AFTER the rescue of the woman, all but those on duty had mustered forward near the bridge, Jenkins with a pair of binoculars to his eyes inspecting a receding steamer on the horizon, the others passing comments. All had agreed that she was a merchant craft—the first they had met at close quarters—but not all were agreed that she carried no wireless equipment. Jenkins, even with the glasses, could not be sure, but he was sure of one thing, he asserted. Even though the steamer had recognized and reported their position, it made little difference.
“Well,” said Forsythe, “if she can report us, why can’t we? Why can’t we fake a report—send out a message that we’ve been seen a thousand miles north?”
“That’s a good idea,” said Casey, the wireless man off duty. “We needn’t give any name—only a jumble of letters that spell nothing.”
“How far can you send with what you’ve got?” asked Jenkins.
“With those aërials,” answered Casey, glancing aloft at the long gridiron of wires, “about fifty miles.”
“Not much good, I’m afraid,” said Jenkins. “Lord knows where we are, but we’re more than fifty miles from land.”
“That as far as you can reason?” broke in Forsythe. “Jenkins, you’re handy at a knockdown, but if you can’t use what brain you’ve got, you’d better resign command here. I don’t know who elected you, anyhow.”
“Are you looking for more, Forsythe?” asked Jenkins, taking a step toward him. “If you are, you can have it. If not, get down to your studies, and find out where this craft is, so we can get somewhere.”
Forsythe, hiding his emotions under a forced grin, retreated toward the fore-hatch.
“I can give you the latitude,” he said, before descending, “by a meridian observation this noon. I picked up the method in one lesson this morning. But I tell you fellows, I’m tired of getting knocked down.”
Jenkins watched him descend, then said to Casey: “Fake up a message claiming to be from some ship with a jumbled name, as you say, and be ready to send it if he gets our position.”
“Then you think well of it?”
“Certainly. Forsythe has brains. The only trouble with him is that he wants to run things too much.”
Casey, a smooth-faced, keen-eyed Irish-American, descended to consult with his confrère, Munson; and Forsythe appeared, swinging a book. Laying this on the bridge stairs, he passed Jenkins and walked aft.
“Where are you going?” asked the latter.
Forsythe turned, white with rage, and answered slowly and softly:
“Down to the officers’ quarters to get a sextant or a quadrant. I found that book on navigation in the pilot-house, but I need the instrument, and a nautical almanac. That is as far as my studies have progressed.”
“You stay out of the officers’ quarters,” said Jenkins. “There’s a man there who’ll eat you alive if you show yourself. You want a sextant and nautical almanac. Anything else?”
“That is all.”
“I’ll get them, and, remember, you and the rest are to stay away from the after end of the boat.”
Forsythe made no answer as Jenkins passed him on the way aft, but muttered: “Eat me alive? We’ll see.”
Riley, one of the machinists, appeared from the engine-room hatch and came forward, halting before Forsythe.
“Say,” he grumbled, “what call has that big lobster to bullyrag this crowd the way he’s been doin’? I heard him just now givin’ you hell, and he gave me hell yesterday when I spoke of the short oil.”
“Short oil?” queried Forsythe. “Do you mean that——”
“I mean that the oil won’t last but a day longer. We’ve been storming along at forty knots, and eating up oil. What’ll we do?”
“God knows,” answered Forsythe, reflectively. “Without oil, we stop—in mid-ocean. What then?”
“What then?” queried Riley. “Well, before then we must hold up some craft and get the oil—also grub and water, if I guess right. This bunch is hard on the commissary.”
“Riley,” said Forsythe, impressively, “will you stand by me?”
“Yes; if you can bring that big chump to terms.”
“All right. Talk to your partners. Something must be done—and he can’t do it. Wait a little.”
As though to verify Riley and uphold him in his contention, Daniels, the cook, came forward from the galley, and said: “Just about one week’s whack o’ grub and water left. We’ll have to go on an allowance.” Then he passed on, but was called back.
“One week’s grub left?” asked Forsythe. “Sure o’ that, Daniels?”
“Surest thing you know. Plenty o’ beans and hard-tack; but who wants beans and hard-tack?”
“Have you spoken to Jenkins about it?”
“No, but we meant to. Something’s got to be done. Where is he now?”
“Down aft,” said Forsythe, reflectively. “What’s keeping him?”
Riley sank into the engine room, and Daniels went forward to the forecastle, reappearing before Forsythe had reached a conclusion.
“Come aft with me, Daniels,” he said. “Let’s find out what’s doing.”
Together they crept aft, and peered down the wardroom skylight. They saw Denman and Jenkins locked in furious embrace, and watched while Jenkins sank down, helpless and impotent. They saw Denman bind him, disappear from sight, and reappear with the irons, then they listened to his parting lecture to Jenkins.
“Come,” said Forsythe, “down below with us, quick.”
They descended the galley companion, from which a passage led aft to the petty officers’ quarters, which included the armroom, and thence to the forward door of the wardroom. Here they halted, and listened to Denman’s movements while he armed himself and climbed the companion stairs. They could also see through the keyhole.
“He’s heeled!” cried Forsythe. “Where did he get the guns?”
“Where’s the armroom? Hereabouts somewhere. Where is it?”
They hurriedly searched, and found the armroom; it contained cumbersome rifles, cutlasses, and war heads, but no pistols.
“He’s removed them all. Can we break in that door?” asked Forsythe, rushing toward the bulkhead.
“No, hold on,” said Daniels. “We’ll watch from the companion, and when he’s forward we’ll sneak down the other, and heel ourselves.”
So, while Denman crept up and walked forward, glancing right and left, the two watched him from the galley hatch, and, after he had bound the two engineers and the helmsman, they slipped aft and descended the wardroom stairs. Here they looked at Jenkins, vainly trying to speak, but ignored him for the present.
They hurried through the quarters, and finally found Denman’s room with its arsenal of loaded revolvers. They belted and armed themselves, and carefully climbed the steps just in time to see Denman drive the forecastle contingent to the deck. Then Forsythe, taking careful aim, sent the bullet which knocked Denman unconscious to the deck.