The sudden disappearance of one of the principals in the Maynard-Beekman wedding was the sensation of the hour. John Maynard was deeply hurt and terribly concerned because he was very fond of Beekman, and because in spite of his bold front the young man's failure to appear had reflected upon his daughter. The lewd papers of the baser sort, playing up the bachelor dinner, did not hesitate to point this out, and insinuations, so thinly disguised that every one who read understood, appeared daily. That there was not a word of truth in them was of little consequence either to the writers who knew they were lying or to the public, which did not. The clientele of such papers was ready to believe anything or everything bad; especially of the idle rich.
Reportorial and even editorial-which is worse-imagination was unrestrained. As the newspapers had devoted so much space to the preparations, they did not stint themselves in discussing the aftermath of the affair. The police bent every energy to solve the mystery. Maynard was a big power in public affairs and they were stimulated by a reward of one hundred thousand dollars which Maynard offered for tidings of the missing man, a reward which made the wiseacres put their tongues in their cheeks as they read of it.
The gorgeous wedding presents were returned. The lovely lingerie of the bride, which had been so talked about, was laid away and the bride herself was denied to every caller. Even George Harnash sought access to her person in vain. The scandal, the humiliation, had made her seriously ill, and by her physician's orders she was allowed to see no one.
However, the first person she did admit was George Harnash. Indeed, so soon as she was able to be about she called him up and demanded his immediate presence. He had been waiting for such a summons. He knew it was unavoidable. It had to come. He dropped everything to go to her. He was horrified when he saw her. He had got back some of his nerve and equipoise to the casual observation, although he still showed what he had gone through to a close scrutiny. He had been catechized and cross-questioned, even put through a mild form of the third degree by the police, but little to their satisfaction. He could tell them nothing definite. They got no more out of him than he had volunteered at first. They were completely and entirely mystified.
Several steamers had sailed for various ports that day and night, but it was easily established, when they reached port, that they had not carried the missing man. They completely overlooked the Susquehanna for reasons which will appear. Beekman's disappearance remained one of those unexplained mysteries for which New York was notorious. The reward still stood and the authorities were still very much on the alert, but they were absolutely without any clue whatsoever. Derrick Beekman had disappeared from the face of the earth. Besides Harnash, there was only one person in the city who had any definite idea as to the cause of his departure, and that was Stephanie Maynard. A proud, high-spirited girl, she had suffered untold anguish in the publicity and scandal and innuendo.
"My God, Stephanie!" cried Harnash, as she received him in a lovely negligée in her boudoir. "You look like death itself."
"And I have passed through it," said the girl, "in the last week. Now, I want you to tell me where Derrick is."
"Stephanie," answered Harnash, "it would be foolish for me to pretend that I don't know."
"It certainly would."
"I told you that I meant to have you and that I would stop the wedding if I had to take you from the altar steps."
"But we didn't get that far."
"It amounts to the same thing. I-er-took him. It was easier."
"Where and how did you take him?"
"Don't ask. I can't tell."
"And you have covered me with shame inexpressible. I shall never get over it as long as I live. How could you do it? How could you?"
"Are you reproaching me?"
"Reproaching you!" cried Stephanie. "Do you think I could tamely endure this public scandal, this abandonment, without a word?"
"But I did it for you."
"Yes, I suppose so, but that doesn't make it any less humiliating."
"Stephanie, tell me, do you love Derrick Beekman?"
"No, I hate him."
"I hate you, too."
"Oh, don't say that."
"I wish I were dead," cried the girl. "I can never go out on the street again. I can never hold up my head anywhere any more, and it's your fault. What have you done with him?"
"Do you want him back? Do you want to go through with the marriage? Look here," said Harnash, "desperate diseases require desperate remedies. I'll tell you this, and that is all I will tell you. I am sure Derrick is all right. He will come to no harm."
"Are you holding him a prisoner somewhere?"
"I am not."
"I don't understand."
"It is better not. It isn't necessary," answered Harnash stubbornly.
"And you actually made away with him?"
"I got him out of the way, if that's what you mean. But he's alive, well, and in no danger. I caused it to be done-"
"Are you sure of that?"
"Don't you know that you've done a criminal act?"
