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  • 1901
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fast the helmet on his head, and the cackle of their laughter was the last sound he heard before the metal dome closed the audible world away from him.

They hung the weights over his chest and back, and Tazzuchi signed to him to descend. Kettle hitched round the sheath-knife to the front of his belt, and signed with politeness, “After you.”

Tazzuchi did not argue the matter. He lifted his clumsy lead-soled feet over the side of the boat, got on the ladder, and climbed down out of sight. Kettle followed. The chill of the water crept up and closed over his head; the steady throb-throb of the air-pump beat against his skull; and a little shiver took him in one small spot between the shoulder blades, because he knew that it was there that an Italian, if he can manage it, always plants a knife in his enemy.

He reached the end of the ladder and slid down a rope. He felt curiously corky and insecure, but still when he reached the bottom he sank up to his knees in impalpable mud. He could foggily see Tazzuchi a few paces away waiting for him, and he went up to him at once. If the men in the boat, acting on orders, cut his air-tube, he wanted to be in a position to cut Captain Tazzuchi’s also with promptness.

However, everything went peacefully just then. The Italian set off down a track in the slime, and Kettle waded laboriously after him. It was terrible work making a passage through that white glutinous ooze, but they came to the wreck directly, and, working round her rusty flank, stood beside a great shallow pit, where two weird-looking gray sea-monsters showed in dim outline through the dense fog of the water.

Sound does not carry down there in that quiet world, and the two new-comers stood for long enough before the two workers observed them. But one chanced to look up and see them watching and jogged the other with his spade, and then both frantically beckoned the visitors to come down into the pit. Tazzuchi led, and Kettle followed, wallowing down the slopes of slime, and there at the bottom, in the dim, milky light, one of the professional divers slipped a shovel into his hand and thrust it downward, till it jarred against something solid underfoot.

It was clear they had come upon the gold boxes, and they wished to impress upon the visitors, in underwater dumb show, that the find had only been made that very minute. It was a strange enough performance. Half-seen hands snapped red fingers in triumph. Ponderously booted feet did a dance of ecstasy in three feet of gluey mud. And meanwhile, Kettle, with a hand on the haft of his knife, edged away from this uncanny demonstration, lest some one should slit his air-tube before he could prevent it.

He had seen what he wanted; he had no reason to wait longer; and besides, being a novice at diving, his lungs were half burst already in the effort to get breath, and his head was singing like a tea-urn. The gold boxes were there, and if they were not brought to the surface, and carried honestly to Suez, the matter would have to be fought out above in God’s open air, and not in that horrible choking quagmire of slime and cruel water. And so, still guarding himself cannily, he got back again to the boat, and almost had it in him to shake hands with the men who eased him of that intolerable helmet.

Now far be it from me to raise even a suspicion that Captain Owen Kettle resented the fact that he had been robbed of a scuffle when the little salvage steamer actually did bring up in Suez harbor with the specie honestly locked in one of her staterooms. But that he was violently angry he admits himself without qualification. He says he kicked himself for being such a bad judge of men.

The _Parakeet_ was in when they arrived, rebunkering for the run home, and Murray came off as fast as a crew could drive his boat to inquire the news.

He saw Tazzuchi on the deck and accosted him with a vigorous handshake, and a “Hullo, Fizz-hookey, old man, how goes it? Who’d have thought of seeing you here? Howdy, Captain Kettle. Had good fishing?”

“Do you know Captain Tazzuchi?”

“Somewhat. Why, we were both boys on the _Conway_ together.”

“You’re making some mistake. Captain Tazzuchi is an Italian.”

“Oh, am I?” said Tazzuchi. “Not much of the Dago about me except the name.”

“Well, you never told me that before.”

“You never asked me, that I know of. I speak about enough of the lingo to carry on duty with, and I serve on an Italian ship because I couldn’t get a skipper’s billet on anything else. But I’m as English as either of you, and as English as Birds–or more English than Birds, seeing that they come from somewhere near Jerusalem. Great Scot, Captain Kettle, can’t you tell a Dago yet for sure? Where have you been all your days?”

Murray laughed. “Well, come across and discuss it in the _Parakeet_. I’ve got a case of champagne on board to wet my new ticket.”

“Stay half a minute,” said Tazzuchi, “we’ll just get those boxes of gold down into your boat, Murray, and ferry them across. I sha’n’t be sorry to have them out of my responsibility. They’re too big a temptation to leave handy for the crew there is on board here.”

“Phew!” said Kettle, “it’s hot here in Suez. Great James! to think of the way I’ve been sweating about this blame’ ship without a scrap of need of it. Here, hurry up with the lucre-boxes. I want to get across to the old _Parakeet_ and wash the taste of a lot of things out of my mouth.”

CHAPTER XI

THE DEAR INSURED

“He isn’t the ‘dear deceased’ yet by a very long chalk,” said Captain Kettle.

“If he was,” retorted Lupton with a dry smile, “my immediate interest in him would cease, and the Company would shrug its shoulders, and pay, and look pleasant. In the mean while he’s, shall we say, ‘the dear insured,’ and a premium paying asset that the Company’s told me off to keep an eye on.”

“Do much business in your particular line?” “Why yes, recently a good deal. It’s got to be quite a fashionable industry of late to pick up some foolish young gentleman with expectations, insure his life for a big pile, knock him quietly on the head, and then come back home in a neat black suit to pocket the proceeds.”

“Does this Mr.–” Kettle referred to the passenger list–“Hamilton’s the rogue’s name, isn’t it?”

“No, he’s the flat. Cranze is the–er–his friend who stands to draw the stamps.”

“Does Mr. Hamilton know you?”

“Never seen me in his life.”

“Does this thief Cranze?”

“Same.”

“Then, sir, I’ll tell you what’s your ticket,” said Kettle, who had got an eye to business. “Take a passage with me out to the Gulf and back, and keep an eye on the young gentleman yourself. You’ll find it a bit cold in the Western Ocean at first, but once we get well in the Gulf Stream, and down toward New Orleans, I tell you you’ll just enjoy life. It’ll be a nice trip for you, and I’m sure I’ll do my best to make things comfortable for you.”

“I’m sure you would, Captain, but it can’t be done at the price.”

Kettle looked thoughtfully at the passenger list. “I could promise you a room to yourself. We’re not very full up this run. In fact, Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Cranze are the only two names I’ve got down so far, and I may as well tell you we’re not likely to have others. You see Birds are a very good line, but they lay themselves out more for cargo than passengers.”

“So our local agent in Liverpool found out for us already, and that’s mostly why I’m here. Don’t you see, Captain, if the pair of them had started off to go tripping round the Mexican Gulf in one of the regular passenger boats, there would have been nothing suspicious about that. But when they book berths by you, why then it begins to look fishy at once.”

Kettle turned on his companion with a sudden viciousness. “By James!” he snapped, “you better take care of your-words, or there’ll be a man in this smoke-room with a broken jaw. I allow no one to sling slights at either me or my ship. No, nor at the firm either that owns both of us. You needn’t look round at the young lady behind the bar. She can’t hear what we’re saying across in this corner, and if even she could she’s quite welcome to know how I think about the matter. By James, do you think you can speak to me as if I was a common railway director? I can tell you that, as Captain of a passenger boat, I’ve a very different social position.”

“My dear sir,” said Lupton soothingly, “to insult you was the last thing in my mind. I quite know you’ve got a fine ship, and a new ship, and a ship to be congratulated on. I’ve seen her. In fact I was on board and all over her only this morning. But what I meant to point out was (although I seem to have put it clumsily) that Messrs. Bird have chosen to schedule you for the lesser frequented Gulf ports, finding, as you hint, that cargo pays them better than passengers.”

“Well?”

“And naturally therefore anything that was done on the _Flamingo_ would not have the same fierce light of publicity on it that would get on–say–one of the Royal Mail boats. You see they bustle about between busy ports crammed with passengers who are just at their wits’ end for something to do. You know what a pack of passengers are. Give them a topic like this: Young man with expectations suddenly knocked overboard, nobody knows by whom; ‘nother young man on boat drawing a heavy insurance from him; and they aren’t long in putting two and two together.”

“You seem to think it requires a pretty poor brain to run a steam-packet,” said Kettle contemptuously. “How long would I be before I had that joker in irons?”

“If he did it as openly as I have said, you’d arrest him at once. But you must remember Cranze will have been thinking out his game for perhaps a year beforehand, till he can see absolutely no flaw in it, till he thinks, in fact, there’s not the vaguest chance of being dropped on. If anything happens to Hamilton, his dear friend Cranze will be the last man to be suspected of it. And mark you, he’s a clever chap. It isn’t your clumsy, ignorant knave who turns insurance robber–and incidentally murderer.”

“Still, I don’t see how he’d be better off on my ship than he would be on the bigger passenger packets.”

“Just because you won’t have a crowd of passengers. Captain, a ship’s like a woman; any breath of scandal damages her reputation,-whether it’s true and deserved or not. And a ship-captain’s like a woman’s husband; he’ll put up with a lot to keep any trace of scandal away from her.”

“That’s the holy truth.”

“A skipper on one of the bigger passenger lines would be just as keen as you could be not to have his ship mixed up with anything discreditable. But passengers are an impious lot. They are just bursting for want of a job, most of them; they revel in anything like an accident to break the monotony; and if they can spot a bit of foul play–or say they helped to spot it–why, there they are, supplied with one good solid never-stale yarn for all the rest of their natural lives. So you see they’ve every inducement to do a lot of ferreting that a ship’s officers (with other work on hand) would not dream about.”

Captain Kettle pulled thoughtfully at his neat red pointed beard. “You’re putting the thing in a new light, sir, and I thank you for what you’ve said. I see my course plain before me. So soon as we have dropped the pilot, I shall go straight to this Mr. Cranze, and tell him that from information received I hear he’s going to put Mr. Hamilton over the side. And then I shall say: ‘Into irons you go, my man, so soon as ever Hamilton’s missing.'”

Lupton laughed rather angrily. “And what would be the result of that, do you think?”

“Cranze will get mad. He’ll probably talk a good deal, and that I shall allow within limits. But he’ll not hit me. I’m not the kind of a man that other people see fit to raise their hands to.”

