Several of the crew had now congregated about the prostrate officer.
"Here you," cried Skipper Simms to a couple of them; "you take Mr. Theriere below to his cabin, an' throw cold water in his face. Mr. Ward, get some brandy from my locker, an' try an' bring him to. The rest of you arm yourselves with crowbars and axes, an' see that that son of a sea cook don't get out on deck again alive. Hold him there 'til I get a couple of guns. Then we'll get him, damn him!"
Skipper Simms hastened below while two of the men were carrying Theriere to his cabin and Mr. Ward was fetching the brandy. A moment later Barbara Harding saw the skipper return to the upper deck with a rifle and two revolvers. The sailors whom he had detailed to keep Byrne below were gathered about the hatchway leading to the forecastle. Some of them were exchanging profane and pleasant badinage with the prisoner.
"Yeh better come up an' get killed easy-like;" one called down to the mucker. "We're apt to muss yeh all up down there in the dark with these here axes and crowbars, an' then wen we send yeh home yer pore maw won't know her little boy at all."
"Yeh come on down here, an' try mussin' me up," yelled back Billy Byrne. "I can lick de whole gang wit one han' tied behin' me—see?"
"De skipper's gorn to get his barkers, Billy," cried Bony Sawyer. "Yeh better come up an' stan' trial if he gives yeh the chanct."
"Stan' nothin'," sneered Billy. "Swell chanct I'd have wit him an' Squint Eye holdin' court over me. Not on yer life, Bony. I'm here, an' here I stays till I croaks, but yeh better believe me, I'm goin, to croak a few before I goes, so if any of you ginks are me frien's yeh better keep outen here so's yeh won't get hurted. An' anudder ting I'm goin' to do afore I cashes in—I'm goin' to put a few of dem ginks in de cabin wise to where dey stands wit one anudder. If I don't start something before I goes out me name's not Billy Byrne."
At this juncture Skipper Simms appeared with the three weapons he had gone to his cabin to fetch. He handed one to Bony Sawyer, another to Red Sanders and a third to a man by the name of Wison.
"Now, my men," said Skipper Simms, "we will go below and bring Byrne up. Bring him alive if you can—but bring him."
No one made a move to enter the forecastle.
"Go on now, move quickly," commanded Skipper Simms sharply.
"Thought he said 'we'," remarked one of the sailors.
Skipper Simms, livid with rage, turned to search out the offender from the several men behind him.
"Who was that?" he roared. "Show me the blitherin' swab. Jes' show him to me, I tell you, an I'll learn him. Now you," he yelled at the top of his voice, turning again to the men he had ordered into the forecastle after Billy Byrne, "you cowardly landlubbers you, get below there quick afore I kick you below."
Still no one moved to obey him. From white he went to red, and then back to white again. He fairly frothed at the mouth as he jumped up and down, cursing the men, and threatening. But all to no avail. They would not go.
"Why, Skipper," spoke up Bony Sawyer, "it's sure death for any man as goes below there. It's easier, an' safer, to starve him out."
"Starve nothin'," shrieked Skipper Simms. "Do you reckon I'm a-goin' to sit quiet here for a week an' let any blanked wharf rat own that there fo'c's'le just because I got a lot o' white-livered cowards aboard? No sir! You're a-goin' down after that would-be bad man an' fetch him up dead or alive," and with that he started menacingly toward the three who stood near the hatch, holding their firearms safely out of range of Billy Byrne below.
What would have happened had Skipper Simms completed the threatening maneuver he had undertaken can never be known, for at this moment Theriere pushed his way through the circle of men who were interested spectators of the impending tragedy.
"What's up, sir?" he asked of Simms. "Anything that I can help you with?"
"Oh!" exclaimed the skipper; "so you ain't dead after all, eh? Well that don't change the looks of things a mite. We gotta get that man outa there an' these flea-bitten imitations of men ain't got the guts to go in after him."
"He's got your gun, sir," spoke up Wison, "an' Gawd knows he be the one as'ud on'y be too glad for the chanct to use it."
"Let me see if I can't handle him, sir," said Theriere to Skipper Simms. "We don't want to lose any men if we can help it."
The skipper was only too glad to welcome this unexpected rescue from the predicament in which he had placed himself. How Theriere was to accomplish the subjugation of the mutinous sailor he could not guess, nor did he care so long as it was done without risk to his own skin.
"Now if you'll go away, sir," said Theriere, "and order the men away I'll see what I can do."
Skipper Simms did as Theriere had requested, so that presently the officer stood alone beside the hatch. Across the deck, amidships, the men had congregated to watch Theriere's operations, while beyond them stood Barbara Harding held fascinated by the grim tragedy that was unfolding before her upon this accursed vessel.
Theriere leaned over the open hatch, in full view of the waiting Byrne, ready below. There was the instant report of a firearm and a bullet whizzed close past Theriere's head.