"Of course I know it. Do you think I'm a fool because I'm crazy in love with you?"
"And don't you know you will have gained his eternal enmity and the enmity of my father when they find this out?"
"I don't care about anybody's enmity unless it's yours."
"Well, you've almost gained mine."
"Almost, but not quite. You feel horribly now. I understand. Do you think it has been joyful to me to have put my best friend out of the way and to have brought all this scandal and shame upon you? But there was no other way. You're mine in the sight of God and I'm going to make you mine in the sight of men."
"But my father will never forgive you when he knows."
"I don't think he will ever find out my part, or Beekman either."
"I can't explain, but if your father does find out what can he do? In six months I'll be independent of anything and anybody and when we are married we can laugh at him and at the rest of the world."
"At Beekman, too?"
"Yes, even at him. Stephanie, you don't know what it is to love as I do. For you I'd stop at nothing short of murder. You didn't believe me when I said that, but I meant it. I've made myself a criminal, I admit, but for your sake. Now am I going to fail of my reward? Do you want me to produce Derrick Beekman? Do you want him to come back and throw me in jail and marry you? Well, I didn't expect it; I didn't count upon it-" this was only a bluff, of course, since by no means could Harnash have got back Beekman from the Susquehanna then-"but if that is what you really want say the word. Can you turn down a love like mine, that will stop at nothing for your happiness? I swear to you that I believe it is as much for your happiness as my own. I won't say it is all for you, because I want you, but I am thinking of you all the time. I couldn't bear to see you in his arms. What is the little bit of scandal? It will be forgotten. When you are my wife I'll take care of you. If you don't want to live here we'll live anywhere. If I pull off two or three big deals that are in the air I'll be able to do anything. Oh, Stephanie, you aren't going back on me now?"
"You know that I couldn't do that," answered the girl, greatly moved by his passionate pleading. After all, she did love this man and not the other.
"You're the kind of woman that a man will do anything for. I'm sorry for Beekman, I'm sorry for everything, but I'm going to have you." He came close to her as he spoke. "Do you understand that?" he asked, raising his voice. "I did it for you, you, and no man shall balk me of my reward. If you won't come willingly, you shall come unwillingly."
"Oh," said the girl, "how horribly determined and wicked you are, and yet-"
As she looked up at him the passion with which he spoke, rough, brutal as it was, quickened again her heart that she thought was dead. For the first time in weeks the color rushed into her face.
"That's right," said Harnash, watching her narrowly. "I can still bring the blood to your cheeks."
He bent over her, he dragged her almost rudely from her seat and crushed her against him. He kissed her as roughly as he had spoken.
"This," he said, "pays for everything. If I'm found out, if I have to go to jail, I don't care. I'm glad. You love me. You can't deny it and in your heart of hearts you're glad and you'll be gladder every hour of your life."
The girl gave up. After all, what possibility of happiness did she have except with Harnash? More and more she appeared before the world as a thing cast off and scorned. Harnash's position in society and business was improving every day, but it was not that which influenced her. She really loved him. She responded to his pleading. Mistaken though he was, vicious as had been his design, that effort, wrong as was his method, showed her how much he loved her.
"You're not going to fail me now, are you? You need not answer. I can feel it in the beat of your heart against mine."
"No," said the girl. "I'm yours, I suppose."
"Don't you know?"
"Yes, I know. No one else would want me, discarded."
"I want you. I'd want you if the whole world rejected you."
"And you won't tell me where Derrick is?"
"No, it's a heavy secret to carry in one's breast. I feared that they would worm it out of me. You can't know what I've gone through," he went on. "I've been suspected and questioned and cross-questioned, but I never gave it away. It was you who kept me up. The thought of you always, you, you, you! Meanwhile I'm slaving my life out, almost wrecking my brain, to carry out these big deals, and when it is over and I have you they can do their worst. Your father, Beekman when he comes back-"
"Oh, then he will come back?"
"Of course he will. And I'll face them all. I don't know whether I have damned myself for you or not, but if I have, I don't care," he went on recklessly.
"It was my fault, anyway," said the girl. "I should have been stronger. I should not have agreed to such a marriage, and I should not have kept the agreement when I loved you."
