― 159 ―

The Mate's Salvage

SO low was the stern that every wave carried the boat high above it. Every second they expected to see the Peaceful Hind go, and yet there was one man still on board. He stood there on the half round, clinging to the poop railing, as if he meditated climbing down that way. Tom Curtis, first mate, and in command of the boat, chafed and cursed. They were risking their lives for this man—this man who had rushed below, been forgotten, and turned up at the last moment. The men were impatient. It was not fair.

“It's only Pedro; he went back for his crucifix,” said the carpenter. “Let him drown. It ain't worth riskin' things for a bloomin' Dago.”

“Jump,” ordered Curtis, “jump! It's your only chance.”

And then the wretched man jumped.

“Blow my rags!” yelled the carpenter. “She's on top of us! Back, back!”

The ship seemed to give a long sigh, like a living thing in pain. The man struck the water with a splash close beside the boat, and the mate reached out over the gunwale till he was all but within reach. In the murk and darkness he could just dimly see him, a smudge against the white foam.

“Give way, men!” he shouted, thinking only for the moment of the man struggling for life among those waves. But he might have saved his breath, for the men took no notice of the order. Their own straits were too desperate. Luckily, the send of the wave

  ― 160 ―
carried the boat almost on top of the unfortunate Dago, and Curtis got his hand under the collar of his oilskins.

“Back, back all!” he yelled.

“Back like blazes!” cried the carpenter, and he seized stroke's oar and pulled with all his might.

It was a terrible strain. The sea tore at the heavy man in oilskins, and it seemed to the mate that he must leave go or be himself pulled from the boat. None of the men gave any heed. All their thought, naturally enough, was to get away from the sinking ship. To be caught in the suction was death to all of them. Should he let go? What was this man? A miserable Dago, who had risked all their lives by lingering—an idle shirker, drunken ashore, next to useless at sea. What was the good of giving up everything for him— all hope of life, all thought of seeing again the wife who waited for him at home? And yet, because we are all better than we know ourselves, he hung on. He would give the man another minute's chance for his life. Presently his numbing fingers must loose their hold, or he himself be drawn overboard.

In his ears rang a dull explosion. The Peaceful Hind chucked her bows in the air and went down by the stern, the imprisoned air under the hatches blowing them off to get free. There was a terrible swirl, the boat swung round, striking the floating wreckage sharply, the men backed, and for the moment Curtis thought all was over with them. He shut his eyes and gave up hope, but his fingers still clutched at the oilskin collar. He made one more effort, and, putting out all his strength, hauled the drowning man to the gunwale. Bow woke to the situation, let his oar swing fore and aft, and hauled him in.

“You're the mate's salvage,” he gasped, shoving the shivering, wet heap on to the bottom boards of the boat. “I guess you ain't worth it.”

Tom Curtis drew a long, shuddering sigh of relief. There was not much to choose between a boat adrift in the South Seas on a bitter night and the sea itself— possibly the sea might be more peaceful—but at least

  ― 161 ―
he had the satisfaction of knowing he had not failed. The Peaceful Hind had just ended her career against an iceberg, and here he was in command of the surviving boat, afloat, certainly, but leaking like a sieve, with the men pulling for dear life. He wondered at the feeling of satisfaction he experienced in hauling this last man on board.

The man himself sat huddled up against his knees muttering, and he saw that he was telling his beads.

“Oh, stow that!” said the carpenter roughly. “Riskin' our blessed necks for that there bloomin' crucifix of yourn! Here, chuck it!” and he reached over and would have snatched the rosary from the Dago's trembling hands.

Madre de Dios!” he shrieked.

“Let him alone,” said Curtis sharply. “I risked more than you, and we're all right now.”

He could have laughed when he said it. All right! The moon had set, and it was black as pitch, with gusty squalls heavily laden with snow coming up from windward. There was nothing to do but to keep the boat's head to sea and wait for daylight. And it was so cold —so bitter cold. He had thought it cold keeping watch on deck a little over three hours ago—three hours that seemed to have been about a hundred years long—but it was midsummer heat compared to this. The wind blew steadily from the south, and the sky gradually cleared. One by one the brilliant constellations of the southern heavens stood out in the dark sky, clear and bright and cold, and their light was like sharp steel, so keen was it. It was a long night—a cruel, long night.

