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with her eyes, trusting in, hanging upon, the strength of a man who
possessed in divine measure all of man's strength.

A half-hour they crouched together, until the steel walls of their
shelter burned to the touch, until the flames licked up over the
forward end, ran over the roof, and looked down upon them. But still
they remained as they were, while the _Tampico_ circled again and
brought the wind in their faces, which they drank greedily.

There came a time when the fire hissed constantly on the
deck-house - when, indeed, flames plunged around it and touched the two
figures. Swiftly Dan reached out his arm and encircled the waist of
his companion and drew her to the taffrail.

Four feet below the gilded name on the stern was a six-inch ledge. He
lifted the girl as he would a child and placed her on this ledge,
bidding her hold to the rail. Then he passed a section of small chain
about a stanchion, allowing the end to hang over. If the rail became
too hot for their hands they could hold by the chain.

As Dan joined Virginia on the ledge the vessel slued around, bringing
the wind full over the bow. With a roaring shout of exultation the
fire bridged the last gap, bursting clear over the stern. It bit at
their hands; they withdrew them, supporting themselves by the swinging

The girl moaned. Nearer drew the hot breath. She felt Dan's arm
tighten about her waist. It was like a curved bar of steel. Looking
down, she saw the water racing below - she saw a wave leap up - she felt
it touch her foot with its feathery head, gently, beneficently, and yet
traitorously; for how quickly would it quench the lives that it seemed
to tempt from the flames!

"Put your face tight against my chest - put your hands over your nose
and mouth - quick!"

She obeyed upon the word and a thrill, not of pain, shot to Dan's
brain. He could feel her, soft and trembling, against him, and her
warm hair brushed his cheek. With an effort he choked back the
flooding emotion. Was it fair, was it right to her - now? But his arm
unconsciously tightened about her.

The red glow shone through the girl's closed eyelids - a great heat
scorched the back of her neck, and she felt a quiver in the body
shielding her; but the grip of the arm remained. There came a blast of
God's merciful salt cold air, and she opened her eyes. He was looking
down at her - and he saw what he saw. For they were two souls hanging
together on the verge of eternity - alone; two souls with death all
about fusing them until they were as one. She looked at him long.

"Are you hurt?" she asked. The words sounded thick.

"No - a little. It got my neck and ears. The ship was yawing, though,
and that saved us. It was like snapping your hand through a gas flame."

"I'm afraid," said the girl with a sob catching her voice.

"No - don't be afraid! I'll save you - some way."

She opened her eyes and looked in his face again.

"My nobleman! my - "

"Don't!" cried Dan, interrupting her. "You don't know what you are
saying. It's so different now." He well knew that impulses which
might move a woman in the arms of a man, no matter who, battling for
her life, might be for the moment only and lead to nothing but regret
and alarm afterwards. How could it be otherwise with Virginia Howland?
The girl, as though she had not heard him, as though she had forgotten
the emotions which had swayed her, closed her eyes wearily and turned
her face away.

The ship was yawing again. Tongues of flame reached hungrily for them,
licking above Dan's red-gold hair and his back, but never touching the
girl. Then the swing of the vessel and the wind again; then the fire
and the torturing heat. Once Dan saw his grandfather's vessel burning
as he had often pictured it in boyhood, and he trembled horribly for a
second, but only for a second; then he became rigid and smiled at the
apparition. The girl had evidently fainted; she hung a dead weight
upon his arm. Again the wind drove the flames far out over the stern.

There came a time when the fight for life was waged mechanically, when
all sense of thought vanished, and the carrying on of the struggle came
down to mere animal instinct. At such times a brave man need not be
ashamed to die - the time has long elapsed when cravens perish. But the
very brave, the physically as well as mentally brave, fight on to the
end, instinctively. And so Dan fought. He knew that Virginia Howland
hung on his arm - but the fire had gone from his ken; he was fighting
something, that was all he knew, or cared, since it was for her. Once
the red sheet enveloped them for a flashing second, but the merciful
wind came to save. It could not last long, though. Dan's arm weakened
about the limp form of the girl. He closed his eyes and ground his
teeth and brought new force to the encircling arm. He glared down at
the mass of soft hair scattering over his breast; he thought of that
beautiful life and quite impersonally asked himself if all this beauty
must die. Where would all the beauty of the world be then? This
question ran deliriously through his mind. Eh! where would it all be?
If they died together, would they wake together? And the flames came

But as they swooped down with redoubled fury he saw almost
subconsciously a great tangled litter of wreckage passing beneath him.
He uttered a little cry, and with the girl still in his arm he dropped
from the ledge. With a sigh of relief he felt the cooling, revivifying
water, and the sharp, cold taste of brine in his mouth was like the
touch of a new life.

