Bert Wilson, Wireless Operatorñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
But if eyes were strained on the Fearless, how much more earnestly did everyone of those on the ill-fated steamer look for some sign or sound from a rescuing ship? The typhoon had passed very quickly, but what havoc it had wrought in so short a time! The floating palace that had seemed so secure was now reduced to a dismantled, twisted hulk, water-logged and slowly carrying her unfortunate passengers to destruction.
A whole hour had passed since the message had been sent forth to seek and find help, but no help had come. Who shall attempt to record the history of that hour? At first hope, faint it is true but still hope, then increasing anxiety as the doomed vessel settled deeper and deeper in the water, then growing despair as all feared, what the captain and crew knew, that in a very little while would come the end. Even if a vessel should appear now, the captain feared that only a few could be saved, as it must be a work of time to transfer those hundreds of passengers from one ship to another. As all the life-boats had been smashed and carried away, precious minutes must be lost awaiting a boat from the rescuing ship. But in order that all might be in readiness, the women and children were placed close to the rail to be taken first, and the other passengers told off in squads for each succeeding embarkation so that there need be no confusion at the last moment.
To the poor unfortunates those long minutes of waiting, fraught with possibilities of life or death, had seemed like hours. A great quiet had fallen over them, the paralyzing stupor of despair. Nearly all had ceased to hope or look for rescue, but sat with bowed heads, awaiting the fate which could not now be long delayed.
Suddenly, through this silent despairing company ran an electric thrill. Life pulsed in their veins, and hope that they had thought dead, sprang anew in their hearts. A sailor casting one despairing glance about him, had seen the smokestacks of a steamer gleaming red through the faint mist that still hung over the water. Springing to his feet, he began shouting, “Sail ho! a sail! a sail!” For a moment all was wildest confusion, and it was with greatest difficulty that the captain, who had prepared for just this outbreak, could control these frantic people and restore discipline among them. By this time, the lookout on the Fearless had made out the wreck and a heartening toot-toot from her steam whistle gladdened the waiting hundreds. But would she reach them in time? Already the captain had noticed the trembling of the ship that so surely foretells the coming plunge into the depths of the ocean. It is a miracle that Fate had so long stayed her hand. To be lost now, with life and safety almost within their grasp, would be doubly terrible.
Breathlessly they wait until the steamer moving at the very limit of her speed, comes nearer and nearer, till at last she slows and drifts only a few hundred feet away.
To the surprise of the Fearless, no attempt was made on board the sinking ship to lower her boats; and equal was the consternation on board the sinking steamer, when they saw that no boats were lowered from the other ship.
“Her boats are gone, too,” shouted Bert as the situation became plain to all.
No sooner had the words left his lips than the Fearless’
carpenters were at work, and in an incredibly short space of time, a rough life buoy was knocked together. They worked with a will for they knew that every second might mean a life. The buoy consisted of a rude platform with uprights at its four corners, to the top of each of which a pulley was securely fastened. Around the uprights ropes were wound making a rude but safe conveyance.
While this was doing, a ball with string attached was shot from a small cannon on board the Fearless. Whistling through the air, it landed just within the wrecked ship’s rail. Eager hands prevent it from slipping and there is no lack of helpers to draw in the line to the deck. With deft but trembling hands the crew work to secure the cable which follows the line.
At last the life line is adjusted and secured between the two ships, the life buoy comes speeding over the water to the doomed vessel, and as it rushed back toward the waiting Fearless, with its load of women and children, a great cheer goes up. A moment, and the forlorn creatures are lifted by tender hands to the Fearless, and the buoy swings back for a second load. The work of rescue has begun.
Back and forth swings the buoy until the women and children are all safe, and still the miracle holds; the wreck still floats. In less time than would have seemed possible, all the sufferers from the wreck have reached the rescuing ship except the captain and his first mate, and the life buoy is swung back for the last time. Hurry now, willing hands! Already the bow of the sinking steamer is buried beneath the waves. Another moment or two, and it will be too late. Only a few feet more. Speed, speed, life buoy! She reaches the rail. Eager hands draw the two last voyagers over and cut the now useless life line. As the men step to the deck of the Fearless the wreck, with one more convulsive shiver, plunges to her last resting place, but, thank God, with not one soul left upon her. All are saved, and Bert, overcome, bows his head upon his arms, and again thanks heaven for the wireless. Once more it has wrought a miracle and plucked a host of precious lives from the maw of the ravenous sea.