The more he thought, the more Curtis realised how hopeless was their state. He tried crouching there under the thwarts to sum up their chances—their very pitiful chances.

They had biscuits and water, but how long could men last on biscuits and water in such cold?

“Do you think we have any chance, sir?” asked Dixon, the stalwart young apprentice, who crouched beside him.

  ― 162 ―

“Oh yes, my lad!” He could not die—he would not die—with his wife waiting for him at home. “We're right in the track of ships.”

“Three weeks since we seen a sail,” said the carpenter.

“An' der weder dat dick,” said Muntz, the Dutch whaler, “ve ain't seen der old 'ooker's bows most of der time.”

“Let alone it's bein' dark sixteen hours outer the twenty-four,” said the carpenter, with relentless accuracy. “How far off are we from the land, sir?”

“A hundred south of the Horn, I guess, there or thereabouts.” But he knew that he was not very sure.

“We've got to be picked up,” said the man with conviction. “ 'Tain't no good makin' for the land. I've seen it. Last v'yage but two I was off the Horn, an' a dreary, God-forsaken hole it is. There ain't enough shelter for a louse, let alone a human being.”

And Curtis, too, had seen the Horn looming up out of the eternal mists which surround it, and he agreed there was not much hope there. Their slender chance lay in passing ships, and, as the carpenter said, they had not sighted a ship for three weeks—and five days, the mate might have added.

But no one knew better than he the uselessness of looking on the black side, and presently he got the boat before the wind, and was shaping a course north by west. With reluctance he took off his oilskin, and with still greater reluctance he induced three of the men to part with theirs, and, hitching them all together, lashed them to the boat-hook for a yard, tossed up a spare oar for a mast, and, as the wind filled the improvised sail, all the men save two, who were still at the oars, were able to come aft and huddle together in the stern.

The boat tore through the water. The big waves rose up behind them, apparently ready to engulf them; but each carried them on its crest into the trough of the sea, and then the next one, just as threatening, would take its place. Dark as it was, those racing waves tired Curtis's eyes. The sob, sob of the water

  ― 163 ―
against the side of the boat reminded him of a woman crying—of Unity, his wife, sobbing and clinging round his neck when they parted. And to think of her then seemed more than he could bear—a helpless woman, with a child in her arms, left to battle with the world alone. The thought added a fresh bitterness to the biting wind—it deepened the darkness.

By and by the men asked for tucker. It was more a demand than a request, and Curtis served out a biscuit apiece, and declined to give them any more. They grumbled, but they gave way, and after that slight meal there was nothing to be done. The night was interminable. After what seemed like ages, Dixon, who had dropped asleep, awoke, and suggested he should take the tiller; and the mate accepted gratefully, and, resigning command to the lad, he slipped to the bottom of the boat, and, before he could have believed it possible, was oblivious to all his surroundings.

When he awoke, the dawn, dark and lowering, but still daylight, had come. There was a faint gleam of light in the north-east—the rising sun—and he knew it must be somewhere about nine o'clock in the morning. He sat up, rubbing his eyes, and saw that the men were just finishing off another scanty meal.

“They would have it, sir,” said Dixon apologetically.

He looked round on their tired faces—some of them looked threatening—on the dull, leaden waves, rising now high above the little boat, now seeming to fall away from it, leaving them on the brink of a dark precipice. He saw the following birds riding so easily and so lightly on those waves, and the prospect was so drearily hopeless he would gladly have closed his eyes again. Oh, Unity, Unity! Oh, dear wife! He had been in straits before, but surely never in such desperate straits as this. Oh, little wife!

“Tucker, Mr Curtis,” said Dixon, and tossed him a biscuit.

It fell short, and the carpenter caught it. The mate held out his hand, but the man only nodded his head and began cramming it into his mouth.

  ― 164 ―

“Hand over that biscuit, Harding!” he said, with an angry oath.

