The Wreck of the Titan or, Futility

The Pirates

Chapter XX

Morgan Robertson

FOR an hour Denman remained with Florrie to witness the unusual spectacle of a forty-knot destroyer in a hurry.

The wind was practically gone, though a heavy ground swell still met the boat from the northwest; and as there was no moon, nor starlight, and as all lights were out but the white masthead and red and green side lights, invisible from aft, but dimly lighting the sea ahead, the sight presented was unusual and awe-inspiring.

They seemed to be looking at an ever-receding wall of solid blackness, beneath which rose and spread from the high bow, to starboard and port, two huge, moving snowdrifts, lessening in size as the bow lifted over the crest of a sea it had climbed, and increasing to a liquid avalanche of foam that sent spangles up into the bright illumination of the masthead light when the prow buried itself in the base of the next sea.

Astern was a white, self-luminous wake that narrowed to a point in the distance before it had lost its phosphorescent glow.

Florrie was interested only in the glorious picture as a whole. Denman, equally impressed, was interested in the somewhat rare spectacle of a craft meeting at forty knots a sea running at twenty; for not a drop of water hit the deck where they stood.

They went below at last; but Denman, having slept nearly all day, was long in getting to sleep. A curious, futile, and inconsequential thought bothered him—the thought that the cheerful Billings had ceased his singing in the galley.

The monotonous humming of the turbines brought sleep at last; but he awakened at daylight from a dream in which Billings, dressed in a Mother Hubbard and a poke bonnet, was trying to force a piece of salt-water soap into his mouth, and had almost succeeded when he awoke. But it was the stopping of the turbines that really had wakened him; and he dressed hurriedly and went on deck.

There was nothing amiss. No one was in sight but Jenkins, who leaned lazily against the bridge rail. In the dim light that shone, nothing could be seen on the horizon or within it.

So, a little ashamed of his uncalled-for curiosity, he hurried down and turned in, “all standing,” to wait for breakfast and an explanation.

But no explanation was given him, either by events or the attitude of the men. Those on deck avoided the after end of the boat—all except old Kelly, whose duties brought him finally to the after guns and tubes; but, while civilly lifting his cap to Miss Florrie, he was grouchy and taciturn in his manner until his work was done, then he halted at the galley hatch on his way forward to lean over and pronounce anathema on the heads of the cooks because of the quality of the food.

While waiting for breakfast, Denman had listened to an angry and wordy argument between the two cooks, in which Daniels had voiced his opinion of Billings for waking him from his watch below to serve the prisoners.

When the watches were changed at eight bells that morning, he had heard Hawkes and Davis, the two seamen of the deck department, protesting violently to Jenkins at the promotion of Forsythe and Kelly, which left them to do all the steering.

Jenkins had not answered orally, but his gestures overruled the protest. Even Casey and Munson argued almost to quarreling over various “tricks of their trade,” which Denman, as he listened, could only surmise were to form a part of the private code they had spoken of when haranguing Jenkins.

There was a nervous unrest pervading them all which, while leaving Florrie and Denman intact, even reached the engine room.

At noon Sampson and Dwyer were relieved, and the former turned back to shout down the hatch:

“I told you to do it, and that goes. We’ve over-hauled and cleaned it. You two assemble and oil it up this afternoon, or you’ll hear from me at eight bells.”

The voice of Riley—who was nearly as large a man as Sampson—answered hotly but inarticulately, and Denman could only ascribe the row to a difference of opinion concerning the condition of some part of the engines.

Sampson, though possibly a lesser engineer than the others of his department, yet dominated them as Jenkins dominated them all—by pure force of personality. He had made himself chief engineer, and his orders were obeyed, as evidenced by the tranquil silence that emanated from the engine room when Sampson returned at four in the afternoon.

All day the boat lay with quiet engines and a bare head of steam, rolling slightly in a swell that now came from the east, while the sun shone brightly overhead from east to west, and only a few specks appeared on the horizon, to remain for a time, and vanish.

Meanwhile Florrie worried Denman with questions that he could not answer.

“Forsythe took sights in the morning,” he explained at length, “and a meridian observation at noon. He has undoubtedly found another ‘pocket,’ as I call these triangular spaces between the routes; but I do not know where we are, except that, computing our yesterday and last night’s run, we are within from sixty to a hundred miles of New York.”

He was further mystified when, on going into his room for a cigar after supper, he found his suit of “citizen’s clothes” missing from its hook.

“Not the same thief,” he grumbled. “Sampson and Jenkins are too big for it.”

He did not mention his loss to Florrie, not wishing to arouse further feminine speculation; and when, at a later hour in this higher latitude, darkness had come, and full speed was rung to the engine room, he induced her to retire.

“I don’t know what’s up,” he said; “but—get all the sleep you can. I’ll call you if anything happens.”

He did not go to sleep himself, but smoked and waited while the humming turbines gathered in the miles—one hour, two hours, nearly three—until a quarter to eleven o’clock, when speed was reduced.

Remembering his embarrassment of the morning, Denman did not seek the deck, but looked through his deadlight. Nothing but darkness met his eye; it was a black night with rain.

He entered the lighted wardroom and looked at the telltale above; it told him that the boat was heading due north. Then he entered an opposite room—all were unlocked now—from which, slantingly through the deadlight, he saw lights. He threw open the thick, round window, and saw more clearly. Lights, shore lights, ahead and to port.

He saw no land; but from the perspective of the lights he judged that they ran east and west. Then he heard the call of the lead: “A quarter seventeen;” and a little later: “By the deep seventeen,” delivered in a sing-song voice by Hawkes.

“The coast of Long Island,” muttered Denman. “Well, for picked-up, school-book navigation, it is certainly a feat—to run over six hundred miles and stop over soundings.”

The boat went on at reduced speed until Hawkes had called out: “By the mark ten,” when the engines stopped, and there was a rush of footsteps on deck, that centered over the open deadlight, above which was slung to the davits the boat called by them the dinghy, but which was only a very small gasoline launch.

“In with you, Casey,” said Jenkins, in his low, hoarse voice, “and turn her over. See about the bottom plug, too. Clear away those guys fore and aft, you fellows.”

In a few moments came the buzzing of the small engine; then it stopped, and Casey said: “Engine’s all right, and—so is the plug. Shove out and lower away.”

“Got everything right, Casey? Got your money? Got the code?”

“Got everything,” was the impatient answer.

“Well, remember—you’re to head the boat out from the beach, pull the bottom plug, and let her sink in deep water. Make sure your wheel’s amidships.”

“Shove out and lower away,” retorted Casey. “D’you think I never learned to run a naphtha launch?”

Denman heard the creaking sound of the davits turning in their beds, then the slackening away of the falls, their unhooking by Casey, and the chugging of the engine as the launch drew away.

“Good luck, Casey!” called Jenkins.

“All right!” answered Casey from the distance. “Have your life-buoys handy.”

Denman had ducked out of sight as the launch was lowered, and he did not see Casey; but, on opening a locker in his room for a fresh box of cigars, he noticed that his laundry had been tampered with. Six shirts and twice as many collars were gone. On looking further, he missed a new derby hat that he had prized more than usual, also his suitcase.

“Casey and I are about the same size,” he muttered. “But what the deuce does it all mean?”

He went to sleep with the turbines humming full speed in his ears; but he wakened when they were reduced to cruising speed. Looking at his watch in the light from the wardroom, he found that it was half-past two; and, on stepping out for a look at the telltale, he found the boat heading due south.

“Back in the pocket,” he said, as he returned to his room.

But the engines did not stop, as he partly expected; they remained at half speed, and the boat still headed south when he wakened at breakfast-time.

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