“You don’t look it. But, my good sir, don’t you see that if you speak out like that, you’ll probably scare the beggar off his game altogether?”

“And why not? Do you think my ship’s a blessed detective novel that’s to be run just for your amusement?”

Lupton tapped the table slowly with his fingers. “Now look here, Captain,” he said, “there’s a chance here of our putting a stop to a murderous game that’s been going on too long, by catching a rogue red-handed. It’s to our interest to get a conviction and make an example. It’s to your interest to keep your ship free from a fuss.”

“All the way.”

“Quite so. My Company’s prepared to buy your interest up.”

“You must put it plainer than that.”

“I’ll put it as definitely as you like. I’ll give you L20 to keep your eye on these men, and say nothing about what I’ve told you, but just watch. If you catch Cranze so clearly trying it on that the Courts give a conviction, the Company will pay you L200.”

“It’s a lot of money.”

“My Company will find it a lot cheaper than paying out L20,000, and that’s what Hamilton’s insured for.”

“Phew! I didn’t know we were dealing with such big figures. Well, Mr. Cranze has got his inducements to murder the man, anyway.”

“I told you that from the first. Now, Captain, are you going to take my check for that preliminary L20?”

“Hand it over,” said Kettle. “I see no objections. And you may as well give me a bit of a letter about the balance.”

“I’ll do both,” said Lupton, and took out his stylograph, and called a waiter to bring him hotel writing paper.

Now Captain Owen Kettle, once he had taken up this piece of employment, entered into it with a kind of chastened joy. The Life Insurance Company’s agent had rather sneered at ship-captains as a class (so he considered), and though the man did his best to be outwardly civil, it was plain that he considered a mob of passengers the intellectual superiors of any master mariner. So Kettle intended to prove himself the “complete detective” out of sheer _esprit de corps_.

As he had surmised, Messrs. Hamilton and Cranze remained the _Flamingo’s_ only two passengers, and so he considered he might devote full attention to them without being remarkable. If he had been a steward making sure of his tips he could not have been more solicitous for their welfare; and to say he watched them like a cat is putting the thing feebly. Any man with an uneasy conscience must have grasped from the very first that the plot had been guessed at, and that this awkward little skipper, with his oppressive civilities, was merely waiting his chance to act as Nemesis.

But either Mr. Cranze had an easy mind, and Lupton had unjustly maligned him, or he was a fellow of the most brazen assurance. He refused to take the least vestige of a warning. He came on board with a dozen cases of champagne and four of liqueur brandy as a part of his personal luggage, and his first question to every official he came across was how much he would have to pay per bottle for corkage.

As he made these inquiries from a donkey-man, two deck hands, three mates, a trimmer, the third engineer, two stewards, and Captain Kettle himself, the answers he received were various, and some of them were profane. He seemed to take a delight in advertising his chronic drunkenness, and between-whiles he made a silly show of the fact that he carried a loaded revolver in his hip pocket. “Lots fellows do’t now,” he explained. “Never know who-you-may-meet. S’ a mos’ useful habit.”

Now Captain Kettle, in his inmost heart, considered that Cranze was nerving himself up with drink to the committal of his horrid deed, and so he took a very natural precaution. Before they had dropped the Irish coast he had managed to borrow the revolver, unbeknown to its owner, and carefully extracted the powder from the cartridges, replacing the bullets for the sake of appearances. And as it happened, the chief engineer, who was a married man as well as a humorist, though working independently of his skipper, carried the matter still further. He, too, got hold of the weapon, and brazed up the breech-block immovably, so that it could not be surreptitiously reloaded. He said that his wife had instructed him to take no chances, and that meanwhile, as a fool’s pendant, the revolver was as good as ever it had been.

The revolver became the joke of the ship. Cranze kept up a steady soak on king’s peg–putting in a good three fingers of the liqueur brandy before filling up the tumbler with champagne–and was naturally inclined to be argumentative. Any one of the ship’s company who happened to be near him with a little time to spare would get up a discussion on any matter that came to his mind, work things gently to a climax, and then contradict Cranze flatly. Upon which, out would come the revolver, and down would go the humorist on his knees, pitifully begging for pardon and life, to the vast amusement of the onlookers.

Pratt, the chief engineer, was the inventor of this game, but he openly renounced all patent rights. He said that everybody on board ought to take the stage in turn–he himself was quite content to retire on his early laurels. So all hands took pains to contradict Cranze and to cower with a fine show of dramatic fright before his spiked revolver.

All the _Flamingo’s_ company except one man, that is. Frivolity of this sort in no way suited the appetite of Captain Owen Kettle. He talked with Cranze with a certain dry cordiality. And at times he contradicted him. In fact the little sailor contradicted most passengers if he talked to them for long. He was a man with strong opinions, and he regarded tolerance as mere weakness. Moreover, Cranze’s chronic soaking nauseated him. But at the same time, if his civility was scant, Cranze never lugged out the foolish weapon in his presence. There was a something in the shipmaster’s eye which daunted him. The utmost height to which his resentment could reach with Captain Kettle was a folding of the arms and a scowl which was intended to be majestic, but which was frequently spoiled by a hiccough.

In pleasant contrast to this weak, contemptible knave was the man Hamilton, his dupe and prospective victim. For him Kettle formed a liking at once, though for the first days of the voyage it was little enough he saw of his actual presence. Hamilton was a bad sailor and a lover of warmth, and as the Western Ocean was just then in one of its cold and noisy moods, this passenger went shudderingly out of the cabin when meals came on, and returned shudderingly from the cold on deck as soon they were over.

But when the _Flamingo_ began to make her southing, and the yellow tangles of weed floating in emerald waves bore evidence that they were steaming against the warm current of the Gulf Stream, then Hamilton came into view. He found a spot on the top of the fiddley under the lee of a tank where a chair could stand, and sat there in the glow of sun and boilers, and basked complacently.

He was a shy, nervous little man, and though Kettle had usually a fine contempt for all weakness, somehow his heart went out to this retiring passenger almost at first sight. Myself, I am inclined to think it was because he knew him to be hunted, knew him to be the object of a murderous conspiracy, and loathed most thoroughly the vulgar rogue who was his treacherous enemy. But Captain Kettle scouts the idea that he was stirred by any such feeble, womanish motives. Kettle was a poet himself, and with the kinship of species he felt the poetic fire glowing out from the person of this Mr. Hamilton. At least, so he says; and if he has deceived himself on the matter, which, from an outsider’s point of view, seems likely, I am sure the error is quite unconscious. The little sailor may have his faults, as the index of these pages has shown; but untruthfulness has never been set down to his tally, and I am not going to accuse him of it now.

Still, it is a sure thing that talk on the subject of verse making did not come at once. Kettle was immensely sensitive about his accomplishment, and had writhed under brutal scoffs and polished ridicule at his poetry more times than he cared to count. With passengers especially he kept it scrupulously in the background, even as he did his talent for making sweet music on the accordion.

But somehow he and Hamilton, after a few days’ acquaintance, seemed to glide into the subject imperceptibly. Mutual confidences followed in the course of nature. It seemed that Hamilton too, like Kettle, was a devotee of the stiller forms of verse.

“You see, Skipper,” he said, “I’ve been a pretty bad lot, and I’ve made things hum most of my time, and so I suppose I get my hankerings after restfulness as the natural result of contrast.”

“Same here, sir. Ashore I can respect myself, and in our chapel circle, though I say it myself, you’ll find few more respected men. But at sea I shouldn’t like to tell you what I’ve done; I shouldn’t like to tell any one. If a saint has to come down and skipper the brutes we have to ship as sailormen nowadays, he’d wear out his halo flinging it at them. And when matters have been worst, and I’ve been bashing the hands about, or doing things to carry out an owner’s order that I’d blush even to think of ashore, why then, sir, gentle verse, to tunes I know, seems to bubble up inside me like springs in a barren land.”

“Well, I don’t know about that,” said Hamilton doubtfully, “but when I get thoroughly sick of myself, and wish I was dead, I sometimes stave off putting a shot through my silly head by getting a pencil and paper, and shifting my thoughts out of the beastly world I know, into–well, it’s hard to explain. But I get sort of notions, don’t you see, and they seem to run best in verse. I write ’em when the fit’s on me, and I burn ’em when the fit’s through; and you’ll hardly think it, but I never told a living soul I ever did such a thing till I told you this minute. My set–I mean, I couldn’t bear to be laughed at. But you seem to be a fellow that’s been in much the same sort of box yourself.”

“I don’t know quite that. At any rate, I’ve never thought of shooting myself.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean to suggest we were alike at all in detail. I was only thinking we had both seen rough times. Lord forbid that any man should ever be half the fool that I have been.” He sighed heavily.–“However, sufficient for the day. Look out over yonder; there’s a bit of color for you.”

A shoal of flying-fish got up out of the warm, shining water and ran away over the ripples like so many silver rats; yellow tangles of Gulf-weed swam in close squadron on the emerald sea; and on the western horizon screw-pile lighthouses stood up out of the water, marking the nearness of the low-lying Floridan beaches, and reminding one of mysterious Everglades beyond.

“A man, they tell me,” said Hamilton, “can go into that country at the back there, and be a hermit, and live honestly on his own fish and fruit. I believe I’d like that life. I could go there, and be decent, and perhaps in time I should forget things.”

“Don’t you try it. The mosquitoes are shocking.”

“There are worse devils than mosquitoes. Now I should have thought there was something about those Everglades that would have appealed to you, Skipper?”

“There isn’t, and I’ve been there. You want a shot-gun in Florida to shoot callers with, not eatables. I’ve written verse there, and good verse, but it was the same old tale, sir, that brought it up to my fingers’ ends. I’d been having trouble just then–yes, bad trouble. No, Mr. Hamilton, you go home, sir, to England and find a country place, and get on a farm, and watch the corn growing, and hear the birds sing, and get hold of the smells of the fields, and the colors of the trees, and then you’ll enjoy life and turn out poetry you can be proud of.”

“Doesn’t appeal to me. You see you look upon the country with a countryman’s eye.”

