Mary Roberts Rinehart.

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"What did I tell you?" cried the girl who had given Edith her
flowers. "She has found him. See, he has lost his arm. Look
out - catch him!"

But he did not faint. He went even whiter, and looking at Edith he
touched his empty sleeve.

"As if that would make any difference to her!" said the girl, who
was in black. "Look at her face! She's got him."

Neither Edith nor the boy could speak. He was afraid of unmanly
tears. His dignity was very dear to him. And the tragedy of his
empty sleeve had her by the throat. So they went out together and
the crowd opened to let them by.

* * * * *

At nine o'clock that night Lethway stormed through the stage
entrance of the theatre and knocked viciously at the door of Mabel's
dressing room. Receiving no attention, he opened the door and went

The room was full of flowers, and Mabel, ready to go on, was having
her pink toes rouged for her barefoot dance.

"You've got a nerve!" she said coolly.

"Where's Edith?"

"I don't know and I don't care. She ran away, when I was stinting
myself to keep her. I'm done. Now you go out and close that door,
and when you want to enter a lady's dressing room, knock."

He looked at her with blazing hatred.

"Right-o!" was all he said. And he turned and left her to her

At exactly the same time Edith was entering the elevator of a small,
very respectable hotel in Kensington. The boy, smiling, watched her

He did not kiss her, greatly to the disappointment of the hall
porter. As the elevator rose the boy stood at salute, the fingers of
his left hand to the brim of his shabby cap. In his eyes, as they
followed her, was all that there is of love - love and a new

She had told him, and now he knew. His creed was still the same.
Right was right and wrong was wrong. But he had learned of that
shadowy No Man's Land between the lines, where many there were who
fought their battles and were wounded, and even died.

As he turned and went out two men on crutches were passing along the
quiet street. They recognised him in the light of the doorway, and
stopped in front of him. Their voices rang out in cheerful unison:

"Are we downhearted? No!"

Their crutches struck the pavement with a resounding thump.



The Red Un was very red; even his freckles were red rather than
copper-coloured. And he was more prodigal than most kings, for he
had two crowns on his head. Also his hair grew in varying
directions, like a wheatfields after a storm. He wore a coat without
a tail, but with brass buttons to compensate, and a celluloid collar
with a front attached. It was the Red Un's habit to dress first and
wash after, as saving labour; instead of his neck he washed his

The Red Un was the Chief Engineer's boy and rather more impressive
than the Chief, who was apt to decry his own greatness. It was the
Red Un's duty to look after the Chief, carry in his meals, make his
bed, run errands, and remind him to get his hair cut now and then.
It was the Red Un's pleasure to assist unassumingly in the
surveillance of that part of the ship where the great god, Steam,
ruled an underworld of trimmers and oilers and stokers and assistant
engineers - and even, with reservations, the Chief. The Red Un kept a
sharp eye on the runs and read the Chief's log daily - so much coal
in the bunkers; so much water in the wells; so many engine-room
miles in twenty-four hours - which, of course, are not sea miles
exactly, there being currents and winds, and God knows what, to
waste steam on.

The Red Un, like the assistants, was becoming a bear on the speed
market. He had learned that, just when the engines get heated enough
to work like demons, and there is a chance to break a record and get
a letter from the management, some current or other will show up - or
a fog, which takes the very tripe out of the cylinders and sends the
bridge yapping for caution.

The Red Un was thirteen; and he made the Chief's bed by pulling the
counterpane neatly and smoothly over the chaos underneath - and got
away with it, the Chief being weary at night. Also, in odd moments
he made life miserable for the crew. Up to shortly before, he had
had to use much energy and all his wits to keep life in his starved
little body; and even keeping an eye on the log and the Chief's
hair, and slipping down into the engine room, where he had no manner
of business, hardly used up his activities. However, he did not lie
and he looked the Chief square in the eye, as man to man.

The Chief had salvaged him out of the Hudson, when what he had taken
for a bobbing red tomato had suddenly revealed a blue face and two
set and desperate eyes. After that the big Scot had forgotten all
about him, except the next day when he put on his shoes, which had
shrunk in the drying. The liner finished coaling about that time,
took on passengers, luggage, steamer baskets and a pilot, and,
having stowed the first two, examined the cards on the third and
dropped the last, was pointed, nose to the east wind, for the race.

