The Water Devil
by Frank R.
A MARINE TALE.
In the village of Riprock there was neither tavern nor inn, for it was
but a small place through which few travellers passed; but it could not
be said to be without a place of entertainment, for if by chance a
stranger—or two or three of them, for that matter—wished to stop at
Riprock for a meal, or to pass the night, there was the house of
blacksmith Fryker, which was understood to be always open to decent
The blacksmith was a prominent man in the village, and his house was a
large one, with several spare bedrooms, and it was said by those who
had had an opportunity of judging, that nobody in the village lived
better than blacksmith Fryker and his family.
Into the village there came, late one autumn afternoon, a tall man, who
was travelling on foot, with a small valise hanging from his shoulder.
He had inquired for lodging for the night, had been directed to the
blacksmith's house, had arranged to stop there, had had his supper,
which greatly satisfied him, and was now sitting before the fire in the
large livingroom, smoking blacksmith Fryker's biggest pipe.
This stranger was a red-haired man, with a cheery expression, and a
pair of quick, bright eyes. He was slenderly but strongly built, and
was a good fellow, who would stand by, with his hands in the pockets of
his short pea-jacket, and right willingly tell one who was doing
something how the thing ought to be done.
But the traveller did not sit alone before the crackling fire of logs,
for the night being cool, a table was drawn near to one side of the
fire-place, and by this sat Mistress Fryker and her daughter Joanna,
both engaged in some sort of needle-work. The blacksmith sat between
the corner of the fire-place and this table, so that when he had
finished smoking his after-supper pipe, he might put on his spectacles
and read the weekly paper by the light of the big lamp. On the other
side of the stranger, whose chair was in front of the middle of the
fire-place, sat the school-master, Andrew Cardly by name; a middle-aged
man of sober and attentive aspect, and very glad when chance threw in
his way a book he had not read, or a stranger who could reinforce his
stock of information. At the other corner of the fire-place, in a
cushioned chair, which was always given to him when he dropped in to
spend an evening with the blacksmith, sat Mr. Harberry, an elderly man,
a man of substance, and a man in whom all Riprock, not excluding
himself, placed unqualified confidence as to his veracity, his
financial soundness, and his deep insight into the causes, the
influences, and the final issue of events and conditions.
"On a night like this," said the stranger, stretching his long legs
toward the blaze, "there is nothing I like better than a fire of wood,
except indeed it be the society of ladies who do not object to a little
tobacco smoke," and he glanced with a smile toward the table with a
lamp upon it.
Now blacksmith Fryker was a prudent man, and he did not consider that
the privileges of his hearthstone—always freely granted to a decent
stranger—included an acquaintance with his pretty daughter; and so,
without allowing his women-folk a chance to enter into the
conversation, he offered the stranger a different subject to hammer
"In the lower country," said he, "they don't need fires as early in the
season as we do. What calling do you follow, sir? Some kind of trade,
"No," said the traveller, "I follow no trade; I follow the sea."
At this the three men looked at him, as also the two women. His
appearance no more suggested that he was a seaman than the appearance
of Mr. Harberry suggested that he was what the village of Riprock
believed him to be. "I should not have taken you for a sailor," said
"I am not a sailor," said the other; "I am a soldier; a sea-soldier—in
fact, a marine."
"I should say, sir," remarked the school-master, in a manner intended
rather to draw out information than to give it, "that the position of a
soldier on a ship possessed advantages over that of a soldier on land.
The former is not required to make long marches, nor to carry heavy
baggage. He remains at rest, in fact, while traversing great distances.
Nor is he called on to resist the charges of cavalry, nor to form
hollow squares on the deadly battle-field."
The stranger smiled. "We often find it hard enough," said he, "to
resist the charges made against us by our officers; the hollow squares
form themselves in our stomachs when we are on short rations; and I
have known many a man who would rather walk twenty miles than sail one,
especially when the sea chops."
"I am very sure, sir," said school-master Cardly, "that there is
nothing to be said against the endurance and the courage of marines. We
all remember how they presented arms, and went down with the Royal
The marine smiled.
"I suppose," said the blacksmith, "that you never had to do anything of
The stranger did not immediately answer, but sat looking into the fire.
Presently he said: "I have done things of nearly every sort, although
not exactly that; but I have thought my ship was going down with all on
board, and that's the next worst thing to going down, you know."
"And how was that?" inquired Fryker.
"Well," said the other, "it happened more times than I can tell you of,
or even remember. Yes," said he, meditatively, "more times than I can
"I am sure," said the school-master, "that we should all like to hear
some of your experiences."
The marine shrugged his shoulders. "These things," said he, "come to a
man, and then if he lives through them, they pass on, and he is ready
for the next streak of luck, good or bad. That's the way with us
followers of the sea, especially if we happen to be marines, and have
to bear, so to speak, the responsibility of two professions. But
sometimes a mischance or a disaster does fix itself upon a man's mind
so that he can tell about it if he is called upon; and just now there
comes to my mind a very odd thing which once happened to me, and I can
give you the points of that, if you like."
The three men assured him that they would very much like it, and the
two women looked as if they were of the same opinion.
Before he began the marine glanced about him, with a certain
good-natured wistfulness which might have indicated, to those who
understood the countenances of the sea-going classes, a desire to wet
his whistle; but if this expression were so intended it was thrown
away, for blacksmith Fryker took no spirits himself, nor furnished them
to anybody else. Giving up all hope in this direction, the marine took
a long pull at his pipe and began.
"It was in the winter of 1878 that I was on the Bay of Bengal, on my
way to Calcutta, and about five hundred miles distant from that city. I
was not on my own ship, but was returning from a leave of absence on an
American steamer from San Francisco to Calcutta, where my vessel, the
United States frigate Apache, was then lying. My leave of absence
would expire in three days; but although the General Brooks, the
vessel I was aboard of, was more of a freight than a passenger vessel,
and was heavily laden, we would have been in port in good time if, two
days before, something had not happened to the machinery. I am not a
machinist myself, and don't know exactly what it was that was out of
order, but the engine stopped, and we had to proceed under sail. That
sounds like a slow business; but the Brooks was a clipper-built
vessel with three masts and a lot of sails—square sails, fore-and-aft
sails, jib sails, and all that sort of thing. I am not a regular sailor
myself, and don't know the names of all the sails; but whatever sails
she could have she did have, and although she was an iron vessel, and
heavily freighted, she was a good sailer. We had a strong, steady wind
from the south, and the captain told me that at the rate we were going
he didn't doubt that he would get me aboard my vessel before my leave
ran out, or at least so soon afterward that it wouldn't make any
"Well, as I said, the wind blew strong and steady behind us, the sails
were full, and the spray dashed up at our bow in a way calculated to
tickle the soul of any one anxious to get to the end of his voyage; and
I was one of that sort, I can tell you.
"In the afternoon of the second day after our engine stopped, I was
standing at the bow, and looking over, when suddenly I noticed that
there wasn't any spray dashing up in front of the vessel. I thought we
must have struck a sudden calm, but, glancing up, I saw the sails were
full, and the wind blew fair in my face as I turned toward the stern. I
walked aft to the skipper, and touching my cap, I said, 'Captain, how
is it that when a ship is dashing along at this rate she doesn't throw
up any spray with her cutwater?' He grinned a little, and said, 'But
she does, you know.' 'If you will come forward,' said I, 'I'll show you
that she doesn't,' and then we walked forward, and I showed him that
she didn't. I never saw a man so surprised. At first he thought that
somebody had been squirting oil in front, but even if that had been the
case, there would have been some sort of a ripple on each side of the
bow, and there wasn't anything of the kind. The skipper took off his
cap and scratched his head. Then he turned and sang out, 'Mr. Rogers,
throw the log.'
