ON a certain morning, about two months after the announcement of the loss of the Titan, Mr. Meyer sat at his desk in the Rooms, busily writing, when the old gentleman who had bewailed the death of his son in the Intelligence office tottered in and took a chair beside him.
“Good morning, Mr. Selfridge,” he said, scarcely looking up; “I suppose you have come to see der insurance paid over. Der sixty days are up.”
“Yes, yes, Mr. Meyer,” said the old gentleman, wearily; “of course, as merely a stockholder, I can take no active part; but I am a member here, and naturally a little anxious. All I had in the world—even to my son and grandchild—was in the Titan.”
“It is very sad, Mr. Selfridge; you have my deepest sympathy. I pelieve you are der largest holder of Titan stock—about one hundred thousand, is it not?”
“I am der heaviest insurer; so Mr. Selfridge, this battle will be largely petween you and myself.”
“Battle—is there to be any difficulty?” asked Mr. Selfridge, anxiously.
“Berhaps—I do not know. Der underwriters and outside companies have blaced matters in my hands and will not bay until I take der initiative. We must hear from one John Rowland, who, with a little child, was rescued from der berg and taken to Christiansand. He has been too sick to leave der ship which found him and is coming up der Thames in her this morning. I have a carriage at der dock and expect him at my office py noon. Dere is where we will dransact this little pizness—not here.”
“A child—saved,” queried the old gentleman; “dear me, it may be little Myra. She was not at Gibraltar with the others. I would not care—I would not care much about the money, if she was safe. But my son—my only son—is gone; and, Mr. Meyer, I am a ruined man if this insurance is not paid.”
“And I am a ruined man if it is,” said Mr. Meyer, rising. “Will you come around to der office, Mr. Selfridge? I expect der attorney and Captain Bryce are dere now.” Mr. Selfridge arose and accompanied him to the street.
A rather meagerly-furnished private office in Threadneedle Street, partitioned off from a larger one bearing Mr. Meyer’s name in the window, received the two men, one of whom, in the interests of good business, was soon to be impoverished. They had not waited a minute before Captain Bryce and Mr. Austen were announced and ushered in. Sleek, well-fed, and gentlemanly in manner, perfect types of the British naval officer, they bowed politely to Mr. Selfridge when Mr. Meyer introduced them as the captain and first officer of the Titan, and seated themselves. A few moments later brought a shrewd-looking person whom Mr. Meyer addressed as the attorney for the steamship company, but did not introduce; for such are the amenities of the English system of caste.
“Now then, gentlemen,” said Mr. Meyer, “I pelieve we can broceed to pizness up to a certain point—berhaps further. Mr. Thompson, you have the affidavit of Captain Bryce?”
“I have,” said the attorney, producing a document which Mr. Meyer glanced at and handed back.
“And in this statement, captain,” he said, “you have sworn that der voyage was uneventful up to der moment of der wreck—that is,” he added, with an oily smile, as he noticed the paling of the captain’s face—“that nothing occurred to make der Titan less seaworthy or manageable?”
“That is what I swore to,” said the captain, with a little sigh.
“You are part owner, are you not, Captain Bryce?”
“I own five shares of the company’s stock.”
“I have examined der charter and der company lists,” said Mr. Meyer; “each boat of der company is, so far as assessments and dividends are concerned, a separate company. I find you are listed as owning two sixty-seconds of der Titan stock. This makes you, under der law, part owner of der Titan, and responsible as such.”
“What do you mean, sir, by that word responsible?” said Captain Bryce, quickly.
For answer, Mr. Meyer elevated his black eyebrows, assumed an attitude of listening, looked at his watch and went to the door, which, as he opened, admitted the sound of carriage wheels.
“In here,” he called to his clerks, then faced the captain.
“What do I mean, Captain Bryce?” he thundered. “I mean that you have concealed in your sworn statement all reference to der fact that you collided with and sunk the ship Royal Age on der night before the wreck of your own ship.”
“Who says so—how do you know it?” blustered the captain. “You have only that bulletin statement of the man Rowland—an irresponsible drunkard.”
“The man was lifted aboard drunk at New York,” broke in the first officer, “and remained in a condition of delirium tremens up to the shipwreck. We did not meet the Royal Age and are in no way responsible for her loss.”
“Yes,” added Captain Bryce, “and a man in that condition is liable to see anything. We listened to his ravings on the night of the wreck. He was on lookout—on the bridge. Mr. Austen, the boats’n, and myself were close to him.”
