The Strange Adventures of Eric Blackburn
110 Pages
English

The Strange Adventures of Eric Blackburn

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Published 08 December 2010
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Language English
The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Strange Adventures of Eric Blackburn, by Harry Collingwood This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org Title: The Strange Adventures of Eric Blackburn Author: Harry Collingwood Illustrator: C.M. Padday, R.O.I. Release Date: April 13, 2007 [EBook #21058] Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1 *** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK ADVENTURES OF ERIC BLACKBURN *** Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England Harry Collingwood "The Strange Adventures of Eric Blackburn" Chapter One. The Catastrophe. It happened on our seventh night out from Cape Town, when we had accomplished about a third of the distance between that city and Melbourne. The ship was the Saturn, of the well-known Planet Line of combined freight and passenger steamers trading between London, Cape Town, and Melbourne; and I—Eric Blackburn, aged a trifle over twenty-three years—was her fourth officer. The Saturn was a brand-new ship, this being her maiden voyage. She was a twin-screw, of 9800 tons register, 100 A1 at Lloyd’s, steaming 14 knots; and she had accommodation for 432 passengers, of whom 84 were first class, 128 second class, and 220 steerage; and every berth was occupied, the steerage crowd consisting mostly of miners attracted to Australia by the rumour of a newly discovered goldfield of fabulous richness. The crew of the ship numbered, all told, 103; therefore, when the catastrophe occurred, the Saturn was responsible for the lives of 535 people, of whom about 120 were women and children. I was officer of the watch, and was therefore on the bridge when it happened, the time being shortly after six bells in the middle watch, or say about a quarter past three o’clock in the morning. The weather was fine, with so moderate a westerly wind blowing that the speed of the ship just balanced it, the smoke and sparks from the funnel rising straight up into the air when the firemen shovelled coal into the furnaces; and apart from the long westerly swell there was very little sea running. The motion of the ship was therefore very easy, just a slow roll of four or five degrees to port and starboard, and an equally slow, gentle rise and fall of the ship over the swell that followed us. The moon was only four days old, consequently she had set hours earlier, but the sky was cloudless, the air was clear, and the stars, shining brilliantly, afforded light enough to reveal a ship at a distance of quite three miles; it would be difficult, therefore, to imagine conditions of more apparently perfect safety than those at the moment prevailing aboard the Saturn. Yet destruction came upon us in a manner, and with a suddenness, that was absolutely appalling. I was pacing the bridge from one extremity to the other, keeping a sharp look-out ahead and all round the ship; and when, at the port end of my promenade, I wheeled on my return march, there was no sign that but a few minutes intervened between us and eternity. But as I approached the wheel-house I became aware of a sudden access of light in the sky behind me, illuminating the entire ship in a radiance that increased with incredible rapidity, while at the same moment a low humming sound became audible that also grew in volume as rapidly as the light. Wheeling sharply round, to ascertain the meaning of this strange phenomenon, I heard the helmsman ejaculate, through the open window of the wheelhouse: “Gosh! that’s a big ’un, and no mistake; the biggest I ever seen; and,”—on a note of sudden alarm—“it ain’t goin’ to fall so very far away from us, neither! D’ye see that big fireball, sir, headin’ this way?” As the man spoke I caught sight of the object to which he referred—and horror chilled me to the marrow; for never before, I verily believe, had mortal eyes beheld so awful an apparition. Broad over the port bow, at an elevation of some forty degrees above the horizon, I beheld a great white-hot flaming mass, emitting a long trail of brilliant sparks, coming straight for the ship. It was increasing in apparent size even as I gazed at it, dumb and paralysed with terror indescribable, while the sound of its passage through the air grew, in the course of a second or two, from a murmur to a deafening roar, and the light which it emitted became so dazzling that it nearly blinded me as I looked at it. As it came hurtling toward us it seemed to expand until it looked almost as big as the ship herself; but that was, of course, an optical illusion, for when, a second or two later, it struck us, I saw that the fiercely incandescent mass, of roughly spherical shape, was some twelve feet in diameter. It struck the ship aslant, on her port side, a few feet abaft the funnel and close to the waterline, passing through the engine-room and out through her bottom. There was no perceptible shock attending the blow, but the crash was terrific, while the smell of burning was almost suffocating—which is not to be wondered at, since the mass was blazing so fiercely that it set the ship on fire merely by passing through her. So intense was the heat of it that, as it passed through the ship’s bottom into the water, we instantly became enveloped in a dense cloud of hot, steamy vapour. A moment later it exploded under us, throwing up a cone of water that came near to swamping the ship. For a space of perhaps two seconds after the passage of the meteor through the ship’s hull the silence of the night continued, and then, as though in response to a signal, there arose such a dreadful outcry as I hope never to hear again; while the cabin doors were dashed open, and out from the cabins and the companion-ways streamed crowds of distracted men, women, and children, clad in their night gear, just as they had leapt from their berths, the men shouting to know what had happened, while the poor women and children rushed frantically hither and thither, jostling each other, wringing their hands, some weeping, some screaming hysterically, and some calling to children who had become separated from them in the seething crowd. The first man to run up against me was the skipper, who sprang out of his cabin