The night seemed endless, and countless times the Admiral thought of ordering the ship to move again, as the Sovereign was thrown by the waves to impossible angles. But with unreliable steering, the chance of being dashed against rocks was too high, and that would be certain death for everyone, whereas there was at least a prayer that the ship might ride out the weather. The officers, now back on the bridge with the Admiral, were alert for the least break, the smallest chance that the seas might become calm enough to allow the ship to sail on through the rest of the passage.
At some point the engine room flooded and the powerful steam engines had to be shut down.
Now, with the engines out, and little chance of restarting them without hours of effort, the prospects were growing dimmer by the minute.
And then, there was a sliver of light. Dawn must be approaching.
“Look!” O’Connor said. “It’s sunlight!”
It was true. Rays of sunlight were poking through the clouds, and the rain had greatly diminished. The winds were starting to die down.
“Send word to the engine room, I want the engines restarted post haste,” the Admiral ordered.
“But sir,” O’Connor replied, “they were flooded …”
“No excuses! We have no idea how long the break in the weather will last.”
“Aye aye, sir.” The First Mate looked dubious but rushed off the bridge to transmit the Admiral’s order.
“We’ll sail as soon as possible,” the Admiral said, more to himself than anyone else, as the helmsman was the only other person currently on the bridge.
“Sir,” Morrow said, “there’s still one problem.”
“Ah, yes, the wheel is still not responding.”
“It turns freely, even at anchor. It should not.”
“I am aware of that, helmsman. You might instead tell me what you believe the problem is.”
“I saw this once before. The linkage to the rudder was broken.”
“Go below, get a crew together and find our what is wrong as quickly as possible.”
Morrow scurried out, leaving the Admiral alone on the bridge.
The engine room crew made an all-out effort and got the engines back in running shape in just over two hours. The weather continued to hold, with the seas unexpectedly calm and the winds light.
The Admiral felt the satisfactory thrum and vibration of the engines once more.
One of the crew chefs, an ensign named Richards, entered the bridge and saluted.
“Sir, we found the problem with the rudder.”
“Well, man, what is it?”
“Well, sir … “
“Out with it! We have little time!”
“It … well, sir, there’s been sabotage. It appears that the linkage has been cut with an axe.”
“Sabotage? How could …”
A sudden thought struck the Admiral but he held it.
“Sir, it was devilish. It looks as though the linkage was only partially cut, so that it would continue to operate normally until there was great stress.”
“Such as here, rounding Cape Horn.”
Calculated to ensure the destruction of the ship and the death of all aboard. And that still could happen.
“We have spare linkage, sir, but it would take several days to replace the old.”
“We haven’t got several days. We may not even have very many hours. The weather might turn at any moment. What can you do quickly?
“Well, sir, we might be able to make a coupling, but it won’t last.”
“Do it. Permanent repairs must wait until we are safely into the Pacific.”
“Aye aye, sir.”
Another hour passed, and still the weather held. But the Admiral noticed dark clouds on the horizon.
The First Mate and the helmsman were back on the bridge. “What is the status of the helm, Mr. Morrow?”
“The crew says we can try it out and see if the repair holds.”
“Never mind. Engines ahead half. Another storm approaches.”
“But sir …”
“The repair holds or it does not hold. The only certainty is that the weather will quickly close in on us.”
Orders were transmitted and the sound of the engines were soon heard.
“If the engines are stable, then all ahead full. Helmsman, steer as little and as gently as possible. Do you have a bearing?”
“I believe so, sir.”
“Never mind your beliefs. I need you to get us safely away, nothing more nor less.”
The Sovereign started to move, even as the wind increased ever so slightly, and the sky darkened just a little.
“The helm is responding, sir, but it feels … a little different.”
“It will have to do.”
The waves were still small, but picking up in height.
“How long through the passage, Mr. O’Connor?”
“Hard to say sir, maybe an hour, maybe three.”
They had been sailing at full speed for about two hours and the weather had now deteriorated seriously. The ship was once again being tossed about and rain blew sideways in sheets. It was still day, but the skies were dark grey and visibility was almost nil.
“The helm is slow responding, sir,” said Morrow. “I don’t think the repair will hold for much longer.”
But then the currents eased and they knew they were through the passage. The seas began to calm and they were sailing out of the storm.
“I’ve lost the helm, sir,” Morrow said.
It didn’t matter. The Sovereign was out of danger.
Even without steering they were able to get safely away from Cape Horn and into the placid waters of the Pacific. They cut the engines again and lay at rest for two days while proper repairs were made to the helm linkage.
The Admiral was not happy about the delay, but there was little to be done. He and O’Connor discussed the matter one evening after dinner in the Admiral’s cabin.
“It was surely that fellow who called himself Monticello, the one with the forged orders. He came on board to inflict his fiendish sabotage.”
“Why do you suppose the real First Mate never returned from shore leave?”
“I fear the worst,” the Admiral said. “There is something afoot that is monstrously foul.” He hadn’t confided the contents of the ambassador’s despatches to anyone on the ship, nor had he mentioned what he now saw as an attempt to murder him.
Whatever was happening, it had a long and deadly reach. Someone didn’t want him to reach Hawai`i, didn’t want him looking into events there, and they were willing to sink a ship and cause the deaths of an entire crew to gain their objective.
Paulie was groggy the next morning. How long had she stayed up reading that book? She saw it lying on the floor next to her bed. She must have fallen asleep and dropped it—
Don’t pick it up, a warning voice in her mind told her, but she shook it off and reached out—
She drew her hand back, startled. Was she going crazy?
Yes, best leave the book for now, though it was so tempting …
Better to get going. She peeked through her bedroom window. The snow had stopped and it was a cold, sunny, crystal clear day, as so often was the case after a major winter storm.
Some tea first. She was in the mood of an English Breakfast and brewed up a strong pot. It helped. She felt some energy returning.
Time to go to the shop. Tea Trader would reopen today and she needed to be there.
As she dressed she took one last look at the book, still on the floor where it had fallen.
The buses were slow and Paulie arrived about fifteen minutes after the shop opened. Ted was already there, making sure the heating was working and everything was in good order.
To Paulie’s surprise, there was someone with him, a younger woman, tall and slim, whom she had never before seen.
“Good morning, Ted,” Paulie said, but looking at the woman instead.
“Glad you survived the storm!” Ted replied. “But I have good news for you! I’ve got some additional help, and that should really cut down on all the extra hours you’ve had to put in.”
Ted looked at the tall woman and smiled.
“Paulie, meet your new assistant. Her name is Kate.”
Kate offered her hand, smiling. But something didn’t seem quite right to Paulie.
She took Kate’s hand. It was cold. Paulie snatched her own hand back, looking at it, expecting to see — what?
“Something wrong, Paulie?” Kate asked.
“No … I just … never mind. Pleased to meet you.”
“And I’m just as pleased to meet you.”
To be continued on or about February 21, 2020.
Paulie decided on an English Breakfast for this morning. It’s the beloved get-me-up for a cold day. This tea has been many things in tea’s long history; Tea Trader blends a full colored, brisk, strong blend of Ceylon and Indian small leaf teas.
This tea is blended on Tea Trader’s behalf by their London supplier of 150 years standing. who better to blend the true tea of Britain?