“You just hand over them tins,” said the man, with his mouth full. “We ain't a-goin' to starve no longer. We're a-gettin' to the Horn at the rate of knots.”

“You said yourself, Harding,” said the mate, putting constraint upon himself, “it wasn't any good looking for food or shelter there.”

Harding did not answer, but the Dutchman next him did.

“Ve got nodings of a schance,” he said, “and I vote ve has a blow-out before ve goes unter.”

“Yes, yes,” one or two others joined in; “we'll have a blow-out, for once in a way. There ain't no bloomin' Shippin' Act here.”

“Men—” began the mate sternly.

“Look here, mister,” said the carpenter, “you ain't any better than we are here, an' we don't see starvin' on a biscuit apiece an' a teaspoonful of water. Give us a good swig at the water,” and he reached over for the breaker beside the mate.

“Men,” protested Curtis earnestly, “for heaven's sake, don't be fools! Our only chance is in preserving discipline.”

“Dat for you!” said the Dutchman insolently, and he let his oar swing and took a long drink.

Before he had done, the next man had grabbed the breaker, and there was a general scrimmage.

It was mutiny—rank mutiny. Curtis felt it, but what could he do? He and Dixon, the apprentice, were only two against nine. His eyes wandered from one face to the other, and read no hope there. The men had reached that point where discipline, they thought, could help them no longer. They would stick at nothing; they were desperate men. They had their drink, and the carpenter flung back the empty breaker at his feet; and then again there was silence—the silence that comes after the first mutterings of a storm, a sullen silence, in which the men took their turns at the oars

  ― 165 ―
quietly, huddling together between-whiles, apparently sleeping.

How long the time was—how terribly long, and yet the daylight lasted barely eight hours! The sea began to get up, the clouds scurried across the sky faster and faster, hiding the moon, and the wind strengthened to a gale.

Then it took them all they knew to keep their boat before the wind and bail her when she shipped a sea, as she did again and again. Oh, the bitter cold of those icy waters as they rushed into the boat, the dirge that was in the howling of the wind, and the cry of the penguins, that never seemed to mind the storm! Every moment they expected to be their last, and yet they kept above water.

“Oh, Unity, Unity, my wife!” For Curtis all the night was alive with thoughts of her. Should he ever see her again—should he? His arms ached with steering the unmanageable boat, the icy-cold water lapped round his feet, his eyes smarted with the watching, the wind, and the salt sea spray. What would be the end? Only he must live—he must not give up his hold on life lightly—he must see his wife again.

It grew more and more difficult, as the night advanced, to rouse the men out to take the oars or to bail. They were not openly mutinous, but they were doggedly so. They would not go to the oars. To his orders they paid no attention, to his entreaties came always the same answer:

“It ain't no good. Let her rip.”

And the worst of it was, he sympathised with them. Where was the good? What were they rowing for? What hoping for? If it had not been for the thought of Unity's clinging arms, her tender, tear-stained face, he thought he should have done just as they were doing.

The gale passed, and they were still afloat, but the men cheered a little and demanded more biscuit.

“You have had it all,” said the mate.

  ― 166 ―

“Heigh-ho, boys,” said the carpenter, “a short life an' a merry one! Who wants to hang out long in this beastly climate?”

And the end seemed very close indeed then.

He dozed, and when he awakened, the day had broken again, if it could be called day, and the air was thick and white with a snowstorm. Looking upwards, the millions of white flakes were falling softly, softly; there was not a breath of wind. The men had taken down the sail and wrapped themselves in their oilskins. The sea was calm, and the only sound was the soft lap, lap of the water against the boat, and the hoarse moans of the men as they stirred in their uneasy sleep.

The day passed, and it was night again. The hours were one long, weary ache of hunger and cold. The snow went—it had filled their breakers—and the moon rose chill and white, and then there was a spell of darkness, and then the dull, lowering daylight again. Curtis and Dixon changed places mechanically, and the mate only remembered he was steering because the tiller ropes burnt like bars of red-hot iron into his hands.

There was no more tobacco among them now, and when the third morning dawned, the faces of the men were haggard and worn, their eyes were hollow and wild, and their cheeks had fallen in. Three days in an open boat was not long; it was the cold that had done it.

