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In Search of El Dorado

Harry Collingwood

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  In Search of El Dorado, by Harry Collingwood.

  ________________________________________________________________________Rather strangely the book starts off with an incident very closelyresembling the loss of the "Titanic", which had occurred a few yearsbefore the publication of this book. This episode, the sinking due tocollision with ice of the "Everest", is well told, and must indeed givea good picture of what had happened with the "Titanic".

  As a result of this our two heroes find themselves on an ice floe, fromwhich they are rescued, and become great friends. They decide to gotogether to South America, to see what adventures befall them. Severalinteresting episodes are described, but eventually they find themselvesoutside what appears to be a city of gold, but down in a former craterwith no apparent means of access. Eventually they do find the way down,and to their surprise, Earle, the American, who was wearing an amulet hehad found earlier in the trip, was treated with great reverence as aGod. All this is exceptionally well-told, and you will certainly enjoythe book.

  ________________________________________________________________________IN SEARCH OF EL DORADO, BY HARRY COLLINGWOOD.



  The _Everest_, newly launched, the biggest and fastest boat in theTrans-Atlantic services, was on her maiden voyage to New York. Thefortunes of that voyage concern our story simply from the fact that itbrought our two adventurers together and helped to show the manly stuffof which they were made. Thereafter the sea was not for them, but thefar-off swamps and forests of the mighty Amazon Valley, where mostamazing adventures befel them. On the _Everest_ Dick Cavendish wasfifth officer.

  The run from Liverpool to Queenstown was made under easy steam in orderthat the ship might arrive off the Irish port at a reasonable hour inthe morning; but no sooner were the Irish passengers and thesupplementary mails shipped than the word went quietly round among theofficers that the "Old Man" was bent upon breaking the best previousrecord for the run across the herring pond and setting up a new oneunassailable by any other craft than the _Everest_ herself. Andcertainly when, as the liner passed Daunt Rock lightship shortly afternine o'clock on the Sunday morning following her departure fromLiverpool, and the moment was carefully noted by chronometer, the omenswere all most favourable for the weather was fine, though cold, with alight northerly wind and smooth water, and with her turbines running attop speed the chief engineer reported that the hands in the stokeholdswere keeping a full head of steam without difficulty. At noon thepatent log showed that the _Everest_ was within a fraction of eightymiles from the lightship; and Captain Prowse already began to picturehimself as holding the blue ribbon of the Atlantic.

  And so things continued without a hitch or break of any descriptionuntil half the journey across the Atlantic had been accomplished; theweather remained fine, with light winds, no sea, and very little swellto speak of, while the ship ran as smoothly and steadily as though shewere travelling on land-locked waters instead of in mid-Atlantic.

  Meanwhile she kept in almost hourly touch with other ships going east orwest, reporting her position and progress and asking from time to timefor the latest news; but it was not until Tuesday afternoon, about threeo'clock, local time, that she got any intelligence of the slightestmoment, this being a message from the homeward bound liner _Bolivia_, tothe following effect--

  "Warning! S.S. _Bolivia_, New York--Liverpool, Latitude 45 degrees, 7minutes North, Longitude 37 degrees, 57 minutes West. Just clearedlarge area consisting of detached masses of field ice with severalbergs, through which we have been working for the last three hours.Very dangerous. Advise ships approaching it to observe utmost caution,particularly at night time."

  This message was duly handed to Captain Prowse in his own cabin by thewireless operator, who waited while the skipper read it, to see whetherthe latter desired to address any inquiry to the _Bolivia_. But aftercogitating over it for two or three minutes, the skipper crumpled up thepaper and thrust it into his pocket, saying--

  "All right, `Sparks', that'll do. And--look here, youngster--just keepthis message strictly to yourself, d'ye see? Don't say a word toanybody about it. I'll see that all necessary precautions are taken;but I don't want the news of there being ice ahead to be talked about;it'll only make the passengers unnecessarily nervous and uneasy; and Idon't want that. Besides, it will be easy enough to alter the course afew degrees south if it should be found desirable. You understand me?"

