and risk the child be drownded. Vat his sick mudder say to me if he don't come back?"
Surely there was time for the captain to rush up to his room, only half the length of the deck, and rescue the savings of his long life at sea. The wistful, troubled face of the wife as he had last seen her, the hope of home and health, fairly drove him to run forward with head down. He looked overside as he ran, and the gray sea was lipping so close that he could have touched it from the deck below. The planks under his feet rolled once with a weary, sluggish heave. He had once been in a sailing vessel which foundered in such a smooth sea as this, and he recalled that just before she plunged under there had been a series of these long labored rolls as if the ship were gasping for breath before the sea should wholly smother her.
He had almost gained the ladder to the bridge when he saw a moving blotch of white almost hidden behind the bow of a disabled boat. Swerving, he found a woman, a little girl, and a man, plainly their husband and father. The man was leaning over the rail, trying to call to the nearest boat, which was warily pushing away from the sinking ship. Spasms of fear so clutched his throat that his cries were only whispers, as one shrieks without voice amid nightmare perils. The woman clung to his coat, the little girl to her mother's garment. Evidently they had been overlooked because of the hiding place to which the man had blindly led them. As the captain reached the rail, the man tore himself loose from his wife and child with a great cry, and plunged headlong overside, not into the sea, but into the boat, which, at great risk, had been pulled close to save the group. With a crash, he smote the metal gunwale and fell inboard.
"Did you caught that dirty loafer?" shouted the captain.
The voice of the fourth officer in charge of the boat bellowed:
"Yes, sir; but I think he's dead as a mackerel. He landed square on his head; and one of the men who's picking him up says his neck is broken. Shall we stand by?"
"Holy Schmokes, yes. Sving that lantern so you can see to caught the voman first."
It was not an easy task. Another uneasy roll of the deck told him that the Wasdale was in the death throes. The water lapped through the scuppers as she lurched back and down to port. There were only a few steps to the bridge, the room, and the old brown wallet. He worked with furious haste. The mother had sunk to the deck, fainting and inert. She had seen her husband desert her on a sinking ship; she had heard of his death below. Her arms had locked around the waist of the child, hardly more than a baby, whose wisp of a night-dress was tattered about its neck. The captain tugged at the mother's hands to free the child, for he dare not toss them over thus embraced.
Each second imperiled the lives of the three, and also the fate of the ten thousand dollars that "was safer in the old Wasdale than in the bank ashore." At length the captain wrapped the child in his reefer, and tossed her into the waiting boat with a warning shout. The mother was a wrenching weight to swing clear, but when she had followed, a cheer from the boat told him that she had been safely caught.
He wiped the sweat and mist from his purpling face, and muttered:
"I must safe life; I must safe life, my Flora, as long as she floats."
The Wasdale still floated, as if the old ship were prolonging the struggle in order that the master who loved her might yet save the fortune that meant so much to him. He picked up a life-preserver thrown aside on deck, slipped into it, and looked around him, now desperately bent on reaching the bridge, even though the ship should sink beneath him. Surely none else than he was left on board.
A blob of light flickered far aft on deck—a globe lamp such as the sailors had been working with. He saw it, and caught hold of an awning stanchion to steady himself. It must be only a sailor dutifully standing by, before getting away in the last boat. Surely he could take care of himself. Was it not enough that he, the captain, should have done all that could be expected of mortal man, more than almost any other commander had ever done, to save his passengers and crew, hundreds of them, from a ship run down and sunk in half an hour? Was he not justified, in sight of God and man, in saving his fortune, not for himself, but for the helpless wife at home? It was all they had, on it was builded all they hoped for. He swayed in his tracks, as the warring motives pulled him this way and that.
"Oh, my wife," he gasped. "I must be the last man to leave the ship, or I must go down mit her. I cannot, no, by Gott, I cannot go to my room."
He fled aft as if the devil had tried to snare his soul. The sea caught at his heels as he ran, even on deck. Aft of the steerage deck-house, the lamp he had glimpsed was dancing in crazy circles, where two firemen were struggling with a heap of Hungarian emigrants, who violently refused to help themselves. One of the would-be rescuers, whose head was bound in rags, spoke as the captain drew near:
"Don't hit me agin, sorr. Me ribs is stove in, an' I can't be handlin' these loony Dagoes in proper style. We had 'em all in the boat, sorr, but they swar-r-med back unbeknownst after their filthy bundles of duffle."
The emigrants were, indeed, difficult to pry loose from their huge packages of clothing, and as the disabled fireman was of little use in the pitched battle raging, his comrade was unable to wrest himself free of the frenzied men whom he was trying to save. The great strength and weight of the captain piled into the tangled mass like a battering ram, and one by one the reinforced firemen pitched the foreigners overboard to be fished out by the boat that lingered perilously under the counter.
