Chapter XIV
 

TERENCE Reardon's preparations for the night's work began the instant he hung up the speaking-tube. The Narcissus carried three assistant engineers, in consequence of which Mr. Reardon was not required to stand a watch unless he so elected; although from force of habit acquired in the days when he had been chief of the Arab--a little three-thousand-ton tramp--and perforce had to stand a regular watch, he found it very difficult not to spend at least eight hours in every twenty-four in the engine room. When, eventually, he came to a realization that his job was not to make the engines behave, but to see that they behaved properly, he spent more of his time on deck, and put in only a few hours below during the watch of the third assistant engineer--the third assistant being a young man in whom the chief reposed exactly that degree of confidence a chief engineer should always repose in a third assistant. Mr. Reardon, therefore, was at liberty to leave the engine-room whenever he felt so disposed; and following his illuminating conversation with the captain he felt very much disposed to leave immediately.

He went first to his state-room, where he bathed, changed into new under-clothes and socks, donned a freshly laundered suit of faded dungarees--old, faded, well-washed dungarees, by the way, always appearing neater and cleaner than new ones--and shaved; for if Providence willed it that lie should die to-night. Mr. Reardon was resolved to be in such a highly sanitary condition that "those upon whom should devolve the melancholy duty of laying him out"--which phrase, in the Hibernian sense, means those who should dispose his limbs, close his eyes, tie up his black jowls with a towel and fold his hands--alas, so white in death, at last! across his still breast--might be moved to remark that, notwithstanding the nature of the deceased's vocation, they could not recall ever having seen a cleaner corpse.

Having attended to his pre-dissolution toilet, Mr. Reardon next sat in at his littered desk, swept a space clear of tobacco crumbs, ashes, pipes and some old copies of the Cork Eagle, and sat down to write a farewell letter to his wife, hoping that, even though his enemies should slay him, yet would they have sufficient respect for the dead to mail that letter to Mrs. Reardon. And, in order that he might not anger his posthumous benefactors, he mentioned nothing of the state of affairs aboard the ship. He merely stated that she might never see him again, in which event she was to call upon the owners and ask them to invest for her the proceeds of his life insurance policy, since they could and would invest it to better advantage than she. Then he spoke of his grief at the thought of the children being forced to forego their college education and suggested that she ask Cappy Ricks to give Johnny a place in his office; also, should the owners offer anything as compensation for the loss of her husband, she was to accept it, for, as God was his judge, she would be entitled to it! This last sentence Terence underscored for emphasis; that was as close as he came to saying that if he died it would be in defense of his owner's interest. Then he commended her to the comfort of her religion and subscribed himself: "Your loving and devoted husband, Terence P. Reardon, Chief Engineer S.S. Narcissus."

Having set his small affairs in order against a hasty exit from this vale of hatreds, Mr. Reardon, in unconscious imitation of all the condemned men who had preceded him on the voyage across the Styx, repaired to the dining saloon and partook of a hearty meal. He realized he had undertaken a contract that would require the employment of weapons more formidable than his hard fists, and devoutly he wished that, like the fairy queen, he had but to breathe on them to metamorphose them into pig iron. He pictured the slaughter aboard the Narcissus when he should wade into the conflict. Finally he made up his mind that, in lieu of an iron hand or two, he would use his favorite monkey wrench, for he had no firearms whatsoever; although, had somebody presented him with a one-man machine gun with full directions for using, Mr Reardon would have recoiled in horror from it. Firearms were highly dangerous. They killed so many people!

He left the table long before the others had finished. There was no one on deck as he emerged from the dining saloon, so he walked leisurely round past the captain's cabin, whistling the "Cruiskeen Lawn" to let Mike Murphy know who was coming. Evidently Michael assimilated the hint, for there was an envelope on the little window sill as Terence hove abreast of it. He snatched it swiftly away and continued round to his own state-room.

The envelope contained Michael J. Murphy's plan for campaign worked out to the most minute detail, by reason of his absolute knowledge of the customs aboard the ship. Mr. Reardon read the remarkable document and sat lost in admiration; a twinkle leaped to his eyes and a cunning, rather deadly little smile came sneaking round the corners of his broad chin.

"Arrah, but 'tis a beautiful schame," he soliloquized. "Who but that lad could have t'ought av it? An' here I've been shpendin' the past two hours borrowin' trouble."

He read and reread the plan of attack, in order to familiarize himself with the details; then he held a match to the document and destroyed it. He considered a moment, and then performed a similar service to his farewell letter to Mrs. Reardon, for the chief engineer of the S.S. Narcissus, of San Francisco, had made up his mind not to die--to-night!