  "Perfectly, sir," answered `Sparks,' lingering for a moment at the cabindoor. "Anything else, sir?"

  "No," answered the skipper, "nothing more at present, thank you. Butkeep your ears open for any further messages."

  The operator saluted and vanished; whereupon the skipper produced thechart of the North Atlantic, by the aid of which he was navigating theship, spread it open upon the table, and studied it intently. A pencilmark consisting of a number of straight lines--the junction of each ofwhich with the next was indicated by a dot surrounded by a small circle,against which was a note indicating the date, hour and moment of theship's arrival at each particular spot--showed the track of the shipacross the ocean from her point of departure abreast of Daunt Rock, anda thinner, lighter pencil line extending on to New York marked the stilluntravelled portion of the route. Taking a pencil, parallel ruler andpair of dividers in his hand, Captain Prowse proceeded carefully to jotdown the position of the _Bolivia_, as indicated by her message; havingdone which he gave vent to a sigh of relief; for he saw that the coursewhich he was pursuing would take the _Everest_ some sixty miles to thenorth of that point.

  "Thank God! that's all right," he murmured. "There's nothing to fear.That patch of drift ice is not in the least likely to extend as farnorth as our track. Besides, with the precautions that we areobserving--taking the sea temperature every half-hour, and so on--andthe maintenance of a good look-out, we are perfectly safe. I suppose Iought to tell Brown" (the chief officer) "about this message; but Iwon't--no; I'll keep it to myself, for the chap's as nervous as a cat,and would want to slow down as soon as the dusk comes. And I don't wantthat; I mean to make this a record passage, and don't intend to befrightened into losing several precious hours merely because a shipsixty miles to the south'ard of my track reports a little floating ice.No; I'll just issue instructions that everybody is to be on the alertand keep a specially sharp look-out, and let it go at that."

  Having come to which conclusion, Captain Prowse left his cabin andjoined the officer of the watch on the bridge.

  "By Jove! What glorious weather we are having," he remarked genially,as the officer came to his side. "I cannot remember such a spell of itas we have had ever since leaving Queenstown. What's she doing, MrDacre?"

  "Twenty-six point six, sir, at the last reading of the log, about halfan hour ago," answered the second officer; "and she hasn't slackeneddown any. At this rate we ought to be berthed in New York by noon theday after to-morrow, with a record passage to our credit."

  "Ay," agreed the skipper, "that's what I am hoping for in a quiet way.It will be a feather in our caps if we can pull the thing off--andplease the owners, too. Have you seen any sign of ice yet?"

  "Not yet, sir," answered Dacre, "though I suppose we may expect to seesome at almost any moment, now. But the temperature of the waterremains quite steady. It is only half a degree colder than it was thistime yesterday, and that is no more than one would reasonably expectabout here."

  "Quite so," assented the skipper. "Well, let the temperature continueto be taken every half-hour regularly, and keep the look-outs on thealert. We don't want any accidents--or even any narrow escapes, on ourfirst trip. The officers of the fleet have a reputati
on forcarefulness, and we must live up to it. Let me know at once if any iceis sighted."

  "Certainly, sir," replied the second officer, as the skipper turned awayand retired to his cabin.

  At half-past nine o'clock that night the ship's band was playing in thegrand lounge, and most of the first-class passengers who were not in thesmoke-room were promenading or sitting about in that spacious andhandsome apartment, listening to the music, or chatting together incouples or little groups. The smoke-room, too, was pretty welloccupied, a few of the men reading while the rest were either seated atthe tables, playing poker, or standing round watching the play.

  At the same hour a little party of the ship's officers who were offduty, of whom Dick Cavendish was one, were gathered in the ward-room,engaged in the conduct of an informal smoking-concert, and Dick wasstanding at the piano warbling "Dear Heart" to the doctor'saccompaniment--it is no longer the fashion for sailors to singsea-songs--when the proceedings were abruptly interrupted by a jolt--itwas scarcely severe enough to merit the term "shock"--instantly followedby a perceptible lifting of the ship's bows and a slight list of her tostarboard, while to her smooth, steady, gliding progress succeeded arapid succession of jerks, accompanied by a sound of rending, distinctlyaudible in the ward-room in the dead silence that suddenly fell upon theparty. Then the bows of the ship were felt to dip and her stern torise, while her speed slackened so abruptly that those who were standingonly retained their footing with difficulty; a final jar, succeeded by acrash, came, and the ship once more settled to her bearings, floatingsmoothly and tranquilly as before.

