HE sat down to think it out. Sampson had hinted at big things talked about. Billings had spoken of a vote—to stay at sea or not. However, there could have been no vote since Billings’ last visit because of their condition. But Forsythe had indubitably taken chronometer sights in the morning, and, being most certainly sober, had doubtless worked them out and ascertained the longitude, which, with a meridian observation at noon, would give him the position of the yacht.
The “big things” requiring a vote were all in Forsythe’s head, and he had merely anticipated the vote. Not knowing their position himself, except as indicated by the trade-wind clouds, Denman could only surmise that a west northwest course would hit the American coast somewhere between Boston and Charleston. But what they wanted there was beyond his comprehension.
He gave up the puzzle at last, and visited Florrie, finding her dressed, swathed in the bandage, and sitting in the outer apartment, reading. Briefly he explained the occurrences on deck, and, as all was quiet now, asked her to step up and investigate. She did so, and returned.
“Forsythe is steering,” she said, “and two or three are awake, but staggering around, and several others are asleep on the deck.”
“Well,” he said, hopefully, “Forsythe evidently can control himself, but not the others. If they remain drunk, or get drunker, I mean to do something to-night. No use trying now.”
“What will you do, Billie?” she asked, with concern in her voice.
“I don’t know. I’ll only know when I get at it. I hope that Forsythe will load up, too. Hello! What’s up? Run up, Florrie, and look.”
The engine had stopped, and Forsythe’s furious invective could be heard. Florrie ran up the steps, peeped out, and returned.
“He is swearing at some one,” she said.
“So it seems,” said Denman. “Let me have a look.”
He ascended, and carefully peeped over the companion hood. Forsythe was looking down the engine-room hatch, and his voice came clear and distinct as he anathematized the engineers below.
“Shut off your oil, you drunken mutts,” he vociferated. “If the whole four of you can’t keep steam on the steering-gear, shut it off—all of it, I say. Shut off every burner and get into your bunks till you’re sober.”
Then Sampson’s deep voice arose from the hatch. “You’ll stop talking like that to me, my lad, before long,” he said, “or I’ll break some o’ your bones.”
“Shut off the oil—every burner,” reiterated Forsythe. “We’ll drift for a while.”
“Right you are,” sang out another voice, which Denman recognized as Dwyer’s. “And here, you blooming crank, take a drink and get into a good humor.”
“Pass it up, then. I need a drink by this time. But shut off that oil.”
Denman saw Forsythe reach down and bring up a bottle, from which he took a deep draught. The electric lights slowly dimmed in the cabin, indicating the slowing down of the dynamo engine; then they went out.
Denman descended, uneasy in mind, into the half darkness of the cabin. He knew, from what he had learned of Forsythe, that the first drink would lead to the second, and the third, and that his example would influence the rest to further drinking; but he gave none of his fears to Florrie. He simply bade her to go into her room and lock the door. Then he went to his own room against the possible advent of Billings at supper-time.
But there was no supper for any that evening. Long before the time for it pandemonium raged above; and the loudest, angriest voice was that of Forsythe, until, toward the last, Sampson’s voice rose above it, and, as a dull thud on the deck came to Denman’s ears, he knew that his fist had silenced it. Evidently the sleeping men had wakened to further potations; and at last the stumbling feet of some of them approached the stern. Then again came Sampson’s voice.
“Come back here,” he roared. “Keep away from that companion, the lot of you, or I’ll give you what I gave Forsythe.”
A burst of invective and malediction answered him, and then there were the sounds of conflict, even the crashing of fists as well as the thuds on the deck, coming to Denman through the deadlight.
“Forrard wi’ you all,” continued Sampson between the sounds of impact; and soon the shuffling of feet indicated a retreat. Denman, who had opened his door, ready for a rush to Florrie’s defense, now went aft to reassure her. She opened the door at his tap and his voice through the keyhole.
“It’s all right for the present, Florrie,” he said. “While Sampson is sober they won’t come aft again.”
“Oh, Billie,” she gasped. “I hope so. Don’t desert me, Billie.”
“Don’t worry,” he said, reassuringly. “They’ll all be stupid before long, and then—to-night—there will be something doing on our side. Now, I must be in my room when Billings comes, or until I’m sure he will not come. And you stay here. I’ll be on hand if anything happens.”
He went back to his room, but Billings did not come with his supper. And one by one the voices above grew silent, and the shuffling footsteps ended in thuds, as their owners dropped to the deck; and when darkness had closed down and all above was still, Denman crept out to reconnoiter. He reached the door leading to the captain’s room, and was just about to open it when a scream came to his ears.
“Billie! Billie—come—come quick! Help!”
Then a tense voice:
“Shut up your noise in there and open the door. I only want to have a talk with you.”
Denman was into the room before the voice had ceased, and in the darkness barely made out the figure of a man fumbling at the knob of the stateroom door. He knew, as much by intuition as by recognition of the voice, that it was Forsythe, and, without a word of warning, sprang at his throat.
With an oath Forsythe gripped him, and they swayed back and forth in the small cabin, locked together in an embrace that strained muscles and sinews to the utmost. Forsythe expended breath and energy in curses.
Denman said nothing until Florrie screamed again, then he found voice to call out:
“All right, Florrie, I’ve got him.”
She remained silent while the battle continued. At first it was a wrestling match, each with a right arm around the body of the other, and with Denman’s left hand gripping Forsythe’s left wrist. Their left hands swayed about, above their heads, to the right, to the left, and down between the close pressure of their chests.
Denman soon found that he was the stronger of arm, for he twisted his enemy’s arm around as he pleased; but he also found that he was not stronger of fingers, for suddenly Forsythe broke away from his grip and seized tightly the wrist of Denman.
Thus reversed, the battle continued, and as they reeled about, chairs, table, and desk were overturned, making a racket as the combatants stumbled around over and among them that would have aroused all hands had they been but normally asleep.
As it was, there was no interruption, and the two battled on in the darkness to an end. It came soon. Forsythe suddenly released his clasp on Denman’s wrist and gripped his throat, then as suddenly he brought his right hand up, and Denman felt the pressure of his thumb on his right eyeball. He was being choked and gouged; and, strangely enough, in this exigency there came to him no thought of the trick by which he had mastered Jenkins. But instead, he mustered his strength, pushed Forsythe from him, and struck out blindly.
It was a lucky blow, for his eyes were filled with lights of various hue, and he could not see; yet his fist caught Forsythe on the chin, and Denman heard him crash back over the upturned table.
Forsythe uttered no sound, and when the light had gone out of his eyes, Denman groped for him, and found him, just beginning to move. He groaned and sat up.