SEAMEN, officers as well as men, accustomed to “watch and watch,” of four hours’ alternate duty and sleep, usually waken at eight bells, even when sure of an all night’s sleep. It was long after midnight when Denman had gone to sleep on the pantry floor, and the slight noise of getting under way did not arouse him; but when eight bells came around again, he sat up, confused, not conscious that he had been called, but dimly realizing that the boat was at sea, and that he was culpable in not being on deck.
The crew had come, no doubt, and he had over-slept. He did not immediately realize that it was still dark, and that if the crew had come the steward would have found him.
He dressed hurriedly in his room, and went on deck, spying a fleeing man in brown mounting the steps ahead of him, and looked around. Astern was a fog bank, and ahead the open sea, toward which the boat was charging at full speed. As he looked, a man came aft and faced him. Denman expected that he would step aside while he passed, but he did not; instead he blocked his way.
“Are you an officer of this boat, sir?” asked the man, respectfully.
“I am. What do you want?”
“Only to tell you, sir, that she is not now under the control of the Navy Department. My name is Jenkins, and with twelve others I escaped from the prison to-night, and took charge of this boat for a while. We did not know you were on board.”
Denman started back and felt for his pocket pistol, but it was in his room. However, Jenkins had noticed the movement, and immediately sprang upon him, bearing him against the nearest ventilator, and pinioning his arms to his side.
“None o’ that, sir,” said the giant, sternly. “Are there any others on board besides yourself?”
“Not that I know of,” answered Denman, with forced calmness. “The crew had not joined when I went to sleep. What do you intend to do with me?”
He had seen man after man approach from forward, and now a listening group surrounded him.
“That’s for you to decide, sir. If you will renounce your official position, we will put you on parole; if you will not, you will be confined below decks until we are ready to leave this craft. All we want is our liberty.”
“How do you intend to get it? Every warship in the world will chase this boat.”
“There is not a craft in the world that can catch her,” rejoined Jenkins; “but that is beside the point. Will you go on parole, sir, or in irons?”
“How many are there in this party?”
“Thirteen—all told; and that, too, is beside the point. Answer quickly, sir. I am needed at the wheel.”
“I accept your offer,” said Denman, “because I want fresh air, and nothing will be gained in honor and integrity in my resisting you. However, I shall not assist you in any way. Even if I see you going to destruction, I shall not warn you.”
“That is enough, sir,” answered Jenkins. “You give your word of honor, do you, as an American naval officer, not to interfere with the working of this boat or the movements of her crew until after we have left her?”
“I give you my word,” said the young officer, not without some misgivings. “You seem to be in command. What shall I call you?”
“Herbert Jenkins, seaman gunner.”
“Captain Jenkins,” growled a man, and others repeated it.
“Captain Jenkins,” responded Denman, “I greet you cordially. My name is William Denman, ensign in the United States Navy, and formally executive officer of this boat.”
A suppressed exclamation came from the group; a man stepped forward, peered closely into Denman’s face, and stepped back.
“None o’ that, Forsythe,” said Jenkins, sternly. “We’re all to treat Mr. Denman with respect. Now, you fellows, step forward, and introduce yourselves. I know only a few of you by name.”
Jenkins went to the wheel, picked up the buoys played upon by the searchlights, and sent the man to join the others, as one after another faced Denman and gave his name.
“Guess you know me, Mr. Denman,” said Forsythe, the first to respond.
“I know you, Forsythe,” answered Denman, hot and ashamed; for at the sight and sound of him the old heart jump and throat ache had returned. He fought it down, however, and listened to the names as the men gave them: William Hawkes, seaman; George Davis, seaman; John Kelly, gunner’s mate; Percy Daniels, ship’s cook, and Thomas Billings, wardroom steward.
John Casey and Frank Munson, they explained, were at the searchlights forward; and down below were the four machinists, Riley, Sampson, King, and Dwyer.
Denman politely bowed his acknowledgments, and asked the ratings of the searchlight men.
“Wireless operators,” they answered.
“You seem well-equipped and well-chosen men,” he said, “to run this boat, and to lead the government a lively dance for a while. But until the end comes, I hope we will get on together without friction.”
In the absence of the masterful Jenkins, they made embarrassed replies—all but Forsythe, who remained silent. For no sudden upheaval and reversing of relations will eliminate the enlisted man’s respect for an officer.
Daylight had come, and Jenkins, having cleared the last of the buoys, called down the men at the searchlights.
“You’re wireless sharps, aren’t you?” he asked. “Go down to the apparatus, and see if you can pick up any messages. The whole coast must be aroused.”
The two obeyed him, and went in search of the wireless room. Soon one returned. “The air’s full o’ talk,” he said. “Casey’s at the receiver, still listening, but I made out only a few words like ‘Charleston,’ ‘Brooklyn,’ ‘jail,’ ‘pirates,’ ‘Pensacola,’ and one phrasing ‘Send in pursuit.’”
“The open sea for us,” said Jenkins, grimly, “until we can think out a plan. Send one of those sogers to the wheel.”
A “soger”—one who, so far, had done no work—relieved him, and he mustered his men, all but two in the engine room, to a council amidships. Briefly he stated the situation, as hinted at by Denman and verified by the wireless messages. Every nation in the world would send its cruisers after them, and no civilized country would receive them.
There was but one thing to do under the circumstances—make for the wild coast of Africa, destroy the boat, and land, each man to work out his future as he could.
After a little parley they assented, taking no thought of fuel or food, and trusting to Jenkins’ power to navigate. Then, it being broad daylight, they raided the boat’s stores for clothing, and discarded their prison suits of brown for the blue of the navy—Jenkins, the logical commander, donning the uniform of the captain, as large a man as himself.
Next they chose their bunks in the forecastle, and, as they left it for the deck, Jenkins picked up a bright object from the floor, and absently put it in his trousers pocket.