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The wings of the morning


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Title:TheWingsoftheMorning
Author:LouisTracy
ReleaseDate:February6,2005[eBook#14917]
Language:English
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THEWINGSOFTHEMORNING



BYLOUISTRACY
AuthorofASonoftheImmortals,TheStowaways,TheMessage,The
Wheelo'Fortune,etc.
If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost
partsofthesea;eventhereshallThyhandleadme,andThyright
handshallholdme.PsalmCXXXIX,9,10

NewYork
Grosset&Dunlap
Publishers

1903

Involuntarilyshecaughthisarm.
INVOLUNTARILYSHECAUGHTHISARM.HESTEPPEDAHALF-PACEINFRONTOFHERTO
WARDOFFANYDANGERTHATMIGHTBEHERALDEDBYTHISUNCANNYPHENOMENON.
FRONTISPIECE


CONTENTS
I. TheWreckoftheSirdar
II. TheSurvivors
III. Discoveries
IV. RainbowIsland
V. IristotheRescue
VI. SomeExplanations
VII. Surprises
VIII. Preparations
IX. TheSecretoftheCave
X. Realityv.Romance—TheCaseforthePlaintiff
XI. TheFight
XII. ATruce
XIII. Realityv.Romance—TheCasefortheDefendant
XIV. TheUnexpectedHappens
XV. TheDifficultyofPleasingEverybody
XVI. Bargains,GreatandSmall
XVII. RainbowIslandAgain—andAfterward



CHAPTERI


THEWRECKOFTHESIRDAR
Lady Tozer adjusted her gold-rimmed eye-glasses with an air of dignified
aggressiveness.ShehadlivedtoomanyyearsintheFarEast.InHongKongshe
was known as the "Mandarin." Her powers of merciless inquisition suggested
tormentslongdrawnout.ThecommanderoftheSirdar,homewardboundfrom
Shanghai,knewthathewasabouttobestretchedontherackwhenhetookhis
seatatthesaloontable.
"Is it true, captain, that we are running into a typhoon?" demanded her
ladyship.
"Fromwhomdidyoulearnthat,LadyTozer?"CaptainRosswaswary,though
somewhatsurprised.
"FromMissDeane.Iunderstoodheramomentagotosaythatyouhadtold
her."
"I?"
"Didn'tyou?Someonetoldmethismorning.Icouldn'thaveguessedit,could
I?"MissIrisDeane'slargeblueeyessurveyedhimwithinnocentindifferenceto
strictaccuracy.Incidentally,shehadobtainedtheinformationfromhermaid,a
nose-tiltedcoquettewhoextractedship'ssecretsfromayouthfulquartermaster.
"Well—er—Ihadforgotten,"explainedthetactfulsailor.
"Isittrue?"
Lady Tozer was unusually abrupt today. But she was annoyed by the
assumptionthatthecaptaintookameregirlintohisconfidenceandpassedover
thewifeoftheex-ChiefJusticeofHongKong.
"Yes,itis,"saidCaptainRoss,equallycurt,andsilentlythankingthefatesthat
herladyshipwasgoinghomeforthelasttime.
"How horrible!" she gasped, in unaffected alarm. This return to femininity
soothedthesailor'sruffledtemper.
Sir John, her husband, frowned judicially. That frown constituted his legal


stock-in-trade,yetitpassedcurrentforwisdomwiththeHongKongbar.
"Whatevidencehaveyou?"heasked.
"Dotellus,"chimedinIris,delightfullyunconsciousofinterruptingthecourt.
"Didyoufindoutwhenyousquintedatthesun?"
Thecaptainsmiled."Youarenearerthemarkthanpossiblyyouimagine,Miss
Deane," he said. "When we took our observations yesterday there was a very
weird-lookinghaloaroundthesun.Thismorningyoumayhavenoticedseveral
light squalls and a smooth sea marked occasionally by strong ripples. The
barometer is falling rapidly, and I expect that, as the day wears, we will
encounter a heavy swell. If the sky looks wild tonight, and especially if we
observe a heavy bank of cloud approaching from the north-west, you see the
crockerydancingaboutthetableatdinner.Iamafraidyouarenotagoodsailor,
LadyTozer.Areyou,MissDeane?"
"Capital!Ishouldjustlovetoseearealstorm.Nowpromisemesolemnlythat
you will take me up into the charthouse when this typhoon is simply tearing
thingstopieces."
"Ohdear!Idohopeitwillnotbeverybad.Istherenowayinwhichyoucan
avoidit,captain?Willitlastlong?"
The politic skipper for once preferred to answer Lady Tozer. "There is no
causeforuneasiness,"hesaid."Ofcourse,typhoonsintheChinaSeaarenasty
thingswhiletheylast,butashipliketheSirdarisnottroubledbythem.Shewill
drivethroughtheworstgalesheislikelytomeethereinlessthantwelvehours.
Besides, I alter the course somewhat as soon as I discover our position with
regardtoitscenter.Yousee,MissDeane—"
AndCaptainRossforthwithillustratedonthebackofamenucardthespiral
shape and progress of a cyclone. He so thoroughly mystified the girl by his
technical references to northern and southern hemispheres, polar directions,
revolving air-currents, external circumferences, and diminished atmospheric
pressures,thatshewastoobewilderedtoreiterateadesiretovisitthebridge.
Then the commander hurriedly excused himself, and the passengers saw no
moreofhimthatday.
Buthisshortscientificlectureachievedadoubleresult.Itrescuedhimfroma
requestwhichhecouldnotpossiblygrant,andreassuredLadyTozer.Tothenon-


