"And how will you settle the affair if by any good fortune we succeed in finding Beekman and he refuses to consent and wishes to hold you to your terms?" asked Maynard thoughtfully. "You don't seem to have counted on that."
Harnash and Stephanie looked at each other with dismay.
"And how if he wants to kill Harnash, as he would have a perfect right to do, for his part in the-er-deplorable transaction?" continued the old man relentlessly.
"I'll take whatever he wishes to give me," said Harnash. "I'll tell him myself, if we are fortunate enough to see him, and I don't believe when he learns everything that he will want to claim as his wife a woman who loves some one else."
"I am sure he will not," said Stephanie.
The girl's father nodded.
"I guess you have it right, but we needn't worry about that now. The first thing is to find out whether he is really dead."
"We must set about that at once," said Stephanie.
"We have already taken steps to that end," said Harnash. "I have cabled Smithfield to ship the men from Honolulu to 'Frisco at our expense, and to say to them that I will meet them on the arrival of the steamer. I find that a steamer sails from Honolulu on Thursday of next week. She is due to arrive on Friday of the week after. My personal affairs are in such a state that I can safely leave them. I have a substantial balance available in the bank. I am going to California to interview the men and then I shall charter a vessel and hunt for the other boat or prosecute whatever search is necessary."
"That's fine," said Stephanie. Then she turned to her father, stretching out her hand. "Father-"
The old man understood perfectly well what she wanted.
"I can amplify that plan a little," he said. "I have been wanting to get away from active business for a long time and my affairs are fortunately in such a shape that I can trust them to others. I should have trusted them to you, Harnash, if you weren't obliged to go along."
"Do you mean-?" cried the girl.
"Yes, I'll send the Stephanie around through the Panama canal immediately" – the Stephanie was a magnificent steam yacht, the greatest, most splendid, and most seaworthy of any of the floating palaces of the millionaires of the seaboard-"and we'll go on that hunt together."
"You mean that I-"
"Of course you can go along. Who has more interest in establishing the fact than you?"
A seafaring man is less at home in a parlor than anywhere else. He can sit comfortably on anything except a chair. The big boatswain balanced himself gingerly on the edge of the biggest and strongest chair in the private parlor of the Maynard apartment in the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. In his hands, fortunately, for otherwise he would not have known what to do with them, he clasped a large package wrapped in oil silk and carefully tied up. He looked and felt supremely ill at ease and miserable. Back of him, equally uncomfortable, were the other survivors of the Susquehanna. It was proper for the boatswain, who acted as third officer, to be seated. This much was conceded to his rank, but Templin and the other five, deaf to all suggestions looking toward their comfort, remained standing. They did not even lean against anything. They took position in true seamanlike fashion, arms folded or akimbo, feet wide apart, ready for any unexpected roll on the part of the St. Francis Hotel.
George Harnash had met the steamer. Indeed, he had boarded her before she tied up at her berth at the docks. He knew that Beekman would not be with the survivors because their names had been cabled to New York by Smithfield in answer to inquiries. The strangest circumstance was this. A list of the other members of the crew taken from the ship's papers which were in possession of the third officer, for so the boatswain was designated, had also been cabled and the name of Beekman did not appear in that list either. This puzzled Harnash beyond measure. He had delivered Beekman to the crimp and the gang designated by Woywod, certainly. Had anything happened? Were those knock-out drops too strong? Harnash was a miserable man, indeed, a prey to all sorts of fears and anxieties and each worse than the other.
The men, who had landed at Honolulu in a dilapidated condition, two weeks' cruising in an open boat being not conducive to the preservation of wearing apparel, had been thoroughly outfitted by the agent of the Inter-Oceanic Trading Company, and consequently as Stephanie Maynard looked upon them she thought them as fine an appearing body of sailors as she had seen in her various voyagings upon the seas. Old John Maynard, keenly appraising them as they were led in the room, arrived at the same conclusion by a somewhat different process.
"This is the bo's'n of the Susquehanna," began Harnash after he had mustered and marshaled the uneasy sailors. "That is, he was originally shipped as bo's'n, but he has been promoted to third officer. How or why I do not yet know. I thought it best not to question the men until I had brought them here. Mr. Gersey-"
"Jim Gersey, at your service, sirs an' ma'am," said the old seaman, rising and making a sort of sea-scrape with his feet while he knuckled his brow with his hand in true if now somewhat obsolete sailor fashion.
