The Ship of Shadows by H. Bedford-Jones
5, Eric Venable, Second Officer


Eric Venable, Second Officer

GARRITY the magnificent lost no time in setting out to find a job. He did not want a job for himself; he had just finished one bit of work, and had not the slightest ambition to sign on for another voyage anywhere until his money was gone. Being the man he was, however, he considered it best for all hands that he and Venable get a job right away, lest Venable’s determination weaken.

Cocaine and morphia are to be had at any street-corner or crossroads in China, as Garrity knew. He knew that the Japanese bought a large share of the Indian opium crop each year, shipped it to their Formosa factories and made it into active drug products. He knew that they poured it wholesale into China by mail, having the Chinese postal system under their thumb; and he knew that Venable was in the way of temptation so long as they remained ashore. Hence, for Venable’s sake, he made the heroic resolve to get back to sea at once.

However, he found that engineers—especially engineers who had a name for liquor—would have trouble in landing the proper berths, and Garrity had no notion of signing aboard any native craft. Besides, he wanted something good for Venable, and it was most indisputable that nobody would hire Venable if they saw him first.

It was a stiff problem, but like all such, there proved to be a solution. Garrity remembered the tramp steamer rocking out in the Taku anchorage, and in the course of gossip along the wharves, he found that she was something of a mystery ship. No one knew much about her, but she was supposed to be awaiting a crew, for some obscure reason, and was under a Russian charter.

All this looked promising to Garrity, and he went forthwith to see the owners—a reputable Chinese firm with an agency on Victoria Road. As it happened, Mrs. Ivanoff had requested the agency to keep an eye open for a crew, which she might want in a hurry. They gave Garrity her name, and Garrity betook himself to the Astor House.

He was admitted to the apartment of Mrs. Ivanoff by a bearded old man whom she later addressed as Paul, and who bore a grand manner. In five minutes Mrs. Ivanoff herself appeared, and Garrity stood aghast at sight of her. He remembered her instantly; he could not forget that rather wonderful face with its slight reddish mar on one cheek. To his untold amazement he recognized her as the woman whom he had observed in San Francisco, the woman who had recognized Venable!

SHE did not remember him, obviously, and he controlled himself in a moment. Doubtless, she had never even remarked him on the earlier occasion; she had then been all eyes for Venable. He mustered up courage and broached what was on his mind.

It was plain to him that the lady herself was in much agitation over something. In fact, she was extremely disturbed mentally, but in the end she was conquered by the twinkling eyes of Garrity, who presently had her undivided attention.

“I’ve a pal to land a berth for alongside me,” he continued earnestly. “In fact, it’s both of us or none, beggin’ your pardon! A gentleman entirely he is, and him havin’ a bad run o’ luck and all, I’m wantin’ to help him a bit. If ye could hand him somethin’ fair and decent, now—”

Mrs. Ivanoff smiled. “Perhaps I can make use of him, Mr. Garrity; and if your papers are in order, I shall be very glad to make use of you. Also I shall need other engineers and a mate. I have secured a captain and first officer—”

“Oh!” exclaimed Garrity with a relieved air. “I did not know ye wanted any officers, ma’am. This friend o’ mine, now, has a second officer’s license in steam, and barrin’ a bit o’ bad luck he’s had, is a good man for the place. We’d like to be together, and I thought that he might get anythin’ at all for this voyage; but if it’s a second officer ye lack, say the word!”

Mrs. Ivanoff rose. “Just at present, Mr. Garrity, I scarcely know what I shall want. I have had some very bad news to-day which may change all my plans. If you will leave your address with me, I can notify you should anything turn up in the near future. Of course, I would wish to interview your friend before engaging him; but I am really very uncertain about everything to-day.”

“Yes’m, women is that way, I hear.” Garrity laughed so engagingly that Mrs. Ivanoff smiled in response. “It’s mighty good of ye, ma’am, to bear us in mind, and proud we’ll be to sign on with ye if the luck turns that way. If I might write down me address, now—”

Garrity went home again, rather disconsolate on the whole, and wondering whether it would be to Venable’s advantage to be drawn into contact with this woman who so evidently knew him. This caused Garrity no little perplexity. However, he resolved to waste no time worrying, but to see what happened; he had no great anticipation that Mrs. Ivanoff would ever put to sea in the Kum Chao, for from her words he gathered that she was in trouble and very indefinite as to her plans.

