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ner was going to take a shot at the North Star before going down. From what we gathered later, things were going on inside that turret which are unpleasant to think about. There was that ship, twenty-five thousand tons of her, going, through a number of peculiar evolutions. Like most battleships, she had four anchors in her bows, and suddenly they all shot out of their hawse-pipes and fell into the sea, while clouds of red dust came away, as if she was breathing fire and smoke at us through her nostrils. And then she began to swing round on them, so that, as we came up to her, she showed us her great rounded armored counter, with its captain's gallery and a little white awning to keep off the sun. And what we saw then passed anything in my experience on this earth, ashore or afloat. We were coming up on her, you know, and we had our glasses so that, as the stern swung on us, we had a perfectly close view of that gallery. There were two bearded men sitting there, in uniforms covered with gold lace and dangling decorations, smoking cigarettes, each in a large wicker chair on either side of a table. Behind them the big armored doors were open and the mahogany slides drawn back, and we could see silver and china and very elaborate electrical fittings shining on the table, and men in white coats walking about without any anxiety at all. On the stern was a great golden twoheaded eagle, and a name in their peculiar wrong-way-round lettering which Serge told us later was Fontanka. And they sat there, those two men with gray beards on their breasts like large bibs, smoking and chatting and pointing out the Ouzel to each other. It was incredible. And in the cabin behind them servants went round and round, and a lamp was burning in front of a large picture of the Virgin in a glittering frame. An icon. I can assure you,
their placid demeanor almost paralyzed us. We began to wonder if we had n't dreamed what had gone before, if we were n't still dreaming. But she continued to swing and we continued to come up on her, so that soon we had a view along her decks again, and we knew well enough we were n't dreaming very much.
'Her decks were alive with men. They moved continually, replacing each other like a mass of insects on a beam. It appeared, from where we were, a cable's length or so, like an orderly panic. There must have been five or six hundred of them climbing, running, walking, pushing, pulling, like one of those football matches at the big schools, where everybody plays at once. And then our whistle blew. I give you my word I did it quite unconsciously, in my excitement. If it had been Gabriel's trumpet, it could not have caused greater consternation. I think a good many of them thought it was Gabriel's trumpet. It amounted to that almost, for the Fontanka took a sort of slide forward at that moment and sank several feet by the head. All those hundreds of men mounted the rails and put up their hands and shouted. It was the most horrible thing. They stood there with uplifted hands and their boats half-lowered, and shouted. I believe they imagined that I was going alongside to take them off. But I had no such intention. The Ouzel's sponsons would have been smashed, her paddles wrecked, and we would probably have gone to the bottom along with them. We looked at each other and shouted in sheer fury at their folly. We bawled and made motions to lower their boats. I put the helm over and moved off a little, and ordered our own boat down. The fog was coming up and the sun was going down. The only thing that was calm was the sea. It was like a lake.
Suddenly, several of the Fontanka's boats almost dropped into the water, and the men began to slide down the falls like strings of blue and white beads. She took another slide, very slow but very sickening to see.
'I fixed my glasses on the superstructure between the funnels, where a large steel crane curved over a couple of launches with polished brass funnels. And I was simply appalled to find a woman sitting in one of the launches, with her arms round a little boy. She was quite composed, apparently, and was watching three men who were working very hard about the crane. The launch began to rise in the air, and two of the men climbed into her. She rose, and the crane swung outward. We cheered like maniacs when she floated. In a flash the other man was climbing up the curve of the crane, and we saw him slide down the wire into the launch.
'By this time, you must understand, the other boats were full of men, and one of them was cast off while more men were sliding down the falls. They held on with one hand and waved the other at the men above, who proceeded in a very systematic way to slide on top of them, and then the whole bunch would carry away altogether and vanish with a sort of compound splash. And then men began to come out of side-scuttles. They were in a great hurry, these chaps. A head would appear, and then shoulders and arms working violently. The man would be just getting his knees in a purchase on the scuttle frame, when he would shoot out clean head-first into the sea. And another head, the head of the man who had pushed him, would come out.
'But don't forget,' warned Captain Gosnell, that all these things were happening at once. Don't forget that the Fontanka was still swarming with men, that the sun was just disappearing, very
red, in the west, that the ship's bows were about level with the water. Don't forget all this,' urged Captain Gosnell, 'and then, when you've got that all firmly fixed in your mind, she turns right over, shows the great red belly of her for perhaps twenty seconds, and sinks.'
Captain Gosnell held the match for a moment longer to his cigar, threw the stick on the floor, and strode into the room, leaving me to imagine the thing he had described.
