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before we make shore."

He moistened his fingers, moving them to and fro in the air.

"It isn't a storm," he said; "it is fog."

"Fog!" The girl was trembling. "What does that mean?"

"It means that for a while old ocean is going to destroy all our pretty
scenery, and that it is going to be cold and nasty and disagreeable."

Already, in fact, the ocean had lost its color. Heavy blue-white
clouds with shredded, filmy foundations, which seemed almost to sweep
the waters, moved swiftly to the westward, while in the background the
wall of mist advanced silently to encompass them. They could feel its
breath, heavy, clammy, chilling.

Presently a mass of vapor, like a detached squadron of cavalry, swept
about the derelict and then moved on, leaving little shredded patches
hanging about the foremast.

Quite unknown to the girl, Dan, the preceding day, had constructed a
raft, which he regarded as being quite as safe for ocean travelling, if
not quite so comfortable, as the derelict. He had lashed supplies, a
small cask of water, and the like thereon, and now, with the fog-pall
gathering about, he went amidships, examined it carefully, and made
sure that nothing would prevent a hasty launching in event of disaster.

When he returned the murk had closed in thickly. It was as though the
vessel were immured from the world. Virginia was standing at the
wheel, and with the pall throwing the derelict into more sombre relief,
Dan caught more strongly than ever the utter contrast which her
presence brought to this abandoned hulk. Whenever she had walked along
the deck it had seemed a profanation to him that the uneven planking
should know her tread; that she should be on the derelict at all was,
he felt, a working of Fate against everything that was beautiful and

Now, as she stood there in the pallid gloom, she suggested some tall,
beautiful genius, presiding over the wrack of elemental things, facing
a more glorious future.

"How shut in everything seems!" she said, as Dan took the wheel from
her hands. He had a long fog-horn which he blew at intervals.

"We haven't seen a speck of a ship," he explained, "but now the fog is
about us there's liable to be a fleet of them in our vicinity at any
time. At least that has been my experience with fogs. It would not be
much fun to be rammed, although in our present condition I fancy it
would hurt the other vessel more than it would this."

Hour after hour they went on blindly, silently, save at such times as
Dan's raucous horn blasts went tearing through the fog. The wind had
died away. Sometimes the forward part of the vessel was hidden from
their view. Frequently it seemed distorted; strange phantom shapes
filled the deck, and the soughing of the yielding hull brought strange,
uncanny sounds to their ears.

Dan was seated on the deck, his eyes peering about on all sides, trying
to pierce the veil, every nerve taut, every sense alert. The girl
crept close beside him, so that she touched him, and there she
remained, while all the terrors of the ghostly ship arose to confront
her. The weed-hung, slimy rails and wave-bitten deck stretched away in
ever-fading perspective to the foremast where everything ended in an
amorphous blur.

There came a time when the two felt almost a part of the deep - two
mortals admitted into all the hidden evils that lurk thereon. Their
lot to witness the inception of mighty tempests; to hear great gray
waves boast of the harm they had done and the winds to plan their
rending deeds. Perhaps they themselves would be called to the work, to
deal to some proud vessel the death blow as so many derelicts have done.

Once far off there sounded a series of whistle blasts, hoarse,
tremulous notes of warning and inquiry. But as the two listened with
straining ears the sounds became more dim. Finally they ceased

The girl eventually lost all sense of acute feeling. She sat dumb, her
undeviating eyes fastened upon Dan's face, as though in him she found
all that was tangible or normal or real. Her hand was resting on his
shoulder now, clutching it tight; but if he knew it was there, he made
no sign.

At length, toward evening, as though in a dream, Dan's voice bore upon
her ears. For a moment she gazed at him dully, and then she
comprehended his words.

"It is beginning to rain, Virginia. The fog will go away now."

"Oh, good!" she exclaimed.

"The wind is freshening, too," he added, "and it doesn't feel very
good. I think we're going to have a blow for a change."

It seemed so. Already the mists were beginning to scuttle away before
the increasing wind-rush which moaned with evil breath.

"Will you hold the wheel for a moment, please," said Dan.

As she placed her hands on the spokes he went forward and lowered the
sail. There were two lines of reef points in the section of canvas and
Dan took in both. When he hoisted it again there was just a patch of
three-cornered sail.

Within half an hour it was raining hard. The wind was increasing
slowly but surely, and the sea was rising. Dan asked the girl to go
into the cabin and to remain there either until the storm was over, or
he summoned her. She obeyed him partially. She went into the cabin,
but returned quickly with two slickers.

"Do you suppose," she cried, "I am going to let you be alone now? I am
going to help you, and, if it must be, to die with you. I am not a bit
afraid any more."

Dan placed his hand on her arm.

"Get down here, then, under the lee of this cabin. We are not going to
die. At least not yet a while."