"Avast there, Byrne!" he shouted. "It's I, Theriere. Don't shoot again, I want to speak to you."
"No monkey business now," growled the mucker in reply. "I won't miss again."
"I want to talk with you, Byrne," said Theriere in a low tone. "I'm coming down there."
"No you ain't, cul," returned Byrne; "leastways yeh ain't a-comin' down here alive."
"Yes I am, Byrne," replied Theriere, "and you don't want to be foolish about it. I'm unarmed. You can cover me with your gun until you have satisfied yourself as to that. I'm the only man on the ship that can save your life—the only man that has any reason to want to; but we've got to talk it over and we can't talk this way where there's a chance of being overheard. I'll be on the square with you if you will with me, and if we can't come to terms I'll come above again and you won't be any worse off than you are now. Here I come," and without waiting for an acceptance of his proposition the second officer of the Halfmoon slipped over the edge of the hatchway and disappeared from the sight of the watchers above.
That he was a brave man even Billy Byrne had to admit, and those above who knew nothing of the relations existing between the second mate and the sailor, who had so recently felled him, thought that his courage was little short of marvelous. Theriere's stock went up by leaps and bounds in the estimation of the sailors of the Halfmoon, for degraded though they were they could understand and appreciate physical courage of this sort, while to Barbara Harding the man's act seemed unparalleled in its utter disregard of the consequences of life and death to himself that it entailed. She suddenly was sorry that she had entertained any suspicions against Theriere—so brave a man could not be other than the soul of honor, she argued.
Once below Theriere found himself covered by his own revolver in the hands of a very desperate and a very unprincipled man. He smiled at Byrne as the latter eyed him suspiciously.
"See here, Byrne," said Theriere. "It would be foolish for me to say that I am doing this for love of you. The fact is that I need you. We cannot succeed, either one of us, alone. I think you made a fool play when you hit me today. You know that our understanding was that I was to be even a little rougher with you than usual, in order to avoid suspicion being attached to any seeming familiarity between us, should we be caught conferring together. I had the chance to bawl you out today, and I thought that you would understand that I was but taking advantage of the opportunity which it afforded to make it plain to Miss Harding that there could be nothing other than hatred between us—it might have come in pretty handy later to have her believe that.
"If I'd had any idea that you really intended hitting me you'd have been a dead man before your fist reached me, Byrne. You took me entirely by surprise; but that's all in the past—I'm willing to let bygones be bygones, and help you out of the pretty pickle you've got yourself into. Then we can go ahead with our work as though nothing had happened. What do you say?"
"I didn't know yeh was kiddin," replied the mucker, "or I wouldn't have hit yeh. Yeh acted like yeh meant it."
"Very well, that part's understood," said Theriere. "Now will you come out if I can square the thing with the skipper so's you won't get more than a day or so in irons—he'll have to give you something to save his own face; but I promise that you'll get your food regularly and that you won't be beaten up the way you were before when he had you below. If he won't agree to what I propose I give you my word to tell you so."
"Go ahead," said Billy Byrne; "I don't trust nobody wen I don't have to; but I'll be dinged if I see any other way out of it."
Theriere returned to the deck and seeking out the skipper drew him to one side.
"I can get him up peaceably if I can assure him that he'll only get a day or so in the cooler, with full rations and no beatings. I think, sir, that that will be the easiest way out of it. We cannot spare a man now—if we want to get the fellow later we can always find some pretext."
"Very well, Mr. Theriere," replied the skipper, "I'll leave the matter entirely in your hands—you can do what you want with the fellow; it's you as had your face punched."
Theriere returned immediately to the forecastle, from which he presently emerged with the erstwhile recalcitrant Byrne, and for two days the latter languished in durance vile, and that was the end of the episode, though its effects were manifold. For one thing it implanted in the heart of Theriere a personal hatred for the mucker, so that while heretofore his intention of ridding himself of the man when he no longer needed him was due purely to a matter of policy, it was now reinforced by a keen desire for personal revenge. The occurrence had also had its influence upon Barbara Harding, in that it had shown her Mr. Theriere in a new light—one that reflected credit upon him. She had thought his magnanimous treatment of the sailor little short of heroic; and it had deepened the girl's horror of Billy Byrne until it now amounted to little short of an obsession. So vivid an impression had his brutality made upon her that she would start from deep slumber, dreaming that she was menaced by him.
After Billy was released for duty following his imprisonment, he several times passed the girl upon deck. He noticed that she shrank from him in disgust and terror; but what surprised him was that instead of the thrill of pride which he formerly would have felt at this acknowledgment of his toughness, for Billy prided himself on being a tough, he now felt a singular resentment against the girl for her attitude, so that he came to hate her even more than he had before hated. Formerly he had hated her for the things she stood for, now he hated her for herself.