nautical mind it is the unknown that is fearful. A storm classed as "periodic,"
whose velocity can be measured, whose duration and direction can be
determined beforehand by hours and distances, ceases to be terrifying. It
becomes an accepted fact, akin to the steam-engine and the electric telegraph,
marvelousyetcommonplace.
Soherladyshipdismissedthetopicasofnopresentinterest,andfocusedMiss
Deanethroughhereye-glasses.
"SirArthurproposestocomehomeinJune,Iunderstand?"sheinquired.
Iris was a remarkably healthy young woman. A large banana momentarily
engagedherattention.Shenoddedaffably.
"Youwillstaywithrelativesuntilhearrives?"pursuedLadyTozer.
Thebananaisafruitofsimplecharacteristics.Thegirlwasabletoreply,with
atouchofcarelesshauteurinhervoice:
"Relatives!Wehavenone—nonewhomwespeciallycultivate,thatis.Iwill
stop in town a day or two to interview my dressmaker, and then go straight to
Helmdale,ourplaceinYorkshire."
"Surelyyouhaveachaperon!"
"A chaperon! My dear Lady Tozer, did my father impress you as one who
wouldpermitafussyandstoutoldpersontomakemylifemiserable?"
Theacidityoftheretortlayintheword"stout."ButIriswasnotaccustomed
to cross-examination. During a three months' residence on the island she had
learnt how to avoid Lady Tozer. Here it was impossible, and the older woman
fasteneduponherasp-like.MissIrisDeanewasatoothsomemorselforgossip.
Notyettwenty-one,theonlydaughterofawealthybaronetwhoownedafleetof
stately ships—the Sirdar amongst them—a girl who had been mistress of her
father'shousesinceherreturnfromDresdenthreeyearsago—young,beautiful,
rich—herewasacombinationforwhichmenthankedajudiciousHeaven,whilst
womensniffedenviously.
Business detained Sir Arthur. A war-cloud over-shadowed the two great
divisionsoftheyellowrace.Hemustwaittoseehowmattersdeveloped,buthe
would not expose Iris to the insidious treachery of a Chinese spring. So, with
tears,theyseparated.ShewasconfidedtothepersonalchargeofCaptainRoss.


Ateachpointofcallthecompany'sagentswouldbesolicitousforherwelfare.
The cable's telegraphic eye would watch her progress as that of some princely
maidensailinginroyalcaravel.Thisfair,slender,well-formedgirl—delightfully
Englishinfaceandfigure—withherfresh,clearcomplexion,limpidblueeyes,
andshiningbrownhair,wasapersonageofsomeimportance.
LadyTozerknewthesethingsandsighedcomplacently.
"Ah,well,"sheresumed."ParentshaddifferentviewswhenIwasagirl.ButI
assumeSirArthurthinksyoushouldbecomeusedtobeingyourownmistressin
viewofyourapproachingmarriage."
"My—approaching—marriage!"criedIris,nowgenuinelyamazed.
"Yes.IsitnottruethatyouaregoingtomarryLordVentnor?"
Apassingstewardheardthepoint-blankquestion.
It had a curious effect upon him. He gazed with fiercely eager eyes at Miss
Deane,andsofarforgothimselfastopermitadishofwatericetorestagainst
SirJohnTozer'sbaldhead.
Iriscouldnothelpnotinghisstrangebehavior.Aflashofhumorchasedaway
herfirstangryresentmentatLadyTozer'sinterrogatory.
"Thatmaybemyhappyfate,"sheansweredgaily,"butLordVentnorhasnot
askedme."
"EveryonesaysinHongKong—"beganherladyship.
"Confoundyou,youstupidrascal!whatareyoudoing?"shoutedSirJohn.His
feeblenervesatlastconveyedtheinformationthatsomethingmorepronounced
thanasuddendraughtaffectedhisscalp;theicewasmelting.
Theincidentamusedthosepassengerswhosatnearenoughtoobserveit.But
the chief steward, hovering watchful near the captain's table, darted forward.
Palewithangerhehissed—
"Report yourself for duty in the second saloon tonight," and he hustled his
subordinateawayfromthejudge'schair.
MissDeane,mirthfullyradiant,rose.
"Please don't punish the man, Mr. Jones," she said sweetly. "It was a sheer


