The crest of the wave was traveling faster than its middle section, which had been retarded by the land. That fact, and that alone, saved the lives of the two poor mites upon whom it fell, for, instead of being dashed back against the rock wall by the terrific surge of the inward sweeping sea, the wave curling above their heads struck the wall a second in advance of the great body of water. It broke, fell upon them, swept them from the shelf, plunged them into the depths with such force and violence that it was the return thrust of the water which finally caught them-the backward undertow, rather than the inward rush.
Beckman had never heard so deafening a roar in all his life. He had, on one occasion, felt a great superdreadnaught roll and quiver under the simultaneous discharge of her own principal batteries under actual service conditions. It was child's play to this. Not that he had any thought about it now. He was only conscious of the roaring in his ears, the awful pressure upon his body, as he was driven down, down, down, until it seemed as if the bowels of the earth had opened before him and swallowed him up; as if he would never be lifted again out of the great deep which had sucked him under.
He held his breath instinctively, of course, but it seemed as if his lungs and heart would burst. His whole being was merged in two frantic desires: to keep on holding his breath, and not to let go of the woman who clung to him. Mercifully, although his body had shielded hers, she had almost lost consciousness. There remained to her only the desperate instinct to cling. She twined her arms and legs about him. He drew her closer and closer, although the tremendous thrust of the sea seemed to be striving to tear them apart as well as draw them under. Thus linked into a human warp and woof, they were hurled down and down, out and out.
Just when he had come to the conclusion that further resistance was impossible, that he must breathe or die, or breathe and die, the two interwoven figures, caught in a mad whirl of the torrent, were thrown upward. Their movements were arrow-like in their swiftness; or, better, they were driven as a stone from a mighty catapult. Swimming was impossible. There was no effort that could be made. There was nothing that he or the woman could do but to cling tighter and tighter. To hold on, that was all!
Truda's grass petticoats were torn to pieces in an instant. The water, in its awful churning, stripped Beekman to his bare skin. It would have torn his shoes off if he had been wearing them. Nothing that he had ever imagined equalled the force, the pressure, the stripping, ripping suction; the driving, beating, thrusting of the sea, unless it was a full-fledged western tornado. He had met such on the plains. Of course, these comparisons did not occur to him then. All he thought of when they were thrown out of the water and into the spray-laden air, which made seeing difficult, but not impossible, was to breathe, to breathe quickly and deep so as to be prepared for the next buffet of fortune.
As soon as he struck the air he opened his eyes. They were still in the very midst of the deep, cylindrical harbor, its dark walls seen vaguely through the spray uptossed by the broken bore. His brain registered impressions almost faster than the afferent and efferent nerves could carry them. The swiftness with which the two bodies, still clinging together, were whirled about in the maelstrom caused by the introduction of these titanic forces within the narrow confines of this gulf alone kept them from sinking. Beekman could not have made a stroke for any reason. He was incapable even of movement of his own.
In the first place, he was so bruised and beaten and exhausted by the tremendous pressure of the water that every muscle was almost useless. In the second place, he could not let go of the girl, even with one arm. He had held her only by a superhuman effort of will and strength which must have been met and equalled by a similar determination on her part. Even to free one hand, meant parting. It flashed into his mind that death was at hand; that no human beings could live in such a sea; that the next second would find them cast beyond the whirling periphery of the vortex and hurled against the rocks. At least, they could, and would, die together.
Yet, Beekman suddenly became aware that the harbor entrance was wider than before. He noticed, too, that the waters appeared to be receding, although the tumult, for instance, of the rapids of the Niagara River, was as nothing to it. The next instant, as if nature had not yet exhausted her malefic powers, a second earthquake, traveling more slowly than the wave which the first shock engendered, reached the island. By chance-or was it God? – the whirling revolution of the two human beings carried them farthest from the nearer shore when this last appalling cataclysm of nature took place. The solid wall before them seemed to melt away before Beekman's eyes and dissolve into the vague mist and foam. The sight terrified him perhaps more than anything else. It benumbed his very soul. Not only had the foundations of the great deep been broken up, but the immutable hills themselves were shaking like the sea. Was it the end of the world, or only the end of Beekman and Truda?