The arrow on the twin dials pointed to Stand By! for the long
voyage - three thousand miles or so without a stop. The gong, and
then Half Ahead! - great elbows thrust up and down, up and down; the
grunt of power overcoming inertia, followed by the easy swing of
limitless strength. Full Ahead! - and so off again for the great
struggle - man's wits and the engines and the mercy of God against
the upreaching of the sea.

The Chief, who sometimes dreamed his greatness, but who ignored it
waking, snapped his watch shut.

"Eleven-eleven!" he said to the Senior Second. "Well, here's luck!"
That is what he said aloud; to himself he always said a bit of a
prayer, realising perhaps even more than the bridge how little man's
wits count in the great equation. He generally said something to the
effect that "After all, it's up to Thee, O Lord!"

He shook hands with the Senior Second, which also was his habit; and
he smiled too, but rather grimly. They were playing a bit of a
game, you see; and so far the Chief had won all the tricks - just an
amusing little game and nothing whatever to do with a woman; the
Second was married, but the Chief had put all such things out of his
head years before, when he was a youngster and sailing to the Plate.
Out of his head, quite certainly; but who dreams of greatness for
himself alone? So the Chief, having glanced about and run his hand
caressingly over various fearful and pounding steel creatures, had
climbed up the blistering metal staircase to his room at the top and
was proceeding to put down eleven-eleven and various other things
that the first cabin never even heard of, when he felt that he was
being stared at from behind.

Now and then, after shore leave, a drunken trimmer or stoker gets up
to the Chief's room and has to be subdued by the power of executive
eye or the strength of executive arm. As most Chiefs are Scots, the
eye is generally sufficient. So the Chief, mightily ferocious,
turned about, eye set, as one may say, to annihilate a six-foot
trimmer in filthy overalls and a hangover, and saw - a small
red-haired boy in a Turkish towel.

The boy quailed rather at the eye, but he had the courage of nothing
to lose - not even a pair of breeches - and everything to gain.

"Please," said the apparition, "the pilot's gone, and you can't put
me off!"

The Chief opened his mouth and shut it again. The mouth, and the
modification of an eye set for a six-foot trimmer to an eye for a
four-foot-ten urchin in a Turkish towel, produced a certain
softening. The Red Un, who was like the Chief in that he earned his
way by pitting his wits against relentless Nature, smiled a
little - a surface smile, with fear just behind.

"The Captain's boy's my size; I could wear his clothes," he

Now, back in that time when the Chief had kept a woman's picture in
his breast pocket instead of in a drawer of his desk, there had been
small furtive hopes, the pride of the Scot to perpetuate his line,
the desire of a man for a manchild. The Chief had buried all that in
the desk drawer with the picture; but he had gone overboard in his
best uniform to rescue a wharf-rat, and he had felt a curious sense
of comfort when he held the cold little figure in his arms and was
hauled on deck, sputtering dirty river water and broad Scotch, as
was his way when excited.

"And where ha' ye been skulking since yesterday?" he demanded.

"In the bed where I was put till last night. This morning early - - "
he hesitated.

"Don't lie! Where were ye?"

"In a passenger's room, under a bed. When the passengers came aboard
I had to get out."

"How did ye get here?"

This met with silence. Quite suddenly the Chief recognised the
connivance of the crew, perhaps, or of a kindly stewardess.

"Who told you this was my cabin?" A smile this time, rather like the
Senior Second's when the Chief and he had shaken hands.

"A nigger!" he said. "A coloured fella in a white suit."

There was not a darky on the boat. The Red Un, whose code was the
truth when possible, but any lie to save a friend - and that's the
code of a gentleman - sat, defiantly hopeful, arranging the towel to
cover as much as possible of his small person.

"You're lying! Do you know what we do with liars on this ship? We
throw them overboard!"

"Then I'm thinking," responded the Turkish towel, "that you'll be
needing another Chief Engineer before long!"

Now, as it happened, the Chief had no boy that trip. The previous
one had been adopted after the last trip by a childless couple who
had liked the shape of his nose and the way his eyelashes curled on
his cheek. The Chief looked at the Red Un; it was perfectly clear
that no one would ever adopt him for the shape of his nose, and he
apparently lacked lashes entirely. He rose and took a bathrobe from
a hook on the door.