accident.Hewastakenbysurprise.InhisplaceIwouldhaveemptiedthewhole
dish."
The chief steward smirked. He did not know exactly what had happened;
nevertheless, great though Sir John Tozer might be, the owner's daughter was
greater.
"Certainly, miss, certainly," he agreed, adding confidentially:—"It is rather
hardonastewardtobesentaft,miss.Itmakessuchadifferenceinthe—er—the
littlegratuitiesgivenbythepassengers."
Thegirlwastactful.Shesmiledcomprehensionattheofficialandbentover
SirJohn,nowcarefullypolishingthebackofhisskullwithatablenapkin.
"Iamsureyouwillforgivehim,"shewhispered."Ican'tsaywhy,butthepoor
fellowwaslookingsointentlyatmethathedidnotseewhathewasdoing."
Theex-ChiefJusticewasinstantlymollified.Hedidnotmindtheapplication
oficeinthatway—ratherlikedit,infact—probablyicewassusceptibletothe
fireinMissDeane'seyes.
LadyTozerwasnotsoeasilyappeased.WhenIrisleftthesaloonsheinquired
tartly: "How is it, John, that Government makes a ship-owner a baronet and a
ChiefJusticeonlyaknight?"
"ThatquestionwouldprovideaninterestingsubjectfordebateattheCarlton,
mydear,"herepliedwithequalasperity.
Suddenly the passengers still seated experienced a prolonged sinking
sensation, as if the vessel had been converted into a gigantic lift. They were
pressedhardintotheirchairs,whichcreakedandtriedtoswingroundontheir
pivots.Astheshipyieldedstifflytotheseaawhiffofspraydashedthroughan
openport.
"There," snapped her ladyship, "I knew we should run into a storm, yet
CaptainRossledustobelieve——John,takemetomycabinatonce."
Fromthepromenadedeckthelistlessgroupswatchedtherapidadvanceofthe
gale. There was mournful speculation upon the Sirdar's chances of reaching
Singaporebeforethenextevening.
"Wehadtwohundredandninety-eightmilestodoatnoon,"saidExperience.


"Ifthewindandseacatchusontheportbowtheshipwillpitchawfully.Halfthe
timethescrewwillberacing.IoncemadethistripintheSumatra,andwewere
struck by a south-east typhoon in this locality. How long do you think it was
beforewedroppedanchorinSingaporeharbor?"
Noonehazardedaguess.
"Three days!" Experience was solemnly pompous. "Three whole days. They
werelikethreeyears.ByJove!Ineverwanttoseeanothergalelikethat."
Atimidladyventuredtosay—
"Perhapsthismaynotbeatyphoon.Itmayonlybealittlebitofastorm."
Hersexsavedherfromajeer.Experiencegloomilyshookhishead.
"Thebarometerresistsyourplea,"hesaid."Ifeartherewillbeagoodmany
emptysaddlesinthesaloonatdinner."
Theladysmiledweakly.Itwasafeeblejokeatthebest."Youthinkwearein
forasortofmarinesteeple-chase?"sheasked.
"Well,thankHeaven,Ihadagoodlunch,"sniggeredarosy-facedsubaltern,
andarippleoflaughtergreetedhisenthusiasm.
Irisstoodsomewhatapartfromthespeakers.Thewindhadfreshenedandher
hat was tied closely over her ears. She leaned against the taffrail, enjoying the
coolbreezeafterhoursofsultryheat.Theskywascloudlessyet,buttherewasa
queer tinge of burnished copper in the all-pervading sunshine. The sea was
coldlyblue.Thelifehadgoneoutofit.Itwasnolongerinvitingandtranslucent.
Thatmorning,weresuchathingpracticable,shewouldhavegladlydivedinto
its crystal depths and disported herself like a frolicsome mermaid. Now
somethingakintorepulsioncamewiththefancifulremembrance.
Longsullenundulationssweptnoiselesslypasttheship.Once,afterasteady
climb up a rolling hill of water, the Sirdar quickly pecked at the succeeding
valley, and the propeller gave a couple of angry flaps on the surface, whilst a
tremorranthroughthestoutironrailsonwhichthegirl'sarmsrested.
The crew were busy too. Squads of Lascars raced about, industriously
obedient to the short shrill whistling of jemadars and quartermasters. Boat
lashings were tested and tightened, canvas awnings stretched across the deck


