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- West Wind Drift - 10/60 -


Captain Trigger was one of the injured. He swore a great deal when the doctor ordered him to bed. Ribs and a broken arm? Why the devil should he be put to bed for something a schoolboy would laugh at? Mr. Shannon and two of the younger officers were killed by the explosion that wrecked the bridge and chart house. Chief Engineer Gray died in the engine-room. Cruise was blown to pieces in the wireless house. His assistant, the cripple with the charmed life, was dead.

A few seconds before the first explosion took place he blew out his brains with a big navy revolver. The last seen of Cruise was when he appeared in the door of his station, an expression of mingled rage and alarm on his face. Pointing frantically at the figure of his assistant as it shot down the steps and across the deck, he shouted:

"Get that man! Get him! For God's sake, get him!"

It all happened in a few seconds of time. The shrill laugh of the fleeing assistant, the report of the revolver, an instant of stupefaction,--and then the dull, grinding crash.

It will never be known what Cruise had heard or seen in the last moments of his life. No one on board the Doraine, however, doubted for an instant that he had discovered, too late, the truth about his misshapen assistant. They now knew with almost absolute certainty the identity of the odd man in that devilish trio, the man whose footsteps Percival had heard, the man who stayed behind to guarantee the consummation of the hideous plot. Coward in the end, he shirked the death he was pledged to accept. He knew what was coming. Unlike his braver comrades, he took the simplest way.

The count began. Late in the afternoon it was completed. There were forty-six known dead on board the Doraine, the majority being members of the crew. Seventeen persons were missing, chiefly from the steerage. Twenty-nine seriously injured were under the doctor's care. Some of them would not recover. A hundred or more persons suffered from shock, bruises, cuts and exposure, but only a few of them required or demanded attention. In spite of their injuries, they fell to with the spirit that makes for true heroism and devoted themselves to the care of the less fortunate, or to the assistance of the sorely-tried officers and men who strove to bring order out of chaos.

Among the survivors were two American surgeons and a physician from Rio Janeiro. They, with the nurses, all of whom had been saved, immediately went to the relief of the ship's doctor, and in short order an improvised hospital was established. There was a remarkable unanimity of self-sacrifice among the passengers. High and low, they fell to in a frenzy of comradeship, and worked side by side in whatsoever capacity they were needed, whether fitted for it or not. No man, no woman, who was able to lift a helping hand, failed in this hour of need. The bereaved, as well as those who were untouched by a personal grief, gave all that was in them, tearfully, grimly, ardently.

Menial labour fell to the lot of the lordly but uncomplaining Landover, to Block and Nicklestick, Jones and Snipe, and even to the precious Signor Joseppi, who, forgetting his Caruso-like throat, toiled and sweated in the smoky saloon.

Morris Shine, the motion picture magnate, the while he laboured amidst the wreckage of the after deck, lamented not the cheerless task but the evil fate that prevented the making of the most spectacular film the world had ever known.

Madame Careni-Amori, Madame Obosky and her dancers; bejewelled Jewesses and half-clad emigrants; gentle women unused to toil and women who were born to it; the old and the young--all of them, without exception,--rose from the depths of despair and faced the rigours of the day with unflinching courage, gave out of a limitless store of tenderness all that their strength could spare.

And through a neglected, abandoned field of pearls and gold and precious stones, limped unchallenged the tireless figure of "Soapy" Shay, diamond thief, a bloody bandage about his head, an exalted light in his pain-stricken eyes. His one-time captor lay stark and cold in the gruesome line in the bow of the boat. It was "Soapy" Shay who staggered out of the rack and smoke with the burly, stricken detective in his arms, and it was "Soapy" Shay who wept when the last breath of life cased out through his tortured lips. For of all the company on board the Doraine, there was but one whom "Soapy" knew, but one who called him by name and shared tobacco with him,--and that one was William Spinney, the man who was taking him back to a place where mercy would not be shown.

After the sun had set and the decks were dark and deserted except for the men employed in the gruesome business, the dead were lowered into the sea, swathed in canvas and weighted with things that were made to kill,--shells from the gunners' hoard. Swiftly, methodically, one after the other, they slid down to the black, greedy waters, sank to the grave that is never still yet always silent, to the vast, unexplored wilderness that stretches around the world. The thin little missionary from the barren plateaus of Patagonia and the plump priest from the heart of Buenos Aires monotonously commended each and every one of them to the mercy of God!