Theriere was often with her now, and, less frequently, Divine; for at the second officer's suggestion Barbara had not acquainted that gentleman with the fact that she was aware of his duplicity.
"It is just as well not to let him know," said Theriere. "It gives you an advantage that would be wanting should he suspect the truth, so that now you are always in a position to be warned in plenty of time against any ulterior suggestion he may make. Keep me posted as to all he tells you of his plans, and in this way we can defeat him much more easily than as though you followed your natural inclinations and refused to hold communication of any sort with him. It might be well, Miss Harding, even to encourage him in the hope that you will wed him voluntarily. I think that that would throw him entirely off his guard, and pave the way for your early release."
"Oh, I doubt if I could do that, Mr. Theriere," exclaimed the girl. "You cannot imagine how I loathe the man now that I know him in his true colors. For years he has importuned me to marry him, and though I never cared for him in that way at all, and never could, I felt that he was a very good friend and that his constancy demanded some return on my part—my friendship and sympathy at least; but now I shiver whenever he is near me, just as I would were I to find a snake coiled close beside me. I cannot abide treachery."
"Nor I, Miss Harding," agreed Theriere glibly. "The man deserves nothing but your contempt, though for policy's sake I hope that you will find it possible to lead him on until his very treachery proves the means of your salvation, for believe me, if he has been false to you how much more quickly will he be false to Simms and Ward! He would ditch them in a minute if the opportunity presented itself for him to win you without their aid. I had thought it might be feasible to lead him into attempting to take the ship by force, and return you to San Francisco, or, better still possibly, to the nearest civilized port.
"You might, with propriety suggest this to him, telling him that you believe that I would stand ready to assist in the undertaking. I can promise you the support of several of the men—quite a sufficient number with Divine and myself, easily to take the Halfmoon away from her present officers."
"I will think over your suggestion, Mr. Theriere," replied Barbara, "and I thank you for the generous impulse that has prompted you to befriend me—heaven knows how badly I need a friend now among so many enemies. What is it, Mr. Theriere? What is the matter?"
The officer had turned his eyes casually toward the southeast as the girl spoke, and just now he had given a sudden exclamation of surprise and alarm.
"That cloud, Miss Harding," he answered. "We're in for a bad blow, and it'll be on us in a minute," and with that he started forward on a run, calling back over his shoulder, "you'd better go below at once."
CHAPTER VII. THE TYPHOON
THE storm that struck the Halfmoon took her entirely unaware. It had sprung, apparently, out of a perfectly clear sky. Both the lookout and the man at the wheel were ready to take oath that they had scanned the horizon not a half-minute before Second Mate Theriere had come racing forward bellowing for all hands on deck and ordering a sailor below to report the menacing conditions to Captain Simms.
Before that officer reached the deck Theriere had the entire crew aloft taking in sail; but though they worked with the desperation of doomed men they were only partially successful in their efforts.
The sky and sea had assumed a sickly yellowish color, except for the mighty black cloud that raced toward them, low over the water. The low moaning sound that had followed the first appearance of the storm, gave place to a sullen roar, and then, of a sudden, the thing struck the Halfmoon, ripping her remaining canvas from her as if it had been wrought from tissue paper, and with the flying canvas, spars, and cordage went the mainmast, snapping ten feet above the deck, and crashing over the starboard bow with a noise and jar that rose above the bellowing of the typhoon.
Fully half the crew of the Halfmoon either went down with the falling rigging or were crushed by the crashing weight of the mast as it hurtled against the deck. Skipper Simms rushed back and forth screaming out curses that no one heeded, and orders that there was none to fill.
Theriere, on his own responsibility, looked to the hatches. Ward with a handful of men armed with axes attempted to chop away the wreckage, for the jagged butt of the fallen mast was dashing against the ship's side with such vicious blows that it seemed but a matter of seconds ere it would stave a hole in her.
With the utmost difficulty a sea anchor was rigged and tumbled over the Halfmoon's pitching bow into the angry sea, that was rising to more gigantic proportions with each succeeding minute. This frail makeshift which at best could but keep the vessel's bow into the wind, saving her from instant engulfment in the sea's trough, seemed to Theriere but a sorry means of prolonging the agony of suspense preceding the inevitable end. That nothing could save them was the second officer's firm belief, nor was he alone in his conviction. Not only Simms and Ward, but every experienced sailor on the ship felt that the life of the Halfmoon was now but a matter of hours, possibly minutes, while those of lesser experience were equally positive that each succeeding wave must mark the termination of the lives of the vessel and her company.
The deck, washed now almost continuously by hurtling tons of storm-mad water, as one mountainous wave followed another the length of the ship, had become entirely impossible. With difficulty the men were attempting to get below between waves. All semblance of discipline had vanished. For the most part they were a pack of howling, cursing, terror-ridden beasts, fighting at the hatches with those who would have held them closed against the danger of each new assault of the sea.