  By this time the occupants of the ward-room were all upon their feet,staring at one another, speechless, with horrified eyes. But as thestern of the ship settled and she again came to her bearings, Mr Brown,the chief officer, who was one of the party, exclaimed:

  "Ice--by the Living Jingo!--and we've hit it! More than that she's tornthe bottom off herself, unless I'm very greatly mistaken; and in anotherminute there'll be the deuce and all to pay--a panic, as likely as not.To your stations, gentlemen, and remember--the first thing to be done isto keep the boat deck clear. Come on!" And he led the way up thecompanion-ladder to the deck.

  As Dick emerged into the open air, the first thing of which he becameconscious was a distinctly keener edge of chill in the atmosphere; next,that the ship's engines had stopped; and third, that the second-classpassengers were swarming out of their quarters like angry bees, eachdemanding of the other to be told what had happened. They wereevidently heading with one accord for the promenade deck, doubtless _enroute_ for the boat deck; and Dick only reached the foot of the ladderin the nick of time to meet the rush of the foremost.

  "Hillo!" he cried, good-humouredly, planting himself square in front ofthe ladder. "Whither away, good people? No, no; that is thefirst-class quarters; you know that you have no right on the promenadedeck. Keep to your own part of the ship, please."

  The crowd checked at the cool authoritativeness of Dick's tones; but abig, burly man elbowed his way through the crush until he came face toface with the young officer.

  "Out of the way, youngster," he shouted. "Who are you, to talk of`right' at a time like this? The ship is on the rocks and sinking,and--"

  "Oh, my dear good man," interrupted Dick, wearily. "You make me tired.Why do you start talking about things of which you know nothing, and tryto frighten your fellow passengers? You are the sort of chap who yellsblue murder if the lights in a picture theatre go out before you thinkthey ought, and starts a panic in which a lot of women and children getbadly hurt. Rocks! Why, we're hundreds of miles from the nearest land.And as to the ship sinking, don't you know that she's unsinkable--thatshe _can't_ sink? The fact is that we've hit a bit of ice in thedarkness, and all the bumping that you felt was just the ice beingbroken up by the ship as she ran past it. Now, take my advice, all ofyou; go back to your cabins and turn in, or some of you will be catchingbad colds. Where are the parents of those children in night-dresses?Whoever they are, they ought to be ashamed of themselves for bringingthe poor little kiddies into the cold in that rig! Take 'em below andput 'em to bed again, there's good people. And go to bed yourselves;it's the most comfortable place in the ship on a night like this. Iwish I had the chance to go there."

  Dick's one idea in talking had been to subdue the tendency towards panicwhich he had observed in the crowd before him, and to a certain extenthe had succeeded. That is to say, the parents of the children innightgowns had sheepishly herded their flock back into the deck-house,while a few of the other passengers had followed them. But the majoritystill lingered, waiting perhaps to hear further particulars. And thesethe big, burly man--who, from his somewhat "loud" costume, might betaken for a pugilist or a doubtful frequenter of race courses--seemeddetermined to have. Dick's sarcasm had produced no more effect upon himthan rain does upon a duck, and he still stood staring aggressively atthe young officer.

  "That's all very well," he declared truculently; "but if there's nodanger, what are all them sailors so busy about the boats up there for?"

  The boat deck was by this time a scene of feverish but orderly activity,every available seaman being mustered there, busily engaged, under thesupervision of the chief and second officers, on the task of strippingthe boats of their canvas, casting them loose, hoisting them out oftheir chocks, and swinging them outboard ready for lowering.

