“BEAUTIFUL gunnery!” said Bubonovitch. “The poor sap doesn’t even know the range of his gun.”
“Itchy fingers probably,” said Douglas.
“I doubt that the little admirals put their top gunnery officers aboard little merchantmen,” said Jerry; “so maybe our luck is holding.”
The proa was barely making headway now, as it rose and fell on long swells. The forefoot of the oncoming ship plowed through the deep blue of the ocean, turning up white water, as the mold board of a plow turns up the rich loam of a field.
Again the Jap fired. This shell fell wide, but not so short. Jerry and Corrie were sitting close together, one of his hands covering one of hers. “I guess van Prins was right,” said Jerry. “He said we were crazy. I shouldn’t have brought you along, darling.”
“I wouldn’t have it otherwise,” said Corrie. “We’ve had this much time together, that we wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t come with you. I’ve never had a chance to say ‘for better or for worse,’ but it has been in my heart always.”
He leaned closer to her. “Do you, Corrie, take this man to be your wedded husband?”
“I do,” said Corrie, very softly. “Do you, Jerry, take this woman to be your wedded wife, to cherish and protect until death do you part?”
“I do,” said Jerry, a little huskily. He slipped the class ring from his finger and on to Corrie’s ring finger. “With this ring I do thee wed, and with all my worldly goods endow.” Then he kissed her.
“I think,” said Corrie, “that as far as the service is concerned our memories were a little lame; but we had the general idea at least. And I feel very much married, sweetheart.”
A near miss deluged them with water. They did not seem to notice it.
“My wife,” said Jerry. “So young, so beautiful.”
“’Wife!’,” repeated Corrie.
“The guy’s gettin’ closer,” said Rosetti.
The fin of a shark cut the water between the proa and the Jap. Little Keta watched it, fortunately unaware of what it might portend. Tarzan raised the sights on his rifle and fired at the figures lining the rail of the Jap. The others followed his example, and presently ten rifles were blazing away. If they accomplished nothing else, they emptied the rail of sightseers and caused much confusion aboard the merchantman. Yes, they accomplished one more thing: They spurred the anti-aircraft gunners into frenzied activity. Shell bursts dotted the ocean.
“If their ammo holds out,” said Rosetti, “they got to hit us just accidentally. Geeze! what lousy shootin’!”
At last it came, as they knew it must—a direct hit. Jerry saw half of Sing Tai’s body hurled fifty feet into the air. Tak van der Bos’s right leg was torn off. The entire company was thrown into the ocean; then the Jap moved in and commenced to machine gun them as they swam about or clung to pieces of the wreckage. The aim of the gunners was execrable, but again they knew that this was the end of the Foreign Legion—that eventually some of those hundreds of whining bullets would find them all.
Bubonovitch and Douglas were holding up van der Bos, who had fainted. Jerry was trying to keep between Corrie and the machine guns. Suddenly something commenced to drag van der Bos down. One of Bubonovitch’s feet struck a solid body moving beneath. “Migawd!” he yelled. “A shark’s got Tak.” Bullets were ricocheting off the water all around them.
Tarzan, who had been thrown some distance by the shell burst, was swimming toward Bubonovitch and Douglas when he heard the former’s warning. Diving quickly beneath the surface, he drew his knife. A few swift, strong strokes brought him close to the shark. A mighty surge of his knife arm ripped open the belly of the huge fish, disembowling it. It released its hold on van der Bos and turned on Tarzan, but the man eluded its jaws and struck again and again with his knife.
The water was red with blood as another shark darted in and attacked its fellow. The first shark swam sluggishly away while the other bit and tore at it. For the moment the survivors were freed from one menace, but the bullets still pinged close.
With Tarzan’s help, Bubonovitch and Douglas got van der Bos to a large piece of wreckage—one of the outrigger floats. Tarzan tore a strip from what remained of van der Bos’s trousers, and while he and Douglas held the man on the float, Bubonovitch applied a tourniquet. Tak still breathed, but fortunately he was unconscious.
Bubonovitch shook his head. “He ain’t got a chance,” he said. “But then, neither have we.”
“The sharks are going to have plenty good feeding today,” said Douglas. They were all looking at the Jap ship. Again the rail was lined with bandy legged little men. Some of them were firing pistols at the people in the water. Keta, perched on a piece of wreckage, scolded and threatened.
There was a terriffic detonation. A great fan shaped burst of flame shot hundreds of feet into the air from amidships of the merchantman, and a pillar of smoke rose hundreds of feet higher. A second explosion followed and the ship broke in two, the bow hurled almost clear of the water. The two halves sunk almost immediately, leaving a few scorched and screaming creatures struggling in burning oil.
For a few moments the survivors of the proa looked on in stunned silence, which was broken by Rosetti. “I knew She’d hear me,” he said. “She ain’t ever failed me yet.”
“She’ll have to pull a real miracle yet to get us out of the middle of the Indian Ocean before we drown or the sharks get us,” said Jerry.
“Pray like hell, Shrimp,” said Bubonovitch.
“Don’t think I ain’t, brother,” said Rosetti.
“Look! Look!” shouted Corrie, pointing.
Three hundred yards beyond the burning oil a submarine was surfacing. The Union Jack was painted on the side of its conning tower.
“There’s your miracle, Cap’n,” said Rosetti. “She ain’t ever failed me yet. I mean in a real pinch.”
“What do you think of the British now, sergeant?” asked Tarzan, smiling.
“I love ’em,” said Rosetti.
The sub circled to windward of the burning oil and drew alongside the wreckage of the proa. The hatch spewed men to haul the castaways aboard. Tarzan and Bubonovitch passed van der Bos up first. He died as they laid him gently on the deck.
Corrie and Sarina followed, and then the men. Lt. Cmdr. Bolton, skipper of the sub, was full of amazement and questions. Corrie knelt beside van der Bos’s body, trying to hold back the teers. Jerry joined her.
“Poor Tak,” she said.
They did not take him below. He was buried at sea, Bolton reading the burial service. Then they all went below for dry clothing and hot coffee, and presently the sorrow and depression seemed less, for they were all young and they had all seen much of death.
When Bolton heard their story, he said, “Well, you have certainly played in luck from the start; but my happening to be right where I was when you needed me is little short of a miracle.”
“It hasn’t been luck, sir,” said Rosetti. “It’s been Holy Mary, Mother of Jesus from start to finish, including the miracle.”
“I can well believe it,” said Bolton, “for none of you has any business being alive now, by all the laws of chance. Nothing but divine intervention could have preserved you. It even arranged that I saved my last two fish for that Jap. You really should all be dead.”
“Mary certainly helped in a pinch,” said Jerry, “but if Tarzan hadn’t been on the job all the time, pinch hitting for her, we’d have been sunk months ago.”
“Well,” said Bolton, “I think you won’t have to call on either Mary or Tarzan from now on. I’m ordered to Sydney, and it won’t be so long now before you can sit down in Ushers Hotel with a steak and kidney pie in front of you.”
“And drink warm beer,” said Bubonovitch.
Later that evening Jerry and Rosetti approached Bolton. “Captain,” said the former, “are you authorized to perform marriage ceremonies at sea?”
“I certainly am.”
“Then you got two jobs right now, skipper,” said Rosetti.