“Mr Curtis,” asked one, “do you see a sail, sir?”

A sail! In a sail lay their only hope. They seemed to lie in the bottom of a hollow depression, and the sea rose up round them on every side, and over all, like a lid, lay the heavy clouds that hid away the sky. Nothing broke the monotony—nothing save the birds that followed.

The mate tried to put a ring of hopefulness into his voice. “Not yet, my lad.”

But the men were muttering among themselves. Their faces looked wolfish in the dim light, and ghastly

  ― 167 ―
stories of shipwreck and suffering came uppermost in his mind. They began to talk mysteriously of drawing lots—of one dying that the others might live—and though he felt Dixon clutch his arm convulsively, at first he took no notice. Then he heard himself remonstrating:

“Be men, be men, not howling, God-forsaken scoundrels!”

Then their voices were all raised at once, and their knives were out. But men do not come to such a pass as that easily. The tumult subsided, and they agreed to wait, and the day closed in. The night was one long, weary ache of hopelessness, and the dawn came again, and Curtis was brought back to consciousness by Dixon's hand on his arm and his voice in his ear, with a horrified quiver in it:

“Mr Curtis, they're going to draw lots!”

“No, no!”


It was calm enough. The dull, grey waters seemed to rise up on every side, and overhead was the dull, grey, lowering sky, with, to the north, a faint gleam of light where the sun should have been. The faintest wind was stirring, hardly enough to ruffle the crests of the waves, and there was nothing in sight but sea and sky, save the white sea-birds calmly breasting the swell, keeping always the same distance from the boat, now rising high above it, now down in the trough of the sea, happy and peaceful and at home. One of the men had tied a bit of his scarlet handkerchief to a hook at the end of a long string, and was dangling it overboard. It floated on the surface some way from the boat. So it had floated when darkness fell, and so it floated still. Curtis noted it idly, as men do notice trifles in moments of great extremity—the only bit of colour in all the wide seascape. At his feet lay the Dago, whether sleeping or unconscious he could not tell, and at his side was Dixon, his round, boyish face white and drawn, with a great horror written upon it. The men were all huddled together in the middle of

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the boat, talking, and their faces were wolfish and eager.

“I tells you,” said the Dutchman, who was an old whaler and a good seaman, “it is no goot us all peggin' out. I vas on der Sovoie ven she nipped in der ice, an' ve valked two hundret mile to der Danish mission station. Dere vas tree men die on dat roat, but, my vort, no vun ask how he die! If he not die, ve all be deat. I tells you true.”

“Aye, aye,” said more than one voice, “we'll all die else! We're dyin' now!”

But in some voices—they were husky now, and weak —it was a sort of protest. Were it not better that one man should die for the saving of the rest? they seemed to ask. They were dying—they were certainly dying fast. Curtis could not doubt that a couple of days would see the end of the strongest among them. And it was thirty days since they had seen a sail!

He roused himself.

“Men,” he protested, “don't—don't—better go under.”

“Why,” taunted the carpenter, “you're pretty near done for as it is! It won't make much difference to you.”

Curtis doubled his fist, and, at the risk of upsetting the boat, hit him a blow on the point of the jaw that sent him reeling back, but he was miserably conscious himself how little force there was in the blow. Harding picked himself up. It was the kind of argument he understood, and he bore no malice.

The mate turned to the men.

“For heaven's sake, let's die decently!”

“That's just it,” said the carpenter; “we don't want to die—not all of us.”

“We may see a ship before night.”

“You said that yesterday, an' there's nary a ship. Here, Muntz, hand over your cap. Maybe you won't need it again, old chap.”

Muntz handed it over solemnly. There was a sort of cool daring about him, as if he defied Fate.

  ― 169 ―

“I'd as soon die keevick,” he said nonchalantly, and young Dixon drew a long, sobbing sigh.

Curtis said nothing. The blow he had struck the carpenter only showed him his own weakness. He sat there quietly with the tiller ropes of the boat burning into the palms of his hands. They were nine men to two.