Ward and Skipper Simms had been among the first to seek the precarious safety below deck. Theriere alone of the officers had remained on duty until the last, and now he was exerting his every faculty in the effort to save as many of the men as possible without losing the ship in the doing of it. Only between waves was the entrance to the main cabins negotiable, while the forecastle hatch had been abandoned entirely after it had with difficulty been replaced following the retreat of three of the crew to that part of the ship.
The mucker stood beside Theriere as the latter beat back the men when the seas threatened. It was the man's first experience of the kind. Never had he faced death in the courage-blighting form which the grim harvester assumes when he calls unbridled Nature to do his ghastly bidding. The mucker saw the rough, brawling bullies of the forecastle reduced to white-faced, gibbering cowards, clawing and fighting to climb over one another toward the lesser danger of the cabins, while the mate fought them off, except as he found it expedient to let them pass him; he alone cool and fearless.
Byrne stood as one apart from the dangers and hysteric strivings of his fellows. Once when Theriere happened to glance in his direction the Frenchman mentally ascribed the mucker's seeming lethargy to the paralysis of abject cowardice. "The fellow is in a blue funk," thought the second mate; "I did not misjudge him—like all his kind he is a coward at heart."
Then a great wave came, following unexpectedly close upon the heels of a lesser one. It took Theriere off his guard, threw him down and hurtled him roughly across the deck, landing him in the scuppers, bleeding and stunned. The next wave would carry him overboard.
Released from surveillance the balance of the crew pushed and fought their way into the cabin—only the mucker remained without, staring first at the prostrate form of the mate and then at the open cabin hatch. Had one been watching him he might reasonably have thought that the man's mind was in a muddle of confused thoughts and fears; but such was far from the case. Billy was waiting to see if the mate would revive sufficiently to return across the deck before the next wave swept the ship. It was very interesting—he wondered what odds O'Leary would have laid against the man.
In another moment the wave would come. Billy glanced at the open cabin hatch. That would never do—the cabin would be flooded with tons of water should the next wave find the hatch still open. Billy closed it. Then he looked again toward Theriere. The man was just recovering consciousness—and the wave was coming.
Something stirred within Billy Byrne. It gripped him and made him act quickly as though by instinct to do something that no one, Billy himself least of all, would have suspected that the Grand Avenue mucker would have been capable of.
Across the deck Theriere was dragging himself painfully to his hands and knees, as though to attempt the impossible feat of crawling back to the cabin hatch. The wave was almost upon Billy. In a moment it would engulf him, and then rush on across him to tear Theriere from the deck and hurl him beyond the ship into the tumbling, watery, chaos of the sea.
The mucker saw all this, and in the instant he launched himself toward the man for whom he had no use, whose kind he hated, reaching him as the great wave broke over them, crushing them to the deck, choking and blinding them.
For a moment they were buried in the swirling maelstrom, and then as the Halfmoon rose again, shaking the watery enemy from her back, the two men were disclosed—Theriere half over the ship's side—the mucker clinging to him with one hand, the other clutching desperately at a huge cleat upon the gunwale.
Byrne dragged the mate to the deck, and then slowly and with infinite difficulty across it to the cabin hatch. Through it he pushed the man, tumbling after him and closing the aperture just as another wave swept the Halfmoon.
Theriere was conscious and but little the worse for his experience, though badly bruised. He looked at the mucker in astonishment as the two faced each other in the cabin.
"I don't know why you did it," said Theriere.
"Neither do I," replied Billy Byrne.
"I shall not forget it, Byrne," said the officer.
"Yeh'd better," answered Billy, turning away.
The mucker was extremely puzzled to account for his act. He did not look upon it at all as a piece of heroism; but rather as a "fool play" which he should be ashamed of. The very idea! Saving the life of a gink who, despite his brutal ways, belonged to the much-despised "highbrow" class. Billy was peeved with himself.
Theriere, for his part, was surprised at the unexpected heroism of the man he had long since rated as a cowardly bully. He was fully determined to repay Byrne in so far as he could the great debt he owed him. All thoughts of revenge for the mucker's former assault upon him were dropped, and he now looked upon the man as a true friend and ally.
For three days the Halfmoon plunged helplessly upon the storm-wracked surface of the mad sea. No soul aboard her entertained more than the faintest glimmer of a hope that the ship would ride out the storm; but during the third night the wind died down, and by morning the sea had fallen sufficiently to make it safe for the men of the Halfmoon to venture upon deck.
There they found the brigantine clean-swept from stem to stern. To the north of them was land at a league or two, perhaps. Had the storm continued during the night they would have been dashed upon the coast. God-fearing men would have given thanks for their miraculous rescue; but not so these. Instead, the fear of death removed, they assumed their former bravado.