"Now the log," said the marine, turning to Mrs. Fryker and her
daughter, "is a little piece of wood with a long line to it, that they
throw out behind a vessel to see how fast she is going. I am not a
regular Jack Tar myself, and don't understand the principle of the
thing, but it tells you exactly how many miles an hour the ship is
"In about two minutes Mr. Rogers stepped up, with his eyes like two
auger-holes, and said he, 'Captain, we're makin' no knots an hour.
We're not sailing at all.'
"'Get out,' roared the captain, 'don't you see the sails? Don't you
feel the wind? Throw that log again, sir.'
"Well, they threw the log again, the captain saw it done, and sure
enough Mr. Rogers was right. The vessel wasn't moving. With a wind that
ought to have carried her spinning along, miles and miles in an hour,
she was standing stock-still. The skipper here let out one of the
strongest imprecations used in navigation, and said he, 'Mr. Rogers, is
it possible that there is a sand-bar in the middle of the Bay of
Bengal, and that we've stuck on it? Cast the lead.'
"I will just state to the ladies," said the marine, turning toward the
table, "that the lead is a heavy weight that is lowered to the bottom
of a body of water to see how deep it is, and this operation is called
sounding. Well, they sounded and they sounded, but everywhere—fore,
aft, and midship—they found plenty of water; in fact, not having a
line for deep-sea sounding they couldn't touch bottom at all.
"I can tell you, ladies and gentlemen," said the marine, looking from
one to the other of the party, "that things now began to feel creepy. I
am not afraid of storms, nor fires at sea, nor any of the common
accidents of the ocean; but for a ship to stand still with plenty of
water under her, and a strong wind filling her sails, has more of the
uncanny about it than I fancy. Pretty near the whole of the crew was on
deck by this time, and I could see that they felt very much as I did,
but nobody seemed to know what to say about it.
"Suddenly the captain thought that some unknown current was setting
against us, and forcing the vessel back with the same power that the
wind was forcing her forward, and he tried to put the ship about so as
to have the wind on her starboard quarter; but as she hadn't any
headway, or for some other reason, this didn't work. Then it struck him
that perhaps one of the anchors had been accidentally dropped, but they
were all in their places, and if one of them had dropped, its cable
would not have been long enough to touch bottom.
"Now I could see that he began to look scared. 'Mr. Browser,' said he,
to the chief engineer, 'for some reason or other this ship does not
make headway under sail. You must go to work and get the engine
running.' And for the rest of that day everybody on board who
understood that sort of thing was down below, hard at work with the
machinery, hammering and banging like good fellows.
"The chief officer ordered a good many of the sails to be taken in, for
they were only uselessly straining the masts, but there were enough
left to move her in case the power of the current, or whatever it was
that stopped her, had slackened, and she steadily kept her position
with the breeze abaft.
"All the crew, who were not working below, were crowded together on
deck, talking about this strange thing. I joined them, and soon found
that they thought it was useless to waste time and labor on the
machinery. They didn't believe it could be mended, and if it should be,
how could an engine move a vessel that the wind couldn't stir?
"These men were of many nationalities—Dutch, Scandinavian, Spanish,
Italian, South American, and a lot more. Like many other American
vessels that sail from our ports, nearly all the officers and crew were
foreigners. The captain was a Finlander, who spoke very good English.
And the only man who called himself an American was the chief officer;
and he was only half a one; for he was born in Germany, came to the
United States when he was twenty years old, stayed there five years,
which didn't count either way, and had now been naturalized for twenty
"The consequence of this variety in nationality was that the men had
all sorts of ideas and notions regarding the thing that was happening.
They had thrown over chips and bits of paper to see if the vessel had
begun to move, and had found that she didn't budge an inch, and now
they seemed afraid to look over the sides.
"They were a superstitious lot, as might be expected, and they all
believed that, in some way or other, the ship was bewitched; and in
fact I felt like agreeing with them, although I did not say so.
"There was an old Portuguese sailor on board, an ugly-looking,
weather-beaten little fellow, and when he had listened to everything
the others had to say, he shuffled himself into the middle of the
group. 'Look here, mates,' said he, in good enough English, 'it's no
use talking no more about this. I know what's the matter; I've sailed
these seas afore, and I've been along the coast of this bay all the way
from Negapatam to Jellasore on the west coast, and from Chittagong to
Kraw on the other; and I have heard stories of the strange things that
are in this Bay of Bengal, and what they do, and the worst of them all
is the Water-devil—and he's got us!'
"When the old rascal said this, there wasn't a man on deck who didn't
look pale, in spite of his dirt and his sunburn. The chief officer
tried to keep his knees stiff, but I could see him shaking. 'What's a
Water-devil?' said he, trying to make believe he thought it all stuff
and nonsense. The Portuguese touched his forelock. 'Do you remember,
sir,' said he, 'what was the latitude and longitude when you took your
observation to-day?' 'Yes,' said the other, 'it was 15° north and 90°
east.' The Portuguese nodded his head. 'That's just about the spot,
sir, just about. I can't say exactly where the spot is, but it's just
about here, and we've struck it. There isn't a native seaman on any of
these coasts that would sail over that point if he knowed it and could
help it, for that's the spot where the Water-devil lives.'
"It made me jump to hear the grunt that went through that crowd when he
said this, but nobody asked any questions, and he went on. 'This here
Water-devil,' said he, 'is about as big as six whales, and in shape
very like an oyster without its shell, and he fastens himself to the
rocks at the bottom with a million claws. Right out of the middle of
him there grows up a long arm that reaches to the top of the water, and
at the end of this arm is a fist about the size of a yawl-boat, with
fifty-two fingers to it, with each one of them covered with little
suckers that will stick fast to anything—iron, wood, stone, or flesh.
All that this Water-devil gets to eat is what happens to come swimmin'
or sailin' along where he can reach it, and it doesn't matter to him
whether it's a shark, or a porpoise, or a shipful of people, and when
he takes a grab of anything, that thing never gets away.'
"About this time there were five or six men on their knees saying their
prayers, such as they were, and a good many others looked as if they
were just about to drop.
"'Now, when this Water-devil gets hold of a ship,' the old fellow went
on, 'he don't generally pull her straight down to the bottom, but holds
on to it till he counts his claws, and sees that they are all fastened
to the rocks; for if a good many of them wasn't fastened he might pull
himself loose, instead of pulling the ship down, and then he'd be a
goner, for he'd be towed away, and like as not put in a museum. But
when he is satisfied that he is moored fast and strong, then he hauls
on his arm, and down comes the ship, no matter how big she is. As the
ship is sinkin' he turns her over, every now and then, keel uppermost,
and gives her a shake, and when the people drop out, he sucks them into
a sort of funnel, which is his mouth.'
"'Does he count fast?' asked one of the men, this being the first
question that had been asked.
"'I've heard,' said the Portuguese, 'that he's a rapid calculator, and
the minute he's got to his millionth claw, and finds it's hooked tight
and fast, he begins to haul down the ship.'"
At this point the marine stopped and glanced around at the little
group. The blacksmith's wife and daughter had put down their work, and
were gazing at him with an air of horrified curiosity. The blacksmith
held his pipe in his hand, and regarded the narrator with the
steadiness and impassiveness of an anvil. The school-master was
listening with the greatest eagerness. He was an enthusiast on Natural
History and Mythology, and had written an article for a weekly paper on
the reconciliation of the beasts of tradition with the fauna of to-day.
Mr. Harberry was not looking at the marine. His eyes were fixed upon
"Mr. Cardly," said he, "did you ever read of an animal like that?"
"I cannot say that I have," was his reply; "but it is certain that
there are many strange creatures, especially in the sea, of which
scientists are comparatively ignorant."