And these three, in their deftly handled and slow-moving launch, with their incredible passengers, the woman with her arms round a little boy, were the first to board the Ouzel. Captain Gosnell had stopped his engines, for the sea was thick with swimming and floating men. They explained through Serge, who had climbed down the crane, -a man of extended experience in polar regions, that they were officers in the Imperial Russian Army, entrusted with the safe-conduct of the lady and her child, and therefore claimed precedence over naval ratings.
That was all very well, of course; but the naval ratings were already swarming up the low fenders of the Ouzel, climbing the paddle-boxes and making excellent use of the ropes and slings flung to them by the Ouzel's crew. The naval ratings were displaying the utmost activity on their own accounts; they immediately manned the launch, and set off to garner the occupants of rafts and gratings. Even in her excursion days, the Ouzel had never had so many passengers. Captain Gosnell would never have believed, if he had not seen it, that five-hundred-odd souls could have found room to breathe on her decks and in her alleyways. All dripping sea-water.
Captain Gosnell, leaning back on the
maroon-velvet settee and drawing at his cigar, nodded toward the talented Serge, who was now playing an intricate version of 'Tipperary,' with many arpeggios, and remarked that he had to use him as an interpreter. The senior naval officer saved was a gentleman who came aboard in his shirt and drawers and a gold wrist-watch, having slipped off his clothes on the bridge before jumping; but he spoke no English. Serge spoke 'pretty good English.' Serge interpreted excellently. Having seen the lady and her little boy, who had gray eyes and a freckled nose, installed in the main cabin, he drew the captain aside and explained to him the supreme importance of securing the exact position of the foundered ship; 'in case,' he said, 'it was found possible to raise her.'
And when we got in, and transferred the men to hospital, and I had made my report, they gave me no information to speak of about the ship. I don't think they were very clear themselves what she was to do, beyond making for the Adriatic. As for the passengers, they never mentioned them at all, so of course I held my tongue and drew my conclusions. Serge told me they had been bound for an Italian port, whence his party was to proceed to Paris. Now he would have to arrange passages to Marseilles. He took suites in the Marina Hotel, interviewed agents and banks, hired a motor-car, and had uniforms made by the best Greek tailor in the town. We were living at the Marina while ashore, you see, and so it was easy for us to get very friendly. Heatly, there, was soon very friendly with the lady.
'No,' said Captain Gosnell with perfect frankness in reply to my look of sophistication, 'not in the very slightest degree. Nothing of that. If you ask me, I should call it a sort of chivalry. Anybody who thinks there was ever anything-er-what you suggest —
has no conception of the real facts of the case.'
This was surprising. It seemed to put Emma in an equivocal position, and my respect for that woman made me reluctant to doubt her intelligence. But Captain Gosnell was in a better position than Emma to give evidence. Captain Gosnell was conscious that a man can run right through the hazards of existence and come out on the other side with his fundamental virtues unimpaired. They all shared this sentiment, I gathered, for this lovely woman with the bronze hair and gray eyes; but Heatly's imagination had been touched to an extraordinary degree. In their interminable discussions concerning their future movements, discussions highly technical in their nature, because investigating a sunken armored warship is a highly technical affair, Heatly would occasionally interpret a word, emphasizing the importance of giving her a fair deal.
'But she never reached Marseilles. They were two days off Malta when an Austrian submarine torpedoed the French liner and sank her. They did not fire on the boats. And our lady friend found herself being rowed slowly toward a place of which she had no knowledge whatever. Serge told us they were pulling for eighteen hours before they were picked up.'
'And she is here now?' I asked cautiously.
'Here now,' said Captain Gosnell. 'She usually comes down here for an hour in the evening. If she's here, I'll introduce you.'
She was sitting on a plush lounge at the extreme rear of the café, and when I first set eyes on her, I was disappointed. I had imagined something much more magnificent, more alluring, than this. In spite of Captain Gosnell's
severely prosaic narrative of concrete facts, he had been unable to keep from me the real inspiration of the whole adventure. I was prepared to murmur, 'Was this the face that launched a thousand ships?' and so on, as much as I could remember of that famous bit of rant. One gets an exalted notion of women who are credited with such powers, who preserve some vestige of the magic that can make men 'immortal with a kiss.' Bionda, in a large fur coat and a broad-brimmed hat of black velvet, had cloaked her divinity, and the first impression was Christian rather than pagan. 'A tired saint,' I thought, as I sat down after the introduction and looked at the pale bronze hair and the intelligent gray eyes.
