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Under the Star-Spangled Banner By F. S. Brereton Characters: 17270

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Hal stood up and looked about him, feeling still dazed. Shouts filled the engine-room, and figures were hurrying to and fro. Suddenly the voice of "Old Yank" rang out clear:

"Boys," he said hoarsely, "this here ship's done for right away ef we're not precious slippy. That 'ere shaft'll be breaking clean away with the next big roll, and will sweep the whole room. Bustle there, and let's get cables and anything that's handy to shear things up. Here, Masters, skip off, and see what's to be had."

The latter, who was behind the massive pillar that supported one end of the cylinders, started for the ladder.

"I'll help," cried Hal. "Hold on, Masters; I'll come with you."

"So; that aer the way-that aer the style of grit," answered the young engineer. "Come along then," he continued; "there's precious little time ter lose. That shaft has cracked the base of the big pillar, and ef another of those rolls catches her, she'll carry away every cylinder in the place."

He ran up the ladder, and Hal followed, feeling at first so stiff and sore that he could scarcely move.

"We want cables badly," said Masters. "Look here, Marchant, I'll skip along for'ard while you go aft. Find the quartermaster, and get him to help you. If he's my way I'll send for you, and if not I'll return. Savvey? Then off, and mind your toes as you cross the decks, for I've heard that there has been a clean sweep."

Turning on his heel, he groped his way along the passage, clinging to the rail to keep himself upon his feet. Hal went in the opposite direction, until he reached the alleyway, which led to the well-deck. And here another sight was presented to him.

"A clean sweep, as Masters said," he murmured. "Derricks the only things remaining, and not a sign of bulwarks. Ah! it's going to be a nasty place to cross."

Of this there could be no doubt, for the waist of the ship had filled to overflowing as she lay on her beam ends, and on righting, the water had torn the rails away on either side, and hurled overboard everything that was not built into the frame of the ship, or securely bolted to it. Only the derrick engine remained in the center, and Hal looked across a level sweep of wet and soppy deck between himself and the poop. At that moment an enormous wave curled over the side, and fell with all its force upon the Mohican. She shivered at the blow, and then recovering, reared her bows high in the air, sending the water rushing across the waist and over the side. Now was the time, and Hal made the most of it. He darted from the alleyway and raced across the slippery deck. Bump! The Mohican buried her bows deep in the sea, and at once a fresh wave rose high in the air, to fall with a crash upon the deck.

It was a moment of peril, and Hal sprang towards the derrick engine, and, passing his arms through the spokes of the fly-wheel, clung there with might and main. Instantly he was buried in a foaming mass of water. His limbs were almost pulled from his body, so great was the drag, but just as his strength was exhausted, the ship lurched and tossed the water off. A minute later Hal gained the poop, and clambered upon it by means of the hydrant pipes, for the ladders had long since gone overboard.

"Now for the quartermaster," he gasped.

He crossed to the deck-house, and pulled open a door. It shut to upon him with a bang, and he was precipitated across the narrow cabin.

"Hallo! What's up?" cried a man who was seated on the floor in one corner, busily preparing some lashings. "One of the greasers! What is it, lad?"

"I want some lengths of cable for the engine-room," Hal answered. "The propeller shaft has broken, and the cylinders may carry away. Can you help me?"

"Help! Why, I'm full up with work already," the quartermaster replied, "but ef yer want cables there's plenty of ten-foot lengths under the floor, in the lockers. Now you can see to it yourself, though how on airth you're going ter get 'em across to the engines is more than I can guess."

Hal knelt at the opening in the floor, and laboriously dragged five lengths of cable out.

"That's about all you'll manage," said the quartermaster. "You'd better get along with them."

"That will keep them from slipping when she rolls," he said to himself. "And now to get them across. They're heavy. Ah, I have it; a piece of rope will settle the matter."

He dived into the locker again, and finding a long cord, he at once passed it through the last link of the cables. Then he ran across to the edge of the poop, and having dragged them after him, he prepared to cross again to the alleyway.

"It's got to be done," Hal muttered. "Here goes!"

He dropped to the waist, and at once commenced to run across. Crash! A monstrous wave bumped on board, and catching him midway across the deck, washed him dangerously near the side; but a roll of the ship sent it in another direction, and gathering pace as the Mohican suddenly shot her bows into the air, the mass of water carried Hal aft, and finally flung him down, breathless, at the entrance of the alleyway.

"By George, that was a near one!" said Masters, who was standing near. "You're always in the wars. First you get smashed up by the shaft, and now you nearly sail overboard. Look here, if I hadn't gripped hold of your collar that time, you'd be a hundred yards astern by this. Hallo! What's this?"

"That? Oh, that's the rope I made fast to the cables," exclaimed Hal, struggling to his feet, to find that he still retained the length of cord in his hand.

