“You see, Miss Denison,” I continued ecstatically, “our rough old diamond of a skipper is the right man in the right place after all. A tight man in a tight place, eh?” and I laughed like an idiot in their calm grave faces.
“Senhor Cole is right,” said Santos, “although his ‘ilarity sims a leetle out of place. But you must never spik against Captain ‘Arrees again, menma.”
“I never will,” the poor child said; yet I saw her wince whenever the captain raised that hoarse voice of his in more and more blasphemous exhortation; and I began to fear with Ready that the man was drunk.
My eyes were still upon my darling, devouring her, revelling in her, when suddenly I saw her hand twitch within her step-father’s arm. It was an answering start to one on his part. The cigarette was snatched from his lips. There was a commotion forward, and a cry came aft, from mouth to mouth:
“The flames! The flames!”
I turned, and caught their reflection on the white column of smoke and steam. I ran forward, and saw them curling and leaping in the hell-mouth of the hold.
The quarter-deck now staged a lurid scene: that blazing trap-door in its midst; and each man there a naked demon madly working to save his roasting skin. Abaft the mainmast the deck-pump was being ceaselessly worked by relays of the passengers; dry blankets were passed forward, soaking blankets were passed aft, and flung flat into the furnace one after another. These did more good than the pure water: the pillar of smoke became 长沙桑拿 blacker, denser: we were at a crisis; a sudden hush denoted it; even our hoarse skipper stood dumb.
I had rushed down into the waist of the ship—blushing for my delay—and already I was tossing blankets with the rest. Looking up in an enforced pause, I saw Santos whispering in the skipper’s ear, with the expression of a sphinx but no lack of foreign gesticulation—behind them a fringe of terror-stricken faces, parted at that instant by two more figures, as wild and strange as any in that wild, strange scene. One was our luckless lucky digger, the other a gigantic Zambesi nigger, who for days had been told off to watch him; this was the servant (or rather the slave) of Senhor Santos.
The digger planted himself before the captain. His face was reddened by a fire as consuming as that within the bowels of our gallant ship. He 长沙桑拿酒店娱乐 had a huge, unwieldy bundle under either arm.
“Plain question—plain answer,” we heard him stutter. “Is there any —— chance of saving this —— ship?”
His adjectives were too foul for print; they were given with such a special effort at distinctness, however, that I was smiling one instant, and giving thanks the next that Eva Denison had not come forward with her guardian. Meanwhile the skipper had exchanged a glance with Senhor Santos, and I think we all felt that he was going to tell us the truth.
He told it in two words—“Very little.”
Then the first individual tragedy was enacted before every eye. With a yell the drunken maniac rushed to the rail. The nigger was at his heels—he was too late. Uttering another and more piercing shriek, the madman was overboard at a bound; one of his bundles preceded him; the other dropped 长沙桑拿按摩论坛社区 like a cannon-ball on the deck.
The nigger caught it up and carried it forward to the captain.
Harris held up his hand. We were still before we had fairly found our tongues. His words did run together a little, but he was not drunk.
“Men and women,” said he, “what I told that poor devil is Gospel truth; but I didn’t tell him we’d no chance of saving our lives, did I? Not me, because we have! Keep your heads and listen to me. There’s two good boats
on the davits amidships; the chief will take one, the second officer the other; and there ain’t no reason why every blessed one of you shouldn’t sleep in Ascension to-morrow night. As for me, let me see every soul off of my ship and perhaps I may follow; but by the God that made you, look alive! Mr. Arnott—Mr. McClellan—man them boats and lower away. You can’t get quit 长沙桑拿推荐 o’ the ship too soon, an’ I don’t mind tellin’ you why. I’ll tell you the worst, an’ then you’ll know. There’s been a lot o’ gossip goin’, gossip about my cargo. I give out as I’d none but ship’s stores and ballast, an’ I give out a lie. I don’t mind tellin’ you now. I give out a cussed lie, but I give it out for the good o’ the ship! What was the use o’ frightenin’ folks? But where’s the sense in keepin’ it back now? We have a bit of a cargo,” shouted Harris; “and it’s gunpowder—every damned ton of it!”
The effect of this announcement may be imagined; my hand has not the cunning to reproduce it on paper; and if it had, it would shrink from the task. Mild men became brutes, brutal men, devils, women—God help them!—shrieking beldams for the most part. Never shall I forget them with their streaming hair, their screaming open 长沙桑拿按摩网 mouths, and the cruel ascending fire glinting on their starting eyeballs!
Pell-mell they tumbled down the poop-ladders; pell-mell they raced amidships past that yawning open furnace; the pitch was boiling through the seams of the crackling deck; they slipped and fell upon it, one over another, and the wonder is that none plunged headlong into the flames. A handful remained on the poop, cowering and undone with terror. Upon these turned Captain Harris, as Ready and I, stemming the torrent of maddened humanity, regained the poop ourselves.
“For’ard with ye!” yelled the skipper. “The powder’s underneath you in the lazarette!”
They were gone like hunted sheep. And now abaft the flaming hatchway there were only we four surviving saloon passengers, the captain, his steward, the Zambesi negro, and the quarter-master at the wheel. The steward and the black I observed putting stores aboard the captain’s gig as it overhung the water from the stern davits.
“Now, gentlemen,” said Harris to the two of us, “I must trouble you to step forward with the rest. Senhor Santos insists on taking his chance along with the young lady in my gig. I’ve told him the risk, but he insists, and the gig’ll hold no more.”
“But she must have a crew, and I can row. For God’s sake take me, captain!” cried I; for Eva Denison sat weeping in her deck chair, and my heart bled faint at the thought of leaving her, I who loved her so, and might die without ever telling her my love! Harris, however, stood firm.
“There’s that quartermaster and my steward, and Jose the nigger,” said he. “That’s quite enough, Mr. Cole, for I ain’t above an oar myself; but, by God, I’m skipper o’ this here ship, and I’ll skip her as long as I remain aboard!”
I saw his hand go to his belt; I saw the pistols stuck there for mutineers. I looked at Santos. He answered me with his neutral shrug, and, by my soul, he struck a match and lit a cigarette in that hour of life and death! Then last I looked at Ready; and he leant invertebrate over the rail, gasping pitiably from his exertions in regaining the poop, a dying man once more. I pointed out his piteous state.