Bread Upon the Waters (Kipling)
IF you remember my highly improper friend Brugglesmith, you will also bear in mind his friend McPhee, Chief Engineer of the "Breslau," whose dinghy Brugglesmith tried to steal. His apologies for the performances of Brugglesmith may one day be told in their proper place, but the tale before us concerns McPhee in his sea-going capacities. He was never a racing engineer, and took special pride in saying as much before the Liverpool men; but he had a knowledge of machinery and the humors of ships that he had worked thirty-two years to gain. One side of his face had been wrecked through the bursting of a pressure-gauge in the days when men knew less about pressures than they do now, and his nose rose grandly out of the wreck, like a club in a public riot. There were cuts and lumps on his head, and he would guide your forefinger through his short iron-gray hair and tell you how he had come by his trade-marks. He owned all sorts of certificates of extra-competency, and at the bottom of his cabin chest of drawers, where he kept the photograph of his wife, were two or three Royal Humane Society medals for saving lives at sea. Professionally—it was different when crazy steerage-passengers jumped overboard—professionally, McPhee does not approve of saving life at sea, and he has often told me that a new hell is prepared for stokers and trimmers who sign for a strong man’s pay and fall sick the second day out. He believes in throwing boots at fourth and fifth engineers when they wake him up at night with word that a bearing is red hot, all because a lamp’s glare is reflected red from the twirling metal. He believes that there are only two poets in the world: one being Robert Burns of course, and the other Gerald Massey. When he has time for novels he reads Wilkie Collins and Charles Reade—chiefly the latter—and knows whole pages of "Very Hard Cash" by heart. In the saloon his table was next to the captain’s, and he drank only water while his engines worked.
He was good to me when we first met, because I did not ask questions, and believed in Charles Reade as a most shamefully neglected author. Later he approved of my writings to the extent of one pamphlet of twenty-four pages that I wrote for Holdock, Steiner, and Chase, owners of the line, when they bought some ventilating patent and fitted it to the cabins of the "Breslau," "Spandau," and "Koltzau." The purser of the "Breslau" recommended me to Holdock’s secretary for the job; and Holdock, who is a Wesleyan Methodist, invited me to his house, and gave me dinner with the governess when the others had finished, and laced the plans and specifications in my hand, and I wrote the pamphlet that same afternoon. It was called "Comfort in the Cabin," and brought me seven pound ten cash down—an important sum of money in those days; and the governess, who was teaching Master John Holdock his scales, told me that Mrs. Holdock had told her to keep an eye on me in case I went away with coats from the hat rack. The Holdocks never approached literature in the right spirit, and Mrs. Holdock wanted to cut out half the poetical quotations in the pamphlet till I made clear to her husband that they were not charged for as original matter. McPhee liked that pamphlet enormously, for it was composed in the Bouverie-Byzantine style, with baroque and rococo embellishments; and afterward he introduced me to Mrs. McPhee, who succeeded Dinah in my heart, for Dinah was half a world away, and it is wholesome and antiseptic to know such a woman as Janet McPhee. They lived in a little twelve-pound house in the dark and distant East, close to the shipping. When McPhee was away Mrs. McPhee read the shipping news in the daily papers, and called on the wives of senior engineers of equal social standing. Once or twice, too, Mrs. Holdock visited Mrs. McPhee in a brougham with celluloid fittings, and I have reason to believe that after she had played owner’s wife long enough they talked scandal. The Holdocks lived in an old-fashioned house with a big brick garden not a mile from the McPhees, for they stayed by their money as their money stayed by them; and in summer you met their brougham solemnly junketing by Theydon Bois or Loughton. But I was Mrs. McPhee’s friend, and she allowed me to convoy her westward sometimes to theatres, where she sobbed or laughed or shivered with a simple heart; and she introduced me to a new world of doctors’ wives, captains’ wives, and engineers’ wives, whose whole talk and thought centred in and about ships and lines of ships you have never heard of. There were sailing-ships, with stewards and mahogany and maple saloons, trading to Australia, taking cargoes of consumptives and hopeless drunkards for whom a sea voyage was recommended; there were frowzy little West African boats, full of rats and cockroaches, where men died anywhere but in their bunks; there were Brazilian boats, whose cabins could be hired for merchandise, that went out loaded nearly awash; there were Zanzibar and Mauritius steamers, and wonderful reconstructed boats that plied to the other side of Borneo. These were loved and known, for they earned our bread and a little butter, and we despised the big Atlantic boats, and made fun of the P. and O. and Orient liners, and swore by our respected owners—Wesleyan, Baptist or Presbyterian, as the case might be.
I had been out of England for some months, and had only just come back when Mrs. McPhee invited me to dinner at three o’clock in the afternoon, and the note-paper was almost bridal in its scented creaminess. When I reached the house I saw that there were new curtains in the window that must have cost forty-five shillings a pair; and as Mrs. McPhee drew me into the little marble-papered hall, she looked at me keenly, and cried:
"Have ye not heard? What d’ye think o’ the hat-rack?"
Now, that hat-rack was oak; thirty shillings at least. McPhee came down-stairs with a sober foot—he steps as lightly as a cat for all his weight, when he is at sea—and shook hands in a new and awful manner—a parody of old Holdock’s style when he says good-bye to his skippers. Being a man who flatters himself that he can put two and two together, I perceived at once that it must be a legacy. I held my peace, though Mrs. McPhee begged me every thirty seconds to eat a great deal and say nothing. It was rather a mad sort of meal, because McPhee and his wife took hold of hands like little children (they always do after voyages), and nodded and winked and choked and gurgled, and hardly ate a mouthful.
A female servant came in and waited, and I nearly fell off my chair, because there is not work for two pair of hands in that house, and, if there were, McPhee could not afford a servant; and Mrs. McPhee had told me time and again that she would thank no one to do her housework while she had her health. But this was a servant with a cap, and I saw Mrs. McPhee swell and swell under her garance-colored gown. There is no small free-board to Janet McPhee, nor is garance any subdued tint; and with all this unexplained pride and glory in the air I felt like watching fireworks without knowing the festival. When the maid had removed the cloth she brought a pineapple that would have cost half a guinea at that season (only I knew McPhee has his own way of getting such things), and a Canton china bowl of dried lichis, and a glass plate of preserved ginger, and a small jar of sacred and Imperial chow-chow that perfumed the room. McPhee gets it from a Dutchman in Buitenzorg, and I think he doctors it with liquors. But the crown of the feast was some Madeira of the kind you can only come by if you know the Wine, and the Man, and the Island. A little maize-wrapped fig of clotted Madeira cigars went with the wine, and the rest was a pale blue smoky silence, Janet, in her splendor, smiling on us two, and patting McPhee’s hand.
