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David W. (David William) Bone.

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Captain London was racing up Channel to catch
a daylight tide at Liverpool. He had signalled
from Gibraltar that he would dock on Saturday's
morning tide; come wind or mist or aught else,
Saturday's morning tide it must be, or he felt that
he would be reduced to the level of the other
Captains of the Line, who allowed the weather to
interfere with their arrangements. With the mist
deepening, and no gleam of the coast lights in
sight, Day had called the Captain and suggested
a 'slowing down.'

" . . . Must be getting up to the Smalls, sir,
and a lot of craft around!" To London the sug-
gestion appeared in the light of an added reason
why he should carry on, and he returned as answer
a sneering reflection, vainly confident. "Just let
me know if ye' re afraid, mister, and I'll keep the
watch myself."

"I can keep the watch, sir," answered Day,
"... if that were all. But it's on your respon-
sibility. Left to myself, I'd slow down immediately
and haul out to the west'ard."



ERRORS OF JUDGMENT 17

"Aye, aye! No 'doubt you would, no Houbt.
You did that in the Centurion, didn't you? 1*11
stand the responsibility all right. And I'll make
myself responsible for a new Second Mate on my
next trip! . . . Hell! When are you going to
understand that your business is to take your
orders and leave the navigation of the ship
to me?"

"Sorry, sir," said Day. "Thought it my 'duty
.

"Duty? Your only duty is to obey orders!"

"Aye, aye, sir!" Day moved over to the lee
side of the bridge, and the Captain, 'donning an
oilskin, stationed himself to windward.

London was no 'figurehead.' Fishers' lights
leapt out of the murk ahead, perilously close. At
the first sudden glimmer there would come a steady-
voiced order to the steersman the word that
meant all the difference between safety and
disaster. Once someone shouted from the deck
of a fleeting trawler as the Kharidalla whipped
across her sternwash. The words were lost in
the shrilling of the wind, but the hoarse roar of
the fisherman caused even London a moment of
anxiety.

"Lay aft, mister, and get a cast of the lead," he
shouted to Day, ringing for half-speed with a ges-
ture of savage impatience. Slowly the pulse of
the big vessel was eased to his orders. He cursed
the blustering wind and crashing seas that must,



18 'BROKEN STOWAGE'

he tKought, be deadening the sound of the Smalls
signal-gun. Listen as he might nothing could be
heard above the shriek of the gale. . . . Day,
returning, reported 'forty-five' and sandy bottom,
and London went below to his charts.

Soon he came up again, and ordered 'full speed'
steering more to the north.

Had Day seen the chart he would have known.
The long years of drilling a reduction of sound-
ings into backward candidates would have stood
him in stead would have shown him that the
Captain (with lofty disregard of 'school-book'
navigation) had omitted to correct the 'cast' for
rise of tide that the Khandalla, under full steam,
was possibly heading for the foul ground eastward
of the Smalls. But he was 'keeping his watch!'
'taking orders' and the Khandalla with her
freight of precious lives sped on her fatal course
into the murk and gloom of a blinding sou'west
gate.

At three-mile intervals the soundings were noted.
'Forty-two,' 'thirty-nine' fatal confirmation of a
line of errors; the uncorrected depths tallied with
a safe and proper course!

Hearing nothing of the signal-gun, London at
length slowed down and ordered Day to the lead
again. It was darker and thicker than ever. A
shrieking squall of snow and sleet had closed down,
and nothing could be seen beyond a ship's length.
As Day went aft to the sounding machine he



ERRORS OF JUDGMENT 19

noticed how white and broken the sea appeare'd.
Soon he knew the cause !

He heard the steering-gear creak to a su'dden
vicious strain a white line of foaming breakers
leapt from the gloom ahead and the Kharidalla
launched her mighty hull upon the rocks. With
[every torture'd plate of her ringing to the first
terrific blow, she climbed higher higher till,
with a heavy sickening lurch to starboard, she
stopped hard fast I

Captain London would not now 'dock on Satur-
day's morning tide. From the swaying motion
of her stern, Day knew that the Kharidalla would
never 'dock again.