"You need not say that," said Harnash-there was good stuff in him-"It is all my own plan and scheme. You were bound, and there was only one way to break the bond. Now I give myself six months. By that time the talk will have died out and we will be married."
"I'll marry you," said the girl, "or I'll marry no one else on earth, but before I marry you you must bring Derrick Beekman into my presence and he must release me."
"That is a harder thing than what I have done, but I'll do it. Provided you will help me."
"I will, but how?"
"When you see him you must tell him that you don't love him and that you wish to marry me."
"Very well. I'll do that part."
"And I'll do the other."
"Promise me, on your word of honor."
"Honor!" exclaimed Harnash bitterly. "Do you think, after what I have done, that I've got any honor, that you could trust to?"
"I'll be trusting myself to you," said the girl, "and you know what that implies."
"Say that you are glad that it has happened as it has, despite the scandal."
Stephanie looked at him a long time.
"You poor boy," she said, drawing his head down and kissing his forehead in that motherly way which all women have toward the men they love until the maternal affection has a chance to vent itself in the right direction. "How you must have suffered for me."
"It was nothing."
"Yes, I am glad," she said at last.
When he went to bed, what time it was when he awakened, or where he was at that moment were facts about which Derrick Beekman had no ideas whatsoever. At first he was conscious of but one thing-that he was; and that consciousness was painful, not to say harrowing, to the last degree. For one thing, he was horribly sick. The place where he lay appeared to be as unsteady as his mental condition was uncertain. He was heaved up and down, tossed back and forth, and rolled from side to side in an utterly inexplicable way to his bewildered mind. And every mad motion threw him against some bruised and painful portion of his anatomy.
As he struggled to open his eyes it seemed to him that he was lying in pitch darkness. His ears were assailed by a concatenation of discordant noises, creaks, groans, thunderous blows of which he could make nothing. No one has ever pictured hell as a place of reeking odors and hideous sounds. Why that opportunity has been neglected is not known. Certainly the popular brimstone idea of it is highly suggestive. At any rate, the bad air and other indescribable odors, to say nothing of the noises that came to him, added to his physical perturbation and wretchedness. Under the circumstances, the wonder was not so much that he did not think clearly, but that he could think at all. It was only after some moments of sickening return to consciousness that he became convinced that he was alive and somewhere.
He lay for a little while desperately trying to solve the problems presented to him by his environment, with but little immediate success. Finally, as a help toward clearing up the mystery, he decided upon exploration. Though the undertaking was painful to him, he made an effort to sit up. His head came in violent contact with something which he had not noticed in the obscurity above him and nearly knocked him senseless again. After another violent fit of sickness, he decided upon a more circumspect investigation.
He felt about with his hands and discovered that he was in some box-like enclosure one side of which seemed to be open save for a containing strip against which he had been violently hurled several times and which had prevented him from being thrown out. This enclosure was in violently agitated motion. At first, in his confusion, he decided vaguely upon a railroad train, a sleeping-car berth, but he realized that not even the roughest freight car would produce such an effect as that unless the train were running on the cross ties, in which case its stoppage would be immediate. This pitching and tossing kept on. If he had been in his clear senses, he would have known in an instant where he was, but it was only after violent effort at concentration that his aching head told him that he must be aboard a ship!
He was familiar with steamers of the more magnificent class, and with his own yacht, and the pleasure craft of his friends, and he knew enough from reading to decide that this was the forecastle of a ship. He decided that it was a wooden ship. The outer planking against which he lay was of wood. He listened next for the beat or throb of a screw, and heard none. Thinking more and more clearly, it came to him that it was a sailing ship. As his eyes became used to the obscurity, he saw abaft his feet and to his left hand, for he lay head to the bows, well forward on the port side, a square of light which betokened an open hatchway. He strained his eyes up through the hatchway. He could make out nothing. It was still daylight on deck, and that was all he could decide.
As he lay staring stupidly, above the roar of the wind, and the creaking and groaning of the straining ship and the thunder of great waves against the bow as she plunged into the head seas, he heard harsh voices. The tramping of many feet, hurried, irregular, came to him; then a sudden silence; a command followed, and again the massed and steady trampling of the same feet. A shrill, harsh-creaking sound followed, as of taut rope straining through the dry sheaves of a heavy block. Rude rhythmical sounds, sailors' chanties, penetrated the wooden cave in one of the recesses of which he lay. It was a sailing ship, obviously. They were mast-heading yards; apparently setting or taking in sail.