"We’ll drink," said McPhee slowly, rubbing his chin, "to the eternal damnation o’ Holdock, Steiner, and Chase."
Of course I answered "Amen," though I had made seven pound ten shillings out of the firm. But McPhee’s enemies were mine, and I was drinking his Madeira.
"Ye’ve heard nothing?" said Janet. "Not a word, not a whisper?"
"Not a word, nor a whisper. On my word, I have not."
"Tell him, Mac," said she; and that is another proof of Janet’s goodness and wifely love. A smaller woman would have cut in first, but Janet is five foot nine in her stockings.
"We’re rich," said McPhee. I shook hands all round.
"We’re vara rich," he added. I shook hands all round a second time.
"I’ll go to sea no more. Unless—there’s no sayin’—a private yacht, maybe—wi’, a small an’ handy auxiliary."
"It’s not enough for that," said Janet. "We’re fair rich—well to do, but no more. A new gown for church and one for the theatre. We’ll have it made West."
"How much is it?" I asked.
"Twenty-five thousand pounds." I drew a long breath. "An’ I’ve been earnin’ twenty-five an’ twenty pound a month!" The last words came away with a roar, as though the wide world was conspiring to beat him down.
"All this time I’m waiting," I said. "I know nothing since last September. Was it left you?"
They laughed aloud together. "It was left," said McPhee, choking. "Ou, ay, it was left. That’s vara good. Of course it was left. Janet, d’ye note that? It was left. Now if you’d put that in your pamphlet it would have been vara jocose. It was left." He slapped his thigh and roared till the wine quivered in the decanter.
The Scotch are a great people, but they are apt to hang over a joke too long, particularly when no one can see the point but themselves.
"When I rewrite my pamphlet I’ll put it in, McPhee. Only I must know something more first."
McPhee thought for the length of half a cigar, while Janet caught my eye and led it round the room to one new thing after another—the new fine-patterned carpet, the new chiming rustic clock between the models of the Colombo outrigger-boats, the new inlaid sideboard with a purple cut-glass flower-stand, the fender of gilt and brass, and last, the new black-and-gold piano.
"In October o’ last year the Board sacked me," began McPhee. "In October o’ last year the 'Breslau' came in for winter overhaul. She’d been runnin’ eight months—two hunder an’ forty days—an’ I was three days makin’ up my indents, when she went to dry dock. All told, mark you, it was this side o’ three hunder pound—to be preceese, two hunder an’ eighty-six pound four shillings. There’s not another man could ha’ nursed the 'Breslau' for eight months to that tune. Never again—never again! They may send their boats to the bottom, for aught I care."
"There’s no need," said Janet softly. "We’re done wi’ Holdock, Steiner, and Chase."
"It’s irritatin’, Janet, it’s just irritatin’. I ha’ been justified from first to last, as the world knows, but—but I canna forgie ’em. Ay, wisdom is justified o’ her children; an’ any other man than me wad ha’ made the indent eight hunder. Hay was our skipper—ye’ll have met him. They shifted him to the 'Torgau,' an’ bade me wait for the 'Breslau' under young Bannister. Ye’ll obsairve there’d been a new election on the Board. I heard the shares were sellin’ hither an’ yon, an’ the major part of the Board was new to me. The old Board would ne’er ha’ done it. They trusted me. But the new Board was all for reorganization. Young Steiner—Steiner’s son—the Jew, was at the bottom of it, an’ they did not think it worth their while to send me word. The first I knew—an’ I was Chief Engineer—was the notice of the Line’s winter sailin’s, and the 'Breslau' timed for sixteen days between port an’ port! Sixteen days, man! She’s a good boat, none better for her work, but eighteen is her summer time, mark you. Sixteen was sheer flytin’, kitin’ nonsense, an’ so I told young Bannister.
"'We’ve got to make it,' he said. 'Ye should not ha’ sent in a three hunder pound indent.'
"'Do they look for their boats to be run on air?' I said. 'The Board is daft.'
"\E'en tell ’em so,' he says. 'I’m a married man, an’ my fourth’s on the ways now, she says.'"
"A boy—wi’ red hair," Janet put in. Her own hair is the splendid red gold that goes with a creamy complexion.
"My word, I was an angry man that day! Forbye I was fond o’ the old 'Breslau,' I looked for a little consideration from the Board after twenty years’ service. There was Board-meetin’ on Wednesday; an’ I slept overnight in the engine-room, takin’ figures to support my case. A bairn might ha' known they were flyin' in the face of all human possibilities. Well, I put it fair and square before them all. 'Gentlemen,' I said, 'I’ve run the 'Breslau' eight seasons, an’ I believe there’s no fault to find in my work. But if ye haud to this'—I waggled the advertisement at ’em—'this that I’ve never heard of till I read it at breakfast, I do assure you on my professional reputation, she can never do it. That is to say, she can for a while, but at a risk no thinkin’ man would run.’
"'What the deil d’ye suppose we pass your indent for?' says old Holdock. 'Man, we’re spendin’ money like watter.”
"'I’ll leave it in the Board’s hands,' I said, 'if two hunder an’ eighty-seven pound is anything beyond right and reason for eight months.' I might ha’ saved my breath, for the Board was new since the last election, an’ there they sat, the deevidend-huntin’ ship-chandlers, deaf as the adder o’ Scripture.
"'We must keep faith wi’ the public,' said young Steiner.
"'Keep faith wi’ the "Breslau" then,' I said. 'She’s served you well, an’ your father before you. She’ll need her bottom restiffenin’, an’ new bed-plates, an’ turnin’ out the forward boilers, an’ re-turnin’ all three cylinders, an’ refacin’ all guides, to begin with. It’s a three months’ job.'
"'Because one employee is afraid?' says young Steiner. 'Maybe a piano in the chief engineer’s cabin would be more to the point.'
"I crushed my cap in my hands, an’ thanked God we’d no bairns an’ a bit put by.
"'Understand, gentlemen,' I said. 'If the "Breslau" is made a sixteen-day boat, ye’ll find another engineer.”
"'Bannister makes no objection,' said Holdock.
"'I’m speakin’ for myself,' I said. 'Bannister has bairns.' An’ then I lost my temper. 'Ye can run her into Hell an’ out again if ye pay pilotage,' I said, 'but ye run without me.'
"'That’s insolence,' said young Steiner.
"'At your pleasure,' I said, turnin’ to go.