Skipper Simms boasted of the seamanship that had saved the Halfmoon—his own seamanship of course. Ward was cursing the luck that had disabled the ship at so crucial a period of her adventure, and revolving in his evil mind various possible schemes for turning the misfortune to his own advantage. Billy Byrne, sitting upon the corner of the galley table, hobnobbed with Blanco. These choice representatives of the ship's company were planning a raid on the skipper's brandy chest during the disembarkation which the sight of land had rendered not improbable.
The Halfmoon, with the wind down, wallowed heavily in the trough of the sea, but even so Barbara Harding, wearied with days of confinement in her stuffy cabin below, ventured above deck for a breath of sweet, clean air.
Scarce had she emerged from below than Theriere espied her, and hastened to her side.
"Well, Miss Harding," he exclaimed, "it seems good to see you on deck again. I can't tell you how sorry I have felt for you cooped up alone in your cabin without a single woman for companionship, and all those frightful days of danger, for there was scarce one of us that thought the old hooker would weather so long and hard a blow. We were mighty fortunate to come through it so handily."
"Handily?" queried Barbara Harding, with a wry smile, glancing about the deck of the Halfmoon. "I cannot see that we are either through it handily or through it at all. We have no masts, no canvas, no boats; and though I am not much of a sailor, I can see that there is little likelihood of our effecting a landing on the shore ahead either with or without boats—-it looks most forbidding. Then the wind has gone down, and when it comes up again it is possible that it will carry us away from the land, or if it takes us toward it, dash us to pieces at the foot of those frightful cliffs."
"I see you are too good a sailor by far to be cheered by any questionable hopes," laughed Theriere; "but you must take the will into consideration—I only wished to give you a ray of hope that might lighten your burden of apprehension. However, honestly, I do think that we may find a way to make a safe landing if the sea continues to go down as it has in the past two hours. We are not more than a league from shore, and with the jury mast and sail that the men are setting under Mr. Ward now we can work in comparative safety with a light breeze, which we should have during the afternoon. There are few coasts, however rugged they may appear at a distance, that do not offer some foothold for the wrecked mariner, and I doubt not but that we shall find this no exception to the rule."
"I hope you are right, Mr. Theriere," said the girl, "and yet I cannot but feel that my position will be less safe on land than it has been upon the Halfmoon. Once free from the restraints of discipline which tradition, custom, and law enforce upon the high seas there is no telling what atrocities these men will commit. To be quite candid, Mr. Theriere, I dread a landing worse than I dreaded the dangers of the storm through which we have just passed."
"I think you have little to fear on that score, Miss Harding," said the Frenchman. "I intend making it quite plain that I consider myself your protector once we have left the Halfmoon, and I can count on several of the men to support me. Even Mr. Divine will not dare do otherwise. Then we can set up a camp of our own apart from Skipper Simms and his faction where you will be constantly guarded until succor may be obtained."
Barbara Harding had been watching the man's face as he spoke. The memory of his consideration and respectful treatment of her during the trying weeks of her captivity had done much to erase the intuitive feeling of distrust that had tinged her thoughts of him earlier in their acquaintance, while his heroic act in descending into the forecastle in the face of the armed and desperate Byrne had thrown a glamour of romance about him that could not help but tend to fascinate a girl of Barbara Harding's type. Then there was the look she had seen in his eyes for a brief instant when she had found herself locked in his cabin on the occasion that he had revealed to her Larry Divine's duplicity. That expression no red-blooded girl could mistake, and the fact that he had subdued his passion spoke eloquently to the girl of the fineness and chivalry of his nature, so now it was with a feeling of utter trustfulness that she gladly gave herself into the keeping of Henri Theriere, Count de Cadenet, Second Officer of the Halfmoon.
"O Mr. Theriere," she cried, "if you only can but arrange it so, how relieved and almost happy I shall be. How can I ever repay you for all that you have done for me?"
Again she saw the light leap to the man's eyes—the light of a love that would not be denied much longer other than through the agency of a mighty will. Love she thought it; but the eye-light of love and lust are twin lights between which it takes much worldly wisdom to differentiate, and Barbara Harding was not worldly-wise in the ways of sin.
"Miss Harding," said Theriere, in a voice that he evidently found it difficult to control, "do not ask me now how you may repay me; I—;" but what he would have said he checked, and with an effort of will that was almost appreciable to the eye he took a fresh grip upon himself, and continued: "I am amply repaid by being able to serve you, and thus to retrieve myself in your estimation—I know that you have doubted me; that you have questioned the integrity of my acts that helped to lead up to the unfortunate affair of the Lotus. When you tell me that you no longer doubt—that you accept me as the friend I would wish to be, I shall be more than amply repaid for anything which it may have been my good fortune to have been able to accomplish for your comfort and safety."