"Such as the sea-serpent," added the marine, quickly, "and a great many
other monsters who are not in the books, but who have a good time at
the bottom of the sea, all the same. Well, to go on with my story, you
must understand that, though this Portuguese spoke broken English,
which I haven't tried to give you, he made himself perfectly plain to
all of us, and I can assure you that when he got through talking there
was a shaky lot of men on that deck.
"The chief officer said he would go below and see how the captain was
getting on, and the crew huddled together in the bow, and began
whispering among themselves, as if they were afraid the Water-devil
would hear them. I turned to walk aft, feeling pretty queer, I can tell
you, when I saw Miss Minturn just coming up from the cabin below.
"I haven't said anything about Miss Minturn, but she and her father,
who was an elderly English gentleman and an invalid, who had never
left his berth since we took him up at Singapore, were our only
passengers, except, of course, myself. She was a beautiful girl, with
soft blue eyes and golden hair, and a little pale from constantly
staying below to nurse her father.
"Of course I had had little or nothing to say to her, for her father
was a good deal of a swell and I was only a marine; but now she saw me
standing there by myself, and she came right up to me. 'Can you tell
me, sir,' she said, 'if anything else has happened? They are making a
great din in the engine-room. I have been looking out of our port, and
the vessel seems to me to be stationary.' She stopped at that, and
waited to hear what I had to say, but I assure you I would have liked
to have had her go on talking for half an hour. Her voice was rich and
sweet, like that of so many Englishwomen, although, I am happy to say,
a great many of my countrywomen have just as good voices; and when I
meet any of them for the first time, I generally give them the credit
of talking in soft and musical notes, even though I have not had the
pleasure of hearing them speak."
"Look here," said the blacksmith, "can't you skip the girl and get back
to the Devil?"
"No," said the marine, "I couldn't do that. The two are mixed together,
so to speak, so that I have to tell you of both of them."
"You don't mean to say," exclaimed Mrs. Fryker, speaking for the first
time, and by no means in soft and musical tones, "that he swallowed
"I'll go on with the story," said the marine; "that's the best way, and
everything will come up in its place. Now, of course, I wasn't going to
tell this charming young woman, with a sick father, anything about the
Water-devil, though what reason to give her for our standing still here
I couldn't imagine; but of course I had to speak, and I said, 'Don't be
alarmed, miss, we have met with an unavoidable detention; that sort of
thing often happens in navigation. I can't explain it to you, but you
see the ship is perfectly safe and sound, and she is merely under sail
instead of having her engines going.'
"'I understood about that,' said she, 'and father and I were both
perfectly satisfied; for he said that if we had a good breeze we would
not be long in reaching Calcutta; but we seem to have a breeze, and
yet we don't go.' 'You'll notice,' said I, 'that the sails are not all
set, and for some reason the wind does not serve. When the engines are
mended, we shall probably go spinning along.' She looked as if she was
trying to appear satisfied. 'Thank you, sir,' she said. 'I hope we may
shortly proceed on our way, but in the meantime I shall not say
anything to my father about this detention. I think he has not noticed
it.' 'That would be very wise,' I replied, and as she turned toward the
companionway I was wild to say to her that it would be a lot better for
her to stay on deck, and get some good fresh air, instead of cooping
herself up in that close cabin; but I didn't know her well enough for
"Now that you are through with the girl," said the blacksmith, "what
did the Devil do?"
"I haven't got to him yet," said the marine, "but after Miss Minturn
went below I began to think of him, and the more I thought of him, the
less I liked him. I think the chief officer must have told the men
below about the Water-devil, for pretty soon the whole kit and boodle
of them left their work and came on deck, skipper and all. They told me
they had given up the engine as a bad job, and I thought to myself that
most likely they were all too nervous to rightly know what they were
about. The captain threw out the log again, but it floated alongside
like a cork on a fishing-line, and at this he turned pale and walked
away from the ship's side, forgetting to pull it in again.
"It was now beginning to grow dark, and as nobody seemed to think about
supper, I went below to look into that matter. It wouldn't do for Miss
Minturn. and her father to go without their regular meal, for that
would be sure to scare them to death; and if I'm to have a big scare I
like to take it on a good square meal, so I went below to see about it.
But I wasn't needed, for Miss Minturn's maid, who was an elderly woman,
and pretty sharp set in her temper, was in the cook's galley
superintending supper for her people, and after she got through I
superintended some for myself.
"After that I felt a good deal bolder, and I lighted a pipe and went on
deck. There I found the whole ship's company, officers and crew, none
of them doing anything, and most of them clustered together in little
groups, whispering or grunting.
"I went up to the captain and asked him what he was going to do next.
'Do?' said he; 'there is nothing to do; I've done everything that I can
do. I'm all upset; I don't know whether I am myself or some other man';
and then he walked away.
"I sat there and smoked and looked at them, and I can tell you the
sight wasn't cheerful. There was the ship, just as good and sound, as
far as anybody could see, as anything that floated on the ocean, and
here were all her people, shivering and shaking and not speaking above
their breath, looking for all the world, under the light of the stars
and the ship's lamps, which some of them had had sense enough to light,
as if they expected in the course of the next half-hour, to be made to
walk the plank; and, to tell the truth, what they were afraid of would
come to pretty much the same thing."
"Mr. Cardly," here interrupted Mr. Harberry, "how long does it take to
count a million?"
"That depends," said the school-master, "on the rapidity of the
calculator; some calculators count faster than others. An ordinary boy,
counting two hundred a minute, would require nearly three days and a
half to count a million."
"Very good," said Mr. Harberry; "please go on with your story, sir."
"Of course," said the marine, "there is a great difference between a
boy and a Water-devil, and it is impossible for anybody to know how
fast the latter can count, especially as he may be supposed to be used
to it. Well, I couldn't stand it any longer on deck, and having
nothing else to do, I turned in and went to sleep."
"To sleep! Went to sleep!" exclaimed Mrs. Fryker. "I don't see how you
could have done that."
"Ah, madam," said the marine, "we soldiers of the sea are exposed to
all sorts of dangers,—combination dangers, you might call them,—and
in the course of time we get used to it; if we didn't we couldn't do
"As the ship had been in its present predicament for six or seven
hours, and nothing had happened, there was no reason to suppose that
things would not remain as they were for six or seven hours more, in
which time I might get a good sleep, and be better prepared for what
might come. There's nothing like a good meal and a good sleep as a
preparation for danger.
"It was daylight when I awakened, and rapidly glancing about me, I saw
that everything appeared to be all right. Looking out of the port-hole,
I could see that the vessel was still motionless. I hurried on deck,
and was greatly surprised to find nobody there—no one on watch, no
one at the wheel, no one anywhere. I ran down into the fo'castle, which
is the sailors' quarters, but not a soul could I see. I called, I
whistled, I searched everywhere, but no one answered; I could find no
one. Then I dashed up on deck, and glared, around me. Every boat was
"Now I knew what had happened: the cowardly rascals, from captain to
cook, had deserted the ship in the night, and I had been left behind!
"For some minutes I stood motionless, wondering how men could be so
unfeeling as to do such a thing. I soon became convinced, from what I
had seen of the crew, that they had not all gone off together, that
there had been no concerted action. A number of them had probably
quietly lowered a boat and sneaked away; then another lot had gone off,
hoping their mates would not hear them and therefore crowd into their
boat. And so they had all departed, not one boat-load thinking of
anybody but themselves; or if they thought at all about others,
quieting their consciences by supposing that there were enough boats
on the vessel, and that the other people were as likely to get off as
"Suddenly I thought of the other passengers. Had they been left behind?