"Tell you what, Marchant," said Masters, "for a greaser, and a green 'un aboard a ship, you walk right off with the prize! It takes no small allowance of grit ter do that rope trick. Come along, now; the 'chief' is waiting for the cables."

He shook Hal's hand heartily, then helped him to haul the cables to the engine-room.

"Good boys!" said the chief engineer, coming towards them. "Where did you get a hold of them?"

"He did it," answered Masters, pointing to Hal. "I can tell you, sir, that he has grit. He just clung to the rope after going across to the poop, and when I saw him he was within an inch of being over the side. He got caught by a sea, and got badly flung about. But still he hung on to the rope, and that's how it is that you see the cables here so soon."

"So; aer that so?" said the "chief." "Reckon you're a good 'un, young Marchant. I don't forget as it wur you as turned the steam off the old girl. Ef it wasn't fer that we'd all be down below by this. Wall, this aint the time fer gassing, but 'Old Yank' won't let it slip, and when the time comes round we'll let the right folks know. Now, you had better skip, and fetch a second heap. We shall want them, and more. Look extry slippy, boys, while we get these bits fixed."

Hal and Masters sprang to the ladder again, and prepared to cross the waist in search of more cables. There was little time to lose, for as they stood in the engine-room both had noticed a big crack in the massive pillar that supported the cylinders. The end of the propeller shaft had evidently struck it a tremendous blow, and had fractured it.

"It looks very nasty," said Masters, as they climbed to the alleyway; "and ef the old girl rolls like she did when the shaft went, why, it'll be a case of all up. We'd better hurry up."

They stood at the opening of the alleyway for a few moments then raced across the deck. This time Hal was more fortunate, for he, as well as his companion, escaped injury. They reached the poop in safety, and were soon hauling out more cable. A rope was run through the end links as before, and they started to return.

"Now's the time, and mind you run for it," exclaimed Masters, lowering himself to the waist.

Darting across as rapidly as he could, Hal had gained the shelter he aimed at before Masters was halfway there, and he turned just in time to see his companion caught by a mighty wave which came aboard at that moment. It hoisted the poor fellow high in the air, tossing him from his feet. Then it swept him along and dashed him violently against the corner of the alleyway. Hal just managed to grasp his coat as the water receded, and dragged him into the shelter. But Masters was badly hurt, for there was a long red seam along the side of his head, and he was bleeding profusely.

Picking him up, Hal carried him to the cabin and laid him on one of the bunks.

"Now for the rope and the cables," he said.

Stepping into the alleyway, he was retracing his steps when the Mohican rose high in the air, trembled violently as a sea struck her, and at onc

e rolled heavily on to her beam ends.

"Good gracious! that will finish it!" exclaimed Hal. "Ah, what was that?"

A loud crash reached his ears, coming from the open door of the engine-room. He ran to the entrance and swarmed down the ladder.

Once more he was to see a sight that seldom meets the eye. The chief engineer had feared the effect of another roll, and though this one had lasted for only a few seconds, and the Mohican was now back in a more or less upright position, yet the sudden movement, the weight of so much metal thrown violently to one side, had proved too great a strain upon the fractured pillar. It had given way, and had carried the cylinders with it, the whole was bringing up against one of the massive ribs of the ship. One sharp angle, projecting beyond this support, had struck the steel plates and ripped them open.

A fountain of water spurted in as Hal reached the engine-room, swamping the place. Turning his eyes to other parts, he saw that the disaster was even greater than it at first seemed, for lying upon the floor were three greasers, while the "chief" was huddled at the foot of the broken pillar. At this moment Mr. Broom emerged from the stoke-hole.

"What a calamity!" he cried. "We are doomed. Nothing can save the Mohican. The next roll will shake those cylinders free, and then they will go through the side to the bottom, and we must follow. We are under-manned as it is, and now so many of our hands have been injured that we are helpless. What is to be done?"

He clung to the rail which surrounded the crank-pit, and looked despairingly at Hal.

"They are the same on deck," the latter answered. "The quartermaster told me that four of the hands had been swept overboard, while others had been seriously injured. But, wait. You want helpers, sir? Why not call upon the passengers? There are about forty aboard."

"The very thing!" cried the third engineer. "The work we want done can be managed by anyone with courage and muscle. Cut off, Marchant, and see what you can do. I shall be surprised if the whole lot don't volunteer to a man."

Hal at once darted up the ladder again, and, reaching the alleyway, turned to the right, and entered the big dining saloon. It was filled with ladies and gentlemen, the former reclining on the settees which ran round the side, while the latter were gathered in a group in the center discussing the probable fate of the ship. Hal at once walked up to them and dropped into a seat, for it was difficult to keep on one's feet owing to the movement of the ship.

"What is it? Has something more terrible happened?" asked a tall gentleman, who occupied the center of the group. "I suppose we must prepare for the worst?"

