A collision imminent.
A large, handsome steamer was the “Empire State,” of the line which ran between Newport and New York. She was painted white, had walking-beam engines, and ornamented paddle-boxes, and had been known to run nearly twenty knots in an hour. On the evening of the twenty-seventh of May, in the year of which we write, she left her Newport dock as usual, with a full list of passengers. On getting out of the harbor, she steamed into a bank of solid fog, and only got out of it the next morning, just before passing Hellgate, at the head of East River, New York. On the passage down Long Island Sound she met with an accident. She ran into the schooner Resurrection, which was lying becalmed across her course, carrying away most of the schooner’s bowsprit, but doing no serious damage. This, however, was not the worst. On arriving in New York, it was found that one of the passengers was missing! He had fallen overboard during the night, possibly at the time of the collision.
Balder Halwyse was on board. After dining with the cook, and smoking a real Havana cigar (probably the first real one that he had ever been blessed with), he put a package of the same brand in his travelling-bag, bade his entertainer,—who had solemnly engaged to remain in Boston for Mr. Helwyse’s sole sake,—bade his fellow-convivialist good by, and took the train to Newport, and from there the “Empire State” for New York.
The darkness was the most impenetrable that the young man had ever seen; Long Island Sound was like a pocket. The passengers—those who did not go to their state-rooms at once—sat in the cabin reading, or dozing on the chairs and sofas. A few men stayed out on deck for an hour or two, smoking; but at last they too went in. The darkness was appalling. The officer on the bridge blew his steam fog-whistle every few minutes, and kept his lanterns hung out; but they must have been invisible at sixty yards.
Helwyse kept the deck alone. Apparently he meant to smoke his whole bundle of cigars before turning in. He paced up and down, Napoleon-like in his high boots, until finally he was brought to a stand by the blind night-wall, which no man can either scale or circumvent. Then he leaned on the railing and looked against the darkness. Not a light to be seen in heaven or on earth! The water below whispered and swirled past, torn to soft fragments by the gigantic paddle-wheel. Helwyse’s beard was wet and his hands sticky with the salt mist.
Ever and anon sounded the fog-whistle, hoarsely, as though the fog had got in its throat; and the pale glare of a lantern, fastened aloft somewhere, lighted up the white issuing steam for a moment. There was no wind; one was conscious of motion, but all sense of direction and position—save to the steersman—was lost. Helwyse could see the red end of his cigar, and very cosey and friendly it looked; but he could see nothing else.