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"All right, when she begins, come on up with your men without asking
leave. Report every half-hour. I'll be on the bridge, of course. If
I can pick up a steamship I'll call her and desert ship; if not - well,
we're somewhere outside the Winter Quarter light-ship. I'll need about
five hours of the speed we're making to pick up the light vessel and
beach the yacht in the lee of Assateague; maybe not quite five hours, I
can't say exactly."

"I think we can keep ahead of the water we're makin' that long,"
replied Arthur, cheerfully.

As Dan regained the bridge, the bad news he had received below was
slightly compensated for by the fact that the storm seemed to be taking
a new kink, swirling away to sea. The gray combers, however, were
still disagreeably to be reckoned with. The second officer had by this
time pulled himself together, and as he reported to Dan, the young
Captain was happy to feel that he had at least a lieutenant who could
be counted on. Now if Mulhatton were only with him - but "Mul" was
below, flat on his back, suffering technically from submersion, and so
were the other men of the _Fledgling_ who had been pulled aboard the

At ten o'clock Arthur reported that the water had gained another six

As Dan snapped back the tube a burst of laughter from the saloon
reached his ears. Seasickness, fear, everything evil had been
forgotten in the spirit of confidence and assurance of ultimate safety
which Dan's skill and personality had infused throughout the wallowing
craft. He shrugged his shoulders, staring vacantly into the angry sea.

At length his eyes turned to the distress signals he had ordered
hoisted; and suddenly the gulf between his lot in life and theirs,
which the merriment suggested, disappeared, and his emotions thereby
aroused, - emotions not untinged with self-pity, changed to deepest
sympathy for those light-hearted ones who might soon be plunged into
that gloom which heralds death. Grim, silent, he turned to his work,
determined that so far as in him lay no shadow of death should invest a
single one of those persons who must find so much in life to make it
worth while. Another hour passed while the yacht stumbled her clumsy
course to safety. Arthur reported another half-foot; in all three feet
six inches of water swishing against the engine-room bulkhead.

"It will keep seepin' through," he said, "and wop! Suddenly the whole
bulkhead'll go."

"Don't get caught," replied Dan. "Give us three more hours, chief.
Oh, I say, there's not a drop getting into the fire room yet? Thank
God for that!"

"For what?"

He faced about quickly and looked into the eyes of Virginia Howland.
She was pale, but her face was brave. "I had just come out on deck,"
she said, "because somehow I was getting nervous - I wanted to be - to be
near the Captain." She smiled. "I heard you talking through the
speaking-tube; I didn't mean to listen - pardon me; I couldn't help it.
We're in danger, then, are we? Don't hesitate to answer truthfully,
Captain Merrithew."

"Why," replied Dan, "we - steady there, Mr. Terry; you men at the wheel
attend to your business. Excuse me," turning to the girl,
"danger - why, we've been in danger all the time; else I wouldn't be up

"You are evading," said the girl, slowly. "But perhaps you are right.
I can say I trust you, Captain - we all do. I want to tell you again
how we all appreciate your - what you have done - putting the yacht
straight and - "

"I am doing it for myself as much as for you. More, perhaps; who

The girl gazed intently at his square-cut, bronzed face. Then she
looked straight into his steel-gray eyes, peering hard ahead from under
the flat peak of a cap he had picked up on the bridge.

"Yes," she said, as though speaking to herself, "I think I know." Then
she started with an involuntary gesture.

"Haven't I seen you somewhere before, Captain Merrithew? Yes, yes, I
have. Where could it have been? Do you recall?"

"Yes," was the simple reply. "I recall. It was about two years ago,
at Norfolk, when you were at the coal docks on this yacht."

Virginia flushed eagerly and was about to say something, when some
flashing thought, perhaps a realizing sense of their relative
positions, closed her lips. "I remember very clearly now." She spoke
quietly, then she closed her eyes for a second; when she opened them
they were stern and hard.

"Captain Merrithew," she said, as though to hasten from the subject, "I
know we are in danger. Your silence has said as much. Yet the yacht
seems to be going finely - "

Dan made no reply.

"Do you think I am a coward? Is that the reason you are silent?"

Dan made no attempt to conceal his annoyance.