So the storm came. With his patch of sail Dan had headed the craft up
into the wind; and thus, with the boat already beginning to rise and
fall, with the broad bow groaning, and oozing ends of planking, and
dirty water, and the deck, contracting and expanding like the belly of
a stricken whale, he settled down to the long fight.

The fog had all departed now. North, east, south, and west, nothing
but the gray of onrushing waves and a shrouded sky as implacable as the
morning of doom. Darkness was falling swiftly. Soon the terrible
night began.

Not that it was the worst storm in which Dan had ever been, but
certainly he had never faced North Atlantic tumult under such a
disadvantage, under conditions so desperately precarious. The bow rose
but heavily to the seas, and never topped them. The water rushing
over, poured down the deck in mill-races, filling it to the rails,
occasionally springing up over the poop and the top of the after cabin,
lashing the faces of the two crouching at the wheel behind it.

"It's a sou'easter, I'm almost certain," roared Dan in the girl's ear.
"It will work up to a climax gradually, and then gradually go down, at
this season of the year. Don't be afraid of the water. We can't sink,
I believe; the only danger is that we might break up - and we won't do

But despite the optimism of his words, Dan was not altogether certain
that the wallowing wreck would hold together. There was nothing to do
but wait and see. The situation he grasped in all its grievous
details. He had never been so happy, so utterly at peace as aboard
this derelict. No gilded barge of antiquity had ever been so glorious,
so golden as this mangled wraith of the seas in the sunlit hours of the
immediate past. Her voice, her laughter, had filled them with music,
her presence with all the poetry and romance of the world, and the
light in her eyes shining for him alone had filled him with a great

Now, the night, the storm, danger - death, perhaps. He shut his jaws
and drove the flooding thoughts from his mind. Anger, - the anger of
bereavement, - filled him, and he glared into the tempest and twisted
the wheel as though combating a sentient adversary.

An hour passed, Cimmerian blackness had fallen. The waves came
savagely, ill-defined masses let loose from a viewless limbo to work
their harm. Sometimes they caught the dull gray flash of breaking
waters, but more often everything was hidden. The roar of the wind and
wave was incessant.

Dan's efforts to keep the derelict's head to the seas had failed. The
hulk had slued around and was driving before the tempest, whither he
did not know. Groaning, crashing, crackling, the hulk lumbered on.
Once a wave leaped over the stern, stunning them with its thunderous
impact, dragging at them powerfully, as though to draw them back into
the sea whence it came.

Plunging thus, helpless, unseeing, they seemed to be flying as swiftly
as the wind. A wild ride - to where? Were they driving out into the
lonely heart of the deep, there to perish in a last long dive? Or was
it shoreward, with oblivion coming in the dreadful grinding and
crashing and shattering of timbers?

Neither had the heart for even a faint hope for safety; and yet Dan,
with his hands stiffened on the wheel spokes, fought on. The girl,
with her head bowed, sat still, her hands clinging to his shoulders.
They did not speak. Twice Dan had attempted to utter a cheering word,
but the wind had swept the sounds from his lips.

Both knew that at any moment the derelict might succumb to the forces
striving to destroy her. And, as they sat waiting, the realization
came to both what a small part of the incidents of this heaving night
the dismemberment of their washing vessel would be. In the vortex of
the riot, when the heavens and the ocean seemed united in the creation
of chaos, they sensed the littleness of their own lives and the vanity
of their affairs.

As a thunderous roar of wind smote the vessel Dan felt the pressure of
Virginia's hand on his shoulder suddenly tighten. He turned to her,
and through the darkness caught the vague outlines of her face, which
was fixed on the faint blur which marked the forward part of the hulk.

His eyes followed just as her fingers loosened their grasp. He saw
nothing save the dull flash of swirling waters and the amorphous blotch
of hull. Slowly her hand tightened again; and then, as he looked he
caught above the deck an impression of something moving. It seemed to
be something that was revealing itself to the instinct rather than to
their visual senses.

As the wind passed on, leaving that confused murmur, broken only by the
dogged rush of waters, Virginia spoke to Dan with trembling voice.

"What is it?"

Dan's eyes were still staring forward. He spoke through his clenched

"Wait a moment." More accustomed to the gloom ahead he was able to
determine that the sail had torn from the boom and was waving out from
the shattered mast-top like a flag. The mast itself seemed to be
reeling. Was the hull opening and disintegrating?

Almost without volition he half arose to his feet. The girl followed
his action, still clinging to his shoulder. Dan inclined his head to
speak to her, when with a shriek the wind came again. There was a dull
crash forward, a splintering and rearing of wood, a quivering of the
entire hull; and then, as though hurled by a giant hand, a huge section
of wood, whether a part of cargo or hull Dan could not tell, shot out
of the night, crashing a hole in the roof of the cabin behind which
they were crouching, and then bounded over their heads into the sea.