"Yump yourselves!" yelled the captain; and as they dove, the stern of the Wasdale reared and seemed to be climbing skyward. Her commander cast one hungry glance toward the bridge, and saw her bows vanish in a smother of foam. As he jumped, he felt a shudder, as if every plate was drawing from its rivets. When his head rose on the crest of a roller, a boat-hook was twisted into his shirt, and he was yanked inboard by half a dozen hands, while the seamen bent to the sweeps for life or death as they strove to pull beyond reach of the coming suction.
The boat was not more than a hundred yards astern when the Wasdale pitched again, rolled once, and vanished with a thunderous farewell as her decks blew up in clouds of hissing steam.
As if the killing fog had waited for this sacrifice, it began to lift until the scattered lights in the eight boats began to flock together and the flotilla lay waiting for daybreak. The captain knew not whether any souls had been left on board, and miserably impatient he longed for light to count them.
"It is a bad night's vork," he said to the bos'n at the tiller. "I haf lost my ship, and I may never get anudder. I haf lost all my money, and I vill not get him again, for I am too old. But I hope I haf safed all my peoples, and if dot is so, I tank Gott."
Before day came their rockets were answered, and a big steamer loafed sluggishly toward the clustered life-boats. When she hove to, it was apparent that she had been in collision. Her bows were jumbled back to her fore bulkhead, and it seemed a miracle that she had been kept afloat.
"It is the svine vat runned into us," said the captain, "and den runned avay. I vish a few vords mit her skipper."
When the crew of the Wasdale, scrambling up the Jacob's ladders, had hoisted the bruised and benumbed passengers aboard, the crippled vessel limped on her course toward Liverpool. She was an Italian tramp, inbound from South American ports, and her captain had a taste of regions even more torrid when interviewed on his bridge by the late commander of the Wasdale, who returned aft to find his people vainly trying to find shelter from the cold.
"Why aren't dose poor miserable vimmen in the cabins?" he asked.
"The cabins are all locked, sir," replied one of the men, "and the Dago cook won't let us in the galley to get something to eat."
"Break open the cabin doors, and pitch the Eyetalian swab out on his dirty head, and cook whatefer you find in this schow," was the order, and these things were done on the instant. Coffee and hash were made by the Wasdale's cooks, and passed by the Wasdale's stewards, and the invaded cabins ransacked for whatever blankets and clothing might serve to warm the pitiable castaways.
A little later the crew of the Wasdale was mustered for roll call. Each department rallied to its chief. As down the lines of shivering men the "Here, sir," ran without a gap, the captain found himself choking back the tears, for at the same time the purser made tally of the cabin and steerage passengers, and found all present, even to the silent figure under a tarpaulin of the man who had slain himself.
The crew cheered, and the chief engineer stepped forward and began:
"Beg pardon, captain, but when we remember the Elbe and the Bourgogne, we have a right to think——"
The captain silenced him with a gesture and left them. Now, first he could think of his own crushing disaster, which, in his thoughts, eclipsed the great deliverance he had wrought by grace of his own courage and loyalty. He did not see that he had done anything to merit praise, rather was his plight almost worse than if he had gone down with the Wasdale. Brooding and unnerved, he did not rouse himself until the battered tramp was in the Mersey, and then he sent a tug ashore with tidings for his company, bidding them meet and succor his helpless people.
The melancholy procession had filed ashore before he gripped his resolution, and, coatless and ragged, sought his superintendent to make report of what had happened. This interview was brief, for the formal investigation must wait the captain's written word. The superintendent was also a man among men, and he was silent for a little time, looking at the bowed figure of the captain, who sat with his tousled red head in his hands, thinking now of the telegram he must send to Antwerp. A few broken words had told the superintendent of the wife and the old brown wallet.
Finally the captain wrote this message:
I have lost my ship and all our money, but saved every soul on board.
He handed this to the superintendent, whispered, "Please send it to her," and started to go out of the office, he scarcely knew whither. The superintendent halted him, grasping the bruised right hand that hung all nerveless.
"You have much to live for, Captain Arendt, and more to be proud of. Don't think for one moment that the company will forget a man who can do such a night's work as you have put to your credit. You take my unofficial word for it, this is a cloud with a silver lining."
Shortly before Captain Arendt was ready to take train that night for the Harwich boat to Antwerp, a telegram was handed him. He read it with a smile such as made his haggard face seem beautiful:
What care I, if thou hast saved thine honor and thyself? Come to me.