"That's right, cook!" roared Captain Downs, climbing ponderously on board from his yawl. "Talk up to the loafing, cock-eyed, pot-colored sons of a coal-scuttle when I ain't here to do it. Turn away that hose, you mule-eared Fiji!" He turned on Mayo, who stood at one side and was poising his scrubbing-broom to allow the master to pass. "Get to work, there, yellow pup! Get to work!"
Ordinarily the skipper addresses one of his sailors only through the mate. But there was no mate handy just then.
"One hand for the owners and one hand for yourself when you're aloft, but on deck it's both hands for the owners," he stated, as he plodded aft, giving forth the aphorism for the benefit of all within hearing.
The passenger was still on deck, and Mayo heard Captain Downs greet him rather brusquely.
Then the cook's hand-bell announced breakfast, and before the captain and his guest reappeared on deck a tug had the Alden's hawser and was towing her down the dredged channel on the way to Hampton Roads and to sea.
Mayo went at his new tasks so handily that he passed muster as an able seaman. If a sailor aboard a big schooner of these days is quick, willing, and strong he does not need the qualities and the knowledge which made a man an "A. B." in the old times.
While the schooner was on her way behind the tug they hoisted her sails, a long cable called "the messenger" enabling the steam-winch forward to do all the work. Mayo was assigned to the jigger-mast, and went aloft to shake out the topsail. It was a dizzy height, and the task tried his spirit, for the sail was heavy, and he found it difficult to keep his balance while he was tugging at the folds of the canvas. He was obliged to work alone—there was only one man to a mast, and very tiny insects did his mates appear when Mayo glanced forward along the range of the masts.
The tug dropped them off the Tail of the Horseshoe; a smashing sou'wester was serving them.
With all her washing set, the schooner went plowing out past the capes, and Mayo was given his welcome watch below; he was so sleepy that his head swam.
When he turned out he was ordered to take his trick at the wheel. The schooner had made her offing and was headed for her northward run along the coast, which showed as a thin thread of white along the flashing blue of the sea.
Mayo took the course from the gaunt, sooty Jamaican who stepped away from the wheel; he set his gaze on the compass and had plenty to occupy his hands and his mind, for a big schooner which is logging off six or eight knots in a following sea is somewhat of a proposition for a steersman. Occasionally he was obliged to climb bodily upon the wheel in order to hold the vessel up to her course.
Captain Downs was pacing steadily from rail to rail between the wheel and the house. At each turn he glanced up for a squint at the sails. It was the regular patrol of a schooner captain.
In spite of his absorption in his task, Mayo could not resist taking an occasional swift peep at the passenger. The young man's demeanor had become so peculiar that it attracted attention. He looked worried, ill at ease, smoked his cigarettes nervously, flung over the rail one which he had just lighted, and started for the captain, his mouth open. Then he turned away, shielded a match under the hood of the companionway, and touched off another cigarette. He was plainly wrestling with a problem that distressed him very much.
At last he hurried below. He came up almost immediately. He had the air of a man who had made up his mind to have a disagreeable matter over with.
"Captain Downs," he blurted, stepping in front of Old Mull and halting that astonished skipper, "will you please step down into the cabin with me for a few moments? I've something to tell you."
"Well, tell it—tell it here!" barked the captain.
"It's very private, sir!"
"I don't know of any privater place than this quarterdeck, fifteen miles offshore."
"But the—the man at the wheel!"
"Good Josephus! That ain't a man! That's a nigger sailor steering my schooner. Tell your tale, Mr. Bradish. Tell it right here. That fellow don't count any more 'n that rudder-head counts."
"If you could step down into the cabin, I—"
"My place is on this quarter-deck, sir. If you've got anything to say to me, say it!" He began to pace again.
Bradish caught step, after a scuff or two.
"I hope you're going to take this thing right, Captain Downs. It may sound queer to you at first," he stammered.
"Well, well, well, tell it to me—tell it! Then I will let you know whether it sounds queer or not."
"I brought another passenger on board with me. She is locked in a stateroom."
Old Mull stopped his patrol with a jerk. "She?" he demanded. "You mean to tell me you've got a woman aboard here?"
"We're engaged—we want to get married. So she came along—"
"Then why in tophet didn't ye go get married? You don't think this is a parsonage, do you?"
"There were reasons why we couldn't get married ashore. You have to have licenses, and questions are asked, and we were afraid it would be found out before we could arrange it."
"So this is an elopement, hey?"
"Well, the young lady's father has foolish ideas about a husband for his daughter, and she doesn't agree with him."
"Who is her father?"
"I don't intend to tell you, sir. That hasn't anything to do with the matter."
Captain Downs looked his passenger up and down with great disfavor. "And what's your general idea in loading yourselves onto me in this fashion?"
"You have the right, as captain of a ship outside the three-mile limit, to marry folks in an emergency."
"I ain't sure that I've got any such right, and I ain't at all certain about the emergency, Mr. Bradish. I ain't going to stick my head into a scrape."
"But there can't be any scrape for you. You simply exercise your right and marry us and enter it in your log and give us a paper. It will be enough of a marriage so that we can't be separated."
"Want to hold a hand you can bluff her father with, hey? I don't approve of any such tactics in matrimony."
"I wouldn't be doing this if there were any other safe way for us," protested Bradish, earnestly. "I'm no cheap fellow. I hold down a good job, sir. But the trouble is I work for her father—and you know how it always is in a case like that. He can't see me!"
"Yes, sir!" Bradish made the admission rather sullenly.
"It's usually the case when there's eloping done!"
"But this will not seem like eloping when it's reported right in the newspapers. Marriage at sea—it will seem like a romantic way of getting rid of the fuss of a church wedding. We'll put out a statement of that sort. It will give her father a chance to stop all the gossip. He'll be glad if you perform the ceremony."
"Say, young fellow, you're not rehearsing the stuff on me that you used on the girl, are you? Well, it doesn't go!
"Captain Downs, you must understand how bull-headed some rich men are in matters of this kind. I am active and enterprising. I'll be a handy man for him. He likes me in a business way—he has said so. He'll be all right after he gets cooled down."
"More rehearsal! But I ain't in love with you like that girl is."
"We're in a terrible position, captain! Perhaps it wasn't a wise thing to do. But it will come out all right if you marry us."
"What's her name?"
"I can't tell you."
"How in the devil can I marry you and her if I don't know her name?"
"But you haven't promised that you will do your part! I don't want to expose this whole thing and then be turned down."
"I ain't making any rash promises," stated Captain Downs, walking to the rail and taking a squint at the top-hamper. "Besides," he added, on his tramp past to the other rail, "he may be an owner into this schooner property, for all I know. Sixteenths of her are scattered from tophet to Tar Hollow!"
"You needn't worry about his owning schooner property! He is doing quite a little job at putting you fellows out of business!"
Curiosity and something else gleamed in Captain Downs's eyes. "Chance for me to rasp him, hey, by wishing you onto the family?"
This new idea in the situation appealed instantly to Bradish as a possibility to be worked. "Promise man to man that you'll perform the marriage, and I'll tell you his name; then you'll be glad that you have promised," he said, eagerly.
"I don't reckon I'd try to get even with Judas I-scarrot himself by stealing his daughter away from him, sir. There's the girl to be considered in all such cases!"
"But this isn't stealing! We're in love."
"Maybe, but you ain't fooling me very much, young fellow. I don't say but what you like her all right, but you're after something else, too."
"A man has to make his way in the world as best he can."
"That plan seems to be pretty fashionable among you financing fellows nowadays. But I'm a pretty good judge of men and you can't fool me, I say. Now how did you fool the girl?"
It was blunt and insulting query, but Bradish did not have the courage to resent it; he had too much need of placating this despot. The lover hesitated and glanced apprehensively at the man at the wheel.
"Don't mind that nigger!" yelped Captain Downs, "How did you ever get nigh enough to that girl to horn-swoggle her into this foolishness?"
"We met at dances. We were attracted to each other," explained Bradish, meekly.
"Huh! Yes, they tell me that girls are crazy over hoof-shaking these days, and I suppose it's easy to go on from there into a general state of plumb lunacy," commented Old Mull, with disgust. "You show you ain't really in love with her, young man. You'd never allow her to cut up this caper if you were!"
He stuck an unlighted cigar in his mouth and continued to patrol his quarter-deck, muttering.
Bradish lighted a cigarette, tossed it away after two puffs, and leaned against the house, studying his fingertips, scowling and sullen.
Mayo had heard all the conversation, but his interest in the identity of these persons was limited; New York was full of rich men, and there were many silly daughters.
"Look here," suggested the captain, unamiably, "whatever is done later, there's something to be done now. It's cruelty to animals to keep that girl shut up in that stateroom any longer."