“Me,” said Kettle. “I’m seaport and sea bred and brought up, and all I know of fields and a farm is what I’ve seen from a railway-carriage window. No, I’ve had to work too hard for my living, and for a living for Mrs. Kettle and the youngsters, to have any time for that sort of enjoyment; but a man can’t help knowing what he wants, sir, can he? And that’s what I’m aiming at, and it’s for that I’m scratching together every sixpence of money I can lay hands on.”

But here a sudden outcry below broke in upon their talk. “That’s Mr. Cranze,” said Kettle. “He’ll be going too far in one of his tantrums one of these days.”

“I’m piously hoping the drunken brute will tumble overboard,” Hamilton muttered; “it would save a lot of trouble for everybody. Eh, well,” he said, “I suppose I’d better go and look after him,” and got up and went below.

Captain Kettle sat where he was, musing. He had no fear that Cranze, the ship’s butt and drunkard, would murder his man in broad, staring daylight, especially as, judging from the sounds, others of the ship’s company were at present baiting him. But he did not see his way to earning that extra L200, which he would very much like to have fingered. To let this vulgar, drunken ruffian commit some overt act against Hamilton’s life, without doing him actual damage, seemed an impossibility. He had taken far to great a fancy for Hamilton to allow him to be hurt. He was beginning to be mystified by the whole thing. The case was by no means so simple and straightforward as it had looked when Lupton put it to him in the hotel smoking-room ashore.

Had Cranze been any other passenger, he would have stopped his drunken riotings by taking away the drink, and by giving strict orders that the man was to be supplied with no further intoxicants. But Cranze sober might be dangerous, while Cranze tipsy was merely a figure of ridicule; so he submitted, very much against his grain, to having his ship made into a bear-garden, and anxiously awaited developments.

The _Flamingo_ cleared the south of Florida, sighted the high land of Cuba, and stood across through the Yucatan channel to commence her peddling business in Honduras, and at some twenty ports she came to an anchor six miles off shore, and hooted with her siren till lighters came off through the surf and the shallows.

Machinery they sent ashore at these little-known stations, coal, powder, dress-goods, and pianos, receiving in return a varied assortment of hides, mahogany, dyewoods, and some parcels of ore. There was a small ferrying business done also between neighboring ports in unclean native passengers, who harbored on the foredeck, and complained of want of deference from the crew.

Hamilton appeared to extract some melancholy pleasure from it all, and Cranze remained unvaryingly drunk. Cranze passed insults to casual strangers who came on board and did not know his little ways, and the casual strangers (after the custom of their happy country) tried to knife him, but were always knocked over in the nick of time, by some member of the _Flamingo’s_ crew. Hamilton said there was a special providence which looks after drunkards of Cranze’s type, and declined to interfere; and Cranze said he refused to be chided by a qualified teetotaller, and mixed himself further king’s pegs.

Messrs. Bird, Bird and Co., being of an economical turn of mind, did not fall into the error of overmanning their ships, and so as one of the mates chose to be knocked over by six months’ old malarial fever, Captain Kettle had practically to do a mate’s duty as well as his own. A mate in the mercantile marine is officially an officer and some fraction of a gentleman, but on tramp steamers and liners where cargo is of more account than passengers–even when they dine at half-past six, instead of at midday–a mate has to perform manual labors rather harder than that accomplished by any three regular deck hands.

I do not intend to imply that Kettle actually drove a winch, or acted as stevedore below, or sweated over bales as they swung up through a hatch, but he did work as gangway man, and serve at the tally desk, and oversee generally while the crew worked cargo; and his watch over the passengers was at this period of necessity relaxed. He tried hard to interest Hamilton in the mysteries of hold stowage, in order to keep him under his immediate eye. But Hamilton bluntly confessed to loathing anything that was at all useful, and so he perforce had to be left to pick his own position under the awnings, there to doze, and smoke cigarettes, and scribble on paper as the moods so seized him.

It was off one of the ports in the peninsula of Yucatan, toward the Bay of Campeachy, that Cranze chose to fall overboard. The name of the place was announced by some one when they brought up, and Cranze asked where it was. Kettle marked it off with a leg of the dividers on the chart. “Yucatan,” said Cranze, “that’s the ruined cities shop, isn’t it?”–He shaded his unsteady eyes, and looked out at a clump of squalid huts just showing on the beach beyond some three miles of tumbling surf. “Gum! here’s a ruined city all hot and waiting. Home of the ancient Aztecs, and colony of the Atlanteans, and all that. Skipper, I shall go ashore, and enlarge my mind.”

“You can go if you like,” said Kettle, “but remember, I steam away from here as soon as ever I get the cargo out of her, and I wait for no man. And mind not to get us upset in the surf going there. The water round here swarms with sharks, and I shouldn’t like any of them to get indigestion.”

“Seem trying to make yourself jolly ob–bub–jectiable’s morning,” grumbled Cranze, and invited Hamilton to accompany him on shore forthwith. “Let’s go and see the girls. Ruined cities should have ruined girls and ruined pubs to give us some ruined amusement. We been on this steamer too long, an’ we want variety. V’riety’s charming. Come along and see ruined v’riety.”

Hamilton shrugged his shoulders. “Drunk as usual, are you? You silly owl, whatever ruined cities there may be, are a good fifty miles in the bush.”

“‘S all you know about it. I can see handsome majestic ruin over there on the beach, an’ I’m going to see it ‘out further delay. ‘S a duty I owe to myself to enlarge the mind by studying the great monuments of the past.”

“If you go ashore, you’ll be marooned as safe as houses, and Lord knows when the next steamer will call. The place reeks of fever, and as your present state of health is distinctly rocky, you’ll catch it, and be dead and out of the way inside a week easily. Look here, don’t be an ass.”

“Look here yourself. Are you a competent medicated practitioner?”

“Oh, go and get sober.”

“Answer me. Are you competent medicated practitioner?”

“No, I’m not.”

“Very well then. Don’t you presume t’lecture me on state of my health. No reply, please. I don’ wan’ to be encumbered with your further acquaintance. I wish you a go’ morning.”

Hamilton looked at Captain Kettle under his brows. “Will you advise me,” he said, “what I ought to do.”

“I should say it would be healthier for you to let him have his own way.”

“Thanks,” said Hamilton, and turned away. “I’ll act on that advice.”

Now the next few movements of Mr. Cranze are wrapped in a certain degree of mystery. He worried a very busy third mate, and got tripped on the hard deck for his pains; he was ejected forcibly from the engineers’ mess-room, where it was supposed he had designs on the whisky; and he was rescued by the carpenter from an irate half-breed Mosquito Indian, who seemed to have reasons for desiring his blood there and then on the spot. But how else he passed the time, and as to how he got over the side and into the water, there is no evidence to show.

There were theories that he had been put there by violence as a just act of retribution; there was an idea that he was trying to get into a lighter which lay alongside for a cast ashore, but saw two lighters, and got into the one which didn’t exist; and there were other theories also, but they were mostly frivolous. But the very undoubted fact remained that he was there in the water, that there was an ugly sea running, that he couldn’t swim, and that the place bristled with sharks.

A couple of lifebuoys, one after the other, hit him accurately on the head, and the lighter cast off, and backed down to try and pick him up. He did not bring his head on to the surface again, but stuck up an occasional hand, and grasped with it frantically. And, meanwhile, there was great industry among the black triangular dorsal fins that advertised the movements of the sharks which owned them underneath the surface. Nobody on board the _Flamingo_ had any particular love for Cranze, but all hands crowded to the rail and shivered and felt sick at the thought of seeing him gobbled up.

Then out of the middle of these spectators jumped the mild, delicate Hamilton, with a volley of bad language at his own foolishness, and lit on a nice sleek wave-crest, feet first in an explosion of spray. Away scurried the converging sharks’ fins, and down shot Hamilton out of sight.

What followed came quickly. Kettle, with a tremendous flying leap, landed somehow on the deck of the lighter, with bones unbroken. He cast a bowline on to the end of the main sheet, and, watching his chance, hove the bight of it cleverly into Hamilton’s grasp, and as Hamilton had come up with Cranze frenziedly clutching him round the neck, Kettle was able to draw his catch toward the lighter’s side without further delay.

By this time the men who had gone below for that purpose had returned with a good supply of coal, and a heavy fusillade of the black lumps kept the sharks at a distance, at any rate for the moment. Kettle heaved in smartly, and eager hands gripped the pair as they swirled up alongside, and there they were on the lighter’s deck, spitting, dripping, and gasping. But here came an unexpected developement. As soon as he had got back his wind, the mild Hamilton turned on his fellow passenger like a very fury, hitting, kicking, swearing, and almost gnashing with his teeth; and Cranze, stricken to a sudden soberness by his ducking, collected himself after the first surprise, and returned the blows with a murderous interest.

[Illustration: OUT OF THE MIDDLE OF THESE SPECTATORS JUMPED THE MILD, DELICATE HAMILTON.]

But one of the mates, who had followed his captain down on to the lighter to bear a hand, took a quick method of stopping the scuffle. He picked up a cargo-sling, slipped it round Cranze’s waist, hooked on the winch chain, and passed the word to the deck above. Somebody alive to the jest turned on steam, and of a sudden Cranze was plucked aloft, and hung there under the derrick-sheave, struggling impotently, like some insane jumping-jack.

Amid the yells of laughter which followed, Hamilton laughed also, but rather hysterically. Kettle put a hand kindly on his wet shoulder. “Come on board again,” he said. “If you lie down in your room for an hour or so, you’ll be all right again then. You’re a bit over-done. I shouldn’t like you to make a fool of yourself.”

“Make a fool of myself,” was the bitter reply. “I’ve made a bigger fool of myself in the last three minutes than any other man could manage in a lifetime.”

“I’ll get you the Royal Humane Society’s medal for that bit of a job, anyway.”

“Give me a nice rope to hang myself with,” said Hamilton ungraciously, “that would be more to the point. Here, for the Lord’s sake let me be, or I shall go mad.” He brushed aside all help, clambered up the steamer’s high black side again, and went down to his room.

“That’s the worst of these poetic natures,” Kettle mused as he, too, got out of the lighter; “they’re so highly strung.”

