HotFreeBooks.com
Fire Mountain - A Thrilling Sea Story
by Norman Springer
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Then a hand took him by the throat, long, supple, muscular fingers stopping his wind. He saw a face upraised to his—an expressionless yellow face, with glittering, slanting eyes. He drew up his club for the blow. The slender fingers were probing upward, behind his jawbone, and he was choking.

Then, it seemed to Martin, a stream of liquid fire flooded his veins, searing his entire body. The belaying-pin dropped from his nerveless hand, his arms dropped, his knees sagged.

The terrible fingers squeezed tighter. He could feel his eyeballs starting, his tongue swelling. The flame consumed his vitals. It was hellish pain—quite the sharpest agony Martin had ever felt.

He was upon his back on the floor. The fingers were gone, but the awful pain continued. His wits were swimming. A pair of soft arms were about him. His reeling head was cushioned against a loved and fragrant breast; a dear voice spoke his name anxiously.

"Martin, Martin! What have they done? Oh, Martin, speak to me!" He tried to speak, but could not.

Then the loved presence was gone, and he was alone. A face bent over him!—a yellow face. It was a well-remembered face, the face of little Dr. Ichi. But what a towsled, bedraggled successor to the former dandy!

Ichi was smiling at him. It was all very strange to Martin, unreal, like the fancies of a delirium. A mist came before his eyes and blotted out the smiling face. But his senses left him with Ichi's courteously spoken words in his ears:

"Very, very sorry, Mr. Blake. You were of such roughness we were compelled to use the ju-jitsu!"



CHAPTER XV

IN THE LAZARET

It seemed to Martin he was wandering in a vast and thirsty desert. To the very core of his being he was dry. Drink! Drink! With his whole life he lusted drink. He waded through that parched world, burning up with thirst.

Despite his efforts, his mouth sagged open, and his tongue, swollen to prodigious size, burst through its proper limits and hung down upon his breast, broiling in the rays of the hot sun. To make the keener his thirst, there lay before him a delectable oasis, a patch of moist green, with playing fountains and rippling cascades plainly visible to his tortured gaze. He struggled toward it, and always, as he neared it, some malign influence clutched his wrists—which unaccountably stuck out behind him—and jerked him back.

For ages and ages he waded through the dry sand toward the water, and ever the Evil One who controlled his wrists kept him from attaining his desire. Water! Water! He was in agony for water. Water! Would he never reach that blessed water?

Then something cold, slimy, horrible, ran over his face, and the loathful thrill he felt shocked him into reality.

The desert vanished. He tried to move and sat up. He heard a frenzied squeaking, and a light scampering on wood, and he knew that a rat had run over his body.

All the sensations of consciousness assailed him abruptly. He heard the rats, and a deep rumble near by; he saw dimly in the darkness; he smelled of mingled odors of provisions; he felt thirst. Though he was out of the desert, he was still consumed with thirst.

He sat quietly for a moment while his confused thoughts gradually arrayed themselves in orderly fashion. He knew where he was instantly—the jumble of casks, and kegs, and boxes, that surrounded him, and which he could dimly perceive in the gloom, and the smell, told him he was in the ship's lazaret. How he came to be there was as yet concealed behind a haze that clouded his memory.

Next, he became aware that something was the matter with his arms. They ached cruelly. After a moment's experimenting and reflection the truth came to him with shocking force—his arms were drawn behind him, and his wrists were handcuffed together. The shock of that discovery dissipated the fog over his mind. He began to remember.

But while his wits groped, he was sharply conscious of his thirst. It blazed. His tongue felt like a piece of swollen leather. He felt pain. His throat was throbbing with pain. Water! Water was the pressing need, the most important thing in existence.

He tried to mouth his desire, to speak it aloud, and a weak and painful gurgle struggled outward from his throat.

There was a stir close by him, and a voice spoke up. Martin was then aware that the deep rumble he had been listening to was the sound of a man swearing deeply and softly. The man now spoke to him.

"Ow, lad, is that you? 'Ave you come to, Martin!"

Martin peered toward the voice, and saw a few feet ahead of him, beyond a circular stanchion, the shadowy outline of a man. He tried to speak, to say, "Bosun! Bosun!" But his misused throat and parched tongue refused to form the words. And with the other's voice came memory, complete and terrible. The past was arrayed before his mind's eye with a lightning flash of recollection. The dreadful present was clear to him in all its bitter truth.

He remembered the trip to the deck in search of Little Billy; the black, evil night, and MacLean's horrified outcry. He remembered the scene in the cabin, Captain Dabney lying inert on the floor, the hateful ring of yellow faces, and Carew—Carew clasping Ruth in his arms!

He remembered felling Carew, and being felled himself by the lethal clutch of the Japanese. He remembered Ichi, and even Ichi's words, "compelled to use the ju-jitsu." They had ju-jitsued him! That was what was wrong with his throat.

The sum of his memories was clear, and for the moment it crushed and terrified him. For it was evident that that which they had speculated upon as a remote almost impossible, contingency, had come to pass—the brig was in Carew's hands. They had been surprised in the fog, a piracy had occurred, murder had been done, and Wild Bob and his yellow followers had taken the ship.

He was a prisoner in the bowels of the ship, his hands chained behind his back, absolutely helpless. And Sails was dead! And Little Billy was dead! Captain Dabney was dead! The crew—God knew, perhaps—they were slaughtered too! And Ruth—Ruth was alive, in Carew's hands, at the mercy of the brute she so feared. Ruth was alive—to suffer what fate? And he—he who loved her—was chained and helpless.

Panic, rage, despair, shook Martin. In excess of misery, he groaned aloud, a smothered sob of anguish.

"Martin, lad! 'Ave you come around? You're sittin' up. Ow, swiggle me, lad, pipe up!"

The words came from the huddled figure behind the stanchion, in a husky beseeching rumble. The shadowy figure stirred, and Martin heard the sharp clink of steel striking against steel.

The words and the sound pierced his dread, and brought his thoughts back to the boatswain. He tried a second time to answer the other's hail, and managed to articulate in a hoarse mumble. The words tore barbed through his sore throat, and were hardly managed by his dry, swollen tongue.

"All right—bos—dry—come."

He got upon his knees and peered into the darkness about him. He was in a narrow passageway between two rows of ship's stores that fan fore and after the length of the lazaret. He was facing forward. Just behind him, on his right hand, a ladder ran up to the cabin overhead, but the trapdoor in the cabin floor was closed.

His scrutiny was aided as much by memory as by eyesight, for he had several times been in this chamber, breaking out stores. The passage he sat in, he knew, ran forward to the row of beef casks which abutted against the forward bulkhead. Midway was an intersecting, thwart-ship alleyway between the stores. At this point of intersection was the stanchion, behind which was the boatswain, a hulking black blot in the surrounding gloom.

He hunched himself along upon his knees, and reached the stanchion.

"Drink—dry—water," he gabbled painfully.

"Marty—Marty, lad, I'm glad you're 'ere!" came the heartfelt whisper from the boatswain. "I feared 'e 'ad choked the life out o' ye. Dry, ye say? So am I, lad. Cussed so much I can't spit—an' my back's bloomin' well busted from bending over 'ugging this stanchion!"

Martin, leaning against a tier of boxes, was able to see the boatswain more clearly. He could not make out the other's features plainly, but he almost rubbed against an arm and leg, and he saw that the big man was in his underwear. The boatswain was seated on the floor, and his arms and legs encircled the stanchion.

"I'd 'a' come to you, Marty, but the blighters 'ave me ironed, ironed 'and an' foot around this bloody stanchion! Ow, but it's a black business, lad! But can ye stand, Martin? 'Ave they ironed you, too?"

Martin desperately endeavored to swallow the dry lump in his throat.

"Behind back—hand," he managed to gulp out. "Throat bad—can't talk—dry——"

"Be'ind your back!" broke in the boatswain. "Ow —— blast the cruel devils! Be'ind your back—ironed be'ind your back! An' you lyin' on your arms these hours! That's cruel 'ard—'arder than me 'ugging this ruddy post. Throat bad? I know—I seen them giving you the squeeze. Ju-jitsu—swiggle me if it wasn't! But can ye stand, Martin? 'Ave you the use o' your legs? Because, them boxes you're leanin' against are canned goods, tomatoes an' such, and——"

But Martin heard no more. He had struggled to his feet, and begun to investigate. For the boatswain's remark concerning canned goods had brought two memories to his mind. One memory went back to the old, half-forgotten days of his clerkhood in San Francisco. In those days he had occasionally gone on Sunday hikes over the Marin hills, in company with Fatty Jones, who worked in a neighboring office. And Fatty Jones, he recalled, always carried with him, in preference to a canteen, two cans of tomatoes for drinking purposes.

The second memory went back but a week. He, and the two Kanakas of his watch, had been sent below to break out a fresh cask of beef. As they struggled with the heavy burden in this very passageway, one of the Kanakas had knocked from its position on top of a pile, a box of tomatoes. The fall broke open the box. They had tossed it back into place, unrepaired. Unless some one had subsequently renailed the cover on that box, it was open to him, somewhere along the top tier.

A vision of himself quaffing deeply of the cool, wet contents of those cans, filled Martin's mind to the exclusion of aught else.

The row of boxes was about breast-high. Unable to use his hands, Martin leaned over and explored with his chin. The fourth box rewarded him. He broke his skin upon a bared nail, and, craning further, rubbed his jawbone over the cold, smooth, round tops of cans.

