IT WAS her first voyage, and though she was but a cargo-steamer of twenty-five hundred tons, she was the very best of her kind, the outcome of forty years of experiments and improvements in framework and machinery; and her designers and owner thought as much of her as though she had been the Lucania. Any one can make a floating hotel that will pay expenses, if he puts enough money into the saloon, and charges for private baths, suites of rooms, and such like; but in these days of competition and low freights every square inch of a cargo-boat must be built for cheapness, great hold-capacity, and a certain steady speed. This boat was, perhaps, two hundred and forty feet long and thirty-two feet wide, with arrangements that enabled her to carry cattle on her main and sheep on her upper deck if she wanted to; but her great glory was the amount of cargo that she could store away in her holds. Her owners—they were a very well known Scotch firm came round with her from the north, where she had been launched and christened and fitted, to Liverpool, where she was to take cargo for New York; and the owner’s daughter, Miss Frazier, went to and fro on the clean decks, admiring the new paint and the brass work, and the patent winches, and particularly the strong, straight bow, over which she had cracked a bottle of champagne when she named the steamer the Dimbula. It was a beautiful September afternoon, and the boat in all her newness she was painted lead-colour with a red funnel—looked very fine indeed. Her house-flag was flying, and her whistle from time to time acknowledged the salutes of friendly boats, who saw that she was new to the High and Narrow Seas and wished to make her welcome.“And now,” said Miss Frazier, delightedly, to the captain, “she’s a real ship, isn’t she? It seems only the other day father gave the order for her, and now—and now—isn’t she a beauty!” The girl was proud of the firm, and talked as though she were the controlling partner.
“Oh, she’s no so bad,” the skipper replied cautiously. “But I’m sayin’ that it takes more than christenin’ to mak’ a ship. In the nature o’ things, Miss Frazier, if ye follow me, she’s just irons and rivets and plates put into the form of a ship. She has to find herself yet.”
“I thought father said she was exceptionally well found.”
“So she is, said the skipper, with a laugh. “But it’s this way wi’ ships, Miss Frazier. She’s all here, but the parrts of her have not learned to work together yet. They’ve had no chance.”
“The engines are working beautifully. I can hear them.”
“Yes, indeed. But there’s more than engines to a ship. Every inch of her, ye’ll understand, has to be livened up and made to work wi’ its neighbour—sweetenin’ her, we call it, technically.”
“And how will you do it?” the girl asked.
“We can no more than drive and steer her and so forth; but if we have rough weather this trip—it’s likely—she’ll learn the rest by heart! For a ship, ye’ll obsairve, Miss Frazier, is in no sense a reegid body closed at both ends. She’s a highly complex structure o’ various an’ conflictin’ strains, wi’ tissues that must give an’ tak’ accordin’ to her personal modulus of elasteecity.” Mr. Buchanan, the chief engineer, was coming towards them. “I’m sayin’ to Miss Frazier, here, that our little Dimbula has to be sweetened yet, and nothin’ but a gale will do it. How’s all wi’ your engines, Buck?”
“Well enough—true by plumb an’ rule, o’ course; but there’s no spontaneeity yet.” He turned to the girl. “Take my word, Miss Frazier, and maybe ye’ll comprehend later; even after a pretty girl’s christened a ship it does not follow that there’s such a thing as a ship under the men that work her.”
“I was sayin’ the very same, Mr. Buchanan,” the skipper interrupted.
“That’s more metaphysical than I can follow,” said Miss Frazier, laughing.
“Why so? Ye’re good Scotch, an’- I knew your mother’s father, he was fra’ Dumfries—ye’ve a vested right in metapheesics, Miss Frazier, just as ye have in the Dimbula,” the engineer said.
“Eh, well, we must go down to the deep watters, an’ earn Miss Frazier her deevidends. Will you not come to my cabin for tea?” said the skipper. “We’ll be in dock the night, and when you’re goin’ back to Glasgie ye can think of us loadin’ her down an’ drivin’ her forth—all for your sake.”