Instinctively he had put his free arm around a section of cargo boom,
with a grating caught in the twisted gear. Upon this he pushed and
lifted the half-unconscious girl. Then he clambered astride the boom.
Thus they drifted, while Dan, his mind slowly clearing, struggled
pitifully for full possession of his faculties. He had a dull sense of
pain, but the one dominant idea was the girl. Leaning slightly over,
he twisted his hand in the folds of her dress lest she slip into the
waters. The stars were paling; on the horizon were the first vague
hints of dawn. He gazed at the faint gray curtain with interest. It
was a dawn he had not expected to see, he told himself.

Then, as he looked, a shape arose before his eye out of the gloom. Dan
watched it with dumb fascination. Suddenly a realizing sense of the
nature of the apparition shot through his mind. A vessel - God! Dan's
voice raised in a long, hoarse cry for assistance. But there was no
answer. Yet the craft was bearing toward them, not a hundred yards
away, silently as a ship of the dead. Dan cried again, rising on his
rolling perch. But the hail died on his lips. He could see now. It
_was_ a ship of the dead. It was the derelict they had viewed from the
fancied security of the _Tampico's_ deck, a few short hours before. An
imprecation trembled upon Dan's lips. For the last half-hour Virginia,
who had crawled to a kneeling posture, had been watching Dan with
unlighted eyes. Now as he turned to her and pointed at the slowly
advancing vessel, she nodded slowly, as though comprehending his
meaning, and stretched out her arms to him.

Softly, quietly the bow of the hulk slid up and nuzzled gently among
the wreckage. Quickly Dan secured the litter to the bow by twisting a
length of wire cable through the rusty green fore-chains of the
derelict. Then gaining a footing in the mess of gear, he assisted the
girl to her feet on the tottering grating, and placed her hand on the

"Hold here tight," he said. She nodded, and Dan looked about for the
easiest way to the deck. It was not difficult to find. The end of the
jib-boom had dropped into the water, making an easy incline, and the
foremast had also fallen over the bow and was directly alongside. Both
were covered with sections of canvas and a maze of gear and rigging.

Dan clambered up, and then, lying flat across the bowsprit and the
mast, he put his arms under the girl's shoulders and literally pulled
her to his side. Hand in hand they slowly worked their way up among
the wreckage to the deck.

And there with the dawn beginning to glow rosily far on the eastern rim
of the slaty waste the girl sighed and sank to her knees; and Dan, his
head reeling with sleep and exhaustion, sank also. When the darkness
had all gone and the sun had cleared the horizon, the first level rays
flooded the sullen deck of a gray-green hulk, sodden, desolate, and
fell upon the faces of a man and woman sleeping, her head resting on
his shoulder, strands of her dark hair lying across his face.



As the sun rose higher still they slept. The genial rays flowed over
them, drying their wet, clinging garments, filling their stiffened
frames with languorous warmth.

Finally the girl sighed and smiled. Half waking now, she thought she
was at home in her own bed. The sunlight always awakened her there.
She wondered if it was time for her maid to enter. She hoped not; it
was so comfortable, and she was, oh, so sleepy! She turned on her
side. Then suddenly she started. Certainly she was lying on nothing
that would remotely suggest a bed. Sleepily she tried to open her
eyes, but the long lashes were glued together by the heavy salt water.

Arousing still further, she rubbed them open. And then as a heaving,
littered deck, with patches of blue sea showing through the shattered
rail bore upon her vision, a realizing sense of the situation and the
tragic events leading to it came to her.