Quickly he called his few terror-stricken lascars
together and staggered to the bridge. There the
Captain stood with folded arms staring stonily
ahead. The glare from dial and binnacle shone
on the glistening oilskins rigid pose expression-
less face. At the wheel the steersman gripped the
spokes, as if the ship still stood ready to the helm.
The white-faced junior stood apart, staring at the
stricken Captain. The engine pointer stood at
'FULL ASTERN/ Quickly Day jumpe'd to the
handle and rang 'STOP/ Lon'don made a sudden
move as if to prevent him, then, with an impas-
sioned gesture of the hands, stood still again.

So! ... Would he do nothing? Could noth-
ing be 'done? Day grasped his arm. "Come, sirf
Come!"



20 'BROKEN STOWAGE'

"Aye, aye '!" Slowly recovering, Lon'don pulled
himself together. . . . Quite suddenly he began
to give orders. "Send Mate to me, quick*. . . .
Bolt the magazine 'distress rockets. . . . Day,
get hands together, starboar'd boats 'for Christ's
sake "

"No"! No ! Hold to th' ship, sir," cried Day.
'My God, boats I Boats in a sea and tide like
that "

"Starboard boats, quick." The old, blustering
arrogant the man whom shock had rendered
speechless was no longer there. In his stead a
Idetermined man, speaking with quiet cleadliness of
purpose that silenced all dissent. "Gobi I The
boats, Day I The boats!"

Day swung off the bridge.

On deck was chaos indescribable. Hurtling seas
breaking over the doomed ship, lashing 'down to
leeward in spurt and spume; passengers in night
attire crowding the gangways, panic-stricken, a
light of terror in their eyes seeking questioning
a babel of cries, oaths, prayers; grimy lascar
firemen rushing up from stokehold and below,
shouting "Allah! Allah!" Steam under high'
pressure blowing off a deep, affrighting roar
adding, with the hiss and thunder of screaming
rockets, a terror of sound to the [elements of
'disaster.

Slowly, from out the 'din an'd 'disorder, a set
purpose began to show. Day had got some of the



ERRORS OF JUDGMENT 21

crew together the white men and a few lascars
recovered from the first benumbing shock and the
work of clearing the boats was going forward.
Driving, pushing, coaxing, they got the crowd
penned into the saloon-house and stairway, and,
free to work, began to swing the heavy boats out.

Two out, and straining every nerve at the third,
Day saw nothing of a huge sea running up. Out
of the mist and darkness, with the sweep of leagues
of open sea behind it, a monster wave struck the
Khandalla full shock on the broadside and crashed
aboard with resistless force. The stricken hull
shuddered to the mighty blow, a hurtling column
of broken water shot up mast-high. Day and his
crew were dashed to the deck; two were swept
overboard with scarce a cry.

Swiftly as it had come up, the torrent of water
passed on. Dazed and bloody, Day staggered to
his feet. In the lurid light of breaking water he
saw that the decks had been cleared only the
saloon-house remained standing. The boats were
gone a splinter of planking at a davit-fall was
dangling in the wash of water. The lascar fire-
men were no longer rushing frantically about.

From somewhere in the darkness a man in agony
called out, "O God! O God!" Dark against
the foam, Day made out a figure crushed into the
scuppers. It was the man who had been steers-
man. With those who were left, he dragged the
maimed seaman to the shelter of the saloon-house.



22 'BROKEN STOWAGE'

Brokenly, the man told what ha'd happened. . . .
"The firemen had tried to rush the boats. With
the Captain, he had jumped from the bridge to
stop them. . . . The Mate was holding them back
at 'number three.' . . . Then the sea came. . . .
All gone! Captain, Mate, firemen . . . every-
body!"