"Well, Miss Howland, if you are not a coward, if you can keep what you
know to yourself, listen: We're taking in a little water. It's a race
between the yacht and the leak; the yacht ought to win out. Now you
know as much as I do."

"I am not frightened; my curiosity is natural. Is there a chance that
the yacht may not get where you are taking her?"

"To the Assateague beach - no, I don't think there is - if all goes well."

"If all goes well! Then there is a chance - a chance we may - "

"Oh, we'll be all right." Dan was temperamentally straightforward and
honest, and his assertions were uttered with a tentative inflection
which fell far from carrying conviction to the aroused senses of the

She stepped closer to Dan.

"May I say something? We are in danger. I have been thinking of
things since you came aboard - since I have been sitting in the saloon
with the men who are different - "

Dan could see that the girl, always evidently one of dominant emotions,
was overwrought, and something told him she had no business to express
the thoughts which filled her mind, that she would be sorry later that
she had spoken. He had interrupted her by a gesture. Now his voice
came cool and even.

"Miss Howland, don't. I've got to take care of this yacht."

A quick sense of just what he meant shot through the girl's mind. She
raised her eyes and looked at him straight. They were blazing, not
altogether with anger. She trembled; she flushed and moved
uncertainly. Then, without a word, she turned and left him.

"A half-foot more water in the last half-hour," reported Arthur.

As Dan turned to Terry, that officer silently pointed to the northward,
where a tall column of black smoke seemed to rise from the waters. A
steamship! Yes, but was it coming toward them? Was it going away? Or
would it pass them far out to sea? For fifteen minutes he watched it
through his binoculars, and then he glanced down to the deck and called
to a sailor to send Mr. Howland to the bridge.

"Mr. Howland," said Dan, as the owner approached him, "I suppose Miss
Howland has told you our fix."

"Yes, but she has told no one else."

"Bully for her!" exclaimed Dan.

"She said you were hopeful."

"More so now than ever before, I was making for the beach, but
now - there's a steamship coming down on us. I wasn't sure at first, I
am now. That smoke out there is heading dead for us. I am going to
slow the boat down to steerage way and wait for her to come up. It's
better than trying to make for Assateague; it's better to wait."

"Will the bulkhead hold?"

Mr. Howland asked his question in the even monotone which had
characterized all his questions.

"I think so; if it doesn't, we'll get everybody off in the rafts and
the launch; the sea is going down by the minute."

Mr. Howland glanced down at the deck where the crew of Scandinavians,
inspired by the cool, cheerful commands of their new Captain, were
working nonchalantly in preparing for eventualities. From amidships
came the clatter of men trying to repair the launch, the one boat which
had not been carried away in the night's storm. Others were clearing
the life rafts so they could be launched without delay. He glanced at
Dan with admiring eyes.

"I want to compliment you, Captain Merrithew," he said. "You have your
crew well in hand."

"Thank you," replied Dan, "if you will keep your party in hand there'll
be no danger at all. I don't care what happens, with the sea falling."

Another half-hour. The steamship, a stout coaster, had now climbed
over the horizon. Mr. Howland, through the glasses, had picked out her
red-and-black funnel and recognized her as one of his own boats. But
it had plainly come to a race between the steamship and the straining
bulkhead. No need now to tell any one of the situation. The _Veiled
Ladye_ was plainly settling astern. The engine-room bulkhead was
quivering, ready to break. Arthur and his men had piled up from the
engine-room, the engines still pulsing with no one to watch them. The
sailors were splendid, going about their work quietly, calmly. They
had carried the injured mate, groaning with his broken leg, to the
deck. Mrs. Van Vleck, Mr. Rowland's sister, the chaperone, sat with
her niece's arms about her, passing in and out of successive attacks of
hysteria. A sailor had knocked one of the young men of the party down
to quiet an incipient exhibition of panic. Ralph Oddington and
Reginald Wotherspoon stood at the rail, trying with nerveless fingers
to roll cigarettes. Two of the girls were weeping in each other's
arms. The water bubbled under the turn of the yacht's counters. Two
of the sailors were discharging blank shells from the rifle astern in
hopes of calling attention to the plight of the craft. The deck was a
conglomerate, nervous confusion of smart yachting costumes, uniforms,
and greasy overalls.

Dan, noting the flutter, leaned back from the wheel.