He crooned with delight. Then followed despair as he discovered that he was unable, without the use of his hands, to either move the box or extract a can.

The boatswain, following his progress with eye and ear, counseled him:

"Turn around, an' bend over, an' reach up backwards. No? Well, try and get on top o' the pile, and flop over."

It was bracing advice. Martin pulled himself together and essayed the attempt.

Slowly he wormed his way upward until his middle balanced on the edge of the top tier. A quick writhe placed him atop. Then he bent back, and his manacled hands felt around till they encountered the cans.

It required repeated attempts ere he was able to draw one out of the box, for the cans were large, of gallon size, and his numbed arms were almost strengthless. But at last he plucked one out and canted it over the edge of the box. It struck the deck with a thud. He scrambled down from his perch, croaking excitedly—

"Got it—bos—got—one."

An instant later, he had kicked the can to the stanchion, and was squatted again by the boatswain's side.

The boatswain slid his arms down the post and felt of the treasure.

"Aye—ye got it!" he commented. "But 'ow'll we open the thing? Too big for me to get my 'ands around, or I'd twist it open—an' the way we're tied up we can't bash it against anything. Strike me a blushin' pink, what rotten luck. An' we fair perishin' with thirst!"

"Got—knife?" mumbled Martin.

"Knife! I ain't got my bloody clothes, let alone my knife! Caught me in my bunk, asleep, they did. And you needn't twist about looking for your sheath-knife, lad. I seen them take it from you, up there in the cabin. Swiggle me' we're stumped—but, you 'aven't a pocket-knife, 'ave you?"

"No," answered Martin.

His spirits were at zero, with the diminishing prospect of tasting those wet tomatoes. His raging thirst, whetted by expectation, assailed him with added force; he was actually dizzy with lust of drink.

"Blimme! 'Aven't you anything in your pockets what's sharp?" asked the boatswain. "Ow, what tough luck!"

Martin suddenly remembered something.

"Got—keys," he croaked. "Bunch—keys."

"Keys!" echoed the other. "Bless me that's better. May work it. Can you reach them—what pocket? Side? 'Ere—lean closer to me, an' I'll get 'em out. Keys! Ow—any of them sharp pointed? Any Yales?"

Two of the boatswain's clublike fingers worked their way into Martin's trousers pocket.

"Don't know—not—mine," Martin answered the questioning. "Keys belong—Little Billy—gave——"

The boatswain's fingers stopped prodding for a second. The man tensed, drew in a sharp breath, and then exploded an oath.

"What! Billy's keys? God 'elp us lad, did ye say you 'ad Little Billy's keys?"

The fingers dove into the pocket with redoubled energy, grasped the keys, and drew them out. And then the boatswain pawed them over for a moment.

"Ow, strike me, 'e spoke right!" he muttered exultingly. "Billy's keys—the steward's ring! Oh ho! An' may the devil swiggle me bleedin' well stiff, if 'ere ain't the wery key! By 'Eaven, I'll 'ave my bare 'ands on that bloke yet! Ow—what luck!"

"What—" commenced the astonished Martin.

"What!" echoed the boatswain. "Ere—you just stand around, and let me get at them bracelets. I'll show ye what! Ow—where's the bloody 'ole! Ah-h!"

There was a tiny click—and Martin felt his steel bonds being drawn from his wrists. His nerveless arms fell to his sides.

The boatswain explained the miracle.

"Little Billy's keys—'ow'd you 'appen—don't ye see, lad? There's a duplicate key to these irons on Billy's key-ring. Old man 'as the other key—or 'ad, suppose Carew 'as it now. It fits all the irons. 'Ere, turn me loose now. This little key!"

A moment later, Martin's fumbling fingers completed their task, and the big man's limbs were free. The boatswain straightened and stretched with a grunt of satisfaction. Martin, obeying the dominant need, which was to drink, seized the can of tomatoes and commenced to pound it against the stanchion, in the hope of bursting it open.

"'Ere—stop that!" hoarsely commanded the boatswain. "You'll 'ave them down on us with that noise. Give me the can—an' the keys. Ah—'ere's a Yale, saw edge. Just drive it through—so. An' use it like a bloomin' can-opener—so. 'Ere you are, lad, drink 'earty. I know 'o'w a chokin' like you got makes a man crazy with thirst. I'm some dry myself."

Martin seized the can. The boatswain had cut a small, jagged opening in the top and Martin clapped his mouth over it, cutting his lips in his eagerness. He drank, drank. It was an exquisite delight to feel the cool stream pouring down his throat; his whole body was instantly refreshed, invigorated.

He paused for breath, and drank again. The contents of the can were three-quarters drinkable, and he gulped the major portion down. Then he stopped with a sudden shame of his greediness, recalling the boatswain's expressed need.

"Oh, bosun, I forgot!" he exclaimed, noting as he spoke that his tongue was limber and tractable again, and that he could form words.

"That's all right, laddie," said the boatswain, taking the proffered can. "I know 'ow you felt. Enough for me 'ere. Ah, that's better than the best drink ever mixed be'ind a bar. Plenty, lad, plenty—I feel fit now. 'Ere, 'ave some more."

Martin finished the tin. Then he heaved a surfeited sigh.

"Oh, I didn't think I'd ever get enough," he said. "Why, I was so dry I couldn't talk. And my throat——"

"I know," interrupted the boatswain, sitting down beside him. "You're bleedin' lucky to be talkin' now, even in a whisper. I've seen other men choked like you was, an' they couldn't say a word for days. Slick beggars with their fingers, them jitsu blokes! And now, Martin, let's figure it out. Ow, swiggle me, what'll we do? The lass——"

The boatswain swore deeply and energetically.

Martin groaned in unison with the other's oaths, his love-born panic for the girl's safety overwhelming him again. Grim, horrible fears surged through his mind and pricked him unendurably. God! Ruth, his Ruth, was alone, helpless, at the mercy of those devils' lusts! And he was sitting here inactive! It was unendurable!

He scrambled to his feet, with the wild idea of mounting the ladder to the cabin and battering his way through the trap-door. He must succor Ruth!

The boatswain reached up a huge hand and pulled him down again. Martin struggled for a moment, his reason clouded by his hot fear.

"But, bosun—Ruth!" he cried. "Ruth is—Good God, man, Carew and those yellow men have Ruth!"

The giant restrained him as easily as if he were a child, and talked soothingly.

"Aye, aye, lad—I know. But Ruth is safe, I think, so far. An' ye can bet your bottom dollar Carew will keep the Japs at their distance of the lass, and she'll stand off Carew—for a w'ile, any'ow. Swiggle me, Martin, 'ave sense. What can ye do bare-'anded? 'Ere, now, sit still, and we'll figure out some plan. Ruth's all right. She's in the Old Man's room, a-nursin' 'im."

"No, no—the captain is dead!" asserted Martin. "I saw him lying dead on the floor!"

"'E wasn't dead," said the boatswain. "Carew took 'is gun away, and 'it 'im over the eye with the butt of it. Laid 'im out, same as you. They let the lass take 'im into 'is room and stay there to nurse 'im. I seen it, I tell ye!"

Martin subsided.

"But what will we do?" he exclaimed. "We must do something, bosun!"

"Aye—please God, we'll do something," said the boatswain. "Please God, I'll 'ave my 'ands on that black-'earted murderer—and on Ichi, too! I 'ave a plan. But first, tell me what 'appened to you? 'Ow did you 'appen to be on deck? It wasn't your watch. What 'appened on deck before you came bouncing into the cabin and batted Carew on the knob with the belayin'-pin? Neat crack! Too bad it didn't 'urt the beggar much. And brace up, lad! I know 'ow ye feel. I know 'ow 'tis between you and the lass—I've seen the eyes ye give each other. She'll be safe, Martin. Strike me, God will never let them 'arm 'er, swiggle me stiff if 'E will!"

There was a wealth of simple faith in the giant's voice, and some of it found lodgment in Martin's troubled breast. He composed himself, held himself in sure check, and upon the boatswain's repeated request, told what had happened to him from the moment the old sailmaker had awakened him till he felt his senses leave him in the cabin.

When he finished, he discovered it was his turn to hearten. The boatswain was immersed in grief, and the hunchback was the cause.

"Ow, swiggle me! I 'oped as 'ow Billy was safe somewhere—locked up like us," he groaned. "But 'e's gone. Got 'im first, likely. Must 'ave slipped up be'ind 'im, while 'e was fillin' his pipe there w'ere ye found 'is baccy, and give 'im the knife. They didn't 'ave guns—used knives. They got guns now, blast 'em. An' Little Billy's gone! I—I loved the lad, Martin." The man's voice choked.

"But he may not be dead, not even injured," urged Martin. "I only heard Sails cry out. Perhaps Billy wasn't around when they slipped aboard. You know his failing, bosun, and you know how he has been the last few days. The reason I have the keys, you know, is because he didn't want to be tempted by the medicine-chest. Maybe he gave in, and got some alcohol, forward, and got drunk and went to sleep."

The boatswain snorted indignantly.

"You don't know Billy like I do!" he cried. "Drunk, no! Billy 'ad 'is failing, but 'e'd sooner 'a' died than give in at such a time. No—'e's gone. Ye say old Sails told ye Billy was feyed! Ow, that proves it. That —— burgoo-eater was always right in such things! Billy, dear Billy—'e was a proper mate, Martin."