For a moment she lay still, shuddering. Her head still rested upon
Dan's arm. She knew it, but she was afraid to arise. Somehow that arm
seemed the only thing which assured her she was in a living world.
Even in the brilliant morning sunlight the vessel, soughing, creaking,
groaning, as it moved slouchily over the waters impressed her as the
shape of terror. From the deck little mist spirals arose like spirits
of the men who had deserted the ship. And hovering all about was the
gray, sordid reek of desolation, eerie, awe-inspiring.

And yet the Captain must not find her thus. Slowly she withdrew her
head. She hated to awaken him. Yet she felt she must hear his voice,
for the all-pervading loneliness was unbearable. She sat up and shook
him gently by the shoulder. It was as though she had applied an
electric shock. With a muffled exclamation he lifted himself by his
elbow, and the next instant he was on his feet.

"Miss Howland!" he exclaimed. The sound of his voice echoed hollow
along the deck, but it was the most joyous sound Virginia had ever
heard. Leaning down, he assisted her to her feet. Their eyes met, and
they gazed at each other, wondering, uncertain. Alone of all the
world, these two, in the midst of a vast, lonely domain where hidden
terrors lurk, where elements unharness their might and work their harm
unchecked, where wind and wave whisper of murderous deeds, where the
rime of dead ages is still fresh. It was all too big for minds to
encompass, for their senses to grasp.

A great sob shook the girl.

"Will - will you please go away - a moment? I think I am going to cry,"
she stammered. She turned from him hurriedly and walked toward the
rail. She tottered as though about to fall. Dan sprang to her side
and placed his hand lightly on her arm. The touch seemed to strengthen
her. With a convulsive effort she gained control of herself, and as
Dan's hand dropped to his side she looked at him with a quivering smile.

"I am going to be brave. I am not going to cry. Captain, tell me, is
my father safe, and my aunt - and the rest?"

"There is not the slightest question about that," replied Dan. "They
got overboard smartly. The lifeboats were steel, well manned and
supplied with provisions for a week. If they weren't picked up last
night by some steamship attracted by the fire, they will be within a
short time." The girl regarded him closely, as though trying to
determine whether he was speaking from conviction or merely to
dissipate her fears. Interpreting her expression, Dan shook his head

"I am sincere, Miss Howland. I have no more doubt of the safety of
your father and the others than I have that I am alive. The sea has
been comparatively smooth, the weather clear. Our situation is the one
to bother about."

"But some steamship will surely see us."

"I hope so, but remember we are on a derelict. Where we are, or where
we are going heaven only knows. Sometimes - there is no sense in trying
to avoid the truth - derelicts go for weeks and even months without
being sighted. Still, I don't think we shall. At night we'll have our
distress lights. We shall come out all right. In the meantime we may
not even have to be uncomfortable. Usually when men desert these
schooners they go in a hurry, leaving almost everything behind. I am
going to investigate affairs. Will you come? You may never have
another opportunity of this sort."

Dan's voice, at first grave, had gradually assumed a lighter tone, and
at the humorous allusion in the last sentence she smiled. Virginia was
a sensible girl, but it must be confessed that her position alone with
a man on a derelict in the middle of nowhere would have dazed a woman
who held even broader views of the ordinary conventions than she did.

As for the Captain, he evidently intended to accept the inevitable in a
matter-of-fact, common-sense way. There was nothing for her but to do
likewise. That he would be tactful and considerate in every way she
knew. And he would save her too, in the end. Something seemed to tell
her that. She smiled at him bravely.

"I think it will be fun, Captain! Lead on."

Their course aft was attended with difficulty. All along the deck was
a thick mass of wreckage, broken casks, boxes, sections of spars,
tattered canvas, and enough wire rope and other gear, it seemed, to
encircle the world. Amidships the hull sagged so that the deck was not
three feet above the water.

Ascending the slight incline, Dan led the way to the entrance to the
after cabin, containing four rooms - two on either side of a corridor.
The cabins were just below the level of the deck but were not flooded.

"Now," said Dan with his hand on the knob of the door at his right, "we
will pay the Captain a visit."

The bunk was mussed as though the skipper had left it hastily, but
otherwise the apartment was in good order. There was a little oaken
desk containing a dictionary, several books on navigation, and writing
appurtenances. In the middle, on a piece of blotting-paper, was an
overturned inkstand with a pen still in it. Along the top were several
photographs of home scenes, probably New England, and a picture of a
rather comely young woman.