"Don't get excited down there," he roared. "If the bulkhead holds,
we're all right. If it doesn't, there'll be plenty of time for all.
Do you understand? We can float for a week on the ocean the way it is

"It won't hold long, Mr. Howland," he added to the man at his side,
"but it will hold until that steamship reaches us. She's seen us and
is coming like hell."

A few minutes later a joyous shout sounded from the men on the bridge,
a cry vibrant with electricity, which thrilled through the yacht and
finally trembled on all tongues. For the steamship had sized the
situation and was fairly leaping toward them. Great clouds of smoke
were belching from her funnel. They could see sparks mingling with the
thunderclouds of sepia, and the _Veiled Ladye_ hobbled woundily to meet
her. On came the freighter; her hull was plainly discerned now,
picking the waves from under her bluff bows and throwing them
impatiently to either side.

Cries of joy and appeals for the succoring vessel to hurry sounded from
the yacht's decks.

As the vessel drew nearer. Miss Howland ran to the bridge and took her
father by the arm.

"Father!" she cried. "You must come now. Isn't there anything in your
cabin you want to save?" With a muttered "By George!" Mr. Howland
dived below and the girl faced Dan.

"Captain Merrithew - "

Oddington's voice thrilling in joyous, cadence sounded from beneath the

"Virginia, Virginia, where are you? Oh, up there! Come down quickly!
Don't you see we are coming alongside? And Merrithew, old
chap - Virginia, will you come! You are to be put aboard after your
aunt. Hurry!" There was a half-note of proprietorship in his voice.

As the girl turned to leave, Dan gave the wheel to Terry and ran to the
deck with a speaking-trumpet in his hand. As he passed Oddington, who
had assisted Miss Howland from the bridge, he spoke to him quietly.

"The man with the broken leg leaves this ship first."

Below there was a dull crash and clouds of steam burst through the
ventilators and the engine-room gratings. The bulkhead had succumbed,
but no one cared now. The steamship was turning in about a hundred
yards away. Dan directed his trumpet to the bridge.

"Scrape close alongside," he yelled. "Open one of your cargo ports and
we'll board you through it."

The freighter's Captain had already anticipated this suggestion, and as
the vessel slid alongside, Dan ranged the sailors along the deck.

In perfect order the mate with the broken leg was slid into the port as
though he were merely being passed into another room. Then went the
women, then the men of the party, and after them the sailors. Dan and
Mr. Howland alone were left now. As the elder man prepared to enter
the port he looked at Dan a moment and smiled.

"Some day I hope to cancel this debt."

They were simple words, but potentially they meant much to Dan. He was
to find they involved the realization of dreams, ambitions he had long
held; another rung on the ladder which eventually - - But there was no
time to think of the future now. Turning from the porthole he ran
along the deck, calling to make sure that every one was off. When he
returned, Miss Howland and several others were leaning over the rail

"For heaven's sake, Captain Merrithew, will you please come off that
yacht!" The girl's voice rang imperiously.

With a last look at the bridge upon which he had passed the recent
thrilling hours, he leaped aboard the freighter, and when ten minutes
later the white _Veiled Ladye_ threw up her bow with a great clanking
sigh and slid swiftly from view, Dan Merrithew was fast asleep in the
Captain's cabin.



A week later, Dan, in accordance with an engagement made with Mr.
Howland when parting with him at the railroad station at Norfolk,
whither the rescuing vessel had taken the shipwrecked party, called at
the office of the Coastwise and West Indian Shipping Company in the
Bowling Green Building and asked to see the president.

It was a large office, filled with clerks and all of them busy. The
young man who received the caller's request looked at him sharply and
shook his head.

"Mr. Rowland's engaged now," he said, "at a company meeting. If you'll
call in an hour or two I'll find out if he will see you."

Dan drew from his pocket a card with a pencilled memorandum and glanced
at it.

"He made an appointment with me for eleven o'clock to-day. So I guess
I'll have to ask you to take in my card."

The clerk shrugged his shoulders and walked away. When he returned a
few minutes later all signs of mistrust had vanished. Opening the gate
with a sort of flourish he said:

"Mr. Howland says for you to come right in."

As Dan entered the president's office, Mr. Howland arose from a long,
polished oaken table littered with papers, at which several men were
seated, and advanced to meet him.