The boatswain's mood changed abruptly, and rage possessed him. Martin felt the man's great body tremble with the intensity of his passion. He spoke through his clenched teeth, slowly and strangely, without using his accustomed expletives.

"They killed 'im! They'll pay. We're goin' to get out o' 'ere, Martin—I know 'ow, now. We're going to try an' take the ship back. Aye—maybe they'll get us, but I'll twist the necks o' some o' them first. And I'll get Carew, 'imself!"

He spoke the words with a cool positiveness that bred belief. Martin, in almost as vengeful a mood as the other, was grimly cheered by the pictured prospect.

"I'll tell you what I know about it," went on the boatswain in a somewhat lighter voice. "They got me in my bunk. 'Ad the irons on me before I was awake—ye know 'ow I sleep, like a ruddy corpse. Ichi steered 'em. The blighter knows the ship, knew where the irons 'ung in the cabin, knew 'ow the rooms are laid out. When I woke up I was 'elpless, and 'alf dozen o' them picked me up and packed me into the cabin and threw me down be'ind the table. That's where I lay when you busted in. They 'ad gagged me with my own socks.

"They must 'ave been on board before Sails came aft, and as soon as the two of ye went for'rd, they slipped into the alleyway be'ind ye. I was already dumped on the cabin floor when the rumpus broke out on deck—at the same instant Carew appeared. At the noise, the Old Man jumped out of 'is room, gun in 'and, and 'e shot at Carew's voice. Carew grabbed the gun, and banged 'im over the eye with it, and the Old Man went down across 'is doorway. Then Ruth popped out o' 'er room, and Carew grabbed 'er. She fought like the devil. Then you bust in with your belayin'-pin.

"After they 'ad choked you, an' after Carew 'ad got to 'is feet and pulled the lass away from 'uggin' and kissin' you, Carew and Ichi began to confab. It was English, and I 'eard a bit. Ichi went to the Old Man, 'oo was breathin' heavy, and examined 'im like 'e was a sure enough sawbones. 'E says the Old Man is just knocked out, and no fracture. 'E takes the Old Man's keys. Then Carew 'as a couple o' 'ands hoist the Old Man into 'is bunk, and 'e says to the lass as 'ow she can 'tend to the skipper. Ruth bounces into the room and slams an' locks the door. Carew laughs and turns to business.

"An' what do ye think 'is first order was? To 'ave the cook aft. In a jiffy, they 'ad Charley Bo Yip afore 'im. 'E ordered grub—slathers o' grub, immediate, for fifteen. Yip took the order without turnin' a 'air—trust a Chink for that. Then they give us attention, an' they lift the trap an' dump us down 'ere. They leave you where you fell, but they boosted me along to this 'ere stanchion and, while Carew tickled my shoulder-blades with a knife, Ichi, using the skipper's key, trussed me up around the post. Then they went aloft again, slippin' the cuffs on you as they passed, I think, for they didn't do it in the cabin.

"Well, in fifteen minutes they were back—'alf dozen o' them, with Yip, and plenty o' lanterns. Breaking out stores for Yip. Yip never looks at me till he's ready to go aloft again. Then, making sure I can see 'is mug, 'e tips me a big wink. That means something, Martin. They're deep uns them Chinks.

"That's all. I sat there, cuffed up proper, for hours, cussing, and thinking, and calling to you. Hours! Swiggle me stiff, 'twas a bloody lifetime, it seemed like. About five or six hours though, I think—must be about seven or eight o'clock now.

"That's all that 'appened. But I'll tell you what I learned from Carew's and Ichi's talk, and from lookin' at them. They've been cast away, lad! That's why we didn't sight the schooner when we looked for 'er. The Dawn was wrecked, some time ago. Carew ordered food for fifteen—the Dawn was fitted for seal 'unting, and carried a crew o' nigh thirty. That shows only 'alf were saved—a bad wreck.

"They ordered grub first thing—shows they didn't save stores, and 'ave been starvin' ashore. Must 'ave saved a boat though, or they couldn't 'ave boarded us. Must 'ave seen us come in; spied us from one o' the caves in the wolcano, an' we could not see them. The blasted fog just played into their 'ands. 'Av'ing been ashore, they must 'ave found the ambergrease. They needed a ship, and they took us. And there ye are! Sails dead, Little Billy dead, God knows 'ow many o' the crew gone, the lass at the whim o' Wild Bob Carew. Ow, what a bit o' blasted luck! Swiggle me stiff!"

The boatswain growled desperate oaths to himself. For a few moments he gave himself up to lurid and audible thought.

Martin, in as black a mood himself, kept his peace, but he, too, spent the time in thought, in gloomy surmising, in attempting to form some plan of action. "What to do—what to do!" The refrain sang in his troubled mind. They must act, and act quickly. Ruth's safety, and the lives of their comrades, if any were alive, depended on the boatswain and himself. But—what to do?

Though they were free of their bonds, they were still boxed in this storeroom like rats in a trap! Obviously the first thing to do was to get out of the lazaret.

Martin commenced to formulate a hazy plan of lurking beneath the trap-door until opened from above, and then trying to burst into the cabin, trusting to luck aiding them there. A mad plan, fore-doomed to failure, he conceded to himself, even as he thought of it. But, what else? They must act! Ruth ...

In the somber field of Martin's misery bloomed a tiny flower; and whenever his mental eye rested upon this exotic, a sudden glow of happiness pervaded his being. This bright flower was a memory—the thought of himself lying helpless on the cabin floor, while two soft arms pressed his sore-addled head to a protecting bosom, and warm lips caressed his face, and a dear voice entreated; the thought of the boatswain's confirming words, "Carew pulled the lass away from 'uggin' and kissin' you."

So, she loved him! She returned his love! The love he had seen lighting her eyes, but which he could never force her to acknowledge by words, she had unmistakably admitted by action. In that black moment in the cabin, she had bared her heart to him—bared it fearlessly before all that hostile, leering company. His love was returned. Ruth loved him!

Such was the origin of the exultant thrills that shot brightly through Martin's despair. But the triumphant thought was momentary. Love could not brighten their lot; nay, love but made more numerous the grim host of cruel fears that pressed upon him. Ruth—God! What would happen to Ruth, what had happened to her, what was happening to her even now, while he sat mooning, cooped and helpless in this black hole? It was unendurable! He exploded a fierce oath.

"Bosun, we must do something—now—at once!" he cried.

The giant placed a restraining hand upon his shoulder.

"Easy lad! Not so loud, or ye'll 'ave them coming down for a look-see. We don't want that," he admonished. "Steady! I know 'ow you feel—but raising a rumpus down 'ere won't 'elp us none. We'll do something right enough. I got a plan, didn't I tell ye! I was just thinking it out—'ere, I'll tell you. First, though, let's fix these bleedin' irons, in case they pay us a visit."

He leaned over, searching about on the dark deck, and Martin heard the clinking as he gathered up the cuffs. He fiddled with them for a moment.

"'Ere, Martin, stick out your 'ands!"

Martin complied, and felt the handcuffs close about his wrists.

"See if you can pull your 'ands out."

Martin found he could, easily.

"All right—just keep them 'anging from one wrist," said the boatswain. "In case they come down on us, we don't want them to find us loose. Just clap your 'ands be'ind you and slip your irons on. I 'ave mine fixed, too, and I'll be 'uggin' the post in the same old way. They won't think o' examinin' us."

"But we can't lounge here indefinitely," commenced Martin impatiently.

"We'll bide quiet for a bit," said the boatswain. "I 'ave a 'unch they'll be coming down soon to give us some scoffin's. They wouldn't 'ave gone to the trouble o' chuck'in' us down 'ere if they was going to kill us off'and. And they won't starve us to death—they'll feed us till they get ready to slit our throats an' dump us overside. And if ye strain your ears, lad, you'll 'ear the occasional rattle o' dishes over'ead. They are eatin' up there. Now, what's the natural time to send scoffin's below to the prisoners? Why, thinks I, after they 'ave their own bellies full, and Charley Bo Yip is clearin' away the leavin's. If they don't come in an 'alf-hour or so, I'll commence work."

Martin immediately proposed rushing the hatch as soon as it was opened. The boatswain vetoed the proposal.

"They'd slaughter us, lad. We'd never 'ave a chance. No—'ere's my scheme: We can get out o' this lazaret into the 'old. Aye, that's something ye didn't know, isn't it? Nor does Ichi know, for all 'e was cook aboard. One time, some years ago, we was tradin' in the New 'Ebrides, and the Old Man stowed some o' 'is trade stuff in the after'old. 'E 'ad a door cut in the for'rd bulk'ead, 'ere, so 'e could get at the goods without opening the 'atch on deck. Afterward, we boarded it up—but the boards aren't nailed; just 'eld by cleats. Right at the for'rd end o' this alley we're squattin in, be'ind the beef casks. We can get through into the 'old."

"What good will it do?" queried Martin. "We would be just as much prisoners in the hold as where we are. The hatches are battened down."