  "Why, you chump," answered Dick, "they are doing that for the expresspurpose of reassuring people like yourself, who always go badly scaredif they get half a chance. Besides, it is one of the standing orders ofthe ship, and gives the men a bit of exercise in handling the boats.They will hang there for a bit, and then they will be swung inboard andstowed again. Now,--_please_ go back to your cabins, all of you, andmake yourselves comfortable. Or, if you don't care to do that--if youare determined to hang about out here on deck in the cold, at least goand put some warm clothes on. For I tell you candidly that it may be anhour or more before those boats are swung in and stowed."

  "All right!" returned Dick's opponent, "I'll stay where I am untilthat's done, and chance it. I'd rather have a cold than be drowned inmy cabin, like a rat in a trap."

  "Very well," retorted Dick. "Do as you please, by all means. It's yourlook-out, not mine. Only you are setting a very bad example to theothers. And by this time to-morrow you will all be sorry that you didnot take my advice."

  Meanwhile, from where Dick stood, at the foot of the ladder leading tothe promenade deck, he could hear the purser up there suavely assuring acrowd of first-class passengers that there was not the slightestoccasion for alarm, that the boats were merely being swung out as aprecautionary measure always adopted in such cases, and that if theywould kindly retire to the dining-saloon they would find a hot supperawaiting them which he had taken it upon himself to order, just tofortify his charges against any possible ill effects from the cold towhich they were so foolishly exposing themselves. And while he spoke,the purser was busily but very politely shepherding the promenade deckcrowd toward the doorway giving access to the dining-saloon.

  But above the suavely jocular accents of the purser's voice Dick's quickears caught other and more sinister sounds, to wit, the persistentcrackling of the ship's wireless installation, and he very shrewdlysuspected that that meant something much more serious and important than"Sparks" swapping good-nights with some other operator--that, in short,it meant nothing less than that most urgent of all wireless calls, theS.O.S. of a ship in dire distress summoning other ships to her aid.Further than that, although the work of preparing the boats for loweringwas proceeding in a perfectly quiet and orderly manner, Dick wasconscious, even above the roar of escaping steam, of a strenuous hastein the movements of the men engaged upon the task, as well as of acertain note of sharpness and urgency in the tones of the officers whowere supervising the work, all of which combined to impress upon theyoung officer the conviction that matters were taking a distinctlyserious turn for the _Everest_.

  In the brief interval during which the above impressions were printingthemselves upon Dick's consciousness, a few of the people confrontinghim had turned, and, in a half-hearted, hesitant way, were drifting backtoward the entrance of the deck-house, although the greater part of themseemed disposed to follow the burly man's example and remain where theywere until authoritatively assured that all was well with the ship. Itwas during this momentary lull that a brass-buttoned steward came nimblydown the ladder before which Cavendish was standing, and said to him:

  "Purser's compliments, sir, and would you be so good as to tell thesecond-class passengers that, on account of their bein' disturbed by theship hittin' a lump of ice, and turnin' out in the cold, tea, coffee,and hot soup is bein' served in the dinin'-room to warm 'em up a bitbefore they goes to their beds."

  "Right-o!" answered Dick. "I will inform them at once. Ladies andgentlemen," he continued, "lest you should not all have heard themessage which the steward has just delivered, let me repeat it. It is amessage from the purser to the effect that since so many of you haveunfortunately been scared out of your warm cabins by the collision ofthe ship with a small piece of ice, tea, coffee, and hot soup are nowbeing served in the dining-room to those who care to have something towarm them before turning in. If you take my advice, you will lose notime in going below to get it, because only a limited quantity will beserved, and those who get below first will have the best chance.Good-night, all of you. Turn in as soon as you have had your hot drink,and get a good night's rest."

  And therewith the young man turned and with much deliberation ascendedthe ladder, his intention in so doing being to convey the impressionthat the scare was over and the entire incident ended.

  The ruse was brilliantly successful, for the moment at least, for when,upon reaching the head of the ladder, he turned to see what washappening on the deck which he had just left, he saw that the wholecrowd of second-class passengers was in full retreat, with the burly manelbowing his way through it, that he might secure his full share ofwhatever might happen to be going in the dining-room.