In the next few days they stowed some four thousand tons dead-weight into the Dimbula, and took her out from Liverpool. As soon as she met the lift of the open water, she naturally began to talk. If you lay your ear to the side of the cabin, the next time you are in a steamer, you will hear hundreds of little voices in every direction, thrilling and buzzing, and whispering and popping, and gurgling and sobbing and squeaking exactly like a telephone in a thunder-storm. Wooden ships shriek and growl and grunt, but iron vessels throb and quiver through all their hundreds of ribs and thousands of rivets. The Dimbula was very strongly built, and every piece of her had a letter or a number, or both, to describe it; and every piece had been hammered, or forged, or rolled, or punched by man, and had lived in the roar and rattle of the shipyard for months. Therefore, every piece had its own separate voice, in exact proportion to the amount of trouble spent upon it. Cast-iron, as a rule, says very little; but mild steel plates and wrought-iron, and ribs and beams that have been much bent and welded and riveted, talk continuously. Their conversation, of course, is not half as wise as our human talk, because they are all, though they do not know it, bound down one to the other in a black darkness, where they cannot tell what is happening near them, nor what will overtake them next.
As soon as she had cleared the Irish coast, a sullen, grey-headed old wave of the Atlantic climbed leisurely over her straight bows, and sat down on the steam-capstan used for hauling up the anchor. Now the capstan and the engine that drove it had been newly painted red and green; besides which, nobody likes being ducked.
“Don’t you do that again,” the capstan sputtered through the teeth of his cogs. “Hi! Where’s the fellow gone?”
The wave had slouched overside with a plop and a chuckle; but “Plenty more where he came from,” said a brother-wave, and went through and over the capstan, who was bolted firmly to an iron plate on the iron deck-beams below.
“Can’t you keep still up there?” said the deckbeams. “What’s the matter with you? One minute you weigh twice as much as you ought to, and the next you don’t!”
“It isn’t my fault,” said the capstan. “There’s a green brute outside that comes and hits me on the head.”
“Tell that to the shipwrights. You’ve been in position for months and you’ve never wriggled like this before. If you aren’t careful you’ll strain us.”
“Talking of strain,” said a low, rasping, unpleasant voice, “are any of you fellows—you deck-beams, we mean—aware that those exceedingly ugly knees of yours happen to be riveted into our structure—ours?”
“Who might you be?” the deck-beams inquired.
“Oh, nobody in particular,” was the answer. “We’re only the port and starboard upper-deck stringers; and if you persist in heaving and hiking like this, we shall be reluctantly compelled to take steps.”
Now the stringers of the ship are long iron girders, so to speak, that run lengthways from stern to bow. They keep the iron frames (what are called ribs in a wooden ship) in place, and also help to hold the ends of the deck-beams, which go from side to side of the ship. Stringers always consider themselves most important, because they are so long.
“You will take steps—will you?” This was a long echoing rumble. It came from the frames—scores and scores of them, each one about eighteen inches distant from the next, and each riveted to the stringers in four places. “We think you will have a certain amount of trouble in that”; and thousands and thousands of the little rivets that held everything together whispered: “You will! You will! Stop quivering and be quiet. Hold on, brethren! Hold on! Hot Punches! What’s that?”
Rivets have no teeth, so they cannot chatter with fright; but they did their best as a fluttering jar swept along the ship from stern to bow, and she shook like a rat in a terrier’s mouth.
An unusually severe pitch, for the sea was rising, had lifted the big throbbing screw nearly to the surface, and it was spinning round in a kind of soda-water—half sea and half air—going much faster than was proper, because there was no deep water for it to work in. As it sank again, the engines—and they were triple expansion, three cylinders in a row—snorted through all their three pistons. “Was that a joke, you fellow outside? It’s an uncommonly poor one. How are we to do our work if you fly off the handle that way?”
“I didn’t fly off the handle,” said the screw, twirling huskily at the end of the screw-shaft. “If I had, you’d have been scrap-iron by this time. The sea dropped away from under me, and I had nothing to catch on to. That’s all.”
“That’s all, d’you call it?” said the thrust-block, whose business it is to take the push of the screw; for if a screw had nothing to hold it back it would crawl right into the engine-room. (It is the holding back of the screwing action that gives the drive to a ship.) “I know I do my work deep down and out of sight, but I warn you I expect justice. All I ask for is bare justice. Why can’t you push steadily and evenly, instead of whizzing like a whirligig, and making me hot under all my collars?” The thrust-block had six collars, each faced with brass, and he did not wish to get them heated.
All the bearings that supported the fifty feet of screw-shaft as it ran to the stern whispered: “Justice—give us justice.”
“I can only give you what I can get,” the screw answered. “Look out! It’s coming again!”