"Don't ye see? We can make our way for'rd, there being naught but a bit o' ballast in the 'ooker. And from the fore'old I think we can reach deck by way o' the peak. The two of us ought to be able to bust our way into the peak. And ye know where the forepeak 'atch is—in the middle o' the fo'c's'le deck! Well, I figure they 'ave what's left o' our foremast crowd locked in the fo'c's'le. Aye, I figure there is some o' them left. If Carew 'ad meant to make a clean sweep at once, we'd not be down 'ere. So—if we can get into the fo'c's'le and join our lads, the odds won't be so great against us. Be great enough, though, even if most o' our 'ands are safe; swiggle me, fifteen o' them, and the blighters 'ave the use o' our own guns, out of the cabin.

"But our lads are good boys. They'll fight if we get to them to lead them; every man Jack would go to —— for the lass! And if we can bust out on deck, there's capstan bars and belaying-pins to fight with. It's a long chance, Martin, but a better one than your plan would give us, tryin' to break into the cabin from 'ere, just us two, and gettin' knocked on the 'ead, or shot, soon as we started through the 'atch!"

Better than his plan! Why, it was a definite campaign. A flame of hope kindled in Martin's breast. He was for immediate action.

"Come on—let's start!" he exclaimed, and he started to scramble to his feet.

"'Ere—'old on!" exclaimed the boatswain, pulling him back on his haunches. "Swiggle me, don't fly up like that, lad! Keep your 'ead cool. We got to wait a bit. We don't want them comin' down 'ere to find we've did the wanishin' stunt. We got to pull this off as a surprise. We ought to wait till night when 'alf o' them, at least, would be asleep; but, blimme, I can't wait till then, nor can you. But we'll wait a little while an' see if they bring us grub; if they do, we can be pretty sure they won't visit us again for several hours. That'll give us time. Hist, Marty, 'ere comes some one now! Quick, slip on your 'andcuff and play 'alf dead!"

Some thin points of light, suddenly shooting into their dark prison, from around the edges of the trap-door over their heads, gave rise to the boatswain's exclamations. Martin, observing the light at the same instant as the bosun, knew that the rug that covered the square in the cabin floor had been drawn aside. Some one was about to come down to them.

Martin bent his arms behind him and quickly slipped his free hand into the handcuff. Then he lay down on his side.

The boatswain encircled the stanchion with his arms and legs and adjusted the loose manacles to his wrists and ankles. Except to a close examination, the pair appeared to be as tightly shackled as when their captors introduced them into their present surroundings. They crouched tense and still, their eyes on the square door overhead, waiting.

The trap-door opened. A flood of daylight rushed into the storeroom and lighted a wide patch of boxes and kegs; not, however, reaching to the spot where Martin and the boatswain lay.

"Fog gone," Martin heard his companion mutter.

A man stepped into the light, bearing a lighted lantern in his hand, and started to descend the ladder. But it was not Charley Bo Yip with food, as the boatswain had expected. It was the Japanese, Ichi.

Ichi stepped out of the square of daylight at the bottom of the ladder, lifted his lantern, and sent its beam down the gloomy passage. The two observant prisoners were disclosed.

"Ah, Mr. Blake! I perceive you have regained consciousness, and the power of locomotion," came to Martin's ears in the softly modulated, even voice he so well remembered as being part of the one-time visitor to Josiah Smatt. "May I inquire if you have also recovered speech?" added Ichi.

"Answer 'im," whispered the boatswain, as Martin lay silent and glowering.

"Yes," said Martin.

"Ah, my dear boatswain, Henry, is a wise counselor," remarked Ichi, proving the acuteness of his hearing. "You are to be congratulated, Mr. Blake. One does not usually recover with such admirable quickness from the effects of the cervical plexus hold my man, Moto, practised upon you. And you, my good boatswain—it is with great pleasure that I perceive the workings of Fate have chastened the—er, boisterousness I remember so well from the days of my servitude."

The words were mocking. The Jap was clearly revealed where he stood, with the patch of daylight behind him, and the outheld lantern before him. Martin could not read a thought in that bland, smiling face. But the words mocked.

"Ye monkey-faced, yellow toad!" burst forth the boatswain. "If I 'ad the use o' my 'ands, ye'd not stand there grinnin'!"

"Ah, it grieves to discover I am in error," was Ichi's smiling response to the outburst. "The lessons Fate teaches are learned slowly by rebellious natures. My good boatswain, I would recommend your heated mind to solitude and meditation. If you think with much hardness upon the uncertainties of life, you may achieve that humility of spirit and manner which is so blessed in the eyes of our ancestors."

Ichi stepped forward a pace and lifted higher his lantern, the better to enjoy the effect of his words upon the shackled giant.

"My dear boatswain, do you recall the occasion when my honored self so unfortunately spilled upon your decks of whiteness the grease from the cooking; and how with great furiousness you applied to my respected person the knotted end of a rope? Ah, so then, it would perhaps add interest to your meditation to ponder the possibleness of physical persuasion to correct your faults—in the guise of the fingers of my good Moto! You have beheld the handling of the worthy Mr. Blake—yes?"

A vindictive note had crept into their visitor's soft, impersonal voice as he gibed the boatswain. Martin, staring upward at the lantern-lighted face, half expected to see the smirk flee the lips that threatened torture, and the hateful passions that inspired Ichi's gloating to reveal themselves in his features. But no hint of emotion disturbed the surface of that bland, yellow mask the one-time sea cook wore for a face; only the eyes were leagued with the sinister voice. Martin fancied he saw a cruel and mirthful gleam in Ichi's beady eyes, such a gleam as might creep into the eyes of a cat while playing with a captured mouse.

But the boatswain seemed not a whit appalled by Ichi's words. His response was prompt, and liberally tinged with sulfur and brimstone.

"Aye, I remember rope's-ending you, ye rat-eyed son o' a Hakodate gutter-snipe! If I 'ad my 'ands free now, I'd do worse—I'd pull your rotten 'ead from your shoulders! Aye, swiggle me, 'tis like your breed to mock a man what's tied, ye blasted coolie!"

At the words, expression suddenly enlivened the Jap's face and to Martin's astonishment it was not an expression of hate but of wounded conceit.

"No, no, I am not a coolie!" he exclaimed vehemently. "I am not of common blood—I am a gentleman, a Japanese gentleman!"

The boatswain snorted contemptuously, and Ichi turned to Martin. "You are with knowledge of my gentlemanness, my dear Mr. Blake! You have seen me with proper attire, having conference with the honorable Smatt. I am a Japanese gentleman, sir. I have from my revered ancestors the blood of a Shogun. I am graduated from the University of Tokyo. I have a degree from your own most honorable institution of Columbia."

"Ow —— your ruddy eddication!" broke in the boatswain. "Ye bloody murderer! Ye'll 'ang if you've gone to a dozen colleges! Wait till they 'ear about this business at 'ome, or in any port ye call at! They'll know the brig—and ye'll 'ang, every last scut o' ye!"

The Japanese gentleman recovered his composure as suddenly as he had lost it, as the boatswain swore. He was again his suave self. Martin cast a quick glance toward the boatswain, and a certain sly expression that flitted across the giant's fierce features enlightened him. He glimpsed the method in the boatswain's madness.

"Ah, my boatswain, you have a defect in your reflectiveness," Ichi purred smoothly, in response to the boatswain's prophecy. "We do not fear hanging; rather will events shape thusly: If the authorities of your America learn by some unlikely favor of Fate of our barratry, they will say, 'The brigantine Cohasset, commanded by the notorious filibuster, Captain Dabney, which slipped out of San Francisco without clearance—yes, we know that, my worthy friend—is again in trouble. The trouble has happened in Russian waters—let the Russians attend to it. We are satisfied if the respected Dabney never again is able to arouse our worriness.' Is it not so the American officials would speak, Mr. Henry?"

The boatswain swore luridly.

"And the Russians, if the affair came to their attention, would move not at all against us," went on Ichi, smug pleasure in his voice. "Indeed, the chartered company might even reward us for removing one of such dangerousness as Captain Dabney from their trade reserves. And if you suppose my Government would act, I fear you underestimate with greatness the powerfulness of my connections in my country. No, my dear boatswain, it is most unlikely this incident will ever reach unfriendly ears, or ever cross the Pacific. You might meditate upon your chance to carry the tale."

"Ye may silt all our throats," said the boatswain, "but as long as the old brig's above water, there's the evidence that'll 'ang ye."

"Ah—not so," answered Ichi. "There are many closed harbors in my native Yezzo, and the honorable Captain Carew assures me that rigs may be altered. The honorable captain will have a new schooner, to replace the Dawn, for next year's season—and at slight expense to my company. A skilful man in his profession—the honorable Carew!"

"Skilful——!" taunted the boatswain. "'E wasn't skilful enough to save 'is ship!"

"Fate. A night of darkness, and much wind," said Ichi. "Yet Fate relented—for, after a week of starving in the holes on the quaking Island, Fate sends you to our rescue. Fate smiles upon our side, my boatswain—brings us to the Fire Mountain, plays you into the trap, gives to the honorable Carew his wish, and now, only——"

A heavy voice boomed down through the open hatch and interrupted Ichi's smirking revelations. Martin directed his gaze beyond the Jap. A man was leaning over the opening, peering into the aret. The heavy voice belonged to Carew, Martin knew.

"I say—what is keeping you down there, Ichi?" called Carew. "Do you need help?"

"All right, captain, directly we come!" answered Ichi.

"Can't you get the young blighter to his feet?" went on Carew. "I will send a couple of hands down, to heave him out."