  Pausing for a moment to watch the gradual disappearance of the peoplethrough the deck-house door, Dick waited until the last of them hadvanished, and then darted along the now deserted promenade deck and upthe ladder to the boat deck, where he found himself in the midst of ascene of the most strenuous activity; the men still feverishly workingat the task of clearing and swinging out the boats, the officerssupervising and assisting in the work, as though every second of timewere more precious than gold, stewards hurrying up from below withprovisions with which to stock the boats, and the captain on the bridgeoverlooking all, the whole deck brilliantly illuminated by everyavailable electric lamp, while overhead the steam still roared out ofthe pipes, and the crackle of the wireless obtruded itself insistentlythrough all other sounds.

  Cavendish knew that Mr Brown, the chief officer, was up here somewhere,and he presently found him and briefly reported what had happened downon the main deck.

  "Good!" returned Brown. "But go back and guard the head of the ladderleading from the main to the promenade deck. We're holed in nearlyevery compartment, and the leaks are gaining upon us in spite of thesteam pumps. The ship's doomed--that's the long and the short of it;nothing can save her; and as soon as all the boats are ready there willbe a call for the women and children. Your duty then will be to seethat no men from the second-class are allowed to slip past you until allwomen and children have been safely got off. Likely enough some of themen may try to rush you. Got a revolver?"

  "I have a pair down in my cabin, but--"

  "Good!" interrupted Brown. "Don't waste time going down to fetch them.Collar a steward and tell him to get them for you. Now, off you go.Those people down below may take the alarm again at any moment. Oneword more. When all the women and children are up, don't let any menpass you until you get word from me. Now--scoot!"

  Dick "scooted," dispatching a steward for his revolvers on the way, notthat he had the slightest intention of using them; but he knew howefficacious a revolver--even though empty--is in stopping a rush, and hedecided that it would be a good thing to have them. A minute later--hisvisit to the boat deck having occupied some ten minutes--he reached hispost at the head of the ladder which he was to guard--just in time. Foras he posted himself, the head of the burly man swung into view, waggingfrom side to side as its owner climbed the ladder, with quite a littlecrowd behind him, while others were streaming out on deck.

  "What! my friend, you here again?" exclaimed Dick as he planted himselfat the head of the ladder, with a hand grasping the rail on either sideof him, thus converting himself into a human closed gate. "Have youcome to tell me that there were not enough hot drinks to go round andthat you didn't get your fair share? No you don't"--as the man stroveto dislodge Cavendish from his position--"your place is down there onthe main deck, as I've told you before--ah! would you? Then take that,as a little lesson that when you're aboard ship you must behave yourselfand obey orders!"

  "That" was a blow straight between the eyes, administered to the burlyman, who now seemed determined to fight his way up to the boat deck atall costs. The fellow went reeling back under the impact of the blow,and would undoubtedly have fallen some ten feet to the deck below had henot been caught and supported by the people beneath him on the ladder.These instantly raised a loud clamour, in which the words "Shame!shame!" were distinctly audible, while some of the women began to cryand manifest a disposition to become hysterical. Then another big mansuddenly started to elbow his way through the crowd now thickly groupedabout the foot of the ladder which Dick was guarding, shouting, as hecame--

  "Here, let me get at him. Officer or no officer, I'll soon shift him!"

  "Yes, yes; that's right, governor," shouted others, also pressingforward. "Let's get him out of the way. What right has he got to keepus down here while the ship's sinking? Our lives are just as good asother people's, and we've a right to save 'em if we can."

  Dick saw that a crisis was imminent and that unless he acted withdecision the people on the deck below would very quickly get out ofhand. Luckily for him, the steward whom he had dispatched for hisrevolvers at this moment appeared, thrust the weapons into his hand, anddashed off again without saying a word. The youngster was reluctant todisplay the weapons, for he was by no means sure that the sight of themwould produce the desired effect. Yet there seemed to be noalternative, for the little band of men below--some eight or ten innumber--were evidently determined to force the passage of the ladder.He therefore pointed both weapons straight at the group as he shouted:

  "Halt there, you men! If you dare to move another step, I'll shoot.What do you mean by your outrageous conduct, pushing and hustling yourway violently through a crowd of helpless women and children in thatbrutal fashion? You wouldn't do it if any of them belonged to you, andI am surprised that the husbands and fathers put up with it. Callyourselves Englishmen? Pah! I'm ashamed of you. You make me sick!"