"'Ye can consider yourself dismissed. We must preserve discipline among our employees,' said old Holdock, an’ he looked round to see that the Board was with him. They knew nothin’—God forgie ’em—an’ they nodded me out o’ the Line after twenty years—after twenty years.
"I went out an’ sat down by the hall porter to get my wits again. I’m thinkin’ I swore at the Board. Then auld McRimmon—o’ McNaughton and McRimmon—came oot o’ his office, that’s on the same floor, an’ looked at me, proppin’ up one eyelid wi’ his forefinger. Ye ken they call him the Blind Deevil, forbye he’s onythin’ but blind, an’ no deevil in his dealin’s wi’ me—McRimmon o’ the Black Ox Line.
"'What’s here, Mister McPhee?' said he.
"I was past prayin’ for by then. 'A Chief Engineer sacked after twenty years’ service because he’ll not risk the "Breslau" on the new timin’, McRimmon,” I said.
"The auld man sucked in his lips an’ whistled. 'Ah,' said he. 'The new timin’. I see!' He doddered into the Board-room I’d just left, an’ the Dandie dog that is just his blind man’s leader stayed wi’ me. That was providential. In a minute he was back again. 'Ye’ve cast your bread on the watter, M’Phee,' he says. 'Whaur’s my dog? My word, is he on your knee? There’s more discernment in a dog than a Jew. What garred ye curse your Board, McPhee? It’s expensive.'
"'They’ll pay more for the "Breslau,”' I said. 'Get off my knee, ye smotherin’ beastie.'
"'Bearin’s hot, eh?' said McRimmon. 'It’s thirty year since a man daur curse me to my face. Time was I’d ha’ cast ye doon the stairway for that.’
"'Forgie’s all!' I said. He was wearin’ to eighty, as I knew. 'I was wrong, McRimmon. but when a man’s put oot o' the door for dooin’ his plain duty he’s not always ceevil.'
"'So I hear,' says McRimmon. 'Ha’ ye ony objection to a tramp freighter? It’s only fifteen a month, but they say the Blind Deevil feeds a man better than others. She’s my "Kite." Come ben. Ye can thank Dandie, here. I’m no used to thanks. An’ noo,' says he, 'what possessed ye to throw up your berth wi’ Holdock?”
"'The new timin’,' said I. 'The "Breslau" will not stand it.'
"'Hoot, oot,' said he. 'Ye might ha’ crammed her a little—enough to show ye were drivin’ her. an’ brought her in twa days behind. What’s easier than to say ye slowed for bearin’s, eh? All my men do it, and—I believe ’em.'
"'McRimmon,' says I, 'what’s her virginity to a lassie?'
"He puckered his dry face an’ twisted in his chair. 'The warld an’ a’,' says he. 'the vara warld an’ a’! But what ha’ you or me to do wi’ virginity, this late along?”
"'This,' I said. 'There’s just one thing that each one of us in his trade or profession will not do for ony consideration whatever. If I run to time I run to time, barrin’ always the risks o’ the high. seas. Less than that under God I have not done. More than that by God I will not do! There’s no trick o’ the trade I’m not acquaint wi’——'
"'So I’ve heard,' says McRimmon, dry as a biscuit.
"'But yon matter o’ fair runnin’s just my Shekinah, ye’ll understand. I daur na tamper wi’ that. Nursing weak engines is fair craftsmanship; but what the Board ask is cheatin’, wi’ the risk o’ manslaughter addeetional. Ye’ll note I know my business.'
"There was some more talk, an’ next week I went aboard the 'Kite', twenty-five hundred ton, simple compound, a Black Ox tramp. The deeper she rode, the better she’d steam. I’ve snapped as much as eleven out of her, but eight point three was her fair normal. Good food forward an’ better aft, all indents passed wi’out marginal remarks, the best Welsh coal, new donkies, and good crews. There was nothin’ the old man would not do, except paint. That was his deeficulty. Ye could no more draw paint than his last teeth from him. He’d come down to dock, an’ his boats a scandal all along the watter, an’ he’d whine an’ cry an’ say they looked all he could desire. Every owner has his non plus ultra, I’ve obsairved. Paint was McRimmon’s. But you could get round his engines without riskin’ your life, an’, for all his blindness, I’ve seen him reject five flawed intermediates, one after the other, on a nod from me; an’ his cattle-fittin’s were guaranteed for North Atlantic weather. Ye ken what that means? McRimmon an’ the Black Ox Line, God bless him!
"Oh, I forgot to say she would lie down an’ fill her forward deck green, an’ snore away into a twenty-knot gale forty-five to the minute, three an’ a half knots an' hour, the engines runnin’ sweet an’ true as a bairn breathin’ in its sleep. Bell was skipper—; an’ forbye there’s no love lost between crews an’ owners, we were fond o’ the auld Blind Deevil an’ his dog, an’ I’m thinkin’ he liked us. He was worth the windy side o’ twa million sterling’, an’ no friend to his own blood-kin. Money’s an awfu’ thing—overmuch—for a lonely man.
"I’d taken her out twice, there an’ back again, when word came o’ the 'Breslau’s' breakdown, just as I prophesied. Calder was her engineer—he’s not fit to run a tug down the Solent—and he fairly lifted the engines off the bed-plates, an’ they fell down in heaps, by what I heard. So she filled from the after-stuffin’-box to the after-bulkhead, an’ lay star-gazing, with seventy-nine squealin’ passengers in the saloon, till the 'Camaralzaman' o’ Ramsey and Gold’s Carthagena line gave her a tow to the tune o’ five thousand seven hunder an’ forty pound, wi’ costs in the admiralty court. She was helpless, ye’ll understand, an’ in no case to meet ony weather. Five thousand seven hunder an’ forty pounds, with costs, an’ exclusive o’ new engines! They’d ha’ done better to ha’ kept me—on the old timin’.
"But, even so, the new Board were all for retrenchment. Young Steiner, the Jew, was at the bottom of it. They sacked men right an’ left that would not eat the dirt the Board gave ’em. They cut down repairs; they fed crews wi’ leavin’s and scrapin’s; and, reversin’ McRimmon’s practice, they hid their defeeciencies wi’ paint an’ cheap gildin’. Quem Deus vult perrdere prrius dementat, ye remember.