“Pedro,” went on the carpenter's relentless voice, and he stooped and laid a hand on the Dago at the mate's feet, “hand over that there necklace of yourn.”

The Dago protested shrilly and grasped his rosary.

Madre de Dios!” he shrieked. “Madre de Dios! It is sacré—what you call holy! The Holy Father himself—”

He might as well have spoken to the wind. At a sign from the carpenter, Muntz and a big negro held him down and took the rosary from him.

He began calling out in Spanish that they would all be accursed, that some evil fate would befall them, but nobody paid any attention, possibly because it would have been difficult to find a tighter corner than that they were already in.

Curtis wondered dully, as if the matter did not concern him, how they were going to cast lots with beads. The carpenter snapped the string.

“One—two—three—eleven of us.” He began counting them into Muntz's cap, and all eyes watched him. They were roughly-carved dark stone beads, but one was of lighter colour. The carpenter held it up. Curtis looked at it. What did it all matter now? Leaden sea around him, leaden sky overhead, desperate men threatening a deed that must leave a stain for ever. If it had not been for the boy at his side, he would have flung himself into the sea.

“There ain't must to choose, 'cept for the colour,” said the carpenter, dropping the bead into the cap with the others. “I holds the cap so, you can see, and the man who picks that there blue bead—”

He did not finish the sentence; there was no need. He held the cap like a bag.

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“Are we all ready, mates?”

For one moment there was silence. Then “Aye,” came the answer, “aye!” Not one dissentient voice. Even the Dago assented.

“I have nothing to do with this,” said Curtis.

“Nor I,” said Dixon, and the boyish voice shook.

“That's all very well,” said the carpenter. “Think we don't know it's bad? We do. But you show us another way.”

There lay the horror of it; it was the only alternative.

“Better one man should die than ten,” went on the carpenter. “That's logic. Now, mister, you take first chance.”

“I tell you I have nothing to do with it.”

“Right you are!” said the carpenter, with a sort of ghastly cheerfulness. “We'll draw for you.”

Curtis looked at the men. After all, since he must take a chance, whether he would or not, he had better draw for himself.

“I will draw,” he said, “but, mind, I have no hand in the business. I'd rather be dead than let my wife know I'd saved my life at such a cost. If I draw that blue bead, I fight, and I help any other man who draws it.” And then he put his hand into the cap and drew out a brown bead. He wondered at himself as he dropped back into his seat again. The water was lapping against the boat's side with a sort of yearning in it. “Rest is here, rest is here,” it seemed to say. “Why are you troubled, for here is rest?” And then Dixon drew, and drew blank. A sigh went up from the men.

“Remember,” said Curtis steadily, “Dixon and I fight for the man who loses. Three against eight are not such bad odds.” And he reached out for a boat stretcher.

He never knew himself whether he had done it on purpose or not. One hand still held the tiller ropes, and from his fingers, dead and numb from the cold, the stretcher slipped, and, falling against the carpenter's hand, numb and cold too, spilled all the beads on the

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bottom boards of the boat. Only the fatal blue bead remained in the cap.

“Good for you, sir!” cried young Dixon, drawing his knife.

A wild, angry yelp arose. Muntz's yellow teeth showed between his black lips, and there was an evil look on his face.

“We half decide. Von man moost die. Vy not der mate? If he make troubles ober der lots, vy not der mate?”

“That's murder,” said the carpenter, putting the thoughts of the others into words. And Dixon crouched lower, but let the gleam of his knife be seen.

“An' if it is murder?” said the whaler, stepping forward. But the carpenter, sturdy Englishman as he was at bottom, thrust forward his foot, and the man stumbled to his knees.

“Ve tries again,” he said sullenly, picking himself up.

“We tries again,” said the carpenter, and he looked threateningly at Curtis, and began counting out the remainder of the brown beads into the cap. Then he held it out to the mate.

“I have drawn.”

“If you don't draw,” said the carpenter threateningly, “we draw for you. You brought it on yourself.”

