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Sea StoriesThe Launch Etcetera
Ships begin life with a retrograde movement; they im...
The coasting-trade of the British Islands is replete...
The Salving Of The Yan-shan
The _Heart of Ireland_ was spreading her wings to the north-west
trades, making a good seven knots, with the coast of California a vague
line on the horizon to port and all the blue Pacific before her.
Captain Blood was aft with his mate, Billy Harman, leaning on the rail
and watching the foam boosting away from the stern and flowing off in
creamy lines on the swirl of the wake. Ginnell, owner and captain of
the _Heart of Ireland_, shanghaied and reduced to deck hand, was
forward on the look-out, and one of the coolie crew was at the wheel.
"I'm not given to meeting trouble half-way," said Blood, shifting his
position and leaning with his left arm on the rail, "but it 'pears to
me Pat Ginnell is taking his set down a mighty sight too easy. He's
got something up his sleeve."
"So've we," replied Harman. "What can he do? He laid out to shanghai
you, and by gum, he did it. I don't say I didn't let him down crool,
playin' into his hands and pretendin' to help and gettin' Captain Mike
as a witness, but the fac' remains he got you aboard this hooker by
foul play, shanghaied you were, and then you turns the tables on him,
knocks the stuffin' out of him and turns him into a deck hand. How's
he to complain? I'd start back to 'Frisco now and dare him to come
ashore with his complaints. We've got his ship, well, that's his
fault. He's no legs to stand on, that's truth.
"Leavin' aside this little bisness, he's known as a crook from Benicia
right to San Jose. The bay stinks with him and his doin's; settin'
Chinese sturgeon lines, Captain Mike said he was, and all but nailed,
smugglin' and playin' up to the Greeks, and worse. The Bayside's
hungry to catch him an' stuff him in the penitentiary, and he hasn't no
friends. I'm no saint, I owns it, but I'm a plaster John the Baptis'
to Ginnell, and I've got friends, so have you. Well, what are you
"Oh, I'm not bothering about the law," said Blood, "only about him.
I'm going to keep my eye open and not be put asleep by his quiet
ways--and I'd advise you to do the same."
"Trust me," said Harman, "and more especial when we come to longsides
with the _Yan-Shan_."
Now the _Yan-Shan_ had started in life somewhere early in the nineties
as a twelve hundred ton cargo boat in the Bullmer line; she had been
christened the _Robert Bullmer_, and her first act when the dog-shores
had been knocked away was a bull charge down the launching slip,
resulting in the bursting of a hawser, the washing over of a boat and
the drowning of two innocent spectators; her next was an attempt to
butt the Eddystone over in a fog, and, being unbreakable, she might
have succeeded only that she was going dead slow. She drifted out of
the Bullmer line on the wash of a law-suit owing to the ramming by her
of a Cape boat in Las Palmas harbour; engaged herself in the fruit
trade in the service of the Corona Capuella Syndicate, and got on to
the Swimmer rocks with a cargo of Jamaica oranges, a broken screw shaft
and a blown-off cylinder cover. The ruined cargo, salvage and tow
smashed the Syndicate, and the _Robert Bullmer_ found new occupations
till the See-Yup-See Company of Canton picked her up, and,
rechristening, used her for conveying coffins and coolies to the
American seaboard. They had sent her to Valdivia on some business, and
on the return from the southern port to 'Frisco she had, true to her
instincts and helped by a gale, run on San Juan, a scrap of an island
north of the Channel Islands of the California coast. Every soul had
been lost with the exception of two Chinese coolies, who, drifting on a
raft, had been picked up and brought to San Francisco.
She had a general cargo and twenty thousand dollars in gold coin on
board, but the coolies had declared her to be a total wreck, said, in
fact, when they had last sighted her she was going to pieces.
That was the yarn Harman heard through Clancy, with the intimation that
the wreck was not worth two dollars, let alone the expenses of a
The story had eaten into Harman's mind; he knew San Juan better than
any man in 'Frisco, and he considered that a ship once ashore there
would stick; then Ginnell turned up, and the luminous idea of inducing
Ginnell to shanghai Blood so that Blood might with his, Harman's,
assistance shanghai Ginnell and use the _Heart of Ireland_ for the
picking of the _Yan-Shan's_ pocket, entered his mind.
"It's just when we come alongside the _Yan-Shan_ we may find our worst
bother," said Blood.
"Which way?" asked Harman.
"Well, they're pretty sure to send some sort of a wrecking expedition
to try and salve some of the cargo, let alone those dollars."
"See here," said Harman, "I had the news from Clancy that morning, and
it had only just come to 'Frisco, it wasn't an hour old; we put the cap
on Ginnell and were out of the Golden Gate before sundown same day. A
wrecking ship would take all of two days to get her legs under her,
supposing anyone bought the wreck, so we have two days' start; we've
been makin' seven knots and maybe a bit over, they won't make more. So
we have two days to our good when we get there."
"They may start a quick ship out on the job," said Blood.
"Well, now, there's where my knowledge comes in," said Harman.
"There's only two salvage ships at present in 'Frisco, and rotten tubs
they are. One's the _Maryland_, she's most a divin' and dredgin' ship,
ain't no good for this sort of work, sea-bottom scrapin' is all she's
good for, and little she makes at it. The other's the _Port of
Amsterdam_, owned by Gunderman. She's the ship they'd use; she's got
steam winches and derricks 'nough to discharge the Ark, and stowage
room to hold the cargo down to the last flea, but she's no good for
more than eight knots; she steams like as if she'd a drogue behind her,
because why?--she's got beam engines--she's that old, she's got beam
engines in her. I'm not denyin' there's somethin' to be said for them,
but, there you are, there's no speed in them."
"Well, beam engines or no beam engines, we'll have a pretty rough time
if she comes down and catches us within a cable's length of the
_Yan-Shan_," said Blood. "However, there's no use in fetching trouble;
let's go and have a look at the lazaret, I want to see how we stand for
Chop-stick Charlie was the name Blood had christened the coolie who
acted as steward and cabin hand. He called him now, and out of the
opium-tinctured gloom of the fo'c'sle Charlie appeared, received his
orders and led them to the lazaret.
None of the crew had shown the slightest emotion on seeing Blood take
over command of the schooner and Ginnell swabbing decks. The fight,
that had made Blood master of the _Heart of Ireland_ and Ginnell's
revolver, had occurred in the cabin and out of sight of the coolies,
but even had it been conducted in full view of them, it is doubtful
whether they would have shown any feeling or lifted a hand in the
As long as their little privileges were regarded, as long as opium
bubbled in the evening pipe, and pork, rice and potatoes were served
out, one white skipper was the same as another to them.
The overhaul of the stores took half an hour and was fairly
satisfactory, and, when they came, on deck, Blood, telling Charlie to
take Ginnell's place as lookout, called the latter down into the cabin.
"We want to have a word with you," said Blood, whilst Harman took his
seat on a bunk edge opposite him.
"It's time you knew our minds and what we intend doing with the
schooner and yourself."
"Faith," said Ginnell, "I think it is."