Cranze, on being lowered down to deck again, and finding his tormentors too many to be retaliated upon, went below and changed, and then came up again and found solace in more king’s pegs. He was not specially thankful to Hamilton for saving his life; said, in fact, that it was his plain duty to render such trifling assistance; and further stated that if Hamilton found his way over the side, he, Cranze, would not stir a finger to pull him back again.

He was very much annoyed at what he termed Hamilton’s “unwarrantable attack,” and still further annoyed at his journey up to the derrick’s sheave in the cargo-sling, which he also laid to Hamilton’s door. When any of the ship’s company had a minute or so to spare, they came and gave Cranze good advice and spoke to him of his own unlovableness, and Cranze hurled brimstone back at them unceasingly, for king’s peg in quantity always helped his vocabulary of swear-words.

Meanwhile the _Flamingo_ steamed up and dropped cargo wherever it was consigned, and she abased herself to gather fresh cargo wherever any cargo offered. It was Captain Kettle who did the abasing, and he did not like the job at all; but he remembered that Birds paid him specifically for this among other things; and also that if he did not secure the cargo, some one else would steam along, and eat dirt, and snap it up; and so he pocketed his pride (and his commission) and did his duty. He called to mind that he was not the only man in the world who earned a living out of uncongenial employment. The creed of the South Shields chapel made a point of this: it preached that to every man, according to his strength, is the cross dealt out which he has to bear. And Captain Owen Kettle could not help being conscious of his own vast lustiness.

But one morning, before the _Flamingo_ had finished with her calls on the ports of the Texan rivers, a matter happened on board of her which stirred the pulse of her being to a very different gait. The steward who brought Captain Kettle’s early coffee coughed, and evidently wanted an invitation to speak.

“Well?’ said Kettle.

“It’s about Mr. Hamilton, sir. I can’t find ‘im anywheres.”

“Have you searched the ship?”

“Hunofficially, sir.”

“Well, get the other two stewards, and do it thoroughly.”

The steward went out, and Captain Kettle lifted the coffee cup and drank a salutation to the dead. From that very moment he had a certain foreboding that the worst had happened. “Here’s luck, my lad, wherever you now may be. That brute Cranze has got to windward of the pair of us, and your insurance money’s due this minute. I only sent that steward to search the ship for form’s sake. There was the link of poetry between you and me, lad; and that’s closer than most people could guess at; and I know, as sure as if your ghost stood here to tell me, that you’ve gone. How, I’ve got to find out.”

He put down the cup, and went to the bathroom for his morning’s tub. “I’m to blame, I know,” he mused on, “for not taking better care of you, and I’m not trying to excuse myself. You were so brimful of poetry that you hadn’t room left for any thought of your own skin, like a chap such as I am is bound to have. Besides, you’ve been well-off all your time and you haven’t learned to be suspicious. Well, what’s done’s done, and it can’t be helped. But, my lad, I want you to look on while I hand in the bill. It’ll do you good to see Cranze pay up the account.”

Kettle went through his careful toilet, and then in his spruce white drill went out and walked briskly up and down the hurricane deck till the steward came with the report. His forebodings had not led him astray. Hamilton was not on board: the certain alternative was that he lay somewhere in the warm Gulf water astern, as a helpless dead body.

“Tell the Chief Officer,” he said, “to get a pair of irons out of store and bring them down to Mr. Cranze’s room. I’m going there now.”

He found Cranze doctoring a very painful head with the early application of stimulant, and Cranze asked him what the devil he meant by not knocking at the door before opening it.

Captain Kettle whipped the tumbler out of the passenger’s shaking fingers, and emptied its contents into the wash-basin.

“I’m going to see you hanged shortly, you drunken beast,” he said, “but in the mean while you may as well get sober for a change, and explain things up a bit.”

Cranze swung his legs out of the bunk and sat up. He was feeling very tottery, and the painfulness of his head did not improve his temper. “Look here,” he said, “I’ve had enough of your airs and graces. I’ve paid for my passage on this rubbishy old water-pusher of yours, and I’ll trouble you to keep a civil tongue in your head, or I’ll report you to your owners. You are like a railway guard, my man. After you have seen that your passengers have got their proper tickets, it’s your duty to–“

Mr. Cranze’s connective remarks broke off here for the time being. He found himself suddenly plucked away from the bunk by a pair of iron hands, and hustled out through the state-room door. He was a tall man, and the hands thrust him from below, upward, and, though he struggled wildly and madly, all his efforts to have his own way were futile. Captain Owen Kettle had handled far too many really strong men in this fashion to even lose breath over a dram-drinking passenger. So Cranze found himself hurtled out on to the lower fore-deck, where somebody handcuffed him neatly to an iron stanchion, and presently a mariner, by Captain Kettle’s orders, rigged a hose, and mounted on the iron bulwark above him, and let a three-inch stream of chilly brine slop steadily on to his head.

The situation, from an onlooker’s point of view, was probably ludicrous enough, but what daunted the patient was that nobody seemed to take it as a joke. There were a dozen men of the crew who had drawn near to watch, and yesterday all these would have laughed contemptuously at each of his contortions. But now they are all stricken to a sudden solemnity.

“Spell-o,” ordered Kettle. “Let’s see if he’s sober yet.”

The man on the bulwarks let the stream from the hose flop overboard, where it ran out into a stream of bubbles which joined the wake.

Cranze gasped back his breath, and used it in a torrent of curses.

“Play on him again,” said Kettle, and selected a good black before-breakfast cigar from his pocket. He lit it with care. The man on the bulwark shifted his shoulder for a better hold against the derrick-guy, and swung the limp hose in-board again. The water splashed down heavily on Cranze’s head and shoulders, and the onlookers took stock of him without a trace of emotion. They had most of them seen the remedy applied to inebriates before, and so they watched Cranze make his gradual recovery with the eyes of experts.

“Spell-o,” ordered Kettle some five minutes later, and once more the hose vomited sea water ungracefully into the sea. This time Cranze had the sense to hold his tongue till he was spoken to. He was very white about the face, except for his nose, which was red, and his eye had brightened up considerably. He was quite sober, and quite able to weigh any words that were dealt out to him.

“Now,” said Kettle judicially, “what have you done with Mr. Hamilton?”

“Nothing.”

“You deny all knowledge of how he got overboard?”

Cranze was visibly startled. “Of course I do. Is he overboard?”

“He can’t be found on this ship. Therefore he is over the side. Therefore you put him there.”

Cranze was still more startled. But he kept himself in hand. “Look here,” he said, “what rot! What should I know about the fellow? I haven’t seen him since last night.”

“So you say. But I don’t see why I should believe you. In fact, I don’t.”

“Well, you can suit yourself about that, but it’s true enough. Why in the name of mischief should I want to meddle with the poor beggar? If you’re thinking of the bit of a scrap we had yesterday, I’ll own I was full at the time. And so must he have been. At least I don’t know why else he should have set upon me like he did. At any rate that’s not a thing a man would want to murder him for.”

“No, I should say L20,000 is more in your line.”

“What are you driving at?”

“You know quite well. You got that poor fellow insured just before this trip, you got him to make a will in your favor, and now you’ve committed a dirty, clumsy murder just to finger the dollars.”

Cranze broke into uncanny hysterical laughter. “That chap insured; that chap make a will in my favor? Why, he hadn’t a penny. It was me that paid for his passage. I’d been on the tear a bit, and the Jew fellow I went to about raising the wind did say something about insuring, I know, and made me sign a lot of law papers. They made out I was in such a chippy state of health that they’d not let me have any more money unless I came on some beastly dull sea voyage to recruit a bit, and one of the conditions was that one of the boys was to come along too and look after me.”

“You’ll look pretty foolish when you tell that thin tale to a jury.”

“Then let me put something else on to the back of it. I’m not Cranze at all. I’m Hamilton. I’ve been in the papers a good deal just recently, because I’d been flinging my money around, and I didn’t want to get stared at on board here. So Cranze and I swapped names, just to confuse people. It seems to have worked very well.”

“Yes,” said Kettle, “it’s worked so well that I don’t think you’ll get a jury to believe that either. As you don’t seem inclined to make a clean breast of it, you can now retire to your room, and be restored to your personal comforts. I can’t hand you over to the police without inconvenience to myself till we get to New Orleans, so I shall keep you in irons till we reach there. Steward–where’s a steward? Ah, here you are. See this man is kept in his room, and see he has no more liquor. I make you responsible for him.”

“Yes, sir,” said the steward.

Continuously the dividends of Bird, Bird and Co. outweighed every other consideration, and the _Flamingo_ dodged on with her halting voyage. At the first place he put in at, Kettle sent off an extravagant cablegram of recent happenings to the representative of the Insurance Company in England. It was not the cotton season, and the Texan ports yielded the steamer little, but she had a ton or so of cargo for almost every one of them, and she delivered it with neatness, and clamored for cargo in return. She was “working up a connection.” She swung round the Gulf till she came to where logs borne by the Mississippi stick out from the white sand, and she wasted a little time, and steamed past the nearest outlet of the delta, because Captain Kettle did not personally know its pilotage. He was getting a very safe and cautious navigator in these latter days of his prosperity.

So she made for the Port Eads pass, picked up a pilot from the station by the lighthouse, and steamed cautiously up to the quarantine station, dodging the sandbars. Her one remaining passenger had passed from an active nuisance to a close and unheard prisoner, and his presence was almost forgotten by every one on board, except Kettle and the steward who looked after him. The merchant seaman of these latter days has to pay such a strict attention to business, that he has no time whatever for extraneous musings.

The _Flamingo_ got a clean bill from the doctor at the quarantine station, and emerged triumphantly from the cluster of craft doing penance, and, with a fresh pilot, steamed on up the yellow river, past the white sugar-mills, and the heavy cypresses behind the banks. And in due time the pilot brought her up to New Orleans, and, with his glasses on the bridge, Kettle saw his acquaintance, Mr. Lupton, waiting for him on the levee.

He got his steamer berthed in the crowded tier, and Mr. Lupton pushed on board over the first gang-plank. But Kettle waved the man aside till he saw his vessel finally moored. And then he took him into the chart-house and shut the door.

“You seem to have got my cable,” he said. “It was a very expensive one, but I thought the occasion needed it.”

His visitor tapped Kettle confidentially on the knee. “You’ll find my office will deal most liberally with you, Captain. But I can tell you I’m pretty excited to hear your full yarn.”