"She didn't want to come out and show herself till I had had a talk with you, sir. I have spoken to her through the door a few times." He straightened himself and assumed dignity. "Captain Downs, I call it to your attention—I want you to remember that I have observed all the proprieties since I have been on board."
Captain Downs snorted. "Proprieties—poosh! You have got her into a nice scrape! And she's down there locked in like a cat, and probably starving!"
"She doesn't care to eat. I think she isn't feeling very well."
"I shouldn't think she would! Go bring her up here, where she can get some fresh air. I'll talk to her."
After a moment's hesitation Bradish went below. He returned in a little while.
In spite of his efforts to pretend obliviousness Mayo stared hard at the companionway, eager to look on the face of the girl. But she did not follow her lover.
"She doesn't feel well enough to come on deck," reported Bradish. "But she is in the saloon. Captain Downs, won't you go and talk to her and say something to make her feel easy in her mind? She is very nervous. She is frightened."
"I'm not much of a ladies' man," stated Old Mull. But he pulled off his cap and smoothed his grizzled hair.
"And if you could only say that you're going to help us!" pleaded the lover. "We throw ourselves on your mercy, sir."
"I ain't much good as a life-raft in this love business." He started for the companionway.
"But don't tell her that you will not marry us—not just now. Wait till she is calmer."
"Oh, I sha'n't tell her! Don't worry!" said Captain Downs, with a grim set to his mouth. "All she, or you, gets out of me can be put in a flea's eye."
He disappeared down the steps, and Bradish followed. A mate had come aft, obeying the master's hand-flourish, and he took up the watch. In a little while Mayo was relieved. He went forward, conscious that he was a bit irritated and disappointed because he had not seen the heroine of this love adventure, and wondering just a bit at his interest in that young lady.
An hour later Mayo, coiling down lines in the alley outside the engine-room, overheard a bulletin delivered by the one-eyed cook to the engineer.
The cook had trotted forward, his sound eye bulging out and thus mutely expressing much astonishment. "There's a dame aft. I've been making tea and toast for her."
"Well, you act as if it was the first woman you'd ever seen. What's the special excitement about a skirt going along as passenger?"
"She wa'n't expected to be aboard. I heard the old man talking with her. The flash gent that's passenger has rung her in somehow. I didn't get all the drift be-cause the old man only sort of purred while I was in hearing distance. But I caught enough to know that it ain't according to schedule."
"Good looker?" The engineer was showing a bit of interest.
"She sure is!" declared the cook, demonstrating that one eye is as handy, sometimes, as two. "Peaches and cream, molasses-candy hair, hands as white as pastry flour. Looks good enough to eat."
"Nobody would ever guess you are a cook, hearing you describe a girl," sneered the engineer.
"There's a mystery about her. I heard her kind of taking on before the dude hushed her up. She was saying something about being sorry that she had come, and that she wished she was back, and that she had always done things on the impulse, and didn't stop to think, and so forth, and couldn't the ship be turned around."
Mayo forgot himself. He stopped coiling ropes and stood there and listened eagerly until the cook's indignant eye chanced to take a swing in his direction.
"Do you see who's standing there butting in on the private talk of two gents?" he asked the engineer. "Hand me that grate-poker—the hot one. I'll show that nigger where he belongs."
But Mayo retreated in a hurry, knowing that he was not permitted to protest either by word or by look. However, the cook had given him something else besides an insult—he had retailed gossip which kept the young man's thoughts busy.
In spite of his rather contemptuous opinion of the wit of a girl who would hazard such a silly adventure, he found himself pitying her plight, guessing that she was really sorry. But as to what was going on in the master's cabin he had no way of ascertaining. He wondered whether Captain Downs would marry the couple in such equivocal fashion.
At any rate, pondered Mayo, how did it happen to be any affair of his? He had troubles enough of his own to occupy his sole attention.
Their spanking wind from the sou'west let go just as dusk shut down. A yellowish scud dimmed the stars. Mayo heard one of the mates say that the glass had dropped. He smelled nasty weather himself, having the sailor's keen instinct. The topsails were ordered in, and he climbed aloft and had a long, lone struggle before he got the heavy canvas folded and lashed.
When he reached the deck a mate commanded him to fasten the canvas covers over the skylights of the house. The work brought him within range of the conversation which Captain Downs and Bradish were carrying on, pacing the deck together.
"Of course I don't want to throw down anybody, captain," Bradish was saying. There was an obsequious note in his voice; it was the tone of a man who was affecting confidential cordiality in order to get on—to win a favor. "But I have a lot of sympathy for you and for the rest of the schooner people. I have been right there in the office, and have had a finger in the pie, and I've seen what has been done in a good many cases. Of course, you understand, this is all between us! I'm not giving away any of the office secrets to be used against the big fellows. But I'm willing to show that I'm a friend of yours. And I know you'll be a friend of mine, and keep mum. All is, you can get wise from what I tell you and can keep your eyes peeled from now on."
Mayo heard fragmentary explanation of how the combination of steamboat and barge interests had operated to leave only pickings to the schooners. The two men were tramping the deck together, and at the turns were too far away from him to be heard distinctly.
"But they're putting over the biggest job of all just now," proceeded Bradish. "Confound it, Captain Downs, I'm not to be blamed for running away with a man's daughter after watching him operate as long as I have. His motto is, 'Go after it when you see a thing you want in this world.' I've been trained to that system. I've got just as much right to go after a thing as he. I'm treasurer of the Paramount—that's the trust with which they intend to smash the opposition. My job is to ask no questions and to sign checks when they tell me to, and Heaven only knows what kind of a goat it will make of me if they ever have a show-down in the courts! They worked some kind of a shenanigan to grab off the Vose line; I wired a pot of money to Fletcher Fogg, who was doing the dirty work, and it was paid to a clerk to work proxies at the annual meeting. And then Fogg put up some kind of a job on a greenhorn captain—worked a flip trick on the fellow and made him shove the Montana onto the sands. I suppose they'll have the Vose line at their price before I get back."
Mayo sat there in the shadow, squatting on legs which trembled.
This babbler—tongue loosened by his new liberty and by the antagonism his small nature was developing, anticipating his employer's enmity—had dropped a word of what Mayo knew must be the truth. It had been a trick—and Fletcher Fogg had worked it! Mayo did not know who Fletcher Fogg's employer might be. From what office this tattler came he did not know; but it was evident that Bradish was cognizant of the trick. As a result of that trick, an honest man had been ruined and blacklisted, deprived of opportunity to work in his profession, was a fugitive, a despised sailor, kicked to the Very bottom of the ladder he had climbed so patiently and honorably.
Furious passion bowled over Mayo's prudence. He leaped down from the top of the house and presented himself in front of the two men.
"I heard it—I couldn't help hearing it!" he stuttered.
"Here's a nigger gone crazy!" yelped Captain Downs. "Ahoy, there, for'ard! Tumble aft with a rope!"
"I'm no nigger, and I'm not crazy!" shouted Mayo.
The swinging lantern in the companionway lighted him dimly. But in the gloom his dusky hue was only the more accentuated. His excitement seemed that of a man whose wits had been touched.
"I knew it was a trick. But what was the trick?" he demanded, starting toward Bradish, his clutching hands outspread.
Captain Downs kicked at this obstreperous sailor, and at the same time fanned a blow at his head with open palm.
Mayo avoided both the foot and the hand. "What does the law say about striking a sailor, captain? Hold on, there! I'm just as good a man as you are. Don't you tell those men to lay hands on me." He backed away from the sailors who came running aft, with the second mate marshaling them. He stripped up his sleeve and held his arm across the radiance of the binnacle light. "That's a white man's skin, isn't it?" he demanded.
"What kind of play-acting is all this?" asked Old Mull, with astonished indignation.
In that crisis Mayo controlled his tongue after a mighty effort to steady himself. He was prompted to obey his mood and announce his identity with all the fury that was in him. But here stood the man who had served as one of the tools of his enemies, whoever they were. For his weapon against this man Mayo had only a few words of gossip which had been dropped in an unwary moment; he realized his position; he regretted his passionate haste. He was not ready to put himself into the power of his enemies by telling this man who he was; he remembered that he was running away from the law.
Bradish gaped at this intruder without seeming to understand what it all meant.
"Passengers better get below out of the muss," advised Captain Downs. "Here's a crazy nigger, mate. Grab him and tie him up."
Mayo backed to the rack at the rail and pulled out two belaying-pins, mighty weapons, one for each hand.
Bradish hurried away into the depths of the house, manifestly glad to get out from underfoot.