I ran down below, and I had scarcely reached the bottom of the steps
when I met Miss Minturn's maid. 'It seems to me,' she said, sharply,
'that the people on this ship are neglecting their duty. There's nobody
in the kitchen, and I want some gruel.' 'My good woman,' said I, 'who
do you want it for?' 'Who!' she replied; 'why, for Mr. Minturn, of
course; and Miss Minturn may like some, too.'
"Then I knew that all the passengers had been left behind!
"'If you want any gruel,' said I, 'you will have to go into the galley
and make it yourself'; and then in a low tone I told her what had
happened, for I knew that it would be much better for me to do this
than for her to find it out for herself. Without a word she sat right
down on the floor, and covered her head with her apron. 'Now don't make
a row,' said I, 'and frighten your master and mistress to death; we're
all right so far, and all you've got to do is to take care of Mr. and
Miss Minturn, and cook their meals. The steamer is tight and sound, and
it can't be long before some sort of a craft will come by and take us
off.' I left her sniffling with her apron over her head, but when I
came back, ten minutes afterward, she was in the galley making gruel.
"I don't think you will be surprised, my friends," continued the
marine, "when I tell you that I now found myself in a terrible state of
mind. Of course I hadn't felt very jovial since the steamer had been so
wonderfully stopped; but when the captain and all the crew were aboard,
I had that sort of confidence which comes from believing that when
there are people about whose duty it is to do things, when the time
comes to do the things, they will do them; but now, practically
speaking, there was nobody but me. The others on board were not to be
counted, except as encumbrances. In truth, I was alone,—alone with
"The moment I found no one to depend upon but myself, and that I was
deserted in the midst of this lonely mass of water, in that moment did
my belief in the Water-devil begin to grow. When I first heard of the
creature, I didn't consider that it was my business either to believe
in it, or not to believe in it, and I could let the whole thing drop
out of my mind, if I chose; but now it was a different matter. I was
bound to think for myself, and the more I thought, the more I believed
in the Water-devil.
"The fact was, there wasn't anything else to believe in. I had gone
over the whole question, and the skipper had gone all over it, and
everybody else had gone all over it, and no one could think of anything
but a Water-devil that could stop a steamer in this way in the middle
of the Bay of Bengal, and hold her there hour after hour, in spite of
wind and wave and tide. It could not be anything but the monster the
Portuguese had told us of, and all I now could do was to wonder
whether, when he was done counting his million claws, he would be able
to pull down a vessel of a thousand tons, for that was about the size
of the General Brooks.
"I think I should now have begun to lose my wits if it had not been for
one thing, and that was the coming of Miss Minturn on deck. The moment
I saw her lovely face I stiffened up wonderfully. 'Sir,' said she, 'I
would like to see the captain.' 'I am representing the captain, miss,'
I said, with a bow; 'what is it that I can do for you?' 'I want to
speak to him about the steward,' she said; 'I think he is neglecting
his duty.' 'I also represent the steward,' I replied; 'tell me what you
wish of him.' She made no answer to this, but looked about her in a
startled way. 'Where are all the men?' she said. 'Miss Minturn, 'said
I, 'I represent the crew—in fact, I represent the whole ship's company
except the cook, and his place must be taken by your maid.' 'What do
you mean?' she asked, looking at me with her wide-opened, beautiful
"Then, as there was no help for it, I told her everything, except that
I did not mention the Water-devil in connection with our marvellous
stoppage. I only said that that was caused by something which nobody
"She did not sit down and cover her head, nor did she scream or faint.
She turned pale, but looked steadily at me, and her voice did not shake
as she asked me what was to be done. 'There is nothing to be done,' I
answered, 'but to keep up good hearts, eat three meals a day, and wait
until a ship comes along and takes us off.'
"She stood silent for about three minutes. 'I think,' she then said,
'that I will not yet tell my father what has happened'; and she went
"Now, strange to say, I walked up and down the deck with my hat cocked
on one side and my hands in my pockets, feeling a great deal better. I
did not like Water-devils any more than I did before, and I did not
believe in this one any less than I did before, but, after all, there
was some good about him. It seems odd, but the arm of this submarine
monster, over a mile long for all that I knew, was a bond of union
between the lovely Miss Minturn and me. She was a lady; I was a marine.
So far as I knew anything about bonds of union, there wasn't one that
could have tackled itself to us two, except this long, slippery arm of
the Water-devil, with one end in the monstrous flob at the bottom, and
the other fast to our ship.
"There was no doubt about it, if it hadn't been for that Water-devil
she would have been no more to me than the Queen of Madagascar was; but
under the circumstances, if I wasn't everything to her, who could be
anything—that is, if one looked at the matter from a practical point
The blacksmith made a little movement of impatience. "Suppose you cut
all that," said he. "I don't care about the bond of union; I want to
know what happened to the ship."
"It is likely," said the marine, "if I could have cut the bond of union
that I spoke of, that is to say, the Water-devil's arm, that I would
have done it, hoping that I might safely float off somewhere with Miss
Minturn; but I couldn't cut it then, and I can't cut it now. That bond
is part of my story, and it must all go on together.
"I now set myself to work to do what I thought ought to be done under
the circumstances, but, of course, that wasn't very much. I hoisted a
flag upside down, and after considering the matter I concluded to take
in all the sails that had been set. I thought that a steamer without
smoke coming from her funnel, and no sails set, would be more likely to
attract attention from distant vessels than if she appeared to be under
"I am not a regular sailor, as I said before, but I got out on the
yard, and cut the square sail loose and let it drop on the deck, and I
let the jib come down on a run, and managed to bundle it up some way on
the bowsprit. This sort of thing took all the nautical gymnastics that
I was master of, and entirely occupied my mind, so that I found myself
whistling while I worked. I hoped Miss Minturn heard me whistle,
because it would not only give her courage, but would let her see that
I was not a man who couldn't keep up his spirits in a case like this.
"When that work was over, I began to wonder what I should do next, and
then an idea struck me. 'Suppose,' thought I, 'that we are not
stationary, but that we are in some queer kind of a current, and that
the water, ship and all are steadily moving on together, so that after
awhile we shall come in sight of land, or into the track of vessels!'
"I instantly set about to find out if this was the case. It was about
noon, and it so happened that on the day before, when the chief officer
took his observation, I was seized with a desire to watch him and see
how he did it. I don't see why I should have had this notion, but I had
it, and I paid the strictest attention to the whole business,
calculation part and all, and I found out exactly how it was done.
"Well, then, I went and got the quadrant,—that's the thing they do it
with,—and I took an observation, and I found that we were in latitude
15° north, 90° east, exactly where we had been twenty-four hours
"When I found out this, I turned so faint that I wanted to sit down and
cover up my head. The Water-devil had us, there was no mistake about
it, and no use trying to think of anything else. I staggered along the
deck, went below, and cooked myself a meal. In a case like this there's
nothing like a square meal to keep a man up.
"I know you don't like to hear her mentioned," said the marine, turning
to the blacksmith, "but I am bound to say that in course of the
afternoon Miss Minturn came on deck several times, to ask if anything
new had happened, and if I had seen a vessel. I showed her all that I
had done, and told her I was going to hang out lights at night, and did
everything I could to keep her on deck as long as possible; for it was
easy to see that she needed fresh air, and I needed company. As long as
I was talking to her I didn't care a snap of my finger for the
Water-devil. It is queer what an influence a beautiful woman has on a
man, but it's so, and there's no use arguing about it. She said she had
been puzzling her brains to find out what had stopped us, and she
supposed it must be that we had run onto a shallow place and stuck fast
in the mud, but thought it wonderful that there should be such a place
so far from land. I agreed with her that it was wonderful, and added
that that was probably the reason the captain and the crew had been
seized with a panic. But sensible people like herself and her father, I
said, ought not to be troubled by such an occurrence, especially as the
vessel remained in a perfectly sound condition.