The quivering transmitted even through the boiling water seemed to still the wave for a moment. As Beekman hung poised, almost as a soul might, 'twixt heaven and earth, the moment the mad action of the water stopped they began to sink. Then he did strike out feebly, but desperately. The girl clung to him, half senseless, a perfectly dead weight in his arms. The great wall of rock before him wavered, bent forward. It seemed to rise in the air. It slipped downward with the sound of a mighty rending. Screams as of an earth in labor pains seemed to fill his ear. He caught a glimpse of a great rift, beyond which he could see, as no mortal had ever seen before from where he floated, the palms of the upland. And then the falling rock smote the water.
Being luckily farthest away, and just opposite the entrance, the great wave which was engendered drove the two far out to sea. He had time to note, as he swept through the now strangely widened entrance, that he could not see a trace of the barrier. The water, which barely reached its highest point at the highest tide, had completely buried it. Outside the narrow, enclosed harbor, while the waves still rolled terribly, the sea was smoother. They did not break. The force of the surge which had hurled them seaward being spent, they began to sink again. The instinct of life was still present, and although every motion was anguish, Beekman thought it safe to free one hand with which he continued to strike out boldly.
His painful swimming was aimless. Indeed, it was only the result of a now unconscious determination to keep afloat as long as strength remained. He must go whither the waves carried him. By this time Truda had fainted dead away. Her grasp on his neck relaxed. She straightened out in the water. He turned her on her back, caught her long hair, which had been blown out like a flag, in his teeth and swam on.
While it would only be for a few moments, still the spirit of the race, the indomitable persistence of humanity-that quality by which at least it has some claim to be considered begot of Divinity-made him swim on, driven by wind and sea and tossed helplessly about. He set his teeth more tightly, shut his eyes, and struck out and out and out. He would not give up his own life. He would not desist from the efforts to preserve, even for a few swiftly passing instants, that life, dearer than his own, which trailed behind him as he swam.
But he reached the end of his strength. Some instinct made him open his eyes and lift his head: the old instinct to die with head up, facing the enemy; not to pass with averted countenance and in shrinking posture. Before him he saw something white. He did not know what it was, but the next moment, in the grinding sway of the sea, it struck him hard on the shoulder. He had strength enough to clutch at it ere he went down. It had struck him on the right arm, and the force of the blow had deprived him of the use of that vital member. Ordinarily, he could have swam with one arm, but not now.
As he clutched the object before him, it occurred to him that this was the end. He wished that he could have had another word with Truda; another kiss; but, to his surprise, he found that he was not sinking. To his brain came the consciousness that he was touching something familiar. He looked again. It was dancing and bobbing in the seas, but he was near enough now to recognize what brief stay Providence had thrown to his hand. It was wood, painted white. He saw the boards lap-streaked together. It presented a strangely familiar look.
Through water-filled eye gate, through numbed arm and bruised body gate, it told its story to the man's brain. That he could read the message, was an evidence of his vital force and infinite determination. A ship's boat, the forward part half under water, yet riding singularly light. He could not yet reason as to what boat it was, or how it came to be there, but the fact was indelibly impressed upon his consciousness. It meant a further respite from death; another temporary stay on their dread journey. They were not beaten yet.
His right arm was useless. He tried desperately to lift it, but could not. He thought it might have been paralyzed, but the pain, when he attempted to move it, suggested to him that it might be broken. He did not dare to let go with his left arm, and yet if he did not draw his fainting companion up on that boat, she would die. They were now surging far to sea, the reflex of the great tidal wave rolling them on.
He could turn his head and see Truda's body half buried in the water. Still holding the boat, which lay across him-he had struck it broadside-with his left hand he worked himself around till the sides running aft embraced him. He felt about with his foot and discovered at once that the after part of the boat was gone. He did not yet have wit enough to determine why the forward part of the boat floated so far out of water. At any rate, he was in a much better position for action.
