“FULLY committed,” muttered Denman, as he drew back from the deadlight. “They’ll stop at nothing now.”
He was about to open his door to visit Florrie, if she had descended, when it was opened from without by Billings, who had brought his breakfast.
“We’ll have better grub for a while, sir,” he said, as he deposited the tray on the desk. “Suppose you know what happened?”
“Yes, and I see life imprisonment for all of you, unless you are killed in the catching.”
“Can’t help it, sir,” answered Billings, with a deprecatory grin. “We’re not going back to jail, nor will we starve on the high seas. All we’re waiting for is the course to the African coast—unless—” He paused.
“Unless what?” demanded Denman, leaning over his breakfast.
“Well—unless the vote is to stay at sea. We’ve got a good, fast boat under us.”
“What do you mean? Continued piracy?”
“I can’t tell you any more, sir,” answered Billings, and he went off, after carefully locking the door behind him.
When Denman had finished his breakfast, he quietly let himself out. Tapping on the after door, he saw Florrie’s shadow on the translucent glass, and opened it.
She stood before him with the bandages removed, and he saw her features for the first time since she had come aboard. They were pink, and here and there was a blister that had not yet disappeared; but, even so handicapped, her face shone with a beauty that he had never seen in a woman nor imagined in the grown-up child that he remembered. The large, serious, gray eyes were the same; but the short, dark ringlets had developed to a wealth of hair that would have suitably crowned a queen.
Denman stood transfixed for a moment, then found his tongue.
“Florrie,” he said, softly, so as not to be heard from above, “is this really you? I wouldn’t have known you.”
“Yes, I know,” she answered, with a smile, which immediately changed to a little grimace of pain. “I was badly scalded, but I had to take off the cloth to eat my breakfast.”
“No,” he said. “I didn’t mean that. I mean you’ve improved so. Why, Florrie, you’ve grown up to be a beauty. I never imagined you—you—looking so fine.”
“Don’t talk like that, Billie Denman. I’m disfigured for life, I know. I can never show my face again.”
“Nonsense, Florrie. The redness will go away. But, tell me, why didn’t you go aboard that yacht? I overheard you talking to Sampson. Why didn’t you go, and get away from this bunch?”
“I have just told you,” she answered, while a tint overspread her pink face that did not come of the scalding. “There were women on that yacht. Do you think I want to be stared at, and pitied, and laughed at?”
“I never thought of that,” said Denman; “but I suppose it is a very vital reason for a woman. Yet, it’s too bad. This boat is sure to be captured, and there may be gun fire. It’s a bad place for you. But, Florrie—let me tell you. Did you see what came on board from the yacht?”
“Boxes, and barrels, and the water.”
“Yes, and some of those boxes contained whisky and brandy. Whisky and brandy make men forget that they are men. Have you a key for your door?”
“No; I never saw one.”
Denman tried his bunch of keys on the stateroom door until he found the right one. This he took off the ring and inserted in the lock.
“Lock your door every time you go in there,” he said, impressively; “and, Florrie, another thing—keep that pretty face of yours out of sight of these men. Go right in there now and replace the bandages. Then, after a while, about nine o’clock, go on deck for a walk around, and then let me have your rig. I want a daylight look at things.”
She acquiesced, and he went back to his room, locking himself in, just in time to escape the notice of Billings, who had come for the tray.
“Are you fellows going to deprive me of all exercise?” he demanded. “Even a man in irons is allowed to walk the deck a little.”
“Don’t know, sir,” answered Billings. “Forsythe is the man to talk to.”
“I’ll do more than talk to him,” growled Denman between his teeth. “Carry my request for exercise to him. Say that I demand the privileges of a convict.”
“Very good, sir,” answered Billings as he went out.
In a few moments he was back with the news that Forsythe had profanely denied the request. Whereat Denman’s heart hardened the more.
He remained quiet until two bells—nine o’clock—had struck, then went out and approached the after door, just in time to see Florrie’s shadow pass across the glass as she mounted the stairs. He waited, and in about five minutes she came down, and, no doubt seeing his shadow on the door, tapped gently. He promptly opened it, and she said:
“Leave the door open and I will throw you my things in a minute. They are drinking up there.”
“Drinking!” he mused, as he waited. “Well, perhaps I can get a gun if they drink to stupidity.”