What ship, and how came he aboard? By this time he was sufficiently himself to come to a decision. He would get out of that berth. He would mount the ladder, the top of which he could see dimly nearest the hatch-combing, and get out on deck.
He thrust one leg over the side of the berth, and as the dim light fell upon it, he discovered that he was barefoot. It had not yet occurred to him to examine his clothes. Being asleep, he would naturally be wearing the luxurious night gear he affected. Not so in this instance. Where the white of his leg stopped he discerned a fringe of ragged trousers. He felt them. They were tattered and torn, and indescribably foul and dirty. Mystery on mystery! Cautiously, so as not to hit his head a second time, he sat up and lowered himself to the deck. Continuing his inspection, he was horrified at the shirt which covered the upper half of his body, and which fully matched the trousers. Where were the clothes he had worn the night before?
It came upon him like the proverbial flash of lightning from a clear sky-that bachelor supper, the gay revelry, the wine he had drunk, his sallying forth with George Harnash. He vaguely remembered their first stop; after that-nothing. Where were his watch, his studs, his money? He looked around carefully, with a faint hope that he might see them. A dress suit was, of course, an absurdity at that hour and in that place, but anything was better than those filthy rags. There was nothing to be seen of them, of course.
The horror and unpleasantness of the place grew upon him. Lest he should give way to another tearing fit of sickness, he must get up on deck. Clothes would come later, and explanations. He staggered aft toward the foot of the ladder, the violent motion of the ship-and in his place, in the very eyes of her, the motion was worst-making progress difficult. It was not that he lacked sea legs, nor was he merely seasick. His unsteadiness and nausea came from other causes.
As he put his foot on the ladder, like another flash came the recollection that this was his wedding day. He was, indeed, a day out in his reckoning, but that was to develop later. He stopped, petrified at the appalling thought. His wedding day, and he in this guise on a ship! He groaned with horror, clapping his hands to his face, and the next roll threw him violently against the ladder, opening a cut in his head so that the blood began to trickle down the side of his cheek.
This seemed to have a good effect upon him. The blow, as it were, dissipated some of his imaginings. It was an assault that quickened the working of his mind. He rose to the provocative stimulus of it. He got to his feet, brushed the blood out of his eyes, mounted the ladder, and stepped over the hatch-combing.
He found himself on the deck of a large, old-fashioned, full-rigged sailing ship. A lookout paced across the deck from side to side forward. Way aft he saw a flying bridge just forward of the mizzenmast, on which two officers stood. A number of men had tailed on to what he realized were the foretops'l halliards, upon which they were swaying violently, constantly urged to greater exertions by a big, rough-looking man who stood over them. From time to time they broke into a rude chant, in order to apply their efforts unitedly and rhythmically to the task of raising the foretops'l yard, the sail of which had just been double reefed. The men who had performed that task were tumbling down from aloft on the shrouds on either side. Although he was an amateur sailor, Beekman was familiar enough with ships to realize much of what was going on.
It was a raw, rough day. There was a bite in the wind which struck cold upon his unaccustomed body through his rags. It was already blowing a half gale, with a fine promise of coming harder, apparently, and they were reducing the canvas. As the ship was by the wind, sheets of cold spray swept across the already wet decks.
While he stared, the men stopped jigging on the foretops'l halliards. They were belayed, and at the mate's command the crew lined up on the main tops'l halliards, ready to sway away at command, while those topmen, whose business it was to handle the canvas on the mainmast, sprang up on the sheer poles and rapidly ascended the ratlines.
In all these movements, which appeared confused, but which were not, Beekman had stood unnoticed, but he was not to escape attention much longer. The man who had been directing the men on the halliards caught sight of him as they were belayed. He turned and walked forward.
"Here, you sojer," he began roughly, "what in hell do you mean by standin' aroun' here doin' nothin'?"
"Are you talking to me?"
"Who else would I be talkin' to? D'ye think I'm addressin' a congregation?"
