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CHAPTER 2: THE MYSTERIOUS CARGO
"Wake up, Cole! The ship's on fire!"
It was young Ready's hollow voice, as cool, however, as though he were telling me I was late for breakfast. I started up and sought him wildly in the darkness.
"You're joking," was my first thought and utterance; for now he was lighting my candle, and blowing out the match with a care that seemed in itself a contradiction.
"I wish I were," he answered. "Listen to that!"
He pointed to my cabin ceiling; it quivered and creaked; and all at once I was as a deaf man healed.
One gets inured to noise at sea, but to this day it passes me how even I could have slept an instant in the abnormal din which I now heard raging above my head. Sea-boots stamped; bare feet pattered; men bawled; women shrieked; shouts of terror drowned the roar of command.
"Have we long to last?" I asked, as I leaped for my clothes.
"Long enough for you to dress comfortably. Steady, old man! It's only just been discovered; they may get it under. The panic's the worst part at present, and we're out of that."
But was Eva Denison? Breathlessly I put the question; his answer was reassuring. Miss Denison was with her step-father on the poop. "And both of 'em as cool as cucumbers," added Ready.
They could not have been cooler than this young man, with death at the bottom of his bright and sunken eyes. He was of the type which is all muscle and no constitution; athletes one year, dead men the next; but until this moment the athlete had been to me a mere and incredible tradition. In the afternoon I had seen his lean knees totter under the captain's fire. Now, at midnight - the exact time by my watch - it was as if his shrunken limbs had expanded in his clothes; he seemed hardly to know his own flushed face, as he caught sight of it in my mirror.
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