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
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
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.