"I am of the opinion he can walk," replied Ichi. He turned to Martin. "My dear Mr. Blake, we muchly desire your presence in the cabin. Can you travel there without assistance?"

Martin received a sharp, meaning glance from the boatswain.

"Yes—I can make it," he told Ichi.

He promptly scrambled to his feet and stumbled toward the ladder.

The boatswain wailed behind him.

"Ow—swiggle me stiff! 'Ere now, Ichi, you ain't goin' to leave me down 'ere alone, all ironed up, and with these bleedin' rats runnin' about!" There was positive fear in the cry.

Ichi chuckled.

"Yes, Mr. Henry, I am convinced that solitude will benefit your manners. Ah—I had not thought of the rats. But surely the great bull boatswain of the Cohasset can not fear the little rats! Ah, I am glad you mentioned them; yes, they shall be companions of your meditations."

The boatswain, in a forcible sentence, disclosed his opinion of the Japanese gentleman's ancestral line. Then, abruptly, his tone became conciliatory.

"Ow—but say! Ye'll send me some grub? Swiggle me, ye ain't going to bloody well starve me, are ye?"

Ichi, retreating to the ladder before Martin's advance, delivered his parting shot at the boatswain.

"Fasting, my dear friend, is an ancient companion of meditation. Tomorrow, perhaps, when thought has chastened your mood, there is a possibleness you may receive food."

Martin mounted the ladder with mingled feelings; with dismay at leaving the boatswain, with a wild hope of encountering Ruth above, with exhilaration at the success of the boatswain's strategy.

For Martin had fathomed the boatswain's reason for baiting the Japanese. The boatswain had known of the alloy of vanity in Ichi's composition, and he had seized upon it to extract needful information. He had succeeded; Ichi's conceit and vindictiveness had overcome his native caution.

The boatswain knew now something of the enemy's plans. More important, he knew that he was to be left alone, without disturbance, in the lazaret for a whole day. Ichi had already stepped into the cabin with his lantern. Martin called into the gloom behind him:

"Good-by, bos! Good luck!"

He could not see his friend, but he shrewdly suspected the boatswain was already divesting himself of his bonds. The big fellow's hoarse growl reached him:

"Good-by, lad. Good luck!"



CHAPTER XVI

THREE GENTLEMEN CONVERSE

Daylight, dazzling to Martin's gloom-accustomed eyes, filled the Cohasset's cabin. Martin's upward ranging gaze, as he clambered out of the lazaret, saw, through the open cabin skylights, the blue sky and the sunshine sparkling upon brass fixtures. So he knew the fog had lifted and the day was clear.

He took a step aside from the lazaret hatch, and then sent his eager gaze about the cabin. But Ruth was not present. He was intensely disappointed.

He stared hard at the closed door to Captain Dabney's room, as if the very intensity of his troubled gaze might penetrate those blank oak panels. The boatswain had said Ruth was nursing the captain in that room. But was the boatswain's opinion correct? Hours had passed. Was she still safe in the captain's room?

The slamming shut of the trap-door over the black hole by his side abruptly brought his thoughts back to himself, and his eyes to his surroundings. A man was leaning over, spreading out the rug that ordinarily covered the lazaret opening. Martin recognized the fellow as the same wooden-faced Jap who had choked him unconscious a few hours before. Ichi, he discovered standing by his side, regarding him with an ingratiating smile. But it was neither the ju-jitsu man nor Ichi who fastened Martin's attention.

A large man sprawled in Captain Dabney's easy chair at the farther end of the cabin table. The table was littered with the debris of a meal, which Charley Bo Yip was phlegmatically and deftly clearing away, and Martin stared across the board's disarray at Wild Bob Carew's disdainful face. The erstwhile commander of the schooner Dawn, his comrades' unscrupulous enemy, his own rival, was the same aloof, superior rogue he remembered from the night in Spulvedo's dive.

As Martin looked, Carew engaged himself with filling and lighting his pipe, and seemed to be totally unconscious of the disheveled young man standing before him, with wrists manacled behind his back.

Martin was again surprised, as he had been that night in San Francisco, with the incongruity of Wild Bob's appearance contrasted with his activities. Was this splendid figure of a man the vicious outlaw of wide and evil repute? The renegade thief? The persecutor of women? The pitiless butcher of defenseless men? Were those fine, clean-cut features but a mask that covered an abyss of black evil? Did that broad forehead actually conceal the crafty, degenerate brain that planned and executed the bloody and treacherous piracy upon their ship?

The haggardness of recent hardship was upon Carew's features, and a week's, or more, stubble of yellow beard covered his cheeks, yet the growth in nowise brutalized the handsome face. There was a long scar on Carew's forehead, which glowed a vivid red as he sucked upon his pipe; there was also a wide cross of court-plaster on a clipped spot on top of the head. Martin suddenly realized that both disfigurements were his handiwork; one was a memento of the fight on the Frisco waterfront, the other the result of his blow the night before.

Carew suddenly lifted his eyes and met Martin's stare, and a cold thrill tingled along Martin's spine. For there was a hot ferocity lighting the man's eyes; there was a hot, yet calculated, hatred in the level look.

Ichi's suave voice broke the uneasy silence.

"Mr. Blake, we have brought you up here for a little chat," said Ichi. "And before we commence, I beg please to inform you I am your very dear friend, and I think of you no ill. So—will you not be seated?"

Martin seated himself gingerly upon the edge of a chair. It was an uncomfortable position, and his arms ached keenly from being constrained in the unnatural position the handcuffs demanded, but he dare not slip out a hand and relieve himself.

"Ah, let us trust none of the violence of epithet which marked my discourse with the worthy boatswain Henry will mar our conversation, Mr. Blake," went on Ichi. Martin perceived his conceit still smarted under the boatswain's curses. "You are an American gentleman, the honorable Carew is an English gentleman, I am a Japanese gentleman. So, our discussion need not be intruded upon by those exclamations of great explosiveness with which your wonderful English language is so enriched. We gentlemen have civility."

"Never mind talking manners, doctor!" broke in Carew impatiently. "It would please me if you would permit me to forget your gentility for an hour. Come to the point! State our proposition to this fellow, and let him make his choice."

"The point. Ah, yes," said Ichi. "You know, my captain, you people of the West are brutal with your directness. But I shall to the point. Ah, Mr. Blake, I am not mistaken in assuming you would with relishness accept refreshment? You would talk with more easiness?"

"Water—coffee," said Martin briefly.

He was agreeably surprised by the question. He was again very, very dry, and his sore throat pained him and made speaking difficult. He was hungry, too, his supper the night before having been his last meal. He had been looking longingly at the food and drink the Chinaman was rapidly and silently removing from the table, which perhaps inspired Ichi's question.

"I will offer you drink," said Ichi.

Carew snorted disgustedly but did not offer an objection.

"You will pardon us for not offering food," went on Ichi, "but you would be unable to eat in your present condition of bondagement, and we regret muchly our disinclination to free your hands at this juncture. With arms free, you have impressed us most unfortunately."

He glanced toward Carew's plastered head. Carew disclosed some white, even teeth, with a half snarl, and Martin saw beneath the concealing mustache, as he had seen that night in San Francisco, the cruel mouth that gave the lie to Wild Bob's face.

"But your national beverage of coffee contains much food value," added the Japanese, and he barked an order to the Chinaman.

Yip seized a large cup, filled it with black coffee from the big percolator standing in the center of the table, and carried it to Martin. He held it to Martin's lips.

Martin drank eagerly, tilting back his head and staring upward into Yip's face. He half expected to see some sign of friendship there, a fleeting smile, or the flutter of an eyelid. He recalled that Yip had winked at the boatswain, down in the lazaret, and the boatswain had attached importance to the action. But he was disappointed. There was not the hint of an emotion in Charley Bo Yip's moon-like face; not the ghost of an encouraging recognition. Not even Ichi's passionless countenance could match Yip's serene, blank face for lack of expression. The Chinaman might have been pouring the coffee down a hopper, rather than down a man's throat, from his impersonal demeanor.

But if Yip disappointed, the coffee did not. The strong, hot stuff flooded strength through Martin's veins, eased his smarting throat, lubricated his parched tongue. When Yip turned away with the empty cup, Martin heaved a satisfied sigh.

"That is better," he said to Ichi. "Fire away. I can talk now."

Ichi started off on a rambling and flowery appreciation of Martin's implied thanks. Martin gave attention with his ears, but his eyes roved. He had been puzzled since his entry into the room by a certain oddity, familiar oddity, about the other men's appearance.

Carew was wearing a guernsey much too large for him, and Carew was a very big man. Martin suddenly recognized the guernsey as the property of the boatswain. Ichi was clad in shirt and trousers belonging to Little Billy—not a bad fit. The ju-jitsu man sported a complete outfit of his, Martin's. Obviously, the belongings of the Cohasset's crew had been looted to cover the scarecrow nakedness of the captors.

Something else Martin noticed, while Dr. Ichi talked on with Oriental indirectness. There was a large cupboard affixed to the cabin's forward bulkhead. It stood open and empty. Martin knew what its contents had been. It had been the ship's armory; it had contained four high-powered rifles, two shotguns, and four heavy navy revolvers, with a plentiful supply of ammunition for all arms. They were gone. He reflected they must be in the hands of Carew's men. Not a pleasant reflection in view of the boatswain's scheme.