"I'm glad you agree. Well, when you shanghaied me on board this old
shark-boat of yours, there's little doubt as to what you intended doing
with me. Harman will tell you, for we've talked on the matter."
"He'd a' worked you crool hard, fed you crool bad, and landed you after
a six months' cruise doped or drunk, with two cents in your pocket and
an affidavit up his sleeve that you'd tried to fire his ship," said
Harman. "I know the swab."
Ginnell said nothing for a moment in answer to this soft impeachment,
he was cutting himself a chew of tobacco; then at last he spoke:
"I don't want no certifikit of character from either the pair of you,"
said he. "You've boned me ship and you've blacked me eye and you've
near stove me ribs in sittin' on me chest and houldin' me revolver in
me face; what I wants to know is your game. Where's your profits to
come from on this job?"
"I'll tell you," replied Blood. "There's a hooker called the
_Yan-Shan_ piled on the rocks down the coast and we're going to leave
our cards on her--savvy?"
"Oh, Lord!" said Ginnell.
"What's the matter now?" asked Harman.
"What's the matter, d'you say?" cried Ginnell. "Why, it's the
_Yan-Shan_ I was after meself."
Blood stared at the owner of the _Heart of Ireland_ for a moment, then
he broke into a roar of laughter.
"You don't mean to say you bought the wreck?" he asked.
"Not me," replied Ginnell. "Sure, where d'you think I'd be findin' the
money to buy wrecks with? I had news that mornin' she was lyin' there
derelick, and I was just slippin' down the coast to have a look at her
when you two spoiled me lay by takin' me ship."
It was now that Harman began to laugh.
"Well, if that don't beat all," said he. "And maybe, since you were so
keen on havin' a look at her, you've brought wreckin' tools with you in
case they might come in handy?"
"That's as may be," replied Ginnell. "What you have got to worry about
isn't wreckin' tools, but how to get rid of the boodle if it's there.
Twenty thousand dollars, that's the figure."
"So you know of the dollars?" said Blood.
"Sure, what do you take me for?" asked Ginnell. "D'you think I'd have
bothered about the job only for the dollars? What's the use of general
cargo to the like of me? Now what I'm thinkin' is this, you want a
fence to help you to get rid of the stuff. Supposin' you find it, how
are you to cart this stuff ashore and bank it? You'll be had, sure,
but not if I'm at your back. Now, gents, I'm willin' to wipe out all
differences and help in the salvin' on shares, and I'll make it easy
for you. You'll each take seven thousand and I'll take the balance,
and I won't charge nuthin' for the loan you've took of the _Heart of
Ireland_. It's a losin' game for me, but it's better than bein' done
Blood looked at Harman and Harman looked at Blood. Then telling
Ginnell that they would consider the matter, they went on deck to talk
There was truth in what Ginnell said. They would want help in getting
the coin ashore in safety, and unless they marooned or murdered
Ginnell, he, if left out, would always be a witness to make trouble.
Besides, though engaged on a somewhat shady business, neither Blood nor
Harman were scoundrels. Ginnell up to this had been paid out in his
own coin, the slate was clean, and it pleased neither of them to take
profit from this blackguard beyond what they considered their due.
It was just this touch of finer feeling that excluded them from the
category of rogues and made their persons worth considering and their
doings worth recounting.
"We'll give him what he asks," said Blood, when the consultation was
over, "and mind you, I don't like giving it him one little bit, not on
account of the money but because it seems to make us partners with that
swab. I tell you this, Billy Harman, I'd give half as much again if an
honest man was dealing with us in this matter instead of Pat Ginnell."
"And what honest man would deal with us?" asked the ingenuous Harman.
"Lord! one might think the job we was on was tryin' to sell a laundry.
It's safe enough, for who can say we didn't hit the wreck cruisin'
round promiscuous, but it won't hold no frills in the way of Honesty
and such. Down with you, and close the bargain with that chap and tip
him the wink that, though we're mugs enough to give him six thousand
dollars for the loan of his old shark-boat, we're men enough to put a
pistol bullet in his gizzard if he tries any games with us. Down you
Next morning, an hour after sunrise, through the blaze of light
striking the Pacific across the far-off Californlan coast, San Juan
showed like a flake of spar on the horizon to southward.
The sea all there is of an impossible blueness, the Pacific blue
deepened by the _Kuro Shiwo_ current, that mysterious river of the sea
which floods up the coast of Japan, crosses the Pacific towards Alaska,
and sweeps down the West American seaboard to fan out and lose itself
away down somewhere off Chile.
Harman judged the island to be twenty miles away, and as they were
making six and a half knots, he reckoned to hit it in three hours if
the wind held.
They went down and had breakfast, and after the meal Ginnell, going to
the locker where he had stowed the wrecking tools, fetched them out and
laid them on deck. There were two crow-bars and a jemmy, not to
mention a flogging hammer, a rip saw, some monstrous big chisels and a
shipwright's mallet. They looked like a collection of burglar's
implements from the land of Brobdingnag.
"There you are," said Ginnell. "You never know what you may want on a
job like this, with bulkheads, maybe, to be cut through and chests
broke open; get a spare sail, Misther Harman, and rowl the lot up in it
so's they'll be aisier for thransport."
He was excited, and the Irish in him came out when he was like that;
also, as the most knowledgeable man in the business, he was taking the
lead. You never could have fancied from his cheerful manner and his
appearance of boss that Blood was the real master of the situation, or
that Blood, only a few days ago, had nearly pounded the life out of
him, captured his revolver, and taken possession of the _Heart of
The schooner carried a whale-boat, and this was now got in readiness
for lowering, with provisions and water for the landing-party, and when
that was done the island, now only four miles distant, showed up fine,
a sheer splinter of volcanic rock standing up from the sea and creamed
about with foam.
Not a sign of a wreck was to be seen, though Ginnell's glasses were
powerful enough to show up every detail from the rock fissures to the
Gloom fell upon the party, with the exception of Harman.
"It'll be on the other side if it's there at all," said he. "She'd
have been coming up from the s'uthard, and if the gale was behind her
it would have taken her right on to the rocks; she couldn't be on this
side, anyhow, because why?--there's nuthin' to hold her. It's a mile
deep water off them cliffs, but on the other side it shoals gradual
from tide marks to ten fathoms water, which holds for a quarter of a
mile--keep her as she is, you could scrape them cliffs with a
battleship without danger of groundin'."
After a minute or two, he took the wheel himself and steered her whilst
the fellows stood by the halyards ready to let go at a moment's notice.
It was an impressive place, this north side of the island of San Juan;
the heavy swell came up smacking right on to the sheer cliff wall,
jetting green water and foam yards high to the snore and boom of caves
and cut outs in the rock. Gulls haunted the place. The black petrel,
the Western gull and the black-footed albatross all were to be found
here; long lines of white gulls marked the cliff edges, and far above,
in the dazzling azure of the sky, a Farallone cormorant circled like
the spirit of the place, challenging the newcomers with its cry.