"Mr. Gersey," said Harnash, "this is Mr. John Maynard, president of the company which owned the Susquehanna, and this is his daughter."
"Pleased to meet ye both," said the boatswain.
"In addition to our natural anxiety about the ship and her people we have reason to be deeply interested in one member of her crew," continued Harnash, and his personal suspense was obvious to the dullest person in the room, much more to the girl who loved him in spite of all.
"I didn't ketch your name, sir," said the boatswain.
"Harnash, George Harnash."
The old man furrowed his brow and thought a moment.
"Of Harnash an' Beekman, 33 Broadway, New York?"
"Well, sir, I got a message for you."
"Aye. It was give to me by a man that shipped aboard the Susquehanna as John Smith."
"That's why Beekman's name didn't appear among those sent us," observed Mr. Maynard suddenly.
"I suppose so," answered Harnash, glad to be relieved of one anxiety.
"Which he said it wan't his name, but I ain't never been aboard a ship without a John Smith on her," continued the boatswain, "an' sometimes we gits two or three of 'em. It's a kind-a easy name, an' when nobody knows a man we jest nachurly calls him that. Now this chap's name was Beekman. Leastways, that's what he said it was, an' when we put him overboard-"
"Put him overboard?" cried Stephanie.
"Yes, ma'am. In the ship's whaleboat, for his own safety."
"At the time of the fire?" interposed Harnash.
"Now, gents an' lady, if you'll excuse me, I can't quite steer my course amid so many variable winds, so to speak. I can't shift my helm quick enough to meet all them changes. If you'll lemme heave ahead in my own way I'll git the yarn off'n my chest the quicker an' the plainer."
"Of course," said Maynard; "don't interrupt, young people, let him tell us in his own way."
"Thankee, sir," said the boatswain. "You've got a seaman's instinck an' arter I've told the yarn I'll answer any question I may be axed, pervided they comes at me one at a time."
"Heave ahead," said Maynard, adopting nautical language for the occasion.
"Well, sir, it was this way. Arter Smith or Beekman put a knife into the mate-"
This was too much for Harnash.
The boatswain shot a look at him.
"I was comin' to that," he answered. "Mr. Woywod, as you know, he was the mate of the ship. He was a prime seaman, an' pleasant enough if you done what you was told an' done it quick an' kept out of his way, but when he was roused an' riled-God help us, says I."
"We all says that," put in Templin grimly.
"Well, him an' Smith or Beekman got in an argyment the second day out when Smith come to in the fo'c's'l an' didn't know where he was at or why he was at it, an' Smith knocked the mate down. The mate seed he was green an' raw, an' he passed over that, only he told him if he ever done it agin he'd kill him. The mate battered him up considerably at the time. I sent for him that day an' told him as an old man that had follered the sea all his life that there wan't no use of tryin' to fight the mate; that the officers had everything on their side. They was like God hisself on the ship; that he'd git double irons clapped on him for mutiny, an' mebbe hanged if he didn't knuckle down an' turn to. He told me a long story about him bein' shanghaied. I didn't believe it at first."
"It was true," said Harnash. "Absolutely true."
"An' leavin' a girl on his weddin' day."
"I was the girl," said Stephanie.
"Dash me," said the old boatswain, staring at the girl with quite open admiration, "his was a harder lot than we fancied. Well, he concluded to take my advice. He turned to an' done his work like a man, an' I never seen a feller pick up so. Afore he left us he was as hard as nails, an' by way of bein' a prime seaman, too. The mate didn't manhandle him none, but there was bad blood 'twixt them two men. The mate was allus a pickin' on him an' a bullyin' of him. It was a kind of battle between 'em. The mate anxious to provoke an outbreak on Smith's part, which I means Beekman, an' Beekman determined not to give the mate no handle agin him. We had a hell of a-I beg your pardon, Miss, but that word jest describes the ship an' the v'yage. I never did see such a succession of gales. We was weeks gittin' round the Horn, an' there was a dead beat agin the wind nigh all the way up to the line. One night, I disremember the date, but I got it here" – he tapped the oilskin package to which he clung so tightly-"all hands was called on suddenly to reef tops'ls. The old man was for carryin' on, you know; he'd taken in the r'yals, but the to'gall'nts'ls was still set, an' the sticks was bendin' like whips when he decided to git 'em off her. Now there was a mast-man, a half-witted Dutchman, aboard named Wramm."