“Beat this if you can, fellows,” said Tom, as, next morning, lazily stretched in his steamer chair on the deck of the Fearless, his eyes took in with delight the broad expanse of the ocean, with its heaving, green billows, capped with feathery foam of dazzling whiteness; the arching blue of the heavens, across which floated soft, gray clouds, which, pierced through and through by the brilliant sunshine, seemed as transparent as a gossamer veil. A sea-gull, rising suddenly from the crest of a wave, soared high with gracefully waving wings; then suddenly turning, swooped downward with the speed of an arrow, disappearing for a moment beneath the wave, rose again, triumphant, with a fish in its talons, and swept majestically skyward.
Fountains of spray cast up by the swiftly moving ship gleamed and flashed in the sunshine and fell to the deck in myriad diamonds.
Tom’s pleasure was fully shared by his comrades, and surely in contrast to the storm and stress and darkness of yesterday, the sunshine and calm and beauty of this matchless day was enough to fill them with keenest delight. The swift motion of the good ship that had so gallantly weathered the terrible storm, the sea air which, freighted with salt spray as it rushed against their faces made the flesh tingle, the brilliant sunshine, – all combined to make this one of the happiest mornings of their lives.
From sheer exuberance of joy Dick started singing
“A life on the ocean wave,”
in which the others joined. As the last notes died away they began to talk of yesterday’s storm. Something that Tom said reminded Dick of an exciting sea story he had read, and, complying with Tom’s eager “Tell us about it,” he was soon in the midst of the yarn, the boys listening with eager delight. Others, seeing their absorbed interest, drifted up until Dick had quite an audience of interested listeners.
This story was followed by others, and one of the passengers had just finished describing the very narrow escape of a boatload of sailors who were being drawn to destruction by the dying struggles of an enormous whale which they had harpooned, when Bert, who, while he listened, had been idly watching a sail which had appeared above the horizon, suddenly sprang to his feet in great excitement and drew everybody’s attention.
“What is it? what is it?” cried Tom, catching the excitement and also springing to his feet.
“Why,” Bert answered, “look at that ship to starboard. I’ve been watching her for some time and she acts differently from any ship I ever saw. At first she seemed to be sailing a little distance and then back again in a sort of zig-zag course, but just a minute ago she turned side-on toward us, and now she looks as if she were veering from one point of the compass to another without any attempt at steering.”
Following his gaze, all saw with intense surprise the ship, as Bert had said, apparently without guidance and drifting aimlessly.
After the first moments of startled silence, exclamations and questions broke forth on all sides.
“Well, well, what a most extraordinary thing!” “What ship can she be?” “She looks like a schooner.” “Why does she drift in that aimless fashion?” “What can be the matter with her?”
By this time glasses had been brought. Eager eyes scanned the strange ship from stem to stern, and one of the gazers exclaimed:
“She certainly doesn’t seem to have anyone at her wheel. She is evidently at the mercy of the sea.”
This set everyone to talking at once and the greatest excitement reigned. Everyone crowded to the side of the ship to get a better view. The stranger seemed to be about three miles away, but, as the distance lessened between her and the Fearless, the excitement on board increased, and as, even with the glasses, no sign of living creature could be seen, the sense of mystery deepened.
When, at last, the captain announced that he would send a boat out to speak the strange ship, a murmur of satisfaction was heard on every side. At the call for volunteers there was no lack of response and our boys were among them.
It was with breathless delight that they heard their names called, and tumbled with others into the boat.
“Here’s luck,” Dick exulted as he scrambled to his place. The others agreed with him. But, if they had expected a pleasure trip, they were quickly undeceived. Standing on the deck of a great ship like the Fearless is a very different thing from sitting in a small boat, with the waves which, from the ship’s deck had looked only moderately large, now piling up into a great, green wall in front of them, looking as if it must inevitably fall upon and crush them.
That the wave did not conquer them, but that the boat mounted to the top of it, seemed little short of a miracle; and then, after poising for a moment at the top, the plunge down the other side of that green wall, seemed an equally sure way to destruction. They were glad indeed to remember that the boat was in the hands of experienced and capable seamen. Altogether, they were not sorry when, by the slowing up of the speed, they knew that they were nearing their goal and saw the ship that had so interested them looming up before them.