"Don't you allow those niggers to lay their hands on me," repeated the man at bay. "Captain Downs, let me have a word to you in private." He had desperately decided on making a confidant of one of his kind. He bitterly needed the help a master mariner could give him.
"Get at him!" roared the skipper. "Go in, you niggers!"
"By the gods! you'll be short-handed, sir. I'll kill 'em!"
That threat was more effective than mere bluster. Captain Downs instinctively squinted aloft at the scud which was dimming the stars; he sniffed at the volleying wind.
"One word to you, and you'll understand, sir!" pleaded Mayo. He put the pins back into the rack and walked straight to the captain.
There was no menace in his action, and the mate did not interfere.
"Just a word or two to you, sir, to show you that I have done more than throw my hat into the door of the Masters and Mates Association." He leaned close and whispered. "Now let me tell you something else—in private?" he urged in low tones.
Captain Downs glanced again at the bared arm and surveyed this sailor with more careful scrutiny. "You go around and come into the for'ard cabin through the coach-house door," he commanded, after a little hesitation.
Mayo bowed and hurried away down the lee alley.
That cabin designated as the place of conference was the dining-saloon of the schooner. He waited there until Captain Downs, moving his bulk more deliberately, trudged down the main companionway and came into the apartment through its after-door which no sailor was allowed to profane.
"Can anybody—in there—hear?" asked Mayo, cautiously. He pointed to the main saloon.
"She's in her stateroom and he's talking through the door," grunted the skipper. "Now what's on your mind?"
Mayo reached his hand into an inside pocket of his shirt and drew forth a document. He laid it in Captain Downs's hand. The skipper sat down at the table, pulled out his spectacles, and adjusted them on his bulging nose in leisurely fashion, spread the paper on the red damask cloth, and studied it. He tipped down his head and stared at Mayo over the edge of his glasses with true astonishment.
"This your name in these master's papers?" he demanded.
"You're—you claim to be the Captain Mayo who smashed the Montana?"
"I'm the man, sir. I hung on to my papers, even though they have been canceled."
"How do I know about these papers? How do I know your name is Mayo? You might have stolen 'em—though, for that matter, you might just as well carry a dynamite bomb around in your pocket, for all the good they'll do you."
"That's the point, sir. They merely prove my identity. Nobody else would want them. Captain Downs, I'm running away from the law. I own up to you. Let me tell you how it happened."
"Make it short," snapped the captain, showing no great amiability toward this plucked and discredited master. "The wind is breezing up."
He told his story concisely and in manly fashion, standing up while Captain Downs sat and stared over his spectacles, drumming his stubby fingers on the red damask.
"There, sir, that's why I am here and how I happened to get here," Mayo concluded.
"I ain't prepared to say it isn't so," admitted Old Mull at last, "no matter how foolish it sounds. And I'm wondering if next I'll find the King of Peruvia or the Queen of Sheba aboard this schooner. New folks are piling in fast! I know Captain Wass pretty well, though I never laid eye on you to know you. Where's that wart on his face?"
"Starboard side of his nose, sir."
"What does he do, whittle off his chaw or bite the plug?"
"Neither. Chews fine cut."
"What's his favorite line of talk?"
"Reciting the pilot rules and jawing because the big fellows slam along without observing them."
"Last remark showing that you have been in the pilothouse along with Captain Wass! Examination is over and you rank one hundred and the board stands adjourned!" He rose and shook hands with Mayo. "Now what can I do for you?"
"I don't suppose you can do much of anything, Captain Downs. But I'm going to ask you this, master to masted. Don't let a soul aboard this schooner know who I am—especially those two back there!" He pointed to the door of the main saloon.
"Seems to be more or less of a masked-ball party aboard here!" growled the skipper.
"That man you call Bradish, whoever he is, knows what kind of a game they played on me. I want to get it out of him. If he knows who I am he won't loosen! I was a fool to break in as I did. He was coming across to you."
"Seemed to be pretty gossipy," admitted the captain. "Is trying to be my special chum so as to work me!"
"Don't you suppose you can get some more out of him?"
"Might be done."
"I feel that it's sailors against the shore pirates this time, sir. Won't you call that man out here and ask him some questions and allow me to listen?"
"Under the circumstances I'll do it. Sailors first is my motto. You step into the mate's stateroom, there, and put ear to the crack o' the door."
But when Bradish appeared, answering the captain's summons, all his chattiness had left him. He declared that he knew nothing about the trouble in the Montana case.
"But you said something about a scheme to fool a green captain?"
"It was only gossip—I probably got it wrong. I have thought it over and really can't remember where I heard it or much about it. Might have been just newspaper faking."
He kept peering about the dimly lighted room.
"You needn't worry, young man. That nigger isn't here."
"But he said he was a white man. And how does he come to be interested?"
"It's a nigger gone crazy about that case—he has probably been reading fake stories in the papers, too," stated Captain Downs, grimly. "I must remind you again, Bradish, that you were talking to me in pretty lively style."
"Oh, a man lets out a lot of guesswork when he is nervous about his own business."
"Well, I might fix it so that you'd be a little less nervous, providing you'll show a more willing disposition when I ask you a few questions," probed the skipper. But this insistence alarmed Bradish and his blinking eyes revealed his fears and suspicions.
"I don't know anything about the Montana case. I don't intend to do any talking about it."
Captain Downs tapped harder on the table, scowled, and was silent.
"Anything else, sir?" inquired Bradish, after a pause.
"Guess not, if that's the way you feel about it!" snapped Captain Downs.
Bradish went back into the main saloon, and the eavesdropper ventured forth.
"I don't know just what the dickens to do about you, now that I know who you are," confessed the master, looking Mayo up and down.
"There isn't anything to do except let me go back to my work, sir."
"I'm in a devil of a position. You're a captain."
"I shipped on board here before the mast, Captain Downs, and knew exactly what I was doing. I'll take my medicine."
"I don't like to have you go for'ard there among those cattle, Mayo."
"Captain Downs, it was wrong for me to make the break I did on your quarter-deck. I ought to have kept still; but the thing came to me so sudden that I went all to pieces. I'd like to step back into the crew and have you forget that I'm Boyd Mayo. I'll sneak ashore in Boston and lose myself."
The captain tipped up his cap and scratched the side of his head. "Seems as if I remember you being at the wheel, Mayo, when that fellow was unloading some pretty important information on to me."
"I couldn't help hearing, sir."
"So you know he's eloping with a girl?" The old skipper lowered his voice.
"Did you ever hear of such a cussed, infernal performance? And I have talked with the girl, and she really doesn't seem to be that sort at all. She's flighty, you can see that. She has been left to run loose too much, like a lot of girls in society are running loose nowadays. They think of a thing that's different, and, biff! they go do it. She is wishing she hadn't done this. That shows some sense." He studied the young man. "Do you know anything about this right a captain has to perform marriage ceremonies?"
"It will probably be a good thing for that girl to be married and settled down. She seems to have picked out Bradish. Mayo, you're one of my kind, and I want to help you. I'll take a chance on my right to perform the ceremony. What say if we get Bradish back in here and swap a marriage for what he can tell us about the Montana business?"
"Captain Downs, a fellow who will put up a job of this kind on a girl, no matter if she has encouraged him, is a cheap pup," declared Mayo, promptly and firmly. "I don't want to buy back my papers in any such fashion."
"Then you don't approve of my marrying them?"
"I haven't any right to tell you what you shall do, sir. I'm talking merely for myself."
Captain Downs pondered. "If he's her father's right-hand man, he's probably just as good as most of the land pirates who have been courting her. If she goes home married, even if it is only marriage on the high seas, contract between willing persons with witnesses and the master of the vessel officiating, as I believe it's allowed, she'll have her good name protected, and that means a lot. I don't know as I have any right to stand out and block their way, seeing how far it has gone. What do you think, Mayo?"
"I don't believe I want to make any suggestions, sir."
At that moment the door aft opened. Mayo was near the door of the mate's stateroom in the shadows, and he dodged back into his retreat. He heard Bradish's voice.
"Captain Downs, this young lady has something to say to you and I hope you'll listen!"
Then the girl's voice! It was impetuous outburst. She hurried her words as if she feared to wait for second and saner reflection.
"Captain Downs, I cannot wait any longer. You must act. I beg of you. I have made up my mind. I am ready!"
"Ready to get married, you mean?"
"Yes! Now that my mind is made up, please hurry!"
Her tone was high-pitched, tears were close behind her desperation, her words rushed almost incoherently. But Mayo, staring sightlessly in the black darkness of the little stateroom, his hearing keen, knew that voice. He could not restrain himself. He pulled the door wide open.
The girl was Alma Marston.
Her eyes were bright, her cheeks were flushed, and it was plain that her impulsive nature was flaming with determination. The shadows were deep in the corners of the saloon, and the man in the stateroom door was not noticed by the three who stood there in the patch of light cast by the swinging lamp.