Harman shifted his helm, and the _Heart of Ireland_ with main boom
swinging to port came gliding past the western rocks and opening the
sea to southward where, far on the horizon, lovely in the morning light
like vast ships under press of sail, the San Lucas Islands lay remote
in the morning splendour.
Away to port the line of the Californian coast showed beyond the heave
of the sea from Point Arguello to Point Conception, and to starboard
and west of the San Lucas's a dot in the sun-dazzle marked the peaks of
the island of San Nicolas.
Then, as the _Heart of Ireland_ came around and the full view of the
south of San Juan burst upon them, the wreck piled on the rocks came in
sight, and, anchored quarter of a mile off the shore--a Chinese junk!
"Well, I'm damned," said Harman.
Ginnell, seizing his glasses, rushed forward and looked through them at
"It's swarmin' with chows," cried he, coming aft. "They seem to have
only just landed, be the look of them. Keep her as she goes and be
ready with the anchor there forrard; we'll scupper them yet. Mr.
Harman, be plazed to fetch up that linth of lead pipe you'll find on
the cabin flure be the door. Capt'in, will you see with Charlie here
to the boat while I get the anchor ready for droppin'; them coolies is
He went forward, and the _Heart of Ireland_, with the wind spilling out
of her mainsail, came along over the heaving blue swell, satin-smooth
here in the shelter of the island.
Truly the _Yan-Shan_, late _Robert Bullmer_, had made a masterpiece of
her last business; she had come stem on, lifted by the piling sea, and
had hit the rocks, smashing every bow-plate from the keel to within a
yard or two of the gunnel, then a wave had taken her under the stern
and lifted her and flung her broadside on just as she now lay, pinned
to her position by the rock horns that had gored her side, and showing
a space of her rust-red bottom to the sun.
The water was squattering among the rocks right up to her, the
phosphor-bronze propeller showed a single blade cocked crookedly at the
end of the broken screw shaft; rudder there was none, the funnel was
gone, spar deck and bridge were in wrack and ruin, whilst the cowl of a
bent ventilator turned seaward seemed contemplating with a languid air
the beauty of the morning and the view of the far distant San Lucas
The _Heart of Ireland_ picked up a berth inside the junk, and as the
rasp and rattle of the anchor chain came back in faint echoes from the
cliff, a gong on the junk woke to life and began to snarl and roar its
warning to the fellows on the wreck.
"Down with the boat," cried Ginnell. With the "linth of lead pipe," a
most formidable weapon, sticking from his pocket, he ran to help with
the falls; the whaleboat smacked the water, the crew tumbled in, and,
with Ginnell in the bow, it started for the shore.
The gong had done its work. The fellows who had been crawling like
ants over the dead body of the _Yan-Shan_ came slithering down on
ropes, appeared running and stumbling over the rocks abaft the stern,
some hauling along sacks of loot, others brandishing sticks or bits of
timber, and all shouting and clamouring with a noise like gulls whose
nests are being raided.
There was a small scrap of shingly beach off which the Chinamen's scow
was lying anchored with a stone and with a China boy for anchor watch.
The whale-boat passed the scow, dashed nose end up the shelving beach,
and the next moment Ginnell and his linth of lead pipe was amongst the
Chinamen, whilst Blood, following him, was firing his revolver over
their heads. Harman, with a crowbar carried at the level, was aiming
straight at the belly of the biggest of the foe, when they parted right
and left, dropping everything, beaten before they were touched, and
making for the water over the rocks.
Swimming like rats, they made for the scow, scrambled on board her,
howked up the anchor stone and shot out the oars.
"They're off for the junk," cried Ginnell. "Faith, that was a clane
bit of work; look at thim rowin' as if the divil was after thim."
They were, literally, and now on board the junk they were hauling the
boat in, shaking out the lateen sail and dragging up the anchor as
though a hundred pair of hands were at work instead of twenty.
Then, as the huge sail bellied gently to the wind and the junk broke
the violet breeze shadow beyond the calm of the sheltered water, a
voice came over the sea, a voice like the clamour of a hundred gulls,
thin, rending, fierce as the sound of tearing calico.
"Shout away, me boys," said Ginnell. "You've got the shout and we've
got the boodle, and good day to ye."
He turned with the others to examine the contents of the sacks dropped
by the vanquished ones and lying amongst the rocks. They were old
gunny bags and they were stuffed with all sorts of rubbish and
valuables, musical instruments, bits of old metal, cabin curtains, and
even cans of bully beef--there was no sign of dollars.
"The fools were so busy picking up everything they could find lying
about, they hadn't time to search for the real stuff," said Blood.
"Didn't know of it."
"Well," said Ginnell, "stick the ould truck back in the bags with the
insthruments; we'll sort it out when we get aboard and fling the
rubbish over and keep what's worth keepin'."
Helped by the coolies, they refilled the bags and left them in position
for carrying off, and then, led by Ginnell, they made round the stern
of the wreck to the port side.
Now, on the sea side the _Yan-Shan_ presented a bad enough picture of
desolation and destruction, but here on the land side the sight was
The great yellow funnel had crashed over on to the rocks and lay with
lengths of the guys still adhering to it; a quarter boat with bottom
half out had gone the way of the funnel; crabs were crawling over all
sorts of raffle, broken spars, canvas from the bridge screen and
woodwork of the chart-house, whilst all forward of amidships the
plates, beaten and twisted and ripped apart, showed cargo, held, or in
the act of escaping. One big packing case, free of the ship, had
resolved itself into staves round its once contents, a piano that
appeared perfectly uninjured.
A rope ladder hung from the bulwarks amidships, and up it Ginnell went,
followed by the others, reaching a roofless passage that had once been
the part alley-way.
Here on the slanting deck one got a full picture of the ruin that had
come on the ship; the masts were gone, as well as the funnel; boats,
ventilators--with the exception of the twisted cowl looking
seaward--bridge, chart-house, all had vanished wholly or in part, a
picture made more impressive by the calm blue sky overhead and the
brilliancy of the sunlight.
The locking bars had been removed from the cover of the fore hatch and
the hatch opened, evidently by the Chinese in search of plunder.
Ginnell scarcely turned an eye on it before he made aft, followed by
the others, he reached the saloon companion-way and dived down it.
If the confusion on deck was bad, it was worse below. The cabin doors
on either side were either open or off their hinges, bunk bedding,
mattresses, an open and rifled valise, some women's clothes, an empty
cigar-box and a cage with a dead canary in it lay on the floor.
The place looked as if an army of pillagers had been at work for days,
and the sight struck a chill to the hearts of the beholders.
"We're dished," said Ginnell. "Quick, boys, if the stuff's anywhere
it'll be in the old man's cabin, there's no mail room in a packet like
this. If it's not there, we're done."
They found the captain's cabin, they found his papers tossed about, his
cash-box open and empty, and a strong box clamped to the deck by the
bunk in the same condition. They found, to complete the business, an
English sovereign on the floor in a corner.
Ginnell sat down on the edge of the bunk.