She had a very subtle and pretty way of expressing her appreciation of the homage rendered by these diverse masculine personalities. Her hands, emerging from the heavy fur sleeves, were white and extremely thin, with several large rings. She had nothing to say to a stranger, which was natural enough, and I sat in silence watching her. She spoke English with musical deliberation, rolling the r's and hesitating at times in a choice of words, so that one waited with pleasure upon her pauses and divined the rhythm of her thoughts. She preserved in all its admirable completeness that mystery concerning their ultimate purpose in the world which is so essential to women in the society of men. And it was therefore with some surprise that I heard her enunciate with intense feeling, 'Oh, never, never, never!' There was an expression of sad finality about it. She was conveying to them her fixed resolve never to board a ship again. Ships had been altogether too much for her. She had been inland all her life, and her recent catastrophes had robbed her of her reserves of fortitude. She would remain here in this island. She sat staring at the marble
table as if she saw in imagination the infinite reaches of the ocean, blue, green, gray, or black, forever fluid and treacherous, a sinister superficies beneath which the bodies and achievements of men disappeared as into some unknown lower region.
Women have many valid reasons for hating the sea; and this woman seemed dimly aware of a certain jealousy of itit that alluring masculine element which destroys men without any aid from women at all. Her faith in ships had not suffered shipwreck, so much as foundered.
They were all agreed. Serge was of the opinion that, if they recovered a tenth of the bullion which her husband, who had a platinum concession in the Asiatic Urals, had consigned to his agent in Paris, there would be enough for all. Serge, in short, became the active spirit of the enterprise. He knew how to obtain funds from mysterious firms who had quiet offices down secluded alleys near Copthall Court and Great St. Helens, in London. He made sketches and explained where the stuff was stowed, and, presuming the ship to be in such and such a position, what bulkheads had to be penetrated to get into her. He obtained permission to accompany the Ouzel on her four-day cruises, and they never had a dull moment. He brought water-colors along, purchased at immense expense from the local extortioners, and made astonishing drawings of his hosts and their excursion steamer. He sang songs in a voice like a musical snarl songs in obscure dialects, songs in indecent French, songs in booming Russian. He danced native Russian dances, and the click of his heels was like a pneumatic calking-tool at work on a rush job. His large, serious face, with the long, finely formed nose, the sensitive mouth, the sad dark eyes suddenly illuminated by a beautiful smile, the innumerable tiny criss-cross
corrugations above the cheek-bones which are the marks of life in polar regions, fascinated the Englishmen. Without ever admitting it in so many words, they knew him to be that extremely rare phenomenon, a leader of men on hazardous and lonely quests. Without being at all certain of his name, which was polysyllabic and rather a burden to an Anglo-Saxon larynx, they discovered his character with unerring accuracy. From the very first they seem to have been conscious of the spiritual aspect of the adventure. They listened to the tittle-tattle of the hotel bars and the Casino dances, and refrained from comment. The scheme grew in their minds and preoccupied them. Mr. Marks and Heatly spent days and nights over strange designs, and Heatly himself worked at the bench in the port alleyway, between the paddle-box and the engine-room, constructing mechanical monstrosities.
But as weeks went by and Serge continued to communicate with Paris and London, it became clear that he was not at all easy in his mind. Some people say, of course, that no Russian is easy in his mind; but this was an altruistic anxiety. He judged that it would be best for them to get on to Paris, where Bionda had relatives and he himself could resume active operations.
And so they started, this time in a French mail-boat bound for Marseilles. Our three mine-sweepers saw them off. And Captain Gosnell, as we walked up the Strada Stretta and emerged upon the brilliant Strada Reale, was able to convey a hint of the actual state of affairs.
'She knew nothing,' he said. 'She was still under the impression that there would always be an endless stream of money coming from somebody in Paris or London. She was, if you can excuse the word, like a child empress. But there was n't any such stream. Serge
and the others had a little of their own; but hers was mostly in an ammunition chamber on B deck in a foundered warship, along with the bullion, bound to the Siberian Bank. She was n't worrying about money at all. She was wishing she was in Marseilles, for her experiences on ships had n't given her a very strong confidence in their safety. And Serge was anxious to get her to Paris, to her relatives, before what money she had ran out.'
Suddenly she gathered up her gloves and trinkets and said she must be going. She had worked hard that day and was tired. We rose and, as if by preconcerted arrangement, divided into two parties. It was the general rule, I gathered, that the gentlemen who had acted as her bodyguard for so long should undertake this nightly escort. We filed out into the deserted square, and the last view we had of them was the small fur-clad figure tripping away up the empty and romantic street, while over her towered the three tall soldiers, looking like benevolent brigands in their dark cloaks.
As we turned toward the Grand Harbor, Captain Gosnell remarked that, if I cared to come, they could show me something I had probably never seen before. We descended the stone stairs leading to the Custom House Quay. To see them diving with long strides down those broad, shallow steps, the solitary lamps, burning before dim shrines high up, lighting their forms as for some religious mystery, they appeared as men plunging in the grip of powerful and diverse emotions. The captain was plain enough to any intelligence. He desired money that he might maintain his position in England
a country where it is almost better to lose one's soul than one's position. Mr. Marks, beneath the genial falsity of a wig, concealed an implacable fidel