He rose with a roar as the Dimbula plunged, and “whack—flack—whack—whack” went the engines, furiously, for they had little to check them.
“I’m the noblest outcome of human ingenuity—Mr. Buchanan says so,” squealed the high-pressure cylinder. “This is simply ridiculous!” The piston went up savagely, and choked, for half the steam behind it was mixed with dirty water. “Help! Oiler! Fitter! Stoker! Help I’m choking,” it gasped.”Never in the history of maritime invention has such a calamity over-taken one so young and strong. And if I go, who’s to drive the ship?”
“Hush! oh, hush!” whispered the Steam, who, of course, had been to sea many times before. He used to spend his leisure ashore in a cloud, or a gutter, or a flower-pot, or a thunder-storm, or anywhere else where water was needed. “That’s only a little priming, a little carrying-over, as they call it. It’ll happen all night, on and off. I don’t say it’s nice, but it’s the best we can do under the circumstances.”
“What difference can circumstances make—. I’m here to do my work—on clean, dry steam. Blow circumstances!” the cylinder roared.
“The circumstances will attend to the blowing. I’ve worked on the North Atlantic run a good many times—it’s going to be rough before morning.”
“It isn’t distressingly calm now,” said the extra strong frames—they were called web-frames—in the engine-room. “There’s an upward thrust that we don’t understand, and there’s a twist that is very bad for our brackets and diamond- plates, and there’s a sort of west-northwesterly pull, that follows the twist, which seriously annoys us. We mention this because we happened to cost a good deal of money, and we feel sure that the owner would not approve of our being treated in this frivolous way.”
“I’m afraid the matter is out of owner’s hands for the present,” said the Steam, slipping into the condenser. “You’re left to your own devices till the weather betters.”
“I wouldn’t mind the weather,” said a flat bass voice below; “it’s this confounded cargo that’s breaking my heart. I’m the garboard-strake, and I’m twice as thick as most of the others, and I ought to know something.”
The garboard-strake is the lowest plate in the bottom of a ship, and the Dimbula’s garboard-strake was nearly three-quarters of an inch mild steel.
“The sea pushes me up in a way I should never have expected,” the strake grunted, “and the cargo pushes me down, and, between the two, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”
“When in doubt, hold on,” rumbled the Steam, making head in the boilers.
“Yes; but there’s only dark, and cold, and hurry, down here; and how do I know whether the other plates are doing their duty? Those bulwark-plates up above, I’ve heard, ain’t more than five-sixteenths of an inch thick—scandalous, I call it.”
“I agree with you,” said a huge web-frame, by the main cargo-hatch. He was deeper and thicker than all the others, and curved half-way across the ship in the shape of half an arch, to support the deck where deck-beams would have been in the way of cargo coming up and down. “I work entirely unsupported, and I observe that I am the sole strength of this vessel, so far as my vision extends. The responsibility, I assure you, is enormous. I believe the money-value of the cargo is over one hundred and fifty thousand pounds. Think of that!”
“And every pound of it is dependent on my personal exertions.” Here spoke a sea-valve that communicated directly with the water outside, and was seated not very far from the garboard-strake. “I rejoice to think that I am a Prince-Hyde Valve, with best Pará rubber facings. Five patents cover me—I mention this without pride—five separate and several patents, each one finer than the other. At present I am screwed fast. Should I open, you would immediately be swamped. This is incontrovertible!”
Patent things always use the longest words they can. It is a trick that they pick up from their inventors.
“That’s news,” said a big centrifugal bilge-pump. “I had an idea that you were employed to clean decks and things with. At least, I’ve used you for that more than once. I forget the precise number, in thousands, of gallons which I am guaranteed to throw per hour; but I assure you, my complaining friends, that there is not the least danger. I alone am capable of clearing any water that may find its way here. By my Biggest Deliveries, we pitched then!”
The sea was getting up in workmanlike style. It was a dead westerly gale, blown from under a ragged opening of green sky, narrowed on all sides by fat, grey clouds; and the wind bit like pincers as it fretted the spray into lacework on the flanks of the waves.
“I tell you what it is,” the foremast telephoned down its wire-stays. “I’m up here, and I can take a dispassionate view of things. There’s an organised conspiracy against us. I’m sure of it, because every single one of these waves is heading directly for our bows. The whole sea is concerned in it—and so’s the wind. It’s awful!”
“What’s awful?” said a wave, drowning the capstan for the hundredth time.
“This organised conspiracy on your part,” the capstan gurgled, taking his cue from the mast.
“Organised bubbles and spindrift! There has been a depression in the Gulf of Mexico. Excuse me!” He leaped overside; but his friends took up the tale one after another.
“Which has advanced—” That wave hove green water over the funnel.
“As far as Cape Hatteras—” He drenched the bridge.
“And is now going out to sea—to sea—to sea!” The third went out in three surges, making a clean sweep of a boat, which turned bottom up and sank in the darkening troughs alongside, while the broken falls whipped the davits.
“That’s all there is to it,” seethed the white water roaring through the scuppers. “ There’s no animus in our proceedings. We’re only meteorological corollaries.”
“Is it going to get any worse?” said the bow-anchor chained down to the deck, where he could only breathe once in five minutes.
“’Not knowing, can’t say. Wind may blow a bit by midnight. Thanks awfully. Good-bye.”
The wave that spoke so politely had travelled some distance aft, and found itself all mixed up on the deck amidships, which was a well-deck sunk between high bulwarks. One of the bulwark-plates, which was hung on hinges to open outward, had swung out, and passed the bulk of the water back to the sea again with a clean smack.
“Evidently that’s what I’m made for,” said the plate, closing again with a sputter of pride. “Oh, no, you don’t, my friend!”
The top of a wave was trying to get in from the outside, but as the plate did not open in that direction, the defeated water spurted back.
“Not bad for five-sixteenths of an inch,” said the bulwark-plate. “My work, I see, is laid down for the night”; and it began opening and shutting, as it was designed to do, with the motion of the ship.
“We are not what you might call idle,” groaned all the frames together, as the Dimbula climbed a big wave, lay on her side at the top, and shot into the next hollow, twisting in the descent. A huge swell pushed up exactly under her middle, and her bow and stern hung free with nothing to support them. Then one joking wave caught her up at the bow, and another at the stern, while the rest of the water slunk away from under her just to see how she would like it; so she was held up at her two ends only, and the weight of the cargo and the machinery fell on the groaning iron keels and bilge-stringers.
“Ease off! Ease off; there!” roared the garboard-strake. “I want one-eighth of an inch fair play. D’ you hear me, you rivets!”
“Ease off! Ease off!” cried the bilge-stringers. “Don’t hold us so tight to the frames!”
“Ease off!” grunted the deck-beams, as the Dimbula rolled fearfully. “You’ve cramped our knees into the stringers, and we can’t move. Ease off; you flat-headed little nuisances.”
Then two converging seas hit the bows, one on each side, and fell away in torrents of streaming thunder.
“Ease off!” shouted the forward collision-bulkhead. “I want to crumple up, but I’m stiffened in every direction. Ease off; you dirty little forge-filings. Let me breathe!”
All the hundreds of plates that are riveted to the frames, and make the outside skin of every steamer, echoed the call, for each plate wanted to shift and creep a little, and each plate, according to its position, complained against the rivets.
“We can’t help it! We can’t help it!” they murmured in reply. “We’re put here to hold you, and we’re going to do it; you never pull us twice in the same direction. If you’d say what you were going to do next, we’d try to meet your views.
“As far as I could feel,” said the upper-deck planking, and that was four inches thick, “every single iron near me was pushing or pulling in opposite directions. Now, what’s the sense of that? My friends, let us all pull together.”
“Pull any way you please,” roared the funnel, “so long as you don’t try your experiments on me. I need fourteen wire-ropes, all pulling in different directions, to hold me steady. Isn’t that so?”
“We believe you, my boy!” whistled the funnel-stays through their clinched teeth, as they twanged in the wind from the top of the funnel to the deck.
“Nonsense! We must all pull together,” the decks repeated. “Pull lengthways.”
“Very good,” said the stringers; “then stop pushing sideways when you get wet. Be content to run gracefully fore and aft, and curve in at the ends as we do.”
“No—no curves at the end. A very slight workmanlike curve from side to side, with a good grip at each knee, and little pieces welded on,” said the deck-beams.
“Fiddle!” cried the iron pillars of the deep, dark hold. “Who ever heard of curves? Stand up straight; be a perfectly round column, and carry tons of good solid weight—like that! There!” A big sea smashed on the deck above, and the pillars stiffened themselves to the load.