Carew, breaking roughly into Ichi's speech, commanded his attention.

"Never mind all that, Ichi! By Jove! We can not afford to waste time listening to pretty courtesies!" He swung upon Martin with menacing eye and voice. "Here you! No —— hedging now! What has become of the code writing that directed to the ambergris hidden ashore? Come—spit it out. Where is it?"

Martin blinked with surprise at the sudden attack, and at the question itself. He and the boatswain had taken it for granted that Carew, having been ashore on Fire Mountain, had obtained possession of the treasure. The question implied that Carew and his followers had failed to locate the cache; that he had been hauled out of the lazaret for the purpose of giving them information.

"Come—speak up!" commanded Carew, again.

Martin attempted to dissemble.

"I don't know anything about it," he lied. "I have been a common sailor on the ship, and have not been in the confidence——"

"Enough! Spin that yarn to the marines. I want the truth!" cried Carew. "Common sailor—not in their confidence—hey? And since when has Old Man Dabney permitted his foremast hands to live aft? How long since Ruth Le Moyne takes a heart interest in common sailors? Hey?"

He leaned forward in his chair, and shot the questions at Martin. His face was suddenly debased with evil passion, and bitter hatred was clearly revealed in his blazing eyes.

"Listen to me, my fine fellow!" he went on. "You fooled me once and spoiled my plans with your double dealing. But this time you'll throw no dust in my eyes! You'll not get by with any cock-and-bull yarn this time. I know just how warmly you feathered your nest—humoring that old blind fool and making love to his granddaughter. A pretty reward opened to you by your treachery that night in Frisco—a fortune and a sweetheart to boot! Hey, my winsome fancy man! A fine chance you've had for your billing and cooing; but now by Heaven, you'll pay the piper!"

Martin gasped before the wordy onslaught. But Carew's hot words, and his appearance, conveyed to Martin's alert mind a startling truth—it was not lust for treasure that inspired Wild Bob's verbal flogging, or venomous glances; it was jealousy, a wild, hate-filled jealousy of him, Martin Blake. Ruth was the core of Carew's rage.

"Come—where is that code?" went on Carew. "Speak up lively, now! By Heaven, if you sulk, I'll jolly well draw the truth out of you! Here, Ichi, call up that finger devil of yours and we'll see if a little gullet-twisting will loosen this cub's tongue! Here—Moto!"

The wooden-faced ju-jitsu man, who had been seated on the divan, got on his feet and moved toward Martin's chair. His face was absolutely expressionless, his attitude impersonal, but he was rubbing his hands together and stroking his fingers as if to make them supple for the work that lay before them.

Martin observed the maneuver with a suddenly contracted heart. He had a vivid recollection of the terrific pain that accompanied the former application of those writhing fingers to his person. He cautiously worked the handcuffs down upon his hands so that a quick movement would fling them off.

If he was to be put to torture, he would first fight! He eye-marked a carving-knife lying on the table within leaping reach.

But Ichi intervened and relieved the tension of the moment. He halted the businesslike bravo with a word.

"Let us not use Moto just yet," he said to Carew. "Our dear Mr. Blake does not understand, perhaps. We will explain the matter. I am sure he will not then be of stubbornness. You know what we decided upon, captain? We do not want to use Moto just yet."

"One would think you were advocate for the fellow," sneered Wild Bob. "Oh, all right—have your way. We'll save Moto till we call in the chit."

Moto resumed his seat at a nod from Ichi. Martin breathed heavily with relief and relaxed, readjusting his bonds. Ichi turned to him.

"My dear Mr. Blake," commenced the Jap, "let me repeat that I am your very good friend. It makes me very, very sorrowful to view you in your present condition of uncomfortableness, and I trust you will reflect that resentment of Fate is idle. We understand Fate, we gentlemen, and accept what the gods decree.

"So, I will be of complete frankness in explaining our need, Mr. Blake. We thought it was ill fate when, seven days ago, our schooner was wrecked upon the rocks that guard this mountain. Even though we had searched with diligence for this very spot, we regarded it as fortune of much badness to be compelled to land on the Fire Mountain from an open boat, with but half our company, and without provisions. During days of hunger we cursed Fate. And all the while Fate was preparing our succor. So—if we are wise we accept Fate, Mr. Blake.

"Yet Fate has not been of too great kindness to us, for we could not uncover the so precious lodestone which drew us all to this desolate corner of the world. Fate intended we should wait until the honorable Cohasset should arrive.

"You see, the translation of the scarlet writing which the eminent and worthy Smatt furnished us, after the occasion of your unfortunate defection, was lost in the wreck. We had, we thought, a memory of truthfulness of the paper, for we had read it muchly. We were mistaken. We have not discovered the ambergris, though we have searched with industriousness.

"We have also searched the ship for the original writing. We have not as yet obtained it. The young woman has informed us with much readiness of a place where the paper is. But there are certain reasons—" Ichi glanced at Carew—"why we may not test the truth of Miss Le Moyne's statement.

"So, we look to you, my dear Mr. Blake, to enlighten us, to dispute to verify the young woman's words. We ask you, where is the whaling man's writing? And before you give answer, I would with much earnestness beg of you to reflect that Fate is undoubtedly with us, that you and yours have not favor with the gods. It is wisdom to accept Fate! And reflect also, please, that the young woman's immunity from—let us say—physical persuasion to speak, does not extend to your respected self. And bear in mind, please, that the throat-hold you have already experienced is by no means the hold of most painfulness, out of the several score my Moto is of expertness in applying. So—where is the code?"

"Come, spit it out!" growled Carew.

Martin reflected, though not upon Fate, as the Japanese advised. He knew he must speak. Moto was quietly massaging his deadly fingers, and Martin did not relish the torture he knew those digits could inflict. But should he speak truth?

He wondered if Ruth had really answered their question, and if she had told them truly where the writing was. One thing vastly cheered him—he gathered from Ichi's words that Ruth was safe from molestation so far. He decided he had best tell them the truth. It would not help them, and it could not harm Little Billy, for poor Billy was gone.

"Billy Corcoran has the code," he said. "I saw him place it in his pocket last night."

"Ah—so!" exclaimed Ichi. He exchanged a significant glance with Carew. "What unfortunateness! Just as the young woman said!"

"Little Billy, eh!" said Wild Bob. "Well, young fellow, can you tell us what became of that blasted hunchback?"

Martin almost leaped from his chair. What! Had Little Billy escaped? Did they know what had become of Little Billy? Martin had accepted without question the fact that Little Billy was dead. The probabilities, and the boatswain's conviction, had convinced him. But now...

"I don't know what has become of him," he told Carew. "You ought to know. He had the watch on deck when you came out of the fog, last night."

"—— queer!" muttered Carew. Then to Ichi: "I tell you, doctor, he must have been settled and dumped overside with the rest. We fixed every one who was awake, except this fellow, Blake. The hunchback must have been knifed and thrown over without being recognized."

"No, there were only three, and the cripple was not of them," returned Ichi.

Not of them! Martin's heart was pounding joyfully. Then Little Billy was alive.

"Well, he isn't on the ship," asserted Carew. "He isn't in the hold with that fo'c's'le crowd, nor aft, here, nor hidden anywhere about the vessel. We know that. Let us not waste any more time—we'll get the information the other way. Call in the minx. Perhaps it will tame some of that cursed spirit of hers to witness her pretty darling, here, being made uncomfortable!"

He accompanied his remark with a hateful glance toward Martin, a glance that was filled with cruel anticipation. But neither look nor words much disquieted Martin's mounting spirits. "In the hold with the fo'c's'le crowd!" Carew had said. Then the boatswain would not have to chance breaking into the forepeak. He need only get into the hold to join the remnant of the crew, and it was a stout remnant if only three had been slaughtered. Why, the boatswain must already have joined them; be leading them now in an attempt to break out of the hold. And Little Billy was alive, and at large!

Martin wriggled his wrists in the handcuffs and stiffened tensely in his seat. Almost, he expected to hear that instant the commotions of battle from the deck, and to see his friends burst into the cabin. He eyed wistfully the carving-knife on the table and marked it for his weapon. No, he could contemplate these thugs about him now without that hopeless sinking of the heart; he could even withstand torture with fortitude born of hope. For there was a fighting chance.

"Go knock on the door and fetch her out," said Carew to Ichi. To the silent Moto he added: "All right, Moto, we are ready for you. Stand by!"



CHAPTER XVII

TWO MEN AND A MAID

Ichi rapped softly on the door of Captain Dabney's room. The door opened a space, and a clear, fearless voice demanded—

"Well, what do you wish?"

The happy thrill Martin felt at the sound of that undaunted voice was nowise dampened by the knowledge that Moto, the torturer, stood behind his chair, with fingers ready to Carew's bidding. Martin, for the instant, had but eyes and ears of love.

"My dear miss, we would consider it a favor of much greatness if you would but spare us a few moments of your honored time," said Ichi, bowing profoundly to the crack in the door. "If you will but grant us the delightfulness of your presence for a very short time—then you may return to carefulness of the honorable Dabney."

Ruth stepped out of the berth and softly closed the door behind her. Then she faced about and saw Martin sitting stiffly on the edge of his chair, with his arms behind his back.

"Oh, Martin!" she cried.

Martin caught his breath as he returned her look, while a sudden surge of feeling clogged his throat and stabbed his heart with a thrust half pain, half pleasure. She was beautiful! She was glorious!