Within the saloon-house a struggling mass of
men and women were wedged into the stairway,
striving to pass out through the narrow door. A
big sailor, barring the exit, was shouting rude
words of comfort, "Notings, I tole jou! Gott!
Af jou comes tro' de door out '

Joining his entreaties, Day strove to calm the
crowd. His words had some effect. In the dark-
ness no one could tell who spoke. It was enough
that a steady, commanding voice told them "there
was a chance." . . . The wild, passionate outcry
gave way to muttered prayers and the quiet sob-
bing of women. "She stood to that sea," said
Day. "She can stand to any other! . . . Let free
to work, we can do something; all may be
saved! . . . But, if hindered "

A tall man, standing by the open 'doorway, faced
sharply round. "A chance, Day?" He seized the
officer's arm and glared into his eyes. "D'ye tell
us there's any hope?"

"Aye a chance, Major," said Day shortly.
"God's sake, see you to the crowd!"



ERRORS OF JUDGMENT 23

in

A chance. Where was it?

Crouching a-lee of the house, Captain Day
surveyed his new command. . . . "All may be
saved," he had said. How?

Boats? Two were still left, and there was a
patent raft if it could be got at. ... No ! no !
No boat could live in that sea, of that he was
sure. "Hold by the ship, sir," he had said to
London. "Hold by the ship," he said now.

Forward, heavy seas were breaking over the
deck the bulwarks were part gone an iron ven-
tilator, torn from the deck, was hammering at
the break of the saloon. Again and again the
relentless seas raced up and crashed aboard, sweep-
ing across the sloping deck in a fury of white foam,
carrying all before them. In the gloom the black
bulk of the forecastle head was faintly visible.
Over it seas were breaking, but at that height the
weight and power of the water was gone, and
only blinding spray wreathed the upstanding bow.

There . . . the chance!

It would be nearly high water now. When the
tide fell the unsupported stern of the ship would
part would sink. If the bows were firmly fast,
the jagged rocks holding their prey, the forepart
would remain! Yes! The only hope lay in get-
ting to the forecastle before the tide fell. But
what a task! That crowd (how many he could



24 'BROKEN STOWAGE'

only guess) to be 'dragged through that lash and
fury on the foredeck! . . Quickly he made up
his mind. At the saloon door the survivors of
the crew were already gathered.

"Men," he said, "we must get forward! When
tide falls she'll part . . . just here! Quick a
volunteer to carry a line! Who goes?"

A long silence. Some of the men crept to the
fore-end and saw the seas dashing man-high across
the deck the torn bulwarks the battering ven-
tilator. What chance had a man when stout iron
fittings were torn apart like that? They returned,
eyeing one another furtively. Minutes passed. At
last one came forward a mere boy Conlan, the
fifth engineer.

"Av ye say it's t' be done, Captain, we can but
thry," he said, as Day fastened the end of a boat-
fall around him. It would not take long. No
more than fifty yards from shelter to shelter.
Young Conlan hesitated a moment at the fore-end
a moment only then plunged forward into the
rush of broken water.

For a time a steady strain on the line told that
he was making way, then the rope slacked up.

It was all over a moment they hauled the
line in, unlashed the body and placed it in an angle,
of the house.

"I told ye it couldn't be done," cried some one
hysterically. The ship's surgeon pushed through'



ERRORS OF JUDGMENT 25

the crowd and knelt at the body. There was no
need of an opinion: a long gaping wound on the
head showed how the gallant lad had met his
death. All looked at Day with dark reproach.
This was murder, they thought, and angry mutter-
ings rose from the men.

"Silence there! Stand by the line again!" Day
lashed the rope around his waist. "Stand by the
line here and give me slack!"

"Captain, can nothing else be 'done?" asked
Major Hyde. "That seems sheer madness." . . .
"No more o' this bloody nonsense," cried one of
the men. "No more o' that murderin' foredeck.
The boats !. The boats ! . . . Take the chance !"