  Dick's appeal to the husbands and fathers of those whom the gang hadbeen hustling so roughly was a happy inspiration, and produced animmediate effect, the said husbands and fathers at once raising theirvoices in remonstrance, while the women also joined in, with the resultthat a heated altercation quickly ensued which threatened to speedilydevelop into a free fight. But that was only a shade less desirablethan the other, wherefore, slipping his revolvers into his pockets, Dickintervened.

  "Now then, below there, none of that!" he shouted. "I'll allow nofighting. The first man who strikes a blow shall be clapped in irons.And just listen to me a moment, if you please," he continued, as thefaces below turned again toward him. "Will one of you men who seem soextraordinarily anxious to come up here kindly explain _why_ you want tocome?"

  For a moment there was dead silence among the crowd, then the burly manwhom Dick had struck, and who had retired crestfallen to the foot of theladder, looked up and replied:

  "The ship's sinking--you can't deny it--a
nd our lives are worth just asmuch as other people's. We want to have a fair chance of saving 'em,and--"

  "Stop a moment," interrupted Dick, thinking he saw a chance to create adiversion and avert the inevitable rush for a few minutes. "You saythat the ship is sinking and that you want to save your lives by takingto the boats. Have you all taken the precaution to put your money andother valuables in your pockets? And have you all seen to it that youare dressed in your warmest clothes? You know," he continued,banteringly, "if you were at this moment called to get into the boats,you would be very sorry when you afterwards remembered that in yourhurry you had left all your valuables behind you. And boating in thisweather is a most unpleasantly cold business, I assure you."

  A rather lengthy silence followed this speech of Dick's. Those whom hehad addressed were thinking very seriously about what he had saidtouching money and valuables. Probably not one of them had dreamed ofadopting the precautionary measures suggested, and many of them werepainfully conscious at that moment that every penny they possessed waslocked up in the trunks in their cabins. Several of them began to movehesitatingly towards the deck-house entrance. Then a man who wasleading the way, suddenly halted and shouted--

  "Look here, mister. Tell us the plain truth, as man to man. Is thisship going to sink, or isn't she? That's all that we want to know."

  The question set Dick's mind working at lightning speed. Should he orshould he not deny the dreadful truth? He felt that he could notunreservedly deny it, yet, on the other hand, unreservedly to admit itmight precipitate a panic. He quickly decided that the proper thing todo would be to prepare those people for the inevitable, but to do so insuch a fashion as to reassure them to the utmost possible extent.Therefore he answered:

  "As man to man I tell you that we hope to take this ship safely into NewYork harbour. But I will not attempt to conceal from you the fact thatshe has sustained a certain amount of damage from her collision with amass of ice and she is leaking a bit--stop! Don't run away until I havetold you everything," he continued, as he saw the listening crowd belowbracing itself for a rush. "As I have said, the ship is leaking a bit,but the steam pumps are at work--listen! you can hear the beat of them--and the water is pouring out of her almost, if not quite, as fast as itis pouring in." (This was very far from being the truth, and Dick knewit, but he considered that the circumstances justified theprevarication). "But it is a rule with this company, as it is with manyothers, that the moment a ship sustains any damage, however slight, thefirst step taken is to provide for the safety of passengers, and that iswhy you see the boats being got ready. If the leak should be found tobe gaining on the pumps, ample notice will be given you, and plenty oftime will be allowed for transferring everybody to the boats withoutrush or confusion of any kind. So now you know all that there is toknow. If you take my advice you will all go to your cabins, dressyourselves in your warmest clothes, secure money and valuables aboutyour persons, and then lie down and get a comfortable sleep. If it isconsidered desirable that you should be transferred to the boats youwill be told so in good time. And don't hurry. It may be hours yetbefore you will be summoned to the boats--if indeed you are summoned atall."