She stood there, swaying easily to the gentle motion of the riding ship, her wide-open eyes full upon his with a look that held a world of anxious love. Her face appeared like a bright, rare flower, in contrast with her blue blouse and skirt, and the dark wood-paneling behind her. The night had placed its mark upon her features—there were dark circles beneath her eyes, and a droop at the corners of the sweet mouth. But courageous self-reliance was still her bearing; and the haggard hints of suffering on her face but enhanced its loveliness.

She was glorious, superb! Martin, his own love in his kindling gaze, recalled of a sudden how she had looked that night when he had stolen the kiss. A glancing moonbeam had that time lighted her beauty. So, too, this time a light ray brightened her—a sunbeam darting through the open skylight set her in a golden frame.

A sharp, sobbing intake of breath came from the head of the table where Carew sat. Ruth directed her gaze from Martin to the outlaw, and her mouth became grim, and her eyes, but now so soft with love, became hard and alert.

Martin, too, looked at Wild Bob. And the sight of the man's face brewed wild rage in Martin's soul, stirred the elemental instinct that makes the male fight to keep his mate. For Carew was also staring at Ruth, much the same as Martin had been staring. His face was hungry, avid, with desire—desire for the wonderful woman before him. His very soul was in his burning gaze, and it was an ugly, bestial soul.

The man was mad—mad with love, insane with a heedless, reckless passion for the girl. Martin could well understand now Wild Bob Carew's turbulent and persistent wooing of Ruth. His whole ruthless, lawless nature was dominated by his evil passion; for so long balked, his love had fed wildly upon itself till now it was his master.

Yet, in that brief, illuminating moment when Martin regarded the other's passion-heated countenance, he beheld something that soothed his rage, checked his panic, and made his heart suddenly swell with pride and tenderness for his love. For behind the lustful glistening in Carew's eyes there lurked a shadow of fear.

Carew was afraid of the girl! Martin, with the lover's insight, discerned and interpreted that lurking shadow. For Carew's fear was bred of man's nature, and made strong by the intensity of his wild emotion; the fear was a vicious nature shamed, an impure love abashed, by the virgin goodness of the woman.

The fleeting glance Martin had of the conflict in Carew's mind conveyed meaningful information to his own love-sharpened senses. Carew was baffled by the girl.

It was Ichi who interrupted the tense silence that followed Ruth's entry. He beckoned to Yip, and then bowed low before Ruth.

"But, miss, will you not be seated?" he said.

Charley Bo Yip left his work at the table and brought a chair, placing it, at the Jap's direction, directly opposite Martin, but several feet distant.

Ruth sat down, ignoring Ichi, but smiling an acknowledgment of the service to the impassive Chinaman. Her hand, Martin noticed, brushed against Yip's hand as she took her seat. Yip returned to his labors and immediately left the cabin with a tray-load of dishes.

Martin's speech at last broke through the host of emotions and impressions that had swarmed upon him during the past few moments. Ruth's eyes were on him again. For a moment there was a swift, though broken, conversation.

"Oh, Ruth, how is it with you? Have they——"

"Safe, Martin. And you—oh, the beasts! Your arms!"

"Nothing, dear. Captain Dabney——"

"Alive—unconscious. The bo's'n—Billy? What——"

"Billy's alive, Ruth! Free! How——"

"Enough of that!" broke in Carew roughly. "You two were not brought together for conversation. Any more of that chatter and I'll have Moto place a finger on 'dear Martin's' windpipe!"

As if obeying an order already given, Moto became alive. Martin had for the time being forgotten the ju-jitsu man standing behind his chair, but now Moto suddenly leaned forward and gently stroked his neck with long and supple fingers.

Ruth's eyes widened at the action, and horror crept into them as she looked past Martin and observed the cruel, impassive calm of Moto's yellow face. She turned to Carew.

"You beast! Have you brought us together, then, to torture us?" she cried.

Martin saw the red blood mantle the renegade's cheeks. But Carew held check on his tongue. It was Ichi who answered the girl's scornful words.

"Torture? Ah—no, no! It is, ah, persuasion," said Ichi. "But let us trust, my dear miss, you will not compel us to persuade. Believe me, my honored captain and myself are your very fine friends; it would muchly harrow our gentlemanness to order Moto to make painful the person of esteemed Mr. Blake, and thus make disturbful your own honorable mind. We would not like to be hurtful to dear Mr. Blake—ah, no."

"You gloating, yellow cat!" was Ruth's response. "Why, you are torturing him now. Look at his arms!"

"Well, well! You seem to be greatly exercised over the comfort of your pet!" broke out Carew angrily; his mouth was sneering; Martin saw the devils of jealousy were prodding him. "Well, milady, your fancy boy is ironed up because we have learned from somewhat harsh experience that he is rather impulsive in the use of his hands. I do not care to have him assault me and be compelled to kill him—at least, not yet. His arms will remain as they are. And as to whether Moto will work upon him, why, that depends upon you, my girl!"

Martin drew a breath of thankful relief. He had tried to check Ruth's outburst with a frown; he feared her words might cause them to unlock the handcuffs. Cruelly as his arms ached, he much preferred the pain to having them discover the cuffs had been tampered with. If his bracelets were once closely examined, and they learned he could remove them at will, he knew that a prompt investigation would forestall the boatswain.

Carew's decision pleased him. He knew there was no danger now of their loosing his bonds—they were pleased to see him suffer; Carew, because of jealousy, and Ichi, because of native cruelty. He determined to bear his lot with stoicism. If they were about to command this yellow fiend with the deadly fingers to torture him, why, he would stand it. He would not give them the satisfaction, nor Ruth the pain, of hearing him squeal. He would keep his arms behind him and his mouth shut though Moto did his worst.

"It depends upon me? Why, what do you mean?" demanded Ruth, staring from Carew to Ichi.

"Ah, yes, on you," purred Ichi. "Just a morsel of information, you could with such easiness give——"

"Tell them nothing!" burst out Martin. "Don't mind me, dear. They can't hurt——"

The fingers suddenly pressed hard upon a spot on the back of Martin's neck. His speech was choked. Sharp pain flooded his body. Despite himself, Martin squirmed.

"Oh, you fiends! Stop! Stop!" cried Ruth.

She sprang to her feet, with the evident intent of flinging herself upon Moto. Ichi grasped her two wrists. She exclaimed with pain and sank back into her seat.

"Here—stop that, Ichi!" roared Carew. "None of your —— tricks with the girl! Don't dare place a hand on her again! Be still, Ruth! Your darling is not being murdered! Ease up, Moto! Next time wait for orders!"

The fingers lifted from Martin's neck. The relief from the shooting pain was instant, though his misused nerves continued to prick their protest.

Ruth panted to master her emotion. Then she flung hot words at Carew, words colored with scorn and loathing.

"Oh, you unspeakable brute!" she cried. "You coward! It is like you to find pleasure in inflicting pain upon a helpless man, and a defenseless woman! What is it you wish me to tell you? Come, speak up. Don't sit cringing in that chair!"

"By Heaven, girl, you'll go too far!" commenced Carew.

"Ah—we wish to know such a little thing," interrupted Ichi, answering Ruth's demand. "We wish to know the directions that lead to the ambergris hidden ashore, in the mountain. Ah, yes, you recall you boasted of your knowledge of the code directions, and dared us to unlock your memory? But now you will so nicely tell us—yes, please?"

"Yes, that is what we are after, Ruth," added Carew. "And, by Jove, you should be jolly well thanking me, instead of calling me names. You know well enough that but for me, Moto would be playing his fingers upon your nerves, instead of Blake's."

"I see. And in order to spare me, you are going to torture this bound man in my presence, in order that his agony will make me speak!" retorted Ruth. "What a hypocritical beast you are, Captain Carew! I suppose that next you will apologize to Mr. Blake for the inconvenience my stubbornness is causing him. Of course, you are sorry for him!"

Carew swore at the girl's gibing.

"Sorry!" he exclaimed. "By Heaven! I'd like to twist the young blighter's neck with my bare hands! Don't go too far, milady, or it will be the worse for this fine lover of yours!"

He suddenly left his chair, and strode to Martin's side. He favored Martin with an angry, jealous glare, and then turned tempestuously upon the girl.

"Look at me, woman!" he cried. "By ——! Am I not a man? Compare us, girl! Compare me with this half-baked cub you ogle so sweetly! Am I not the better man? Why, I could break that booby in two! Compare us, girl!"

He drew himself up with shoulders back and stood there, a splendid figure of a man. His face was flushed and working, showing plainly the jealous passions and the intolerable longing for the girl's approval which had whipped him into this melodramatic outburst. Ruth faced him with silent, contemptuous scorn. Martin's gorge rose to fever pitch. With difficulty he restrained himself from slipping the cuffs and springing at the insolent egotist's throat.

"It is not ambergris I want!" went on Carew. "It is you, Ruth. I want you of your own free will. Look at me, Ruth! Am I hideous, or a weakling? By Heaven! Women in plenty have come to me ere now, and without my pleading! I am the mate for you. This pup, this runaway clerk, has no right to you. I could kill him for his presumption! Come to me. Ruth, you shall be anything, everything, you wish! I'll make you a fine lady—a queen—I know islands——"

"An island where you will install me as queen of your harem, I suppose," interrupted Ruth acidly. "Have you informed the other ladies you mentioned of your intentions?"