"In January we went to dry-dock, an’ in the next dock lay the 'Grotkau,' their big freighter that was the 'Dolabella' o’ Piegan, Piegan, and Walsh’s Line in ’84—a Clyde-built iron boat, a flat-bottomed, pigeon-breasted, under-engined, bull-nosed barge of a five-thousand-ton freighter, that would neither steer, nor steam, nor stop when ye asked her. Whiles she’d attend to her helm, whiles she’d take charge; whiles she’d wait to scratch herself, an’ whiles she’d buttock into a dock-head. But Holdock and Steiner had bought her cheap, and was paintin' her all over. I went to see young Bannister—he had to take what the Board gave him, an’ he an’ Calder were shifted together from the 'Breslau' to this abortion—an’ talkin’ to him I went into the dock under her. Her plates were pitted till the men that were paint, paint, paintin’ her laughed at it. But the warst was at the last. She’d a great clumsy iron twelve-foot Thresher propeller—Aitcheson designed the 'Kite’s'—and just on the tail o’ the shaft, before the boss, was a red weepin’ crack ye could ha’ put a penknife to. Man, it was an awful crack!
"'When d’ye ship a new tail-shaft?' I said to Bannister.
"He knew what I meant. 'Oh, yon’s a superfeecial flaw,' says he, not lookin’ at me.
"'Superfeecial Gehenna!' I said. 'Ye’ll not take her oot wi’ a solution o’ continuity that like.'
"'They’ll putty it up this evening,' he said. 'I’m a married man, an’—ye used to know the Board.'
"I e’en said what was gie’d me in that hour. Ye know how a dry-dock echoes. I saw young Steiner standin’ listenin’ above me, an’, man, he used language provocative of a breach o’ the peace. I was a spy and a disgraced employee, an’ a corrupter o’ young Bannister’s morals, an’ he’d prosecute me for libel. He went away when I ran up the steps—I’d ha’ thrown him into the dock if I’d caught him—an’ there I met McRimmon, wi’ Dandie pullin’ on the chain, guidin’ the auld man among the railway lines.
"'McPhee,' said he, 'ye’re no paid to fight Holdock, Steiner, Chase, and Company, Limited, when ye meet. What’s wrong between you.”
"'No more than a tail-shaft rotten as a kail-stump. For ony sakes go and look, McRimmon. It’s a comedietta.'
"'I’m feared o’ yon conversational Hebrew,' said he. 'Whaur’s the flaw, an’ what like?'
"'A seven-inch crack just behind the boss. There’s no power on earth will fend it just jarrin’ off.'
"'That’s beyond my knowledge,' I said.
"'So it is; so it is!” said McRimmon. 'Ye’re certain it was a crack?'
"'Man, it’s a crevasse,' I said, for there were no words to describe the magnitude of it. 'An’ young Bannister’s sayin’ it’s no more than a superfeecial flaw!'
"'Weel, I tak’ it oor business is to mind oor business. If ye’ve ony friends aboard her, McPhee, why not bid them to a bit dinner at Radley’s?”
"'I was thinkin’ o’ tea in the cuddy,' I said. 'Engineers o’ tramp freighters cannot afford hotel prices.'
"'Na!—na!' says the auld man, whimperin’. 'Not the cuddy. They’ll laugh at my 'Kite,' for she’s no plastered with paint like the "Grotkau." Bid them to Radley’s, McPhee, an’ send me the bill. Thank Dandie here, man. I’m no used to thanks.' Then he turned him round. (I was just thinkin’ the vara same thing.) 'Mister McPhee,' said he, 'this is not senile dementia.'
"'Preserve’s!' I said, clean jumped oot o’ mysel’. 'I was but thinkin’ you’re fey, McRimmon.'
"Dod, the auld deevil laughed till he nigh sat down on Dandie. 'Send me the bill,' says he. 'I’m lang past champagne, but tell me how it tastes the morn.'
"Bell and I bid young Bannister and Calder to dinner at Radley’s. They’ll have no laughin’ an’ singin’ there, but we took a private room—like yacht-owners fra’ Cowes."
McPhee grinned all over, and lay back to think.
"And then?" said I.
"We were no drunk in ony preceese sense o’ the word, but Radley’s showed me the dead men. There were six magnums o’ dry champagne an’ maybe a bottle o’ whiskey."
"Do you mean to tell me that you four got away with a magnum and a half apiece, besides whiskey?’ I demanded.
McPhee looked down upon me from between his shoulders with toleration.
"Man, we were not settin’ down to drink," he said. "They no more than made us wutty. To be sure, young Bannister laid his head on the table an’ greeted like a bairn, an’ Calder was all for callin’ on Steiner at two in the morn’ an’ painting him galley green; but they’d been drinkin’ the afternoon. Lord, how they twa cursed the Board, an’ the 'Grotkau,' an’ the tailshaft, an’ the engines, an’ a’! They didna talk o’ superfeecial flaws that night. I mind young Bannister and Calder shakin’ hands on a bond to be revenged on the Board at ony reasonable cost this side of losing their certificates. Now mark ye how false economy ruins business. The Board fed them like swine (I have good reason to know it), an’ I’ve obsairved wi’ my ain people that if ye touch his stomach ye wauken the deil in a Scot. Men will tak’ a dredger across the Atlantic if they’re well fed, an' fetch her somewhere on the broadside o’ the Americas; but bad food’s bad service the world over.
"The bill went to McRimmon, an’ he said no more to me till the week-end, when I was at him for more paint, for we’d heard the 'Kite' was chartered Liverpool-side.
"'Bide whaur ye’re put,' said the Blind Deevil. 'Man, do ye wash in champagne? The "Kite’s" no leavin’ here till I gie the order, an’—how am I to waste paint on her, wi’ the "Lammergeyer" docked for who knows how long, an’ a’?'
"She was our big freighter—McIntyre was engineer—an’ I knew she’d come from overhaul not three months. That morn I met McRimmon’s head-clerk—ye’ll not know him—fair bitin’ his nails off wi’ mortification.
"'The auld man’s gone gyte,' says he. 'He’s withdrawn the "Lammergeyer."'
"'Maybe he has reasons,' says I.
"'Reasons! He’s daft!'
"'He’ll no be daft till he begins to paint,' I said.
"'That’s just what he’s done—and South American freights higher than we’ll live to see them again. He’s laid her up to paint her—to paint her—to paint her!' says the little clerk, dancin’ like a hen on a hot plate. 'Five thousand ton o’ potential freight rottin’ in dry dock, man; an’ he dolin’ the paint out in quarter-pound tins, for it cuts him to the heart, mad tho' he is. An’ the "Grotkau"—the "Grotkau" of all conceivable bottoms—soaking up every pound that should be ours at Liverpool!'
"I was staggered wi’ this folly—considerin’ the dinner at Radley’s in connection wi’ the same.