forward,ventilatorcowlstwistedtonewangles,andhatchesclampeddownover
the wooden gratings that covered the holds. Officers, spotless in white linen,
flitted quietly to and fro. When the watch was changed. Iris noted that the
"chief" appeared in an old blue suit and carried oilskins over his arm as he
climbedtothebridge.
Naturelookeddisturbedandfitful,andtheshiprespondedtohermood.There
was a sense of preparation in the air, of coming ordeal, of restless foreboding.
Chainsclankedwithanoisethegirlnevernoticedbefore;thetrampofhurrying
men on the hurricane deck overhead sounded heavy and hollow. There was a
squeaking of chairs that was abominable when people gathered up books and
wrapsandstaggeredungracefullytowardsthecompanion-way.AltogetherMiss
Deanewasnotwhollypleasedwiththepreliminariesofatyphoon,whateverthe
realitiesmightbe.
Andthen,whydidgalesalwaysspringupatthecloseofday?Couldtheynot
start after breakfast, rage with furious grandeur during lunch, and die away
peacefully at dinner-time, permitting one to sleep in comfort without that
straining and groaning of the ship which seemed to imply a sharp attack of
rheumatismineveryjoint?
Why did that silly old woman allude to her contemplated marriage to Lord
Ventnor,retailingthegossipofHongKongwithsuchmaliciousemphasis?For
aninstantIristriedtoshaketherailingincomicanger.ShehatedLordVentnor.
She didnotwant tomarryhim,oranybodyelse,just yet.Ofcourseherfather
had hinted approval of his lordship's obvious intentions. Countess of Ventnor!
Yes, it was a nice title. Still, she wanted another couple of years of careless
freedom;inanyevent,whyshouldLadyTozerpryandprobe?
And finally, why did the steward—oh, poor old Sir John! What would have
happened if the ice had slid down his neck? Thoroughly comforted by this
gleefulhypothesis,MissDeaneseizedafavorableopportunitytodartacrossto
thestarboardsideandseeifCaptainRoss's"heavybankofcloudinthenorthwest"hadputinanappearance.
Ha! there it was, black, ominous, gigantic, rolling up over the horizon like
somemonstrousfootball.Aroundittheskydeepenedintopurple,fringedwitha
widebeltofbrickred.Shehadneverseensuchabeginningofagale.Fromwhat
shehadreadinbookssheimaginedthatonlyingreatdesertswerecloudsofdust
generated. There could not be dust in the dense pall now rushing with giant


strides across the trembling sea. Then what was it? Why was it so dark and
menacing?Andwherewasdesertofstoneandsandtocomparewiththisawful
expanse of water? What a small dot was this great ship on the visible surface!
But the ocean itself extended away beyond there, reaching out to the infinite.
Thedotbecameamerespeck,undistinguishablebeneathacelestialmicroscope
suchasthegodsmightcondescendtouse.
Irisshiveredandarousedherselfwithastartledlaugh.
A nice book in a sheltered corner, and perhaps forty winks until tea-time—
surely a much more sensible proceeding than to stand there, idly conjuring up
phantomsofaffright.
Thelivelyfanfareofthedinnertrumpetfailedtofillthesaloon.Bythistime
the Sirdar was fighting resolutely against a stiff gale. But the stress of actual
combat was better than the eerie sensation of impending danger during the
earlierhours.Thestrong,heartypulsationsoftheengines,theregularthrashing
ofthescrew,thesteadfastonwardplungingofthegoodshipthroughracingseas
andflyingscud,werecheery,confident,andinspiring.
Miss Deane justified her boast that she was an excellent sailor. She smiled
delightedlyattheship'ssurgeonwhenhecaughthereyethroughthemanygaps
inthetables.Shewasalone,sohejoinedher.
"Youareacredittothecompany—quiteasea-king'sdaughter,"hesaid.
"Doctor,doyoutalktoallyourladypassengersinthatway?"
"Alas,no!ToooftenIcanonlybetruthfulwhenIamdumb."
Iris laughed. "If I remain long on this ship I will certainly have my head
turned,"shecried."Ireceivenothingbutcomplimentsfromthecaptaindownto
—to—
"Thedoctor!"
"No.Youcomeagoodsecondonthelist."
Inverytruthshewasthinkingoftheice-carryingstewardandhisqueerstart
ofsurpriseattheannouncementofherrumoredengagement.Themaninterested
her. He looked like a broken-down gentleman. Her quick eyes traveled around
thesaloontodiscoverhiswhereabouts.Shecouldnotseehim.Thechiefsteward