"I'm not accustomed to this sort of speech, and I'll thank you to modify it," answered Beekman, outraged by the other's brutal rudeness, and quite forgetful of his appearance and condition.
He was a quick-tempered young man, and all his life he had received deference and respect. He did not propose to let anybody talk to him that way.
"Why, you infernal sea lawyer, you back-talkin' slob, you dirty malingerer, what do you think you are; one of the officers on this ship; a passenger?"
"Whatever I am, I'm not under your orders."
"You ain't, ain't ye! I'll learn you what you are. Git aft an' tail on to them halliards, an' be quick about it."
"I'll see you damned first."
"What!" roared Bill Woywod. He balled his enormous fist and struck viciously at Beekman. In a rough-and-tumble fight the latter would have had no chance with the mate, for what the officer lacked in science he made up in brute force. Beekman was in a horrible physical condition from his excesses and the result of the knockout drops which had been administered to him, but his spirit was as strong as ever, and his skill as great. He parried the blow easily with his left, and sent a swift right to Woywod's iron jaw.
The main tops'l halliards had not yet been cast off, and the men surged forward. Captain Peleg Fish, with an amazing agility for one of his years, disdaining the accommodation ladders, leaped over the rail of the bridge, dropped to the deck, and ran forward, leaving the conning of the ship to the second mate.
"Rank mutiny, by heck," shouted the captain, drawing a revolver. "Stand clear, git back to them halliards, every mother's son of ye, or I'll let daylight through ye. What's the matter here, Mr. Woywod?"
Now, if Beekman had been in good condition, that blow to the jaw might have put Woywod out for a few moments, although that is questionable, but as it was, it had merely staggered him. It lacked steam. But it was hard enough to rouse all the devilry in the mate's heart.
"Do you need any help, sir?" continued Captain Peleg Fish, handling his pistol.
"None. Stand back, men," he answered to the captain, and shouted to the crew in one breath.
Woywod had taken one blow. He took another, for, as he leaped at Beekman, who was not so thoroughly angry that he did not stop to reason, the latter hit him with all his force. Woywod partly parried the blow, and the next moment he had the young man in his arms. He crushed him against his breast; he shook him to and fro. He finally shifted his hands to the other's throat and choked him until he was insensible. Then he threw him in the lee scuppers and turned aft, the crew falling back before him and running to the halliards with almost ludicrous haste.
"What was the trouble?" asked Captain Fish.
"The lazy swab refused to obey my orders to tail on the halliards with the rest of the men, an' then he struck me."
"Rank mutiny," shouted the captain. "Shall we put him in irons?"
"No, sir. We're not any too full handed as it is. He evidently doesn't know the law of the sea. Perhaps he's not quite himself. It's the first time he's been on deck since we took our departure yesterday mornin'. Leave him to me, sir; I'll turn him into a good, willin', obedient sailorman afore I gits through with him."
"Very good. Bear a hand with the maintops'l," said the captain, turning and walking aft. "It blows harder every minute. I don't want to rip the sticks off her just yet, although I can carry on as long as any master that sails the sea," he added for the benefit of Salver, the second mate.
The sea was rising, and although the Susquehanna was a dry ship, yet the wind had nipped the tops of the waves and from time to time the spray came aboard. There was water in the lee scuppers, and this presently brought back consciousness to Beekman. He sat up finally, and, no one paying him any attention, watched the proceedings until the reefs had been taken in the tops'ls and the ship prepared for the growing storm. He watched them with no degree of interest but with black rage and murder in his heart. If he had a weapon, or the strength, he thought he would have killed the mate as the latter came toward him.
With a desire, natural under the circumstances, to be in position for whatever might betide, he rose to his feet and clung desperately to the pinrail, confronting the mate. The men of the crew had scattered to their various stations and duties. All hands had been called, but the ship having been made snug alow and aloft, the watch below had been dismissed, and some of them were already tripping down the ladder into the forepeak. Beekman was left entirely to his own devices. No one presumed to interfere between the mate and this newest member of the ship's people.
"Well, you," began Woywod with an oath. "Have you had your lesson? Do you know who's who aboard this ship? Are you ready to turn to?"
"I'm ready for nothing," said Beekman hotly, "except to kill you if I get a chance."
