DOWN the wardroom companion came Forsythe, followed by Sampson, who edged alongside of him as he peered into the after compartment, where Denman sat on the transom.
“What do you want down here with me?” asked Forsythe, in a snarl, as he looked sidewise at Sampson.
“To see that you act like a man,” answered the big machinist. “There’s a sick woman here.”
“And a more or less sick man,” answered Forsythe, “that if I hadn’t made sick would ha’ had you in irons. Get up on deck. All I want is a chronometer.”
“Under the circumstances,” rejoined Sampson, coolly, “though I acknowledge your authority as far as governing this crew is concerned, when it comes to a sick woman defended only by a wounded officer, I shift to the jurisdiction of the officer. If Lieutenant Denman asks that I go on deck, I will go. Otherwise, I remain.”
“Wait,” said Denman, weakly, for he had lost much blood. “Perhaps Forsythe need not be antagonized or coerced. Forsythe, do you remember a little girl at home named Florrie Fleming? Well, that woman is she. I appeal to whatever is left of your boyhood ideals to protect this woman, and care for her.”
“Yes, I remember her,” answered Forsythe, with a bitter smile. “She thought you were a little tin god on wheels, and told me after you’d gone that you’d come back and thrash me. You didn’t, did you?” His speech ended in a sneer.
“No, but I will when the time comes,” answered Denman; but the mental transition from pity to anger overcame him, and he sank back.
“Now, this is neither here nor there, Forsythe,” said Sampson, sternly. “You want a chronometer. When you get it, you’ve no more business here than I have, and I think you’d better use your authority like a man, or I’ll call a meeting of the boys.”
“Of course,” answered Forsythe, looking at the big shoulders of Sampson. “But, inasmuch as I knew this fellow from boyhood, and knew this little girl when a child, the best care I can give her is to remove this chap from her vicinity. We’ll put him down the fore peak, and let one o’ the cooks feed her and nurse her.”
“We’ll see about that on deck,” said Sampson, indignantly. “I’ll talk—”
“Yes,” broke in Denman, standing up. “Forsythe is right. It is not fitting that I should be here alone with her. Put me anywhere you like, but take care of her, as you are men and Americans.”
Forsythe made no answer, but Sampson gave Denman a troubled, doubtful look, then nodded, and followed Forsythe to the various rooms until he had secured what he wanted; then they went on deck together.
But in an hour they were back; and, though Denman had heard nothing of a conclave on deck, he judged by their faces that there had been one, and that Forsythe had been overruled by the influence of Sampson. For Sampson smiled and Forsythe scowled, as they led Denman into the wardroom to his own berth, and locked him in with the assurance that the cooks would feed him and attend to the wants of himself and the woman.
Billings soon came with arnica, plaster, and bandages, and roughly dressed his wound; but he gave him no information of their plans. However, Denman could still look out through a deadlight.
A few hours after the boat’s engines had started, he could see a steamer on the horizon, steering a course that would soon intercept that of the destroyer.
She was a one-funneled, two-masted craft, a tramp, possibly, a working boat surely; but he only learned when her striped funnel came to view that she belonged to a regular line. She made no effort to avoid them, but held on until within hailing distance, when he heard Forsythe’s voice from the bridge.
“Steamer ahoy!” he shouted. “What’s your cargo?”
“Oil,” answered a man on the steamer’s bridge. “What are you holding me up for?”
“Oil,” answered Forsythe. “How is it stowed—in cases, or in bulk?”
“In bulk, you doggoned fool.”
“Very good. We want some of that oil.”
“You do, hey? Who are you? You look like that runaway destroyer I’ve heard so much about. Who’s going to recompense the company for the oil you want? Hey? Where do I come in? Who pays the bill?”
“Send it to the United States Government, or send it to the devil. Pass a hose over the side, and dip your end into the tank.”
“Suppose I say no?”
“Then we’ll send a few shells into your water line.”
“Is that straight? Are you pirates that would sink a working craft?”
“As far as you are concerned we are. Pass over your hose, and stop talking about it. All we want is a little oil.”
“Will you give me a written receipt?”
“Of course. Name your bill. We’ll toss it up on a drift bolt. Pass over the hose.”
“All right. Hook on your own reducer and suck it full with your pump; then it will siphon down.”
“Got reducers, Sampson?”
“Got several. Guess we can start the flow.”
The two craft drew close together, a hose was flung from the tanker to the destroyer, and the four machinists worked for a while with wrenches and pump fittings until the connection was made; then they started the pump, filled the hose, and, disconnecting, dropped their end into the tanks.
The oil, by the force of gravity, flowed from one craft to the other until the gauges showed a full supply. Then a written receipt for one hundred and twenty-five tons of oil was signed by the leaders, tied to a piece of iron, and tossed aboard the tanker, and the two craft separated, the pirate heading south, as Denman could see by the telltale.
Denman, his wounded scalp easier, lay down in his berth and smoked while he thought out his plans. Obviously the men were pirates, fully committed; they would probably repeat the performance; and as obviously they would surely be caught in time. There was nothing that he could do, except to heal his wound and wait.
He could not even assist Miss Florrie, no matter what peril might menace her; then, as he remembered a bunch of duplicate keys given him when he joined as executive officer, he thought that perhaps he might. They were in his desk, and, rolling out, he secured them.
He tried them in turn on his door lock, and finally found the one that fitted. This he took off the ring and secured with his own bunch of keys, placing the others—which he easily surmised belonged to all the locking doors in the boat—in another pocket. Then he lay back to finish his smoke. But Sampson opened his door, and interrupted.
“You’ll excuse me, sir,” he began, while Denman peered critically at him through the smoke. “But I suppose you know what we’ve just done?”
“Yes,” he answered. “I could see a little and hear more. You’ve held up and robbed an oil steamer.”
“And is it piracy, sir, in the old sense—a hanging matter if we’re caught?”
“Hardly know,” said Denman, after a moment’s reflection. “Laws are repealed every now and then. Did you kill any one?”
“Well, I judge that a pirate at sea is about on the same plane as a burglar on shore. If he kills any one while committing a felony, he is guilty of murder in the first degree. Better not kill any fellow men, then you’ll only get a long term—perhaps for life—when you’re nabbed.”
“Thank you, Mr. Denman. They’re talking big things on deck, but—there’ll be no killing. Forsythe is something of a devil and will stop at nothing, but I’ll—”
“Pardon me,” said Denman, lazily, “he’ll stop at me if you release me.”
“Not yet, sir. It may be necessary, but at present we’re thinking of ourselves.”
“All right. But, tell me, how did you get a key to my door? How many keys are there?”
“Oh, from Billings, sir. Not with Forsythe’s knowledge, however. Billings, and some others, think no more of him than I do.”
“That’s right,” responded Denman. “I knew him at school. Look out for him. By the way, is the lady aft being attended to?”
“Yes, sir. Daniels, the other cook, brings her what she needs. She is not locked up, though.”
“That’s good. Give her the run of the deck, and take care of her.”
“Yes, sir, we will,” answered Sampson, as respectfully as though it were a legitimate order—for force of habit is strong. Then he left the room, locking the door behind him.
Denman smoked until he had finished the cigar, and, after he had eaten a supper brought by Billings, he smoked again until darkness closed down. And with the closing down of darkness came a plan.