"'Ye may well stare, McPhee,' says the headclerk. 'There’s engines, an’ rollin’ stock, an’ iron bridges—d’ye ken what freights are noo?—an’ pianos, an’ millinery, an’ fancy Brazil cargo o’ every species pourin’ into the "Grotkau"—the "Grotkau" o’ the Jerusalem firm, and the "Lammergeyer’s" bein’ painted!”
"Losh, I thought he’d drop dead wi’ the fits.
"I could say no more than 'Obey orders, if ye break owners,' but on the 'Kite' we believed McRimmon was mad, an’ McIntyre of the 'Lammergeyer' was for lockin’ him up by some patent legal process he’d found in a book o’ maritime law. An’ a’ that week South American freights rose an’ rose. It was sinfu’!
"Syne Bell got orders to tak’ the 'Kite' round to Liverpool in water-ballast, and McRimmon came to bid’s good-by, yammerin’ an’ whinin’ o’er the acres o’ paint he’d lavished on the 'Lammergeyer.'
"'I look to you to retrieve it,' says he. 'I look to you to reimburse me! ’Fore God, why are ye not cast off? Are ye dawdlin’ in dock for a purpose.?'
"'What odds, McRimmon?' says Bell. 'We’ll be a day behind the fair at Liverpool. The "Grotkau’s" got all the freight that might ha’ been ours an’ the "Lammergeyer’s."' McRimmon laughed an’ chuckled—the pairfect eemage o’ senile dementia. Ye ken his eyebrows wark up an’ down like a gorilla’s.
"'Ye’re under sealed orders,' said he, tee-heein’ an’ scratchin’ himself. 'Yon’s they—to be opened seriatim.'
"Says Bell, shufflin’ the envelopes when the auld man had gone ashore: 'We’re to creep round a’ the south coast, standin’ in for orders—this weather too. There’s no question o’ his lunacy now.'
"Well, we buttocked the auld 'Kite' along—vara bad weather we made—standin’ in to the Start, the Leezard, and St. David's for telegraphic orders, which are the curse o’ skippers. Syne we made over to Holyhead, an’ Bell opened the last envelope for the last instructions. I was wi’ him in the cuddy, an’ he threw it over to me, cryin’: 'Did ye ever know the like, Mac?'
"I’ll no say what McRimmon had written, but he was far from mad. There was a sou’-wester brewin’ when we made the mouth o’ the Mersey, a bitter cold morn wi’ a gray-green sea and a gray-green sky—Liverpool weather, as they say; an’ there we lay choppin’, an’ the men swore. Ye canna keep secrets aboard ship. They thought McRimmon was mad, too.
"Syne we saw the "Grotkau" rollin’ oot on the top o’ flood, deep an’ double deep, wi’ her new painted funnel an’ her new painted boats an’ a’. She looked her name, an’, moreover, she coughed like it. Calder tauld me at Radley’s what ailed his engines, but my own ear would ha’ told me twa mile awa’, by the beat o’ them. Round we came, plungin’ an’ squatterin’ in her wake, an’ the wind cut wi’ good promise o’ more to come. By six it blew hard but clear, an’ before the middle watch it was a sou’-wester in earnest.
"'She’ll edge into Ireland, this gait,' says Bell. I was with him on the bridge, watchin’ the 'Grotkau’s' port light. Ye canna see green so far as red, or we’d ha’ kept to leeward. We’d no passengers to consider, an’ all eyes being on the 'Grotkau,' we fair walked into a liner rampin’ home to Liverpool. Or, to be preceese, Bell no more than twisted the 'Kite' oot from under her bows, and there was a little damnin’ betwix’ the twa bridges. Noo a passenger"—McPhee regarded me benignantly—"wad ha’ told the papers that as soon as he got to the Customs. We stuck to the 'Grotkau’s' tail that night an’ the next twa days—she slowed down to five knots by my reckonin’ and we lapped along the weary way to the Fastnet."
"But you don’t go by the Fastnet to get to any South American port, do you?" I said.
"We do not. We prefer to go as direct as maybe. But we were followin’ the 'Grotkau,' an’ she’d no walk into that gale for ony consideration. Knowin’ what I did to her discredit, I couldna blame young Bannister. It was warkin’ up to a North Atlantic winter gale, snow an’ sleet an’ a perishin’ wind. Eh, it was like the deil walkin’ abroad o’ the surface o’ the deep, whuppin’ off the tops o’ the waves before he made up his mind. They’d bore up against it so far, but the minute she was clear o’ the Skelligs she fair tucked up her skirts an’ ran for it by Dunmore Head. Wow, she rolled!
"'She’ll be makin’ Smerwick,' says Bell.
"'She’d ha’ tried for Ventry by noo if she meant that,' I said.
"'They’ll roll the funnel oot o’ her, this gait,' says Bell. 'Why canna Bannister keep her head to sea?'
"'It’s the tail-shaft. Ony rollin’s better than pitchin’ wi’ superfeecial cracks in the tail-shaft. Calder knows that much,' I said.
"'It’s ill wark retreevin’ steamers this weather,' said Bell. His beard and whiskers were frozen to his oilskin, an’ the spray was white on the weather side of him. Pairfect North Atlantic winter weather!
"One by one the sea raxed away our three boats, an’ the davits were crumpled like rams’ horns.
"'Yon’s bad,” said Bell, at the last. “Ye canna pass a hawser wi’oot a boat.' Bell was a vara judeecious man—for an Aberdonian.
"I’m not one that fashes himself for eventualities outside the engine-room, so I e’en slipped down betwixt waves to see how the 'Kite' fared. Man, she’s the best geared boat of her class that ever left Clyde! Kinloch, my second, knew her as well as I did. I found him dryin’ his socks on the main steam-pipe, an’ combin’ his whiskers wi’ the comb Janet gie'd me last year, for the warld an’ a’ as though we were in port. I tried the feed, speered into the stoke-hole, thumbed all bearin’s, spat on the thrust for luck, gie'd ’em my blessin’, an’ took Kinloch’s socks before I went up to the bridge again.
"Then Bell handed me the wheel, an’ went below to warm himself. When he came up my gloves were frozen to the spokes, an’ the ice clicked over my eyelids. Pairfect North Atlantic winter weather, as I was sayin’.
"The gale blew out by night, but we lay in smotherin’ cross seas that made the auld 'Kite' chatter from stem to stern. I slowed to thirty-four, I mind—no, thirty-seven. There was a long swell the morn, an’ the 'Grotkau' was headin’ into it west awa’.
"'She’ll win to Rio yet, tail-shaft or no tail-shaft,' says Bell.
"'Last night shook her,' I said. 'She’ll jar it off yet, mark my word.'