"I ask you—I beg you—I have made up my mind! I must have it over with."
"Don't have hysterics! This is no thing to be rushed."
"You're talking to a captain aboard his own vessel, ma'am!"
From Mayo's choking throat came some sort of sound and the girl glanced in his direction, but it was a hasty and indifferent gaze. Her own affairs were engrossing her. He reeled back into the little room, and the swing of the schooner shut the door.
"You are captain! You have the power! That's why I am talking to you, sir!"
"But when you talked with me a little while ago you were crawfishing!" was Captain Downs's blunt objection.
"I am sorry I have been so imprudent. I ought not to be here. I have said so. I do too many things on impulse. Now I want to be married!"
"More impulse, eh?"
"I must be able to face my father."
There was silence in the saloon.
Mayo shoved trembling fingers into his mouth and bit upon them to keep back what his horrified reason warned him would be a scream of protest. In spite of what his eyes and ears told him, it all seemed to be some sort of hideous unreality.
"It's a big responsibility," proceeded Captain Downs, mumbling his words and talking half to himself in his uncertainty. "I've been trying to get some light on it from another—from a man who ought to understand more about it than what I do. It's too much of a problem for a man to wrassle with all alone."
He turned his back on them, gazed at the stateroom door, tipped his cap awry, and scratched his head more vigorously than he had in his past ponderings.
"Say, you in there! Mate!" he called, clumsily preserving Mayo's incognito. "I'm in a pinch. Say what you really think!"
There was no word from the stateroom.
"You're an unprejudiced party," insisted the skipper. "You have good judgment. Now what?"
"Who is that, in there?" demanded Bradish.
"Why should this person, whoever he is, have any-thing to say about my affairs?" asked the girl.
"Because I'm asking him to say!" yelped the skipper, showing anger. "I'm running this! Don't try to tell me my own business!" He walked toward the door. "Speak up, mate!"
"It's an insult to me—asking strangers about my private affairs!" The protest of the girl was a furious outburst.
"I resent it, captain! Most bitterly resent it," stated Bradish.
The old skipper walked back toward them. "Resent it as much as you condemned like, sir! You're here asking favors of me. I want to do what is right for all concerned. You ought to be married—I admit that. But what sort of a position does it leave me in? Are you going to tell me this girl's name?"
"I'm Alma Marston!" She volleyed the name at him with hysterical violence, but he did not seem to be impressed. "I am Julius Marston's daughter!"
The skipper looked her up and down.
"Now you will be so good as to proceed about your duty!" she commanded, haughtily.
"Well, you can't expect me to show any special neighborly kindness to the Wall Street gouger who kept me tied up without a charter two months last spring with his steamboat combinations and his dicker deals!"
"How are we to take that, sir?" asked Bradish.
The girl was staring with frank wonder at this hard-shelled mariner whom she had not been able to impress by her name or her manner.
"Just as you want to."
"I demand an explanation."
"Well, I'll give it to you, seeing that I'm perfectly willing to. Take it one way, and I'm willing to wallop Julius Marston by handing him the kind of a son-in-law you'd make; take it the other way, and I ain't particular about doing anything to accommodate anybody in the Marston family." He eyed them sardonically.
"So, you see, I'm betwixt and between in the matter! It's like settling a question by flipping a cent. And I'll tell you what I'm going to do!" He smacked his palm on the table. He strode back toward the stateroom door. "Mate, ahoy, there! Sailor to sailor, now, and remember that you have asked something of me! If you were captain of this schooner would you marry off these two?"
They waited in silence, in which they heard the whummle and screech of the wind outside and the angry squalling of the sheathing of the plunging schooner's cabin walls.
The voice which replied to Captain Downs's query did not sound human. It was a sort of muffled wail, but there was no mistaking its positiveness.
"No!" said the man behind the door.
Back to the table lurched Captain Downs. He pounded down his fist. "That settles it with me!" Then he poised his big hand on the edge of the table-cover. "I was ready to tip one way or the other and it needed only a little push. I have tipped." Down came the palm flat on the table-cloth with final and decisive firmness. "Young man," he informed Bradish, "there's an extra stateroom, there, off this dining-saloon. You take it!"
"What can I tell my father?" wailed the girl, the fire of her determination suddenly quenched by sobbing helplessness.
"You can tell him that I temporarily adopted you as my daughter at three bells on this particular evening, and I'll go to him and back you up if it becomes necessary." He opened the door leading aft and bowed. "Now, you trot along to your stateroom, sissy!"
After hesitating a few moments she hurried away. The skipper locked the door and slipped the key into his pocket.
"Do you think I'm going to—" began Bradish, angrily.
"I ain't wasting any thoughts on you, sir. I'm saving 'em all for the Drusilla M. Alden just now."
The craft's plunging roll gave evidence that the sea was making. At that instant the first mate came down a few steps of the forward companionway, entering through the coach-house door.
"She's breezing up fresh from east'ard, sir!" he reported.
"So I've judged from the way this sheathing is talking up. I'll be on deck at once, Mr. Dodge."
That report was a summons to a sailor; Mayo came staggering out of the stateroom. He looked neither to right nor left nor at either of the men in the saloon. He stumbled toward the companionway, reaching his hands in front of him after the fashion in which a man gropes in the dark.
"Are you letting a nigger—and a crazy one at that—decide the biggest thing in my life?" raged Bradish.
"I know what I'm doing," Captain Downs assured him. But the skipper was manifestly amazed by the expression he saw on Mayo's face.
"I won't stand for it! Here, you!" Bradish rushed across the room and intercepted Mayo.
"Come away from that man!" commanded the skipper.
But Bradish was not in a mood to obey authority. "There's something behind this and I propose to be let in on it! Stop, you!" He pushed Mayo back, but the latter's face did not change its expression of dull, blank, utter despair which saw not and heard not. Mayo recovered himself and came on again, looking into vacancy.
"If you have a grudge against me, by the gods, I'll wake you up and make you explain it!" shouted Bradish. He drew back his arm and drove a quick punch squarely against the expressionless face. The blow came with a lurch of the vessel and Mayo fell flat on his back. He went down as stiffly as he had walked, with as little effort to save himself as a store dummy would have made.
But he was another man when he came upon his feet.
Bradish had awakened him!
The master of the Alden hurried around the table, roaring oaths, and tried to get between them, but he was an unwieldy man on his short legs. Before he was in arm's-length they were at each other, dodging here and there.
Bradish was no shrimp of an adversary; he was taller than his antagonist, and handled his fists like a man who had been trained as an amateur boxer.
They fought up and down the cabin, battering each other's face.
The indignant master threatened them with an upraised chair, tried to strike down their hands with it, but they were in no mood to mind a mediator. They fought like maddened cats, banging against the cabin walls, whirling in a crazy rigadoon to find an opening for their fists; Captain Downs was not nimble enough to catch them. Uttering awful profanity, he threatened to shoot both of them and rushed into the main saloon, unlocking the door.
"I'm coming back with a gun!" he promised. But the fight ended suddenly in a wrestling trick.
Mayo closed in, got Bradish's right hand in a grip, and doubled the arm behind his adversary's back. Then he tripped the city man and laid him backward over the table and against its edge with a violence that brought a yell of pain and made Bradish limp and passive. Mayo held him there.
"My grudge, eh? My grudge!" the victor panted. "Because you wouldn't tell me how the sneaks ruined me? No! The girl isn't here now. I'll tell you! It's because you stole her self-respect and her good name, and it makes you too dirty a dog to be her husband!"
He picked up Bradish and threw him on the floor. When he turned he saw the girl's white, agonized, frightened face at the crack of the saloon door.
"Captain Downs!" she shrieked, "that negro is killing him. He's killing Ralph!"
The victor turned his back on her and lurched around the table on his way out. He stroked blood from his face with his palm, and was glad that she had not recognized him; and yet, her failure to do so, even though he was such a pitiable figure of the man she had known, was one more slash of the whip of anguish across his raw soul. For a moment they had stood there, face to face, and only blank unrecognition greeted him; it made this horrible contretemps seem all the more unreal.
Mayo did not pause to listen to the ravings of Captain Downs, who came thrusting past her. Dizzy, bleeding, half blind, he rushed up the forward companionway and went into the black night on deck.
The mate was bawling for all hands to shorten sail, and Mayo took his place with the toilers, who were manning sheets and downhauls.
XXIII ~ THE MONSTER THAT SLIPPED ITS LEASH
And there Captain Kirby proved a coward at last, And he played at bo-peep behind the mainmast, And there they did stand, boys, and shiver and shake, For fear that that terror their lives it would take. —Admiral Benbow.
