TOSSING his cigar through the opened deadlight, Denman arose and unlocked his door, passing into the small and empty wardroom. First, he tried the forward door leading into the petty officers’ quarters and to the armroom, and, finding it locked, sought for the key which opened it, and passed through, closing the door softly behind him.
Farther forward he could hear the voice of Billings, singing cheerfully to himself in the galley; and, filtering through the galley hatch and open deadlights, the voice of Forsythe, uttering angry commands to some one on deck.
He had no personal design upon Billings, nor at present upon Forsythe, so he searched the armroom. As Forsythe and Daniels had found, there was nothing there more formidable than cutlasses, rifles, and torpedo heads; the pistols had been removed to some other place. So Denman went back and searched the wardroom, delving into closets and receptacles looking for arms; but he found none, and sat down on a chair to think. Presently he arose and tapped on the glazed glass door of the captain’s apartment.
“Florrie,” he said, in a half whisper. “Florrie, are you awake?”
There was no answer for a moment; then he saw a shadow move across the door.
“Florrie,” he repeated, “are you awake?”
“Who is this?” came an answering whisper through the door.
“Denman—Billie Denman,” he answered. “If you are awake and clothed, let me in. I have a key, and I want to talk with you.”
“All right—yes. Come in. But—I have no key, and the door is locked.”
Denman quickly found the key and opened the door. She stood there, with her face still tied up in cloths, and only her gray eyes showing in the light from the electric bulbs of the room.
“Florrie,” he said, “will you do your part toward helping us out of our present trouble?”
“I’ll do what I can, Billie; but I cannot do much.”
“You can do a lot,” he responded. “Just get up on deck, with your face tied up, and walk around. Speak to any man you meet, and go forward to the bridge. Ask any one you see, any question you like, as to where we are going, or what is to be done with us—anything at all which will justify your presence on deck. Just let them see that you are on deck, and will be on deck again. Will you, Florrie?”
“My face is still very bad, Billie; and the wind cuts like a knife. Why must I go up among those men?”
“I’ll tell you afterward. Go along, Florrie. Just show yourself, and come down.”
“I am in the dark. Why do you not tell me what is ahead? I would rather stay here and go to bed.”
“You can go to bed in ten minutes,” said Denman. “But go up first and show yourself, and come down. I will do the rest.”
“Well, Billie, I will. I do not like to, but you seem to have some plan which you do not tell me of, so—well, all right. I will go up.”
She put on a cloak and ascended the companion stairs, and Denman sat down to wait. He heard nothing, not even a voice of congratulation, and after a few moments Florrie came down.
“I met them all,” she said, “and they were civil and polite. What more do you want of me, Billie?”
“Your cloak, your hat, and your skirt. I will furnish the bandage.”
“Exactly. I will go up, dressed like you, and catch them unawares, one by one.”
“But, Billie, they will kill you, or—hurt you. Don’t do it, Billie.”
“Now, here, Florrie girl,” he answered firmly. “I’ll go into the wardroom, and you toss in the materials for my disguise. Then you go to bed. If I get into trouble they will return the clothes.”
“But suppose they kill you! I will be at their mercy. Billie, I am alone here without you.”
“Florrie, they are sailors; that means that they are men. If I win, you are all right, of course. Now let me have the things. I want to get command of this boat.”
“Take them, Billie; but return to me and tell me. Don’t leave me in suspense.”
“I won’t. I’ll report, Florrie. Just wait and be patient.”
He passed into the wardroom, and soon the skirt, hat, and cloak were thrown to him. He had some trouble in donning the garments; for, while the length of the skirt did not matter, the width certainly did, and he must needs piece out the waistband with a length of string, ruthlessly punching holes to receive it. The cloak was a tight squeeze for his broader shoulders, but he managed it; and, after he had thoroughly masked his face with bandages, he tried the hat. There were hatpins sticking to it, which he knew the utility of; but, as she had furnished him nothing of her thick crown of hair, he jabbed these through the bandage, and surveyed himself in the skipper’s large mirror.
“Most ladylike,” he muttered, squinting through the bandages. Then he went on deck.
His plan had progressed no further than this—to be able to reach the deck unrecognized, so that he could watch, listen to the talk, and decide what he might do later on.
Billings still sang cheeringly in the galley, and the voices forward were more articulate; chiefly concerned, it seemed, with the replenishing of the water and food supply, and the necessity of Forsythe’s pursuing his studies so that they could know where they were. The talk ended by their driving their commander below; and, when the watches were set, Denman himself went down. He descended as he had come up, by the captain’s companion, reported his safety to Florrie through the partly opened stateroom door, and also requested that, each night as she retired, she should toss the hat, cloak, and skirt into the wardroom. To this she agreed, and he discarded the uncomfortable rig and went to his room, locking the captain’s door behind him, also his own.