"We were then, maybe, a hunder and fifty mile west-sou’-west o’ Slyne Head by dead reckonin’. Next day we made a hunder an’ thirty—ye’ll note we were not racin’ boats; an’ the day after a hunder and sixty-one, an’ that made us, we’ll say, eighteen an’ a bittock west, an’ maybe fifty-one an’ a bittock north, crossin’ all the North Atlantic liner lanes on the long slant, always in sight o’ the 'Grotkau,' creepin’ up by night and fallin’ awa’ by day. After the gale, it was cold weather wi’ dark nights.
"I was in the engine-room on Friday night, just before the middle watch, when Bell whustled doon the tube: 'She’s done it,' an’ up I came.
"The 'Grotkau' was just a fair distance south, an’ one by one she ran up the three red lights in a vertical line, the sign of a steamer not under control.
"'Yon’s a tow for us,' said Bell, lickin’ his chops. 'She’ll be worth more than the 'Breslau.' We’ll go down to her, McPhee!'
"'Bide a while,' I said. 'The sea’s throng wi’ ships here.'
"'Reason why,' said Bell. 'It’s a fortune gaun beggin’. What d’ye think, man?'
"'Gie her till daylight. She knows we’re here. If Bannister needs help he’ll loose a rocket.”
"'Wha told ye Bannister’s need? We’ll ha’ some rag-an’-bone tramp snappin’ her up under oor nose,” said he, and he put the wheel over. We were gain' slow.
"'Bannister wad be better pleased to go home on a liner an’ eat in the saloon. Mind ye what they said o’ Holdock and Steiner’s food that night at Radley’s? Keep her awa’, man—keep her awa’. A tow’s a tow, but an abandoned ship’s big salvage.”
"'E-eh!' said Bell. 'Yon’s an inshot o’ yours, Mac. I love ye like a brother. We’ll bide whaur we are till daylight;' an’ he kept her awa’.
"Syne up went a rocket forward, an’ twa on the bridge, an’ a blue light aft. Syne a tar-barrel forward again.
"'She’s sinkin’,' said Bell. 'It’s all gaun, an’ I’ll get no more than a pair o’ night-glasses for pickin’ up young Bannister—the fool!”
"'Fair an’ soft again,' I said. 'She’s signallin’ to the south of us. Bannister knows as well as I one rocket would bring us. He’ll no be wastin’ fireworks for nothin’. Hear her ca’!'
"The 'Grotkau' whustled. an’ whustled for five minutes, an’ then there were more fireworks—a regular exhibeetion.
"'That’s no for men in the regular trade,' says Bell. 'Ye’re right, Mac. That’s for a cuddy full o’ passengers.” He blinked through the nightglasses where it lay a bit thick to southward.
"'What d’ye make of it?' I said.
"'Liner,' he says. 'Yon’s her rocket. Ou, ay; they’ve waukened the gold-strapped skipper, an’—noo they’ve waukened the passengers. They’re turnin’ on the electrics, cabin by cabin. Yon’s anither rocket. They’re comin’ up to help the perishin’ in deep watters.'
"'Gie me the glass,' I said. But Bell danced on the bridge, clean dementit. 'Mails—mails—mails!' said he. 'Under contract wi’ the Government for the due conveyance o’ the mails; an’ as such, Mac, ye’ll note, she may rescue life at sea, but she canna tow!—she canna tow! Yon’s her night-signal. She’ll be up in half an hour!'
"'Gowk!' I said, 'an’ we blazin’ here wi’ all oor lights. Oh, Bell, but ye’re a fool!'
"He tumbled off the bridge forward, an’ I tumbled aft, an’ before ye could wink our lights were oot, the engine-room hatch was covered, an’ we lay pitch dark three mile maybe from the 'Grotkau,', watchin’ the lights o’ the liner come up that she’d been signallin’ for. Twenty knot an hour she came, every cabin lighted, an’ her boats swung awa’. It was grandly done, an’ in the inside of an hour. She stopped like Mrs. Holdock’s machine; down went the gangway, down went the boats, an’ in ten minutes we heard the passengers cheerin’, an’ awa’ she fled.
"'They’ll tell o’ this all the days they live,' said Bell. 'A rescue at sea by night, as pretty as a play. Young Bannister an’ Calder will be drinkin’ in the saloon; an’ six months hence the Board o’ Trade ’ll gie the skipper a pair o’ binoculars. It’s vara philanthropic all round.'
"We lay by till day—ye may think we waited for it wi’ sore eyes—an’ there sat the 'Grotkau,' her nose a bit cocked, just leerin’ at us. She looked perfectly ridiculous.
"'She’ll be fillin’ aft,' says Bell; 'for why is she down by the stern? The tail-shaft’s punched a hole in her, an’—we’ve no boats. There’s three hunder thousand pound sterlin’, at a conservative estimate, droonin’ before our eyes. What’s to do?”
"'Run her as near as ye daur,' I said: 'Gie me a jacket an’ a life-line, an’ I’ll swum for it.' There was a bit lump of a sea, an’ it was cold in the wind—vara cold; but they’d gone overside like passengers, young Bannister an’ Calder an’ a’, leaving the gangway doon on the lee-side. It would ha’ been a flyin’ in the face o’ manifest Providence to overlook the invitation. We were within fifty yards o’ her while Kinloch was garmin’ me all over wi’ oil behind the galley; an’ as we ran past I went outboard for the salvage o’ three hunder thousand pound. Man, it was perishin’ cold, but I’d done my job judgmatically, an’ came scrapin’ all along her side slap on to the lower gratin’ o’ the gangway. No one more astonished than me, I assure ye. Before I’d caught my breath I’d barked both my knees on the gratin’, an’ was climbin’ up before she rolled again. I made my line fast to the rail, an’ squattered aft to young Bannister’s cabin, whaur I dried me wi’ everything in his bunk, an’ put on every conceivable sort o’ rig I found till the blood was circulatin’. Three pair drawers, I mind I found—to begin upon—an’ I needed them all. It was the coldest cold I remember in all my experience.
"Syne I went aft to the engine-room. The 'Grotkau' sat on her own tail, as they say. She was vara short-shafted, an’ her gear was all aft. There was four or five foot o’ watter in the engine-room slummockin’ to and fro black an’ greasy; maybe there was six foot., The stoke-hold doors were screwed home, an’ the stoke-hold was tight enough; but for a minute the mess in the engine-room deceived me. Only for a minute, though, an’ that was because I was not, in a manner o’ speakin’, as calm as ordinar. I looked again to be sure. ’Twas just black wi’ bilge: dead watter that must ha’ come in fortuitously, ye ken."