"They've got the dollars," said he. "That's why they legged it so
quick and--we let them go. Twenty thousand dollars in gold coin and we
let them go. Tear an' ages! Afther them!" He sprang from the bunk
and dashed through the saloon, followed by the others. On deck they
strained their eyes seaward towards a brown spot on the blue far, far
away to the sou'-west. It was the junk making a soldier's wind of it,
every inch of sail spread. Judging by the distance she had covered,
she must have been making at least eight knots, and the Heart of
Ireland under similar wind conditions was incapable of more than seven.
"No good chasing her," said Blood.
"Not a happorth," replied Ginnell. Then the quarrel began.
"If you hadn't held us pokin' over them old sacks on the rocks there
we'd maybe have had a chance of over-haulin' her," said Ginnell.
"Sacks," cried Blood, "what are you talking about; it was you who let
them go, shouting good day to them and telling them we'd got the
"Boodle, b'g-d!" cried Ginnell. "You're a nice chap to talk about
boodle. You did me in an' collared me boat, and now you're let down
proper, and serve you right."
Blood was about to reply in kind, when the dispute was cut short by a
loud yell from the engine-room hatch.
Harman, having satisfied himself with a glance that all was up with the
junk, had gone poking about and entered the engine-room hatchway. He
now appeared, shouting like a maniac.
"The dollars," he cried, "two dead Chinkies an' the dollars."
He vanished again with a shout, they rushed to the hatch, and there, on
the steel grating leading to the ladder, curled together like two cats
that had died in battle, lay the Chinamen, Harman kneeling beside them,
his hands at work on the neck of a tied sack that chinked as he shook
it with the glorious rich, mellow sound that gold in bulk and gold in
specie alone can give.
The lanyard came away, and Harman, plunging his big hand in, produced
it filled with British sovereigns.
Not one of them moved or said a word for a moment, then Ginnell
suddenly squatted down on the grating beside Harman, and, taking a
sovereign between finger and thumb gingerly, as though he feared it
might burn him, examined it with a laugh. Then he bit it, spun it in
the air, caught it in his left hand and brought his great right palm
down on it with a bang.
"Hids or tails!" cried Ginnell. "Hids I win, tails you lose." He gave
a coarse laugh as he opened his palm, where the coin lay tail up.
"Hids it is," he cried, then he tossed it back into the bag and rose to
"Come on, boys," said he, "let's bring the stuff down to the saloon and
"Better get it aboard," said Blood.
Harman looked up. The grin on his face stamped by the finding of the
gold was still there, and in the light coming through the hatch his
forehead showed beaded with sweat.
"I'm with Ginnell," said he, "let's get down to the saloon for an
overhaul. I can't wait whiles we row off to the schooner. I wants to
feel the stuff and I wants to divide it, b'g-d, right off and now.
Boys, we're rich, we sure are. It's the stroke of my life, and I can't
wait for no rowin' on board no schooners before we divide up."
"Come on, then," said Blood.
The sack was much bigger than its contents, so there was plenty of grip
for him as he seized one corner. Then, Harman grasping it by the neck,
they lugged it out and along the deck and down the saloon companionway,
The Chinese had opened nearly all the cabin port-holes for the sake of
light to assist them in their plundering, and now as Blood and Harman
placed the sack on the slanting saloon table, the crying of gulls came
clearly and derisively from the cliffs outside, mixed with the hush of
the sea and the boost of the swell as it broke creaming and squattering
among the rocks. The lackadaisical ventilator cowl, which took an
occasional movement from stray puffs of air, added its voice now and
then, whining and complaining like some lost yet inconsiderable soul.
No other sound could be heard as the three men ranged themselves,
Ginnell on the starboard, and Blood and Harman on the port side of the
The swivel seats, though all aslant, were practicable, and Harman was
in the act of taking his place in the seat he had chosen when Ginnell
"One moment, Mr. Harman," said the owner of the _Heart of Ireland_.
"I've a word to say to you and Mr. Blood--sure, I beg your pardon--I
mane Capt'in Blood."
"Well," said Blood, grasping a chair-back. "What have you to say?"
"Only this," replied Ginnell with a grin. "I've got back me revolver."
Blood clapped his hand to his pocket. It was empty.
"I picked your pocket of it," said Ginnell, producing the weapon, "two
minits back; you fired three shots over the heads of them chows and
there's three ca'tridges left in her. I can hit a dollar at twinty
long paces. Move an inch either the one or other of you, and I'll lay
your brains on the table fornint you."
They did not move, for they knew that he was in earnest. They knew
that if they moved he would begin to shoot, and if he began to shoot he
would finish the job, leave their corpses on the floor, and sail off
with the dollars and his Chinese crew in perfect safety. There were no
"Now," said Ginnell, "what the pair of you have to do is this. Misther
Harman, you'll go into that cabin behind you, climb on the upper bunk,
stick your head through the port-hole and shout to the coolies down
below there with the boat to come up. It'll take two men to get them
dollars on deck and down to the wather side. When you've done that,
the pair of you will walk into the ould man's cabin an' say your
prayers, thanking the saints you've got off so easy, whiles I puts the
bolt on you till the dollars are away. And remimber this, one word or
kick from you and I shoot--the Chinamen will never tell."
"See here," said Harman.
"One word!" shouted Ginnell, suddenly dropping the mask of urbanity and
levelling the pistol.
It was as though the tiger-cat in his grimy soul had suddenly burst
bonds and mastered him. His finger pressed on the trigger and the next
moment Harman's brains, or what he had of them, might have been
literally forenint him on the table, when suddenly, tremendous as the
last trumpet, paralysing as the inrush of a body of armed men, booing
and bellowing back from the cliffs in a hundred echoes came a
voice--the blast of a ship's syren.
"Huroop, Hirrip, Hurop, Haar--Haar--Haar!"
Ginnell's arm fell. Harman, forgetting everything, turned, dashed into
the cabin behind him, climbed on the upper bunk, and stuck his head
through the port-hole.
Then he dashed back into the saloon.
"It's the _Port of Amsterdam_," cried Harman, "It's the salvage ship,
she's there droppin' her anchor; we're done, we're dished--and we
foolin' like this and they crawlin' up on us."
"And you said she'd only do eight knots!" cried Blood.
Ginnell flung the revolver on the floor. Every trace of the recent
occurrence had vanished, and the three men thought no more of one
another than a man thinks of petty matters in the face of dissolution.
Gunderman was outside, that was enough for them.
"Boys," said Ginnell, "ain't there no way out with them dollars?
S'pose we howk them ashore?"
"Cliffs two hundred foot high," said Harman, "not a chanst. We're
Said Blood: "There's only one thing left. We'll walk the dollars down
to the boat and row off with them. Of course we'll be stopped; still,
there's the chance that Gunderman may be drunk or something. It's one
chance in a hundred billion--it's the only one."
But Gunderman was not drunk, nor were his boat party; and the
court-martial he held on the beach in broken English and with the sack
of coin beside him as chief witness would form a bright page of
literature had one time to record it.