"Jacob Wramm," said Templin. "God rest his soul."
"He done a lubberly thing. He cast off the wrong halliards, an' we lost the main to'gall'nt mast. It was in the mid watch, an' Wramm had been takin' a snooze under the lee rail or he wouldn't have done it. The mate was very vi'lent with him. He had kicked him awake, au' when the mast carried away he hit him over the head with a belayin' pin, thinking, doubtless, to let some sense into his thick skull, but instead he let the life out of him."
"Do you mean that he killed him?" asked Maynard in amazement, while the others held their breath at this matter-of-fact description of tyranny and murder.
"Aye, sir, I means jest that. There's a lot o' things that goes on aboard your ships, that neither you nor nobody else in New York knows nothin' about."
"Wramm died the next day, but meanwhile, arter we'd cleared away the wreck an' got the ship snug, we took Wramm, who was still breathin' but unconscious, to his berth in the fo'c's'l. Arter we'd examined him, Beekman said he was goin' aft to see the old man."
"Did Captain Fish permit such brutality?"
"I ain't wishful to say nothin' agin a man that's dead an' that can't defend hisself, but him an' Salver, which he was in charge of the other boat, was much the same kind of men as Woywod, only not quite so vi'lent. The cap'n was an old man an' he wan't so free with his fists, but he allus backed up the mates in whatever they done. Well, Beekman insisted on seein' the cap'n, an' arter the mate had inspected Wramm an' seen he was pretty bad off, he thought best to let him go aft. Templin here was busy about the mizzenmast, an' he can tell what happened, though we've got it all down in writin'."
"If you please, ma'am an' gents," said old Templin, stepping forward and taking up the tale, "I heard v'ices raised high in the cabin, which I could see into it through the skylight which covers it an' lets in light an', when it's open, air. You understand?"
"Wot words passed I couldn't make out, but I seen the mate leap toward Smith, an' Smith hit him. The mate was a big man, an' although it must have been a powerful blow, it didn't phase him; it jest throwed him back agin the cabin bulkhead. Then he gathered hisself up, drew a gun, p'inted it at Smith, an' made for him agin. The cap'n was havin' something to eat afore turnin' in, it bein' about four bells in the mid watch, an' there was a big, sharp carvin' knife layin' on the table. The mate was cursin' like mad, an' Smith was standin' there quiet an' as white as the paint on the cabin bulkheads. Jest as the mate pulled the trigger, Smith grabbed the knife an' buried it to its handle in the mate's breast, the bullet from the pistol passin' harmless like jest over Smith's head an' tearin' a big hole in the bulkhead."
"I seen the hole myself later on," said the boatswain as Templin stopped for breath.
"Mr. Salver, who had the watch," resumed the sailor, "came into the cabin, an' he grabbed Smith, who was standin' kind o' dazed like, lookin' at the mate wrigglin' round the deck; an' Manuel, the steward, did the same. The old man got the mate's pistol an' covered Smith, an' they put him in the bo's'n's cabin an' moved the bo's'n aft to take the watch, ratin' him as third mate, an' givin' Mr. Salver, the second mate, Mr. Woywod's watch."
"Good God, how horrible!" said Harnash, shooting a quick look at Stephanie, who sat staring and as white as Templin's description indicated Beekman had been, as this grim, sordid tragedy of the sea was revealed to them in the picturesque simplicity of this rude sailor's tale.
"What happened then?" asked Maynard.
"Well, sir," answered the boatswain, "Templin can finish the yarn better nor I can."
"Every man jack on the ship," said Templin, "had a mighty likin' for Smith. Ain't that so, mates?"
Deep-toned approvals, with much nodding of heads, came from the other seamen.
"He was the pleasantest man on the ship," said one.
"Free an' easy, always willin' to help a shipmate," said another.
"Full of good stories, an' doin' his best to be agreeable," added a third.
"An' we wasn't goin' to see him hanged for that, which it was clearly self-defense, an' a good riddance, anyway," continued Templin. "You see, the mate was hated as much as Smith was liked. So we puts our heads together, an' to make a long story short, we pervisions the whaleboat, which was hangin' at the after davits. We struck the irons off of Smith's wrists an' ankles, put him into the boat, an' lowered her the night arter."