"Captain Merrithew," he said, "I am glad to see you again. And now,"
he added, the formalities of introducing Dan to the various officers of
the company being completed, "I have gone into the matter of the men
lost when the _Fledgling_ sank and have sent a check for five thousand
dollars to the wife of your engineer, Crampton, who I understand
carried some life insurance, and a check for three thousand dollars to
Welch's mother." His voice was crisp and business-like, but his manner
intimated clearly the sympathy and gratitude which had dictated his

"Yes, sir, they are adequate," replied Dan, feelingly.

"I have sent checks to your mate, Mulhatton, who, I am informed, is
still in the employ of the Phoenix Company, as well as that fellow
Noonan and the steward; which brings us to you."

"Mr. Howland," said Dan, flushing, "I'm simply not - "

"Just a moment, if you please," interrupted Mr. Howland; "I assume you
are qualified to navigate the ocean?"

"Yes," replied Dan, trembling slightly; "I've the best of broad ocean
papers and seven harbor endorsements."

"That ought to be enough," smiled the vice-president, Mr. Horton, who
seemed perfectly in touch with the trend of the situation.

"Yes," resumed Mr. Howland, "what I am getting at is this, Captain
Merrithew. The Coastwise Transportation Company is looking for men
like you. We want you with us, in short. As you probably know, we
have a fleet consisting of steamers of various sizes, but all pretty
much the same type; that is to say, seaworthy, comfortable, and well
engined. We cannot place you in command of one of our newest vessels,
of course. But there is the _Tampico_, the commander of which, Captain
Harrison, we are to retire for age. She is a good boat, running to San
Blanco, and she is fitted for passengers; so you will find opportunity
to develop your social proclivities, if you have any to develop."

As Mr. Howland was talking the color had slowly departed from Dan's
face, and now, as the president ceased speaking and regarded the young
man, he spoke haltingly, with dry lips.

"Do I understand you to mean that you are going to make me Captain of
the _Tampico_?"

"You are to understand that we have," corrected Mr. Howland.

"Mr. Howland, gentlemen," said Dan, "I - I can't say anything
except - thank you - I - " He hesitated, confusedly.

"There's nothing for you to say," interpolated the president, "except
that you'll go down to the ship, which is loading at Pier 36, East
River, and assume command. Captain Harrison will remain aboard for two
or three trips to break you in to the trade." There was that in his
voice which intimated the end of the interview, and Dan with a bow was
turning to leave, when Mr. Howland uttered an exclamation.

"Oh, by the way," he said, "here is a note my daughter asked me to give
you. It will explain itself, I think; and since you are now serving
under the house flag of this company, I can say only that obedience to
orders contained therein is imperative. We all obey orders from that
source," and with a chuckle Mr. Rowland turned to his confreres and was
speedily immersed in other important affairs of the company.

Dan did not open the envelope in the office. First of all he wanted
fresh air. The quick, calm, business-like manner in which his
promotion had taken place; the noiseless, well-ordered, automatic
opening of another door leading to the future of his ambitions, so
utterly at variance with preconceived ideas in this regard, had all but
unnerved him. He had always held it as assured that some day he should
walk his own bridge. But until a half-hour ago, this day seemed still
to lie far ahead, a day to be attained, well, he could not say exactly
how - but at least with a sort of metaphorical roaring of guns and
waving of flags, and great spiritual exaltation.

But now - a few short sentences, a handshake, and presto! Captain
Merrithew, of the Coastwise line steamship _Tampico_, by your leave.
The wonder of it all dazed him; yet withal he knew he had never before
been so stirred to the very depths of his being. He was not yet in a
position to estimate his good fortune in comprehensive terms. As a
matter of fact, he did not try. One thought alone kept flaming through
his brain - his age. Twenty-six, twenty-six; the numerals flew through
his mind as though the years of his life were the most important
elements in the situation.

By the time he reached the Battery sea-wall, he had somewhat adjusted
his mental attitude, and, gazing with a degree of calmness over the
waters of the bay toward the hills of Staten Island, he recalled the
note from Miss Howland.

All along it had lain a pleasant substratum in his mind, and now as he
tore open the envelope and read the contents, a peculiar, grim smile
lighted his eyes for a second.