"And here's a woman's hat," cried Virginia, picking from a corner a
rather garishly trimmed creation.

Dan paused and looked at it.

"That's good," he said. "His wife was evidently aboard." He opened a
door leading into the next cabin. "This was her room undoubtedly," he

The girl peered in with a delighted expression.

"Why, of course." Her eyes took a quick inventory. An ornate if cheap
dressing-table! Four waists on coat hangers! Four skirts, beautifully
hung! And what a litter of brushes and things on the floor! She
turned to Dan, who had not entered, but was standing in the doorway,
smiling. "It must have been perfectly maddening for the good lady of
the ship to leave all this behind." She walked to the dressing-table
and peered into the mirror. It must be said she saw a girl whom under
other circumstances she would hardly have recognized. Her heavy hair
was dishevelled. Her long, blue broadcloth ulster was stained with
salt water and altogether out of shape. A great black smudge ran along
her cheek, and on her chin was a deep red scratch.

She looked at Dan from out the mirror, blushing.

"I am afraid I should compare rather unfavorably with the Captain's
lady. I think, first of all, I shall sit right down and do my hair.
But no - of course not now." She opened her eyes wide.

"Oh, yes, you can," laughed Dan. "I am going to leave you now and look
about the ship."

"Oh, no, you're not," exclaimed the girl; "you're not to leave me alone
on this horrid ship just yet. The hair can wait. I'll go with you.
If everything is as nice as this cabin I shall feel quite at home."

The cabin opposite the Captain's had been the mate's, and behind it was
the mess cabin. Here the greater part of crockery and glass was
shattered on the floor. An overturned bird-cage with a dead canary in
it lay under the table.

"Well," said Dan, "we ought to be comfortable. Now, Miss Howland, I
think you ought to go to your cabin and get off those damp skirts. I
have got to take a look at the cargo, see what plans I can make to
render us something else than a log on the sea, and nose about in the
galley." He started. "By George! I had forgotten about food. That's
rather important." He hastily left the cabin and started down the
corridor, with the girl's warning not to be long following him.

First he stopped in the carpenter's room and secured the very thing he
was looking for, - an axe. With this he broke down the door of the
storeroom, which, as he had expected, was locked. There were a barrel
of flour, tins of beef and of soups and vegetables, condensed milk, and
a number of preserve jars filled with coffee.

Taking one of the jars in which he saw the coffee was ground he poured
out a cupful and drew some water from a cask. Then going into the
galley, he dug up a coffee-pot from the mass of cooking utensils which
covered the floor, and proceeded to light a fire in the range. It was
soon roaring, and Dan had just mixed the coffee and water when Virginia
appeared at the door.

For an instant Dan hardly recognized the girl in her trim blue skirt,
white sailor waist, open at the throat, and a red leather belt with a
great brass buckle.

"You have done well," he said at length. "I had no idea you would be
so fortunate."

"Yes, everything fits pretty well," laughed the girl, "except that the
skirt is a trifle short, but of course that doesn't matter here.
That's not the point, though." She gazed at him sternly. "Who gave
you permission to come in here and cook?"

As Dan looked at her in amazement she continued:

"Now see here, Captain Merrithew, we might just as well face our
situation. This is no time for observance of the minor conventions or
gallantry. We are shipwrecked. We are nothing more nor less than two
human beings cast away on a derelict. You are to regard me, not as
Virginia Howland, helpless, dependent, to be waited upon and watched
over, but as you would Ralph Oddington or any one else were he in my
place - as an assistant in the common cause of safety. I am going to
help you in every way I can, and I am going to begin by establishing
myself as cook of this party from now on. Please don't imagine I can't
cook. I attended a French culinary school for two seasons. And now - "
she stepped into the galley and seized Dan by the sleeve, drawing him
gently toward the door - "won't you please go so that I shall have elbow
room - this is such a tiny box of a place. Please!"

Dan hesitated no longer. Seizing his axe he left the galley and went
forward. The mainmast had snapped about six feet below the truck; of
the other two masts nothing was left but the stumps. He chopped away
the wreckage hanging over the bow, including the bowsprit and
foretopmast, and had made good progress in clearing away the forward
deck when Virginia, standing in the doorway of the after cabin, called

"Breakfast, Captain," she cried. "Breakfast is served."