"I had heerd the old man an' Salver plottin' the ship's position," said the boatswain. "They said there was land about seventy leagues to the sou'west'ard, an we all thought he could reach it. It seemed as if the rough weather had blowed itself out at last in the Pacific. There was some white people on them islands. There'd be some means for him to git back to the United States, eventually, or wherever he belonged."
"When did the captain learn of his escape?"
"Right then an' there. He done his best to prevent it, but it was dark an' the men refused to handle the braces to wear the ship, an' that's all there was to it."
"So Beekman wasn't on the ship when she burned," cried Harnash.
"Thank God for that," said Stephanie. "Don't you see," she continued as the bewildered seaman stared at her, "if he had been on the ship, he might have been lost in the other boat; Mr. Salver's boat, you said."
"But, as it is now, there is a chance he may have got to those islands. What were they? Where are they? We may find him yet."
"It's possible. There's always a chance on the sea," admitted the boatswain. "But that ain't all the story."
"No, ma'am; the gales hadn't quite blowed theirselves out yet, an' the next day come the worst of 'em all. What become of that boat in that storm, Cod only knows. We had to scud afore it under bare poles."
"It might not have blowed so hard where the whaleboat was," said Templin sagely.
"In course; but no man can know nothin' about that."
"We got a slant of a favorin' wind arter a few days, an' ran down our northin' at a great rate. I think it was two weeks arter we sent the whaleboat away with Beekman in it, when a fire broke out in the forehold. I suppose the strainin' an' pitchin' and buckin' of the ship was the cause of it. I don't rightly know jest what we had aboard."
"About three thousand tons of the most inflammable and explosive stuff on earth," said Mr. Maynard.
"Well, it ketched afire. We knowed it was some kind of dangerous stuff without bein' aware of the partik'lers, an' we tried to git at the fire, but we couldn't. We knowed the old ship was doomed just about as soon as something that would explode got reached by the fire. There wan't no panic."
"The officers treated us like dogs, all of us," interposed Templin; "but they knowed their business, an' so did we."
"Two boats was got over an' pervisioned; a cutter an' a la'nch that was on chocks amidships. The cap'n ordered me with nine of the men to the cutter, an' Mr. Salver with the rest on 'em to the la'nch. The sea was calm enough, an' we had no difficulty in gittin' the boats overboard, although we had to bear a hand, an' it was well we done so. Nachurly, the cap'n was to be the last man to 'bandon the ship, which he didn't leave at all, as a matter of fact. He was to go in my boat, which was one reason why the steward was in her. Salver's boat shoved off, an' while we lay alongside at the battens waitin' for him, the old man ordered us to shove off, too. 'Mr. Gersey,' he sez-me bein' called 'Mister' habitual after I come aft-'if you git to shore, report me as havin' stayed with the ship.' 'Cap'n Fish,' sez I, 'savin' your presence, it's a kind of damn fool thing for you to do, for the ship's goin' down.' 'I ain't never yet desarted no ship under my charge,' sez the cap'n, an' when I started to argue, he told me to go to hell an' git away from there lest the boat should be lost. There wan't nothin' else for me to do, ma'am, but obey orders. I've been all my life obeyin' orders at sea, but that was about the hardest one ever put up to me. We didn't like the old man much. As a matter of fact, we hated him, an' we might have killed him in a fair fight, if it had been possible, but we didn't none of us want to see him die that way."
"No, we didn't," said one.
"But there wan't no help for it. We pulled away from the blazin' ship till we got within hail of Salver's boat. When he seed the cap'n wasn't aboard, he was for rowin' back to the ship to rescue him. We could see the old man calmly walkin' up an' down the bridge, for'ard of the mizzenmast, perfectly plain. The fire was for'ard, and the ship was hove to so the smoke druv away to lee'ard. He never left that bridge except to go aft to h'ist the American flag at the gaffend. Salver would have gone back, anyway, only the men refused. We was willin' enough, only we know'd it wan't no use. An' the ship was liable to blow up any minute."
"Well?" said Maynard in the silence that ensued.
"She did blow up, an' the cap'n an' the flag an' the ship all went down together," said the old boatswain with deep solemnity.
"He was a hard man," said Templin frowning, "but he went down with his ship."