Ginnell, as owner of the _Heart of Ireland_, received the whole brunt
of the storm; there was no hearing for him when, true to himself, he
tried to cast the onus of the business on Blood and Harman. He was
told to get out and be thankful he was not brought back to 'Frisco in
irons, and he obeyed instructions, rowing off to the schooner, he and
Harman and Blood, a melancholy party with the exception of Blood, who
was talking to Harman with extreme animation on the subject of beam
On deck it was Blood who gave orders for hauling up the anchor and
setting sail. He had recaptured the revolver.
THE DERELICT _NEPTUNE_*
Across the Atlantic Ocean from the Gulf of Guinea to Cape St. Roque
moves a great body of water--the Main Equatorial Current--which can be
considered the motive power, or mainspring, of the whole Atlantic
current system, as it obtains its motion directly from the ever-acting
push of the tradewinds. At Cape St. Roque this broad current splits
into two parts, one turning north, the other south. The northern part
contracts, increases its speed, and, passing up the northern coast of
South America as the Guiana Current, enters through the Caribbean Sea
into the Gulf of Mexico, where it circles around to the northward;
then, colored a deep blue from the fine river silt of the Mississippi,
and heated from its long surface exposure under a tropical sun to an
average temperature of eighty degrees, it emerges into the Florida
Channel as the Gulf Stream.
From here it travels northeast, following the trend of the coast line,
until, off Cape Hatteras, it splits into three divisions, one of which,
the westernmost, keeps on to lose its warmth and life in Baffin's Bay.
Another impinges on the Hebrides, and is no more recognizable as a
current; and the third, the eastern and largest part of the divided
stream, makes a wide sweep to the east and south, enclosing the Azores
and the deadwater called the Sargasso Sea, then, as the African
Current, runs down the coast until, just below the Canary Isles, it
merges into the Lesser Equatorial Current, which, parallel to the
parent stream, and separated from it by a narrow band of backwater,
travels west and filters through the West Indies, making puzzling
combinations with the tides, and finally bearing so heavily on the
young Gulf Stream as to give to it the sharp turn to the northward
through the Florida Channel.
In the South Atlantic, the portion of the Main Equatorial Current split
off by Cape St. Roque and directed south leaves the coast at Cape Frio,
and at the latitude of the River Plate assumes a due easterly
direction, crossing the ocean as the Southern Connecting Current. At
the Cape of Good Hope it meets the cold, northeasterly Cape Horn
Current, and with it passes up the coast of Africa to join the
Equatorial Current at the starting-point in the Gulf of Guinea, the
whole constituting a circulatory system of ocean rivers, of speed value
varying from eighteen to ninety miles a day.
On a bright morning in November, 1894, a curious-looking craft floated
into the branch current which, skirting Cuba, flows westward through
the Bahama Channel. A man standing on the highest of two points
enclosing a small bay near Cape Maisi, after a critical examination
through a telescope, disappeared from the rocks, and in a few moments a
light boat, of the model used by whalers, emerged from the mouth of the
bay, containing this man and another. In the boat also was a coil of
The one who had inspected the craft from the rocks was a tall young
fellow, dressed in flannel shirt and trousers, the latter held in place
by a cartridge-belt, such as is used by the American cowboy. To this
was hung a heavy revolver. On his head was a broad-brimmed cork
helmet, much soiled, and resembling in shape the Mexican sombrero.
Beneath this head-gear was a mass of brown hair, which showed a
non-acquaintance with barbers for, perhaps, months, and under this hair
a sun-tanned face, lighted by serious gray eyes. The most noticeable
feature of this face was the extreme arching of the eyebrows--a
never-failing index of the highest form of courage. It was a face that
would please. The face of the other was equally pleasing in its way.
It was red, round, and jolly, with twinkling eyes, the whole borrowing
a certain dignity from closely cut white hair and mustaches. The man
was about fifty, dressed and armed like the other.
"What do you want of pistols, Boston?" he said to the younger man.
"One might think this an old-fashioned, piratical cutting out."
"Oh, I don't know, Doc. It's best to have them. That hulk may be full
of Spaniards, and the whole thing nothing but a trick to draw us out.
But she looks like a derelict. I don't see how she got into this
channel, unless she drifted up past Cape Maisi from the southward,
having come in with the Guiana Current. It's all rocks and shoals to
The boat, under the impulse of their oars, soon passed the fringing
reef and came in sight of the strange craft, which lay about a mile
east and half a mile off shore. "You see," resumed the younger man,
called Boston, "there's a back-water inside Point Mulas, and if she
gets into it she may come ashore right here."
"Where we can loot her. Nice business for a respectable practitioner
like me to be engaged in! Doctor Bryce, of Havana, consorting with
Fenians from Canada, exiled German socialists, Cuban horse-thieves who
would be hung in a week if they went to Texas, and a long-legged sailor
man who calls himself a retired naval officer, but who looks like a
pirate; and all shouting for _Cuba Libre_! _Cuba Libre_! It's plunder
"But none of us ever manufactured dynamite," answered Boston, with a
grin. "How long did they have you in Moro Castle, Doc?"
"Eight months," snapped the doctor, his face clouding. "Eight months
in that rathole, with the loss of my property and practice--all for
devotion to science. I was on the brink of the most important and
beneficent discovery in explosives the world ever dreamed of. Yes,
sir, 'twould have made me famous and stopped all warfare."
"The captain told me this morning that he'd heard from Marti," said
Boston, after an interval. "Good news, he said, but that's all I
learned. Maybe it's from Gomez. If he'll only take hold again we can
chase the Spanish off the island now. Then we'll put some of your
stuff under Moro and lift it off the earth."
In a short time, details of the craft ahead, hitherto hidden by
distance, began to show. There was no sign of life aboard; her spars
were gone, with the exception of the foremast, broken at the hounds,
and she seemed to be of about a thousand tons burden, colored a mixed
brown and dingy gray, which, as they drew near, was shown as the action
of iron rust on black and lead-colored paint. Here and there were
outlines of painted ports. Under the stump of a shattered bowsprit
projected from between bluff bows a weather-worn figurehead,
representing the god of the sea. Above on the bows were wooden-stocked
anchors stowed inboard, and aft on the quarters were iron davits with
blocks intact--but no falls. In a few of the dead-eyes in the channels
could be seen frayed rope-yarns, rotten with age, and, with the stump
of the foremast, the wooden stocks of the anchors, and the teak-wood
rail, of a bleached gray color. On the round stern, as they pulled
under it, they spelled, in raised letters, flecked here and there with
discolored gilt, the name "Neptune, of London." Unkempt and forsaken,
she had come in from the mysterious sea to tell her story.
The climbed the channels, fastened the painter, and peered over the
rail. There was no one in sight, and they sprang down, finding
themselves on a deck that was soft and spongy with time and weather.
"She's an old tub," said Boston, scanning the gray fabric fore and aft;
"one of the first iron ships built, I should think. They housed the
crew under the t'gallant forecastle. See the doors forward, there?
And she has a full-decked cabin--that's old style. Hatches are all
battened down, but I doubt if this tarpaulin holds water." He stepped
on the main hatch, brought his weight on the ball of one foot, and
turned around. The canvas crumbled to threads, showing the wood
beneath. "Let's go below. If there were any Spaniards here they'd
have shown themselves before this." The cabin doors were latched but
not locked, and they opened them.