Both remained still, as though carved in stone. Forward there was a
crashing sound, a series of blows, as though some great hammer were
engaged in disintegrating the hull. There was a grinding of wood
against wood which caused the deck under their feet to tremble. Still
neither moved. The terrible thought that the derelict was going to
pieces was in both their minds. They had no doubt of this now. They
simply waited.

Virginia had no great fear. Her dominant thought was the dread of the
first immersion in the cold, cruel, black waters. But it would not
last long. Not long, not long - these two words kept ringing in her
mind. Her shoulders were drawn up, as though preparing for the shock.

Dan had not moved. Half crouching, half kneeling, his eyes were
fastened upon the vague deck ahead. Now, as though the elements had
worked to give him sight, the black sky was suddenly seared by a long,
lurid line of lightning. It was but the fraction of a second; it was
long enough. In that blue glow the derelict took form, grim, ghostly,
heaving, as a spirit picture might be thrown upon a black cloth, every
detail limned in filmy perfection.

With a cry Dan leaped to his feet and seized an axe lying by his side.

"We are not breaking," he shouted. "The mast has torn out of its step
and is pounding us. I am going to cut it away. We shall be all right."

The girl heard his voice, caught the enthusiasm of it, but
distinguished not a single word. As he crawled slowly by the side of
the cabin to the steps leading to the deck she half arose as though to
follow him.

"Dan, Dan," she cried, "don't leave me!"

He waved her back, and a second later had gained the deck. For a few
minutes she sat there, wondering, fearing, and then in a lull in the
storm she heard the blows of the axe. A great wave rose over the
quarter and ran forward with a roar. There came a shout. She
listened. The sounds of the axe were heard no more.

"Dan!" she called. "Dan!" Her words were whistled away on the wind.

In desperation she worked her way to the steps and peered down upon the
deck. She heard nothing but the wind and the waves. And then with her
hair streaming wild, with lips bloodless, she stood upright and rushed
to the deck. The wind tore at her, flying water buffeted her, and the
hulk swayed under her feet; but, as though endowed with superhuman
power, as though scorning the elements to which she had bowed through
the night she ran forward, heedless of everything but that her
companion was in danger.

Where she was going she knew not, nor cared. A hand grasped the end of
her slicker and brought her to a halt. She looked down and saw Dan
stretched upon the deck, the mast lying across his legs. She knelt at
his side.


He drew her head down so that her ear was near his mouth.

"Not hurt," he said coolly. "The wave knocked the mast across me just
as I had almost cut it through. Find the axe. Two strokes will free
me. Hurry. Another wave may drown me."

The girl swept her hands hastily over the deck. She found the axe a
few feet from Dan, and with that frenzied, nervous strength which comes
to women in times of stress, she hacked at the mast, which Dan had
almost cut through when the wave struck him. Three times the edge of
the implement glanced. She ground her teeth, raised it a fourth time
taking careful aim. Then she let fly with all her strength, and the
axe bit deep. She raised it again, smiling now. Two strokes, three
strokes, four strokes. The keen blade severed the last inch of wood,
the hulk pitched forward, and the mast with its boom and its tangle of
rigging and canvas rolled from Dan and plunged into the sea.

He was on his feet in a second, and with his arm about her waist they
ran astern and reached their posts at the wheel in safety. But there
was no need to bother with the wheel now. There was nothing to do, in
fact, but sit inactive and accept what came to them.

And yet, had they but known it, Fate, which it may be said takes the
lives of the young grudgingly, had worked for their ultimate good. The
Gulf Stream had carried them to a point off Hatteras, and there the
storm had enveloped them. As Dan had surmised, it was from the
south-east, and laboring and flailing as sorely as she might, the winds
and the waves had steadily lashed the vessel toward safety.

They could not know that. It was only after an unusual interval in the
powerful wind-blast that Dan looked upward and suddenly held up his
hand. He looked at the vague form of the girl and bared his teeth in a
quick, mirthless smile.

"The wind is changing," he muttered. "What now?"

There came another rush of wind. But it was not so strong as its
predecessors had been; and looking into the sky he could see the cloud
movement. He shook Virginia by the shoulder, and there was a
triumphant ring in his voice as he shouted into her ear,

"The gale is passing!"

Gradually but surely the shrieking of the elements diminished; the seas
were palpably falling. Great, dark shapes could now be seen rushing
across the lightening firmament, and once the girl, stretching her arm
upward, exclaimed, as through a rift overhead she caught a glimpse of a
little star.

Half an hour - there came a great peace.

Now, a man and a woman out of the chaos - with the world and all its
civilization and its manners and its men and its affairs as though they
had never been, as though the two had lived for a flashing minute in
some old dream - the strain of years that makes for ceremony and
diffidence and convention and custom suddenly stopped, turned backward.