"Then I may partially repay you at once," exclaimed the girl with a smile, "for I can assure you that you possess my friendship to the fullest, and with it, of course, my entire confidence. It is true that I doubted you at first—I doubted everyone connected with the Halfmoon. Why shouldn't I? But now I think that I am able to draw a very clear line between my friends and my enemies. There is but one upon the right side of that line—you, my friend," and with an impulsive little gesture Barbara Harding extended her hand to Theriere.
It was with almost a sheepish expression that the Frenchman took the proffered fingers, for there had been that in the frank avowal of confidence and friendship which smote upon a chord of honor in the man's soul that had not vibrated in response to a chivalrous impulse for so many long years that it had near atrophied from disuse.
Then, of a sudden, the second officer of the Halfmoon straightened to his full height. His head went high, and he took the small hand of the girl in his own strong, brown one.
"Miss Harding," he said, "I have led a hard, bitter life. I have not always done those things of which I might be most proud: but there have been times when I have remembered that I am the grandson of one of Napoleon's greatest field marshals, and that I bear a name that has been honored by a mighty nation. What you have just said to me recalls these facts most vividly to my mind—I hope, Miss Harding, that you will never regret having spoken them," and to the bottom of his heart the man meant what he said, at the moment; for inherent chivalry is as difficult to suppress or uproot as is inherent viciousness.
The girl let her hand rest in his for a moment, and as their eyes met she saw in his a truth and honesty and cleanness which revealed what Theriere might have been had Fate ordained his young manhood to different channels. And in that moment a question sprang, all unbidden and unforeseen to her mind; a question which caused her to withdraw her hand quickly from his, and which sent a slow crimson to her cheek.
Billy Byrne, slouching by, cast a bitter look of hatred upon the two. The fact that he had saved Theriere's life had not increased his love for that gentleman. He was still much puzzled to account for the strange idiocy that had prompted him to that act; and two of his fellows had felt the weight of his mighty fist when they had spoken words of rough praise for his heroism—Billy had thought that they were kidding him.
To Billy the knocking out of Theriere, and the subsequent kick which he had planted in the unconscious man's face, were true indications of manliness. He gauged such matters by standards purely Grand Avenuesque and now it enraged him to see that the girl before whose very eyes he had demonstrated his superiority over Theriere should so look with favor upon the officer.
It did not occur to Billy that he would care to have the girl look with favor upon him. Such a thought would have sent him into a berserker rage; but the fact remained that Billy felt a strong desire to cut out Theriere's heart when he saw him now in close converse with Barbara Harding—just why he felt so Billy could not have said. The truth of the matter is that Billy was far from introspective; in fact he did very little thinking. His mind had never been trained to it, as his muscles had been trained to fighting. Billy reacted more quickly to instinct than to the processes of reasoning, and on this account it was difficult for him to explain any great number of his acts or moods—it is to be doubted, however, that Billy Byrne had ever attempted to get at the bottom of his soul, if he possessed one.
Be that as it may, had Theriere known it he was very near death that moment when a summons from Skipper Simms called him aft and saved his life. Then the mucker, unseen by the officer, approached the girl. In his heart were rage and hatred, and as the girl turned at the sound of his step behind her she saw them mirrored in his dark, scowling face.
CHAPTER VIII. THE WRECK OF THE "HALFMOON"
INSTANTLY Barbara Harding looked into the face of the mucker she read her danger. Why the man should hate her so she could not guess; but that he did was evidenced by the malevolent expression of his surly countenance. For a moment he stood glaring at her, and then he spoke.
"I'm wise to wot youse an' dat guy was chinnin' about," he growled, "an' I'm right here to tell youse dat you don't wanta try an' put nothin' over on me, see? Youse ain't a-goin' to double-cross Billy Byrne. I gotta good notion to han' youse wot's comin' to you. If it hadn't been fer youse I wouldn't have been here now on dis Gawd-forsaken wreck. Youse is de cause of all de trouble. Wot youse ought to get is croaked an' den dere wouldn't be nothin' to bother any of us. You an' yer bunch of kale, dey give me a swift pain. Fer half a cent I'd soak youse a wallop to de solar plexus dat would put youse to sleep fer de long count, you—you—" but here words failed Billy.
To his surprise the girl showed not the slightest indication of fear. Her head was high, and her level gaze never wavered from his own eyes. Presently a sneer of contempt curled her lip.
