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IT may appear strange that during the days and nights Michael J. Murphy lay on his bed of pain Terence Reardon did not once pass the little open window of the skipper's state-room. Not, however, that the latter watched for him, for he did not. He believed that Reardon, like himself, was a prisoner; although, had the chief passed the window and had the captain observed his passing, the complacence of Herr von Staden and his patriotic company would have received a jar much earlier in the voyage.
Unfortunately, however, for Murphy's plans, the chief's stateroom was located in the after part of the house and on the side opposite the skipper's, and following their brief spat through the speaking-tube, Terence Reardon had confined himself exclusively to his engine-room and that portion of the ship along which he must of necessity pass when going to and from his state-room. He told himself it was the part of wisdom for one of his ferocious temper to avoid the occasions of sin. Certainly it would be hard to pass the skipper's state-room without looking in, particularly since in these warm latitudes the door would probably be open; for should the skipper be within at the time, they would peradventure scowl at each other, and he is a fool indeed who cannot foretell the future when a thousand generations of natural enemies exchange "the black look." Terence remembered his boy Johnny, a youth who, according to Mrs. Reardon, should never be a marine engineer, but the finest lawyer that ever pouched a fat fee. And there was Mary Agnes and Catherine Bertram. Next year they would begin taking piano lessons, and in the fullness of time, no matter how hard the pull, both should go to the state university and acquire the education made to fit their father's head, but by force of circumstances denied him. And at the thought Terence looked at his hard black hands and set himself resolutely to face a life sentence of rattling ash hoists, roaring furnaces and the soft sucking sounds of the pistons. Two hundred dollars a month--and the union scale was a hundred and fifty! Ah, no, he dared not trifle with that job. He must, at all hazard, avoid friction with the skipper, for what would Mrs. Reardon say if Cappy Ricks forced him to roll the bones with Mike Murphy--one flop and high man out? Mr. Reardon could close his eyes and see Mike Murphy roll out a "stiff," while with trembling hand the Reardon rolled five sixes!
The Narcissus had been out of Pernambuco harbor four days before Mr. Reardon, upon comparing the sun--which all are agreed rises in the east--with the direction in which the ship was headed, and then extracting the cube root of the resultant product, and subtracting it from the longtitude and latitude of the Cape of Good Hope, decided that there must be something wrong with Mr. Schultz's navigation. So he spoke to Mr. Schultz about it, and was laughingly informed that they were traveling on a great circle. Thereupon Mr. Reardon remembered that at sea a ship traveling on the arc of a great circle, for some mysterious reason repudiates the old geometrical theorem that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points. He recalled that vessels plying between San Francisco and Yokohama describe a great circle which brings them well up toward the Aleutian Islands, So he was satisfied with the explanation, this being his first voyage into the South Atlantic anyhow; but he continued to observe the sun each morning, and still the vessel's head held far to the south. A suspicion that all was not as it should be slowly settled in Mr. Reardon's head, and though he said nothing, he used his ejes and ears. A dozen times a day, as the ship rolled steadily south, he was tempted to take down the speaking tube and confide his suspicions to the master, confined in his state-room by reason of deep--but not serious-knife wounds. Each time he was on the point of yielding, however, he remembered that Mike Murphy had called him a renegade--so he refrained.
The installation of the wireless plant and the presence aboard the ship of Herr von Staden had failed to arouse his suspicions the first day out. True, the wireless could not have been connected with the electric light plant below without Mr. Reardon's knowledge and consent, but when he asked Mr. Schultz about it the latter replied that Cappy Ricks must have changed his mind about installing wireless on the Narcissus, for he had cabled to the agents of the charterers in Pernambuco to have a wireless plant and a competent operator waiting for the vessel upon arrival. It was Mr. Schultz's opinion that the owners had evidently arrived at the conclusion that it was wise to have a wireless aboard during war times. Personally, Mr. Schultz approved of the innovation.