The sun came up again in the morning over a smiling, happy sea that licked the sides of the Doraine with the tenderness of a dog.

CHAPTER V

The plight of the hapless steamer could not be disguised. Even the most ignorant passenger knew that the wrecked engines could not be repaired or compounded. They knew that the Doraine was completely paralysed. The power to move at will was for ever lost, the force that had driven her resistlessly along the chosen path was still. The powerful propellers were idle, the huge stern-post wrenched so badly that the rudder was useless. She was adrift, helplessly adrift. Of what avail the wheel and a patched-up rudder to the mass that lay inert, motionless on the smiling sea?

Every one on board realized, with sinking heart, that the Doraine was to go on drifting, drifting no man knew whither, until she crossed the path of a friendly stranger out there in the mighty waste. No cry of distress, no call for help could go crackling into the boundless reaches. That was the plight of the Doraine and her people on the mocking day that followed the disaster, and unless fate intervened that would be her plight for days without end.

Mr. Mott, temporarily in command, addressed the passengers in the main saloon, where they had congregated at his request. He did not mince matters. He stated the situation plainly. It was best that they should realize, that they should understand, that they should know the truth, in order that they might adapt themselves to the conditions he was now compelled of necessity to impose upon them. They were, so to speak, occupying a derelict. Help might come before nightfall, it might not come for days. He hoped for the best but he intended to prepare for the worst.

Without apology he laid down a rigid set of rules, and from these rules, he made it perfectly clear, there could be no deviation. The available supply of food was limited. It was his purpose to conserve it with the greatest possible care. Down in the holds, of course, was a vast store of consigned foodstuffs, but he had no authority to draw upon it and would not do so unless the ship's own stock was exhausted. Passengers and crew, therefore, would be obliged to go on short rations. "Better to eat sparingly now," he said, "than not to eat at all later on." He concluded his remarks in this fashion:

"Remember that we are all in the same boat. We don't know how long we'll be drifting like this and we don't know where we're drifting to. It's an everlastingly big ocean we're on. We ought to thank God we're not at the bottom of it now. If we're lucky we'll be picked up soon, if not,--well, it's up to us, every one of us, to make the best of it. We're alive, and that's certainly something. We'll all find it easier if we keep ourselves busy. That's why I'm asking you, one and all, to do a good day's work regularly, one way or another, from now until relief comes. We can't have any loafers or quitters on board this ship. That means everybody, rich and poor. You may think I'm putting a hardship on you, seeing as how you have paid for your passage and all that, but what I'm ordering you to do ain't a marker to what you'd be doing if you were out there in lifeboats, eight hundred miles from shore, and--well, we won't go into that. We've got to make the best of it, my friends. We're up against it good and plenty, that's the plain facts of the case. There's no use in me saying it's all going to turn out right in a day or so, because I don't know a da--- blamed thing about it. We're in God's hands. Maybe it will help to pray, but I doubt it. All I've got to say is this: go down on your knees as much as you like, but don't lick!"

Signor Joseppi lifted his voice, but not in song. In very bad English he wanted to know how long the Captain thought it would be before they were rescued, and when he was informed that it might not be for weeks or even months, he cried out in worse English that he was ruined. He would have to violate his contract! No impressario would think of engaging him again! His wonderful American tour! If he was not rescued within a week--Oh, my God, the consequences! He did not regret the paltry two thousand a week--for thirty weeks--but to violate a contract!

Mr. Mott looked rather helpless. He appreciated the fact that Signor Joseppi was a very great personage, but what was he saying? Was it--could it be mutiny?

"I'm sorry, Mr. Joseppi," he broke in, "but if Madame Amori is willing to take her regular turn at making up berths, I guess it won't hurt you to help every now and then in the dining-room."

Signor Joseppi did not understand a word of it. He turned to the man at his elbow for enlightenment.

"What did he say?" he whispered.

"He says you have a perfectly marvellous voice and that he'd give two thousand any time to hear you sing," replied his neighbour in excellent Italian.


West Wind Drift - 10/60

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