"You coward!" she said quietly. "To insult and threaten a woman! You are nothing but an insufferable bully, and a cowardly murderer. You murdered a man on the Lotus whose little finger held more true manhood, bravery, and worth than the whole of your great, hulking carcass. You are only fit to strike from behind, or when your victim is unsuspecting, as you did Mr. Theriere that other day. Do you think I fear a THING such as you—a beast without honor that kicks an unconscious man in the face? I know that you can kill me. I know that you are coward enough to do it because I am a defenseless woman; and though you may kill me, you never can make me show fear for you. That is what you wish to do—that is your idea of manliness. I had never imagined that such a thing as you lived in the guise of man; but I have read you, Mr. Byrne, since I have had occasion to notice you, and I know now that you are what is known in the great cities as a mucker. The term never meant much to me before, but I see now that it fits your kind perfectly, for in it is all the loathing and contempt that a real man—a gentleman—must feel for such as you."
As she spoke Billy Byrne's eyes narrowed; but not with the cunning of premeditated attack. He was thinking. For the first time in his life he was thinking of how he appeared in the eyes of another. Never had any human being told Billy Byrne thus coolly and succinctly what sort of person he seemed to them. In the heat of anger men of his own stamp had applied vile epithets to him, describing him luridly as such that by the simplest laws of nature he could not possibly be; but this girl had spoken coolly, and her descriptions had been explicit—backed by illustrations. She had given real reasons for her contempt, and somehow it had made that contempt seem very tangible.
One who had known Billy would have expected him to fly into a rage and attack the girl brutally after her scathing diatribe. Billy did nothing of the sort. Barbara Harding's words seemed to have taken all the fight out of him. He stood looking at her for a moment—it was one of the strange contradictions of Billy Byrne's personality that he could hold his eyes quite steady and level, meeting the gaze of another unwaveringly—and in that moment something happened to Billy Byrne's perceptive faculties. It was as though scales which had dimmed his mental vision had partially dropped away, for suddenly he saw what he had not before seen—a very beautiful girl, brave and unflinching before the brutal menace of his attitude, and though the mucker thought that he still hated her, the realization came to him that he must not raise a hand against her—that for the life of him he could not, nor ever again against any other woman. Why this change, Billy did not know, he simply knew that it was so, and with an ugly grunt he turned his back upon her and walked away.
A slight breeze had risen from the southwest since Theriere had left Barbara Harding and now all hands were busily engaged in completing the jury rigging that the Halfmoon might take advantage of the wind and make the shore that rose abruptly from the bosom of the ocean but a league away.
Before the work was completed the wind increased rapidly, so that when the tiny bit of canvas was hoisted into position it bellied bravely, and the Halfmoon moved heavily forward toward the land.
"We gotta make a mighty quick run of it," said Skipper Simms to Ward, "or we'll go to pieces on them rocks afore ever we find a landing."
"That we will if this wind rises much more," replied Ward; "and's far as I can see there ain't no more chance to make a landing there than there would be on the side of a house."
And indeed as the Halfmoon neared the towering cliffs it seemed utterly hopeless that aught else than a fly could find a foothold upon that sheer and rocky face that rose abruptly from the ocean's surface.
Some two hundred yards from the shore it became evident that there was no landing to be made directly before them, and so the course of the ship was altered to carry them along parallel to the shore in an effort to locate a cove, or beach where a landing might safely be effected.
The wind, increasing steadily, was now whipping the sea into angry breakers that dashed resoundingly against the rocky barrier of the island. To drift within reach of those frightful destroyers would mean the instant annihilation of the Halfmoon and all her company, yet this was precisely what the almost unmanageable hulk was doing at the wheel under the profane direction of Skipper Simms, while Ward and Theriere with a handful of men altered the meager sail from time to time in an effort to keep the ship off the rocks for a few moments longer.
The Halfmoon was almost upon the cliff's base when a narrow opening showed some hundred fathoms before her nose, an opening through which the sea ran in long, surging sweeps, rolling back upon itself in angry breakers that filled the aperture with swirling water and high-flung spume. To have attempted to drive the ship into such a place would have been the height of madness under ordinary circumstances. No man knew what lay beyond, nor whether the opening carried sufficient water to float the Halfmoon, though the long, powerful sweep of the sea as it entered the opening denoted considerable depth.
Skipper Simms, seeing the grim rocks rising close beside his vessel, realized that naught could keep her from them now. He saw death peering close to his face. He felt the icy breath of the Grim Reaper upon his brow. A coward at heart, he lost every vestige of his nerve at this crucial moment of his life. Leaping from the wheelhouse to the deck he ran backward and forward shrieking at the top of his lungs begging and entreating someone to save him, and offering fabulous rewards to the man who carried him safely to the shore.
The sight of their captain in a blue funk had its effect upon the majority of the crew, so that in a moment a pack of screaming, terror-ridden men had supplanted the bravos and bullies of the Halfmoon.
From the cabin companionway Barbara Harding looked upon the disgusting scene. Her lip curled in scorn at the sight of these men weeping and moaning in their fright. She saw Ward busy about one of the hatches. It was evident that he intended making a futile attempt to utilize it as a means of escape after the Halfmoon struck, for he was attaching ropes to it and dragging it toward the port side of the ship, away from the shore. Larry Divine crouched beside the cabin and wept.