Before Mr. Meyer’s oily smile had indicated to the flustered captain that he had said too much, the door opened and admitted Rowland, pale, and weak, with empty left sleeve, leaning on the arm of a bronze-bearded and manly-looking giant who carried little Myra on the other shoulder, and who said, in the breezy tone of the quarter-deck:
“Well, I’ve brought him, half dead; but why couldn’t you give me time to dock my ship? A mate can’t do everything.”
“And this is Captain Barry, of der Peerless,” said Mr. Meyer, taking his hand. “It is all right, my friend; you will not lose. And this is Mr. Rowland—and this is der little child. Sit down, my friend. I congratulate you on your escape.”
“Thank you,” said Rowland, weakly, as he seated himself; “they cut my arm off at Christiansand, and I still live. That is my escape.”
Captain Bryce and Mr. Austen, pale and motionless, stared hard at this man, in whose emaciated face, refined by suffering to the almost spiritual softness of age, they hardly recognized the features of the troublesome sailor of the Titan. His clothing, though clean, was ragged and patched.
Mr. Selfridge had arisen and was also staring, not at Rowland, but at the child, who, seated in the lap of the big Captain Barry, was looking around with wondering eyes. Her costume was unique. A dress of bagging-stuff, put together—as were her canvas shoes and hat—with sail-twine in sail-makers’ stitches, three to the inch, covered skirts and underclothing made from old flannel shirts. It represented many an hour’s work of the watch-below, lovingly bestowed by the crew of the Peerless; for the crippled Rowland could not sew. Mr. Selfridge approached, scanned the pretty features closely, and asked:
“What is her name?”
“Her first name is Myra,” answered Rowland. “She remembers that; but I have not learned her last name, though I knew her mother years ago—before her marriage.”
“Myra, Myra,” repeated the old gentleman; “do you know me? Don’t you know me?” He trembled visibly as he stooped and kissed her. The little forehead puckered and wrinkled as the child struggled with memory; then it cleared and the whole face sweetened to a smile.
“Gwampa,” she said.
“Oh, God, I thank thee,” murmured Mr. Selfridge, taking her in his arms. “I have lost my son, but I have found his child—my granddaughter.”
“But, sir,” asked Rowland, eagerly; “you—this child’s grandfather? Your son is lost, you say? Was he on board the Titan? And the mother—was she saved, or is she, too—” he stopped unable to continue.
“The mother is safe—in New York; but the father, my son, has not yet been heard from,” said the old man, mournfully.
Rowland’s head sank and he hid his face for a moment in his arm, on the table at which he sat. It had been a face as old, and worn, and weary as that of the white-haired man confronting him. On it, when it raised—flushed, bright-eyed and smiling—was the glory of youth.
“I trust, sir,” he said, “that you will telegraph her. I am penniless at present, and, besides, do not know her name.”
“Selfridge—which, of course, is my own name. Mrs. Colonel, or Mrs. George Selfridge. Our New York address is well known. But I shall cable her at once; and, believe me, sir, although I can understand that our debt to you cannot be named in terms of money, you need not be penniless long. You are evidently a capable man, and I have wealth and influence.”
Rowland merely bowed, slightly, but Mr. Meyer muttered to himself: “Vealth and influence. Berhaps not. Now, gentlemen,” he added, in a louder tone, “to pizness. Mr. Rowland, will you tell us about der running down of der Royal Age?”
“Was it the Royal Age?” asked Rowland. “I sailed in her one voyage. Yes, certainly.”
Mr. Selfridge, more interested in Myra than in the coming account, carried her over to a chair in the corner and sat down, where he fondled and talked to her after the manner of grandfathers the world over, and Rowland, first looking steadily into the faces of the two men he had come to expose, and whose presence he had thus far ignored, told, while they held their teeth tight together and often buried their finger-nails in their palms, the terrible story of the cutting in half of the ship on the first night out from New York, finishing with the attempted bribery and his refusal.
“Vell, gentlemen, vwhat do you think of that?” asked Mr. Meyer, looking around.
“A lie, from beginning to end,” stormed Captain Bryce.
Rowland rose to his feet, but was pressed back by the big man who had accompanied him—who then faced Captain Bryce and said, quietly:
“I saw a polar bear that this man killed in open fight. I saw his arm afterward, and while nursing him away from death I heard no whines or complaints. He can fight his own battles when well, and when sick I’ll do it for him. If you insult him again in my presence I’ll knock your teeth down your throat.”