Rain came with the wind, and the weather settled into a sullen, driving, summer easterly.
Late summer regularly furnishes one of those storms to the Atlantic coast, a recrudescence of the wintry gales, a trial run of the elements, a sort of inter-equinoctial testing out so that Eurus may be sure that his bellows is in working condition.
Such a storm rarely gives warning ahead that it is to be severe. It seems to be a meteorological prank in order to catch mariners napping.
At midnight the Alden was plunging into creaming seas, her five masts thrummed by the blast. With five thousand tons of coal weighting her, she wallowed like a water-soaked log.
Mayo, who was roused from his hideous agony of soul at four bells, morning, to go on deck for his watch, ventured as near the engine-room door as he dared, for the rain was soaking his meager garments and the red glow from within was grateful. The ship's pump was clanking, a circumstance in no way alarming, because the huge schooners of the coal trade are racked and wrenched in rough water.
The second mate came to the engine-room, lugging the sounding-rod to the light in order to examine the smear on its freshly chalked length.
He tossed it out on deck with a grunt of satisfaction. "Nothing to hurt!" he said to the engineer. "However, I'd rather be inside the capes in this blow. The old skimmer ain't what she used to be. Johnson, do you know that this schooner is all of two feet longer when she is loaded than when she is light?"
"I knew she was hogged, but I didn't know it was as bad as that."
"I put the lead-line on her before she went into the coal-dock this trip, and I measured her again in the stream yesterday. With a cargo she just humps right up like a monkey bound for war. That's the way with these five-masters! They get such a racking they go wrong before the owners realize."
"They'll never build any more, and I don't suppose they want to spend much money on the old ones," suggested the engineer.
"Naturally not, when they ain't paying dividends as it is." He stepped to the weather rail and sniffed. "I reckon the old man will be dropping the killick before long," he said.
Mayo knew something of the methods of schooner masters and was not surprised by the last remark.
In the gallant old days, when it was the custom to thrash out a blow, the later plan of anchoring a big craft in the high seas off the Delaware coast, with Europe for a lee, would have been viewed with a certain amount of horror by a captain.
But the modern skipper figures that there's less wear and tear if he anchors and rides it out. To be sure, it's no sort of a place for a squeamish person, aboard a loaded schooner whose mudhook clutches bottom while the sea flings her about, but the masters and crews of coal-luggers are not squeamish.
Mayo, glancing aft, saw two men coming forward slowly, stopping at regular intervals. The light of a lantern played upon their dripping oilskins. When they arrived at the break of the main-deck, near the forward house, he recognized Captain Downs and the first mate. The second mate stepped out and replied to the captain's hail.
"Bring a maul and some more wedges!" commanded the master.
"Drusilla is getting her back up some more," commented the second mate, starting for the storeroom. "I don't blame her much. This is no place for an old lady, out here to-night." He ordered Mayo to accompany him.
In a few moments they reported to the captain, the mate carrying the two-headed maul and the young man bearing an armful of wedges.
Captain Downs bestowed on Mayo about the same attention he would have allowed to a galley cockroach. He pointed to a gap in the rail.
"There—drive one in there," he told the mate. "Let that nigger hold the wedge." There was rancor in his voice—baleful hostility shone in his snapping eyes; no captain tolerates disobedience at sea, and Mayo had disregarded all discipline in the cabin.
The young man kneeled and performed the service and followed the party dutifully when they moved on to the next gap.
The pitching schooner groaned and grunted and squalled in all her fabric.
Every angle joint was working—yawing open and closing with dull grindings as the vessel rolled and plunged.
"By goofer, she's gritting her teeth in good shape!" commented the first mate.
"She ought to have been stiffened a year ago, when she first began to loosen and work!" declared Captain Downs. His anxiety stirred both his temper and his tongue. "I was willing to have my sixteenth into her assessed for repairs, but a stockholder don't have to go to sea! I wish I had an excursion party of owners aboard here now."
"When these old critters once get loose enough to play they rattle to pieces mighty fast," said the mate. "But this is nothing specially bad."
"Find out what we've got under us," snapped Captain Downs. The wedges had been driven. "Let this nigger carry the lead for'ard!"
It was a difficult task in the night, because the leadline had to be passed from the quarter-deck to the cathead outside the shrouds; the rails and deck were slippery. Plainly, Captain Downs was proposing to show Mayo "a thing or two."
He let go the lead at command, and heard the man on the quarter-deck, catching the line when it swung into a perpendicular position, report twenty-five fathoms.
Again, answering the mate's bawled orders, Mayo carried the lead forward and dropped it, after a period of waiting, during which the schooner had been eased off. He was soaked to the skin, and was miserable in both body and mind. He had betrayed himself, he had made an enemy of the man who knew something which could help him; he felt a queer sense of shame and despair when he remembered the girl and the expression of her face. He tried to convince himself that he did not care what her opinion of him was. What happened to that love she had professed on board the Olenia? What manner of maiden was this? He did not understand!
Five times he made his precarious trip with the lead, fumbling his way outside the rigging.
In twenty fathoms Captain Downs decided to anchor, after the mate, "arming" the lead by filling its cup with grease, found that they were over good holding ground.
When the Alden came into the wind and slowed down, slapping wet sails, the second mate hammered out the holding-pin of the gigantic port anchor, and the hawse-hole belched fathom after fathom of chain.
All hands were on deck letting sails go on the run into the lazy-jacks, and the big schooner swung broadside to the trough of the sea. She made a mighty pendulum, rolling rails under, sawing the black skies with her towering masts.
There are many things which can happen aboard a schooner in that position when men are either slow or stupid. A big negro who was paying out the mizzen-peak halyards allowed his line to foul. Into the triangle of sail the wind volleyed, and the thirty-foot mizzen-boom, the roll of the ship helping, swung as far as its loosened sheets allowed. The "traveler," an iron hoop encircling a long bar of iron fastened at both ends to the deck, struck sparks as a trolley pulley produces fire from a sleety wire.
With splintering of wood and clanging of metal, the iron bar was wrenched from its deck-fastenings and began to fly to and fro across the deck at the end of its tether, like a giant's slung-shot. It circled, it spun, it flung itself afar and returned in unexpected arcs.
Men fled from the area which this terror dominated.
The boom swung until it banged the mizzen shrouds to port, and then came swooping back across the deck, to slam against the starboard shrouds. The clanging, tethered missile it bore on its end seemed to be searching for a victim. When the boom met the starboard shrouds in its headlong rush, the schooner shivered.
"Free that halyard and douse the peak!" roared the first mate.
A sailor started, ducking low, but he ran back when the boom came across the deck with such a vicious swing that the iron bar fairly screamed through the air.
"Gawd-a-mighty! She'll bang the mast out of her!" clamored Captain Downs. "Get some men to those halyards, Mr. Dodge! Catch that boom!"
The mate ran and kicked at a sailor, shouting profane orders. He seized the fellow and thrust him toward the pins where the halyards were belayed. But at that instant the rushing boom came hurtling overhead with its slung-shot, and the iron banged the rail almost exactly where the fouled line was secured. The mate and the sailor fell flat on their faces and crawled back from the zone of danger.
"Get some rope and noose that boom! Lassoo it!" commanded the master, touching up his orders with some lurid sea oaths.
But the men who stepped forward did so timidly and slowly, and dodged back when the boom threatened. The flying bar was a terrible weapon. Now it swung in toward the mast—now swept in wider radius. Just where it would next sweep the deck between the masts depended on the vagary of wave and wind. It was perfectly apparent that anybody who got in its path would meet death as instantly as a fly under a housewife's spanker.
Life is sweet, even if a man is black and is toiling for a dollar-a-day wage.
And even if a man is a mate, at a higher wage and with more responsibility, he is inclined to think of himself before he figures on saving a mast and gear for a schooner's owners.
"What kind of a gor-rammed crew have I got aboard here?" shrieked the master.
"About the kind that all wind-jammers carry these days," said a voice at his elbow.
Captain Downs whirled and found Mayo there. "How do you dare to speak to me, you tin-kettle sailor?" demanded the master. In his passion he went on: "You're aboard here under false pretenses. You can't even do your work. You have made this vessel liable by assaulting a passenger. You're no good! With you aboard here I'm just the same as one man short." But he had no time to devote to this person.
He turned away and began to revile his mates and his sailors, his voice rising higher each time the rampaging boom crashed from side to side. One or two of the backstays had parted, and it was plain that before long the mast would go by the board.
"If that mast comes out it's apt to smash us clear to the water-line," lamented the captain.