His inspiration to paint Venable as a second officer had good grounds. He knew where he could pick up a second officer’s papers,—illegally,—and he took for granted that when Mrs. Ivanoff discovered the imposition she would shield Venable. Was she not a friend of the man’s? Obviously! Let him once land Venable in the mate’s berth, therefore, and things would some how take care of themselves.

So Garrity took himself back to the boarding-house, said nothing to Venable, and tried to pick up other berths—without success. He got into touch with Stormalong, who was likewise out of work, and tipped him off regarding the Kum Chao. Stormalong declared profanely that Mrs. Ivanoff’s ship did not look good to him, but he would wait and see. So Garrity opened his illegal negotiations regarding the second officer’s ticket for Venable, and rested on his oars.

LATE in the following afternoon, without the knowledge of Garrity but destined to exert a direct influence upon Garrity’s future, a gentleman named Boris Kryalpin arrived in the city via boat from Port Arthur. There also arrived, by rail and very furtively, a broken-bodied little man who walked with the aid of a crutch, a Russian refugee who spoke American and Yiddish, by the name of Abe Gerin. A most insignificant man, this Abe Gerin, who had deserted the sinking ship with the other rats, yet far above Shinski in mental caliber and moral fiber. He was a poet, and in his hurt body abode no petty meanness or trickery; something of the old Jewish greatness was in him. For the sake of an ideal, Abe Gerin had gone to Russia. His ideal was now destroyed, but he, alone from the entire group headed by Marie, had worked and fled without selfish aims. With his arrival in Tientsin, Shinski and the others were completely dwarfed. Marie alone could understand his unselfishness, and the clear devotion that was aflame within him.

Abe Gerin vanished from sight almost as soon as he reached the city, but Boris Kryalpin, in the guise of a Frenchman of means, went directly to the Astor House and sent a hastily scribbled note to Mrs. Ivanoff.

Ten minutes later Boris was gracefully bowing over that lady’s hand. He was a charmingly graceful man, was Boris—white teeth glinting under a smooth mustache, a swarthy face, a feline litheness in every movement, and the heart of a devil masquerading under the guise of a nobleman.

At the present moment Boris was the secret but accredited agent of Lenine, Trotzky & Co., a fact which would have given Mr. Shinski considerable alarm had he known it. Serge Shinski and his friends, Abe Gerin and Marie excepted, were mere rats who might prove deadly at a pinch; but Boris Kryalpin was a tiger, a man of infinite resource and craft, of no scruples or principles, and of a diabolic bravery.

Coming upon the errand of double treachery that had fetched him hither, Boris had to be coolly brave to look into the sea-gray eyes of the Princess Irene without faltering. But he did it.

“You do not remember me, Your Highness,” he said smoothly, “but I had the honor of being presented to you at an imperial reception four years ago.”

“Your face is not unfamiliar,” said Mrs. Ivanoff, her eyes searching him. “May I ask how you were informed of my presence here?”

“Through seeing you in Vladivostok recently. I was unable to approach you at the time, but followed you here. For six months, Your Highness, I have been located in this vicinity—upon much the same business as your own, I imagine. Of course, I know little of your business, but one is permitted to draw inferences, eh? And I had certain dear friends under the old régime.”

HE named a group of half a dozen nobles of the old empire. All were prominent names, names intimately known to the Princess Irene; the fate of all was now cloaked by the red shadow that gloomed above unhappy Russia.

“It has been my privilege,” he continued easily, “to assist this little group of friends in reaching a place of safety, and in caring for certain valuables, public and private, which they had rescued from the wreck. I have brought one of these to prove my story to you, should you need proof.”

He opened his hand, displaying there a blazing yellow diamond set in an antique ring. At sight of it Mrs. Ivanoff changed color.

“The Shirvan diamond—one of the historic jewels of a historic family!” pursued Boris. He paused an instant; then, as Mrs. Ivanoff remained silent, he continued his speech.

“These friends are now over the Mongolian border and within Chinese territory—are, indeed, close to Peking. They are safe, Your Highness. As you can understand, they are destitute; the money with which I worked is exhausted. To sell their jewels I am neither able nor willing. They are mine only in trust, and I have a conscience in such matters.

“I learned that you had chartered a ship; so I came to you in the confidence that you would extend us help in reaching America. They might be dependent upon the charity of the Allies, yes! They know you better than I, of course; yet I cannot doubt that you will help, if you can. They would not hesitate to appeal to you, I believe, and so in their name I have come to ask your aid.”

He waited, proudly erect, confident, frank.

PRINCESS IRENE saw no reason to distrust this man. She had learned the disastrous news that her efforts to save the Romanoff family were futile, that her intrigues had been discovered and her friends in Russia scattered. She had contrived to smuggle out a quantity of the most holy relics of old Russia, but to sail back to the United States empty-handed save for these relics would scarce justify her labors and expenditures—in her own eyes.

Now, as though providentially, she beheld the chance to give harborage to a lesser group of the persecuted ones. They were not the Romanoffs, true; no less were they stricken humanity in distress, gentlewomen and princes hounded like beasts, tortured and driven into an exile that was as heaven after the hell that Russia now was.

Mrs. Ivanoff, that strong-souled woman who had been a princess, did not hesitate. She must give up a portion of her great plan; yet she could rescue these few and take them in comfort to America. Of the man before her she scarcely thought at all. Her brain was busy with the little band of refugees trailing a weary way across outer China, toward her. In other days they had been her dear friends. Boris had chosen his names very carefully.

“When will they arrive?” she demanded.

“That depends largely upon you,” answered Boris. “They should reach Peking to-morrow. If you refuse them the aid of your ship; and secret passage to America, they will remain in Peking for the present.”

“Secret passage?” she repeated, frowning.

“Necessarily.” He made a graceful, assured gesture. “There are many others yet in Russia. I am working to bring them out, as well as these. Let it become known to the Bolshevik agents and spies that this party has reached safety, and escape will be tenfold harder for the others; every avenue will be watched.

“But, assured of your help, I go to-night to Peking, to meet the party. To-morrow night I return with them, still disguised, and will place them straight aboard your ship. You will be at sea by dawn, and until they reach America the secret will be kept. By that time, I have great hopes that a second party will be over the Mongolian frontier.”

“That will be a swift arrival in Peking,” she said slowly.

“I have made many arrangements, Your Highness. Do you think I have wasted my time?”

There was no doubt that the countenance of Boris expressed vigor, energy, sheer ability. No one ever denied him these qualities. At present he was in perfect control of himself; his face and manner formed an instrument entirely responsive to his brain. And his brain was clever—in fact, it was far more clever than either Shinski or the woman Marie could dream!

MRS. IVANOFF could not know that this man who stood before her in the guise of one who was exerting every self-sacrifice in order to save others, had in reality betrayed his country to the Huns, had betrayed his own caste to the Reds, and had betrayed his soul to the devil. She could not know that he was now playing a keen game, single-handed, with the intent to betray everyone and everything around him.

“Are you certain of your plan?” she asked presently. “If I arrange to sail to morrow night, it will cause me intolerable trouble and work. Unless you are very sure of your arrangements, I do not wish to attempt so early a departure.”

Boris bowed, with just the proper hint of deference and gallantry.

“Your Highness, I pledge you my word that if you can be ready to sail to-morrow night, I shall put the party aboard your ship at midnight.”

“Very well.” She rose, smiling a trifle sadly, and extended her hand. “It is agreed, then! I shall be ready to sail.”

With a burst of assumed joy, Boris fell to one knee and bent his lips to her hand, but at this she drew back.

“The old days are dead, my friend; the old rank is dead!” she said protestingly. “We who have survived the whirlwind are brothers and sisters in misfortune, no more. And the Princess Irene is dead, like the rest. I am Madame Ivanoff, whose family passed even before the great disaster, and whose life holds only the hope of doing a little good before the inevitable end comes to her as to all others. You are doing a noble work, and I respect you for it; good-by, and may God send you your deserts! Until you return—au revoir.

Boris looked for a moment into her eyes, and turned a little pale.

When he had gone, Mrs. Ivanoff wrote a brief note and gave the envelope to the old servant Paul, who had attended her out of Russia and had served in her house all his life.

“Paul, we shall leave here to-morrow night, taking with us some of our friends who are on their way to safety. Take this note to Mr. Garrity, at the address in scribed. Make sure that he gets it—give it into his own hand and wait for an answer. I must see the port officials at once, and the captain whom I have engaged.”