The lurid light from breaking seas fell on the
ring of doubting faces. One man among many!

"No. No boats," said the old man. "God,
men ! D'ye think . . . boats ... in that sea !
No! If I saw ye all stark as young Conlan lies,
I'd say th' same. We must get for'ard ! So long
as a man is left, we must try! Stand back there!
Sheppard, tend the line!"

He was gone, unheeding the Third's unsteady,
"I'll go, Captain ... an old man . . . le' me
go."

Gone! For a moment his tall figure was out-
lined against the white of blinding spray; then
the plunge a strain a sudden rush, tearing the
line from Sheppard's benumbed fingers !



26 'BROKEN STOWAGE'

With a 'dull boom a high sea crashed heavily on
the foredeck. The line slackened up, the bight of
it washing in a sweeping half-circle to leeward.

No one spoke.

The crouching men stared intently forward.
One crept to the fore-end ; there was nothing mov-
ing on through the wash and flurry of broken
water. Should they haul in to see what was left?
Sheppard gathered in the slack of the line a
fathom or two, and then a strain. "The body
would be jammed somewhere," he said wearily.

The men stared at one another. Who was to be
the next? So long as a man of ye is left, the old
man had said, before he went out to that!

Suddenly Sheppard jumped from his knees. The
line was paying out through his fingers a fathom
or so then stopped!

"By God! He's there still. Must be near th'
head by th' line out." With tense, ;eager face he
held to the line. A minute passed; there was no
sign. Was he mistaken? Could it have been but
the weight of water that drifted the line from his
stiffened fingers? . . . "No! NO!" This could
be no rush of water. A few inches slipped through
his fingers again again: the three pulls that
were to tell him that communication was estab-
lished.

A wild cheer, choked and broken, rose from the
group of men; the first heartening cry since the
ship had struck a cry that roused the despairing



ERRORS OF JUDGMENT 27

sufferers within to a knowledge that something had
been done. All doubt vanished from the minds of
the laboured crew. A step had been taken with
success; there was a definite lead to follow. Giant
Hope roused their drooping spirits and sent the
warm blood coursing through their numbed limbs.

"Quick! Who next? You, Jansen! An able
man," called Sheppard. Carrying a second line,
the big Swede dashed forward, clinging to the first
when the sea swept over, and working through the
waters to the head.

Again the three pulls !

The old lascar serang, livid and protesting, was
thrust forward and securely fastened to the line;
the signal given, he was hauled rapidly on. Then
a wait while the lines were being set up and a rude
cradle devised, and fast as the wearied men could
hand the ropes the cradle was hauled back and
fore, each time carrying one, or two at most, to
the head.

For nearly two hours the work went on. A
ceaseless rattle of block sheaves and hoarse cries
of the straining men at the ropes "On! On!"
'The next!" "Back, you! Back! I say" the
menace of an arm upraised. A scene of desperate
toil. A fight against time and tide. And, over
all, the thunder of the great west wind, the crash
of sundered seas, the slat of driving spray icy,
keen, and cutting like a whip lash.

At length the cradle came rattling forward with



28 ' BROKEN STOWAGE'

its last loa'd. Everything had been Hone. Huddled
together in the crew's quarters, seventy-four souls
had passing shelter from the fury of wind and sea.
Action could serve no further purpose, it remained
to await God's will. Whether the bow stood fast
or followed the dipping stern when the tide
fell.

Day, badly injured, lay under shelter of the fore-
castle-head. When the sea broke he had secured
good handhold, but the wash of water had driven
him heavily against a torn deck-fitting.

"A rib or ribs broken," the Doctor had said, as
he bound him with rude bandages. "A serious
matter for a man of his years, if he could not be
kept quiet."