"No; I think not," Hal answered. "Gentlemen, I am sorry to have to bring you bad news. The propeller shaft broke, and before steam could be cut off the main support of the engines was fractured, and now the ship is in the greatest danger; for the cylinders have crashed against the side, and have made a large rent in the plates. If the wreck is not secured and the hole made tight, we shall certainly founder. The last roll the ship made completed the break."

"Then it is bad news!" exclaimed one of the passengers. "What will become of us all?"

"Wait; let us hear what this young fellow has to tell us," said the first speaker. "Perhaps he has something to propose."

"I have," Hal replied. "All our engine-room hands are injured, and we want help. Will any of the passengers volunteer?"

"Yes, here is one," exclaimed the tall passenger. "Here is a strong arm and a ready will. Command me, and I will do all that I can."

"And I, and I," came from each of the others in quick succession.

"You see that all are ready," said the first speaker, whose name was Mr. Brindle. "Now, what can we do?"

Hal thought for a moment before answering. Then he turned to the passengers and said:

"It is likely to be a long job, and therefore I propose that you divide into two parties-the first to commence work at once, and the others to come down in two hours' time. The first party had better bring all the blankets and bedding they can. We shall want something with which to stop the rent."

He rose from his seat, and staggered out.

"Well," said Mr. Broom, as our hero swung himself on to the floor below, "what luck?"

"They have volunteered to a man."

"I thought they would," was the satisfied answer. "But how are we to employ them? Tell you what, Marchant, some of the passengers will have to set to trimming. We've been taking coal from the starboard bunker, and this side is full, so that it will all have to be put over to the other. Will you boss the gang? I'm the only officer left down here, and most of the greasers have been hurt. I'll look to the engines, and will shear them up, if you'll take the other job."

"I'll do my best," said Hal. "Ah, here they come."

At that moment fifteen passengers began to descend the long ladder, each carrying a roll of blankets under his arm.

"Hallo, what's this?" the engineer exclaimed. "Bedding! What's that for?"

"I thought you'd want something to plug the rent," said Hal. "Don't you think it might do?"

"Do! Of course it will! Young fellow, you've a head on those shoulders. You're a puzzle. Do! Here, pile it all over by the dynamo; and let me thank you now, gentlemen, for the manner in which you have come forward."

"Not a bit of it," answered Mr. Brindle. "We're here for our own sakes as well as yours; though I own that we should have volunteered in any case. Now, what are we to do?"

"Put yourselves in his hands," said Mr. Broom. "He's shown that he has a head; he's got no end of pluck, too. Take your orders from him, and you'll be doing your very best for all hands."

He waved to the volunteers, and at once went to a group of stokers and greasers near by. Hal turned to the stoke-hole without a word, and, passing through the tunnel between the boilers, entered the place set aside for coal. It was divided down the center by a bulkhead, which reached from the floor to the deck above for the greater length of the bunker, but was cut down to a height of four feet some six yards from the door.

"Now, gentlemen," said Hal, "all this coal wants to be moved to the other side so as to check the list. I propose that a few toss the stuff down from above, while the others pitch it over the bulkhead."

A minute later all were engaged, plying the implements as if they had been accustomed to them and to no others all their lives.

"We'll have a breather now," said Hal, an hour after he and his comrades had set to work. "Let us have a five minutes' interval, and then at it again, for you will do better if you have a short rest."

The trimming gang stood there breathing heavily, and making the utmost of the respite. Some sat down upon heaps of coal, while others leaned against the sides, and placing their hands upon their hips, supported them there, as if their weight was too much for them.

"Time's up, gentlemen. We'd better set to again," said Hal.

"My hat, sir, but you are a stern taskmaster," cried Mr. Brindle, giving vent to a hearty laugh. "Here are we poor fellows ready to drop, and you give us a bare five minutes. But the lad is right. Gentlemen, think of the lives depending upon us."

An hour later the second batch of volunteers descended, and replaced the first, but Hal and Mr. Brindle remained at work.

All day long the two parties took it in turns to labor in the coal-bunker, and when night came, Hal was able to dismiss his gang, and inform Mr. Broom that the task was finished.

"Good!" exclaimed the latter. "Your fellows have worked like bricks, and have well earned a sleep. You, too, had better get one. Cut along up to your bunk, and leave this to me. I'm used to long hours, and will keep watch below. The Mohican is steering now. That sea-anchor is overboard, and we're able to keep fairly clear of water. Now, off you go."

He waved to the ladder, and Hal at once took his advice. He was, indeed, worn out with his labors, for all day long he had shoveled coal, till the skin was worn off his hands. Accordingly, he did not argue with the "third," but, going to the ladder, climbed to the alleyway. He went to a locker, and finding the remains of a loaf, tore a portion off, and went, munching it, to his bunk. Less than five minutes later he was so sound asleep that he would have slept the clock round had not a violent thirst from the coal-dust he had inhaled caused him to leave his bed in search of something to drink.

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