"She said that her father was busily engaged in writing his memoirs,
and that his mind was so occupied, he had not concerned himself at all
about our situation, that is, if he had noticed that we were not
moving. 'If he wants to see the steward, or anybody else,' I said,
'please call upon me. You know I represent the whole ship's company,
and I shall be delighted to do anything for him or for you.' She
thanked me very much and went below.
"She came up again, after this, but her maid came with her, and the two
walked on deck for a while. I didn't have much to say to them that
time; but just before dark Miss Minturn came on deck alone, and walked
forward, where I happened to be. 'Sir,' said she, and her voice
trembled a little as she spoke, 'if anything should happen, will you
promise me that you will try to save my father?' You can't imagine how
these touching words from this beautiful woman affected me. 'My dear
lady,' said I, and I hope she did not take offence at the warmth of my
expression, 'I don't see how anything can happen; but I promise you, on
the word of a sea-soldier, that if danger should come upon us, I will
save not only your father, but yourself and your maid. Trust me for
"The look she gave me when I said these words, and especially the flash
of her eye when I spoke of my being a sea-soldier, made me feel strong
enough to tear that sea-monster's arm in twain, and to sail away with
the lovely creature for whom my heart was beginning to throb."
"It's a pity," said the blacksmith, "that you hadn't jumped into the
water while the fit was on you, and done the tearing."
"A man often feels strong enough to do a thing," said the marine, "and
yet doesn't care to try to do it, and that was my case at that time;
but I vowed to myself that if the time came when there was any saving
to be done, I'd attend to Miss Minturn, even if I had to neglect the
rest of the family.
"She didn't make any answer, but she gave me her hand; and she couldn't
have done anything I liked better than that. I held it as long as I
could, which wasn't very long, and then she went down to her father."
"Glad of it," said the blacksmith.
"When I had had my supper, and had smoked my pipe, and everything was
still, and I knew I shouldn't see anybody any more that night, I began
to have the quakes and the shakes. If even I had had the maid to talk
to, it would have been a comfort; but in the way of faithfully
attending to her employers that woman was a trump. She cooked for them,
and did for them, and stuck by them straight along, so she hadn't any
time for chats with me.
"Being alone, I couldn't help all the time thinking about the
Water-devil, and although it seems a foolish thing now that I look back
on it, I set to work to calculate how long it would take him to count
his feet. I made it about the same time as you did, sir," nodding to
the schoolmaster, "only I considered that if he counted twelve hours,
and slept and rested twelve hours, that would make it seven days, which
would give me a good long time with Miss Minturn, and that would be the
greatest of joys to me, no matter what happened afterward.
"But then nobody could be certain that the monster at the bottom of
the bay needed rest or sleep. He might be able to count without
stopping, and how did I know that he couldn't check off four hundred
claws a minute? If that happened to be the case, our time must be
"When that idea came into my head, I jumped up and began to walk about.
What could I do? I certainly ought to be ready to do something when
the time came. I thought of getting life-preservers, and strapping one
on each of us, so that if the Water-devil turned over the vessel and
shook us out, we shouldn't sink down to him, but would float on the
"But then the thought struck me that if he should find the vessel empty
of live creatures, and should see us floating around on the top, all he
had to do was to let go of the ship and grab us, one at a time. When I
thought of a fist as big as a yawl-boat, clapping its fifty-two fingers
on me, it sent a shiver through my bones. The fact was there wasn't
anything to do, and so after a while I managed to get asleep, which was
a great comfort."
"Mr. Cardly," said Mr. Harberry to the schoolmaster, "what reason can
you assign why a seamonster, such as has been described to us, should
neglect to seize upon several small boats filled with men who were
escaping from a vessel which it held in custody?"
"I do not precisely see," answered Mr. Cardly, "why these men should
have been allowed this immunity, but I—"
"Oh, that is easily explained," interrupted the marine, "for of course
the Water-devil could not know that a lot more people were not left in
the ship, and if he let go his hold on her, to try and grab a boat that
was moving as fast as men could row it, the steamer might get out of
his reach, and he mightn't have another chance for a hundred years to
make fast to a vessel. No, sir, a creature like that isn't apt to take
any wild chances, when he's got hold of a really good thing. Anyway, we
were held tight and fast, for at twelve o'clock the next day I took
another observation, and there we were, in the same latitude and
longitude that we had been in for two days. I took the captain's glass,
and I looked all over the water of that bay, which, as I think I have
said before, was all the same as the ocean, being somewhere about a
thousand miles wide. Not a sail, not a puff of smoke could I see. It
must have been a slack season for navigation, or else we were out of
the common track of vessels; I had never known that the Bay of Bengal
was so desperately lonely.
"It seems unnatural, and I can hardly believe it, when I look back on
it, but it's a fact, that I was beginning to get used to the situation.
We had plenty to eat, the weather was fine—in fact, there was now only
breeze enough to make things cool and comfortable. I was head-man on
that vessel, and Miss Minturn might come on deck at any moment, and as
long as I could forget that there was a Water-devil fastened to the
bottom of the vessel, there was no reason why I should not be perfectly
satisfied with things as they were. And if things had stayed as they
were, for two or three months, I should have been right well pleased,
especially since Miss Minturn's maid, by order of her mistress, had
begun to cook my meals, which she did in a manner truly first-class. I
believed then, and I stand to it now, that there is do better proof of
a woman's good feeling toward a man, than for her to show an interest
in his meals. That's the sort of sympathy that comes home to a man, and
tells on him, body and soul."
As the marine made this remark, he glanced at the blacksmith's
daughter; but that young lady had taken up her sewing and appeared to
be giving it her earnest attention. He then went on with his story.
"But things did not remain as they were. The next morning, about half
an hour after breakfast, I was walking up and down the upper deck,
smoking my pipe, and wondering when Miss Minturn would be coming up to
talk to me about the state of affairs, when suddenly I felt the deck
beneath me move with a quick, sharp jerk, something like, I imagine, a
small shock of an earthquake.
"Never, in all my life, did the blood run so cold in my veins; my legs
trembled so that I could scarcely stand. I knew what had happened,—the
Water-devil had begun to haul upon the ship!
"I was in such a state of collapse that I did not seem to have any
power over my muscles; but for all that, I heard Miss Minturn's voice
at the foot of the companion-way, and knew that she was coming on deck.
In spite of the dreadful awfulness of that moment, I felt it would
never do for her to see me in the condition I was in, and so, shuffling
and half-tumbling, I got forward, went below, and made my way to the
steward's room, where I had already discovered some spirits, and I took
a good dram; for although I am not by any means an habitual drinker,
being principled against that sort of thing, there are times when a
man needs the support of some good brandy or whiskey.
"In a few minutes I felt more like myself, and went on deck, and there
was Miss Minturn, half-scared to death. 'What is the meaning of that
shock?' she said; 'have we struck anything?' 'My dear lady,' said I,
with as cheerful a front as I could put on, 'I do not think we have
struck anything. There is nothing to strike.' She looked at me for a
moment like an angel ready to cry, and clasping her hands, she said,
'Oh, tell me, sir, I pray you, sir, tell me what has happened. My
father felt that shock. He sent me to inquire about it. His mind is
disturbed.' At that moment, before I could make an answer, there was
another jerk of the ship, and we both went down on our knees, and I
felt as if I had been tripped. I was up in a moment, however, but she
continued on her knees. I am sure she was praying, but very soon up
she sprang. 'Oh, what is it, what is it?' she cried; 'I must go to my
"'I cannot tell you,' said I; 'I do not know, but don't be frightened;
how can such a little shock hurt so big a ship?'