Soon Florrie’s hand opened the door, and the garments came through. Denman had little trouble now in donning them, and, with his head tied up as before, he passed through the captain’s apartment to the deck. It was a mild, sunshiny morning, with little wind, and that from the northeast. White globes of cloud showed here and there, and Denman knew them for the unmistakable sign of the trade winds. But he was more interested in matters on deck. All hands except Billings, who was singing in the galley, and Munson, one of the wireless men, were clustered around the forward funnel; and there were several bottles circulating around. Forsythe, with a sextant in his hand, was berating them.
“Go slow, you infernal ginks,” he snarled at them, “or you’ll be so drunk in an hour that you won’t know your names. Ready—in there, Munson?”
“Yes,” answered Munson from the pilot-house.
Forsythe put the sextant to his eye, and swept it back and forth for a few moments.
“Time,” he called suddenly, and, lowering the sextant, looked in on Munson.
“Got it?” asked Munson.
“Yes; and have it down in black and white.” Forsythe made a notation from the sextant on a piece of paper.
“Now, again,” said Forsythe, and again he took a sight, shouted, “Time,” and made another notation.
Then he went into the pilot-house and Munson came out and made the shortest cut to the nearest bottle.
“He’s taken chronometer sights,” mused Denman, as he leaned against the companion hood. “Well, he’s progressing fast, but there never was a doubt that he is a scholar.”
He went down, and through a crack of the door obtained Miss Florrie’s permission to keep the cloak and skirt for the morning, as he wanted to see later how the drinking was progressing. Florrie consented, and he went to his room to wait.
As he waited, the sounds above grew ominous. Oaths and loud laughter, shouts, whoops, and grumblings, mingled with Forsythe’s angry voice of command, came down to him through the open deadlight. Soon he heard the thumping of human bodies on deck, and knew there was a fight going on.
A fight always appealed to him; and, yielding to this unworthy curiosity, Denman again passed through the captain’s quarters, making sure on the way that Florrie was locked in, and reached the deck.
There were two fights in progress, one a stand-up-and-knock-down affair near the pilot-house; the other a wrestling match amidships. He could not recognize the contestants, and, with the thought that perhaps Forsythe was one of them, stepped forward a few feet to observe.
At this moment Billings—the cheerful Billings—came up the galley hatch, no longer cheerful, but morose of face and menacing of gait, as is usual with this type of man when drunk. He spied Denman in his skirt, cloak, hat, and bandage, and, with a clucking chuckle in his throat and a leering grin on his face, made for him.
“Say, old girl,” he said, thickly. “Let’s have a kiss.”
Denman, anxious about his position and peculiar privilege, backed away; but the unabashed pursuer still pursued, and caught him at the companion. He attempted to pass his arm around Denman, but did not succeed. Denman pushed him back a few feet; then, with the whole weight of his body behind it, launched forth his fist, and struck the suitor squarely between the eyes.
Billings was lifted off his feet and hurled backward his whole length before he reached the deck; then he lay still for a moment, and as he showed signs of life, Denman darted down to the wardroom, where he shed his disguise as quickly as possible. Then he roused Florrie, passed the garments in to her, warned her to keep her door locked, and went to his own room, locking the doors behind him.
He waited and listened, while the shouts and oaths above grew less, and finally silent, though at times he recognized Forsythe’s threatening voice. He supposed that by now all of them except Forsythe were stupidly drunk, and was much surprised when, at eight bells, Billings opened the door with his dinner, well cooked and savory. He was not quite sober, but as sober as a drunken man may become who has had every nerve, sinew, and internal organ shocked as by the kick of a mule.
“Bad times on deck, sir,” he said. “This drinkin’s all to the bad.” He leered comically through his closed and blackened eyelids, and tried to smile; but it was too painful, and his face straightened.
“Why, what has happened?” inquired Denman. “I heard the row, but couldn’t see.”
“Nothin’ serious, sir,” answered Billings, “except to me. Say, sir—that woman aft. Keep away from her. Take it from me, sir, she’s a bad un. Got a punch like a battering-ram. Did you ever get the big end of a handspike jammed into your face by a big man, sir? Well, that’s the kind of a punch she has.”
Billings departed, and Denman grinned maliciously while he ate his dinner; and, after Billings had taken away the dishes—with more comments on the woman’s terrible punch—Denman went out into the wardroom, intending to visit Miss Florrie. A glance overhead stopped him, and sent him back. The lubber’s point on the telltale marked due west northwest.