"If you can make your herd of sheep give me a hand at the right time, I'll show you that a tin-kettle sailor is as good as a wind-jammer swab," said Mayo, retaliating with some of the same sort of rancor that Captain Downs had been expending. In that crisis he was bold enough to presume on his identity as a master mariner. "I'd hate to find this kind of a bunch on any steamboat I've ever had experience with."
Then he ran away before the captain had time to retort. He made a slide across the danger zone on his back, like a runner in a ball game. This move brought him into a safe place between the mainmast and the mizzen. There was a coil of extra cable here, and he grabbed the loose end and deftly made a running bowline knot. He set the noose firmly upon his shoulders, leaped up, and caught at the hoops on the mizzenmast.
"See to it that the line runs free from that coil, and stand by for orders!" he shouted, and though his dyed skin was dark and he wore the garb of the common sailor, he spoke with the unmistakable tone of the master mariner. The second mate ran to the line and took charge.
"This is a bucking bronco, all right!" muttered Mayo. "But it's for the honor of the steamboat men! I'll show this gang!"
He poised himself for a few moments on the crotch of the boom, clinging to the cringles of the luff—the short ropes with which the sail is reefed.
As he stood there, gathering himself for his desperate undertaking, waiting for opportunity, taking the measure of the lashing and insensate monster whom he had resolved to subdue, he heard Captain Downs bawl an impatient command:
"Passengers go below!"
Mayo looked aft and saw Alma Marston clinging to the spike-rack of the spanker mast. The coach-house lantern shone upon her white face.
"Go below!" repeated the master.
She shook her head.
"This is no place for a woman."
"The vessel is going to sink!" she quavered.
"The schooner is all right. You go below!"
How bitter her fear was Mayo could not determine. But even at his distance he could see stubborn resolution on her countenance.
"If I've got to die, I'll not die down there in a box," she cried. "I'm going to stay right here."
Captain Downs swore and turned his back on her. Apparently he did not care to come to a real clinch with this feminine mutineer.
The great spar crashed out to the extent of its arc, and the sail volleyed with it, ballooning under the weight of the wind. The reef-points were no longer within Mayo's reach. He ran along the boom, arms outspread to steady himself, and was half-way to its end before the telltale surge under him gave warning. Then he fell upon the huge stick, rolled under it, and shoved arms and legs under the foot of the sail. Barely had he clutched the spar in fierce embrace before it began its return journey. It was a dizzy sweep across the deck, a breath-taking plunge.
When the spar collided with the stays he felt as if arms and legs would be wrenched from his body. He did not venture to move or to relax his hold. He clung with all his strength, and nerved himself for the return journey. He had watched carefully, and knew something of the vagaries of the giant flail. When it was flung to port the wind helped to hold it there until the resistless surge of the schooner sent it flying wild once more. He knew that no mere flesh and blood could endure many of those collisions with the stays. He resolved to act on the next oscillation to port, in order that his strength might not be gone.
"See that the cable runs free!" he screamed as he felt the stick lift for its swoop.
He swung himself upward over the spar the moment it struck, and the momentum helped him. He ran again, steadying himself like a tight-wire acrobat. He snatched the noose from his shoulders, slipped it over the end of the boom, and yelled an order, with all the strength of his lungs:
"Pull her taut!"
At that instant the boom started to swing again.
Standing on the end of the spar, he was outboard; the frothing sea was under him. He could not jump then; to leap when the boom was sweeping across the deck meant a skinful of broken bones; to wait till the boom brought up against the stays, so he realized, would invite certain disaster; he would either be crushed between the boom and shrouds or snapped far out into the ocean as a bean 'is filliped by a thumb. On the extreme end of the spar the leverage would be so great that he could not hope to cling there with arms and legs.
A queer flick of thought brought to Mayo the phrase, "Between the devil and the deep sea." That flying boom was certainly the devil, and the foaming sea looked mighty deep.
Her weather roll was more sluggish and Mayo had a moment to look about for some mode of escape.
He saw the sail of "number four" mast sprawling loose in its lazy-jacks, unfurled and showing a tumbled expanse of canvas. When he was inside the rail, and while the boom was gathering momentum, he took his life in his hands and his grit between his teeth and leaped toward the sail. He made the jump just at the moment when the boom would give him the most help.
He heard Captain Downs's astonished oath when he dove over that worthy mariner's head, a human comet in a twenty-foot parabola.
He landed in the sail on his hands and knees, yelling, even as he alighted: "Catch her, boys!"
They did it when the spar banged against the stays. They surged on the rope, tightened the noose, and before the vessel rolled again had made half a dozen turns of the free end of the cable around the nearest cleats.
Mayo scrambled down from the sail and helped them complete the work of securing the spar. He passed near Captain Downs when the job had been finished.
"Well," growled the master of the Alden, "what do you expect me to say to that?"
"I simply ask you to keep from saying something."
"That a steamboat man can't earn his pay aboard a wind-jammer, sir. I don't like to feel that I am under obligations in any way."
The master grunted.
"And if the little thing I have done helps to square that break I made by licking your passenger I'll be glad of it," added Mayo.
"You needn't rub it in," said Captain Downs, carefully noting that there was nobody within hearing distance. "When a man has been in a nightmare for twenty-four hours, like I've been, you've got to make some allowances, Captain Mayo. This is a terrible mixed-upmess." He squinted at the mizzen rigging where the lanterns revealed the damage. "And by the way those backstays are ripped out, and seeing how that mast is wabbling, this schooner is liable to be about as badly mixed up as the people are on board of her."
Mayo turned away and went back to his work. They were rigging extra stays for the mizzenmast. And he noted that the girl near the coach-house door was staring at him with a great deal of interest. But in that gloom he was only a moving figure among toiling men.
An hour later the mate ordered the oil-bags to be tied to the catheads. The bags were huge gunny sacks stuffed with cotton waste which was saturated with oil.
In spite of the fact that her spanker, double-reefed, was set in order to hold her up to the wind, weather-vane fashion, the schooner seemed determined to keep her broadside to the tumbling seas. The oil slick helped only a little; every few moments a wave with spoondrift flying from it would smash across the deck, volleying tons of water between rails, with a sound like thunder. At these times the swirling torrent in the waist would reach to a man's knees.
Mayo did not take his watch below. The excitement of his recent experience had driven away all desire for sleep, and the sheathing in the fo'c'sle was squawking with such infernal din that only a deaf man could have remained there in comfort.
However, he was not uneasy in regard to the safety of the schooner. In a winter gale, with ice caking on her, he would have viewed their situation in different light. But he had frequently seen the seas breaking over the wallowing coal-luggers when he had passed them at anchor on the coast.
He made a trip of his own along the main-deck, scrambling upon the spars to avoid the occasional deluge which swept her amidship. The battened hatches were apparently withstanding the onslaughts of the waves. He could feel less weight in the wind. It was apparent that the crisis of the blow had passed. The waves were not so savage; their crests were not breaking. But just then the second mate rushed past, and Mayo overheard the report he gave the captain, who was pacing the lee alley:
"The mizzenmast is getting more play, sir. I'm afraid it's raising the devil with the step and ke'lson."
"Rig extra stays and try her again for water," ordered the master.
Mayo, returning to the mizzen, found the entire crew grouped there. The mast was writhing and groaning in its deck collar, twisting its coat—the canvas covering at its foot where it entered the deck.
The dusky faces were exhibiting much concern. They had flocked where the ship was dealing herself a wound; the sailor sixth sense of impending trouble had drawn them there.
"Four of you hustle aloft and stand ready to make fast those stays!" commanded the first mate.
"Rest of you make ready tackle!" shouted the second mate, following close on Mayo's heels.
The negroes did not stir. They mumbled among themselves.
"Step lively!" insisted the mate.
"'Scuse us, but dat mast done goin' to tumble down," ventured a man.
"Aloft with you, I say!"
Just then the schooner slatted herself on a great roller, and the starboard stays snapped, one after the other, like mammoth fiddle-strings. The mast reeled and there was an ominous sound below the deck.
"She done put a hole into herself!" squealed a sailor.
In the gloom their eyes were gleaming with the fires one beholds in the eyes of frightened cats.
"Dere she comes!" shouted one of them. He pointed trembling finger.
Over the coamings of the fore-hatch black water was bubbling.
Yelping like animals, the sailors stampeded aft in a bunch, bowling over Mayo and the mates in their rush.
"Stop 'em, captain!" bellowed the first mate, guessing their intent. He rose and ran after them. But fright gave them wings for their heels. They scampered over the roof of the after-house, and were on the quarter-deck before the skipper was out of the alley. They leaped into the yawl which was swung at the stern davits.
"You renegades!" roared the master. "Come out of that boat!"
With the two mates at his heels he rushed at them. They grabbed three struggling men by the legs and dragged them back. But the negroes wriggled loose, driven to frantic efforts by their panic. They threw themselves into the boat again.