"It was all very well to tell her not to be frightened, but when she
ran below she left on deck about as frightened a man as ever stood in
shoes. There could be no doubt about it; that horrible beast was
beginning to pull upon the ship. Whether or not it would be able to
draw us down below, was a question which must soon be solved.
"I had had a small opinion of the maid, who, when I told her the crew
had deserted the ship, had sat down and covered her head; but now I did
pretty much the same thing; I crouched on the deck and pulled my cap
over my eyes. I felt that I did not wish to see, hear, or feel
"I had sat in this way for about half an hour, and had felt no more
shocks, when a slight gurgling sound came to my ears. I listened for a
moment, then sprang to my feet. Could we be moving? I ran to the side
of the ship. The gurgle seemed to be coming from the stern. I hurried
there and looked over. The wheel had been lashed fast, and the rudder
stood straight out behind us. On each side of it there was a ripple in
the quiet water. We were moving, and we were moving backward!
"Overpowered by horrible fascination, I stood grasping the rail, and
looking over at the water beneath me, as the vessel moved slowly and
steadily onward, stern foremost. In spite of the upset condition of my
mind, I could not help wondering why the Vessel should move in this
"There was only one explanation possible: The Water-devil was walking
along the bottom, and towing us after him! Why he should pull us along
in this way I could not imagine, unless he was making for his home in
some dreadful cave at the bottom, into which he would sink, dragging us
down after him.
"While my mind was occupied with these horrible subjects, some one
touched me on the arm, and turning, I saw Miss Minturn. 'Are we not
moving?' she said. 'Yes,' I answered, 'we certainly are.' 'Do you not
think,' she then asked, 'that we may have been struck by a powerful
current, which is now carrying us onward?' I did not believe this, for
there was no reason to suppose that there were currents which wandered
about, starting off vessels with a jerk, but I was glad to think that
this idea had come into her head, and said that it was possible that
this might be the case. 'And now we are going somewhere' she said,
speaking almost cheerfully. 'Yes, we are,' I answered, and I had to try
hard not to groan as I said the words. 'And where do you think we are
going?' she asked. It was altogether out of my power to tell that sweet
creature that in my private opinion she, at least, was going to heaven,
and so I answered that I really did not know. 'Well,' she said, 'if we
keep moving, we're bound at last to get near land, or to some place
where ships would pass near us.'
"There is nothing in this world," said the marine, "which does a man so
much good in time of danger as to see a hopeful spirit in a woman—that
is, a woman that he cares about. Some of her courage comes to him, and
he is better and stronger for having her alongside of him."
Having made this remark, the speaker again glanced at the blacksmith's
daughter. She had put down her work and was looking at him with an
earnest brightness in her eyes.
"Yes," he continued, "it is astonishing what a change came over me, as
I stood by the side of that noble girl. She was a born lady, I was a
marine, just the same as we had been before, but there didn't seem to
be the difference between us that there had been. Her words, her
spirits, everything about her, in fact, seemed to act on me, to elevate
me, to fill my soul with noble sentiments, to make another man of me.
Standing there beside her, I felt myself her equal. In life or death I
would not be ashamed to say, 'Here I am, ready to stand by you,
Having concluded this sentiment, the marine again glanced toward the
blacksmith's daughter. Her eyes were slightly moist, and her face was
glowing with a certain enthusiasm.
"Look here," said the blacksmith, "I suppose that woman goes along with
you into the very maw of the sunken Devil, but I do wish you could take
her more for granted, and get on faster with the real part of the
"One part is as real as another," said the marine; "but on we go, and
on we did go for the whole of the rest of that day, at the rate of
about half a knot an hour, as near as I could guess at it. The weather
changed, and a dirty sort of fog came down on us, so that we couldn't
see far in any direction.
"Why that Water-devil should keep on towing us, and where he was going
to take us, were things I didn't dare to think about. The fog did not
prevent me from seeing the water about our stern, and I leaned over the
rail, watching the ripples that flowed on each side of the rudder,
which showed that we were still going at about the same uniform rate.
"But toward evening the gurgling beneath me ceased, and I could see
that the rudder no longer parted the quiet water, and that we had
ceased to move. A flash of hope blazed up within me. Had the
Water-devil found the ship too heavy a load, and had he given up the
attempt to drag it to its under-ocean cave? I went below and had my
supper; I was almost a happy man. When Miss Minturn came to ask me how
we were getting along, I told her that I thought we were doing very
well indeed. I did not mention that we had ceased to move, for she
thought that a favorable symptom. She went back to her quarters greatly
cheered up. Not so much, I think, from my words, as from my joyful
aspect; for I did feel jolly, there was no doubt about it. If that
Water-devil had let go of us, I was willing to take all the other
chances that might befall a ship floating about loose on the Bay of
"The fog was so thick that night that it was damp and unpleasant on
deck, and so, having hung out and lighted a couple of lanterns, I went
below for a comfortable smoke in the captain's room. I was puffing
away here at my ease, with my mind filled with happy thoughts of two or
three weeks with Miss Minturn on this floating paradise, where she was
bound to see a good deal of me, and couldn't help liking me better, and
depending on me more and more every day, when I felt a little jerking
shock. It was the same thing that we had felt before. The Water-devil
still had hold of us!
"I dropped my pipe, my chin fell upon my breast, I shivered all over.
In a few moments I heard the maid calling to me, and then she ran into
the room. 'Miss Minturn wants to know, sir,' she said, 'if you think
that shock is a sudden twist in the current which is carrying us on?' I
straightened myself up as well as I could, and in the dim light I do
not think she noticed my condition. I answered that I thought it was
something of that sort, and she went away.
"More likely, a twist of the Devil's arm, I thought, as I sat there
alone in my misery.
"In ten or fifteen minutes there came two shocks, not very far apart.
This showed that the creature beneath us was at work in some way or
another. Perhaps he had reached the opening of his den, and was
shortening up his arm before he plunged down into it with us after him.
I couldn't stay any longer in that room alone. I looked for the maid,
but she had put out the galley light, and had probably turned in for
"I went up, and looked out on deck, but everything was horribly dark
and sticky and miserable there. I noticed that my lanterns were not
burning, and then I remembered that I had not filled them. But this did
not trouble me. If a vessel came along and saw our lights she would
probably keep away from us, and I would have been glad to have a vessel
come to us, even if she ran into us. Our steamer would probably float
long enough for us to get on board the other one, and almost anything
would be better than being left alone in this dreadful place, at the
mercy of the Water-devil.
"Before I left the deck I felt another shock. This took out of me
whatever starch was left, and I shuffled below and got to my bunk,
where I tumbled in and covered myself up, head and all. If there had
been any man to talk to, it would have been different, but I don't know
when I ever felt more deserted than I did at that time.
"I tried to forget the awful situation in which I was; I tried to think
of other things; to imagine that I was drilling with the rest of my
company, with Tom Rogers on one side of me, and old Humphrey Peters on
the other. You may say, perhaps, that this wasn't exactly the way of
carrying out my promise of taking care of Miss Minturn and the others.
But what was there to do? When the time came to do anything, and I
could see what to do, I was ready to do it; but there was no use of
waking them up now and setting their minds on edge, when they were all
comfortable in their beds, thinking that every jerk of the Devil's arm
was a little twist in the current that was carrying them to Calcutta or
some other desirable port.
"I felt some shocks after I got into bed, but whether or not there were
many in the night, I don't know, for I went to sleep. It was daylight
when I awoke, and jumping out of my bunk I dashed on deck. Everything
seemed pretty much as it had been, and the fog was as thick as ever. I
ran to the stern and looked over, and I could scarcely believe my eyes
when I saw that we were moving again, still stern foremost, but a
little faster than before. That beastly Water-devil had taken a rest
for the night, and had probably given us the shocks by turning over in
his sleep, and now he was off again, making up for lost time.