"Look here," said Woywod, "you're evidently a green hand. Probably you've never been on a ship afore, an' you don't know the law of the sea. 'T ain't to be expected that you would. We gits many aboard that makes their first v'yage with us. But there's one thing you do know, an' that's that I'm your master." His great hand shot out and shook itself beneath Beekman's face. "An' I'm your master not only because I'm first officer of this ship, but because I'm a better man than you are. I flung you into the lee scuppers an' I can do it again. I'm willin' an' wishful to do it, too. If you gimme any more mutinous back talk; if you refuse to turn to an' do your duty accordin' to the articles you signed when you come aboard, you'll git it again. If you act like a man instead of a fool, you'll have no more trouble with me 's long as you obey orders. D'ye git that?"
"I get it, yes. It's plain enough, but it makes no difference to me."
"It don't, don't it?"
"No; and I'm not a member of this crew. I signed no articles, and I don't propose to do a thing unless I please. I want to see the captain."
"You gimme the lie, do you?" said Woywod, approaching nearer.
"Now, look here," said Beekman; "I want you to understand one thing."
"I'm not afraid of you. You can kill me. You've got the physical strength to do it, although if I were not so sick, there might be an argument as to that; so you might as well quit bullying me. Oh, yes, I have no doubt but what you could knock me over again, but I'll die fighting."
His hand clenched a belaying pin. He drew it out and lifted it up.
"Mr. Woywod," the captain's voice came from aft, "is that man givin' you any trouble again?"
"I can deal with him, sir."
"Send him aft to me."
Of course, Woywod could not disobey so direct an order. He had no relish for it, but there was no help for it. Beekman himself took action. He shoved past the mate, who, under the circumstances, did not dare to hit him, and made his way staggering along the deck to the bridge, where the mate followed him. Two or three of the crew came aft, but the mate drove them forward with curses and oaths.
"Young man," said the captain, an old man of short stature, but immensely broad shouldered and powerful, "do you know what mutiny is?"
"I certainly do."
"Oh, you've been to sea before, have you?"
"On what ships?"
"Trans-Atlantic liners and my own yacht."
"Your own yacht!" The captain burst into a roar of laughter.
"That's what I said."
"Do you know I'm the master of this ship?"
"I presume so."
"Well, then, say 'sir' to me, an' be quick about it."
"It is your due," said Beekman; "I should have done it before. I beg your pardon, sir."
"That's better. Now, what's this cock-an'-bull story you're try in' to tell me? Look here, Smith-"
"That's not my name, sir."
"Well, that's the name you made your mark to on the ship's articles when you were brought aboard, the drunkest sailor I ever seen."
"That's exactly it," said Beekman. "I'm no sailor, and my name is not Smith."
"What's your name?"
"Beekman; Derrick Beekman."
"How came you aboard my ship?"
"I suppose I've been shanghaied. I don't know any more than you do; perhaps not as much."
"You mean," roared the captain, "that I had any hand in bringing you here?"
"I don't know anything about that. I only know that I was to be married today, Thursday."
"'Tain't Thursday; it's Friday. You've been in a drunken stupor since Thursday morning."
Beekman looked about him with something like despair in his heart. There was not even a ship to be seen in the whole expanse of leaden sea.
"Captain-What's your name, sir?"
"Well, the impudence of that," ejaculated Woywod.
"What difference does it make to you what the cap'n's name is," sneered Salver.
"It's Peleg Fish, Smith-Beekman, or Beekman-Smith; Captain Peleg Fish."
"Well, Captain Fish, I'm a member of an old New York family and-"
"Families don't count for nothin' here," said the captain. "If that's all you've got to say, I've seen a many of them last scions brought down to the fok's'l."
"I was engaged to be married to the daughter of John Maynard. I presume you've heard of him."
"Do you mean the president of the Inter-Oceanic Trading Company?"
"Well, I've heard of him all right," laughed the captain. "This is the Susquehanna. She belongs to his company. We fly his house flag. Do you mean to tell me that you claim to have been engaged to his daughter; a drunken ragamuffin like you, the off-scourin's of Water Street, which the crimps unload on us poor, helpless, seafarin' men as able seamen?"