"Here," he said; "cover your legs wi' that, and say a prayer if ye'
know wan. The Captain's a verra hard man wi' stowaways."

The Captain, however, who was a gentleman and a navigator and had a
sense of humour also, was not hard with the Red Un. It being
impracticable to take the boy to him, the great man made a special
visit to the boy. The Red Un, in the Chief's bathrobe, sat on a
chair, with his feet about four inches from the floor, and returned
the Captain's glare with wide blue eyes.

"Is there any reason, young man, why I shouldn't order you to the
lockup for the balance of this voyage?" the Captain demanded, extra
grim, and trying not to smile.

"Well," said the Red Un, wiggling his legs nervously, "you'd have to
feed me, wouldn't you? And I might as well work for my keep."

This being a fundamental truth on which most economics and all
governments are founded, and the Captain having a boy of his own at
home, he gave a grudging consent, for the sake of discipline, to the
Red Un's working for his keep as the Chief's boy, and left. Outside
the door he paused.

"The little devil's starved," he said. "Put some meat on those
ribs, Chief, and - be a bit easy with him!"

This last was facetious, the Chief being known to have the heart of
a child.

So the Red Un went on the payroll of the line, and requisition was
made on the storekeeper for the short-tailed coat and the long
trousers, and on the barber for a hair-cut. And in some curious way
the Red Un and the Chief hit it off. It might have been a matter of
red blood or of indomitable spirit.

Spirit enough and to spare had the Red Un. On the trip out he had
licked the Captain's boy and the Purser's boy; on the incoming trip
he had lashed the Doctor's boy to his triumphant mast, and only
three days before he had settled a row in the stokehole by putting
hot ashes down the back of a drunken trimmer, and changing his
attitude from menace with a steel shovel to supplication and prayer.

He had no business in the stokehole, but by that time he knew every
corner of the ship - called the engines by name and the men by
epithets; had named one of the pumps Marguerite, after the Junior
Second's best girl; and had taken violent partisanship in the
eternal rivalry of the liner between the engine room and the bridge.

"Aw, gwan!" he said to the Captain's boy. "Where'd you and your Old
Man be but for us? In a blasted steel tank, floating about on the
bloomin' sea! What's a ship without insides?"

The Captain's boy, who was fourteen, and kept his bath sponge in a
rubber bag, and shaved now and then with the Captain's razor,
retorted in kind.

"You fellows below think you're the whole bally ship!" he said
loftily. "Insides is all right - we need 'em in our business. But
what'd your steel tank do, with the engines goin', if she
wasn't bein' navigated? Steamin' in circles, like a tinklin'

It was some seconds after this that the Purser, a well-intentioned
but interfering gentleman with a beard, received the kick that put
him in dry dock for two days.


They were three days out of New York on the Red Un's second round
trip when the Second, still playing the game and almost despairing,
made a strategic move. The Red Un was laying out the Chief's
luncheon on his desk - a clean napkin for a cloth; a glass; silver; a
plate; and the menu from the first-cabin dining saloon. The menu was
propped against a framed verse:

_But I ha' lived and I ha' worked!
All thanks to Thee, Most High._

And as he placed the menu, the Red Un repeated the words from
McAndrew's hymn. It had rather got him at first; it was a new
philosophy of life. To give thanks for life was understandable, even
if unnecessary. But thanks for work! There was another framed card
above the desk, more within the Red Un's ken: "Cable crossing! Do
not anchor here!"

The card worked well with the first class, resting in the Chief's
cabin after the arduous labours of seeing the engines.

The Chief was below, flat on his back in a manhole looking for a
staccato note that did not belong in his trained and orderly chorus.
There was grease in his sandy hair, and the cranks were only a few
inches from his nose. By opening the door the Red Un was able to
command the cylinder tops, far below, and the fiddley, which is the
roof of hell or a steel grating over the cylinders to walk
on - depending on whether one is used to it or not. The Chief was
naturally not in sight.

This gave the Red Un two minutes' leeway - two minutes for
exploration. A drawer in the desk, always heretofore locked, was
unfastened - that is, the bolt had been shot before the drawer was
entirely closed. The Red Un was jealous of that drawer. In two
voyages he had learned most of the Chief's history and, lacking one
of his own, had appropriated it to himself. Thus it was not unusual
for him to remark casually, as he stood behind the Chief's chair at
dinner: "We'd better send this here postcard to Cousin Willie, at

"Ou-ay!" the Chief would agree, and tear off the postcard of the
ship that topped each day's menu; but, so far, all hints as to this
one drawer had been futile; it remained the one barrier to their
perfect confidence, the fly in the ointment of the Red Un's content.