His plan had not progressed. He had only found a way to see things from the deck instead of through a deadlight; and he went to sleep with the troubled thought that, even though he should master them all, as he had once nearly succeeded in doing, he would need to release them in order that they should “work ship.” To put them on parole was out of the question.
The sudden stopping of the turbines woke him in the morning, and the sun shining into his deadlight apprised him that he had slept late. He looked out and ahead, and saw a large, white steam yacht resting quietly on the rolling ground swell, apparently waiting for the destroyer to creep up to her.
“Another holdup,” he said; “and for grub and water this time, I suppose.”
Wishing to see this from the deck, he rushed aft to the captain’s room and tapped on the door, meanwhile fumbling for his keys. There was no answer, and, tapping again, he opened the door and entered.
“Florrie,” he called, in a whisper, “are you awake?”
She did not reply, but he heard Sampson’s voice from the deck.
“This is your chance, miss,” he said. “We’re going to get stores from that yacht; but no doubt she’ll take you on board.”
“Is she bound to New York, or some port where I may reach friends?” asked the girl.
“No; bound to the Mediterranean.”
“Will you release Mr. Denman as well?”
“No. I’m pretty sure the boys will not. He knows our plans, and is a naval officer, you see, with a strong interest in landing us. Once on shore, he would have every warship in the world after us.”
“Then I stay here with Mr. Denman. He is wounded, and is my friend.”
Denman was on the point of calling up—to insist that she leave the yacht; but he thought, in time, that it would reveal his position, and leave him more helpless, while, perhaps, she might still refuse to go. He heard Sampson’s footsteps going forward, and called to her softly; but she, too, had moved forward, and he went back to his deadlight.
It was a repetition of the scene with the oil steamer. Forsythe, loudly and profanely announcing their wants, and calling the yacht’s attention to two twelve-pounders aimed at her water line. She was of the standard type, clipper-bowed, square-sterned, with one funnel and two masts; and from the trucks of these masts stretched the three-wire grid of a wireless outfit.
Forward was a crowd of blue-clad sailors, on the bridge an officer and a helmsman, and aft, on the fantail, a number of guests; while amidships, conversing earnestly, were two men, whose dress indicated that they were the owner and sailing master.
In the door of a small deck house near them stood another man in uniform, and to this man the owner turned and spoke a few words. The man disappeared inside, and Denman, straining his ears, heard the rasping sound of a wireless “sender,” and simultaneously Casey’s warning shout to Forsythe:
“He’s calling for help, Forsythe. Stop him.”
Then came Forsythe’s vibrant voice.
“Call that man out of the wireless room,” he yelled, “or we’ll send a shell into it. Train that gun, Kelly, and stand by for the word. Call him out,” he continued. “Stop that message.”
The rasping sound ceased, and the operator appeared; then, with their eyes distended, the three ran forward.
“Any one else in that deck house?” called Forsythe.
“No,” answered the sailing master. “What are you going to do?”
“Kelly,” said Forsythe, “aim low, and send a shell into the house. Aim low, so as to smash the instruments.”
Kelly’s reply was inarticulate, but in a moment the gun barked, and the deck house disintegrated into a tangle of kindling from which oozed a cloud of smoke. Women screamed, and, forward and aft, the yacht’s people crowded toward the ends of the craft.
“What in thunder are you trying to do?” roared the sailing master, shaking his fist. “Are you going to sink us?”
“Not unless necessary,” replied Forsythe; “but we want grub—good grub, too—and water. We want water through your own hose, because ours is full of oil. Do you agree?”
There was a short confab between the owner and the sailing master, ending with the latter’s calling out: “We’ll give you water and grub, but don’t shoot any more hardware at us. Come closer and throw a heaving line, and send your boat, if you like, for the grub. Our boats are all lashed down.”
“That’s reasonable,” answered Forsythe. “Hawkes, Davis, Daniels, Billings—you fellows clear away that boat of ours, and stand by to go for the grub.”
The two craft drew together, and for the rest it was like the other holdup. The hose was passed, and, while the tanks were filling, the boat passed back and forth, making three trips, heavily laden with barrels, packages, and boxes. Then, when Forsythe gave the word, the hose was drawn back, the boat hoisted and secured, and the two craft separated without another word of threat or protest.