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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAdrift On The Pacific: A Boys Story Of The Sea And Its Perils - Chapter 3. An Accident
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Adrift On The Pacific: A Boys Story Of The Sea And Its Perils - Chapter 3. An Accident Post by :DaveMercer Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Sylvester Ellis Date :May 2012 Read :1802

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Adrift On The Pacific: A Boys Story Of The Sea And Its Perils - Chapter 3. An Accident

CHAPTER III. AN ACCIDENT

That which arrested the attention of the little girl in the arms of Captain Strathmore, was a sight--unique, rare and impressively beautiful.

All around the steamer stretched the vast Pacific, melting away into darkness, with here and there a star-like twinkle, showing where some ship was moving over the waste of waters. Overhead, the sky was clear, with a few stars faintly gleaming, while the round, full moon, for whose rising so many on the steamer had been watching, had just come up, its disk looking unusually large, as it always does when so close to the horizon.

Just when the moon was half above the ocean, and when the narrowing path of the illumination stretched from the ship to the outer edge of the world, a vessel under full sail slowly passed over the face of the moon.

The partial eclipse was so singular that it arrested the attention of Inez, who uttered the exclamation we have recorded. It was seen by nearly all the passengers, too, most of whom were looking toward the horizon for the rising of the orb, and expressions of delight were heard from every quarter, for such a sight, we say, is rare.

When observed by the passengers on board the _Polynesia_, the moon had barely cleared the horizon, as we have stated, and the top of the mainmast just reached the uppermost portion of the periphery, while spars, rigging and hull were marked against the yellow disk as distinctly as if painted in India ink.

Such an obscuration, like a total one of the sun, could last but a few seconds, for the _Polynesia and the other ship were moving in opposite directions, while the moon itself was creeping upward toward the zenith. Slowly the black ship glided toward its destination--hull, masts and rigging gradually mingled with the gloom beyond, until the moon, as if shaking off the eclipse, mounted upward with its face unmarred, excepting by the peculiar figures stamped there when it was first launched into space.

When the wonderful exhibition was over there were murmurs of admiration from the passengers, who, grouped here and there, or promenading back and forth, had stood spellbound, as may be said, while it was in progress.

Captain Strathmore and two of his officers had seen the same thing once or twice before, but they had been favored in this respect above others, and could hardly expect anything of the kind again.

The captain now prepared for an interesting and novel ceremony, which he had announced would take place that evening by moonlight.

Descending to the deck, and approaching the stern, where the expectant passengers had gathered together, the group were silent a minute, while he stood among them holding little Inez by the hand. A few minutes later the purser came aft, carrying a parcel in his hand, which he carefully placed upon the taffrail. Then he spoke in a sepulchral voice.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we all have lost minutes and hours, but it is seldom that we deliberately throw away a day. But we are to do so now. We are about to bury a day. To-day is the Twentieth, to-morrow will be the Twenty-second, and where, then, is the Twenty-first? There it lies" (pointing to the parcel on the taffrail). "Life is short enough, without deliberately casting an entire day into the sea; but there is the consolation of knowing, on your return, that it shall be restored to you, and thus beautifully does nature preserve the equilibrium throughout the world. What more fitting than that the day should be buried by the hands of one whose life is as spotless as the snow upon the peaks of the Sierras we have left behind us?"

All now uncovered their heads--that is, the gentlemen did--and the captain advanced, leading Inez Hawthorne by the hand. Holding her up a short distance from the deck, she called out:

"Good-by, Twenty-first of September!"

She repeated the words correctly, for the captain whispered them in her ear, and as she spoke she gave the parcel a slight shove, and overboard it went, striking the water with a splash, and instantly sinking out of sight. The package was nothing but some old iron, wrapped about with coarse brown paper.

The ceremony of burying a day, as the reader knows, is a common, and it may be said, a necessary, one with vessels sailing westward over the Pacific, as the picking up of a day is necessary on the return. At first sight it seems incongruous, but it is in fact the only way in which the reckoning of time can be kept correctly.

The little ceremony naturally caused the matter itself to become one of discussion, and probably a goodly number of young ladies and gentlemen picked up more knowledge of the matter than they had ever dreamed of before.

Two curious things happened within a half hour of this novel ceremony.

The _Polynesia was driving along with that steady motion in which the throbbing of the vessel can only be detected by carefully standing still and watching for it, when every passenger, and especially the captain and his officers, suddenly felt an alarming jar, which shook the steamer from stem to stern. It was noticed that the engine instantly stopped and the enormous ship gradually came to rest upon the long, heaving swell of the Pacific.

In a few minutes it was ascertained that the steamer had broken the shaft of her propeller, thus rendering the all-important screw useless. This necessitated the hoisting of her sails, and a monotonous voyage to her destination, a return to San Francisco, or a long deviation to Honolulu for repairs.