stoodnear,balancinghimselfinapparentdefianceofthelawsofgravitation,for
theshipwasnowpitchingandrollingwithamadzeal.Foraninstantshemeant
toinquirewhathadbecomeofthetransgressor,butshedismissedthethoughtat
itsinception.Thematterwastootrivial.
With a wild swoop all the plates, glasses, and cutlery on the saloon tables
crashedtostarboard.Wereitnotfortherestraintofthefiddleseverythingmust
havebeenswepttothefloor.Therewereoneortwominoraccidents.Asteward,
taken unawares, was thrown headlong on top of his laden tray. Others were
compelled to clutch the backs of chairs and cling to pillars. One man
involuntarilyseizedthehairofaladywhodevotedanhourbeforeeachmealto
hercoiffure.TheSirdar,withafrenziedbound,triedtoturnasomersault.
"A change of course," observed the doctor. "They generally try to avoid it
whenpeopleareinthesaloon,butatyphoonadmitsofnolaboredpoliteness.As
itscenterisnowrightaheadwearegoingonthestarboardtacktogetbehindit."
"Imusthurryupandgoondeck,"saidMissDeane.
"Youwillnotbeabletogoondeckuntilthemorning."
Sheturnedonhimimpetuously."IndeedIwill.CaptainRosspromisedme—
thatis,Iaskedhim—"
Thedoctorsmiled.Shewassocharminglyinsistent."Itissimplyimpossible,"
he said. "The companion doors are bolted. The promenade deck is swept by
heavyseaseveryminute.Aboathasbeencarriedaway andseveralstanchions
snapped off like carrots. For the first time in your life, Miss Deane, you are
batteneddown."
The girl's face must have paled somewhat. He added hastily, "There is no
danger,youknow,buttheseprecautionsarenecessary.Youwouldnotliketosee
severaltonsofwaterrushingdownthesaloonstairs;now,wouldyou?"
"Decidedlynot."Thenafterapause,"Itisnotpleasanttobefastenedupina
greatironbox,doctor.Itremindsoneofahugecoffin."
"Notabit.TheSirdaristhesafestshipafloat.Yourfatherhasalwayspursued
asplendidpolicyinthatrespect.TheLondonandHongKongCompanymaynot
possessfastvessels,buttheyareseaworthyandwellfoundineveryrespect."
"Aretheremanypeopleillonboard?"


"No;justtheusualnumberofdisturbedlivers.Wehadanastyaccidentshortly
beforedinner."
"Goodgracious!Whathappened?"
"SomeLascarswerecaughtbyaseaforward.Onemanhadhislegbroken."
"Anythingelse?"
Thedoctorhesitated.HebecameinterestedinthecolorofsomeBurgundy."I
hardlyknowtheexactdetailsyet,"hereplied."TomorrowafterbreakfastIwill
tellyouallaboutit."
An English quartermaster and four Lascars had been licked from off the
forecastlebythegreedytongueofahugewave.Thesucceedingsurgeflungthe
fivemenbackagainstthequarter.Oneoftheblacksailorswaspitchedaboard,
withafracturedlegandotherinjuries.Theothersweresmashedagainsttheiron
hullanddisappeared.
Foronetremulousmomenttheenginesslowed.Theshipcommencedtoveer
offintothepathofthecyclone.CaptainRosssethisteeth,andthetelegraphbell
jangled"Fullspeedahead."
"PoorJackson!"hemurmured."Oneofmybestmen.Irememberseeinghis
wife,aprettylittlewoman,andtwochildrencomingtomeethimlasthomeward
trip.Theywillbethereagain.GoodGod!ThatLascarwhowassavedhassome
onetoawaithiminaBombayvillage,Isuppose."
Thegalesangamadrequiemtoitsvictims.Theverysurfacewastornfrom
the sea. The ship drove relentlessly through sheets of spray that caused the
officers high up on the bridge to gasp for breath. They held on by main force,
thoughprotectedbystrongcanvassheetsboundtotherails.Themaindeckwas
quiteimpassable.Thepromenadedeck,eventheloftyspardeck,wasscourged
withthebrokencrestsofwavesthattriedwithdemoniacenergytosmashinthe
starboardbow,fortheSirdarwascuttingintotheheartofthecyclone.
The captain fought his way to the charthouse. He wiped the salt water from
hiseyesandlookedanxiouslyatthebarometer.
"Stillfalling!"hemuttered."Iwillkeeponuntilseveno'clockandthenbear
threepointstothesouthward.Bymidnightweshouldbebehindit."