"Pretty soon Miss Minturn came on deck, and bade me good morning, and
then she went and looked over the stern. 'We are still moving on,' she
said, with a smile, 'and the fog doesn't seem to make any difference.
It surely cannot be long before we get somewhere.' 'No, miss,' said I,
'it cannot be very long.' 'You look tired,' she said, 'and I don't
wonder, for you must feel the heavy responsibility on you. I have told
my maid to prepare breakfast for you in our cabin. I want my father to
know you, and I think it is a shame that you, the only protector that
we have, should be shut off so much by yourself; so after this we shall
eat together.' 'After this,' I groaned to myself, 'we shall be eaten
together.' At that moment I did not feel that I wanted to breakfast
with Miss Minturn."
"Mr. Cardly," said Mr. Harberry to the school-master, "have you ever
read, in any of your scientific books, that the Bay of Bengal is
subject to heavy fogs that last day after day?"
"I cannot say," answered the school-master, "that my researches into
the geographical distribution of fogs have resulted—"
"As to fogs," interrupted the marine, "you can't get rid of them, you
know. If you had been in the habit of going to sea, you would know that
you are likely to run into a fog at any time, and in any weather; and
as to lasting, they are just as likely to last for days as for hours.
It wasn't the fog that surprised me. I did not consider that of any
account at all. I had enough other things to occupy my mind." And
having settled this little matter, he went on with his story.
"Well, my friends, I did not breakfast with Miss Minturn and her
father. Before that meal was ready, and while I was standing alone at
the stern, I saw coming out of the water, a long way off in the fog,
which must have been growing thinner about this time, a dark and
mysterious object, apparently without any shape or form. This sight
made the teeth chatter in my head. I had expected to be pulled down to
the Water-devil, but I had never imagined that he would come up to us!
"While my eyes were glued upon this apparition, I could see that we
were approaching it. When I perceived this, I shut my eyes and turned
my back—I could look upon it no longer. My mind seemed to forsake me;
I did not even try to call out and give the alarm to the others. Why
should I? What could they do?"
"If it had been me," said Mrs. Fryker, in a sort of gasping whisper, "I
should have died right there." The marine turned his eyes in the
direction of the blacksmith's daughter. She was engaged with her work,
and was not looking at him.
"I cannot say," he continued, "that, had Miss Minturn been there at
that moment, that I would not have declared that I was ready to die for
her or with her; but there was no need of trying to keep up her
courage, that was all right. She knew nothing of our danger. That
terrible knowledge pressed on me alone. Is it wonderful that a human
soul should sink a little under such an awful load?" Without turning to
observe the effect of these last words, the marine went on. "Suddenly I
heard behind me a most dreadful sound. 'Good Heavens,' I exclaimed,
'can a Water-devil bray?'
"The sound was repeated. Without knowing what I did, I turned. I heard
what sounded like words; I saw in the fog the stern of a vessel, with a
man above it, shouting to me through a speaking-trumpet.
"I do not know what happened next; my mind must have become confused.
When I regained my senses, Miss Minturn, old Mr. Minturn, and the maid
were standing by me. The man had stopped shouting from his trumpet, and
a boat was being lowered from the other ship. In about ten minutes
there were half-a-dozen men on board of us, all in the uniform of the
British navy. I was stiff enough now, and felt myself from top to toe
a regular marine in the service of my country. I stepped up to the
officer in command and touched my cap.
"He looked at me and my companions in surprise, and then glancing along
the deck, said, 'What has happened to this vessel? Who is in command?'
I informed him, that, strictly speaking, no one was in command, but
that I represented the captain, officers, and crew of this steamer, the
General Brooks, from San Francisco to Calcutta, and I then proceeded
to tell him the whole story of our misfortunes; and concluded by
telling the officer, that if we had not moved since his vessel had come
in sight, it was probably because the Water-devil had let go of us, and
was preparing to make fast to the other ship; and therefore it would
be advisable for us all to get on board his vessel, and steam away as
quickly as possible.
"The Englishmen looked at me in amazement. 'Drunk!' ejaculated the
officer I had addressed. 'Cracked, I should say,' suggested another.
'Now,' spoke up Mr. Minturn, 'I do not understand what I have just
heard,' he said. 'What is a Water-devil? I am astounded.' 'You never
said a word of this to me!' exclaimed Miss Minturn. 'You never told me
that we were in the grasp of a Water-devil, and that that was the
reason the captain and the crew ran away.' 'No,' said I, 'I never
divulged the dreadful danger we were in. I allowed you to believe that
we were in the influence of a current, and that the shocks we felt were
the sudden twists of that current. The terrible truth I kept to myself.
Not for worlds would I have made known to a tenderly nurtured lady, to
her invalid father, and devoted servant, what might have crushed their
souls, driven them to the borders of frenzy; in which case the relief
which now has come to us would have been of no avail.'
"The officer stood and steadily stared at me. 'I declare,' he said,
'you do not look like a crazy man. At what time did this Water-devil
begin to take you in tow?'
"'Yesterday morning,' I answered. 'And he stopped during last night?'
he asked. I replied that that was the case. Then he took off his cap,
rubbed his head, and stood silent for a minute. 'We'll look into this
matter!' he suddenly exclaimed, and turning, he and his party left us
to ourselves. The boat was now sent back with a message to the English
vessel, and the officers and men who remained scattered themselves over
our steamer, examining the engine-room, hold, and every part of her.
"I was very much opposed to all this delay; for although the Englishmen
might doubt the existence of the Water-devil, I saw no reason to do so,
and in any case I was very anxious to be on the safe side by getting
away as soon as possible; but, of course, British officers would not be
advised by me, and as I was getting very hungry I went down to
breakfast. I ate this meal alone, for my fellow-passengers seemed to
have no desire for food.
"I cannot tell all that happened during the next hour, for, to tell the
truth, I did not understand everything that was done. The boat passed
several times between the two vessels, bringing over a number of
men—two of them scientific fellows, I think. Another was a diver,
whose submarine suit and air-pumping machines came over with him. He
was lowered over the side, and after he had been down about fifteen
minutes he was hauled up again, and down below was the greatest
hammering and hauling that ever you heard. The General Brooks was put
in charge of an officer and some men; a sail was hoisted to keep her in
hand, so that she wouldn't drift into the other ship; and in the midst
of all the rowdy-dow we were told that if we liked we might go on board
the English vessel immediately.
"Miss Minturn and her party instantly accepted this invitation, and
although under ordinary circumstances I would have remained to see for
myself what these people found out, I felt a relief in the thought of
leaving that vessel which is impossible for me to express, and I got
into the boat with the others.
"We were treated very handsomely on board the English vessel, which was
a mail steamship, at that time in the employment of the English
Government. I told my story at least half-a-dozen times, sometimes to
the officers and sometimes to the men, and whether they believed me or
not, I don't think any one ever created a greater sensation with a
story of the sea.
"In an hour or so the officer in charge of the operations on the
General Brooks came aboard. As he passed me on his way to the
captain, he said, 'We found your Water-devil, my man.' 'And he truly
had us in tow?' I cried. 'Yes, you are perfectly correct,' he said, and
went on to make his report to the captain."
"Now, then," said the blacksmith, "I suppose we are going to get to the
pint. What did he report?"