"You are the only one. There will never be another, I swear to you!" avowed Carew. "Those other women—they did not matter. But you—you will be my wife! A true marriage. I can give you a great name, a clean name, not the name of Carew."

"And I suppose we are to live up to your great name with the treasure I am to deliver into your hands?" scoffed Ruth.

"No, no! I do not want you for that!" asserted Carew. "It is you, you alone! The ambergris goes to my employers, to Ichi, here, and his partners. I must get it for them. It is the bargain I made. My own share will not be great, Ruth; I would gladly give a hundred times as much for your favor. But I am rich, girl. I have plenty salted away. I'll make my peace with my family, and we shall go home, to England. You'll be my wife, my legal wife!"

"I would rather be dead than your wife!" declared Ruth with vehemence. "I hate you!"

"And I say I will take you, hating me, rather than lose you!" returned Carew. His manner of impassioned pleading changed abruptly to threatening. "I'll beg no more of you, my haughty minx! But I will suggest that you reflect upon the reality of your condition. In any event, what will become of yourself? Hey? And what will become of this darling crew of yours, we hold prisoners below? And what will become of this scrub, here in the chair—this apple of your eye?"

"By Jove! You had better jolly well think about it! Would you rather have your grandfather, and the crew, and this lover of yours, set upon some safe shore—or, have the other thing happen to them? It rests with you!"

Martin's rage mounted to boiling-point during Wild Bob's remarkable wooing. The man's raw insults made him furious; the stormy browbeating of the woman he loved set him a-tingle with the strongest desire he had ever known—a desire to fling himself upon this sneering wretch and vindicate his manhood by battle. His hands crawled in their restraint, in their lust to batter upon that supercilious face. But he dare not. He knew that an outbreak on his part would mean the death of their chance to regain the ship.

So he held himself in check, biting his lips over his enforced impotence. But Carew's final threat wrung speech from him, for he saw speculation in Ruth's eyes, as she measured her tormentor. The dreadful thought occurred to Martin, "Ruth will barter herself to save the rest of us!"

"No, no, Ruth!" he cried out. "Pay no attention!"

"Shut up!" roared Carew, wheeling furiously upon him. "If you speak again, I'll have Moto put a clapper on your tongue!" He turned to Ruth again. "And now, my girl, you will do the begging! We'll listen to you beg for this pretty boy! Are you going to tell us how to reach the ambergris or shall I order Moto to commence his work?"

"The information—ah, but I am certain the lady will tell us with much gladness," spoke up Ichi.

He had been waiting patiently and impassively while Carew underwent his travail of heart. Now he was again his smirking, leering self.

"You know ju-jitsu," continued Carew. "Moto is an expert—he will pick your darling to pieces and make him a screaming lunatic, here, before your eyes, unless you speak. And if you speak, be sure and speak truth; for Blake goes ashore with the gang, and God help him if you direct us wrongly! Now decide, please!"

Ruth looked at Martin soberly. Martin smiled at her, but his mind was busied with fresh information. He was to go ashore with the gang! So Carew said. Then this yellow band would be divided. If he could hold them ashore until the boatswain attempted his coup, the odds would not be so great against the Cohasset lads. If he only knew how the boatswain was progressing down below; whether he had gained to the forecastle crowd! Anyway, it was a chance to take.

"Martin, dear, I had better tell them," said Ruth.

"Yes, yes, tell them," urged Martin feverishly. "Why—I know the code myself, by heart. I'll tell them."

"Ho, ho! See how your brave knight stands the gaff!" guffawed Carew to Ruth.

Ruth stared searchingly at Martin. Martin writhed in spirit. He longed to shout to her that he was not craven, that it was policy dictated his course.

But Ruth was evidently satisfied by what she saw in his face, for she smiled brightly and said without any trace of disappointment:

"Of course, Martin. It would be foolish to allow them to torture the words out of either of us. I shall speak."

"Ah—but just a moment!" exclaimed Ichi.

He drew a pencil and note-book from his pocket, and extended them to Ruth.

"If the young lady will be of a kindness," he said, "she will perhaps write the directions down on the paper. Then we shall compare it with dear Mr. Blake's directions. Yes, please?"

Ruth took the proffered articles and, without hesitation, scribbled a couple of lines. Ichi recovered the book.

"Ah—so!" he exclaimed, after glancing at the writing. "Now, Mr. Blake, will you be of such a kindness? I make the comparing. Yes, please?"

Martin spoke, also without hesitation. His memory was exceptional, and he had read often and attentively John Winters' code writing.

"South end beach—in elephant head—four starboard—windy cave—two port—aloft—north corner dry cave," Martin rattled off.

"Ah! So, it is of a correctness!" sang out Ichi with more feeling than Martin had yet seen him exhibit. He waved the book at Carew. "They speak the same. And observe, captain, here is our error so great. It says 'aloft.' We searched with much diligence all about, and beneath. But we did not search overhead—so missed the cave of dryness. But now, ah!"

The little wretch almost danced for happiness.

Carew accepted the intelligence with calmness. It was apparent to Martin that Carew had spoken true words to Ruth—the man was more interested in the girl than in the treasure.

"Well, you had better go ashore after the stuff," he said to Ichi. "Take a full boat's crew, and Blake, here—yes, be sure and take Blake with you. I'll remain aboard—snatch forty winks, if I can, for I'll get no rest tonight if we pull out of this hole. You may return to your grandfather, Ruth!"

Ruth stood up. She half turned, as if to step for the door of Captain Dabney's room, then, swift as a flash, she darted to Martin's side and threw her arms about him. Her cool cheek pressed against his for an instant, and she breathed swift words in his ear.

"Courage, dear. There is a plan——"

Carew, with a snarled oath, placed his hand upon her shoulder, and drew her away with some violence, though he lifted his hand immediately.

"Nothing like that!" he admonished her. "By Heaven! I'll not stand by and watch you cuddling that cub! Get back to your room—go!"

Ruth threw a beaming, hope-filled glance to Martin. Then Captain Dabney's door closed behind her.



CHAPTER XVIII

THROUGH THE ELEPHANT'S HEAD

The Japanese gentleman might ramble at length in his speech, but he proved himself to be direct and speedy enough in action. Martin found that Dr. Ichi was disposed to hurry. No sooner had Ruth disappeared within the captain's room than he commenced to act upon Carew's orders.

A volley of staccato Japanese relieved the grim Moto of his sinister attendance upon Martin and sent him scurrying forward to the deck, to Martin's vast satisfaction.

Next, he held a low-voiced consultation with Carew, who had stretched himself out upon the divan at the after end of the room. This talk was inaudible to Martin, but at its conclusion Carew said:

"Very well. If you find you need assistance, signal off and I'll send another boat. And if you are going to take Moto with you, have Asoki send a hand aft to stand guard in the cabin while I sleep. Best to keep an eye on the girl."

Ichi turned to Martin.

"So we have made prepare," he stated.

He drew a revolver from his hip-pocket, examined it ostentatiously, and placed it carefully in a side coat-pocket. Martin, regarding the weapon with covetous eyes, recognized it as one of the ship's arms.

"Now, my dear Mr. Blake, you will be of such kindness to go before me to the deck? Yes, please?"

Martin arose promptly and started for the alley-way leading to the main deck. In his mind mingled triumph and trepidation—triumph because he knew that Ichi's expedition to the shore would lessen the number of the crew holding the ship and thereby aid the boatswain's plan for delivery which he was sure was maturing in the darkness of the hold; trepidation because despite his resolution to fortitude he was more than a little uneasy concerning his own future. If he went ashore with Ichi, would he live to return? Had Carew given orders as to his disposition? He had intercepted glances filled with a smoldering hate, during that whispered conversation a moment since.

Martin had a feeling that he was the object of that discussion, there at the other end of the cabin. Was Carew whispering murderous orders into Ichi's ready ear? The man was smarting under Ruth's scorn. What more natural to Carew's pitiless nature than to sop his mad jealousy with his rival's death?

The Japanese gentleman, cruel and vindictive beneath his surface suavity, would, Martin felt, be pleased to put a period to his existence. Was it merely to cow him that Ichi so carefully examined his gun? Or was it to have cruel sport with him, as Ichi had attempted to have with the boatswain?

"Whatever way," ran Martin's thought, "my job is to get as many of these yellow imps ashore as is possible, and hold them there as long as I can, so that the bosun, leading his outbreak, will have a chance of success. What if Ichi does let daylight through me? It is for Ruth!"

Closely followed by Ichi, Martin traversed the passage and stepped out on deck, and found himself bathed with the sunlight of a bright, calm morning. At Ichi's word, he paused outside the door.

Ichi continued across the deck and spoke to a man who was shouting over the rail to a boat crew overside. Martin recognized the man; he was the same bow-legged, muscular little Jap who had acted as his guide that night in the Black Cruiser. He wore an air of authority; Martin concluded he was the mate of Carew's yellow following, perhaps the fellow, Asoki, Wild Bob had mentioned.

The mate turned from Ichi and hallooed forward. A man who was sitting on the sunny deck, abaft the galley, arose and came aft in obedience to the hail. Martin saw the fellow carried one of the Cohasset's rifles. He paused while Ichi gave him some terse directions, then he passed Martin and entered the cabin. Ichi and Asoki then proceeded to inspect the boat overside.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse