The Wreck of the Mary Deare

The Wreck of the Mary Deare by Hammond Innes Read Free Book Online

Book: The Wreck of the Mary Deare by Hammond Innes Read Free Book Online
Authors: Hammond Innes
ladder with no door at the top and as soon as I entered the radio shack I knew why no distress call had been sent out. The place had been gutted by fire.
    The shock of it halted me in the doorway. The fire in the hold, and now this! But this was an old fire. There was no smell of burning, and planks of new wood had been nailed over the charred gaps that the fire had burned in roof and walls. No attempt had been made to clear the debris. The emergency accumulators had come through the burned-out roof and lay on the floor where they had fallen; one had smashed down on to the fire-blackened table and had crushed the half-melted remains of the transmitter. Bunk and chair were scarcely recognisable, skeletons of blackened wood, and the radio equipment fixed to the walls was distorted beyond recognition and festooned with metal stalactites where solder had dripped and congealed; more equipment lay on the floor, black, twisted pieces of metal in the debris of charred wood. Whatever had caused the fire, it had burned with extraordinary ferocity. Water had seeped in through the gaps in the walls, streaking the blackened wood. The wind stirred the sodden ashes, shaking the rotten structure as it howled round the bridge.
    I went slowly back down the ladder to the chartroom. Maybe the log book would tell me something. But it was no longer open on the table. I went through to the wheelhouse and was halted momentarily by the sight of a shaggy comber rearing up out of the murk on the port bow, spindrift streaming from its crest. It crashed down on to the iron bulwarks, and then the whole fore part of the ship, all except the mast and derricks, disappeared beneath a welter of white water. It seemed an age before the shape of the bows appeared again, a faint outline of bulwarks rising sluggishly, reluctantly out of the sea.
    I hurried down the companion-way and made straight for the captain’s cabin. But he wasn’t there. I tried the saloon and the galley, and then I knew he must be down in the stoke-hold again. There was no doubt in my mind what had to be done. The pumps had to be got going. But there was no light in the engine-room, no sound of coal being shovelled into the furnaces. I shouted from the catwalk, but there was no answer; only the echo of my voice, a small sound lost in the pounding of the waves against the outside of the hull and the swirl of water in the bilges.
    I felt a sudden sense of loss, a quite childish sense of loneliness. I didn’t want to be alone in that empty ship. I hurried back to his cabin, the need to find him becoming more and more urgent. It was empty, as it had been before. A clang of metal aft sent me pushing through the door to the boat deck, and then I saw him. He was coming towards me, staggering with exhaustion, his eyes staring and his face dead white where he had wiped it clean of sweat and coal dust. All his clothes were black with coal and behind him a shovel slid across the deck. ‘Where have you been?’ I cried. ‘I couldn’t find you. What have you been doing all this time?’
    â€˜That’s my business,’ he muttered, his voice slurred with fatigue, and he pushed past me and went into his cabin.
    I followed him in. ‘What’s the position?’ I asked. ‘How much water are we making? The seas are breaking right across the bows.’
    He nodded. ‘It’ll go on like that—all the time now—until the hatch cover goes. And then there’ll only be the shored-up bulkhead between us and the sea-bed.’ It was said flatly, without intonation. He didn’t seem to care, or else he was resigned.
    â€˜But if we get the pumps going . . .’ His lack of interest checked me. ‘Damn it, man,’ I said. ‘That was what you were doing when I came aboard, wasn’t it?’
    â€˜How do you know what I’d been doing?’ He suddenly seemed to blaze up, his eyes hard and angry and wild. He seized hold

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