“Straight up and down is not bad,” said the frames, who ran that way in the sides of the ship, “but you must also expand yourselves sideways. Expansion is the law of life, children. Open out! open out!”
“Come back!” said the deck-beams, savagely, as the upward heave of the sea made the frames try to open. “Come back to your bearings, you slack-jawed irons!”
“Rigidity! Rigidity! Rigidity!” thumped the engines. “Absolute, unvarying rigidity—rigidity!”
“You see!” whined the rivets, in chorus. “No two of you will ever pull alike, and—and you blame it all on us. We only know how to go through a plate and bite down on both sides so that it can’t, and mustn’t, and sha’n’t move.”
“I’ve got one fraction of an inch play, at any rate,” said the garboard-strake, triumphantly. So he had, and all the bottom of the ship felt the easier for it.
“Then we’re no good,” sobbed the bottom rivets. “We were ordered—we were ordered—never to give; and we’ve given, and the sea will come in, and we’ll all go to the bottom together! First we’re blamed for everything unpleasant, and now we haven’t the consolation of having done our work.”
“Don’t say I told you,” whispered the Steam, consolingly; “but, between you and me and the last cloud I came from, it was bound to happen sooner or later. You had to give a fraction, and you’ve given without knowing it. Now, hold on, as before.”
“What’s the use?” a few hundred rivets chattered. “We’ve given—we’ve given; and the sooner we confess that we can’t keep the ship together, and go off our little heads, the easier it will be. No rivet forged can stand this strain.”
“No one rivet was ever meant to. Share it among you,” the Steam answered.
“The others can have my share. I’m going to pull out,” said a rivet in one of the forward plates.
“If you go, others will follow,” hissed the Steam. “There’s nothing so contagious in a boat as rivets going. Why, I knew a little chap like you—he was an eighth of an inch fatter, though—on a steamer—to be sure, she was only twelve hundred tons, now I come to think of it in exactly the same place as you are. He pulled out in a bit of a bobble of a sea, not half as bad as this, and he started all his friends on the same butt-strap, and the plates opened like a furnace door, and I had to climb into the nearest fog-bank, while the boat went down.”
“Now that’s peculiarly disgraceful,” said the rivet. “Fatter than me, was he, and in a steamer not half our tonnage? Reedy little peg! I blush for the family, sir.” He settled himself more firmly than ever in his place, and the Steam chuckled.
“You see,” he went on, quite gravely, “a rivet, and especially a rivet in your position, is really the one indispensable part of the ship.”
The Steam did not say that be had whispered the very same thing to every single piece of iron aboard. There is no sense in telling too much.
And all that while the little Dimbula pitched and chopped, and swung and slewed, and lay down as though she were going to die, and got up as though she had been stung, and threw her nose round and round in circles half a dozen times as she dipped, for the gale was at its worst. It was inky black, in spite of the tearing white froth on the waves, and, to top everything, the rain began to fall in sheets, so that you could not see your hand before your face. This did not make much difference to the ironwork below, but it troubled the foremast a good deal.
“Now it’s all finished,” he said dismally. “The conspiracy is too strong for us. There is nothing left but to—”
“Hurraar! Brrrraaah! Brrrrrrp!” roared the Steam through the fog-horn, till the decks quivered. “Don’t be frightened, below. It’s only me, just throwing out a few words, in case any one happens to be rolling round tonight.”
“You don’t mean to say there’s any one except us on the sea in such weather?” said the funnel, in a husky snuffle.
“Scores of ’em,” said the Steam, clearing its throat. “Rrrrrraaa! Brraaaaa! Prrrrp! It’s a trifle windy up here; and, Great Boilers! how it rains!”
“We’re drowning,” said the scuppers. They had been doing nothing else all night, but this steady thrash of rain above them seemed to be the end of the world.
“That’s all right. We’ll be easier in an hour or two. First the wind and then the rain: Soon you may make sail again! Grrraaaaaah! Drrrraaaa! Drrrp! I have a notion that the sea is going down already. If it does you’ll learn something about rolling. We’ve only pitched till now. By the way, aren’t you chaps in the hold a little easier than you were?”
There was just as much groaning and straining as ever, but it was not so loud or squeaky in tone; and when the ship quivered she did not jar stiffly, like a poker hit on the floor, but gave with a supple little waggle, like a perfectly balanced golf-club.
“We have made a most amazing discovery,” said the stringers, one after another. “A discovery that entirely changes the situation. We have found, for the first time in the history of ship-building, that the inward pull of the deck-beams and the outward thrust of the frames locks us, as it were, more closely in our places, and enables us to endure a strain which is entirely without parallel in the records of marine architecture.”
The Steam turned a laugh quickly into a roar up the fog-horn. “What massive intellects you great stringers have,” he said softly, when he had finished.
“We also,” began the deck-beams, “are discoverers and geniuses. We are of opinion that the support of the hold-pillars materially helps us. We find that we lock up on them when we are subjected to a heavy and singular weight of sea above.”
Here the Dimbula shot down a hollow, lying almost on her side; righting at the bottom with a wrench and a spasm.
“In these cases—are you aware of this, Steam?—the plating at the bows, and particularly at the stern—we would also mention the floors beneath us—help us to resist any tendency to spring.” The frames spoke, in the solemn awed voice which people use when they have just come across something entirely new for the very first time.
“I’m only a poor puffy little flutterer,” said the Steam, “but I have to stand a good deal of pressure in my business. It’s all tremendously interesting. Tell us some more. You fellows are so strong.”
“Watch us and you’ll see,” said the bow-plates, proudly. “Ready, behind there! Here’s the father and mother of waves coming! Sit tight, rivets all!” A great sluicing comber thundered by, but through the scuffle and confusion the Steam could hear the low, quick cries of the ironwork as the various strains took them—cries like these: “Easy, now—easy! Now push for all your strength! Hold out! Give a fraction! Hold up! Pull in! Shove crossways! Mind the strain at the ends! Grip, now! Bite tight! Let the water get away from under—and there she goes!”
The wave raced off into the darkness, shouting, “Not bad, that, if it’s your first run!” and the drenched and ducked ship throbbed to the beat of the engines inside her. All three cylinders were white with the salt spray that had come down through the engine-room hatch; there was white fur on the canvas-bound steam-pipes, and even the bright-work deep below was speckled and soiled; but the cylinders had learned to make the most of steam that was half water, and were pounding along cheerfully.
“How’s the noblest outcome of human ingenuity hitting it?” said the Steam, as he whirled through the engine-room.
“Nothing for nothing in this world of woe,” the cylinders answered, as though they had been working for centuries, “and precious little for seventy-five pounds head. We’ve made two knots this last hour and a quarter! Rather humiliating for eight hundred horse-power, isn’t it?”
“Well, it’s better than drifting astern, at any rate. You seem rather less—how shall I put it—stiff in the back than you were.”
“If you’d been hammered as we’ve been this night, you wouldn’t be stiff—iff—iff; either. Theoreti—retti—retti—cally, of course, rigidity is the thing. Purrr—purr—practically, there has to be a little give and take. We found that out by working on our sides for five minutes at a stretch—chch—chh. How’s the weather?”
“’Sea’s going down fast,” said the Steam.
“Good business,” said the high-pressure cylinder. “Whack her up, boys. They’ve given us five pounds more steam”; and he began humming the first bars of “Said the young Obadiah to the old Obadiah,” which, as you may have noticed, is a pet tune among engines not built for high speed. Racing-liners with twin-screws sing “The Turkish Patrol” and the overture to the “Bronze Horse,” and “Madame Angot,” till something goes wrong, and then they render Gounod’s “Funeral March of a Marionette,” with variations.
“You’ll learn a song of your own some fine day,” said the Steam, as he flew up the fog-horn for one last bellow.
Next day the sky cleared and the sea dropped a little, and the Dimbula began to roll from side to side till every inch of iron in her was sick and giddy. But luckily they did not all feel ill at the same time: otherwise she would have opened out like a wet paper box.
The Steam whistled warnings as he went about his business: it is in this short, quick roll and tumble that follows a heavy sea that most of the accidents happen, for then everything thinks that the worst is over and goes off guard. So he orated and chattered till the beams and frames and floors and stringers and things had learned how to lock down and lock up on one another, and endure this new kind of strain.