Pulling and swimming, he got himself well between the two sides, with the bow directly in front of him. Then he drew himself to the right, and, although the pressure by which he held himself by hand and shoulder from washing out of the boat induced the most excruciating pain in his arm, he dared to release his grasp on the gunwale with his left hand. Still holding Truck's golden hair in his teeth, he reached out and drew her forward with his left arm. By an effort-he never knew how to account for the feat of strength-he got her to the boat; then, seizing her under the arms with his left arm, he forced her upon the bow of the boat until her head lay back upon a little flat platform, which he soon discovered was a locker, or compartment in the very eyes of the boat. Thus, himself lying across the boat, holding himself steady by the pressure of his knee and back, and the girl lying along the boat lengthwise, her head on the forward compartment, his left arm holding her, he knew he had done all that was possible. The pain in his right arm and shoulder had passed away, leaving a sort of deadness.
There was a broken thwart just back of him, and he found that he could relax his pressure a little and sink back against this jagged piece of wood without slipping into the sea. It was a good thing, he realized, for the tremendous thrust of his legs against the unsupported side of the boat might have torn apart even the frail support that was left.
In all this, Truda had, as yet, made no sign of life. He was sure that she had not been drowned. He thought the shock, and the battering, and the terror had rendered her unconscious. Whatever it was, there was nothing more that he could do except to hold on in his constricted condition and wait. He told himself a thousand times that it was useless; that it would be, perhaps, best in the end to let go, but the indomitable ego did not sanction that.
Rising and falling on the seas, he could catch glimpses of the island. It was so changed by tidal wave and earthquake that he never could have recognized it. The harbor was gone. Here and there, when they rose on the crest of a wave, he could see the barrier reef. A part of it had been torn away. Where had been a wall was a great concavity that led upward and inward. The earthquake had done that. What had it done to the people of the island? He was too far away by this time to distinguish much except the general transformation.
As they floated on, his eye, ceaselessly roving the waters, caught sight of a brown object rising and falling, tumbling and turning with the helpless look of a once living thing driven and tossed. A freak of the sea brought it nearer. Another freak of the sea turned the brown object over. He saw that it was Hano, dead. He wondered if all the other denizens of the island had met a like fate. Of course, the water could not reach them as it had reached Hano, and Beekman, and Truda, but the earthquake-then, as he speculated hazily, the sun suddenly appeared. The black bank of cloud was riven and torn. Its greater moiety drifted to leeward, driven by some strange and powerful wind of the upper air. Fortunately, where they floated there was but a gentle breeze.
The warmth, the rest, it may be, he knew not what, revived the woman. She opened her eyes, lifted her head, his left arm tightened about her. She bent to him.
"Is this another world?" she gasped brokenly.
"Not yet," answered the man.
"How did we come here?" Before he could answer, she cried, "I remember. The wave. What is this?" she asked after a time.
"A boat," he answered, and then he knew that it was the forward half of the wrecked whaleboat which had brought him to the island, had landed on the barrier, had been torn from the pinnacles of rock by the same sea that had overwhelmed them, and which had been thrust into his hand for their salvation.
"We shall die here in the water," said the girl, "but we shall die together."
The man shook his head.
"I think not. God, our God, has preserved us so far. He has given us this poor support. It can not be that this is the end."
It was almost the end of Beekman, in spite of his brave words; for, now that Truda was safe and alive, now that he had achieved the impossible, now that, by God's will and her lover's help, she had been brought through the maelstrom, he fainted dead away. His head fell back. His knees relaxed. His hand unclasped. His arm released her. But for that broken thwart, he would have slid away and out of sight. It was Truda's turn. She caught him by the shoulder. She crouched down on the forward compartment and held him until consciousness returned. When he could think coherently, he remembered how he had put the air-tight tanks back, and he blessed God for having inspired him to that, at the time, useless action. It was that air-tight compartment which held them. Truda dragged his head free of the water and held him there until he recovered his strength a little. The sharp pain in his arm, which had been numbed, helped to keep him from fainting again.