Her name, The Aurora, flashed at them in great golden letters from her prow. She was a fair-sized schooner in first-class condition outwardly, and calling for a crew of eighteen or twenty beside the captain and officers; but, where were they now? Sure enough, there was no one at the wheel nor anywhere about the decks. Were they below? If so, what was the desperate need or urgent business that could hold officers and crew below decks while their ship, unguarded, her rudder banging noisily back and forth, lay, uncontrolled, upon the waves?
Well, they from the Fearless were here to answer these questions if they could, and preparations were made to go on board. As they drew closer they realized that it was going to be a very difficult task to gain her deck. With the wheel unmanned she broached to and fro with every current and wave motion, and, constantly veering from point to point, made it seemingly impossible to mount her decks. A little assistance from on board would have helped them greatly, but, though they hailed her again and again, she made no response.
After repeated unsuccessful efforts one of the sailors, more agile than the others, succeeded in springing into and grasping the rudder chains, and hauling himself on deck. Catching up a rope that lay near him, he cast it to his shipmates and, by easing and adjusting the boat as much as possible to the erratic heaving and plunging of the ship, made it possible for the others to climb on board. Very soon all, except two sailors who, much to their disgust, were left in charge of the boat, were standing together on the steamer’s deck.
With bated breath they stood for many minutes, looking about them in wide-eyed amazement, but, as if by common instinct, not an audible sound was heard, nor even a whispered word. A silence so intense as to make itself felt, a sense of overwhelming loneliness and solitude held them motionless. It was as if they stood in the presence of the dead. Here was the body, this big schooner, but the soul had fled. The rush of feet, the quick word of command, the hearty “Aye, aye, sir,” in response, the noise of gear and tackle, of ropes slapping on the deck, the songs of the sailors as they go lustily about their work, – all the sounds that make up the life of a ship were stilled, and no sound but the splashing of the waves against her sides broke the awesome silence.
At last, under the direction of Mr. Collins, four men from the Fearless began to search the deck for some solution of the mystery, and not one among them was conscious of the fact that he moved about on his toes in the presence of this awe-inspiring silence.
Their search of the deck revealed nothing. Everything seemed undisturbed. The life-boats and even the little dinghy were in their places. All was perfectly ship-shape, but over everything was the silence of desertion.
While the deck was being searched by the four men, the others, including Bert and Dick and Tom, went below, for, here in the cabin, they hoped to find some solution of the mystery. But again they found the same chilling silence, the same absolute desertion.
In the state-rooms the bunks were made up and all was in order. An uncompleted letter lay on the captain’s table and an open book lay face-downward on the bed. In the cabin the only sign of haste or disturbance was found. The table was set for breakfast with the food upon it only partly eaten. Chairs were pushed back from it and one was overturned. A handkerchief lay on the floor as if hastily dropped, but there was no further sign of panic or of any struggle.
Someone suggested that the storm had driven them away in panic. Mr. Collins soon proved to them the fallacy of that supposition by calling attention to an unfinished garment which lay on a sewing machine in one of the state-rooms. A thimble and spool of cotton lay beside it. In a storm these things would inevitably have been thrown to the floor. He showed them further that the breakfast things on the table were in their places and not overturned as they must have been in the storm. Then, too, the coffee in the urn was barely cold, and the fire in the galley stove was still burning. This proved conclusively that up to almost the last moment before the desertion of the ship, all was normal and peaceful on board. “And,” he continued, “if there were nothing else the last entry in the ship’s log would show that she was not deserted until after the storm.”
While everyone listened with keenest interest, he read them the account entered there of the storm, the gallant behavior of the Aurora, and the safety of all on board. The entry was made with the kind of ink that writes blue but afterwards turns black, and the officer called their attention to the fact that the ink was not yet black.
“Why,” said he, “they must at this moment be only a very few miles from the ship. Did anyone ever hear of anything like this?” wondered Dick. “Such a little while ago, and absolutely nothing to show why they went. I’d give a whole lot to know.”
“Well, anyway, it is evident,” said Bert as they examined the galley, “that it was not hunger or thirst that drove them away,” and he pointed to the shelves of the pantry, well stocked with meats and vegetables and fruits, and lifted the cover from the water tank and showed it full of sweet water.