They were the first man and the first woman on the verge of upheaval,
having felt fear, not as we feel it, but in a dull, instinctive
way - wondering horribly. Just two, just a man and a woman, emerging
from all the destructive might of the world.

She - not Virginia Howland now - just She - turned toward the man who
crouched with one hand still clutching the wheel, the other lying
loosely, palm downward upon the deck. Her face was filled with the
glow of returning blood, her hair streamed, her eyes shone.

Gone, the tempest. The waves were lashing, surly, hissing a monotone
as old as Time is old. The darkness was the gloom of an age before the
sun was born. The air was filled with low sounds that had been dead
for aeons. And she turned to him, and he turned to her.

Her bosom was rising and falling; he could hear her quick, hard
breathing. As though without volition, she moved a step forward, and
with a low cry held out her arms to him, trembling no more, her heart
filled with a wild, joyous song. Suddenly she felt his breath upon her
face, felt herself crushed in his arms, as she would be crushed.
Gently he kissed her upon the lips, and then again and again and again.
For a moment she lay dumb in his arms, and then as he drew back his
head she put her arms around his neck and held his lips to hers. So
they stood.

A force far greater than the unharnessed might of the ocean now
thrilled and filled and exalted them. Slowly she raised her hands and
passed them over his face, lingeringly; once more she felt herself
drawn to him, and laughed joyously.

As Dan turned, out of the darkness ahead he saw a light. He looked
again. He saw it plainly now, that steady white disc with its red

"Cape Henry!" he cried. "Good God!"

The girl started.

"What?" she said, wonderingly.

"Cape Henry to port, Virginia. We'll have a tug in an hour. The dawn
is coming now. The sun will see us in Newport News."

Virginia regarded him dreamily, and tightened her clasp about his neck.

"Newport News," she said; "and what do I care! You have not kissed me
in an age."



The next afternoon Horace Howland sat in his office at No. 11 Broadway,
staring moodily at his desk with its accumulation of papers. For long,
it seemed, he had lived in an agony of suspense. Friends had come and
gone and said their words, and passed on unrecognized and unheeded.

How many times had he wished that the Ward liner which had crossed the
path of the boats and picked them up the morning after the fire had
left him at least to perish. A full half-dozen tugs and steamships had
been sent to the scene of the conflagration there to cruise about until
some trace of the missing should be found. A Clyde vessel had sighted
the burned steamship, a mere mass of charred and twisted frames and
plates, sinking low in the sea. A Government cruiser and a revenue
cutter had joined in the search.

But no word had come. An hour before, a messenger boy had arrived with
a telegram. It was one of many received by Mr. Howland every day, and
he tossed it, unopened, upon a pile of similar envelopes upon his desk.

Now, as he turned his eyes yearningly out of a window which gave upon
the harbor, the name of a reporter was announced. Mr. Howland had
talked and talked and talked to reporters until he was sick of them as
of every one and everything else. He turned to his secretary.

"See that fellow, will you?" he said.

In less than a minute the secretary hurried into the office with an
excited manner, the reporter at his heels, bearing a long sheet of
tissue paper filled with typewriting.

"I have come to see you about the rescue of your daughter, Mr. Howland."

The merchant wheeled quickly in his chair.

"What!" he cried. Then he sprang to his feet and seized the manuscript
which the reporter held out to him. Quickly he read it. Then he read
it again, more slowly. He read it a third time. His hand flew to his
forehead, and he staggered back to his chair. The secretary stepped to
his side, but Mr. Howland waved him away.

"When did this come?" he asked.

"A few moments ago," replied the reporter.

"Well," and Mr. Howland gazed at his informant with suffused eyes, "I
thank you for your kindness. You must know how grateful I am. Of
course there is nothing I can tell you - nothing you want to know."

The reporter hesitated a moment.

"No," he said, "I don't suppose you can tell me much. Except - "

"Eh?" said Mr. Howland.

"Except - you read the despatch. It speaks of Captain Merrithew as Miss
Howland's _fiancé_."

"Yes." Mr. Howland's years of business resource and acumen were
beginning to assert themselves. "Oh, _fiancé_! I see. Romance will
help your article. Well, there isn't any. Captain Merrithew and my
daughter were engaged before we started on this _Tampico_ jaunt." He
looked at the reporter steadily. "Merrithew, you know, is really the
Assistant Marine Superintendent of the Coastwise Company; also a
stock-holder. He was sailing the _Tampico_ merely for experience."

The reporter smiled at Mr. Howland.

"Merrithew is to be congratulated," he said.

"I fancy so," replied Mr. Howland. "In fact," he added, "do you know,
I have reason to be quite sure of it."


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