"Hold on," said the doctor, "this cabin may have been closed for years,
and generated poisonous gases. Open that upper door, Boston."
Boston ran up the shaky poop ladder and opened the companion-way above,
which let a stream of the fresh morning air and sunshine into the
cabin, then, after a moment or two, descended and joined the other, who
had entered from the main-deck. They were in an ordinary ship's cabin,
surrounded by staterooms, and with the usual swinging lamp and tray;
but the table, chairs, and floor were covered with fine dust.
"Where the deuce do you get so much dust at sea?" coughed the doctor.
"Nobody knows, Doc. Let's hunt for the manifest and the articles.
This must have been the skipper's room." They entered the largest
stateroom, and Boston opened an old-fashioned desk. Among the
discolored documents it contained, he found one and handed it to the
doctor. "Articles," he said; "look at it." Soon he took out another.
"I've got it. Now we'll find what she has in her hold, and if it's
worth bothering about."
"Great Scott!" exclaimed the doctor; "this paper is dated 1844, fifty
years ago." Boston looked over his shoulder.
"That's so; she signed her crew at Boston, too. Where has she been all
this time? Let's see this one."
The manifest was short, and stated that her cargo was 3000 barrels of
lime, 8000 kids of tallow, and 2500 carboys of acid, 1700 of which were
sulphuric, the rest of nitric acid. "That cargo won't be much good to
us, Doc. I'd hope to find something we could use. Let's find the
log-book, and see what happened to her." Boston rummaged what seemed
to be the first-mate's room. "Plenty of duds here," he said; "but
they're ready to fall to pieces. Here's the log."
He returned with the book, and, seated at the dusty table, they turned
the yellow leaves. "First departure, Highland Light, March 10, 1844,"
read Boston. "We'll look in the remarks column."
Nothing but the ordinary incidents of a voyage were found until they
reached the date June 1st, where entry was made of the ship being
"caught aback" and dismasted off the Cape of Good Hope in a sudden
gale. Then followed daily "remarks" of the southeasterly drift of the
ship, the extreme cold (which, with the continuance of the bad weather,
prevented saving the wreck for jury-masts), and the fact that no sails
June 6th told of her being locked in soft, slushy ice, and still being
pressed southward by the never-ending gale; June 10th said that the ice
was hard, and at June 15th was the terrible entry: "Fire in the hold!"
On June 16th was entered this: "Kept hatches battened down and stopped
all air-holes, but the deck is too hot to stand on, and getting hotter.
Crew insist on lowering the boats and pulling them northward over the
ice to open water in hopes of being picked up. Good-bye." In the
position columns of this date the latitude was given as 62 degrees 44
minutes S. and the longitude as 30 degrees 50 minutes E. There were no
"What tragedy docs this tell of?" said the doctor. "They left this
ship in the ice fifty years ago. Who can tell if they were saved?"
"Who indeed?" said Boston. "The mate hadn't much hope. He said
'Good-bye.' But one thing is certain; we are the first to board her
since. I take it she stayed down there in the ice until she drifted
around the Pole, and thawed out where she could catch the Cape Horn
current, which took her up to the Hope. Then she came up with the
South African Current till she got into the Equatorial drift, then
west, and up with the Guiana Current into the Caribbean Sea to the
southward of us, and this morning the flood-tide brought her through.
It isn't a question of winds; they're too variable. It's currents,
though it may have taken her years to get here. But the surprising
part of it is that she hasn't been boarded. Let's look in the hold and
see what the fire has done."
When they boarded the hulk, the sky, with the exception of a filmy haze
overhanging the eastern end of the island, was clear. Now, as they
emerged from the cabin, this haze had solidified and was coming--one of
the black and vicious squalls of the West India seas.
"No man can tell what wind there is in them," remarked Boston, as he
viewed it. "But it's pretty close to the water, and dropping rain.
Hold on, there, Doc. Stay aboard. We couldn't pull ashore in the
teeth of it." The doctor had made a spasmodic leap to the rail. "If
the chains were shackled on, we might drop one of the hooks and hold
her; but it's two hours work for a full crew."
"But we're likely to be blown away, aren't we?" asked the doctor.
"Not far. I don't think it'll last long. We'll make the boat fast
astern and get out of the wet." They did so, and entered the cabin.
Soon the squall, coming with a shock like that of a solid blow, struck
the hulk broadside to and careened her. From the cabin door they
watched the nearly horizontal rain as it swished across the deck, and
listened to the screaming of the wind, which prevented all
conversation. Silently they waited--one hour--two hours--then Boston
said: "This is getting serious. It's no squall. If it wasn't so late
in the season I'd call it a hurricane. I'm going on deck."
He climbed the companionway stairs to the poop, and shut the scuttle
behind him--for the rain was flooding the cabin--then looked around.
The shore and horizon were hidden by a dense wall of gray, which seemed
not a hundred feet distant. From to windward this wall was detaching
great waves or sheets of almost solid water, which bombarded the ship
in successive blows, to be then lost in the gray whirl to leeward.
Overhead was the same dismal hue, marked by hurrying masses of darker
cloud, and below was a sea of froth, white and flat; for no waves could
rise their heads in that wind. Drenched to the skin, he tried the
wheel and found it free in its movements. In front of it was a
substantial binnacle, and within a compass, which, though sluggish, as
from a well-worn pivot, was practically in good condition. "Blowing us
about nor'west by west," he muttered, as he looked at it--"straight up
the coast. It's better than the beach in this weather, but may land us
in Havana." He examined he boat. It was full of water, and tailing to
windward, held by its painter. Making sure that this was fast, he went
"Doc," he said, as he squeezed the water from his limp cork helmet and
flattened it on the table, "have you any objections to being rescued by
some craft going into Havana?"
"I have--decided objections."
"So have I; but this wind is blowing us there--sideways. Now, such a
blow as this, at this time of year, will last three days at least, and
I've an idea that it'll haul gradually to the south, and west towards
the end of it. Where'll we be then? Either piled up on one of the
Bahama keys or interviewed by the Spaniards. Now I've been thinking of
a scheme on deck. We can't get back to camp for a while--that's
settled. This iron hull is worth something, and if we can take it into
an American port we can claim salvage. Key West is the nearest, but
Fernandina is the surest. We've got a stump of a foremast and a rudder
and a compass. If we can get some kind of sail up forward and bring
her 'fore the wind, we can steer any course within thirty degrees of
the wind line."
"But I can't steer. And how long will this voyage take? What will we
"Yes, you can steer--good enough. And, of course, it depends on food,
and water, too. We'd better catch some of this that's going to waste."
In what had been the steward's storeroom they found a harness-cask with
bones and dry rust in the bottom. "It's salt meat, I suppose," said
the doctor, "reduced to its elements." With the handles of their
pistols they carefully hammered down the rusty hoops over the shrunken
staves, which were well preserved by the brine they had once held, and
taking the cask on deck, cleaned it thoroughly under the scuppers--or
drain-holes--of the poop, and let it stand under the stream of water to
swell and sweeten itself.