They found ample time to practise, for they were sixteen days at sea, and it was foul weather till within a hundred miles of New York. The Dimbula picked up her pilot, and came in covered with salt and red rust. Her funnel was dirty-grey from top to bottom; two boats had been carried away; three copper ventilators looked like hats after a fight with the police; the bridge had a dimple in the middle of it; the house that covered the steam steering-gear was split as with hatchets; there was a bill for small repairs in the engine-room almost as long as the screw-shaft; the forward cargo-hatch fell into bucket-staves when they raised the iron cross-bars; and the steam-capstan had been badly wrenched on its bed. Altogether, as the skipper said, it was “a pretty general average.”
“But she’s soupled,” he said to Mr. Buchanan. “For all her dead-weight she rode like a yacht. Ye mind that last blow off the Banks—I am proud of her, Buck.”
“It’s vera good,” said the chief engineer, looking along the dishevelled decks. “Now, a man judgin’ superfeecially would say we were a wreck, but we know otherwise—by experience.”
Naturally everything in the Dimbula fairly stiffened with pride, and the foremast and the forward collision-bulkhead, who are pushing creatures, begged the Steam to warn the Port of New York of their arrival. “Tell those big boats all about us,” they said. “They seem to take us quite as a matter of course.”
It was a glorious, clear, dead calm morning, and in single file, with less than half a mile between each, their bands playing and their tugboats shouting and waving handkerchiefs, were the Majestic, the Paris, the Touraine, the Servia, the Kaiser Wilhelm II, and the Werkendam, all statelily going out to sea. As the Dimbula shifted her helm to give the great boats clear way, the Steam (who knows far too much to mind making an exhibition of himself now and then) shouted: Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! Princes, Dukes, and Barons of the High Seas! Know ye by these presents, we are the Dimbula, fifteen days nine hours from Liverpool, having crossed the Atlantic with four thousand ton of cargo for the first time in our career! We have not foundered. We are here. ’Eer! ’Eer! We are not disabled. But we have had a time wholly unparalieled in the annals of ship-building! Our decks were swept! We pitched; we rolled! We thought we were going to die! Hi! Hi! But we didn’t. We wish to give notice that we have come to New York all the way across the Atlantic, through the worst weather in the world; and we are the Dimbula! We are—arr—ha—ha—ha-r-r-r!”
The beautiful line of boats swept by as steadily as the procession of the Seasons. The Dimbula heard the Majestic say, “Hmph!” and the Paris grunted, “How!” and the Touraine said, “Oui!” with a little coquettish flicker of steam; and the Servia said, “Haw!” and the Kaiser and the Werkendam said, “Hoch!” Dutch fashion—and that was absolutely all.
“I did my best,” said the Steam, gravely, “but I don’t think they were much impressed with us, somehow. Do you?”
“It’s simply disgusting,” said the bow-plates. “They might have seen what we’ve been through. There isn’t a ship on the sea that has suffered as we have—is there, now?”
“Well, I wouldn’t go so far as that,” said the Steam, “because I’ve worked on some of those boats, and sent them through weather quite as bad as the fortnight that we’ve had, in six days; and some of them are a little over ten thousand tons, I believe. Now I’ve seen the Majestic, for instance, ducked from her bows to her funnel; and I’ve helped the Arizona, I think she was, to back off an iceberg she met with one dark night; and I had to run out of the Paris’s engine-room, one day, because there was thirty foot of water in it. Of course, I don’t deny——” The Steam shut off suddenly, as a tugboat, loaded with a political club and a brass band, that had been to see a New York Senator off to Europe, crossed their bows, going to Hoboken. There was a long silence that reached, without a break, from the cut-water to the propeller-blades of the Dimbula.
Then a new, big voice said slowly and thickly, as though the owner had just waked up: “It’s my conviction that I have made a fool of myself”
The Steam knew what had happened at once; for when a ship finds herself all the talking of the separate pieces ceases and melts into one voice, which is the soul of the ship.
“Who are you?” he said, with a laugh.
“I am the Dimbula, of course. I’ve never been anything else except that—and a fool!”
The tugboat, which was doing its very best to be run down, got away just in time; its band playing clashily and brassily a popular but impolite air:
|In the days of old Rameses—are you on?
In the days of old Rameses—are you on?
In the days of old Rameses,
That story had paresis,
Are you on—are you on—are you on?
“Well, I’m glad you’ve found yourself,” said the Steam. “To tell the truth, I was a little tired of talking to all those ribs and stringers. Here’s Quarantine. After that we’ll go to our wharf and clean up a little, and—next month we’ll do it all over again.”