With the feeling of wonder and amazement growing upon them, they examined every corner of the ship from deck to hold, but found no sign of living creature, nor any clue to the profound mystery. Cold shivers began to run up and down their spines.
“What on earth or sea,” said the irrepressible Tom, voicing the inmost thought of every mind, “could have driven a company of men to abandon a ship in such perfect condition as this schooner is?” and again all stood silent in a last effort to solve the problem.
“Well,” said Mr. Collins, “we have made a most thorough search and nothing can be gained by remaining here longer.” So, only waiting to procure the ship’s log that he had laid upon the table, he led the way to the deck. With a last look about them, in the vain hope of finding some living creature, they clambered into the boat and rowed back to the Fearless.
On the way over, everyone was too oppressed for further conversation, but as they neared the Fearless their faces brightened; and as they stood once more upon her decks, with the eager people crowding about them, it seemed good, after the desolation they had witnessed, to be on board a live ship once more.
“This is surely a most wonderful and mysterious thing,” said the captain, after listening to their report. “What could have driven them to such a desperate measure as abandoning a ship in sound condition and so well provisioned? Was it mutiny?”
“No, sir,” and the mate shook his head. “I thought of that and we searched the ship for any signs of a struggle or bloodshed; but there was no evidence of fighting nor a drop of blood anywhere.”
“Was there, perhaps, a leak?” again suggested the captain.
“Not that we could find,” Dick answered. “The ship seemed as tight and safe as could be. We are sure there is no leak.”
“What do you think about it?” asked Captain Manning, turning to a very grave and thoughtful gentleman standing near. This was Captain Grant who the day before had so nobly stood by his ill-fated ship and to whose rescue and that of his unfortunate passengers the Fearless had come with not a minute to spare. Captain Manning had found him very congenial, and in the few hours since he had come on board the two gentlemen had become firm friends. At Captain Manning’s question he turned to him cordially and answered with a smile:
“Well, as far as the crew are concerned, it might have been superstition, fear of ghosts perhaps. This unreasoning fear has driven more than one crew bodily from their ship.”
“If that was the cause,” ventured Bert, “is it not possible that their panic may leave them, and that they may return?”
“It is possible,” agreed Captain Manning, smiling, “and we will cruise about as soon as I can make preparation. We may be able to overtake them or perhaps meet them returning.”
“Was her cargo a valuable one?” asked one of Captain Grant’s passengers.
“Yes, quite,” was the response, “but not so valuable as it would have been if she had been homeward instead of outward bound. The log shows her to be of Canadian construction and bound from Vancouver to China with a cargo of dried fish, skins, and lumber. If she had been returning she would have been freighted, as you know, with rich silks and tea and rice, of more value than the cargo she carried from British Columbia.”
“Shall you attempt to return her to her owners?” asked Mr. Collins. “A schooner like the Aurora would mean a large salvage.”
“It certainly would,” replied the captain, “and, if we had found her earlier in the voyage, I should have towed her back. But now I cannot afford the time, and I hardly know what to do. She ought not to be left drifting; she is right in the track of steamships, and so is a menace. Wilson,” he said, turning to Bert, “try to raise a United States vessel and give her the location of the derelict.”
It took two hours before Bert succeeded, but at last he reached the cruiser Cormorant and received thanks for the information and assurance that the matter would be attended to at once.
By this time all was ready and the Fearless began to cruise in ever-widening circles around the Aurora. With and without glasses all scanned the sea in every direction for signs of a boat. Once the call of the lookout drew all eyes to a dark object which, at that distance, looked as if it might be a yawl, and every heart beat faster with the hope that at last the mystery of the Aurora might be solved. But, alas, it was found to be only a piece of broken mast, discarded from some ship.
For several hours they cruised about, filled with eager hope which gradually faded as the hours went by. At last, Captain Manning gave the order, and the Fearless again came about to her course.
Everyone turned disappointedly from the rail as the quest was abandoned, and it seemed to the four young fellows that the Fearless swung slowly and reluctantly, as if she disliked to leave her sister ship to such an uncertain fate.
The good ship gathered speed, and as they stood at the rail, Ralph thoughtfully said, “I wonder if the mystery of that deserted ship will ever be made clear.”ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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