"If we find more casks we'll catch some more," said Boston; "but that
will last us two weeks. Now we'll hunt for her stores. I've eaten
salt-horse twenty years old, but I can't vouch for what we may find
here." They examined all the rooms adjacent to the cabin, but found
"Where's the lazarette in this kind of a ship?" asked Boston. "The
cabin runs right aft to the stern. It must be below us." He found
that the carpet was not tacked to the floor, and, raising the after
end, discovered a hatch, or trap-door, which he lifted. Below, when
their eyes were accustomed to the darkness, they saw boxes and
barrels--all covered with the same fine dust which filled the cabin.
"Don't go down there, yet, Boston," said the doctor. "It may be full
of carbonic acid gas. She's been afire, you know. Wait." He tore a
strip from some bedding in one of the rooms, and, lighting one end by
means of a flint and steel which he carried, lowered the smouldering
rag until it rested on the pile below. It did not go out.
"Safe enough, Boston," he remarked. "But you go down; you're younger."
Boston smiled and sprang down on the pile, from which he passed up a
box. "Looks like tinned stuff, Doc. Open it, and I'll look over here."
The doctor smashed the box with his foot, and found, as the other had
thought, that it contained cylindrical cans; but the labels were faded
with age. Opening one with his jack-knife, he tasted the contents. It
was a mixture of meat and a fluid, called by sailors "soup-and-bully,"
and as fresh and sweet as though canned the day before.
"We're all right, Boston," he called down the hatch. "Here's as good a
dish as I've tasted for months. Ready cooked, too."
Boston soon appeared. "There are some beef or pork barrels over in the
wing," he said, "and plenty of this canned stuff. I don't know what
good the salt meat is. The barrels seem tight, but we won't need to
broach one for a while. There's a bag of coffee--gone to dust, and
some hard bread that isn't fit to eat; but this'll do." He picked up
the open can.
"Boston," said the doctor, "if those barrels contain meat, we'll find
it cooked--boiled in its own brine, like this."
"Isn't it strange," said Boston, as he tasted the contents of the can,
"that this stuff should keep so long?"
"Not at all. It was cooked thoroughly by the heat, and then frozen.
If your barrels haven't burst from the expansion of the brine under the
heat or cold, you'll find the meat just as good."
"But rather salty, if I'm a judge of salt-horse. Now, where's the
sail-locker? We want a sail on that foremast. It must be forward."
In the forecastle they found sailor's chests and clothing in all stages
of ruin, but none of the spare sails that ships carry. In the
boatswain's locker, in one corner of the forecastle, however, they
found some iron-strapped blocks in fairly good condition, which Boston
noted. Then they opened the main-hatch, and discovered a mixed pile of
boxes, some showing protruding necks of large bottles, or carboys,
others nothing but the circular opening. Here and there in the tangled
heap were sections of canvas sails--rolled and unrolled, but all yellow
and worthless. They closed the hatch and returned to the cabin, where
they could converse.
"They stowed their spare canvas in the 'tween-deck on top of the
cargo," said Boston; "and the carboys--"
"And the carboys burst from the heat and ruined the sails," broke in
the doctor. "But another question is, what became of that acid?"
"If it's not in the 'tween-deck yet, it must be in the hold--leaked
through the hatches."
"I hope it hasn't reached the iron in the hull, Boston, my boy. It
takes a long time for cold acids to act on iron after the first
oxidation, but in fifty years mixed nitric and sulphuric will do lots
"No fear, Doc; it had done its work when you were in your cradle.
What'll we do for canvas? We must get this craft before the wind.
How'll the carpet do?" Boston lifted the edge, and tried the fabric in
his fingers. "It'll go," he said; "we'll double it. I'll hunt for a
palm-and-needle and some twine." These articles he found in the mate's
room. "The twine's no better than yarn," said he, "but we'll use four
Together they doubled the carpet diagonally, and with long stitches
joined the edges. Then Boston sewed into each corner a thimble--an
iron ring--and they had a triangular sail of about twelve feet hoist.
"It hasn't been exposed to the action of the air like the ropes in the
locker forward," said Boston, as he arose and took off the palm; "and
perhaps it'll last till she pays off. Then we can steer. You get the
big pulley-blocks from the locker, Doc, and I'll get the rope from the
boat. It's lucky I thought to bring it; I expected to lift things out
of the hold with it."
At the risk of his life Boston obtained the coil from the boat, while
the doctor brought the blocks. Then, together, they rove off a tackle.
With the handles of their pistols they knocked bunk-boards to pieces
and saved the nails; then Boston climbed the foremast, as a painter
climbs a steeple--by nailing successive billets of wood above his head
for steps. Next he hauled up and secured the tackle to the forward
side of the mast, with which they pulled up the upper corner of their
sail, after lashing the lower corners to the windlass and fiferail.
It stood the pressure, and the hulk paid slowly off and gathered
headway. Boston took the wheel and steadied her at northwest by
west--dead before the wind--while the doctor, at his request, brought
the open can of soup and lubricated the wheel-screw with the only
substitute for oil at their command; for the screw worked hard with the
rust of fifty years.
Their improvised sail, pressed steadily on but one side, had held
together, but now, with the first flap as the gale caught it from
another direction, appeared a rent; with the next flap the rag went to
"Let her go!" sang out Boston gleefully; "we can steer now. Come here,
Doc, and learn to steer."
The doctor came; and when he left that wheel, three days later, he had
learned. For the wind had blown a continuous gale the whole of this
time, which, with the ugly sea raised as the ship left the lee of the
land, necessitated the presence of both men at the helm. Only
occasionally was there a lull during which one of them could rush below
and return with a can of soup. During one of these lulls Boston had
examined the boat, towing half out of water, and concluded that a short
painter was best with a water-logged boat, had reinforced it with a few
turns of his rope from forward. In the three days they had sighted no
craft except such as their own--helpless--hove-to or scudding.
Boston had judged rightly in regard to the wind. It had hauled slowly
to the southward, allowing him to make the course he wished--through
the Bahama and up the Florida Channel with the wind over the stern.
During the day he could guide himself by landmarks, but at night, with
a darkened binnacle, he could only steer blindly on with the wind at
his back. The storm centre, at first to the south of Cuba, had made a
wide circle, concentric with the curving course of the ship, and when
the latter had reached the upper end of the Florida channel, had
spurted ahead and whirled out to sea across her bows. It was then that
the undiminished gale, blowing nearly west, had caused Boston, in
despair, to throw the wheel down and bring the ship into the trough of
the sea--to drift. Then the two wet, exhausted, hollow-eyed men slept
the sleep that none but sailors and soldiers know; and when they
awakened, twelve hours later, stiff and sore, it was to look out on a
calm, starlit evening, with an eastern moon silvering the surface of
the long, northbound rollers, and showing in sharp relief a dark
horizon, on which there was no sign of land or sail.
