SHE CAME hurriedly, and peered over the rail with a startled, frightened expression. Then she screamed.
“Can you see any ropes lying on deck, Florrie?” called Denman. “If you can, throw one over.”
She disappeared for a moment, then came back, and cried out frantically: “No, there is nothing—no ropes. What shall I do?”
“Go down and get the tablecloth,” said Denman, as calmly as he could, with his nose just out of water and a big, heavy, frightened man bearing him down.
Florrie vanished, and soon reappeared with the tablecloth of the morning’s breakfast. It was a cloth of generous size, and she lowered it over.
“Tie one corner to the rail, Florrie,” said Denman, while he held the irresponsible Sampson away from the still frail support. She obeyed him, tying the knot that all women tie but which no sailor can name, and then Denman led his man up to it.
Sampson clutched it with both hands, drew it taut, and supported his weight on it. Fortunately the knot did not slip. Denman also held himself up by it until he had recovered his breath, then cast about for means of getting on board. He felt that the tablecloth would not bear his weight and that of his water-soaked clothing, and temporarily gave up the plan of climbing it.
Forward were the signal halyards; but they, too, were of small line, and, even if doubled again and again until strong enough, he knew by experience the wonderful strength of arm required in climbing out of the water hand over hand. This thought also removed the tablecloth from the problem; but suggested another by its association with the necessity of feet in climbing with wet clothes.
He remembered that forward, just under the anchor davit, was a small, fixed ladder, bolted into the bow of the boat for use in getting the anchor. So, cautioning Sampson not to let go, he swam forward, with Florrie’s frightened face following above, and, reaching the ladder, easily climbed on board. He was on the high forecastle deck, but the girl had reached it before him.
“Billie,” she exclaimed, as she approached him. “Oh, Billie—”
He caught her just as her face grew white and her figure limp, and forgot Sampson for the moment. The kisses he planted on her lips and cheek forestalled the fainting spell, and she roused herself.
“I thought you would drown, Billie,” she said, weakly, with her face of a deeper pink than he had seen. “Don’t drown, Billie—don’t do that again. Don’t leave me alone.”
“I won’t, Florrie,” he answered, stoutly and smilingly. “I’m born to be hanged, you know. I won’t drown. Come on—I must get Sampson.”
They descended—Denman picking up his pistol on the way—and found Sampson quietly waiting at the end of the tablecloth. With his life temporarily safe, his natural courage had come to him.
“I’m going to tow you forward to the anchor ladder, Sampson. You’ll have to climb it the best way you can; for there isn’t a purchase on board that will bear your weight. Hold tight now.”
He untied Florrie’s knot, and slowly dragged the big man forward, experiencing a check at the break of the forecastle, where he had to halt and piece out the tablecloth with a length of signal halyards, but finally got Sampson to the ladder. Sampson had some trouble in mounting, for his shackles would not permit one hand to reach up to a rung without letting go with the other; but he finally accomplished the feat, and floundered over the rail, where he sat on deck to recover himself. Finally he scrambled to his feet.
“Mr. Denman,” he said, “you’ve saved my life for me, and whatever I can do for you, except”—his face took on a look of embarrassment—“except going back on my mates, as I said, I will do, at any time of my life.”
“That was what I might have suggested,” answered Denman, calmly, “that you aid me in controlling this crew until we reach Boston.”
“I cannot, sir. There is prison for life for all of us if we are taken; and this crowd will break out, sir—mark my words. You won’t have charge very long. But—in that case—I mean—I might be of service. I can control them all, even Forsythe, when I am awake.”
“Forsythe!” grinned Denman. “You can thank Forsythe for your round-up. If he hadn’t remained sober enough to attempt to break into Miss Fleming’s room while you were all dead drunk, I might not have knocked him out, and might not have roused myself to tie you all hand and foot.”
“Did he do that, sir?” asked Sampson, his rugged features darkening.
“He did; but I got there in time to knock him out.”
“Well, sir,” said Sampson, “I can promise you this much. I must be locked up, of course—I realize that. But, if we again get charge, I must be asleep part of the time, and so I will see to it that you retain possession of your gun—and the lady, too, as I see she carries one; also, sir, that you will have the run of the deck—on parole, of course.”
“That is kind of you,” smiled Denman; “but I don’t mean to let you take charge. It is bread and water for you all until something comes along to furnish me a crew. Come on, Sampson—to the forecastle.”
Sampson preceded him down the steps, down the hatch, and to the forecastle door, through which Denman admitted him; then relocked the door and bunched the key with his others. Then he joined Florrie, where she had waited amidships.
“Now, then, Florrie girl,” he said, jubilantly, “you can have the use of the deck, and go and come as you like. I’m going to turn in. You see, I was awake all night.”
“Are they secured safely, Billie?” she asked, tremulously.
“Got them all in the forecastle, in double irons, with plenty of hard-tack and water. We needn’t bother about them any more. Just keep your eyes open for a sail, or smoke on the horizon; and if you see anything, call me.”
“I will,” she answered; “and I’ll have dinner ready at noon.”
“That’s good. A few hours’ sleep will be enough, and then I’ll try and polish up what I once learned about wireless. And say, Florrie. Next time you go below, look in the glass and see how nice you look.”
She turned her back to him, and he went down. In five minutes he was asleep. And, as he slipped off into unconsciousness, there came to his mind the thought that one man in the forecastle was not manacled; and when Florrie wakened him at noon the thought was still with him, but he dismissed it. Jenkins was helpless for a while, unable to move or speak, and need not be considered.