So did Terence Reardon, for that matter. He found the new wireless operator a charming fellow, possessed of talents far superior to those of the young men who ordinarily pound the brass at sea. Indeed, after the second day out, Mr. Reardon would have been heartbroken had anything happened to that wireless. For Herr August Carl von Staden sat at the key almost continuously, eavesdropping on the war news, and Mr. Reardon never came to the wireless room that the operator did not have some news of an overwhelming British defeat!
As the voyage proceeded, however, and Mr. Reardon's mind grew a trifle uneasy, reluctantly he began to view Herr von Staden and the wireless with apprehension. He asked the affable operator how much the Marconi company charged the Narcissus for his services and the rental of the wireless plant, and von Staden, momentarily stumped, replied that the tariff was two hundred dollars a month; whereupon Reardon knew he lied, for the charge is one hundred and forty. The German, realizing instantly that he was not on the target, added: "That is, for a first-grade operator and a plant like this. Of course we furnish cheaper operators and less powerful plants, Mr. Reardon."
"Oh! So that's the way av it?" the chief replied, and immediately went to his state-room for the purpose of thinking it over. Eventually he came to the conclusion that all was not as it should be, but that, nevertheless, it was no affair of his. He was paid to obey signals given him from the bridge.
"'Tis no business av mine, afther all," he soliloquized. "For why should I be puttin' dogs in windows? He's paid to navigate the ship, an' didn't Cappy Ricks tell me to mind me own business? And yet, there's something wrong in this ship. I feel it in me bones."
He felt it with a force that was almost violent when Mr. Schultz called down through the speaking-tube late one afternoon and told him to put her under a dead-slow bell. That meant they were practically heaving to, and steamers only heave to at sea in fine weather when they have reached a certain longitude and latitude and plan to keep an appointment. On the instant there was a strong odor of rat in Terence Reardon's engine room, but his "Very well, sir," contained no hint of his surprise and suspicion. He gave his orders to the firemen to bank the fires, and when this had been done he informed his engine-room crew that they might all go on deck for five minutes and get a breath of fresh air. Nothing loath, they scrambled up the steel stairway--and the instant the last man was out of earshot Terence Reardon sprang to the speaking-tube to whistle up the skipper in his room.
Now, undoubtedly the cool and calculating Herr August Carl von Staden had been carefully trained to take into consideration, when planning his strategy, every conceivable contingency that might possibly arise. It is probable that the German secret service never turned out a more finished graduate than Herr von Staden; but the fact remains, nevertheless, that there are certain contingencies over which no human being has control. One of these is Newton's law of gravitation; another, an equally immutable law to the effect that water will seek its own level; a third, the vindictiveness of an outraged Irishman; and a fourth, the very natural tendency of any man, not excepting Mr. Terence Reardon, to be profoundly surprised and intensely curious when certain phenomena, which we shall now proceed to explain, take place in the engine room where he is chief.
Michael J. Murphy, having only the day before again essayed the task of whistling up the engine room, and having, by reason of the ball of cotton waste with which the tube had been plugged by the first assistant engineer, again failed to receive the courtesy of a reply from any one, had, to put it mildly, been annoyed.
"Very well, my bullies," he soliloquized as he hung up the tube, "you wouldn't speak to me when I wanted to speak to you; so now the first time one of you wants to speak to me I'll hand you a surprise, and I'll hand it to you right in the mouth." And forthwith Michael J. had carefully poured down the speaking tube the contents of the basin in which he had just made his morning ablutions! He longed to do something nasty, and he succeeded admirably.
As we have already remarked, water seeks its own level. It ran down the speaking-tube until it encountered the cotton waste plug; whereupon, due to the hydrostatic pressure, the plug gave way and was forced down to the tightly closed mouth of the tube, and the suds backed up behind it. It was pretty warm in the engine room, and most of the water had evaporated by the time Terence Reardon took down the looped tube and opened it for the purpose of putting his lips to the mouthpiece and blowing heartily through it. However, there was about a gill of water left in the tube.
Now, as everybody knows, water running down a slope of seventy-five or eighty degrees comes rather fast. Consequently Mr. Reardon had no time to dodge.
Why be squeamish? He got a mouthful and was very nauseated for half a minute. Also he cursed, we regret to record, and was very, very angry. Carefully he drained the devilish tube, wiped it clean with some fresh waste, and racked his brain for the right thing to say to Michael J. Murphy. Finally he hit upon something he concluded would about fill the bill, so he put his lips to the mouthpiece once more and whistled up the skipper. To his surprise, however, his breath didn't seem to get anywhere: in fact, it was directed back in his face rather forcefully; so he investigated and discovered the mouthpiece was only half open. Upon endeavoring to open it fully he sensed an obstruction in the back of it, so he unscrewed the mouthpiece and drew forth a ball of dirty, sour-smelling cotton waste.
He gazed a moment in speechless wonder. Then: "I'll whistle that dirrty Tomfool, until he answers me in self-defense," he announced'to the main motor, and forthwith blew a mighty blast. Almost instantly Michael J. Murphy yelled: "Hullo!"
"Murphy," Terence Reardon announced calmly and very distinctly, "you're a contimptible dhrunken ape!"
"Holy Moses! Reardon, is that you?" the astounded Murphy demanded.
"It is-as you'll discover whin you're able to come on deck an' give me the satisfaction I'll demand for the dirrty dab av wather an' cotton waste you put in the tube, knowin' that the firrst time I took it down to spheak to you, ye blackguard, in the line av djooty--which is the only reason I would spheak to you--I'd get it full in the mouth. Ye dirrty, lyin', schamin', dhrunken murrderer!"
He paused to let that stream of adjectival opprobrium sink in. Silence. Then:
"I poured the contents of my washbasin in the tube, I'll admit, but I did not plug it with cotton waste. One of your assistants did that, chief, and as for the water, as God is my judge, I didn't intend it for you--"
"Who else would ye be afther insultin' if it wasn't me? Are ye not friendly wit' me assistants?"
"Forgive me, Reardon, and listen to what I'm going to tell you."
And then the tale was told. When it was done Terence Reardon grunted.
"I knew it!" he said. "I knew it! I felt in me bones there was something wrong aboard this ship. An' so ye were not dhrunk an' disordherly at Pernambuco?"
"The liars! Did they tell you that? Reardon, it's only the mercy of heaven they didn't murder me. I'm lying here, helpless and crippled in my state-room, with the key turned in the lock. They've stolen my ship from me, and I can tell by the roll of her she's practically hove to under a dead-slow bell this minute. We've reached the rendezvous--we're waiting for the German fleet to deliver the coal; and oh, man, man, if we're caught by a British cruiser we'll lose the ship! They'll confiscate her, chief. Wirra! Wirra!" he cried, breaking into the forgotten wail of his childhood. "How can I ever face Matt Peasley and Cappy Ricks after this? Reardon, man, they'll think we stood in with the Germans and let them do it. We're both Irish--they know we're both pro-German--"
"What's that you said?" Terence demanded sharply. "Me pro-German. Me? I was pro-German--yis--wanst!"
Fell a silence.
Now, for the benefit of the uninitiated, be it known that there is a certain curse employed by the Irish and by no other race on earth. Whenever you hear an Irishman employ it, you know instantly-- provided, of course, you are Irish yourself--just what kind of Irish that Irishman is. You cannot mistake it. There is no possible chance. It is only brought forth with the dust of the centuries on it, so to speak, to grace a fitting occasion. Terence Reardon felt that such an occasion was now at hand. As naturally, as inevitably, therefore, as the suds ran down the speaking-tube, that curse climbed up it--softly, distinctly, and with a wealth of feeling in the back of it:
"God put the curse av Crummle on thim!"