Now, at last - - Below, a drop of grease in the Chief's eye set him
wiping and cursing; over his head hammered, banged and lunged his
great babies; in the stokehole a gaunt and grimy creature, yclept
the Junior Second, stewed in his own sweat and yelled for steam.

The Red Un opened the drawed quickly and thrust in a hand. At first
he thought it was empty, working as he did by touch, his eye on the
door. Then he found a disappointing something - the lid of a
cigar-box! Under that was a photograph. Here was luck! Had the Red
Un known it, he had found the only two secrets in his Chief's open
life. But the picture was disappointing - a snapshot of a young
woman, rather slim, with the face obscured by a tennis racket,
obviously thrust into the picture at the psychological moment. Poor
spoil this - a cigar-box lid and a girl without a face! However,
marred as it was, it clearly meant something to the Chief. For on
its reverse side was another stanza from McAndrew's hymn:

_Ye know how hard an idol dies,
An' what that meant to me -
E'en tak' it for a sacrifice
Acceptable to Thee._

The Red Un thrust it back into the drawer, with the lid. If she was
dead what did it matter? He was a literal youth - so far, his own
words had proved sufficient for his thoughts; it is after thirty
that a man finds his emotions bigger than his power of expressing
them, and turns to those that have the gift. The Chief was over

It was as he shut the drawer that he realised he was not alone. The
alley door was open and in it stood the Senior Second. The Red Un
eyed him unpleasantly.

"Sneaking!" said the Second.

"None of your blamed business!" replied the Red Un.

The Second, who was really an agreeable person, with a sense of
humour, smiled. He rather liked the Red Un.

"Do you know, William," he observed - William was the Red Un's
name - "I'd be willing to offer two shillings for an itemised
account of what's in that drawer?"

"Fill it with shillings," boasted the Red Un, "and I'll not tell

"Three?" said the Second cheerfully.



"Why don't you look yourself?"

"Just between gentlemen, that isn't done, young man. But if you
volunteered the information, and I saw fit to make you a present of,
say, a pipe, with a box of tobacco - - "

"What do you want to know for?"

"I guess you know."

The Red Un knew quite well. The Chief and the two Seconds were still
playing their game, and the Chief was still winning; but even the
Red Un did not know how the Chief won - and as for the two Seconds
and the Third and the Fourth, they were quite stumped.

This was the game: In bad weather, when the ports are closed and
first-class passengers are yapping for air, it is the province of
the engine room to see that they get it. An auxiliary engine pumps
cubic feet of atmosphere into every cabin through a series of

So far so good. But auxiliaries take steam; and it is exceedingly
galling to a Junior or Senior, wagering more than he can afford on
the run in his watch, to have to turn valuable steam to
auxiliaries - "So that a lot of blooming nuts may smoke in their
bunks!" as the Third put it.

The first move in the game is the Chief's, who goes to bed and
presumably to sleep. After that it's the engine-room move, which
gives the first class time to settle down and then shuts off the
airpumps. Now there is no noise about shutting off the air in the
trunks. It flows or it does not flow. The game is to see whether the
Chief wakens when the air stops or does not. So far he had always

It was uncanny. It was worse than that - it was damnable! Did not the
Old Man sleep at all? - not that he was old, but every Chief is the
Old Man behind his back. Everything being serene, and the
engine-room clock marking twelve-thirty, one of the Seconds would
shut off the air very gradually; the auxiliary would slow down,
wheeze, pant and die - and within two seconds the Chief's bell would
ring and an angry voice over the telephone demand what the several
kinds of perdition had happened to the air! Another trick in the
game to the Chief!

It had gone past joking now: had moved up from the uncanny to the
impossible, from the impossible to the enraging. Surreptitious
search of the Chief's room had shown nothing but the one locked
drawer. They had taken advantage of the Chief's being laid up in
Antwerp with a boil on his neck to sound the cabin for hidden wires.
They had asked the ship's doctor anxiously how long a man could do
without sleep. The doctor had quoted Napoleon.

