“WHAT happened, Billie?” asked Florrie as Denman joined her.
“Not much, Florrie,” he replied, as cheerfully as was possible in his mood. “Only a physical and practical demonstration that I am the two ends and the bight of a fool.”
“You are not a fool, Billie; but what happened? How did they get out?”
“By picking the lock of the door, I suppose; or, perhaps, they had a key inside. That’s where the fool comes in. I should have nailed the door on them.”
“And what do they mean to do?”
“Don’t know. They have some new project in mind. But we’re better off than before, girl. We’re at liberty to carry arms, and to go and come, provided we stay this side of the galley hatch. They are to let us alone and stay forward of the hatch. By the way,” he added. “In view of the rather indeterminate outlook, let’s carry our hardware outside.”
He removed his belt from his waist and buckled it outside his oilskin coat. Then, when he had transferred the pistol from his pocket to the scabbard, he assisted the girl.
“There,” he said, as he stood back and looked at her, admiringly, “with all due regard for your good looks, Florrie, you resemble a cross between a cowboy and a second mate.”
“No more so than you,” she retorted; “but I’ve lost my place as cook, I think.” She pointed at the galley chimney, from which smoke was arising. Denman looked, and also became interested in an excited convention forward.
Though Jenkins had sent the watch below and the rest to stations, only the two cooks had obeyed. The others, with the boat still rolling in the heavy sea, had surrounded Jenkins, and seemed to be arguing with him. The big man, saving his voice, answered only by signs as yet; but the voices of the others soon became audible to the two aft.
“I tell you it’s all worked out, Jenkins—all figured out while you were dopy in your bunk.”
Jenkins shook his head.
Then followed an excited burst of reason and flow of words from which Denman could only gather a few disjointed phrases: “Dead easy, Jenkins—Run close and land—Casey’s brother—Can hoof it to—Might get a job, which’d be better—Got a private code made up—Don’t need money—Can beat his way in—My brother has a wireless—Take the dinghy; we don’t need it—I’ll take the chance if you have a life-buoy handy—Chance of a lifetime—Who wants beach combing in Africa—You see, he’ll watch the financial news—I’ll stow away in her—I tell you, Jenkins, there’ll be no killing. I’ve made my mind up to that, and will see to it.”
The last speech was from Sampson; and, on hearing it, Jenkins waved them all away. Then he used his voice.
“Get to stations,” he said. “I’ll think it out. Forsythe, take the bridge and dope out where we are.”
They scattered, and Forsythe mounted to the bridge, while Jenkins, still a sick man, descended to the forecastle.
“What does it all mean, Billie?” asked the girl.
“Haven’t the slightest idea,” answered Denman, as he seated himself beside her. “They’ve been hinting at big things; and Sampson said that they might raise my hair. However, we’ll know soon. The wind is going down. This was the outer fringe of a cyclone.”
“Why don’t they go ahead?”
“Too much sea. These boats are made for speed, not strength. You can break their backs by steaming into a head sea.”
Daniels, the cook, came on deck and aft to the limits of the hatch, indicating by his face and manner that he wished to speak to Denman.
Denman arose and approached him.
“Will you and the lady eat breakfast together, sir?” he asked.
“I believe so,” answered Denman. Then, turning to Florrie: “How will it be? May I eat breakfast with you this morning?”
“Then, sir,” said Daniels, “I’ll have to serve it in the after cabin.”
“Why not the wardroom? Why not keep out of Miss Fleming’s apartment?”
“Because, Mr. Denman, our work is laid out. Billings attends to the wardroom, and swears he won’t serve this lady, or get within reach of her.”
“Serve it in the after cabin, then,” said Denman, turning away to hide the coming smile, and Daniels departed.
Not caring to agitate the girl with an account of Billings’ drunken overtures and his own vicarious repulse of them, he did not explain to her Billings’ trouble of mind; but he found trouble of his own in explaining his frequent bursts of laughter while they ate their breakfast in the cabin. And Florrie found trouble in accepting his explanations, for they were irrelevant, incompetent, and inane.
After breakfast they went on deck without oilskins, for wind and sea were going down. There was a dry deck; and above, a sky which, still gray with the background of storm cloud, yet showed an occasional glimmer of blue, while to the east the sun shone clear and unobstructed; but on the whole clean-cut horizon there was not a sign of sail or smoke.
Eight bells having struck, the watches were changed; but except possibly a man in the engine room getting up steam—for smoke was pouring out of the four funnels—no one was at stations. The watch on deck was scattered about forward; and Forsythe had given way to Jenkins, who, with his eye fixed to a long telescope, was scanning the horizon from the bridge.
Denman, for over forty-eight hours without sleep, would have turned in had not curiosity kept him awake. So he waited until nine o’clock, when Forsythe, with Munson’s help, took morning sights, and later until ten, when Forsythe handed Jenkins a slip of paper on which presumably he had jotted the boat’s approximate position. Immediately Jenkins rang the engine bells, and the boat forged ahead.