"If he could not be kept quiet," the Doctor had
said. Outside, a whole gale howled its loudest,
and every nerve of the wounded man within stood
at its utmost tension, waiting for the rending crash
that was to tell him that his work was good.

In that weary hour of waiting Day was a prey
to the deepest anxiety. What, he thought, if it
were the case of the Centurion over again. For the
main disaster, thank God, he had no blame; he,
whose 'error' that was, had gone to answer at the
Court of the Great Assessor but he alone was
now answerable for every soul penned up in the
gloomy forecastle. At his order, frail women and
delicate children had been taken from the compara-
tive comfort of the saloon-house, dragged through



ERRORS OF JUDGMENT 29

a wash of icy water to lie, Hrenche'd and be-
numbed, on the sodden forecastle floor! . . .
What if he had been mistaken in his action?
Twenty years was a long time to be away from the
sea! Ships were different now from then! The
Khandalla, standing, might outlast the gale! If
so, then brave young Conlan's death stood to his
account a needless errand that he had sent him
on! There was a woman, too, a delicate lady
who had died of shock and exposure while being
dragged forward. Two more to add to the Cen-
turion's fifty. Another 'error of judgment' more
blood on his hands.

Perhaps the ship would not part. When the
tide fell away the whole shattered hull might take
the plunge! ... If that threatened, they could
do nothing. They could not even take to the
boats as a last despairing hope. Deliberately
he had discarded them while they had the
chance. . . . Perhaps but "no," "NO," to that!
Every instinct of a master-seaman told him that
he had done right in refusing to use the boats.
"Hold to the ship" had been his first word. It
stood unaltered.

"Here, Major Major Hyde Sheppard
Jansen," he called, in his agony of thought.
"God's name, look you if she moves aft there!"
Exhausted by even the few words, he lay back
on the sodden floor. He had a choking desire
to cough, but he dared not. Blood welling into



3 o * BROKEN STOWAGE '.

his throat told him that something within was
wrong. The pain of his side was intense, but it
was as nothing to his agony of mind.

"Come, come, Captain," said the Doctor, sooth-
ingly. "I tell you, you've no earthly chance if you
excite yourself like that. She stands all right, hard
and fast and the weather is clearing."

"Clearing, is it? Then help me out out there
in the open. I must see must see what can be
done."

Seeing further restless movement in any attempt
to keep the old man within, Hyde and the Doctor
gently removed him to the forecastle door, where
he lay at some ease.

The wind had shifted to the nor'west, still blow-
ing strong, but the mist had gone, and the coast
lights were visible. Out in the westward, some
one saw the friendly gleam of the Smalls Light.
By that Day recognised where they lay on the
dreaded Barrels. He thought of the tide-race
the whirling eddies the over-falls that ran
there, even in fine weather and the thought sus-
tained him that, whatever happened, he was right
in abandoning all thought of using the boats. Even
the lifeboat could not work through that hellish
sea and tide in the darkness. Long since, they
on the wreck had heard guns booming from the
lighthouse, and answering reports from the direc-
tion of the shore. Aye whatever happened, he
was right in holding by the ship. . . . But why



ERRORS OF JUDGMENT 31

r d\d nothing happen? At least an hour's ebb must
have run by now. . . . Why?

Carefully, as in the old schoolmaster 'days, he
went over the facts again. Half-speed the
impact the sudden list to starboard the swaying
of the stern. . . . Yes! Everything bore to him
that she must part . . . and the weakest point
just below the bridge. If this was an 'error,' it
was no error of hasty judgment. Though writh-
ing in agony, mental and physical, he had reasoned
the matter to a conclusion. Some opposing force
must be holding the ebbing water in check, but
part she must when the supporting tide had fallen
to a level of inertia.

A faint glow in the east showed where the wel-
come day would break. In the half-light the dark
masses of the standing hull loomed up gaunt and
naked shorn of all erections by the overpower-
ing waves. Shock upon shock, the seas raced up
and spent their fury in a wind-blown mass of
spray.