"I didn't hear his report," said the marine, "but everybody soon knew
what had happened to our unlucky vessel, and I can give you the whole
story of it. The General Brooks sailed from San Francisco to Calcutta,
with a cargo of stored electricity, contained in large, strongly made
boxes. This I knew nothing about, not being in the habit of inquiring
into cargoes. Well, in some way or other, which I don't understand,
not being a scientific man myself, a magnetic connection was formed
between these boxes, and also, if I got the story straight, between
them and the iron hull of our vessel, so that it became, in fact, an
enormous floating magnet, one of the biggest things of the kind on
record. I have an idea that this magnetic condition was the cause of
the trouble to our machinery; every separate part of it was probably
turned to a magnet, and they all stuck together."
"Mr. Cardly," said Mr. Harberry to the school-master, "I do not
suppose you have given much attention to the study of commerce, and
therefore are not prepared to give us any information in regard to
stored electricity as an article of export from this country; but
perhaps you can tell us what stored electricity is, and how it is put
"In regard to the transportation," answered the school-master, speaking
a little slowly, "of encased electric potency, I cannot—"
"Oh, bless me!" interrupted the marine; "that is all simple enough; you
can store electricity and send it all over the world, if you like; in
places like Calcutta, I think it must be cheaper to buy it than to make
it. They use it as a motive power for sewing-machines, apple-parers,
and it can be used in a lot of ways, such as digging post-holes and
churning butter. When the stored electricity in a box is all used up,
all you have to do is to connect a fresh box with your machinery, and
there you are, ready to start again. There was nothing strange about
our cargo. It was the electricity leaking out and uniting itself and
the iron ship into a sort of conglomerate magnet that was out of the
"Mr. Cardly," said Mr. Harberry, "if an iron ship were magnetized in
that manner, wouldn't it have a deranging effect upon the needle of the
The marine did not give the school-master time to make answer.
"Generally speaking," said he, "that sort of thing would interfere with
keeping the vessel on its proper course, but with us it didn't make any
difference at all. The greater part of the ship was in front of the
binnacle where they keep the compass, and so the needle naturally
pointed that way, and as we were going north before a south wind, it
was all right.
"Being a floating magnet, of course, did not prevent our sailing, so
we went along well enough until we came to longitude 90°, latitude 15°
north. Now it so happened that a telegraphic cable which had been laid
down by the British Government to establish communication between
Madras and Rangoon, had broken some time before, and not very far from
"Now you can see for yourselves that when an enormous mass of magnetic
iron, in the shape of the General Brooks, came sailing along there,
the part of that cable which lay under us was so attracted by such a
powerful and irresistible force that its broken end raised itself from
the bottom of the bay and reached upward until it touched our ship,
when it laid itself along our keel, to which it instantly became
fastened as firmly as if it had been bolted and riveted there. Then, as
the rest of this part of the cable was on the bottom of the bay all the
way to Madras, of course we had to stop; that's simple enough. That's
the way the Water-devil held us fast in one spot for two days.
"The British Government determined not to repair this broken cable, but
to take it up and lay down a better one; so they chartered a large
steamer, and fitted her up with engines, and a big drum that they use
for that sort of thing, and set her to work to wind up the Madras end
of the broken cable. She had been at this business a good while before
we were caught by the other end, and when they got near enough to us
for their engines to be able to take up the slack from the bottom
between us and them, then of course they pulled upon us, and we began
to move. And when they lay to for the night, and stopped the winding
business, of course we stopped, and the stretch of cable between the
two ships had no effect upon us, except when the big mail steamer
happened to move this way or that, as they kept her head to the wind;
and that's the way we lay quiet all night except when we got our
"When they set the drum going again in the morning, it wasn't long
before they wound us near enough for them to see us, which they would
have done sooner if my lights hadn't gone out so early in the evening."
"And that," said the blacksmith, with a somewhat severe expression on
his face, "is all that you have to tell about your wonderful
"All!" said the marine; "I should say it was quite enough, and nothing
could be more wonderful than what really happened. A Water-devil is one
of two things: he is real, or he's not real. If he's not real, he's no
more than an ordinary spook or ghost, and is not to be practically
considered. If he's real, then he's an alive animal, and can be put in
a class with other animals, and described in books, because even if
nobody sees him, the scientific men know how he must be constructed,
and then he's no more than a great many other wonderful things, which
we can see alive, stuffed, or in plaster casts.
"But if you want to put your mind upon something really wonderful, just
think of a snake-like rope of wire, five or six hundred miles long,
lying down at the very bottom of the great Bay of Bengal, with no more
life in it than there is in a ten-penny nail.
"Then imagine that long, dead wire snake to be suddenly filled with
life, and to know that there was something far up above it, on the
surface of the water, that it wants to reach up to and touch. Think of
it lifting and flapping its broken end, and then imagine it raising
yard after yard of itself up and up, through the solemn water, more and
more of it lifting itself from the bottom, curling itself backward and
forward as it rises higher and higher, until at last, with a sudden
jump that must have ripped a mile or more of it from the bottom, it
claps its end against the thing it wants to touch, and which it can
neither see, nor hear, nor smell, but which it knows is there. Could
there be anything in this world more wonderful than that?
"And then, if that isn't enough of a wonder, think of the Rangoon end
of that cable squirming and wriggling and stretching itself out toward
our ship, but not being able to reach us on account of a want of slack;
just as alive as the Madras part of the cable, and just as savage and
frantic to get up to us and lay hold of us; and then, after our vessel
had been gradually pulled away from it, think of this other part
getting weaker and weaker, minute by minute, until it falls flat on
the bay, as dead as any other iron thing!"
The marine ceased to speak, and Mrs. Fryker heaved a sigh.
"It makes me shiver to think of all that down so deep," she said; "but
I must say I am disappointed."
"In what way?" asked the marine.
"A Water-devil," said she, "as big as six whales, and with a funnelly
mouth to suck in people, is different; but, of course, after all, it
was better as it was."
"Look here," said the blacksmith, "what became of the girl? I wanted
her finished up long ago, and you haven't done it yet."
"Miss Minturn, you mean," said the marine. "Well, there is not much to
say about her. Things happened in the usual way. When the danger was
all over, when she had other people to depend upon besides me, and we
were on board a fine steamer, with a lot of handsomely dressed naval
officers, and going comfortably to Madras, of course she thought no
more of the humble sea-soldier who once stood between her and—nobody
knew what. In fact, the only time she spoke to me after we got on board
the English steamer, she made me feel, although she didn't say it in
words, that she was not at all obliged to me for supposing that she
would have been scared to death if I had told her about the
"I suppose," said the blacksmith, "by the time you got back to your
ship you had overstayed your leave of absence a good while. Did your
captain let you off when you told him this story of the new-fashioned
The marine smiled. "I never went back to the Apache," he said. "When
I arrived at Madras I found that she had sailed from Calcutta. It was,
of course, useless for me to endeavor to follow her, and I therefore
concluded to give up the marine service for a time and go into another
line of business, about which it is too late to tell you now."
"Mr. Cardly," said Mr. Harberry to the school-master, "have you ever
read that the British Government has a submarine cable from Madras to
The marine took it upon himself to answer this question. "The cable of
which I spoke to you," he said, "was taken up, as I told you, and I
never heard that another one was laid. But it is getting late, and I
think I will go to bed; I have a long walk before me to-morrow." So
saying he rose, put his pipe upon the mantel-piece, and bade the
company good night. As he did so, he fixed his eyes on the blacksmith's
daughter, but that young lady did not look at him; she was busily
reading the weekly newspaper, which her father had left upon the table.
Mr. Harberry now rose, preparatory to going home; and as he buttoned up
his coat, he looked from one to another of the little group, and
remarked, "I have often heard that marines are a class of men who are
considered as fit subjects to tell tough stories to, but it strikes me
that the time has come when the tables are beginning to be turned."