“I’m afraid you won’t like it,” said Kettle. “The man’s obviously dead, and, fancy it or not, I don’t see how your office can avoid paying the full amount. However, here’s the way I’ve logged it down”–and he went off into detailed narration.

The New Orleans heat smote upon the chart-house roof, and the air outside clattered with the talk of negroes. Already hatches were off, and the winch chains sang as they struck out cargo, and from the levee alongside, and from New Orleans below and beyond, came tangles of smells which are peculiarly their own. A steward brought in tea, and it stood on the chart-table untasted, and at last Kettle finished, and Lupton put a question.

“It’s easy to tell,” he said, “if they did swap names. What was the man that went overboard like?”

“Little dark fellow, short sighted. He was a poet, too.”

“That’s not Hamilton, anyway, but it might be Cranze. Is your prisoner tall?”

“Tall and puffy. Red-haired and a spotty face.”

“That’s Hamilton, all the way. By Jove! Skipper, we’ve saved our bacon. His yarn’s quite true. They did change names. Hamilton’s a rich young ass that’s been painting England red these last three years.”

“But, tell me, what did the little chap go overboard for?”

“Got there himself. Uneasy conscience, I suppose. He seems to have been a poor sort of assassin anyway. Why, when that drunken fool tumbled overboard amongst the sharks, he didn’t leave him to be eaten or drowned, is more than I can understand. He’d have got his money as easy as picking it up off the floor, if he’d only had the sense to keep quiet.”

“If you ask me,” said Kettle, “it was sheer nobility of character. I had a good deal of talk with that young gentleman, sir. He was a splendid fellow. He had a true poetical soul.”

Mr. Lupton winked sceptically. “He managed to play the part of a thorough-paced young blackguard at home pretty successfully. He was warned off the turf. He was kicked out of his club for card-sharping. He was–well, he’s dead now, anyway, and we won’t say any more about him, except that he’s been stone-broke these last three years, and has been living on his wits and helping to fleece other flats. But he was only the tool, anyway. There is a bigger and more capable scoundrel at the back of it all, and, thanks to the scare you seem to have rubbed into that spotty-faced young mug you’ve got locked up down below, I think we can get the principal by the heels very nicely this journey. If you don’t mind, I’ll go and see this latest victim now, before he’s had time to get rid of his fright.”

Captain Kettle showed his visitor courteously down to the temporary jail, and then returned to the chart-house and sipped his tea.

“His name may really have been Cranze, but he was a poet, poor lad,” he mused, thinking of the dead. “That’s why he couldn’t do the dirty work. But I sha’n’t tell Lupton that reason. He’d only laugh–and–that poetry ought to be a bit of a secret between the lad and me. Poor, poor fellow! I think I’ll be able to write a few lines about him myself after I’ve been ashore to see the agent, just as a bit of an epitaph. As to this spotty-faced waster who swapped names with him, I almost have it in me to wish we’d left him to be chopped by those sharks. He’d his money to his credit anyway–and what’s money compared with poetry?”

CHAPTER XII

THE FIRE AND THE FARM

The quartermaster knocked smartly, and came into the chart-house, and Captain Kettle’s eyes snapped open from deep sleep to complete wakefulness.

“There’s some sort of vessel on fire, sir, to loo’ard, about five miles off.”

The shipmaster glanced up at the tell-tale compass above his head. “Officer of the watch has changed the course, I see. We’re heading for it, eh?”

“Yes, sir. The second mate told me to say so.”

“Quite right. Pass the word for the carpenter, and tell him to get port and starboard lifeboats ready for lowering in case they’re wanted. I’ll be on the bridge in a minute.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” said the quartermaster, and withdrew into the darkness outside.

Captain Owen Kettle’s toilet was not of long duration. Like most master mariners who do business along those crowded steam lanes of the Western Ocean, he slept in most of his clothes when at sea as a regular habit, and in fact only stripped completely for the few moments which were occupied by his morning’s tub. If needful, he could always go out on deck at a second’s notice, and be ready to remain there for twenty-four hours. But in this instance there was no immediate hurry, and so he spent a full minute and a half over his toilet, and emerged with washed hands and face, sprucely brushed hair and beard, and his person attired in high rubber thigh-boots and leather-bound black oilskins.

The night was black and thick with a drizzle of rain, and a heavy breeze snored through the _Flamingo’s_ scanty rigging. The second mate on the bridge was beating his fingerless woollen gloves against his ribs as a cure for cold fingers. The first mate and the third had already turned out, and were on the boatskids helping the carpenter with the housings, and overhauling davit falls. On that part of the horizon against which the _Flamingo’s_ bows sawed with great sweeping dives was a streaky, flickering yellow glow.

Kettle went on to an end of the bridge and peered ahead through the bridge binoculars. “A steamer,” he commented, “and a big one too; and she’s finely ablaze. Not much help we shall be able to give. It will be a case of taking off the crew, if they aren’t already cooked before we get there.” He looked over the side at the eddy of water that clung to the ship’s flank. “I see you’re shoving her along,” he said to the second mate.

“I sent word down to the engine-room to give her all they knew the moment we raised the glow. I thought you wouldn’t grudge the coal, sir.”

“No, quite right. Hope there aren’t too many of them to be picked off, or we shall make a tight fit on board here.”

“Funny we should be carrying the biggest cargo the old boat’s ever had packed into her. But we shall find room to house a few poor old sailormen. They won’t mind much where they stow, as long as they’re picked up out of the wet. B-r-r-rh!” shivered the second mate, “I shouldn’t much fancy open-boat cruising in the Western Ocean this weather.”

Captain Kettle stared on through the shiny brass binoculars. “Call all hands,” he said quietly. “That’s a big ship ahead of us, and she’ll carry a lot of people. God send she’s only an old tramp. At those lifeboats there!” he shouted. “Swing the davits outboard, and pass your painters forward. Hump yourselves, now.”

“There’s a lot of ice here, sir,” came a grumbling voice out of the darkness, “and the boats are frozen on to the chocks. We’ve got to hammer it away before they’ll hoist. The falls are that froze, too, that they’ll not render–“

“You call yourself a mate and hold a master’s ticket, and want to get a ship of your own!”–Kettle vaulted over the rail on to the top of the fiddley, and made for his second in command. “Here, my man, if your delicate fingers can’t do this bit of a job, give me that marlinspike. By James! do you hear me? Give up the marlinspike. Did you never see a boat iced up before? Now then, carpenter. Are you worth your salt? Or am I to clear both ends in this boat by myself?”

So, by example and tongue, Captain Kettle got his boats swung outboard, and the _Flamingo_, with her engines working at an unusual strain, surged rapidly nearer and nearer to the blaze.

On shore a house on fire at any hour draws a crowd. At sea, in the bleak cold wastes of the water desert, even one other shipload of sympathizers is too often wished for vainly. Wind, cold, and breakdowns of machinery the sailor accepts with dull indifference; shipwrecks, strandings, and disease he looks forward to as part of an inevitable fate; but fire goes nearer to cowing him than all other disasters put together; and the sight of his fellow-seamen attacked by these same desolating flames arouses in him the warmest of his sympathy, and the full of his resourcefulness. Moreover, in Kettle’s case, he had known the feel of a ship afire under his own feet, and so he could appreciate all the better the agony of these others.

But meanwhile, as the _Flamingo_ made her way up wind against the charging seas, a fear was beginning to grip the little shipmaster by the heart that was deep enough to cause him a physical nausea. The burning steamer ahead grew every minute more clear as they raced toward her. She was on fire forward, and she lay almost head-on toward them, keeping her stern to the seas, so that the wind would have no help in driving the flames aft, and making her more uninhabitable.

From a distance it had been hard to make out anything beyond great stacks of yellow flame, topped by inky, oily smoke, which drove in thick columns down the wind. As they drew nearer, and her size became more apparent, some one guessed her as a big cargo tramp from New Orleans with cotton that had overheated and fired, and Kettle took comfort from the suggestion and tried to believe that it might come true.

But as they closed with her, and came within earshot of her syren, which was sending frightened useless blares across the churning waters, there was no being blind to the true facts any longer. This was no cargo boat, but a passenger liner; outward bound, too, and populous. And as they came still nearer, they saw her after-decks black and wriggling with people, and Kettle got a glimpse of her structure and recognized the vessel herself.

“The _Grosser Carl_,” he muttered, “out of Hamburg for New York. Next to no first-class, and she cuts rates for third and gets the bulk of the German emigrant traffic. She’ll have six hundred on her this minute, and a hundred of a crew. Call it seven hundred all told, and there’s hell waiting for them over yonder, and getting worse every minute. Oh, great James! I wonder what’s going to be done. I couldn’t pack seventy of them on the old _Flam_ here, if I filled her to bursting.”

He clapped the binoculars to his eyes again, and stared diligently round the rim of the night. If only he could catch a glimpse of some other liner hurrying along her route, then these people could be saved easily. He could drop his boats to take them till the other passenger ship came up. But the wide sea was empty of lights; the _Flamingo_ and the _Grusser Carl_ had the stage severely to themselves; and between them they had the making of an intolerable weight of destiny.

The second mate broke in upon his commander’s brooding. “We shall have a nice bill for Lloyds this journey.”

Kettle made no answer. He continued staring moodily at the spouting flames ahead. The second mate coughed. “Shall I be getting derricks rigged and the hatch covers off?”

Kettle turned on him with a sudden fierceness. “Do you know you’re asking me to ruin myself?”

“But if we jettison cargo to make room for these poor beggars, sir, the insurance will pay.”

“Pay your grandmother. You’ve got a lot to learn, my lad, before you’re fit to take charge of a ship, if you don’t know any more than that about the responsibility of the cargo.”

“By Jove! that’s awkward. Birds would look pretty blue if the bill was handed in to them.”

“Birds!” said Kettle with contempt. “They aren’t liable for sixpence. Supposing you were travelling by train, and there was some one else’s portmanteau in the carriage, and you flung it out of the window into a river, who do you suppose would have to stand the racket?”

“Why, me. But then, sir, this is different.”

“Not a bit. If we start in to jettison cargo, it means I’m a ruined man. Every ton that goes over the side I’ll have to pay for.”