The girl was laughing excitedly as she led the way to the dining-cabin
and seated herself in front of a great, steaming nickel coffee-pot.
Blushing radiantly she pointed to the other chair.

"Sit down, Captain Merrithew." But Dan protested.

"Now, really, Miss Howland," he laughed, "I can just as - "

"Captain," interrupted Virginia, sharply, "don't be a goose. There - "
She began to pour the coffee. "It isn't really much of a breakfast,"
she added; "I shall do much better for luncheon. But, as it is - " she
inclined her head with mock unction as she handed him his cup.

Dan never forgot that breakfast. It was one of those events which
linger in memory, every detail indelibly stamped, long after more
important pictures of the past have lost even a semblance of outline.

Sunlight flowed in through the portholes and rested on the red
tablecloth and the glittering steel cutlery. For a centrepiece she had
a half shattered clay flower-pot containing a geranium plant which she
had picked up from the deck outside the woman's cabin. It was droopy
and generally woebegone, but it served its purpose. In front of Dan
was a heaping dish of toast artistically browned, and a generous glass
jar of marmalade.

And opposite, smiling at him, talking to him as though they had
breakfasted together for a number of years, was the most radiant girl
he had ever looked upon. The simple costume was wonderfully effective.
The white, full throat and the curves of the neck running to the
shoulders were revealed by the low rolling collar, and the hair coiled
low shone with lustrous sheen.

[Illustration: Opposite, smiling at him, as though they had breakfasted
together for years, was the radiant girl.]

Despite Dan's fears as to the manner in which their tenancy of the
derelict might terminate, he abandoned himself to the sheer charm of it
all. When he finally arose, ending a light, laughing conversation, the
girl regarded him seriously.

"Now, Captain," she said, "I want to ask you something, and you must
tell me truthfully. You have examined this vessel, and you have
doubtless some idea as to what we are to do. Tell me the exact

Dan looked her straight in the eye a moment, and the girl returned his
gaze unflinchingly.

"I am perfectly honest," she said; "I want you to be."

"Well," said Dan, "first of all I'll tell you what I am going to try to
do: I am going to try to sail this derelict into some port. There is
enough of the mainmast standing to allow some sort of a sail, and we
can't be so terribly far from land. Besides, this hold is filled with
logwood and mahogany. Now this is a valuable cargo, worth at least
fifty thousand dollars. The vessel herself isn't worth a great deal,
but still something. Here is the point: if we take this vessel into
port alone we can claim fifty per cent salvage, and we'll get it, too.
That means that we shall net, through our little experience, some
twenty-five thousand dollars between us."

Virginia stepped toward him with a delighted exclamation. Dan raised
his hand admonishingly.

"But," he continued, "we must first get the vessel into port. Several
things may prevent this. The chief preventive will be a storm. If God
gives us good weather for three or four days that is all I ask. If He
doesn't, then we - "

"Go on," said the girl.

"Then we must simply pray for small favors."

Virginia nodded gravely.

"I understand," she said. "I trust you, Captain." She looked at him
fixedly. "Can you imagine how much I trust you? I shall be strong and
brave and do exactly as you tell me." She started forward suddenly.
"What have you under your coat sleeves? Are your arms bandaged?" she
cried. "And your neck, too?"

Dan laughed.

"It's nothing," he said. "My hands and arms and the back of my neck
were pretty well scorched. I dug some picric acid out of the Captain's
medicine chest and tied myself up a bit. I am all right now. The pain
has all disappeared."

The girl flushed.

"And you didn't ask me to help you?"

"There was absolutely no need. Honestly, if I had needed to bother you
I should not have hesitated. The flames did not touch me, you know,
just their hot breath; the bandages do not amount to anything."

"Well," replied Virginia, shaking her head, "I don't like it one bit.
If I can do anything to repay you, however slightly, for all you have
done for me, please give me the opportunity."

"I shall remember that," said Dan.



When the sun that evening sank like a red ball behind the purple
horizon, Dan laid aside various implements and went aft with the
realization of a day well spent. He had cleared the deck. Using the
mainboom and a goodly section of the tattered canvas he had improvised

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Online LibraryLawrence PerryDan Merrithew → online text (page 10 of 12)