And then fear fell upon the sturdy mate, who had faced death often. One of these beads meant death to a man—to him possibly. The temptation came to him to toss the beads out into the boat, and this time to jump into the sea and end it all. He had borne all he could bear; he wanted to be dead before things should happen he could only think of with bated breath. He looked round at the grey, still sea, at the men's unyielding faces, at the red rag of bait trailing over the gunwale, at the sea-birds serene and calm, and then his eye caught Dixon's anxious, pinched young face. That decided him. He could not leave the lad. And so thinking, he put out his hand and drew. The

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carpenter snatched away the cap quickly, as if he feared he might put back the bead.

A heavy sigh went up from the men, and then they were quiet, silenced, awed by the horror of the thing.

Curtis did not shout or yell, he did not call upon his God to help him, he did not appeal to the men who would be his executioners; he only sat there, stupidly gazing at the bead, wondering, as our minds do wonder in crises, as if they were detached from us, how that bit of blue turquoise came in this place. Of course, it did not matter—nothing mattered now—only that Unity, his wife, should not know. And then, even in his extremity, or perhaps because of his extremity, came thought for her loneliness.

How long would these men wait? How long would they wait?

“Men,” he cried, and he looked at the brooding faces, “I will give you two hundred pounds for my life!”

But there was silence, and he could hear the deep-drawn breaths and the sob, sob of the water alongside, the cry of a sea-bird from a distance.

“Will you?”

Muntz broke the spell with a harsh laugh.

“An' vat is der goot of twenty hundret pound to mens dat is starvin'?” and he looked round. “Tomorrow we all be deats!”

It was sound logic. The sands of life were running out quickly. He wondered that he had thought it worth while asking.

“Don't tell my wife,” he said to Dixon.

“Tell her yourself, sir,” said the boy, and he tightened his hold on his knife. A watery gleam of sunshine caught on the bright blade, and seemed to emphasise the fact that they were all preparing to die, “We'll fight 'em. Pedro, you skunk, you're the mate's salvage. None of the others would have risked their little fingers for you.”

The Dago looked at them out of his hollow eyes, but he made no movement.

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“It is fair—it is fair,” said Muntz.

“Oh, fair enough,” growled the carpenter, “but, mates, it's an awful job!”

And the mate was glad, in a curiously impersonal way, to hear him say so. He thought of his own patriotism with a pitying wonder, but he wanted the Englishmen to die with hands clean.

“We'll fight,” said Dixon. “It doesn't matter much if we do upset the boat.”

“We're sure to do that.” And he thought curiously that he who was speaking would be dead before half an hour was over their heads, and Dixon would be dead, and these men who were willing to save their lives at such a terrible price.

The men whispered together, then they turned their backs, all save the Dutch whaler and the gaunt Dago. So he had saved him for this!

“No chance of sending a message?” said Dixon.

“Not the least in the world. They will know”— the thought of his poor, little, lonely wife wrung his heart—“we must have thought of them at the last, Dixon; it's the best way.”

“Much the best,” said the boy quietly. Only a lad of eighteen, but some of our merchant officers are made of fine stuff.

Muntz made a step forward, and as he did so, the Dago lurched across him, and he stumbled, recovered himself, staggered, and Curtis in a moment held the boat stretcher threateningly over him. He lay there, biting the bottom boards like a mad thing, and the Dago sat down, as if he were waiting, whether to help or to hinder, the mate could not have told. The whole thing looked like an accident, and yet—

He looked at the boy.

“Not yet,” he said; “it hasn't come yet.”

“But it will come,” said the carpenter over his shoulder. “You've drawn the bead, and it'll come before night. What else is there?”

Nothing but to pray and hope death would come very quickly—nothing else to hope for in all the world

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They had not quite screwed themselves up to the horror of the thing, but it would grow familiar, and next time they would act. He knew that well enough. There would be no hesitation; it would be death. And then Muntz turned over and voiced the same thought.

“To-night,” he said, as if stating an incontrovertible fact, “dere vill be but von vay—der vay ve took on der Sovoie.”