While the necessary investigation was going on, a sail had been sighted bearing down upon them, and in half an hour it came-to, a short distance off, in the hope of being able to afford some assistance--as the sight of a steamer lying motionless on the water meant that something was amiss.

This new craft was the schooner _Coral_, a stanchly-built, sharp-bowed little vessel of forty tons burden, built for the Honolulu trade. She was about seven years old, very fast, and constructed as strongly as iron and wood could make her. The forecastle, cook's quarters and cabin were all under deck, so that in heavy weather there was no danger of being washed from one's bunk whenever a big sea came thundering over the rail.

The skipper or captain of this trim little craft was Jack Bergen, of Boston, and he with his mate, Abram Storms, had made the trip across the continent by rail to San Francisco--thus saving the long, dangerous and expensive voyage around Cape Horn.

In the Golden Gate City they--for the mate and captain were joint partners--bought the _Coral at auction, paying just two-thirds the sum they expected to give for the vessel they needed. However, when she was fitted up and provisioned, they found very little of their funds left, and they could but feel some anxiety as to the result of the extraordinary enterprise upon which they were engaged. The crew of the little schooner consisted of the two sailors, Hyde Brazzier, Alfredo Redvignez, and a huge African, Pomp Cooper, who shipped as cook and steward, with the liability of being called upon to do duty in an emergency.

But of these, more hereafter.

Captain Bergen, after his craft came-to, was rowed across the short, intervening distance with his mate, and they were assisted upon deck, where they were received most courteously.

"Is there anything I can do to help you?" he asked after he and his brother officer were received by Captain Strathmore.

"I'm obliged to you, but I'm afraid not," was the courteous response. "You know, there's no way of telling when a piece of iron is going to fracture, and so there is no way of providing against such an accident."

"Is the shaft broke?"

"Yes; broken clean off."

"Where?"

The captain of the steamer smiled, for he saw no need of such a question, since he considered the damage irremediable.

"Quite a distance from the screw, and it's a curious fracture. Would you like to look at it?"

"I would, indeed. You see, we have got considerable out of our course--being too far west--and we shall make a pretty sharp turn to the south, toward Honolulu."

"I am debating whether to go there, turn back to San Francisco, or keep on under sail to Tokio."

"This is my mate, Abram Storms, from Enfield, Connecticut," said Captain Bergen, introducing the two. "I bring him along because he is the most ingenious man ever turned out by that home of ingenuity; and when I saw that something was the matter with you, I came alongside, more because I believed he could help you, than in the expectation that I could be of any service."

"Captain Bergen does me too much honor," protested the stoop-shouldered New Englander, who, had there been more of daylight, would have been seen to blush under the compliment.

"I have no doubt he speaks the truth," replied Captain Strathmore, leading the way below to where the broken shaft rested motionless; "but this trouble is too much like a broken neck for any surgery to help."

A minute later, a group of half a dozen stood about and stooped over the broken shaft, and examined it by the aid of lanterns, the chief engineer showing a more courteous spirit than is usual under such circumstances.

As one looked at the huge cylinder of solid iron, gleaming with a silvery whiteness all over the jagged face where it had been twisted off, the wonder was how it could be possible for any force to be tremendous enough to do such damage. The peculiarity about the breakage, however, was that, instead of snapping nearly squarely off, the fracture extended longitudinally for fully eighteen inches, so that the face of each part was a great deal broader and longer than is generally the case in such accidents.

The group surveyed it a minute or two in silence, stooping down and feeling of the innumerable jagged protuberances, the indentations, and the exceedingly rough surface, the minute particles gleaming in the lamp-light like a mass of silver ore split apart.

The first remark came from the New Englander, Abe Storms.

"That is curious, for there are no signs of crystallization, nor can I detect a flaw."

"Nevertheless, it must be there, for perfect iron would not have broken in that manner," said the chief engineer.

"I beg your pardon," said the mate, courteously, "but it frequently happens. There has been some peculiar combination of the movement of the steamer on the swell of the sea, with the position of the screw at that moment--a convergence of a hundred conditions--some almost infinitesimal, but necessary, and which convergence is not likely to take place in a million revolutions of the screw--that has brought an irresistible strain upon the shaft--one that would have wrenched it off, had the diameter been twice what it is."

The group looked wonderingly at the speaker, for every intelligent man felt that the theory of the New Englander had a stratum of truth beneath it. It was hard to make clear what the mate meant, but all to a certain extent understood, and no one ventured to gainsay it.

"However," added Abe Storms, "there's one good thing about this; it will be easy to mend it."

Captain Bergen smiled, for he expected something of the kind, and he knew that that wonderful Yankee mate of his never boasted, and would demonstrate every assertion he made. But the others stared at the speaker with something like consternation, and seemed to be debating whether he was crazy or a natural born idiot.

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