“We can’t leave those poor devils to frizzle,” said the second mate awkwardly.

“Oh, no, of course we can’t. They’re a pack of unclean Dutchmen we never saw before, and should think ourselves too good to brush against if we met them in the street, but sentiment demands that we stay and pull them out of their mess, and cold necessity leaves me to foot the bill. You’re young, and you’re not married, my lad. I’m neither. I’ve worked like a horse all my life, mostly with bad luck. Lately luck’s turned a bit. I’ve been able to make a trifle more, and save a few pounds out of my billets. And here and there, what with salvage and other things, I’ve come in the way of a plum. One way and another I’ve got nearly enough put by at home this minute to keep the missis and me and the girls to windward of the workhouse, even if I lost this present job with Birds, and didn’t find another.”

“Perhaps somebody else will pay for the cargo we have to put over the side, sir.”

“It’s pretty thin comfort when you’ve got a ‘perhaps’ of that size, and no other mortal stop between you and the workhouse. It’s all very well doing these things in hot blood; but the reckoning’s paid when you’re cold, and they’re cold, and with the Board of Trade standing-by like the devil in the background all ready to give you a kick when there’s a spare place for a fresh foot.” He slammed down the handle of the bridge-telegraph, and rang off the _Flamingo’s_ engines. He had been measuring distances all this time with his eye.

“But, of course, there’s no other choice about the matter. There’s the blessed cause of humanity to be looked after–humanity to these blessed Dutch emigrants that their own country doesn’t want, and every other country would rather be without. Humanity to my poor old missis and the kids doesn’t count. I shall get a sludgy paragraph in the papers for the _Grosser Carl_, headed ‘Gallant Rescue,’ with all the facts put upside down, and twelve months later there’ll be another paragraph about a ‘case of pitiful destitution.'”

“Oh, I say, sir, it won’t be as bad as all that. Birds will see you through.”

“Birds will do a fat lot. Birds sent me to work up a connection in the Mexican Gulf, and I’ve done it, and they’ve raised my screw two pound a month after four years’ service. I jettison the customers’ cargo, and probably sha’n’t be able to pay for half of it. Customers will get mad, and give their business to other lines which don’t run foul of blazing emigrant packets.”

“Birds would never dare to fire you out for that.”

“Oh, Lord, no! They’d say: ‘We don’t like the way you’ve taken to wear your back hair, Captain. And, besides, we want younger blood amongst our skippers. You’ll find your check ready for you in the outer office. Mind the step!'”

“I’m awfully sorry, Skipper. If there’s anything I can do, sir–“

Captain Kettle sighed, and looked drearily out at the blazing ship and the tumbled waste of sea on which she floated. But he felt that he had been showing weakness, and pulled himself together again smartly. “Yes, there is, my lad. I’m a disappointed man, and I’ve been talking a lot more than’s dignified. You’ll do me a real kindness if you’ll forget all that’s been said. Away with you on to the main deck, and get hatches off, and whip the top tier of that cargo over the side as fast as you can make the winches travel. If the old _Flamingo_ is going to serve out free hospitality, by James! she shall do it full weight. By James! I’d give the beggars champagne and spring mattresses if I’d got ’em.”

Meanwhile, those on the German emigrant steamer had seen the coming of the shabby little English trader with bumping hearts. Till then the crew, with (so to speak) their backs up against a wall, had fought the fire with diligence; but when the nearness of a potential rescuer was reported, they discovered for themselves at once that the fire was beyond control. They were joined by the stokehold gangs, and they made at once for the boats, overpowering any officer who happened to come between them and their desires. The limp, tottery, half-fed, wholly seasick emigrants they easily shoved aside, and these in their turn by sheer mass thrust back the small handful of first-class passengers, and away screamed out the davit tackles, as the boats were lowered full of madly frightened deck hands and grimy handlers of coal.

Panic had sapped every trace of their manhood. They had concern only for their own skins; for the miserables remaining on the _Grosser Carl_ they had none. And if for a minute any of them permitted himself to think, he decided that in the Herr Gott’s good time the English would send boats and fetch them off. The English had always a special gusto for this meddling rescue work.

However, it is easy to decide on lowering boats, but not always so easy to carry it into safe fact if you are mad with scare, and there is no one whom you will listen to to give the necessary simple orders. And, as a consequence, one boat, chiefly manned by the coal interest, swamped alongside before it could be shoved clear; the forward davit fall of another jammed, and let it dangle vertically up and down when the after fall overhauled; and only one boat got away clear.

The reception which this small cargo of worthies met with surprised them. They pulled with terrified haste to the _Flamingo_, got under her lee, and clung desperately to the line which was thrown to them. But to the rail above them came the man who expected to be ruined by this night’s work, and the pearls of speech which fell from his lips went home through even their thick hides.

Captain Kettle, being human, had greatly needed some one during the last half-hour to ease his feelings on–though he was not the man to own up to such a weakness, even to himself–and the boat came neatly to supply his want. It was long enough since he had found occasion for such an outburst, but the perfection of his early training stood him in good stead then. Every biting insult in his vocabulary, every lashing word that is used upon the seas, every gibe, national, personal, or professional, that a lifetime of hard language could teach, he poured out on that shivering boat’s crew then.

They were Germans certainly, but being an English shipmaster, he had, of course, many a time sailed with a forecastle filled with their nationality, and had acquired the special art of adapting his abuse to the “Dutchman’s” sensibilities, even as he had other harangues suited for Coolie or Dago mariners, or even for that rare sea-bird, the English sailorman. And as a final wind-up, after having made them writhe sufficiently, he ordered them to go back whence they came, and take a share in rescuing their fellows.

“Bud we shall trown,” shouted back one speaker from the wildly jumping boat.

“Then drown, and be hanged to you,” shouted Kettle. “I’m sure I don’t care if you do. But I’m not going to have cowards like you dirtying my deck-planks.” He cast off the line to which their boat rode under the steamer’s heaving side. “You go and do your whack at getting the people off that packet, or, so help me James! none of you shall ever see your happy Dutchland again.”

Meanwhile, so the irony of the fates ordered it, the two mates, each in charge of one of the _Flamingo’s_ lifeboats, were commanding crews made up entirely of Germans and Scandinavians, and pluckier and more careful sailormen could not have been wished for. The work was dangerous, and required more than ordinary nerve and endurance and skill. A heavy sea ran, and from its crests a spindrift blew which cut the face like whips, and numbed all parts of the body with its chill. The boats were tossed about like playthings, and required constant bailing to keep them from being waterlogged. But Kettle had brought the _Flamingo_ to windward of the _Grosser Carl_, and each boat carried a line, so that the steam winches could help her with the return trips.

Getting a cargo was, however, the chief difficulty. All attempt at killing the fire was given up by this time. All vestige of order was swamped in unutterable panic. The people on board had given themselves up to wild, uncontrollable anarchy. If a boat had been brought alongside, they would have tumbled into her like sheep, till their numbers swamped her. They cursed the flames, cursed the sea, cursed their own brothers and sisters who jostled them. They were the sweepings from half-fed middle Europe, born with raw nerves; and under the sudden stress of danger, and the absence of some strong man to thrust discipline on them, they became practically maniacs. They were beyond speech, many of them. They yammered at the boats which came to their relief, with noises like those of scared beasts.

Now the _Flamingo’s_ boats were officered by two cool, profane mates, who had no nerves themselves, and did not see the use of nerves in other people. Neither of them spoke German, but (after the style of their island) presuming that some of those who listened would understand English, they made proclamation in their own tongue to the effect that the women were to be taken off first.

“Kids with them,” added the second mate.

“And if any of you rats of men shove your way down here,” said the chief mate, “before all the skirt is ferried across, you’ll get knocked on the head, that’s all. Savvy that belaying-pin I got in my fist? Now then, get some bowlines, and sway out the ladies.”

As well might the order have been addressed to a flock of sheep. They heard what was said in an agonized silence. Then each poor soul there stretched out his arms or hers, and clamored to be saved–and–never mind the rest. And meanwhile the flames bit deeper and deeper into the fabric of the steamer, and the breath of them grew more searching, as the roaring gale blew them into strength.

“You ruddy Dutchmen,” shouted the second mate. “It would serve you blooming well right if you were left to be frizzled up into one big sausage stew together. However, we’ll see if kindness can’t tame you a bit yet.” He waited till the swirl of a sea swung his boat under one of the dangling davit falls, and caught hold of it, and climbed nimbly on board. Then he proceeded to clear a space by the primitive method of crashing his fist into every face within reach.

“Now then,” he shouted, “if there are any sailormen here worth their salt, let them come and help. Am I to break up the whole of this ship’s company by myself?”

Gradually, by ones and twos, the _Grosser Carl’s_ remaining officers and deck hands came shamefacedly toward this new nucleus of authority and order, and then the real work began. The emigrants, with sea sights and sea usage new to them, were still full of the unreasoning panic of cattle, and like cattle they were herded and handled, and their women and young cut out from the general mob. These last were got into the swaying, dancing boats as tenderly as might be, and the men were bidden to watch, and wait their turn. When they grew restive, as the scorching fire drew more near, they were beaten savagely; the _Grosser Carl’s_ crew, with the shame of their own panic still raw on them, knew no mercy; and the second mate of the _Flamingo_, who stood against a davit, insulted them all with impartial cheerfulness. He was a very apt pupil, this young man, of that master of ruling men at the expense of their feelings, Captain Owen Kettle.

Meanwhile the two lifeboats took one risky journey after another, being drawn up to their own ship by a chattering winch, discharging their draggled freight with dexterity and little ceremony, and then laboring back under oars for another. The light of the burning steamer turned a great sphere of night into day, and the heat from her made the sweat pour down the faces of the toiling men, though the gale still roared, and the icy spindrift still whipped and stung. On the _Flamingo_, Captain Kettle cast into the sea with a free hand what represented the savings of a lifetime, provision for his wife and children, and an old-age pension for himself.

The _Grosser Carl_ had carried thirty first-class passengers, and these were crammed into the _Flamingo’s_ slender cabin accommodation, filling it to overflowing. The emigrants–Austrians, Bohemians, wild Poles, filthy, crawling Russian Jews, bestial Armenians, human _debris_ which even soldier-coveting Middle Europe rejected–these were herded down into the holds, as rich cargo was dug out by the straining winches, and given to the thankless sea to make space for them.

