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"Against Orders"
by [?]

“Here comes Captain Bogart–we’ll ask him,” said the talkative man.

His listeners were grouped about one of the small tables in the smoking-room of the Moldavia, five days out. The question was when the master of a vessel should leave his ship. In the incident discussed every man had gone ashore–even the life-saving crew had given her up: the master had stuck to his post.

The captain listened gravely.

“Yes–if there’s one chance in a thousand of saving her. Regulations are pretty plain; can’t forget ’em unless you want to,” and he walked on.

That night at dinner I received a message to come to the captain’s cabin. He had some coffee that an old Brazilian had sent him. His steward hailed from Rio, and knew how to grind and boil it.

Over the making the talk veered to the inquiry in the smoking-room.

“When ought a commander to abandon his ship, Captain?” I asked.

“When his passengers need him. Passengers first, ship next, are the orders. They’re clear and exact–can’t mistake ’em.”

“You speak as if you had had some experience.” A leaf from out the note-book of a live man doing live things is as refreshing as a bucket of cool water from a deep well.

“Experience! Been forty years at sea.”

“Some of them pretty exciting, I suppose.”

“Yes. Half a dozen of ’em.”

He emptied his cup, rose from his seat, and pushing back his chair, began pacing the floor, stepping into the connecting chart-room, bending for an instant over the map, and stepping back again, peering through the small window a-grime with the spray of a north-easter.

My question, I could see, had either revived some unpleasant memory or the anxiety due to the sudden shift of wind–it had been blowing south-west all day–had made him restless.

As my eyes followed his movements I began to realize the enormous size of the man. Walking the deck, head up, body erect, his broad shoulders pulled back, his round, solid girth tightly confined in his simple uniform, he looked the brawny, dominant, forceful commander that he was–big among the biggest passengers. Here, pacing the small cabin, his head almost touching the ceiling, his great frame filled the small narrow room as an elephant would fill a boudoir. Everything seemed too small for him–the table, even the chair which he had now regained, the tiny egg-shell cup which he was still grasping.

Looking closer–his head in full profile against the glow of the electric light–I caught the straight line of the ruddy, seamed neck–a bull’s neck in strength, a Greek athlete’s in refinement of line–sweeping up into the close-cropped, iron-gray hair. Then came the round of the head; the massive forehead, strong, straight nose; thin, compressed lips, moulded thin and kept compressed by a life of determined effort; square-cut chin and the iron jaw that held the lips and chin in place.

When he rose to his feet again I had another surprise. To my astonishment he was not a Colossus at all–not in pounds and inches. On the contrary, he was but little above the average size. What had impressed me had not been his bulk, but his reserve force. Tigers stretched out in cages produce this effect; so do powerful machines that dig, crunch, or pound–dormant until their life-steam sets them going.

The gale increased in violence. We got now the lift of the steamer’s bow, staggering under tons of water, and the whir of the screw in mid-air. The captain glanced at the barometer, drew his body to its full height, reached for his storm-coat, slipped it on, and was about to swing back the door opening on the deck, when the chirp of a canary rang through the room. At the sound he turned quickly and walked back to where the cage hung.

“Ho, little man!” he cried in the same tone of voice in which he would have addressed a child; “woke you up, did we? Sorry, old fellow; tuck your head down again and take another nap.”