And so they drifted side by side, a naked man and woman, as they might have come from a Garden of Eden, on the poor shattered remains of a small boat, their weight keeping it awash in the long, still rolling, but gradually subsiding waves, thanking God for life, for that poor support, and for love. And by and by the night fell, and still they clung to each other, floating on calming seas, until presently the boat came to a rest beneath the tropic stars staring down upon these jettisoned inhabitants of that island paradise, these bits of human flotsam kept above the waters by love and God.
It was, indeed, a solemn little group that was seated around the table in the great cabin of the Stephanie. The dominant spirit of the occasion was not the masterful financier, the brilliant young executive, or the beautiful and charming maiden. It was a grizzled veteran sailor who had called the conference in that section of the Stephaniewhich he rarely entered save for business purposes. The grave anxiety of Captain Weatherby's face was reflected in the faces of John Maynard, George Harnash, and Stephanie Maynard.
"And you think the yacht's condition is serious, do you?" asked Maynard.
"Just about as serious as it could be, Mr. Maynard," answered the captain.
"Yet there's not a better built ship on the seas than this," observed Harnash.
"Granted," said Captain Weatherby; "she's all that money and skill and steel and science could make her, but she's only a manufactured article, after all, and she has just bucked the biggest thing in nature. That she has come off as well as she has is a tribute to her builders."
"And to her sailing master," put in Stephanie deftly.
"If you hadn't handled her just as you did, none of us would be here now," added Harnash heartily.
"That's as may be," answered the captain modestly.
"It's the blessing of God and your own skill," commented Maynard.
But the captain went on.
"We are here, but the yacht is in bad condition. She is making water faster than the pumps can keep it down."
"Is there any immediate danger of our foundering?" asked Maynard.
"Every danger. In fact, it is certain, unless-"
The captain paused.
"Unless what?" asked the owner.
"I've sailed with you a long time, now, Mr. Maynard. I know your temper on land and sea, and that of these young people, as well. What you want is the plain, blunt truth, and you're going to get it. Unless I can beach this yacht somewhere within the next twenty-four hours, send a diver down, and, if necessary, careen her, and come at the leaks, she-"
He paused again. It was not necessary for him to go on. His meaning was obvious to all of them.
"In that case, there are always the boats," observed Harnash.
"Have you been on deck this morning, Mr. Harnash?" asked the captain.
"Yes, I have."
"How many boats did you see?"
"By Jove!" exclaimed Harnash, "I forgot that."
"Of course," said the captain, smiling grimly at his own sarcasm; "and a landlubber like you, meaning no offense, sir, wouldn't be apt to notice it, but the deck has been swept clean. The bridge is still there, and the smoke stacks, but pretty much everything else is gone. There's not a boat left at the davits, and even the launch amidships is badly stove up."
"A raft?" said old Maynard.
"There's not much woodwork in this boat fit to make a raft out of, sir," answered the captain, "but I've got the men at work on the wooden fittings and doors trying to patch up something."
"Of course, we're not in any immediate danger," said Stephanie.
"Depends upon what you mean by 'immediate,' Miss Maynard. The yacht will float for twenty-four hours; perhaps thirty-six."
"Then, after that, we shall be in God's hands," said the girl quietly.
It was a platitude, of course; but, in great emergencies, humanity always resorts to platitudes. They are familiar; made to order, as it were; and resorted to as the line of least resistance. There are certain conventional expressions to which man instinctively reverts. Men exclaim, "My God!" in the crisis, even though He be none of theirs and they have not hitherto known Him.
"In His hands, Miss, and mine," said the captain steadily with the assurance of the capable and efficient.
"What else have you done or planned?" asked Maynard.
"I've searched for the leak but we cannot locate it. The hours after the tidal wave were so full that it got a start on us, but we are keeping the pumps going while working away at the raft."
"Of course; but that is a last resort."
"I'm driving the ship as hard as I can, too, sir."
"In the hope of what?"
"There's an uninhabited island to the nor'west of us; hasn't even a name that anyone recognizes. I'm heading for it."