Hestruggledbackintotheoutsidefury.Bycomparisonthesturdycitadelhe
quittedwasParadiseontheedgeofaninferno.
Downinthesaloonthehardierpassengerswerestrivingtosubduetheennui
of an interval before they sought their cabins. Some talked. One hardened
reprobate strummed the piano. Others played cards, chess, draughts, anything
thatwoulddistractattention.
The stately apartment offered strange contrast to the warring elements
without. Bright lights, costly upholstery, soft carpets, carved panels and gilded
cornices, with uniformed attendants passing to and fro carrying coffee and
glasses—thesesurroundingssuggestedafloatingpalaceinwhichtheragingseas
weredefied.Yetfortymilesaway,somewhereinthefuriousdepths,fourcorpses
swirled about with horrible uncertainty, lurching through battling currents, and
perchanceconvoyedbyfightingsharks.
The surgeon had been called away. Iris was the only lady left in the saloon.
She watched a set of whist players for a time and then essayed the perilous
passage to her stateroom. She found her maid and a stewardess there. Both
womenwereweeping.
"Whatisthematter?"sheinquired.
Thestewardesstriedtospeak.Shechokedwithgriefandhastilywentout.The
maidblubberedanexplanation.
"Afriendofherswasmarried,miss,tothemanwhoisdrowned."
"Drowned!Whatman?"
"Haven't you heard, miss? I suppose they are keeping it quiet. An English
sailorandsomenativesweresweptofftheshipbyasea.Onenativewassaved,
butheisallsmashedup.Theotherswereneverseenagain."
IrisbydegreeslearntthesadchroniclesoftheJacksonfamily.Shewasmoved
to tears. She remembered the doctor's hesitancy, and her own idle phrase—"a
hugecoffin."
Outsidetheroaringwavespoundedupontheironwalls.
Were they not satiated? This tragedy had taken all the grandeur out of the
storm. It was no longer a majestic phase of nature's power, but an implacable


demon,bellowingforasacrifice.Andthatpoorwoman,withhertwochildren,
hopefullyscanningtheshippinglistsfornewsofthegreatsteamer,newswhich,
toher,meantonlythesafetyofherhusband.Oh,itwaspitiful!
Iris would not be undressed. The maid sniveled a request to be allowed to
remainwithhermistress.Shewouldlieonacouchuntilmorning.
Two staterooms had been converted into one to provide Miss Deane with
ampleaccommodation.Therewerenobunks,butacozybedwasscrewedtothe
deck. She lay down, and strove to read. It was a difficult task. Her eyes
wandered from the printed page to mark the absurd antics of her garments
swingingontheirhooks.Attimestheshiprolledsofarthatshefeltsureitmust
topple over. She was not afraid; but subdued, rather astonished, placidly
preparedforvagueeventualities.Throughitallshewonderedwhysheclungto
the belief that in another day or two the storm would be forgotten, and people
playing quoits on deck, dancing, singing coon songs in the music-room, or
grumblingattheheat.
Thingswereridiculous.Whatneedwasthereforallthisexternalfury?Why
should poor sailors be cast forth to instant death in such awful manner? If she
couldonlysleepandforget—ifkindoblivionwouldblotoutthestormforafew
blissful hours! But how could one sleep with the consciousness of that watery
giantthunderinghissummonsupontheironplatesafewinchesaway?
ThencametheblurredpictureofCaptainRosshighuponthebridge,peering
into the moving blackness. How strange that there should be hidden in the
convolutionsofaman'sbrainanintelligencethatlaidbarethepretencesofthat
ravenousdemonwithout.Eachoftheship'sofficers,thecommandermorethan
theothers,understoodthewhyandthewhereforeofthisblusteringcombination
ofwindandsea.Irisknewthelanguageofpoker.Naturewasputtingupahuge
bluff.
Whatwasitthecaptainsaidinhislittlelecture?"Whenashipmeetsacyclone
northoftheequatoronawesterlycourseshenearlyalwayshasthewindatfirst
on the port side, but, owing to the revolution of the gale, when she passes its
centerthewindisonthestarboardside."
Yes,thatwasright,asfarasthefirstpartwasconcerned.Evidentlytheyhad
not yet passed the central path. Oh, dear! She was so tired. It demanded a
physicalefforttoconstantlyshoveawayanunseenforcethattriedtopushyou
over. How funny that a big cloud should travel up against the wind! And so,