Mr. Reardon, of course, referred to the late Oliver Cromwell. Any one who has ever read the sorry history of Erin knows what the amiable Oliver did to the Irish. Consequently such an one will have no difficulty in estimating the precise proportions of bad luck Terence Reardon prayed might be the immediate heritage of the crew of the S.S. Narcissus.
Michael J. Murphy blinked rapidly, for all the world as if Mr. Schultz had entered at that moment and struck him a terrific blow on top of the head. A more dazed Irishman than he never threw an ancient egg or a defunct cat at an alleged Celtic comedian with green whiskers. He was absolutely staggered--but not for long. The Irish come back very quickly.
"Shame on you, Terence Reardon!" he declared. "And you with a Masonic ring on your finger."
"Glory be!" cried the delighted Terence. "Sure are you wan av us?"
"One of you!" Mike Murphy fairly shrieked. "The minute I'm out of this room you'll apologize or fight for thinking I'm a renegade."
"Naboclish!" laughed Terence Reardon, slipping into the Gaelic and out again. "The divil a Mason am I! Sure that ring ye saw on me finger that day in the office av the owners belonged to me second assistant in the Arab. He'd lost it in the engine room, an' a mont' afther he'd left I found it. Not knowin' what ship he was in, 'twas me intintion to take the ring over to the Marine Engineers' Association an' lave it for him wit' the secreth'ry; and to make sure I wouldn't forget it I put it on me finger--"
"Well, you knew, Terence, that with the likes of me round you'd not be liable to forget it," Mike Murphy laughed.
"As for you, ye divil," Terence continued, "faith, what wit' yer English tweeds an' the fancy cut av thim, an' yer lack av the brogue an' the broad a av ye, I thought, begorra, ye were a dirrty Far Down! God love ye, Michael, but 'tis the likes av you I'm proud to be ship-mates wit'."
"But you said you were from Belfast, Terence."
"So I am. I was borrn there, but me parents--the Lord 'a' merrcy on their sowls--moved back to Kerry."
"What is it, Michael, me poor lad?"
"Do you ever drink on duty? I don't mean with your superiors--"
The chief chuckled. He knew what Murphy was alluding to.
"I do," he replied, "wit' me equals."
"'Tis a pity, Terence, that man Schultz has the key to my state-room in his pocket. Now if you could manage to tap that Dutchman on the head with something hard and heavy, take the key out of his pocket and throw him overheard, you could let me out of this purgatory I'm in. Then I wouldn't be surprised if the sight of me and the absence of Mr. Schultz would put a bit of heart in that little cockney steward--and maybe he'd bring a drink to hearten you for what's ahead of you this night."
"An' what might that be, avic?" Terence demanded.
"I want you to steal the ship back from them, Terence."
"Very well, Michael. 'Tis not a small thing ye ask me to do, but the divil a more willin' man could ye find to ask. Have ye figured out the plan av campaign? Sure what wit' the suddenness av it all I'm all in a shweat wit' excitement."
"You may be cold enough before morning, Terry, my boy."
"Bad luck to you, Michael! Dyin' is wan thing I cannot afford to do, although be the same token they tell me ould Ricks has a kind shpot in the heart av him for the widow an' the orphan--particularly av thim that dies in his service! As I say, I cannot afford to get kilt, but in back av that ag'in I cannot afford to lose the best job I ever had. An' afther all, 'tis a poor man that won't fight for a fine, kind gentleman--"
"Damn the fine, kind gentleman! It serves him right for letting us get into this fix. He can afford the loss of the ship, but you and I, Terence Reardon, cannot afford the loss of our honor and self-respect. For the sake of the blood that's in us we can't afford to let a lot of Dutchmen steal our ship and cargo."
"Whist!" Reardon warned. "Hurry up. Me crew is comin' below ag'in."
"Make it a point to pass by my state-room window after dark. You'll find a scrap of paper on the sill. Help yourself to it."
"Faith, I will," Mr. Reardon promised fervently, and the tube closed with a click.
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