"Can you careen the ship there?"
The captain shook his head.
"The charts say that it is completely surrounded by a barrier reef. It appears to be a volcanic rock about which the coral builders have been busy. But it is the nearest land; the only land we can possibly make in our present condition; and, at least, we won't drown on it. We can save enough from the Stephanie to support life, and I have no doubt we can find some means of getting away or communicating with other ships," continued the veteran sailor confidently, although he knew, and everyone else realized, more or less, that the chance of either was very slim.
"Well, whatever happens to us, Captain Weatherby," said Harnash, "I'll never forget my last glimpses of you on the bridge, jumping the boat at full speed into that tidal wave."
"It was our only chance, Mr. Harnash," said the captain. "If that wave had caught us broadside, or even on the quarter or astern, we would have gone down like a stone."
Indeed, no one aboard the ship would ever forget the approach of that great, roaring, thunderous tidal wave. No one would ever fail to remember how Captain Weatherby, as cool as he was at that moment in the cabin, standing on the bridge, had shifted his helm, had pointed the bows of the yacht at the rushing, whirling water, had signaled for every pound of steam, and had driven the great white ship at full speed fairly and squarely into the midst of it.
Before it broke and fell the three passengers had been ordered-yes, that is the word, ordered-below. Captain Weatherby had been prepared to detail seamen, who would have obeyed him unquestionably, to carry the great magnate who owned the ship and the other two below if they had hesitated a moment in complying with his command. He did not even stop in the emergency to put it in the form of a request or suggestion. John Maynard knew a man when he saw him, and without a moment's hesitation, he went aft and plunged below with the others, just in time, too, for the hatches to be battened down and every opening through which the water could penetrate the ship from above as tightly closed as the wit of man could devise. They would never forget, either, how they stood close together in the cabin, waiting the meeting of ship and sea.
They could not see, but they could feel the appalling shock of the bows of steel encountering the hurtling water wall. They could feel the gigantic wave break over the deck and fall crashing upon the steel ceiling over their heads. So great was the tumult, so loud the smashing falling of the water, that they did not hear the rending and tearing of the upper works of the ship, the boats carrying away, the deckhouse going adrift, and everything movable swept astern; and even the screams of some of the men, washed helplessly away, in spite of the life lines, at which they clutched frantically, were not noticed in the wild tumult of the storm.
Following the great wave came the short but terrible cyclonic disturbance, which almost completed their undoing. It was not until calmer weather supervened and the night fell that Captain Weatherby could take account of his ship and of his crew. He deemed it best to say nothing of his terrifying discoveries until the morning, but at dawn he had awakened his passengers to the melancholy conference in the cabin.
It was rare, indeed, that John Maynard found himself helpless. There were few situations to which his readiness, his resources, his inventiveness were unequal; but this was one. It was Captain Weatherby's field of action. There was nothing that Maynard could contribute, except an example of cheerful willingness to do what he was told without hesitation and without argument. It was a good lesson for the master financier, albeit the price he bade fair to pay for the learning of it might render it of little avail.
"Well, Captain Weatherby," he said, rising, "as my daughter says, we are in God's hands, and, as you justly added, in yours, too. We have every confidence in you that you will do the best for us that humanity can do under God. If it should prove of no avail, it will not be your fault. Meanwhile, this is the first chance I've had to express my admiration and gratitude. My friendship and respect you have had for a long time, but never as today." Maynard extended his hand to him.
"Mine, too," said Harnash, following the older man's example.
Stephanie, more moved than the other two, less restrained, perhaps, slipped her arm about the captain's neck and kissed him on his weather-beaten check.
"As from your daughter at home," she said.
"Here are brave hearts," said the captain, deeply touched. "Good stuff in all of you. We'll all fight harder because of this," he added.
The next moment the hatchway was darkened by one of the junior officers.
"Captain Weatherby," he began.
"What is it, Mr. Lefner?"
"We've made out the wreck of a boat adrift off the starboard bow with two people on her; one of them at least is alive, for through the glass we can see hands waved."