“Kindly walk up,” said Kettle, with bitter hospitality, as fresh flocks of them were heaved up over the bulwarks. “Don’t hesitate to grumble if the accommodation isn’t exactly to your liking. We’re most pleased to strike out cargo to provide you with an elegant parlor, and what’s left I’m sure you’ll be able to sit on and spoil. Oh, you filthy, long-haired cattle! Did none of you ever wash?”

Fiercely the _Grosser Carl_ burned to the fanning of the gale, and like furies worked the men in the boats. The _Grosser Carl’s_ own boat joined the other two, once the ferrying was well under way. She had hung alongside after Kettle cast off her line, with her people madly clamoring to be taken on board; but as all they received for their pains was abuse and coal-lumps–mostly, by the way, from their own fellow-countrymen, who made up the majority of the _Flamingo’s_ crew–they were presently driven to help in the salving work through sheer scare at being left behind to drown unless they carried out the fierce little English Captain’s orders.

The _Flamingo’s_ chief mate oversaw the dangerous ferrying, and though every soul that was transshipped might be said to have had ten narrow escapes in transit over that piece of tossing water, luck and good seamanship carried the day, and none was lost. And on the _Grosser Carl_ the second mate, a stronger man, brazenly took entire command, and commended to the nether gods all who suggested ousting him from that position. “I don’t care a red what your official post was on this ship before I came,” said the second mate to several indignant officers. “You should have held on to it when you had it. I’ve never been a skipper before, but I’m skipper here now by sheer right of conquest, and I’m going to stay on at that till the blooming old ship’s burnt out. If you bother me, I’ll knock your silly nose into your watch-pocket. Turn-to there and pass down another batch of those squalling passengers into the boats. Don’t you spill any of them overboard either, or, by the Big Mischief, I’ll just step down and teach you handiness.”

The second mate was almost fainting with the heat before he left the _Grosser Carl_, but he insisted on being the last man on board, and then guyed the whole performance with caustic gayety when he was dragged out of the water, into which he had been forced to jump, and was set to drain on the floor gratings of a boat.

The _Grosser Carl_ had fallen away before the wind, and was spouting flame from stem-head to poop-staff by the time the last of the rescuers and the rescued were put on the _Flamingo’s_ deck, and on that travel-worn steamboat were some six hundred and fifty visitors that somehow or other had to be provided for.

The detail of famine now became of next importance. They were still five days’ steam away from port, and their official provision supply was only calculated to last the _Flamingos_ themselves for a little over that time. Things are cut pretty fine in these days of steam voyages to scheduled time. So there was no sentimental waiting to see the _Grosser Carl_ finally burn out and sink. The boats were cast adrift, as the crews were too exhausted to hoist them in, and the _Flamingo’s_ nose was turned toward Liverpool. Pratt, the chief engineer, figured out to half a ton what coal he had remaining, and set the pace so as to run in with empty bunkers. They were cool now, all hands, from the excitement of the burning ship, and the objectionable prospect of semi-starvation made them regard their visitors less than ever in the light of men and brothers.

But, as it chanced, toward the evening of next day, a hurrying ocean greyhound overtook them in her race from New York toward the East, and the bunting talked out long sentences in the commercial code from the wire span between the _Flamingo’s_ masts. Fresh quartettes of flags flicked up on both steamers, were acknowledged, and were replaced by others; and when the liner drew up alongside, and stopped with reversed propellers, she had a loaded boat ready swung out in davits, which dropped in the water the moment she had lost her way. The bunting had told the pith of the tale.

When the two steamers’ bridges were level, the liner’s captain touched his cap, and a crowd of well-dressed passengers below him listened wonderingly. “Afternoon, Captain. Got ’em all?”

“Afternoon, Captain. Oh, we didn’t lose any. But a few drowned their silly selves before we started to shepherd them.”

“What ship was it? The French boat would be hardly due yet.”

“No, the old _Grosser Carl_. She was astern of her time. Much obliged to you for the grub, Captain. We’d have been pretty hard pushed if we hadn’t met you. I’m sending you a payment order. Sorry for spoiling your passage.”

The liner captain looked at his watch.

“Can’t be helped. It’s in a good cause, I suppose, though the mischief of it is we were trying to pull down the record by an hour or so. The boat, there! Are you going to be all night with that bit of stuff?”

The cases of food were transshipped with frantic haste, and the boat returned. The greyhound leaped out into her stride again the moment she had hooked on, and shot ahead, dipping a smart blue ensign in salute. The _Flamingo_ dipped a dirty red ensign and followed, and, before dark fell, once more had the ocean to herself.

The voyage home was not one of oppressive gayety. The first-class passengers, who were crammed into the narrow cabin found the quarters uncomfortable, and the little shipmaster’s manner repellent. Urged by the precedent in such matters, they “made a purse” for him, and a presentation address. But as they merely collected some thirty-one pounds in paper promises, which, so far, have never been paid, their gratitude may be said to have had its economical side.

To the riffraff in the hold, for whose accommodation a poor man’s fortune had been jettisoned, the thing “gratitude” was an unknown emotion. They plotted mischief amongst themselves, stole when the opportunity came to them, were unspeakably foul in their habits, and, when they gave the matter any consideration at all, decided that this fierce little captain with the red torpedo beard had taken them on board merely to fulfil some selfish purpose of his own. To the theorist who has sampled them only from a distance, these off-scourings of Middle Europe are downtrodden people with souls; to those who happen to know them personally, all their qualities seem to be conspicuously negative.

The _Flamingo_ picked up the landmarks of the Southern Irish coast, and made her number to Lloyd’s station on Brow Head, stood across for the Tuskar, and so on up St. George’s Channel for Holyhead. She flew a pilot jack there, and off Point Lynus picked up a pilot, who, after the custom of his class, stepped up over the side with a hard felt hat on his head, and a complete wardrobe, and a selection of daily papers in his pocket.

“Well, pilot, what’s the news?” said Kettle, as the man of narrow waters swung himself up on to the bridge, and his boat swirled away astern.

“You are,” said the pilot. “The papers are just full of you, Captain, all of them, from the _Shipping Telegraph_ to the London _Times_. The Cunard boat brought in the yarn. A pilot out of my schooner took her up.”

“How do they spell the name? Cuttle?”

“Well, I think it’s ‘Kattle’ mostly, though one paper has it ‘Kelly.'”

“Curse their cheek,” said the little sailor, flushing. “I’d like to get hold of some of those blowsy editors that come smelling round the dock after yarns and drink, and wring their necks.”

“Starboard a point,” said the pilot, and when the quartermaster at the wheel had duly repeated the course, he turned to Kettle with some amusement. “Blowsy or not, they don’t seem to have done you much harm this journey, Captain. Why, they’re getting up subscriptions for you all round. Shouldn’t wonder but what the Board of Trade even stands you a pair of binoculars.”

“I’m not a blessed mendicant,” said Kettle stiffly, “and as for the Board of Trade, they can stick their binoculars up their trousers.” He walked to the other end of the bridge, and stood there chewing savagely at the butt end of his cigar.

“Rum bloke,” commented the pilot to himself, though aloud he offered no comment, being a man whose business it was to keep on good terms with everybody. So he dropped his newspapers to one of the mates, and applied himself to the details of the pilotage.

Still, the pilot was right in saying that England was ringing with the news of Kettle’s feat. The passengers of the Cunarder, with nothing much else to interest them, had come home thrilled and ringing with it. A smart New Yorker had got a “scoop” by slipping ashore at Queenstown and cabling a lavish account to the American Press Association, so that the first news reached London from the States. Followed Reuter’s man and the Liverpool reporters on Prince’s landing-stage, who came to glean copy as in the ordinary course of events, and they being spurred on by wires from London for full details, got down all the facts available, and imagined others. Parliament was not sitting, and there had been no newspaper sensation for a week, and, as a natural consequence, the papers came out next morning with accounts of the rescue varying from two columns to a page in length.

It is one of the most wonderful attributes of the modern Press that it can, at any time between midnight and publishing hours, collate and elaborate the biography of a man who hitherto has been entirely obscure, and considering the speed of the work, and the difficulties which hedge it in, these lightning life sketches are often surprisingly full of accuracies. But let the frillings in this case be fact or fiction, there was no doubt that Kettle and his crew had saved a shipload of panic-stricken foreign emigrants, and (to help point the moral) within the year, in an almost similar case, another shipload had been drowned through that same blind, helpless, hopeless panic. The pride of race bubbled through the British Daily Press in prosaic long primer and double-leaded bourgeois. There was no saying aloud, “We rejoice that an Englishman has done this thing, after having it proved to us that it was above the foreigner’s strength.” The newspaper man does not rhapsodize. But the sentiment was there all the same, and it was that which actuated the sudden wave of enthusiasm which thrilled the country.

[Illustration: STRANGERS CAME UP AND WRUNG KETTLE’S UNWILLING HAND.]

The _Flamingo_ was worked into dock, and a cheering crowd surged aboard of her in unrestrainable thousands. Strangers came up and wrung Kettle’s unwilling hand, and dropped tears on his coat-sleeve; and when he swore at them, they only wept the more and smiled through the drops. It was magnificent, splendid, gorgeous. Here was a man! Who said that England would ever lose her proud place among the nations when she could still find men like Oliver Kelly–or Kattle–or Cuttle, or whatever this man was called, amongst her obscure merchant captains?

Even Mr. Isaac Bird, managing owner, caught some of the general enthusiasm, and withheld, for the present, the unpleasant remarks which occurred to him as suitable, touching Kettle’s neglect of the firm’s interest in favor of a parcel of bankrupt foreigners. But Kettle himself had the subject well in mind. When all this absurd fuss was over, then would come the reckoning; and whilst the crowd was cheering him, he was figuring out the value of the jettisoned cargo, and whilst pompous Mr. Isaac was shaking him by the hand and making a neat speech for the ear of casual reporters, poor Kettle was conjuring up visions of the workhouse and pauper’s corduroy.

