MR. SELFRIDGE had begun to take an interest in the proceedings. As the two men passed out he arose and asked:
“Have you reached a settlement, Mr. Meyer? Will the insurance be paid?”
“No,” roared the underwriter, in the ear of the puzzled old gentleman; while he slapped him vigorously on the back; “it will not be paid. You or I must have been ruined, Mr. Selfridge, and it has settled on you. I do not pay der Titan’s insurance—nor will der other insurers. On der contrary, as der collision clause in der policy is void with der rest, your company must reimburse me for der insurance which I must pay to der Royal Age owners—that is, unless our good friend here, Mr. Rowland, who was on der lookout at der time, will swear that her lights were out.”
“Not at all,” said Rowland. “Her lights were burning—look to the old gentleman,” he exclaimed. “Look out for him. Catch him!”
Mr. Selfridge was stumbling toward a chair. He grasped it, loosened his hold, and before anyone could reach him, fell to the floor, where he lay, with ashen lips and rolling eyes, gasping convulsively.
“Heart failure,” said Rowland, as he knelt by his side. “Send for a doctor.”
“Send for a doctor,” repeated Mr. Meyer through the door to his clerks; “and send for a carriage, quick. I don’t want him to die in der office.”
Captain Barry lifted the helpless figure to a couch, and they watched, while the convulsions grew easier, the breath shorter, and the lips from ashen gray to blue. Before a doctor or carriage had come, he had passed away.
“Sudden emotion of some kind,” said the doctor when he did arrive. “Violent emotion, too. Hear bad news?”
“Bad and good,” answered the underwriter. “Good, in learning that this dear little girl was his granddaughter—bad, in learning that he was a ruined man. He was der heaviest stockholder in der Titan. One hundred thousand pounds, he owned, of der stock, all of which this poor, dear little child will not get.” Mr. Meyer looked sorrowful, as he patted Myra on the head.
Captain Barry beckoned to Rowland, who, slightly flushed, was standing by the still figure on the couch and watching the face of Mr. Meyer, on which annoyance, jubilation, and simulated shock could be seen in turn.
“Wait,” he said, as he turned to watch the doctor leave the room. “Is this so, Mr. Meyer,” he added to the underwriter, “that Mr. Selfridge owned Titan stock, and would have been ruined, had he lived, by the loss of the insurance money?”
“Yes, he would have been a poor man. He had invested his last farthing—one hundred thousand pounds. And if he had left any more it would be assessed to make good his share of what der company must bay for der Royal Age, which I also insured.”
“Was there a collision clause in the Titan’s policy?”
“And you took the risk, knowing that she was to run the Northern Lane at full speed through fog and snow?”
“I did—so did others.”
“Then, Mr. Meyer, it remains for me to tell you that the insurance on the Titan will be paid, as well as any liabilities included in and specified by the collision clause in the policy. In short, I, the one man who can prevent it, refuse to testify.”
Mr. Meyer grasped the back of a chair and, leaning over it, stared at Rowland.
“You will not testify? Vwhat you mean?”
“What I said; and I do not feel called upon to give you my reasons, Mr. Meyer.”
“My good friend,” said the underwriter, advancing with outstretched hands to Rowland, who backed away, and taking Myra by the hand, moved toward the door. Mr. Meyer sprang ahead, locked it and removed the key, and faced them.
“Oh, mine goot Gott,” he shouted, relapsing in his excitement into the more pronounced dialect of his race; “vwhat I do to you, hey? Vwhy you go pack on me, hey? Haf I not bay der doctor’s bill? Haf I not bay for der carriage? Haf I not treat you like one shentleman? Haf I not, hey? I sit you down in mine office and call you Mr. Rowland. Haf I not been one shentleman?”
“Open that door,” said Rowland, quietly.
“Yes, open it,” repeated Captain Barry, his puzzled face clearing at the prospect of action on his part. “Open it or I’ll kick it down.”
“But you, mine friend—heard der admission of der captain—of der drugging. One goot witness will do: two is petter. But you will swear, mine friend, you will not ruin me.”
“I stand by Rowland,” said the captain, grimly. “I don’t remember what was said, anyhow; got a blamed bad memory. Get away from that door.”
Grievous lamentation—weepings and wailings, and the most genuine gnashing of teeth—interspersed with the feebler cries of the frightened Myra and punctuated by terse commands in regard to the door, filled that private office, to the wonder of the clerks without, and ended, at last, with the crashing of the door from its hinges.
Captain Barry, Rowland, and Myra, followed by a parting, heart-borne malediction from the agitated underwriter, left the office and reached the street. The carriage that had brought them was still waiting.
“Settle inside,” called the captain to the driver. “We’ll take another, Rowland.”
Around the first corner they found a cab, which they entered, Captain Barry giving the driver the direction—“Bark Peerless, East India Dock.”
“I think I understand the game, Rowland,” he said, as they started; “you don’t want to break this child.”
“That’s it,” answered Rowland, weakly, as he leaned back on the cushion, faint from the excitement of the last few moments. “And as for the right or wrong of the position I am in—why, we must go farther back for it than the question of lookouts. The cause of the wreck was full speed in a fog. All hands on lookout could not have seen that berg. The underwriters knew the speed and took the risk. Let them pay.”
“Right—and I’m with you on it. But you must get out of the country. I don’t know the law on the matter, but they may compel you to testify. You can’t ship ’fore the mast again—that’s settled. But you can have a berth mate with me as long as I sail a ship—if you’ll take it; and you’re to make my cabin your home as long as you like; remember that. Still, I know you want to get across with the kid, and if you stay around until I sail it may be months before you get to New York, with the chance of losing her by getting foul of English law. But just leave it to me. There are powerful interests at stake in regard to this matter.”
What Captain Barry had in mind, Rowland was too weak to inquire. On their arrival at the bark he was assisted by his friend to a couch in the cabin, where he spent the rest of the day, unable to leave it. Meanwhile, Captain Barry had gone ashore again.
Returning toward evening, he said to the man on the couch: “I’ve got your pay, Rowland, and signed a receipt for it to that attorney. He paid it out of his own pocket. You could have worked that company for fifty thousand, or more; but I knew you wouldn’t touch their money, and so, only struck him for your wages. You’re entitled to a month’s pay. Here it is—American money—about seventeen.” He gave Rowland a roll of bills.
“Now here’s something else, Rowland,” he continued, producing an envelope. “In consideration of the fact that you lost all your clothes and later, your arm, through the carelessness of the company’s officers, Mr. Thompson offers you this.” Rowland opened the envelope. In it were two first cabin tickets from Liverpool to New York. Flushing hotly, he said, bitterly:
“It seems that I’m not to escape it, after all.”
“Take ’em, old man, take ’em; in fact, I took ’em for you, and you and the kid are booked. And I made Thompson agree to settle your doctor’s bill and expenses with that Sheeny. ’Tisn’t bribery. I’d heel you myself for the run over, but, hang it, you’ll take nothing from me. You’ve got to get the young un over. You’re the only one to do it. The old gentleman was an American, alone here—hadn’t even a lawyer, that I could find. The boat sails in the morning and the night train leaves in two hours. Think of that mother, Rowland. Why, man, I’d travel round the world to stand in your shoes when you hand Myra over. I’ve got a child of my own.” The captain’s eyes were winking hard and fast, and Rowland’s were shining.
“Yes, I’ll take the passage,” he said, with a smile. “I accept the bribe.”
“That’s right. You’ll be strong and healthy when you land, and when that mother’s through thanking you, and you have to think of yourself, remember—I want a mate and will be here a month before sailing. Write to me, care o’ Lloyds, if you want the berth, and I’ll send you advance money to get back with.”
“Thank you, captain,” said Rowland, as he took the other’s hand and then glanced at his empty sleeve; “but my going to sea is ended. Even a mate needs two hands.”
“Well, suit yourself, Rowland; I’ll take you mate without any hands at all while you had your brains. It’s done me good to meet a man like you; and—say, old man, you won’t take it wrong from me, will you? It’s none o’ my business, but you’re too all-fired good a man to drink. You haven’t had a nip for two months. Are you going to begin?”
“Never again,” said Rowland, rising. “I’ve a future now, as well as a past.”