"Be men!" clamored Mayo, joining the forces of discipline. "There's a woman aboard here!"
But the plea which might have affected an Anglo-Saxon did not prevail. Their knives were out—not for attack on their superiors, but to slash away the davit tackle.
"Come on, boys! Throw 'em out!" shouted the master, leading the way into the yawl over the rail.
His two mates and Mayo followed, and the engineer, freshly arrived from forward, leaped after them. But as fast as they tossed a man upon the quarter-deck he was up and in the boat again fighting for a place.
"Throw 'em overboard!" roared the master, venting a terrible oath. He knocked one of the maddened wretches into the sea. The next moment the captain was flat on his back, and the sailors were trampling on him.
Most of the surges came riding rail-high; sometimes an especially violent wave washed the deck aft.
Following it, a chasm regularly opened under the vessel's counter, a swirling pit in the ocean twenty feet deep.
There was good fortune as well as misfortune in the affair of the yawl. When at last it dropped it avoided the period of the chasm.
In spite of the efforts of the captain and his helpers the sailors succeeded in slashing away the davit tackle. A swelling roller came up to meet the boat as the last strand gave way and swept it, with its freight, out into the night. But as it went Mayo clutched a davit pulley and swung in midair.
The dizzy depths of the sea opened under him as he dangled there and gazed down.
An instant later all his attention was focused on Alma Marston, who stood in the companionway clutching its sides and shrieking out her fears. The lantern showed her to him plainly. Its radiance lighted him also. He called to her several times, angrily at last.
"Where is that man, Bradish?" he demanded, fiercely.
It seemed as if his arms would be pulled out. He could not reach the davit iron from where he hung; the schooner's rail was too far away, though he kicked his feet in that direction.
"Don't be a fool! Stop that screaming," he told her. "Can Bradish!"
"He is sick—he—he—is frightened," she faltered.
"Come out here! Pull on that rope! Swing me in, I can't hold on here much longer. Do you want to see me drown?"
She came along the rail, clinging to it.
"No, not that rope! The other one! Pull hard!"
She obeyed, fighting back her fear. The davit swung inward slowly, and he managed to slide his legs up over the rail and gain the deck.
"Thank you!" he gasped. "You're quite a sailor!"
He had been wondering what his first words to her would be. Even while he swung over the yawning depths of the sea the problem of his love was so much more engrossing than his fear of death that his thoughts were busy with her. He tried to speak to her with careless tone; it had been in his mind that he would speak and bow and walk away. But he could not move when she opened her eyes on him. She was as motionless as he—a silent, staring pallid statue of astounded fright. The rope slipped slowly from her relaxing fingers.
"Yes! It's just the man you think it is," he informed her, curtly. "But there's nothing to be said!"
"I must say something—"
But he checked her savagely. "This is no place to talk over folly! It's no place to talk anything! There's something else to do besides talk!"
"We are going to die, aren't we?" She leaned close to him, and the question was hardly more than a whisper framed by her quivering lips.
"I think so," he answered, brutally.
"Then let me tell you—"
"You can tell me nothing! Keep still!" he shouted, and drew away from her.
"Why doesn't Captain Downs come back after us?"
"Don't be a fool! The sea has taken them away."
They exchanged looks and were silent for a little while, and the pride in both of them set up mutual barriers. It was an attitude which conspired for relief on both sides. Because there was so much to say there was nothing to say in that riot of the sea and of their emotions.
"I won't be a fool—not any more," she told him. There was so distinctly a new note in her voice that he stared at her. "I am no coward," she said. She seemed to have mastered herself suddenly and singularly.
Mayo's eyes expressed frank astonishment; he was telling himself again that he did not understand women.
"I don't blame you for thinking that I am a fool, but I am not a coward," she repeated.
"I'm sorry," stammered the young man. "I forgot myself."
"There is danger, isn't there?"
"I'm afraid the mast has pounded a bad hole in her. I must run forward. I must see if something can't be done."
"I am going with you." She followed him when he started away.
"You must stay aft. You can't get forward along that deck. Look at the waves breaking over her!"
"I am going with you," she insisted. "Perhaps there is something that can be done. Perhaps I can help."
The girl was stubborn, and he knew there was no time for argument.
Three times on their way forward he was obliged to hold her in the hook of his arm while he fought with the torrent that a wave launched upon the deck.
There was no doubt regarding the desperate plight of the schooner. She was noticeably down by the head, and black water was swashing forward of the break of the main-deck. The door of the galley was open, and the one-eyed cook was revealed sitting within beneath a swinging lantern. He held a cat under his arm.
"Bear a hand here, cook!" called Mayo.
But the man did not get off his stool.
"Bear a hand, I say! We've got to rig tackle and get this long-boat over."
The schooner's spare boat was in chocks between the foremast and the main. Mayo noted that it was heaped full of spare cable and held the usual odds and ends of a clutter-box. He climbed in hastily and gave a hand to the girl to assist her over the rail.
"It will keep you out of the swash," he advised her. "Sit there in the stern while I toss out this truck."
But she did not sit down. She began to throw out such articles as her strength could manage.
Again Mayo hailed the cook, cursing him heartily.
"Oh, it ain't any use," declared the man, with resignation. "We're goners."
"We aren't gone till we go, you infernal turtle! Come here and pitch in."
"I hain't got no heart left for anything. I never would have believed it. The Old Man going off and saving a lot of nigger sailors instead of me—after all the vittles I've fixed up for him. If that's the kind of gratitude there is in the world, I'm glad I'm going out of it. Me and the cat will go together. The cat's a friend, anyway."
Mayo lost his temper then in earnest. All his nature was on edge in that crisis, and this supine surrender of an able-bodied man whose two hands were needed so desperately was peculiarly exasperating. He leaped out of the boat, ran into the galley, and gave the cook an invigorating beating up with the flat of his hands. The cook clutched his cat more firmly, braced himself on the stool, and took his punishment.
"Kill me if you want to," he invited. "I've got to die, and it don't make a mite of difference how. Murder me if you're so inclined."
"Man—man—man, what's the matter with you?" gasped Mayo. "We've got a chance! Here's a girl to save!"
"She hain't got no business being here. Was sneaked aboard. It's no use to pound me. I won't lift a finger. My mind is made up. I've been deserted by the Old Man."
"You old lunatic, Captain Downs got carried away by those cowards. Wake up! Help me! For the love of the Lord, help me!"
"Rushing around will only take my mind off'n thoughts of the hereafter, and I need to do some right thinking before my end. It ain't any use to threaten and jaw; nothing makes any difference to me now."
Mayo saw the uselessness of further appeal, and the fellow dangled as limply as a stuffed dummy when the young man shook him. Therefore Mayo gave over his efforts and hurried back to the long-boat. The spectacle of the girl struggling with the stuff she was jettisoning put new determination into him. Her amazing fortitude at the time when he had looked for hysterics and collapse gave him new light on the enigma of femininity.
"Did you tell me that Bradish is ill?" he asked, hurriedly.
"He is in the cabin. He would not talk to me. I could not induce him to come on deck."
"I must have help with the tackle," he told her, and started aft on the run.
He found Bradish sprawled in a morris-chair which was lashed to a radiator. He expected hot words and more insults, but Bradish turned to him a face that was gray with evident terror. His jaw sagged; his eyes appealed.
"This is awful!" he mourned. "What has happened on deck? I heard the fighting. Where is Miss Mar-ston?"
"She is forward. There has been an accident—a bad one. We have lost the captain and crew. Come on. I need help."
"I can't help. I'm all in!" groaned Bradish.
"I say you must. It's the only way to save our lives."
Bradish rolled his head on the back of the chair, refusing. His manner, his sudden change from the fighting mood, astonished Mayo. The thought came to him that this man had been pricked to conflict by bitter grudge instead of by his courage.
"Look here, Bradish, aren't you going to help me save that girl?"
"I'm not a sailor. There's nothing I can do."
"But you've got two hands, man. I want to get a boat overboard. Hurry!"
"No, no! I wouldn't get into a small boat with these waves so high. It wouldn't be safe."
"This schooner is sinking!" shouted Mayo. He fastened a heavy clutch upon Bradish's shoulders. "There's no time to argue this thing. You come along!"
He hauled Bradish to his feet and propelled him to the companionway, and the man went without resistance. It was evident that real danger and fear of death had nearly paralyzed him.
"There's nothing I can do!" he kept bleating.
But Mayo hurried him forward.
"Ralph!" cried the girl, fairly lashing him with the tone in which she delivered the word. "What is the matter with you?"
"There's nothing I can do. It isn't safe out here."
"You must do what this man tells you to do. He knows."
