THERE WAS a moment’s silence while the two captains eyed one another, broken by the attorney, who said:
“Whether this story is true or false, it certainly has no bearing on the validity of the policy. If this happened, it was after the policy attached and before the wreck of the Titan.”
“But der concealment—der concealment,” shouted Mr. Meyer, excitedly.
“Has no bearing, either. If he concealed anything it was done after the wreck, and after your liability was confirmed. It was not even barratry. You must pay this insurance.”
“I will not bay it. I will not. I will fight you in der courts.” Mr. Meyer stamped up and down the floor in his excitement, then stopped with a triumphant smile, and shook his finger into the face of the attorney.
“And even if der concealment will not vitiate der policy, der fact that he had a drunken man on lookout when der Titan struck der iceberg will be enough. Go ahead and sue. I will not pay. He was part owner.”
“You have no witnesses to that admission,” said the attorney. Mr. Meyer looked around the group and the smile left his face.
“Captain Bryce was mistaken,” said Mr. Austen. “This man was drunk at New York, like others of the crew. But he was sober and competent when on lookout. I discussed theories of navigation with him during his trick on the bridge that night and he spoke intelligently.”
“But you yourself said, not ten minutes ago, that this man was in a state of delirium tremens up to der collision,” said Mr. Meyer.
“What I said and what I will admit under oath are two different things,” said the officer, desperately. “I may have said anything under the excitement of the moment—when we were accused of such an infamous crime. I say now, that John Rowland, whatever may have been his condition on the preceding night, was a sober and competent lookout at the time of the wreck of the Titan.”
“Thank you,” said Rowland, dryly, to the first officer; then, looking into the appealing face of Mr. Meyer, he said:
“I do not think it will be necessary to brand me before the world as an inebriate in order to punish the company and these men. Barratry, as I understand it, is the unlawful act of a captain or crew at sea, causing damage or loss; and it only applies when the parties are purely employees. Did I understand rightly—that Captain Bryce was part owner of the Titan?”
“Yes,” said Mr. Meyer, “he owns stock; and we insure against barratry; but this man, as part owner, could not fall back on it.”
“And an unlawful act,” went on Rowland, “perpetrated by a captain who is part owner, which might cause shipwreck, and, during the perpetration of which shipwreck really occurs, will be sufficient to void the policy.”
“Certainly,” said Mr. Meyer, eagerly. “You were drunk on der lookout—you were raving drunk, as he said himself. You will swear to this, will you not, my friend? It is bad faith with der underwriters. It annuls der insurance. You admit this, Mr. Thompson, do you not?”
“That is law,” said the attorney, coldly.
“Was Mr. Austen a part owner, also?” asked Rowland, ignoring Mr. Meyer’s view of the case.
“One share, is it not, Mr. Austen?” asked Mr. Meyer, while he rubbed his hands and smiled. Mr. Austen made no sign of denial and Rowland continued:
“Then, for drugging a sailor into a stupor, and having him on lookout out of his turn while in that condition, and at the moment when the Titan struck the iceberg, Captain Bryce and Mr. Austen have, as part owners, committed an act which nullifies the insurance on that ship.”
“You infernal, lying scoundrel!” roared Captain Bryce. He strode toward Rowland with threatening face. Half-way, he was stopped by the impact of a huge brown fist which sent him reeling and staggering across the room toward Mr. Selfridge and the child, over whom he floundered to the floor—a disheveled heap,—while the big Captain Barry examined teeth-marks on his knuckles, and every one else sprang to their feet.
“I told you to look out,” said Captain Barry. “Treat my friend respectfully.” He glared steadily at the first officer, as though inviting him to duplicate the offense; but that gentleman backed away from him and assisted the dazed Captain Bryce to a chair, where he felt of his loosened teeth, spat blood upon Mr. Meyer’s floor, and gradually awakened to a realization of the fact that he had been knocked down—and by an American.
Little Myra, unhurt but badly frightened, began to cry and call for Rowland in her own way, to the wonder, and somewhat to the scandal of the gentle old man who was endeavoring to soothe her.
“Dammy,” she cried, as she struggled to go to him; “I want Dammy—Dammy—Da-a-may.”
“Oh, what a pad little girl,” said the jocular Mr. Meyer, looking down on her. “Where did you learn such language?”
“It is my nickname,” said Rowland, smiling in spite of himself. “She has coined the word,” he explained to the agitated Mr. Selfridge, who had not yet comprehended what had happened; “and I have not yet been able to persuade her to drop it—and I could not be harsh with her. Let me take her, sir.” He seated himself, with the child, who nestled up to him contentedly and soon was tranquil.
“Now, my friend,” said Mr. Meyer, “you must tell us about this drugging.” Then while Captain Bryce, under the memory of the blow he had received, nursed himself into an insane fury; and Mr. Austen, with his hand resting lightly on the captain’s shoulder ready to restrain him, listened to the story; and the attorney drew up a chair and took notes of the story; and Mr. Selfridge drew his chair close to Myra and paid no attention to the story at all, Rowland recited the events prior to and succeeding the shipwreck. Beginning with the finding of the whisky in his pocket, he told of his being called to the starboard bridge lookout in place of the rightful incumbent; of the sudden and strange interest Mr. Austen displayed as to his knowledge of navigation; of the pain in his stomach, the frightful shapes he had seen on the deck beneath and the sensations of his dream—leaving out only the part which bore on the woman he loved; he told of the sleep-walking child which awakened him, of the crash of ice and instant wreck, and the fixed condition of his eyes which prevented their focusing only at a certain distance, finishing his story—to explain his empty sleeve—with a graphic account of the fight with the bear.
“And I have studied it all out,” he said, in conclusion. “I was drugged—I believe, with hasheesh, which makes a man see strange things—and brought up on the bridge lookout where I could be watched and my ravings listened to and recorded, for the sole purpose of discrediting my threatened testimony in regard to the collision of the night before. But I was only half-drugged, as I spilled part of my tea at supper. In that tea, I am positive, was the hasheesh.”
“You know all about it, don’t you,” snarled Captain Bryce, from his chair, “’twas not hasheesh; ’twas an infusion of Indian hemp; you don’t know—” Mr. Austen’s hand closed over his mouth and he subsided.
“Self-convicted,” said Rowland, with a quiet laugh. “Hasheesh is made from Indian hemp.”
“You hear this, gentlemen,” exclaimed Mr. Meyer, springing to his feet and facing everybody in turn. He pounced on Captain Barry. “You hear this confession, captain; you hear him say Indian hemp? I have a witness now, Mr. Thompson. Go right on with your suit. You hear him, Captain Barry. You are disinterested. You are a witness. You hear?”
“Yes, I heard it—the murdering scoundrel,” said the captain.
Mr. Meyer danced up and down in his joy, while the attorney, pocketing his notes, remarked to the discomfited Captain Bryce: “You are the poorest fool I know,” and left the office.
Then Mr. Meyer calmed himself, and facing the two steamship officers, said, slowly and impressively, while he poked his forefinger almost into their faces:
“England is a fine country, my friends—a fine country to leave pehind sometimes. Dere is Canada, and der United States, and Australia, and South Africa—all fine countries, too—fine countries to go to with new names. My friends, you will be bulletined and listed at Lloyds in less than half an hour, and you will never again sail under der English flag as officers. And, my friends, let me say, that in half an hour after you are bulletined, all Scotland Yard will be looking for you. But my door is not locked.”
Silently they arose, pale, shamefaced, and crushed, and went out the door, through the outer office, and into the street.