* * * * *

"If at any time," observed the Second pleasantly, "you would like
that cigarette case the barber is selling, you know how to get it."

"Thanks, old man," said the Red Un loftily, with his eye on the

The Second took a step forward and thought better of it.

"Better think about it!"

"I was thinking of something else," said the Red Un, still staring
at the wall. The Second followed his eye. The Red Un was gazing
intently at the sign which said: "Cable crossing! Do not anchor

As the Second slammed out, the Chief crawled from his manhole and
struggled out of his greasy overalls. Except for his face, he was
quite tidy. He ran an eye down the port tunnel, where the shaft
revolved so swiftly that it seemed to be standing still, to where at
the after end came the racing of the screw as it lifted, bearded
with scud, out of the water.

"It looks like weather to-night," he observed, with a twinkle, to
the Fourth. "There'll aye be air wanted." But the Fourth was gazing
at a steam gauge.


The Red Un's story, like all Gaul, is divided into three parts - his
temptation, his fall and his redemption. All lives are so divided: a
step back; a plunge; and then, in desperation and despair, a little
climb up God's ladder.

Seven days the liner lay in New York - seven days of early autumn
heat, of blistering decks, of drunken and deserting trimmers, of
creaking gear and grime of coal-dust. The cabin which held the Red
Un and the Purser's boy was breathless. On Sunday the four ship's
boys went to Coney Island and lay in the surf half the afternoon.
The bliss of the water on their thin young legs and scrawny bodies
was Heaven. They did not swim; they lay inert, letting the waves
move them about, and out of the depths of a deep content making
caustic comments about the human form as revealed by the relentless

"That's a pippin!" they would say; or, "My aunt! looks at his legs!"
They voiced their opinions audibly and were ready to back them up
with flight or fight.

It was there that the Red Un saw the little girl. She had come from
a machine, and her mother stood near. She was not a Coney Islander.
She was first-cabin certainly - silk stockings on her thin ankles,
sheer white frock; no jewelry. She took a snapshot of the four
boys - to their discomfiture - and walked away while they were still

"That for mine!" said the Red Un in one of his rare enthusiasms.

They had supper - a sandwich and a glass of beer; they would have
preferred pop, but what deep-water man on shore drinks pop? - and
made their way back to the ship by moonlight. The Red Un was terse
in his speech on the car: mostly he ate peanuts abstractedly. If he
evolved any clear idea out of the chaos of his mind it was to wish
she had snapped him in his uniform with the brass buttons.

The heat continued; the men in the stokehole, keeping up only enough
steam for the dynamos and donkey engines, took turns under the
ventilators or crawled up to the boatdeck at dusk, too exhausted to
dress and go ashore. The swimmers were overboard in the cool river
with the first shadows of night; the Quartermaster, so old that he
dyed his hair for fear he'd be superannuated, lowered his lean body
hand over hand down a rope and sat by the hour on a stringpiece of
the dock, with the water laving his hairy and tattooed old breast.

The Red Un was forbidden the river. To be honest, he was rather
relieved - not twice does a man dare the river god, having once been
crowned with his slime and water-weed. When the boy grew very hot
he slipped into a second-cabin shower, and stood for luxurious
minutes with streams running off his nose and the ends of his
fingers and splashing about his bony ankles.

Then, one night, some of the men took as many passengers' lifebelts
and went in. The immediate result was fun combined with safety; the
secondary result was placards over the ship and the dock, forbidding
the use of the ship's lifebelts by the crew.

From that moment the Red Un was possessed for the river and a
lifebelt. So were the other three. The signs were responsible.
Permitted, a ship's lifebelt was a subterfuge of the cowardly,
white-livered skunks who were afraid of a little water; forbidden, a
ship's lifebelt took on the qualities of enemy's property - to be
reconnoitred, assaulted, captured and turned to personal advantage.

That very night, then, four small bodies, each naked save for a
lifebelt, barrelshaped and extending from breast almost to knee,
slipped over the side of the ship with awkward splashes and
proceeded to disport themselves in the river. Scolding tugs sent
waves for them to ride; ferries crawled like gigantic bugs with a
hundred staring eyes. They found the Quartermaster on a stringpiece

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Online LibraryMary Roberts RinehartLove Stories → online text (page 15 of 17)