  Again Dick's eloquence had triumphed, and this time the triumph wasdistinctly of a more decisive character than on the previous occasion;his candour--so far as it went--had convinced the people whom headdressed that if there was any danger at all it was certainly notimminent; and in a body they turned away, intent upon acting on hisadvice.

  Within a minute of the disappearance of the last of the second-classpassengers, a loud hissing, shearing sound rent the air, hearddistinctly above the now somewhat moderated roar of the escaping steam,and, leaning far out over the rail of the promenade deck, Dick was justin time to mark the heavenward flight of a rocket--the first visiblesignal of distress which the _Everest_ had thus far made--and to see itburst, high up, into a shower of brilliant red stars. It was the lightshed by these stars as they floated downward that first revealed to theyoung officer the fact that a thin veil of haze enveloped the ship,through which, scattered here and there, were several small blocks offield ice; while away on the starboard quarter, distant about half amile, was a much larger mass, standing perhaps two or three feet abovethe water's surface, which might well be the berg that had done all themischief. But Dick was horrified, as he stared down into the water, tonote how much nearer was the surface than usual, as seen from the levelof the promenade deck--quite three feet nearer, he estimated. And theship had sunk to that extent within little more than half an hour!

  The lad glanced eagerly about him. The deck below, set apart for theexclusive use of the second-class passengers, was now tenantless, butthe port of every cabin was aglow with light, showing prettyconclusively that the people there were following Dick's advice. Thesame held good with regard to the cabins on the promenade deck; everywindow--and many doors as well--revealed the fact that the occupantswere busy within; but even while Cavendish looked, a few people emergedfrom adjacent cabins, all of them warmly clad and evidently prepared aswell as they could be for the hardships of exposure in open boats.Also, far away for'ard, Dick could just distinguish that the smoke-roomdoor was open and that men were passing in and out, their movementssuggesting uneasiness and expectancy.

  Again Dick glanced over the rail. The water was perfectly smooth,unwrinkled by even the faintest zephyr of a breeze, and the great shiplay almost as motionless and steady as though she were in dock. ThankGod! when the moment came there ought to be no difficulty in getting theladen boats safely lowered and afloat. At the thought of the boats heglanced upward and saw that the whole of them on the starboard side wereswung out and lowered sufficiently to permit of the people steppingeasily into them from the deck above. Then he ran across the deck tothe port side, and saw that all boats but one on that side were alsoready, while the last one was even at that moment being lowered to thesame level as the rest.

  As Dick walked back to his station at the head of the ladder anotherrocket went screaming its way aloft into the black sky, and with thebursting of it the lad became conscious of the fact that the wirelesswas no longer insistently clamouring; there were moments now when itremained silent for quite a minute or more, followed by a few sharpcracklings, and again silence. The _Everest_ had evidently at last gotinto touch with another ship and was exchanging confidences with her.

  Dick began to feel cold up there on the promenade deck, and to promotewarmth, proceeded to walk briskly to and fro athwart the broad space ofdeck abaft the long range of cabins. And as he did so, he caught amomentary view of one of the quartermasters entering the doorway whichled toward the main companion-way, and, incidentally, to the library,ladies' boudoir, grand saloon, and dining-hall. The man held a smallslip of paper in his hand, and Dick instantly surmised that the slipmight be a communication from either the captain or the chief officer tothe purser.

  The lad paused in his walk, awaiting results. And they were not long incoming, for a few minutes later the quartermaster emerged, quicklyfollowed by the purser, who, taking up a position midway between thesmoke-room and the block of cabins abaft it--which space Dick now sawwas occupied by several groups of men and women--cleared his voice andthen proclaimed in ringing accents:

