HE sat down in a deck chair and lighted a cigar as an aid to his mental processes. Three projects presented themselves to his mind, each of which included, of course, the throwing overboard of the liquor and the secure hiding of the arms, except a pistol for himself, and one for Florrie.
The first was to release them all, and, backed by his pistol, his uniform, and the power of the government, to treat them as mutineers, and shoot them if they defied or disobeyed him.
To this was the logical objection that they were already more than mutineers—that there was no future for them; that, even though he overawed and conquered them, compelling them to work the boat shoreward, each passing minute would find them more keen to revolt; and that, if they rushed him in a body, he could only halt a few—the others would master him.
The second plan was born of his thoughts before breakfast. It was to release one cook, one engineer, and one helmsman at a time; to guard them until sleep was necessary, then to shut off steam, lock them up, and allow the boat to drift while they slept. Against this plan was the absolute necessity, to a seaman’s mind, of a watch—even a one-man watch—and this one man could work mischief while he slept—could even, if handy with tools, file out a key that would unlock the shackles.
The third plan was to starve them into contrition and subjection, torturing them the while with the odors of food cooked for himself and Florrie. But this was an inhuman expedient, only to be considered as a last resource; and, besides, it would not affect the man doing the cooking, who could keep himself well fed and obdurate. And, even though they surrendered and worked their way back toward prison, would their surrender last beyond a couple of good meals? He thought not. Yet out of this plan came another, and he went down the companion.
“Florrie,” he called, “can you cook?”
She appeared at the stateroom door without her bandages, smiling at his query, and for the moment Denman forgot all about his plans. Though the pink tinge still overspread her face, the blisters were gone, and, in the half light of the cabin, it shone with a new beauty that had not appeared to him in the garish sunlight when at breakfast—when he was intent upon watching the men. His heart gave a sudden jump, and his voice was a little unsteady as he repeated the question.
“Why, yes, Billie,” she answered, “I know something about cooking—not much, though.”
“Will you cook for yourself and me?” he asked. “If so, I’ll keep the men locked up, and we’ll wait for something to come along.”
“I will,” she said; “but you must keep them locked up, Billie.”
“I’ll do that, and fit you out with a pistol, too. I’ll get you one now.”
He brought her a revolver, fully loaded, with a further supply of cartridges, and fitted the belt around her waist. Then, his heart still jumping, he went on deck.
“Love her?” he mused, joyously. “Of course. Why didn’t I think of it before?”
But there was work to be done, and he set himself about it. He searched the storerooms and inspected the forecastle. In the first he found several cases of liquor—also a barrel of hard bread. In the forecastle he found that the water supply was furnished by a small faucet on the after bulkhead. Trying it, he found a clear flow. Then he selected from his bunch of keys the one belonging to the forecastle door, and put it in the lock—outside. Next, with a few cautionary remarks to the men, he unlocked their wrist irons one by one; and, after making each man place his hands in front, relocked the irons.
“Now, then,” he said, standing up over the last man, “you can help yourselves and Jenkins to bread and water. One by one get up on your feet and pass into the forecastle. If any man needs help, I will assist him.”
Some managed to scramble to their feet unaided, while others could not. These Denman helped; but, as he assisted them with one hand, holding his pistol in the other, there was no demonstration against him with doubled fists—which is possible and potential. Mumbling and muttering, they floundered down the small hatch and forward into the forecastle. The last in the line was Sampson, and Denman stopped him.
“I’ve a job for you, Sampson,” he said, after the rest had disappeared. “You are the strongest man in the crowd. Go down the hatch, but aft to the storeroom, and get that barrel of hard bread into the forecastle. You can do it without my unlocking you.”
“Very good, sir,” answered Sampson, respectfully, and descended.
Denman watched him from above, as, with his manacled hands, he twirled the heavy barrel forward and into the men’s quarters.
“Shut the door, turn the key on them, and come aft here,” he commanded.
“Now, lift up on deck and then toss overboard every case of liquor in that storeroom.”
“Very good, sir.” And up came six cases, as easily in his powerful grip as though they had been bandboxes, and then he hoisted his own huge bulk to the deck.
“Over the side with them all,” commanded Denman.
Sampson picked them up, and, whether or not it came from temper, threw them from where he stood, above and beyond the rail; but the fifth struck the rail, and fell back to the deck. He advanced and threw it over.
“Carry the other one,” said Denman, and Sampson lifted it up. It was a low, skeleton rail, and, as the big man hobbled toward it, somehow—neither he nor Denman ever knew how—his foot slipped, and he and the box went overboard together. The box floated, but when Sampson came to the surface it was out of his reach.
“Help!” he gurgled. “I can’t swim.”
Without a thought, Denman laid his pistol on the deck, shed his coat, and dove overboard, reaching the struggling man in three strokes.
“Keep still,” he commanded, as he got behind and secured a light but secure grip on Sampson’s hair. “Tread water if you can, but don’t struggle. I’ll tow you back to the boat.”
But, though Sampson grew quiet and Denman succeeded in reaching the dark, steel side, there was nothing to catch hold of—not a trailing rope, nor eyebolt, nor even the open deadlights, for they were high out of reach. The crew were locked in the forecastle, and there was only Florrie. There was no wind, and only the long, heaving ground swell, which rolled the boat slightly, but not enough to bring those tantalizing deadlights within reach; and at last, at the sound of dishes rattling in the galley, Denman called out.
“Florrie!” he shouted. “Florrie, come on deck. Throw a rope over. Florrie—oh, Florrie!”