That last act covered a multitude of sins in the eyes of the men.
"There ain't much more to tell," continued the boatswain after the tribute of respect and admiration had been conveyed by a solemn little silence which no other cared to break. "We had a hard v'yage in that open cutter, which we separated from the la'nch in the night. Food an' water give out by the end of a week, an' afore we reached Honolulu, or was picked up by a steamer headin' that way a day's sail from the port, three of the men died. Among 'em was Manuel, ship's steward. As we'd thought the old man was goin' in my boat, I had the log an' the ship's papers. We knowed, because I had seed it, that the cap'n had logged the yarn of the killing of Woywod, which he had got signed by Salver an' Manuel, the steward. Manuel was a witness to the whole thing, an' Salver to the latter part. Manuel was pretty poor stuff; afeerd of his life when Cap'n Fish was around. So he signed a lie. When he knowed he was goin' to die, he said he wanted to undo what he had done, as far as he could, so I got out the logbook an' wrote in it what he said. He made his mark after it, an' then Templin an' all the rest that could write signed it as witnesses, an' them as couldn't, made their marks. We thought if Beekman ever did git back home, an' this charge ever come up, which it wouldn't be likely, since the Susquehanna was lost, it might help him to git people to believe he was innercent."
As the old man spoke he unfolded the oil silk wrapping, disclosed the logbook, and extended it to his fascinated audience. Harnash took it.
"You'll find it there, sir," said the boatswain, opening the book at a place marked by a slip of paper.
"Read it, George," said Maynard.
"I, Manuel Silva," Harnash read from the water-stained page, with difficulty deciphering the blurred, soft pencil writing.
"We didn't have no pen an' ink," interrupted the boatswain in explanation.
"Being about to die, do hereby declare before God and Mr. Gersey and the crew of this cutter, that what I signed in the logbook about the death of the mate is a damn lie, which I hope God and the Holy Virgin and the Saints will pardon me. The mate struck at Smith, although he was twice warned, and finally drew a pistol. He would have shot him if he hadn't been killed. It was self defense. In fear of the captain and my life, I signed that false Happy David. This is the truth, so help me God."
"There's his mark," said Gersey, getting up and pointing. "An' this is my signature, an' there's Templin's an' Dumellow's, and there's Spear's and Lawton's marks, which they are here to testify. Also, there's Walling's and Allen's, which are dead."
"I see," said Harnash, handing the book to Stephanie.
"Mr. Gersey, you have done exceedingly well. I want to compliment you and every one of the men," said Maynard. "You shall not suffer in the loss of the Susquehanna. The Inter-Oceanic will pension you or give you steady work. A sum of money will be deposited to your credit, which will enable you to be independent of the sea, if you choose."
"That's handsome of you, Mr. Maynard," said Templin. "I don't know how the other men feels, but as for me, I'm too young to retire. I'd just blow in the money, wot ever it is, if it was give to me, an' I'd rather have work."
"That goes for me."
"An' for me," cried one after the other.
"So, if you'll jest keep the money for us, so's when we're too old to go to sea we'll have somethin' laid up, it'll be all right."
"Your decision is a wise one," said Maynard. "As it happens, I'll be able to offer you work. These men look to me to be all right. Can you vouch for them, Mr. Gersey?"
"They're prime seamen, every one of 'em, an' orderly an' decent men. Not but what they sometimes gits laid by the heels ashore, but afloat there ain't no more properer men to be found."
"I thought so. Well, I own a three-thousand-ton steam yacht, barkentine rigged-the Stephanie-named after my daughter here. She will be due in San Francisco in two weeks. We are contemplating an extended cruise to the south seas. Have you ever been in steam, Mr. Gersey?"
"Most of my life, sir."
"There's a berth aboard her as bo's'n, or fourth officer, for you, and I'll ship every man here at double pay before the mast. You can pick one of them for bo's'n's mate. We've never had a bo's'n on the yacht, but I've no doubt we can use one handily."
"Are you goin' to hunt for Beekman, sir, I makes bold to ask," questioned the boatswain, his face shining.
"I'm going to search the seas until I find him, or what became of him, if possible; and, incidentally, Salver and the launch."
"We're with you, howsomever long that cruise," said the boatswain. "Am I right, mates?"
"Right you are," came in deep-toned approval from the little group of sailors.