"McPhee, I’m only a passenger," I said, ‘but you don’t persuade me that six foot o’ water can come into an engine-room fortuitously."
"Who’s tryin’ to persuade one way or the other?" McPhee retorted. "I’m statin’ the facts o’ the case—the simple, natural facts. Six or seven foot o’ dead watter in the engine-room is a vara depressin’ sight if ye think there’s like to be more comin’; but I did not consider that was likely, and so, ye’ll note, I was not depressed.’
"That’s all very well, but I want to know about the water," I said.
"I’ve told ye. There was six feet or more there, wi’ Calder’s cap floatin’ on top."
"Where did it come from?"
"Weel, in the confusion o’ things after the propeller had dropped off an’ the engines were racin’ an’ a’, it’s vara possible that Calder might ha’ lost it off his head an’ no troubled himself to pick it up again. I remember seein’ that cap on him at Southampton."
"I don’t want to know about the cap. I’m asking where the water came from, and what it was doing there, and why you were so certain that it wasn’t a leak, McPhee?"
"For good reason; for good an’ sufficient reason."
"Give it to me, then."
"Weel, it’s a reason that does not properly concern myself only. To be preceese, I’m of opinion that it was due, the watter, in part to an error o’ judgment in another man. We can a’ mak’ mistakes."
"Oh, I beg your pardon!"
"I got me to the rail again, an’, 'What’s wrang?' said Bell, hailin’.
"'She’ll do,' I said. 'Send’s o’er a hawser.'
"They bent a twa-inch rope to the life-line, an’ a hawser to that, an’ I led the rope o’er the drum of a hand-winch forward, an’ I sweated the hawser inboard an’ made it fast to the 'Grotkau’s' bitts.
"Bell brought the 'Kite' so close I feared she’d roll in an’ do the 'Grotkau’s' plates a mischief. He hove anither life-line to me, an’ went astern, an’ we had all the weary winch-work to do again wi’ a second hawser. For all that, Bell was right: we’d a long tow before us, an’ though Providence had helped us that far, there was no sense in leavin’ too much to its keepin’. When the second hawser was fast, I was wet wi’ sweat, an’ I cried Bell to tak’ up his slack an’ go home. I've heard that Kinloch an' he got gey drunk the night, but I turned in to young Bannister’s bunk, an’ slept past ony expression. For a general rule I sleep wi' both ears open, as a thinkin' engineer must, but I was deeper gone that night than I can ca' to mind in my life before. I waukened ragin’ wi’ hunger, a fair lump o’ sea runnin’, the 'Kite' snorin’ awa’ four knots an hour, an’ the 'Grotkau' slappin’ her nose under, an’ vawin’ an’ standin’ over at discretion. She was a most disgracefu’ tow. But the shameful thing of all was the food. I raxed me a meal fra' galley-shelves an’ pantries an’ lazareetes an’ cubby-holes that I would not ha’ gied to the mate of a Cardiff collier; an’ ye ken we say a Cardiff mate will eat clinkers to save waste. I’m sayin’ it was simply vile! The crew had written what they thought of it on the new paint o’ the fo’c’sle, but I had not a leevin' soul wi’ me to complain on. There was nothin’ for me to do save watch the hawsers an’ the 'Kite’s' tail squatterin’ down in white watter when she lifted over a sea; so I got steam on the after donkey-pump, an’ pumped oot the engine-room. There’s no sense in leavin’ watter loose in a ship. When she was dry, I went doon the shaft-tunnel, an’ found she was leakin’ a little through the stuffin’-box, but nothin’ to make wark. The propeller had e’en jarred off, as I knew it must, an’ Calder had been waitin’ for it to go wi’ his hand on the gear. He told me as much when I met him ashore. There was nothin’ started or strained. It had just slipped awa’ to the bed o’ the Atlantic as easy as a man dyin’ wi’ due warnin’—a most providential business for all concerned. Syne I took stock o’ the 'Grotkau’s' upper works. Her boats had been smashed on the davits, an’ here an’ there was the rail missin’, an’ a ventilator or two had fetched awa’, an’ the bridge-rails were bent by the seas; but her hatches were tight, and she’d taken no sort of harm. Dod, I came to hate her like a human bein’, for I was eight weary days aboard, starvin’—ay, starvin’—within a cable’s length o’ plenty. All day I lay in the bunk reading the 'Woman Hater', the grandest book Charlie Reade ever wrote, an’ pickin’ a toothful here an’ there. It was weary, weary work. Eight days, man, I was aboard the 'Grotkau,' an’ not one full meal did I make. Sma’ blame her crew would not stay by her.
"It came on to blow when we fetched soundin’s, an’ that kept me standin’ by the hawsers, lashed to the capstan, breathin’ betwixt green seas. I near died o’ cauld an’ hunger, for the 'Grotkau' towed like a barge, an’ Bell howkit her along through or over. It was vara thick up Channel, too. We were standin’ in to make some sort o’ light, and we near walked over twa three fishin’ boats, an’ they cried us we were o’er close to Falmouth. Then we were near cut down by a drunken foreign fruiter that was blunderin’ between us an’ the shore, and it got thicker and thicker that night, an’ I could feel by the tow Bell did not know whaur he was. Losh, we knew in the morn, for the wind blew the fog oot like a candle, an’ the sun came clear; and as surely as McRimmon gied me my check, the shadow o’ the Eddystone lay across our tow-rope! We were that near—ay, we were that near! Bell fetched the 'Kite' round with a jerk that came close to tearin’ the bitts out o’ the 'Grotkau;' an’ I mind I thanked my Maker in young Bannister’s cabin when we were inside Plymouth breakwater.
"The first to come aboard was McRimmon, wi’ Dandie. Did I tell you our orders were to take anything found into Plymouth? The auld deil had just come down overnight, puttin’ two an’ two together from what Calder had told him when the liner landed the 'Grotkau’s' men. He had preceesely hit oor time. I’d hailed Bell for something to eat, an’ he sent it o’er in the same boat wi’ McRimmon, when the auld man came to me. He grinned an’ slapped his legs and worked his eyebrows the while I ate.
"'How do Holdock, Steiner, and Chase feed their men?' said he.
"'Ye can see,' I said, knockin’ the top off another beer-bottle. 'I did not take to be starved, McRimmon.'