How calm the sea was—how still! And nothing in sight save the great birds, emphasising the loneliness, accentuating it. The mate looked round the horizon. Nothing—nothing! Grey sky and grey sea blending, and the little boat a toy thing in the waste of waters. The men looked at him, and it seemed to him as if their hollow eyes were reproaching him. They would slay him, and the remembrance would stain their whole lives. Away to the horizon again his eyes wandered, and he fancied he saw a faint smudge upon it that had not been there before. He raised his hand, more to concentrate his vision than to shade his eyes.

The men followed his gaze eagerly.

And then the thing came that he had feared and dreaded so unspeakably.

“He is foolin' yous, mates!” cried Muntz, scrambling to his feet and coming towards him with his long knife in his hand. Curtis let go the tiller ropes and raised the stretcher, but the next moment the lean figure of the Dago was between them. This time it was no accident; he was there of deliberate purpose. His breath came hard, but he said nothing, and Dixon raised a shout.

“Good for you, Pedro!”

The others rose. “Put down your hands,” cried the carpenter angrily; “we don't want to harm you, you fool!” But Dixon lurched forward, and the next second the boat was over.

The icy-cold water closed over Curtis's head; it rushed in his ears with a roaring sound that seemed but the continuation of the clamour in the boat. Someone was clinging to him like grim death. He went

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down, down; then he shook off the clutching hands, and rose again to a deathly stillness. There was not even the lap, lap of the water that had sounded in his ears for so many days.

For a moment he was disappointed; he had gone through so much, and he was still alive. The worst was still to come. Something touched him, and he clutched an oar, and he heard a voice hail him cheerily.

“Hallo, sir! Sorry I grabbed you so hard. All serene! I knew we'd beat 'em.”


“I don't see the men have bettered the situation,” said the apprentice coolly.

The boat was floating bottom uppermost close at hand, and here and there above the water were the heads of the men, looking like round, dark balls. Most of them could swim, but one or two of them were struggling. Curtis laughed grimly, and shoved his oar towards a man who was throwing up his hands. He saw it was Muntz, but was beyond taking in the irony of the situation. The end for all of them could not be long now. The Dago had done this for him— the only thing he could do. But where was he? He could not see him, but indeed he was too weary to think. What did it matter?

“Can we right her?”

But no. The whale-boat was heavy; they were starved and numb with cold. Their fingers slipped along her streaming sides like the helpless hands of little children. One by one they reached her, though, till the tale was complete, but there was no one of them equal to scrambling up and getting astride her keel. And, oh, the bitter cold of that icy water!

“Is this the end, sir?” The boy's voice tried to be cheery still.

And Curtis made no answer. There was no answer. The fact was self-evident, but the Dago close beside them spoke.

“It ees de end,” he said. “I vas de mate's salvage, and I not can do more.” And, as if he were very

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tired, he loosed his hold on the slippery sides of the boat.

“Hold on, man!” exhorted Curtis. But the man turned and looked at him with hollow, tired eyes, and then, before he quite realised it, the mate was watching the white face fade away beneath the green waters— down, down, till he saw but a white speck, and then it was gone, and he was staring after it dully, and there was a throbbing in his ears that seemed to him like the moaning of a woman in grief—so would Unity grieve for him—a moaning that filled sea and sky with its hopelessness. Overhead now were poised the sea-birds that had floated behind the boat so long. Closer and closer and closer they swooped. He knew what that meant. Perhaps the Dago had chosen wisely, if he had chosen. He had not an ounce of strength in his arms, and louder and louder and louder in his ears came the sound of a woman moaning hopelessly. It beat in on his brain, and though he leaned his head against the wet side of the boat, he could not shut it out. “Oh, Unity, Unity!” It grew louder and louder; it was the beating of her heart.

“A ship! A ship!” The cry came from Dixon “She's on top of us!”

How they shouted, those despairing men clinging to the upturned boat!

“All together, men—all together!” cried the mate; but their voices were weak and hoarse, and it seemed at first to the officer of the watch on board R.M.S. Auckland but a penguin's cry.

Again and again! The mate felt he could hold on not a moment longer. It was the throbbing of the steamer's engines that had made the moaning, and she was passing fast. Another shout, and there came an answering hail.

“Himmel,” said Muntz, “I gifs up der sea!”