WHEN Sampson had entered the forecastle after his rescue by Denman, he found a few of his mates in their bunks, the rest sitting around in disconsolate postures, some holding their aching heads, others looking indifferently at him with bleary eyes. The apartment, long and triangular in shape, was dimly lighted by four deadlights, two each side, and for a moment Sampson could not distinguish one from another.
“Where’s my bag?” he demanded, generally. “I want dry clothes.”
He groped his way to the bunk he had occupied, found his clothes bag, and drew out a complete change of garments.
“Who’s got a knife?” was his next request; and, as no one answered, he repeated the demand in a louder voice.
“What d’you want of a knife?” asked Forsythe, with a slight snarl.
“To cut your throat, you hang-dog scoundrel,” said Sampson, irately. “Forsythe, you speak kindly and gently to me while we’re together, or I’ll break some o’ your small bones. Who’s got a knife?”
“Here’s one, Sampson,” said Hawkes, offering one of the square-bladed jackknives used in the navy.
“All right, Hawkes. Now, will you stand up and rip these wet duds off me? I can’t get ’em off with the darbies in the way.”
Hawkes stood up and obeyed him. Soon the dripping garments fell away, and Sampson rubbed himself dry with a towel, while Hawkes sleepily turned in.
“What kept you, and what happened?” asked Kelly. “Did he douse you with a bucket o’ water?”
Sampson did not answer at once—not until he had slashed the side seams of a whole new suit, and crawled into it. Then, as he began fastening it on with buttons and strings, he said, coldly:
“Worse than that. He’s made me his friend.”
“His friend?” queried two or three.
“His friend,” repeated Sampson. “Not exactly while he has me locked up,” he added; “but if I ever get out again—that’s all. And his friend in some ways while I’m here. D’you hear that, Forsythe?”
Forsythe did not answer, and Sampson went on: “And not only his friend, but the woman’s too. Hear that, Forsythe?”
Forsythe refused to answer.
“That’s right, and proper,” went on Sampson, as he fastened the last button. “Hide your head and saw wood, you snake-eyed imitation of a man.”
“What’s up, Sampson?” wearily asked Casey from a bunk. “What doused you, and what you got on Forsythe now?”
“I’ll tell you in good time,” responded Sampson. “I’ll tell you now about Denman. I threw all the booze overboard at his orders. Then I tumbled over; and, as I can’t swim, would ha’ been there yet if he hadn’t jumped after me. Then we couldn’t get up the side, and the woman come with a tablecloth, that held me up until I was towed to the anchor ladder. That’s all. I just want to hear one o’ you ginks say a word about that woman that she wouldn’t like to hear. That’s for you all—and for you, Forsythe, a little more in good time.”
“Bully for the woman!” growled old Kelly. “Wonder if we treated her right.”
“We treated her as well as we knew how,” said Sampson; “that is, all but one of us. But I’ve promised Denman, and the woman, through him, that they’ll have a better show if we get charge again.”
“Aw, forget it!” grunted Forsythe from his bunk. “She’s no good. She’s been stuck on that baby since she was a kid.”
Sampson went toward him, seized him by the shirt collar, and pulled him bodily from the bunk. Then, smothering his protesting voice by a grip on his throat, slatted him from side to side as a farmer uses a flail, and threw him headlong against the after bulkhead and half-way into an empty bunk. Sampson had uttered no word, and Forsythe only muttered as he crawled back to his own bunk. But he found courage to say:
“What do you pick on me for? If you hadn’t all got drunk, you wouldn’t be here.”
“You mean,” said Sampson, quietly, “that if you hadn’t remained sober enough to find your way into the after cabin and frighten the woman, we wouldn’t ha’ been here; for that’s what roused Denman.”
A few oaths and growls followed this, and men sat up in their bunks, while those that were out of their bunks stood up. Sampson sat down.
“Is that so, Sampson?” “Got that right, old man?” “Sure of it?” they asked, and then over the hubbub of profane indignation rose Forsythe’s voice.
“Who gave you that?” he yelled. “Denman?”
“Yes—Denman,” answered Sampson.
“He lied. I did nothing of the—”
“You lie yourself, you dog. You’re showing on your chin the marks of Denman’s fist.”