"'Nor to swim, either,' said he, for Bell had tauld him how I carried the line aboard. 'Well, I’m thinkin’ you’ll be no loser. What freight could we ha’ put into the "Lammergeyer" would equal salvage on four hunder thousand pounds—hull and cargo? Eh, McPhee? This cuts the liver out o’ Holdock, Steiner, Chase, and Company, Limited. Eh, McPhee? An’ I’m sufferin’ from senile dementia now? Eh, McPhee? An’ I’m not daft, am I, till I begin to paint the "Lammergeyer"? Eh, McPhee? Ye may weel lift your leg, Dandie! I ha’ the laugh o’ them all. Ye found watter in the engine-room?'
"'To speak wi’oot prejudice,' I said, 'there was some watter.'
"'They thought she was sinkin’ after the propeller went. She filled with extraordinary rapeedity. Calder said it grieved him an’ Bannister to abandon her.”
"I thought o’ the dinner at Radley’s, an’ what like o’ food I’d eaten for eight days.
"'It would grieve them sore,' I said.
"'But the crew would not hear o’ stayin’ an’ workin' her back under canvas. They’re gaun up an’ down sayin’ they’d ha’ starved first.'
"'They’d ha’ starved if they’d stayed,' said I.
"'I tak’ it, fra Calder’s account, there was a mutiny a’most.”
"'Ye know more than I, McRimmon,' I said. 'Speakin’ wi’oot prejudice, for we’re all in the same boat, who opened the bilge-cock?'
"'Oh, that’s it—is it?' said the auld man, an’ I could see he was surprised. 'A bilge-cock, ye say?'
"'I believe it was a bilge-cock. They were all shut when I came aboard, but someone had flooded the engine-room eight feet over all, and shut it off with the worm-an’-wheel gear from the second gratin’ afterwards.'
"'Losh!' said McRimmon. 'The ineequity o’ man’s beyond belief. But it’s awfu’ discreditable to Holdock, Steiner, and Chase, if that came oot in court.'
"'It’s just my own curiosity,' I said.
"'Aweel, Dandie’s afflicted wi’ the same disease. Dandie, strive against curiosity, for it brings a little dog into traps an’ suchlike. Whaur was the 'Kite' when yon painted liner took off the "Grotkau’s" people?'
"'Just there or thereabouts,' I said.
"'An’ which o’ you twa thought to cover your lights?' said he, winkin’.
"'Dandie,' I said to the dog, 'we must both strive against curiosity. It’s an unremunerative business. What’s our chance o’ salvage, Dandie?'
"He laughed till he choked. 'Tak’ what I gie you, McPhee, an’ be content,' he said. 'Lord, how a man wastes time when he gets old! Get aboard the 'Kite,' mon, as soon as ye can. I’ve clean forgot there’s a Baltic charter yammerin’ for you at London. That’ll be your last voyage, I’m thinkin’, excep’ by way o’ pleasure.”
"Steiner’s men were comin’ aboard to take charge an’ tow her round, an’ I passed young Steiner in a boat as I went to the 'Kite.' He looked down his nose; but McRimmon pipes up: 'Here’s the man ye owe the "Grotkau" to—at a price, Steiner—at a price! Let me introduce Mister McPhee to you. Maybe ye’ve met before; but ye’ve vara little luck in keeping your men—ashore or afloat?'
"Young Steiner looked angry enough to eat him as he chuckled an’ whustled in his dry old throat.
"'Ye’ve not got your price yet,' Steiner says.
"'Na, na,' says the auld man, in a screech ye could hear to the Hoe, 'but I’ve twa million sterlin’, an’ no bairns, ye Judeeus Apella, if ye mean to fight; an’ I’ll match ye pund for pund till the last pund’s oot. Ye ken me, Steiner? I’m McRimmon o’ McNaughten and McRimmon!'
"'Dod,' he said betwix’ his teeth, sittin’ back in the boat, 'I’ve waited fourteen year to break that Jew-firm, an’ God be thankit I’ll do it now.”
"The 'Kite' was in the Baltic while the auld man was warkin' his warks, but I know the assessors valued the 'Grotkau,' all told, at over three hunder and sixty thousand—her manifest was a treat o’ richness—an' McRimmon got a third for salvin’ an abandoned ship. Ye ken, there’s vast deeference between towin’ a ship wi’ men on her an' pickin’ up a derelict—a vast deeference—in pounds sterlin’. Moreover, twa three o’ the 'Grotkau’s' crew were burnin’ to testify about food, an’ there was a note o’ Calder to the Board in regard to the tail-shaft that would ha’ been vara damagin’ if it had come into court. They knew better than to fight.
"Syne the 'Kite' came back, an' McRimmon paid off me an’ Bell personally, an' the rest of the crew pro ratâ, I believe it’s ca’ed. My share—oor share, I should say—was just twenty-five thousand pound sterlin’."
At this point Janet jumped up and kissed him.
"Five-and-twenty thousand pound sterlin’! Noo, I’m fra the North, and I’m not the like o' man to fling awa’ money rashly, but I’d gie six months’ pay—one hunder an twenty pounds—to know who flooded the engine-room of the 'Grotkau.' I’m fairly well acquaint wi’ McRimmon’s eediosyncrasies, and he’d no hand in it. It was not Calder, for I’ve asked him, an’ he wanted to fight me. It would be in the highest degree unprofessional o’ Calder—not fightin’, but openin’ bilge-cocks—but for a while I thought it was him. Ay, I judged it might be him—under temptation."
"What’s your theory?" I demanded.
"Weel, I’m inclined to think it was one o’ those singular providences that remind us we’re in the hands o’ Higher Powers."
"It couldn’t open and shut itself?"
"I did not mean that; but some half-starvin’ oiler or, maybe, trimmer must ha’ opened it a while to mak’ sure o’ leavin’ the 'Grotkau.' It’s a demoralizin’ thing to see an engine-room flood up after any accident to the gear—demoralizin’ and deceptive both. Aweel, the man got what he wanted, for they went aboard the liner cryin’ that the 'Grotkau' was sinkin’. But it’s curious to think o’ the consequences. In a’ human probability, he’s bein’ cursed in heaps at the present moment aboard another tramp freighter; an’ here am I, wi’ five-an’-twenty thousand pound invested, resolute to go to sea no more—providential’s the preceese word—except as a passenger, ye’ll understand, Janet.’
. . . . .
McPhee kept his word. He and Janet went for a voyage as passengers in the first-class saloon. They paid seventy pounds for their berths; and Janet found a very sick woman in the second-class saloon, so that for sixteen days she lived below, and chatted with the stewardesses at the foot of the second-saloon stairs while her patient slept. McPhee was a passenger for exactly twenty-four hours. Then the engineers’ mess—where the oilcloth tables are—joyfully took him to its bosom, and for the rest of the voyage that company was richer by the unpaid services of a highly certificated engineer.