"DEAR CAPTAIN MERRITHEW: - Next Thursday we are going to have a reunion
of the castaways at our house. It will be for dinner, and we have all
agreed it will not be complete without the man who made this gathering

"I am not going to let you make any excuse, for my dinner-party will
have an empty space without you. It will be very informal. Father for
several years has refused to wear evening dress at dinner, so none of
the other men will. Now remember, I shall expect you on Thursday
evening, at seven; you need not bother sending an acceptance.

"Very sincerely yours,


Virginia met her aunt at the foot of the stairs, and, slipping an arm
about her waist, laughed nervously.

"Well, my dear, to-night we entertain the tug-boat hero. It's horrid
to feel so, but do you know I wish I had suggested to father that we
have the dinner on one of his vessels. Do you remember last Fall, what
fun it was? I have the impression, don't you know, that things would
be less strained than here. He would find the atmosphere more

"He? Oh, the tugman," laughed her aunt. "I shouldn't worry if I were

"I'm not worrying about that," protested the girl; "but oh, I don't
know - I hate to have the success of a dinner in the air, especially
when you have a sort of reputation in that way, don't you know."

"Nonsense," replied the older woman, glancing admiringly at the tall,
lithe girl in her white evening gown as she moved through the
drawing-room to the dining-room, where the butler was adding the final
deft fillips to a centrepiece of roses, in which a candy yacht was

"You see," said the girl, pointing to a dinner card bearing Merrithew's
name, "I am going to place him between you and me. Will you - won't you
arrange things so he'll take you in. No; never mind! I'll arrange
that - you're always such a dear about such things, and you won't mind,
will you?"

"Certainly not," smiled her aunt, "I shall ask him to tow me in."

They both laughed. Their understanding was perfect. Ever since the
older woman had entered her brother's house, years before, to care for
a motherless child, the bond of sympathy between the two had been of
the strongest, and throughout she had remained the best friend and
counsellor, if only because she was the wisest.

When Dan entered the Howlands' drawing-room all the guests had arrived.
He accomplished this difficult feat, which is considered an art in
fashionable schools, with easy grace and unconsciousness and received
Virginia's welcome courteously.

He wore a well-fitting blue suit of conventional cut and neither his
hands nor his feet seemed to bother him a bit. And yet among the men
of the company he stood out in sharp contrast. Miss Howland marked
this particularly when Oddington presented himself with an air of
good-humored camaraderie, - he, the successful young lawyer, with a
growing reputation as a man about town and the glamour which surrounds
the most popular all-around man at his university still about him; a
man who did well everything he tried to do, and able to give the
impression that the things he could not do were not worth the attempt;
whose every action, every word, every expression was marked with the
undefinable stamp of the metropolis, and the various lessons it
teaches. Merrithew, on the other hand, standing tall and
broad-shouldered, looking about him as he talked, with quick, observant
glances; a face weather-beaten, but not rough, a typical Anglo-Saxon
fighting face, but kindly withal; certainly not truculent. Miss
Howland had met young army and navy officers who had aroused in her
similar impressions; she had, in fact, no difficulty in defining
Merrithew's type. He was of the class which does strong things out of
the beaten track; men who in the process of civilization have retained
some of the wandering or combative or predatory instincts of earlier
ages and have been set apart in the scheme of natural selection to
fight battles, explore countries, kill wild beasts, navigate waters, to
the end that a greater proportion of their fellow men may peaceably
advance the interests of commerce, science, the arts, and, other
affairs of a humdrum world.

Oddington took Miss Howland in. At the last moment her father had
telephoned from the office he would be late and not to wait for him.
This necessitated a hasty rearrangement of the dinner cards; and Mrs.
Van Vleck was further disturbed by the butler, who was batting his eyes
fiercely at the cringing second man, token that something had occurred,
or more probably had been about to occur, to mar that service which was
his pride.

Dan, therefore, who sat at her right, finding relief from the
rapid-fire conversation which she had directed at him, obviously with
intention to put him at his ease, found time to glance up and down the
table. There were perhaps a dozen persons, and he recognized most of
them as members of the _Veiled Ladye's_ party. Reginald Wotherspoon,
upon dry land once more, out of danger, sure of himself, was bantering
one of the girls across the table, in the dry, masterful tone of one

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Online LibraryLawrence PerryDan Merrithew → online text (page 5 of 12)