"Have a boat cleared away at-" He stopped. He had forgotten for the moment that there were no boats. He glanced up at the telltale compass above his head and noticed the shifting of the needle. The first officer was changing the course of the yacht to run down the wreck; that would be the only way. "We are still capable of saving life, Mr. Maynard, even though it be for a little space. Perhaps you would like to come on deck. It is safe enough now. I've rigged up a railing of life lines to take the place of those carried away."
He put his foot on the ladder and mounted to the deck, followed by the others. Harnash snatched a glass from the transom as he passed. They knew exactly where to look for the wreck. It was quite visible to the naked eyes. There were no glasses on the bridge. It had been stripped clean of everything by the wave and only stood by a miracle. The whole party moved up toward the bow of the ship and mounted the bridge. Harnash handed the glass to Captain Weatherby. He focused it and fixed his eyes on the rapidly nearing object, now directly over the bows, since the yacht's course had been changed.
"I make out two naked figures on what appears to be the fore part of a whaleboat. One of them is a woman, sir," he observed, handing the glass to Mr. Maynard, who stared and then passed it to the others standing by.
"Ropes to the starboard gangway," said Mr. Gardner, the first officer, after a word with the captain. "Mr. Gersey," he spoke to a veteran seaman, who stood forward, easily balancing himself to the roll of the ship, his arms folded. Instantly the boatswain turned and saluted. "Stand by the starboard gangway. Have some hands ready at the battens with a rope. One of those castaways doesn't look able to help himself, and we'll have to draw him aboard."
"Aye, aye, sir," he answered, turning aft to the gangway, followed by the seamen he summoned to his assistance.
Although she was already deep in the water and sluggish, the Stephanie was under complete command. Nicely steered, she passed the bit of wreck to windward and rounded to. Her engines had been stopped previously, and just as the wreck surged to the gangway she came to a rest in the gently moving sea. Gersey had sent Templin, who had proved himself one of the smartest seamen on the yacht, down the battens of the starboard gangway with a rope's end, in which a bowline had been cast. Standing on the lower batten with the water halfway up to his waist on account of the ever-deepening draught of the leaking yacht, Templin caught the surging boat by the stem and held it firmly.
The woman was sitting crouched down on the forward lockers, or what remained of them. Templin motioned her to try the battens. She shook her head and pointed to the figure of the man, who lay at her feet, his head in the very bows of the boat, his legs dragging in the water. He was alive, but apparently helpless. His face was flushed and his eyes bright with fever. Templin sensed the situation at once.
"The lady wants the man passed aboard first," he called out.
Gersey nodded. He sent another seaman down to help Templin, and although the situation was difficult, the two men worked together intelligently. They passed the bowline around the body of the man, drew it tight, and the next moment willing hands aboard ship hauled away, and while Templin bore the body out so it would not scrape along the sides of the yacht, the man was soon drawn aboard. The girl watched without a word, but in great anxiety, until this rescue had been effected. Then she strove to rise, but she had been so cramped by sitting so long in that position that she could not make it. The seamen helped her to her feet and, half carrying, half urging, they finally got her on the deck. She had no sooner set foot thereon than she collapsed and fell in a dead faint. The officers and men were crowded about the two figures near the gangway, when Maynard, Harnash, and Stephanie approached.
"Take the woman to my cabin," said Stephanie. She turned to her maid, who had also come on deck, as two of the seamen picked up the fainting castaway and bore her aft. "Celeste, you and I will look after her, with Dr. Welch's help."
"At your service, Miss Maynard," said the ship's surgeon, following her.
"Take the man aft to the spare cabin," said Maynard, as the others moved away. "Dr. Welch, you'd better examine him as soon as you can. Harnash-"
But Harnash did not hear. He was bending over the prostrate man. The man's face was covered with a thick, short, dark beard and mustache, but there was no mistaking him. Harnash had been struck by something familiar in his appearance as the wreck lay alongside, and when he bent over him on the deck he knew at once who it was, in spite of his beard.
"This is the man we have been seeking," he said to Mr. Maynard.