amidst confused wonderment, she lapsed into an uneasy slumber, her last
sentientthoughtbeingaquietthankfulnessthatthescrewwentthud-thud,thudthudwithsuchfirmdetermination.
After the course was changed and the Sirdar bore away towards the southwest, the commander consulted the barometer each half-hour. The tell-tale
mercuryhadsunkovertwoinchesintwelvehours.Theabnormallylowpressure
quickly created dense clouds which enhanced the melancholy darkness of the
gale.
For many minutes together the bows of the ship were not visible. Masthead
andsidelightswereobscuredbythepeltingscud.Theenginesthrustthevessel
forwardlikealanceintothevitalsofthestorm.Windandwavegushedoutof
thevortexwithimpotentfury.
Atlast,soonaftermidnight,thebarometershowedaslightupwardmovement.
At 1.30 a.m. the change became pronounced; simultaneously the wind swung
roundapointtothewestward.
ThenCaptainRosssmiledwearily.Hisfacebrightened.Heopenedhisoilskin
coat,glancedatthecompass,andnoddedapproval.
"That'sright,"heshoutedtothequartermasteratthesteam-wheel."Keepher
steadythere,south15west."
"South15westitis,sir,"yelledthesailor,impassivelywatchingthemoving
disk,forthewindalterationnecessitatedalittlelesshelpfromtheruddertokeep
theship'sheadtruetohercourse.
CaptainRossatesomesandwichesandwashedthemdownwithcoldtea.He
wasmorehungrythanheimagined,havingspentelevenhourswithoutfood.The
tea was insipid. He called through a speaking-tube for a further supply of
sandwichesandsomecoffee.
Then he turned to consult a chart. He was joined by the chief officer. Both
menexaminedthechartinsilence.
Captain Ross finally took a pencil. He stabbed its point on the paper in the
neighborhoodof14°N.and112°E.
"Weareaboutthere,Ithink."


The chief agreed. "That was the locality I had in my mind." He bent closer
overthesheet.
"Nothinginthewaytonight,sir,"headded.
"Nothingwhatever.Itisabitofgoodlucktomeetsuchweatherhere.Wecan
keepasfarsouthaswelikeuntildaybreak,andbythattime—Howdiditlook
whenyoucamein?"
"Atriflebetter,Ithink."
"I have sent for some refreshments. Let us have another dekko1 before we
tacklethem."
Thetwoofficerspassedoutintothehurricane.Instantlythewindendeavored
to tear the charthouse from off the deck. They looked aloft and ahead. The
officer on duty saw them and nodded silent comprehension. It was useless to
attempttospeak.Theweatherwasperceptiblyclearer.
Then all three peered ahead again. They stood, pressing against the wind,
seekingtopenetratethemurkinessinfront.Suddenlytheyweregalvanizedinto
strenuousactivity.
Awildhowlcamefromthelookoutforward.Theeyesofthethreemenglared
atahugedismastedChinesejunk,wallowinghelplesslyinthetroughofthesea,
deadunderthebows.
Thecaptainsprangtothecharthouseandsignaledinfiercepantomimethatthe
wheelshouldbeputhardover.
The officer in charge of the bridge pressed the telegraph lever to "stop" and
"fullspeedastern,"whilstwithhisdisengagedhandhepulledhardatthesiren
cord, and a raucous warning sent stewards flying through the ship to close
collision bulkhead doors. The "chief" darted to the port rail, for the Sirdar's
instant response to the helm seemed to clear her nose from the junk as if by
magic.
It all happened so quickly that whilst the hoarse signal was still vibrating
throughtheship,thejunksweptpastherquarter.Thechiefofficer,joinednow
by the commander, looked down into the wretched craft. They could see her
crewlashedinabuncharoundthecapstanonherelevatedpoop.Shewasladen
withtimber.Althoughwater-logged,shecouldnotsinkifsheheldtogether.


Agreatwavesuckedherawayfromthesteamerandthenhurledherbackwith
irresistibleforce.TheSirdarwasjustcompletingherturningmovement,andshe
heeledover,yieldingtothemightypowerofthegale.Foranappreciableinstant
herenginesstopped.Themassofwaterthatswayedthejunklikeacorklifted
thegreatshiphighbythestern.Thepropellerbegantorevolveinair—forthe
third officer had corrected his signal to "full speed ahead" again—and the
cumbrous Chinese vessel struck the Sirdar a terrible blow in the counter,
smashingoffthescrewclosetothethrust-blockandwrenchingtherudderfrom
itsbearings.
There was an awful race by the engines before the engineers could shut off
steam.Thejunkvanishedintothewildernessofnoiseandtumblingseasbeyond,
and the fine steamer of a few seconds ago, replete with magnificent energy,
struggledlikeawoundedleviathaninthegraspofavengefulfoe.
Sheswunground,asifinwrath,topursuethepunyassailantwhichhaddealt
herthismortalstroke.Nolongerbreastingthestormwithstubbornpersistency,
she now drifted aimlessly before wind and wave. She was merely a larger
plaything,tossedaboutbyTitanticgambols.Thejunkwasburstasunderbythe
collision.Herplanksandcargolitteredthewaves,wereeventossedinderision
on to the decks of the Sirdar. Of what avail was strong timber or bolted iron
againstthespleenoftheunchainedandformlessmonsterwholoudlyproclaimed
his triumph? The great steamship drifted on through chaos. The typhoon had
brokenthelance.
Butbravemen,skilfullydirected,wroughthardtoavertfurtherdisaster.After
thefirstmomentofstupor,gallantBritishsailorsriskedlifeandlimbtobringthe
vesselundercontrol.
BytheircalmcouragetheyshamedtheparalyzedLascarsintoactivity.Asail
was rigged on the foremast, and a sea anchor hastily constructed as soon as it
was discovered that the helm was useless. Rockets flared up into the sky at
regularintervals,inthefainthopethatshouldtheyattracttheattentionofanother
vesselshewouldfollowthedisabledSirdar and render help when the weather
moderated.
When the captain ascertained that no water was being shipped, the damage
being wholly external, the collision doors were opened and the passengers
admittedtothesaloon,abrilliantpalace,superblyindifferenttothewreckand
ruinwithout.


