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- West Wind Drift - 3/60 -
"Mr. Gray is the Chief Engineer," he explained, with mock courtesy.
"Yes, sir,--I know," responded Percival. "He comes of one of the oldest and most highly connected families in Baltimore. He informs me that his father--"
"Never mind!" snapped the Captain. "We need not discuss Mr. Gray's antecedents. How old are you?"
"Thirty last Friday, sir."
"And now, what the devil do you mean by sneaking aboard this ship and hiding yourself in the--by the way, Mr. Mott, where was he hiding?"
Mr. Mott: "It doesn't seem to be quite clear as yet, sir."
Captain Trigger: "What's that?"
Mr. Mott: "I say, it isn't quite clear. We have only his word for it. You see, he wasn't discovered until he accosted Mr. Shannon on the bridge and asked--"
Captain Trigger: "On the bridge, Mr. Mott?"
Mr. Mott: "That is to say, sir, Mr. Shannon was on the bridge and he was below on the promenade deck. He asked Mr. Shannon if he was the Captain of the boat."
Captain Trigger: "He did, eh? Well?"
Mr, Mott: "He was informed that you were at breakfast, sir,--no one suspecting him of being a stowaway, of course,--and then, it appears, he started out to look for you. That's how he fell in with the Chief Engineer. Mr. Gray informs me that he applied for work, admitting that he was aboard without leave, or passage, or funds, or anything else, it would seem. But, as for where he lay in hiding, there hasn't been anything definite arrived at as yet, sir. He seems to have been hiding in a rather wide-spread sort of way."
Mr. Percival, amiably: "Permit me to explain, Captain Trigger. You see, I have been obliged to change staterooms three times. Naturally, that might be expected to create some little confusion in my mind. I began in the second cabin. Much to my surprise and chagrin I found, too late, that the stateroom I had chosen,--at random, I may say,--was merely in the state of being prepared for a lady and gentleman who had asked to be transferred from a less desirable one. I had some difficulty in getting out of it without attracting attention. I don't know what I should have done if the steward hadn't informed them that he could not move their steamer-trunk until morning. There wouldn't have been room for both of us under the berth, sir. If the gentleman had been alone I shouldn't have minded in the least remaining, under his berth, but he--"
Captain Trigger: "How did you happen to get into that room, young man? The doors are never unlocked when the rooms are unoccupied."
Mr. Percival: "You are mistaken, sir. I found at least three stateroom doors unlocked that night, and my search was by no means extensive."
Captain Trigger: "This is most extraordinary, Mr. Mott,--if true."
Mr. Mott: "It shall be looked into, sir."
Captain Trigger: "Go on, young man."
Mr. Percival: "I tried another room in the second cabin, but had to abandon it also. It had no regular occupant,--it was Number 221 remember,--but along about midnight two men opened the door with a key and came in. They were stewards. I gathered that they were getting the room ready for someone else, so when they departed,--very quietly, sir,--I sneaked out and decided to try for accommodations in the first cabin. I--"
Mr. Mott: "Did you say stewards?"
Mr. Percival: "That's what I took them to be."
Captain Trigger: "You are either lying, young man, or plumb crazy."
Mr. Percival, with dignity: "The latter is quite possible, Captain,--but not the former. I managed quite easily to get from the second cabin to the first. You'd be surprised to know how simple it was. Running without lights as you do, sir, simplified things tremendously. I found a very sick and dejected Jewish gentleman trying to die in the least exposed corner of the promenade deck. At least, he said he didn't want to live. I offered to put him to bed and to sit up with him all night if it would make him feel a little less like passing away. He lurched at the chance. I accompanied him to his stateroom, and so got a few much-needed hours of repose, despite his groans. I also ate his breakfast for him. Skirmishing around this morning, I found there were no unoccupied rooms in the first cabin, so I decided that we were far enough from land for me to reveal myself to the officer of the day,--if that's what you call 'em on board ship,--with a very honest and laudable desire to work my passage home. I can only add, Captain, that I am ready and willing to do anything from swabbing floors on the upper deck to passing coal at the bottom of the ship."