  "Ladies and gentlemen, this paper which I hold in my hand is a messagewhich has just been brought to me from Captain Prowse, and it containsnews which I am sure will be very welcome to you all. It is to theeffect that our wireless operator has succeeded in getting into touchwith the _Bolivia_ and acquainting the captain of that vessel with oursomewhat unfortunate plight. The _Bolivia_, as some of you aredoubtless aware, is homeward bound, but upon learning the news of ouraccident, her captain has unhesitatingly interrupted his voyage and isat this moment heading for our position as rapidly as his powerfulengines will drive him. He expects to arrive alongside in about threehours from now; you have therefore the assurance of perfect safety, letwhat will happen. This is as gratifying news to C
aptain Prowse as Iexpect it is to you; for I may now tell you that the _Everest_ is muchmore seriously damaged than we at first anticipated, and--purely as ameasure of precaution, I assure you--the captain, in consultation withhis officers, has decided temporarily to transfer all passengers to theboats, thus ensuring their safety, whatever may happen to the ship. Andif the worst should come to the worst and the leak continue to gain uponus, the _Bolivia_ will receive you upon her arrival and convey you toNew York. It was in anticipation of some such contingency as this thatI advised you all, a little while ago, to change into warmer clothing,and I am glad to see that you have taken my advice. A call for you toenter the boats--women and children first--will shortly be made;therefore, if any of you have any valuables in your cabins, let meadvise you to secure them at once. Several of you have deposited moneyand jewels in my charge. I am now about to proceed to my office for thepurpose of delivering those deposits to their rightful owners; and Ishall be much obliged if you will all kindly bring your deposit noteswith you to facilitate the distribution."

  And, so saying, the purser, cool and imperturbable as ever, bowed andwithdrew, his departure being instantly followed by a hurried rush ofthe passengers to their cabins.

  An interval of some twenty minutes now elapsed, during which nothingparticular happened, except that the second-class passengers began againto emerge from their quarters in little groups and congregate about thefoot of the ladder, as though holding themselves in readiness to obey anexpected call. At regular intervals distress rockets continued to befired from the upper deck, each discharge being followed by a littlemovement of restlessness on the part of the rapidly increasing crowd,while Dick noticed that the ship's wireless was again insistentlycalling. He also noticed that the burly man and a small group ofkindred spirits were quietly but unobtrusively edging their way throughthe gathering crowd towards the foot of the ladder, and he decided tocheck the movement forthwith. Therefore, raising his arm to attractattention, and then pointing downward at the culprits, he said:

  "Now, look here, you men! Stop that at once, if you please. I see yourgame; but it won't do. You are trying to get in front of all theothers, so as to be first in the boats if you are called to take tothem. But it won't do, my fine fellows. If it is decided to send awaythe boats, the women and children will be the first to go; therefore themen will be pleased to fall in in the rear. Let all the children comeforward, and their mothers with them--no, no; don't rush and crowd, forthere is not the least occasion for hurry; make a lane, there--a goodwide lane to the foot of the ladder--do you hear what I say? That'sbetter--open out wider yet. So! Good! Now, you mothers, come to thefront with your kiddies, and sit down on deck until further orders. Letthe youngsters come up the ladder and sit down on the steps. They maycome up as far as the top step, but no farther. That's right. Now,little folks, sit close together and keep each other warm. That'scapital. Now you will do very well."

  As Dick finished, a quartermaster, accompanied by half-a-dozen seamen,came along the deck, and while the latter ranged themselves immediatelybehind Cavendish, the quartermaster murmured in the young man's ear:

  "They're goin' to begin launchin' the boats, sir, and the chief officerwants you up on the boat deck to help. I'm to stay here with these men,to see that there's no rush. You're to go at once, please, sir."

  "Right!" responded Dick, and turned to go. Then a thought suddenlyoccurred to him, and he faced round to the people on the deck below, nowevidently all agog to learn what fresh development was impending.

  "Ladies and gentlemen," he said. "A message has just been brought to methat the captain has decided to put you all into the boats, as a measureof safety. But I see that none of you have as yet put on life belts.You will find them in your cabins. Please go there and fetch them, andtwo of these men will come to you and help you to put them on. There isno hurry, so, when the call comes, please take your time, and let therebe no crowding. You will get away much quicker by behaving in a quietand orderly manner."

  Then, with a few words of warning to the quartermaster and the seamen,Dick turned and made a dash for the boat deck.