Captain Ross himself came down and addressed a few comforting words to
thequietmenandpallidwomengatheredthere.Hetoldthemexactlywhathad
happened.
SirJohnTozer,self-possessedandcritical,askedaquestion.
"Thejunkisdestroyed,Iassume?"hesaid.
"Itis."
"Woulditnothavebeenbettertohavestruckherendon?"
"Much better, but that is not the view we should take if we encountered a
vesselrelativelyasbigastheSirdarwastotheunfortunatejunk."
"But,"persistedthelawyer,"whatwouldhavebeentheresult?"
"Youwouldneverhaveknownthattheincidenthadhappened,SirJohn."
"In other words, the poor despairing Chinamen, clinging to their little craft
with some chance of escape, would be quietly murdered to suit our
convenience."
ItwasIris'sclearvoicethatrangoutthisdownrightexpositionofthefacts.Sir
Johnshookhishead;hecarriedthediscussionnofurther.
ThehourspassedintediousmiseryafterCaptainRoss'svisit.Everyonewas
eagertogetaglimpseoftheunknownterrorswithoutfromthedeck.Thiswas
out of the question, so people sat around the tables to listen eagerly to
Experienceandhiswisesawsondriftingshipsandtheirprospects.
Some cautious persons visited their cabins to secure valuables in case of
furtherdisaster.Afewhardyspiritsreturnedtobed.
Meanwhile, in the charthouse, the captain and chief officer were gravely
ponderingoveranopenchart,anddiscussingafreshriskthatloomedominously
beforethem.Theshipwasalongwayoutofherusualcoursewhentheaccident
happened. She was drifting now, they estimated, eleven knots an hour, with
wind,sea,andcurrentallforcingherinthesamedirection,driftingintooneof
the most dangerous places in the known world, the south China Sea, with its
numberless reefs, shoals, and isolated rocks, and the great island of Borneo
stretchingrightacrossthepathofthecyclone.


Still, there was nothing to be done save to make a few unobtrusive
preparationsandtrusttoidlechance.Toattempttoanchorandrideoutthegale
intheirpresentpositionwasoutofthequestion.
Two,three,fouro'clockcame,andwent.Anotherhalf-hourwouldwitnessthe
dawn and a further clearing of the weather. The barometer was rapidly rising.
Thecenterofthecyclonehadsweptfarahead.Therewasonlylefttheaftermath
ofheavyseasandfuriousbutsteadierwind.
CaptainRossenteredthecharthouseforthetwentiethtime.
He had aged many years in appearance. The smiling, confident, debonair
officerwaschangedintoastricken,mournfulman.Hehadalteredwithhisship.
TheSirdarandhermastercouldhardlyberecognized,socruelweretheblows
theyhadreceived.
"Itisimpossibletoseeayardahead,"heconfidedtohissecondincommand.
"Ihaveneverbeensoanxiousbeforeinmylife.ThankGodthenightisdrawing
toaclose.Perhaps,whendaybreaks—"
His last words contained a prayer and a hope. Even as he spoke the ship
seemed toliftherselfbodilywithanunusualeffort foravesselmovingbefore
thewind.
Thenextinstanttherewasahorriblegrindingcrashforward.Eachpersonwho
didnotchancetobeholdingfasttoanuprightwasthrownviolentlydown.The
deck was tilted to a dangerous angle and remained there, whilst the heavy
buffetingofthesea,nowragingafreshatthisunlooked-forresistance,drowned
thedespairingyellsraisedbytheLascarsonduty.
TheSirdarhadcompletedherlastvoyage.Shewasnowabatteredwreckona
barrier reef. She hung thus for one heart-breaking second. Then another wave,
riding triumphantly through its fellows, caught the great steamer in its
tremendousgrasp,carriedheronwardforhalfherlengthandsmashedherdown
on the rocks. Her back was broken. She parted in two halves. Both sections
turnedcompletelyoverintheutterwantonnessofdestruction,andeverything—
masts, funnels, boats, hull, with every living soul on board—was at once
engulfedinamaelstromofrushingwaterandfar-flungspray.
Footnote1:(return)
Hindustanifor"look"—wordmuchusedbysailorsintheEast.



CHAPTERII


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