Captain Trigger stared hard at the young man, a puzzled expression in his eyes.
"You appear to be a gentleman," he said at last. "Why are you on board this ship as a stowaway? Don't you know that I can put you in irons, confine you to the brig, and put you ashore at the first port of call?"
"Certainly, sir. That's just what I am trying to avoid. As a gentleman, I am prepared to do everything in my power to relieve you of what must seem a most painful official duty."
Mr. Mott smiled. The Captain stiffened perceptibly.
"How did you come aboard this ship?" he demanded.
"As a coal passer, sir. Day before yesterday, when you were getting in the last lot of coal. I had a single five dollar gold piece in my pocket. It did the trick. With that seemingly insignificant remnant of a comfortable little fortune, I induced one of the native coal carriers,--a Portuguese nobleman, I shall always call him,--to part with his trousers, shirt and hat. I slipped 'em on over my own clothes, stuffed my boots and socks inside my shirt, picked up his basket of coal, and walked aboard. It isn't necessary, I suppose, to state that my career as a dock-hand ceased with that solitary basket of coal, or that having once put foot aboard the Doraine, I was in a position to book myself as a passenger."
"Well, I'm damned!" said Captain Trigger. "Some one shall pay for this carelessness, Mr. Mott. I've never heard of anything so cool. What did you say your name is, young man?"
"A. A. Percival, sir."
"Ah--ahem! I see. Will it offend you, A. A., if I make so bold as to inquire why the devil you neglected to book your passage in the regular way, as any gentleman from Baltimore might have been expected to do, and where is your passport, your certificate of health, your purse and your discharge from prison?"
Mr. Percival spread out his hands in a gesture of complete surrender.
"Would you be interested in my story, Captain Trigger? It is brief, but edifying. When I arrived in town, the evening before you were to sail, I had a wallet well-filled with gold, currency, and so forth. I had travelled nearly two thousand miles,--from the foothills of the Andes, to be more definite,--and I had my papers, my cancelled contract, and a clear right-of-way, so to speak. My personal belongings were supposed to have arrived in town on the train with me. A couple of cow-hide trunks, in fact. Well, they didn't arrive. I don't know what became of them. I had no time to investigate. This was the last boat I could get for two or three weeks that would land me in the U. S. A. I put up at the Alcazar Grand for the night. It was then too late to secure passage, but I fully intended to do so the first thing in the morning. There was a concert and dance at the hotel that night, and I went in to look on for awhile. I ran across a friend, an engineer who was on the job with me up in the hills a few months ago. He is also an American, a chap from Providence, Rhode Island. Connected with the consular service now. He was with a small party of Americans,--am I boring you?"
"No, no,--get on with it," urged Captain Trigger.
"Several of them were sailing on this ship, and they were having a little farewell party. That, however, has nothing to do with the case. I left them at midnight and went up to my room. Now comes the part you will not believe. During the night,--I sleep very soundly,--some one entered my room, rifled my pockets, and got away with everything I possessed, except my clothes and the five-dollar gold piece I have carried ever since I left home,--as a lucky coin, you know. He--"
"How did he happen to overlook your lucky coin?" inquired the Captain sarcastically.
"Because it couldn't be a lucky coin if I carried it in my purse. No coin is ever lucky that gets into my purse, Captain. I always kept it tightly sewed up in the band of my trousers, safe from the influence of evil companions. I did not discover the loss until morning. It was then too late to do anything, as you were sailing at eight. My Providence friend was not available. I knew no one else. But I was determined to sail on the Doraine. That's the story, sir, in brief. I leave it to you if I wasn't justified in doing the best I could under the circumstances."
Captain Trigger was not as fierce as he looked. He could not keep the twinkle out of his eye.
"We will see about that," he managed to say with commendable gruffness. "Assuming that your story is true, why are you in such a tremendous hurry to reach the United States? Skipping out for some reason, eh?"
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