They satisfied their hunger; then Boston, with a rusty iron pot from
the galley, to which he fastened the end of his rope, dipped up some of
the water from over the side. It was warm to the touch, and, aware
that they were in the Gulf Stream, they crawled under the musty bedding
in the cabin berths and slept through the night. In the morning there
was no promise of the easterly wind that Boston hoped would come to
blow them to port, and they secured their boat--reeving off
davit-tackles, and with the plug out, pulling it up, one end at a time,
while the water drained out through the hole in the bottom.
"Now, Boston," said the doctor, "here we are, as you say, on the outer
edge of the Gulf Stream, drifting out into the broad Atlantic at the
rate of four miles an hour. We've got to make the best of it until
something comes along; so you hunt through that store-room and see what
else there is to eat, and I'll examine the cargo. I want to know where
that acid went."
They opened all the hatches, and while Boston descended to the
lazarette, the doctor, with his trousers rolled up, climbed down the
notched steps in a stanchion. In a short time he came up with a yellow
substance in his hand, which he washed thoroughly with fresh water in
Boston's improvised draw-bucket, and placed in the sun to dry. Then he
returned to the 'tween-deck. After a while, Boston, rummaging the
lazarette, heard him calling through the bulkhead, and joined him.
"Look here, Boston," said the doctor; "I've cleared away the muck over
this hatch. It's 'corked,' as you sailormen call it. Help me get it
They dug the compacted oakum from the seams with their knives, and by
iron rings in each corner, now eaten with rust to almost the thinness
of wire, they lifted the hatch. Below was a filthy-looking layer of
whitish substance, protruding from which were charred, half-burned
staves. First they repeated the experiment with the smouldering rag,
and finding that it burned, as before, they descended. The whitish
substance was hard enough to bear their weight, and they looked around.
Overhead, hung to the under side of the deck and extending the length
of the hold, were wooden tanks, charred, and in some places burned
"She must have been built for a passenger or troop ship," said Boston.
"Those tanks would water a regiment."
"Boston," answered the doctor, irrelevantly, "will you climb up and
bring down an oar from the boat? Carry it down--don't throw it, my
boy." Boston obliged him, and the doctor, picking his way forward,
then aft, struck each tank with the oar. "Empty--all of them," he said.
He dug out with his knife a piece of the whitish substance under foot,
and examined it closely in the light from the hatch.
"Boston," he said, impressively, "this ship was loaded with lime,
tallow, and acids--acids above, lime and tallow down here. This stuff
is neither; it is lime-soap. And, moreover, it had not been touched by
acids." The doctor's ruddy face was ashen.
"Well?" asked Boston.
"Lime soap is formed by the cauticizing action of lime on tallow in the
presence of water and heat. It is easy to understand this fire. One
of those tanks leaked and dribbled down on the cargo, attacking the
lime--which was stowed underneath, as all these staves we see on top
are from tallow-kids. The heat generated by the slaking lime set fire
to the barrels in contact, which in turn set fire to others, and they
burned until the air was exhausted, and then went out. See, they are
but partly consumed. There was intense heat in this hold, and
expansion of the water in all the tanks. Are tanks at sea filled to
"Chock full, and a cap screwed down on the upper end of the pipes."
"As I thought. The expanding water burst every tank in the hold, and
the cargo was deluged with water, which attacked every lime barrel in
the bottom layer, at least. Result--the bursting of those barrels from
the ebullition of slaking lime, the melting of the tallow--which could
not burn long in the closed-up-space--and the mixing of it in the
interstices of the lime barrels with water and lime--a boiling hot
mess. What happens under such conditions?"
"Give it up," said Boston, laconically.
"Lime soap is formed, which rises, and the water beneath is in time all
taken up by the lime."
"But what of it?" interrupted the other.
"Wait. I see that this hold and the 'tween-deck are lined with wood.
Is that customary in iron ships?"
"Not now. It used to be a notion that an iron skin damaged the cargo;
so the first iron ships were ceiled with wood."
"Are there any drains in the 'tween-deck to let water out, in case it
gets into that deck from above--a sea, for instance?"
"Yes, always; three or four scupper-holes each side amidships. They
lead the water into the bilges, where the pumps can reach it."
"I found up there," continued the doctor, "a large piece of wood, badly
charred by acid for half its length, charred to a lesser degree for the
rest. It was oval in cross section, and the largest end was charred
"Scupper plug. I suppose they plugged the 'tween-deck scuppers to keep
any water they might ship out of the bilges and away from the lime."
"Yes, and those plugs remained in place for days, if not weeks or
months, after the carboys burst, as indicated by the greater charring
of the larger end of the plug. I burrowed under the debris, and found
the hole which that plug fitted. It was worked loose, or knocked out
of the hole by some internal movement of the broken carboys, perhaps.
At any rate, it came out, after remaining in place long enough for the
acids to become thoroughly mixed and for the hull to cool down. She
was in the ice, remember. Boston, the mixed acid went down that hole,
or others like it. Where is it now?"
"I suppose," said Boston, thoughtfully, "that it soaked up into the
hold, through the skin."
"Exactly. The skin is calked with oakum, is it not?" Boston nodded.
"That oakum would contract with the charring action, as did the oakum
in the hatch, and every drop of that acid--ten thousand gallons, as I
have figured--has filtered up into the hold, with the exception of what
remained between the frames under the skin. Have you ever studied
"Then you can follow me. When tallow is saponified there is formed,
from the palmitin, stearin, and olein contained, with the cauticizing
agent--in this case, lime--a soap. But there are two ends to every
equation, and at the bottom of this immense soap vat, held in solution
by the water, which would afterwards be taken up by the surplus lime,
was the other end of this equation; and as the yield from tallow of
this other product is about thirty per cent., and as we start with
eight thousand fifty-pound kids--four hundred thousand pounds--all of
which has disappeared, we know that, sticking to the skin and sides of
the barrels down here, is--or was once--one hundred and twenty thousand
pounds, or sixty tons, of the other end of the equation--glycerine!"
"Do you mean, Doc," asked Boston, with a startled look, "that--"
"I mean," said the doctor, emphatically, "that the first thing the
acids--mixed in the 'tween-deck to just about the right proportions,
mind you--would attack, on oozing through the skin, would be this
glycerine; and the certain product of this union under intense
cold--this hull was frozen in the ice, remember--would be
nitro-glycerine; and, as the yield of the explosive is two hundred and
twenty per cent. of the glycerine, we can be morally sure that in the
bottom of this hold, each minute globule of it held firmly in a hard
matrix of sulphate or nitrate of calcium--which would be formed next
when the acids met the hydrates and carbonates of lime--is over one
hundred and thirty tons of nitro-glycerine, all the more explosive from
not being washed of free acids. Come up on deck. I'll show you
Limp and nerveless, Boston followed the doctor. This question was
beyond his seamanship.
The doctor brought the yellow substance--now well dried. "I found
plenty of this in the 'tween-deck," he said; "and I should judge they
used it to pack between the carboy boxes. It was once cotton-batting.
It is now, since I have washed it, a very good sample of gun-c
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