"Sheppard. Did you feel that?" muttered the
old man faintly. "A shudder as the last sea
struck. Half-ebb, it must be now. . . . She

can't " A rending crash put a period to his

words.

The mighty hull that had so long withstood the
battery of the elements reeled to a last resounding
blow. Where the watchers stood, she rocked con-
vulsively. Aft, the mass of funnel, bridge, and



32 ' BROKEN STOWAGE'

'deck-work swayed and tottered. Amid crash of
splintered decks and shrill scream of buckling
steel the Khandalla, strained beyond bearing,
parted.

One brief moment of dread suspense for the
watchers! A moment while the great ship
writhed in her last struggle against a greater power
than wind or sea !

Then the long-drawn breath of sheer relief!
The after-part lay all but submerged, while, under-
foot, the foredeck stood firmer than ever jammed
to a greater stability by the last tremendous
wrench.



IV

Dawn !

Fearsome masses of ragged storm-cloud break-
ing away from the horizon in the fury of a master
wind a grey and lurid clearing in the zenith
and under all, the furious sea. Rolling out of the
nor'west, white-lashed by the remorseless wind,
curling, breaking, crashing into shoal water, split-
ting on the ridges of rock awash and hurtling sky-
ward in shattered columns of blinding spray. The
white furious sea-whelps, unleashed by the great
west wind on an errand of destruction.

Amid this, the lone shell of the once goodly
Khandalla a standing wreck, shock face to the
bitter seas a puny fragment of man's handiwork



ERRORS OF JUDGMENT 33

to front the strength and majesty of a nor'west
gale.

From under the poor shelter of the forecastle
head, Day and his wearied crew watched the light
grow. At times, a spasm of coughing comes on the
old man, bringing the warm blood to his mouth
and lips. "There is no doubt about it now," the
Doctor says. "The" broken rib must have pierced
the lung." And Day knows that it is only a mat-
ter of time with him. Well! It is better to go
off thus, he thinks, than linger on to a life of
drudgery in the junior ranks. Thank God that
debt to the Centurion is paid in full! Fifty lives
was the cost of his 'error of judgment,' here are
seventy-three souls who, without his action, would
now be the sport of the waters that surge over
the grisly wreck yonder. If only the lifeboat would
come, and he could see the crowning result of his
judgment, it would be easy enough to 'cast off.'

It will be that hellish sea and tide that is delay-
ing a rescue. Perhaps, now that the flood is mak-
ing, they might Near him big Jansen jumps

to his feet with a roar of cheer: "A boat! A
boat! De lifeboat!" and clambers to the standing
r igg' n g- "Jal Ja! De lifeboat ant a steam
trawler towin' her out ! Close to, Cabtin I Close
to! Gott! Dey rides heavy! All awash,
Cabtin!"

Calling Sheppard to him, Day gasps out in-
structions. Nothing must be left undone to hasten:



34 'BROKEN STOWAGE'

the work of rescue. A coil of stout rope is dragged
from the weltering peak-hold, sailors' chests from
the forecastle are lashed to it at intervals, and the
line paid out a-lee.

Over the sea-line the dripping bows of a Chan-
nel trawler heave in sight. Driving her head to
the furious sea, under a whirling smoke-wrack*
rising giddily, casting the water from her in stream-
ing cascades, dipping anew into the foaming
hollows, she lurches grandly on ! Astern, the life-
boat staggers in her wake veiled in driving spray,
poised in sickening incertitude on a towering wave
then sweeping down the windward sloping
furrow.

Nearer they draw. The watchers can make out
the lettering on the trawler's bow the men on her
decks, bent and swaying to meet the staggering
lurches of their vessel. At last, when perilously
close to the broken water, S.A. 076 casts off her
straining burden. Steam can do no more! Now


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Online LibraryDavid W. (David William) BoneBroken stowage → online text (page 2 of 16)