But the Fates were moving now in a manner which was beyond his experience. The public, which had ignored his bare existence before for all of a lifetime, suddenly discovered that he was a hero, and that, too, without knowing half the facts. The Press, with its finger on the public’s pulse, published Kettle literature in lavish columns. It gave twenty different “eye-witnesses’ accounts” of the rescue. It gave long lists of “previous similar disasters.” It drew long morals in leading articles. And finally, it took all the little man’s affairs under its consideration, and settled them with a lordly hand.

“Who pays for the cargo Captain Kuttle threw overboard?” one paper headed an article; whilst another wrote perfervidly about “Cattle ruined for his bravery.” Here was a new and striking side issue. Lloyds’ were not responsible. Should the week’s hero pay the bill himself out of his miserable savings? Certainly not. The owners of the _Grosser Carl_ were the benefiting parties, and it was only just that they should take up the expense. So the entire Press wired off to the German firm, and next morning were able to publish a positive assurance that of course these grateful foreigners would reimburse all possible outlay.

The subject of finance once broached, it was naturally discovered that the hero toiled for a very meagre pittance, that he was getting on in years, and had a wife and family depending on him–and–promptly, there opened out the subscription lists. People were stirred, and they gave nicely, on the lower scale certainly, with shillings and guineas predominating; but the lists totalled up to L2,400, which to some people, of course, is gilded affluence.

Now Captain Kettle had endured all this publicity with a good deal of restiveness, and had used language to one or two interviewers who managed to ferret him out, which fairly startled them; but this last move for a public subscription made him furious. He spoke in the captain’s room of the hostelry he used, of the degradation which was put on him, and various other master mariners who were present entirely agreed with him. “I might be a blessed missionary, or India-with-a-famine, the way they’re treating me,” he complained bitterly. “If they call a meeting to give me anything, I’ll chuck the money in their faces, and let them know straight what I think. By James! do they suppose I’ve got no pride? Why can’t they let me alone? If the _Grosser Carl_ people pay up for that cargo, that’s all I want.”

But the eternal healer, Time, soothed matters down wonderfully. Captain Owen Kettle’s week’s outing in the daily papers ran its course with due thrills and headlines, and then the Press forgot him, and rushed on to the next sensation. By the time the subscription list had closed and been brought together, the _Flamingo_ had sailed for her next slow round trip in the Mexican Gulf, and when her captain returned to find a curt, formal letter from a firm of bankers, stating that L2,400 had been placed to his credit in their establishment, he would have been more than human if he had refused it. And, as a point of fact, after consulting with Madam, his wife, he transformed it into houses in that terrace of narrow dwellings in Birkenhead which represented the rest of his savings.

Now on paper this house property was alleged by a sanguine agent to produce at the rate of L15 per annum apiece, and as there were thirty-six houses, this made an income–on paper–of well over L500 a year, the which is a very nice possession.

A thing, moreover, which Captain Kettle had prophesied had come to pass. The “trade connection” in the Mexican Gulf had been very seriously damaged. As was somewhat natural, the commercial gentry there did not relish having their valuable cargo pitched unceremoniously to Neptune, and preferred to send what they had by boats which did not contrive to meet burning emigrant liners. This, of course, was quite unreasonable of them, but one can only relate what happened.

And then the second part of the prophecy evolved itself naturally. Messrs. Bird discovered from the last indent handed them that more paint had been used over the _Flamingo’s_ fabric than they thought consistent with economy, and so they relieved Captain Kettle from the command, handed him their check for wages due–there was no commission to be added for such an unsatisfactory voyage as this last–and presented him gratis with their best wishes for his future welfare.

Kettle had thought of telling the truth in print, but the mysterious law of libel, which it is written that all mariners shall dread and never understand, scared him; and besides, he was still raw from his recent week’s outing in the British Press. So he just went and gave his views to Mr. Isaac Bird personally and privately, threw the ink-bottle through the office window, pitched the box of business cigars into the fire, and generally pointed his remarks in a way that went straight to Mr. Bird’s heart, and then prepared peacefully to take his departure.

“I shall not prosecute you for this–” said Mr. Isaac.

“I wish you dare. It would suit me finely to get into a police-court and be able to talk. I’d willingly pay my ‘forty shillings and’ for the chance. They’d give me the option fast enough.”

“I say I shall not prosecute you because I have no time to bother with law. But I shall send your name round amongst the shipowners, and with my word against you, you’ll never get another command so long as the world stands.”

“You knock-kneed little Jew,” said Kettle truculently, “do you think I’m giving myself the luxury of letting out at a shipowner, after knuckling down to the breed through all of a weary life, unless I knew my ground? I’ve done with ships and the sea for always, and if you give me any more of your lip, I’ll burn your office down and you in it.”

“You seem pleased enough with yourself about something,” said Mr. Isaac.

“I am,” said Kettle exultantly. “I’ve chucked the sea for good. I’ve taken a farm in Wharfedale, and I’m going to it this very week.”

“Then,” said Mr. Isaac sardonically, “if you’ve taken a farm, don’t let me wish you any further ill. Good-morning.”

But Kettle was not to be damped out of conceit with his life’s desire by a few ill-natured words. He gave Mr. Isaac Bird his final blessing, commenting on his ancestors, his personal appearance, his prospects of final salvation, and then pleasantly took his leave. He was too much occupied in the preliminaries of his new life to have much leisure just then for further cultivation of the gentle art of insult.

The farm he had rented lay in the Wharfe Valley above Skipton, and, though its acreage was large, a good deal was made up of mere moorland sheep pasture. Luckily he recognized that a poetical taste for a rural life might not necessarily imply the whole mystery of stock rearing and agriculture, and so he hired a capable foreman as philosopher and guide. And here I may say that his hobby by no means ruined him, as might reasonably be expected; for in the worst years he never dropped more than fifty or sixty pounds, and frequently he ran the place without loss, or even at a profit.

But though it is hard to confess that a man’s ideal comes short of his expectations when put to the trial, I am free to confess that although he enjoyed it all, Kettle was not at his happiest when he was attending his crops or his sheep, or haggling with his fellow farmers on Mondays over fat beasts in Skipton market.

He had gone back to one of his more practiced tastes–if one calls it a taste–the cultivation of religion. The farm stood bleak and lonely on the slope of a hillside, and on both flanks of the dale were other lonely farms as far as the eye could see. There was no village. The nearest place of worship was four miles away, and that was merely a church. But in the valley beside the Wharfe was a small gray stone chapel, reared during some bygone day for the devotions of some forgotten sect. Kettle got this into his control.

He was by no means a rich man. The row of houses in Birkenhead were for the most part tenanted by the wives of mercantile marine engineers and officers, who were chronically laggard with their rent, and whom _esprit de corps_ forbade him to press; and so, what with this deficit, and repairs and taxes, and one thing and another, it was rarely that half the projected L500 a year found its way into his banking account. But a tithe of whatever accrued to him was scrupulously set aside for the maintenance of the chapel.

He imported there the grim, narrow creed he had learned in South Shields, and threw open the door for congregations. He was entirely in earnest over it all, and vastly serious. Failing another minister, he himself took the services, and though, on occasion, some other brother was induced to preach, it was he himself who usually mounted the pulpit beneath the sounding-board. He purchased an American organ, and sent his eldest daughter weekly to take lessons in Skipton till she could play it. And Mrs. Kettle herself led the singing.

Still further, the chapel has its own collection of hymns, specially written, printed and dedicated to its service. The book is Captain Kettle’s first published effort. Heaven and its author alone know under what wild circumstances most of those hymns were written.

The chapel started its new span of life with a congregation meagre enough, but Sunday by Sunday the number grew. They are mostly Nonconformists in the dales, and when once a man acquires a taste for dissent, he takes a sad delight in sampling his neighbors’ variations of creed. Some came once and were not seen again. Others came and returned. They felt that this was the loneliest of all modern creeds; indeed, Kettle preached as much, and one can take a melancholy pride in splendid isolation.

I am not sure that Captain Kettle does not find the restfulness of his present life a trifle too accentuated at times, though this is only inevitable for one who has been so much a man of action. But at any rate he never makes complaint. He is a strong man, and he governs himself even as he governs his family and the chapel circle, with a strong, just hand. The farm is a model of neatness and order; paint is lavished in a way that makes dalesmen lift their eyebrows; and the routine of the household is as strict as that of a ship.

The house is unique, too, in Wharfedale for the variety of its contents. Desperately poor though Kettle might be on many of his returns from his unsuccessful ventures, he never came back to his wife without some present from a foreign clime as a tangible proof of his remembrance, and because these were usually mere curiosities, without intrinsic value, they often evaded the pawn-shop in those years of dire distress, when more negotiable articles passed irretrievably away from the family possession. And with them too, in stiff, decorous frames, are those certificates and testimonials which a master mariner always collects, together with photographs of gratuitously small general interest.

But one might turn the house upside down without finding so carnal an instrument as a revolver, and when I suggested to Kettle once that we might go outside and have a little pistol practice, he glared at me, and I thought he would have sworn. However, he let me know stiffly enough that whatever circumstances might have made him at sea, he had always been a very different man ashore in England, and there the matter dropped.

But speaking of mementoes, there is one link with the past that Mrs. Kettle, poor woman, never ceases to regret the loss of. “Such a beautiful gold watch,” she says it was too, “with the Emperor’s and the Captain’s names engraved together on the back, and just a nice mention of the _Gross of Carl_.” As it happened, I saw the letter with which it was returned. It ran like this:–

_To His Majesty the German Emperor, Berlin, Germany

S.S. “Flamingo,”
Liverpool,

Sir,

I am in receipt of watch sent by your agent, the German ambassador in London, which I return herewith. It is not my custom to accept presents from people I don’t know, especially if I have talked about them. I have talked about you, not liking several thing’s you’ve done, especially telegraphing about Dr. Jameson. Sir, you should remember that man was down when you sent your wire and couldn’t hit back. Some of the things I have said about German deck hands you needn’t take too much notice about. They aren’t so bad as they might be if properly handled. But they want handling. Likewise learning English.

My wife wants to keep your photo, so I send you one of hers in return, so there shall be no robbery. She has written her name over it, same as yours.

Yours truly,
O. Kettle (Master)._