But Bradish clung to the gunwale of the long-boat and stared out at the yeasty waves, blinking his eyes.
"If I only had a couple of men instead of these two infernal tapeworms," raged Mayo, "I could reeve tackle and get this boat over. Wake up! Wake up!" he clamored, beating his fist on Bradish's back.
"Ralph! Be a man!" There were anger, protest, shocked wonder in her tones.
Suddenly Mayo saw an ominous sight and heard a boding sound. The fore-hatch burst open with a mighty report, forced up by the air compressed by the inflowing water. He wasted no more breath in argument and appeals. He realized that even an able crew would not have time to launch the boat. The schooner was near her doom.
In all haste he pulled his clasp-knife and cut the lashings which held the boat in its chocks. That the craft would be driven free from the entangling wreckage and go afloat when the schooner went under he could hardly hope. But there was only this desperate chance to rely upon in the emergency.
In his agony of despair and his fury of resentment he was tempted to climb into the boat and leave the two cowards to their fate. But he stooped, caught Bradish by the legs and boosted him over the gunwale into the yawl. A sailor's impulse is to save life even at the risk of his own. Mayo ran to the galley and kicked the cook off the stool and then drove him headlong to the longboat. The man went along, hugging his cat.
"What will happen to us?" asked the girl when Mayo climbed in.
"I don't know," he panted. "I reckon the devil is pitching coppers for us just now—and the penny is just hopping off his thumb nail!"
His tone was reckless. The excitement of the past few hours was having its effect on him at last. He was no longer normal. Something that was almost delirium affected him.
"Aren't you frightened?" she asked.
"Yes," he admitted. "But I'm going to keep hustling just the same."
Bradish and the cook were squatting amidships in the yawl.
"You lie down under those thwarts, the two of you, and hang on," cried Mayo. Then he quickly passed a rope about the girl's waist and made the ends of the line fast to the cleats. "I don't know what will happen when the old tub dives," he told her. "Those five thousand tons of coal will take her with a rush when she starts. All I can say is, hold tight and pray hard!"
"Thank you," she said, quietly.
"By gad, she's got grit!" muttered the young man, scrambling forward over the prostrate forms of the other passengers. "I wonder if all the women in the world are this way?" He was remembering the bravery of Polly Candage.
There was a huge coil of rope in the bow, spare cable stored there. Mayo made fast the free end, working as rapidly as he was able, and bundled about half the coil into a compact mass—a knob at the end of some ten fathoms of line. And to this knob he lashed oars and the mast he found stowed in the boat. He knew that if they did get free from the schooner only an efficient sea-anchor or drag would keep the yawl right side up. When this task was finished he crouched low in the bow and looked at the girl.
"We're about ready to start on our journey," he called to her. "If I don't see you again, good-by!"
"I shall not say good-by to you, Captain Mayo—not yet!"
XXIV ~ DOWN A GALLOPING SEA
I saddled me an Arab steed and saddled her another, And off we rode together just like sister and like brother, Singing, "Blow ye winds in the morning! Blow ye winds, hi ho! Brush away the morning dew, Blow ye winds, hi ho!" —Blew Ye Winds.
With anxiety that was almost despairing Mayo looked up at the shrouds, stays, and halyards, which were set like nets to right and left and overhead.
A big roller tumbled inboard and filled the space forward of the break of the main-deck. The swirling water touched the sides of the long-boat and then receded when the stricken schooner struggled up from the welter. A scuttle-butt was torn from its lashings and went by the board, and other flotsam followed it.
Mayo found that spectacle encouraging. But the longboat sat high in its chocks; when it did float it might be too late.
Another wave roared past, and the long-boat quivered. Then Mayo took a chance without reckoning on consequences. He made a double turn of the cable around his forearm and leaped out of the boat and stood on deck, his shoulder against the stem. The next wave washed him to his waist, tore at him, beat him against the long-boat's shoe, but he clung fast and lifted and pushed with all his strength.
That push did it!
The boat needed just that impetus to free her from the chocks. She lifted and rushed stern foremost to lee, and the young man dragged after her.
When the boat dipped and halted in a hollow of the sea he clutched the bow and clambered in. Tugging mightily, he managed to dump the sea-anchor over.
The next wave caught her on the quarter and slopped a barrel of water into her. But she kept right side up, and in a few moments the cable straightened and she rode head into the tumult of the ocean; the sea-anchor was dragging and performing its service.
Mayo was obliged to kick the two men with considerable heartiness before he could stir them to bailing with the buckets. The bedraggled cat fled to the shelter of the girl's arms. Mayo struggled aft, in order to take his weight from the bow of the boat, and when he sat down beside the girl she was "mothering" the animal.
"It's coming in faster than I can throw it out!" wailed Bradish.
"Bail faster, then! Bail or drown!"
"She's leaking," announced the cook. "She has been on deck so long she has got all dried out."
"Bail or drown!" repeated Mayo. To the girl he said: "This seems to be the only way of getting work out of cowards. They'll have to do it. I'm about done for."
The waves were lifting and dropping them in dizzying fashion. There was suddenly a more violent tossing of the water.
"That's the old packet! She went under then!" Mayo explained. "Thank the Lord we are out of her clutches! I was afraid we were stuck there."
"Is there any hope for us now?" she inquired.
"I don't know. If the boat stays afloat and the wind doesn't haul and knock this sea crossways, if somebody sees us in the morning, if we don't get rolled onto the coast in the breakers and—" He did not finish.
"It seems that a lot of things can happen at sea," she suggested.
"That fact has been proved to me in the past few weeks."
"You mean in the past few hours, don't you?"
"Miss Marston, what has happened on that schooner is a part of the business, and a sailor must take it as it comes along. I wish nothing worse had happened to me than what's happening now."
She made no reply.
"But no matter about it," he said, curtly.
The two men, kneeling amidships, clutching a thwart and bailing with their free hands, toiled away; even Bradish had wakened to the fact that he was working for his own salvation.
In the obscurity the waves which rose ahead seemed like mountains topped with snow. Hollows and hills of water swept past on their right and left. But the crests of the waves were not breaking, and this fact meant respite from immediate danger.
"I'm sorry it was all left to you to do," ventured the girl, breaking a long silence. "I thought Ralph had more man in him," she added, bitterly. "I feel that he ought to apologize to you for—for several things."
He, on his part, did not reply to that. He was afraid that she intended to draw him into argument or explanation. Just what he would be able to say to her on that topic was not clear to him.
"It seems as if years had gone by instead of hours. It seems as if I had lived half a life since I left home. It seems as if I had changed my nature and had grown up to see things in a different light. It is all very strange to me."
He did not know whether she were talking to herself or to him. He did not offer comment.
There was a long period of silence. The sound of rushing waters filled, that silence and made their conversation audible only to themselves when they talked.
"I don't understand how you happened to be on that schooner—as—as you were," she said, hesitating.
"I didn't rig myself out this way to play any practical jokes, Miss Marston," he returned, bitterly.
"I would like to know how it all happened—your side of it."
"I have talked too much already."
There was no more conversation for a long time. He wondered how she had mustered courage to talk at all. They were in a predicament to try the courage of even a seasoned seaman. In the night, tossed by that wild sea, drifting they knew not where, she had apparently disregarded danger. He asked himself if she had not merely exhibited feminine ignorance of what their situation meant. He had often seen cases where apparent bravado was based on such ignorance.
"I must say that you told me at least one truth a while ago—you are not a coward," he said at last.
She was comforting the wretched cat. "But I am miserably frightened," she admitted. "I don't dare to think about the thing. I don't dare to look at the waves. I talked to you so as to take my mind off my troubles. I didn't mean to be prying."
"I'll tell you what has been done to me," he blurted. "Hearing somebody's troubles may take your mind off your own."
While the two men amidships bailed doggedly and weariedly, he told his story as briefly as he could. The gray dawn showed her face to him after a time, and he was peculiarly comforted by the sympathy he saw there. He did not communicate to her any suspicions he may have entertained. With sailor directness he related how he had hoped, and how all had been snatched away from him. But on one topic the mouths of both seemed to be sealed!
After a time Bradish and the cook were enabled to rest from the work of bailing. The planks of the boat swelled and the leak was stopped.
"You'd better crawl aft here and sit beside Miss Marston," advised Mayo. "Be careful how you move."
He passed Bradish and took the latter's place with the cook, and felt a sense of relief; he had feared that the one, the dreaded topic would force itself upon him.
"I don't see no sense in prolonging all this agony," averred his despondent companion. "We ain't ever going to get out of this alive. We're drifting in on the coast, and you know what that means."
"You may jump overboard any time you see fit," said the skipper of the craft. "I don't need you any longer for bailing!"