“You did that just now,” answered Forsythe, fingering a small, bleeding bruise.
“I didn’t hit you. I choked you. Denman knocked you out.”
“Well,” answered Forsythe, forgetting the first accusation in the light of this last, “it was a lucky blow in the dark. He couldn’t do it in the daylight.”
“Self-convicted,” said Sampson, quietly.
Then, for a matter of ten minutes, the air in the close compartment might have smelled sulphurous to one strange to forecastle discourse. Forsythe, his back toward them, listened quietly while they called him all the names, printable and unprintable, which angry and disgusted men may think of.
But when it had ended—when the last voice had silenced and the last man gone to the water faucet for a drink before turning in, Forsythe said:
“I’ll even things up with you fellows if I get on deck again.”
Only a few grunts answered him, and soon all were asleep.
They wakened, one by one, in the afternoon, to find the electric bulbs glowing, and the boat rolling heavily, while splashes of rain came in through the weather deadlights. These they closed; and, better humored after their sleep, and hungry as well, they attacked the barrel of bread and the water faucet.
“He’s started the dynamo,” remarked Riley, one of the engineers. “Why don’t he start the engine and keep her head to the sea?”
“Because he knows too much,” came a hoarse whisper, and they turned to Jenkins, who was sitting up, regarding them disapprovingly.
“Because he knows too much,” he repeated, in the same hoarse whisper. “This is a so-called seagoing destroyer; but no one but a fool would buck one into a head sea; and that’s what’s coming, with a big blow, too. Remember the English boat that broke her back in the North Sea?”
“Hello, Jenkins—you alive?” answered one, and others asked of his health.
“I’m pretty near all right,” he said to them. “I’ve been able to move and speak a little for twenty-four hours, but I saved my energy. I wasn’t sure of myself, though, or I’d ha’ nabbed Denman when he came in here for the pistols.”
“Has he got them?” queried a few, and they examined the empty bunk.
“He sure has,” they continued. “Got ’em all. Oh, we’re in for it.”
“Not necessarily,” said Jenkins. “I’ve listened to all this powwow, and I gather that you got drunk to the last man, and he gathered you in.”
“That’s about it, Jenkins,” assented Sampson. “We all got gloriously drunk.”
“And before you got drunk you made this pin-headed, educated rat”—he jerked his thumb toward Forsythe—“your commander.”
“Well—we needed a navigator, and you were out of commission, Jenkins.”
“I’m in commission now, though, and when we get on deck, we’ll still have a navigator, and it won’t be Denman, either.”
“D’you mean,” began Forsythe, “that you’ll take charge again, and make—”
“Yes,” said Jenkins, “make you navigate. Make you navigate under orders and under fear of punishment. You’re the worst-hammered man in this crowd; but hammering doesn’t improve you. You’ll be keelhauled, or triced up by the thumbs, or spread-eagled over a boiler—but you’ll navigate. Now, shut up.”
There was silence for a while, then one said: “You spoke about getting on deck again, Jenkins. Got any plan?”
“Want to go on deck now and stand watch in this storm?” Jenkins retorted.
“No; not unless necessary.”
“Then get into your bunk and wait for this to blow over. If there is any real need of us, Denman will call us out.”
This was good sailorly logic, and they climbed back into their bunks, to smoke, to read, or to talk themselves to sleep again. As the wind and sea arose they closed the other two deadlights, and when darkness closed down they turned out the dazzling bulbs, and slept through the night as only sailors can.
Just before daylight Jenkins lifted his big bulk out of the bunk, and, taking a key from his pocket, unlocked the forecastle door. He stepped into the passage, and found the hatch loose on the coamings, then came back and quietly wakened them all.
“I found this key on the deck near the door first day aboard,” he volunteered; “but put it in my pocket instead of the door.”
They softly crept out into the passage and lifted the hatch; but it was the irrepressible and most certainly courageous Forsythe who was first to climb up. He reached the deck just in time to dodge into the darkness behind the bridge ladder at the sight of Denman coming forward to attend to the lamps; and it was he who sent both fists into the side of Denman’s face with force enough to knock him senseless. Then came the others.