Denman watched her swing to a starboard wheel; and, when the rolling gave way to a pitching motion as she met the head sea, he glanced at the after binnacle compass.
“Northwest by north, half north,” he said. “Whatever their plan is, Jenkins has been won over. Florrie, better turn in. I’m going to. Lock your door and keep that gun handy.”
But they were not menaced—not even roused for dinner; for Daniels had gone below, and Billings, on watch for the morning, could not wake Denman, and would not approach Miss Florrie’s door. So it was late in the afternoon when they again appeared on deck.
The weather had cleared, the sea was smoothing, and the boat surging along under the cruising turbines; while Hawkes had the wheel, and Forsythe, still in officer’s uniform, paced back and forth.
Evidently Jenkins, in the light of his physical and mental limitations, had seen the need of an assistant. Old Kelly, the gunner’s mate, was fussing around a twelve-pounder; the rest were out of sight.
Denman concluded that some kind of sea discipline had been established while he slept, and that Kelly had been put in charge of the gunnery department and been relieved from standing watch; otherwise, by the former arrangement, Kelly would have been below while Forsythe and Hawkes were on deck.
The horizon was dotted with specks, some showing smoke, others, under the glass, showing canvas. Denman examined each by the captain’s binoculars, but saw no signs of a government craft—all were peaceably going their way.
“Why is it,” asked Florrie, as she took the glass from Denman, “that we see so many vessels now, when we lay for days without seeing any?”
“We were in a pocket, I suppose,” answered Denman. “Lane routes, trade routes, for high and low-powered craft, as well as for sailing craft, are so well established these days that, if you get between them, you can wait for weeks without seeing anything.”
“Do you think there is any chance of our being rescued soon?”
“I don’t know, Florrie; though we can’t go much nearer the coast without being recognized. In fact, I haven’t thought much about it lately—the truth is, I’m getting interested in these fellows. This is the most daring and desperate game I ever saw played, and how they’ll come out is a puzzle. Hello! Eight bells.”
The bell was struck on the bridge, and the watches changed, except that Jenkins, after a short talk with Forsythe, did not relieve him, but came aft to the engine-room hatch, where he held another short talk with Sampson and Riley, who, instead of going below, had waited.
Only a few words came to Denman’s ears, and these in the hoarse accents of Jenkins as he left them: “Six days at cruising speed, you say, and two at full steam? All right.”
Jenkins continued aft, but halted and called the retreating Sampson, who joined him; then the two approached the galley hatch and hailed Denman.
“Captain Jenkins can’t talk very well, sir,” said Sampson, with a conciliatory grin; “but he wants me to ask you what you did to him. He says he bears no grudge.”
“Can’t tell you,” answered Denman, promptly. “It is a trick of Japanese jujutsu, not taught in the schools, and known only to experts. I learned it in Japan when my life was in danger.”
Jenkins nodded, as though satisfied with the explanation, and Sampson resumed:
“Another thing we came aft for, Mr. Denman, is to notify you that we must search the skipper’s room and the wardroom for whatever money there is on board. There may be none, but we want the last cent.”
“What on earth,” exclaimed Denman, “do you want with money?” Then, as their faces clouded, he added: “Oh, go ahead. Don’t turn my room upside-down. You’ll find my pile in a suit of citizen’s clothes hanging up. About four and a half.”
“Four and a half is a whole lot, sir,” remarked Sampson as they descended the wardroom hatch.
“Got any money down below, Florrie?” inquired Denman, joining the girl.
She shook her head. “No. I lost everything but what I wear.”
The tears that started to her eyes apprised Denman that hers was more than a money loss; but there is no comfort of mere words for such loss, and he went on quickly:
“They are going through the cabin for money. They’ll get all I’ve got. Did you see any cash in the captain’s desk?”
“Why, yes, Billie,” she said, hesitatingly. “I wanted a place to put my combs when I wore the bandage, and I saw some money in the upper desk. It was a roll.”
“He’s lost it, then. Always was a careless man. Did you count it?”
“No. I had no right to.”
But the question in Denman’s mind was answered by Sampson when he and Jenkins emerged from the hatch. “Five hundred,” he said. “Fine! He won’t need a quarter of it, Jenkins.”
“Five hundred!” repeated Denman to the girl. “Jail-breaking, stealing government property, mutiny—against me—piracy, and burglary. Heaven help them when they are caught!”
“But will they be?”
“Can’t help but be caught. I know nothing of their plans; but I do know that they are running right into a hornet’s nest. If a single one of those craft on the horizon recognizes this boat and can wireless the nearest station, we’ll be surrounded to-morrow.”
But, as it happened, they were not recognized, though they took desperate chances in charging through a coasting fleet in daylight. And at nightfall Jenkins gave the order for full speed.