When Simms gave up the ship Barbara Harding saw the wheelmen, there had been two of them, desert their post, and almost instantly the nose of the Halfmoon turned toward the rocks; but scarcely had the men reached the deck than Theriere leaped to their place at the wheel.
Unassisted he could do little with the heavy helm. Barbara saw that he alone of all the officers and men of the brigantine was making an attempt to save the vessel. However futile the effort might be, it at least bespoke the coolness and courage of the man. With the sight of him there wrestling with death in a hopeless struggle a little wave of pride surged through the girl. Here indeed was a man! And he loved her—that she knew. Whether or no she returned his love her place was beside him now, to give what encouragement and physical aid lay in her power.
Quickly she ran to the wheelhouse. Theriere saw her and smiled.
"There's no hope, I'm afraid," he said; "but, by George, I intend to go down fighting, and not like those miserable yellow curs."
Barbara did not reply, but she grasped the spokes of the heavy wheel and tugged as he tugged. Theriere made no effort to dissuade her from the strenuous labor—every ounce of weight would help so much, and the man had a wild, mad idea that he was attempting to put into effect.
"What do you hope to do?" asked the girl. "Make that opening in the cliffs?"
"Do you think me crazy?" he asked.
"It is such a chance as only a brave man would dare to take," she replied. "Do you think that we can get her to take it?"
"I doubt it," he answered. "With another man at the wheel we might, though."
Below them the crew of the Halfmoon ran hither and thither along the deck on the side away from the breakers. They fought with one another for useless bits of planking and cordage. The giant figure of the black cook, Blanco, rose above the others. In his hand was a huge butcher knife. When he saw a piece of wood he coveted in the hands of another he rushed upon his helpless victim with wild, bestial howls, menacing him with his gleaming weapon. Thus he was rapidly accumulating the material for a life raft.
But there was a single figure upon the deck that did not seem mad with terror. A huge fellow he was who stood leaning against the capstan watching the wild antics of his fellows with a certain wondering expression of incredulity, the while a contemptuous smile curled his lips. As Barbara Harding chanced to look in his direction he also chanced to turn his eyes toward the wheelhouse. It was the mucker.
The girl was surprised that he, the greatest coward of them all, should be showing no signs of cowardice now—probably he was paralyzed with fright. The moment that the man saw the two who were in the wheelhouse and the work that they were doing he sprang quickly toward them. At his approach the girl shrank closer to Theriere.
What new outrage did the fellow contemplate? Now he was beside her. The habitual dark scowl blackened his expression. He laid a heavy hand on Barbara Harding's arm.
"Come out o' dat," he bellowed. "Dat's no kind o' job fer a broiler."
And before either she or Theriere could guess his intention the mucker had pushed Barbara aside and taken her place at the wheel.
"Good for you, Byrne!" cried Theriere. "I needed you badly."
"Why didn't yeh say so den?" growled the man.
With the aid of Byrne's Herculean muscles and great weight the bow of the Halfmoon commenced to come slowly around so that presently she almost paralleled the cliffs again, but now she was much closer in than when Skipper Simms had deserted her to her fate—so close that Theriere had little hope of being able to carry out his plan of taking her opposite the opening and then turning and running her before the wind straight into the swirling waters of the inlet.
Now they were almost opposite the aperture and between the giant cliffs that rose on either side of the narrow entrance a sight was revealed that filled their hearts with renewed hope and rejoicing, for a tiny cove was seen to lie beyond the fissure—a cove with a long, wide, sandy beach up which the waves, broken at the entrance to the little haven, rolled with much diminished violence.
"Can you hold her alone for a second, Byrne?" asked Theriere. "We must make the turn in another moment and I've got to let out sail. The instant that you see me cut her loose put your helm hard to starboard. She'll come around easy enough I imagine, and then hold her nose straight for that opening. It's one chance in a thousand; but it's the only one. Are you game?"
"You know it, cul—go to 't," was Billy Byrne's laconic rejoinder.
As Theriere left the wheel Barbara Harding stepped to the mucker's side.
"Let me help you," she said. "We need every hand that we can get for the next few moments."
"Beat it," growled the man. "I don't want no skirts in my way."
With a flush, the girl drew back, and then turning watched Theriere where he stood ready to cut loose the sail at the proper instant. The vessel was now opposite the cleft in the cliffs. Theriere had lashed a new sheet in position. Now he cut the old one. The sail swung around until caught in position by the stout line. The mucker threw the helm hard to starboard. The nose of the brigantine swung quickly toward the rocks. The sail filled, and an instant later the ship was dashing to what seemed her inevitable doom.
Skipper Simms, seeing what Theriere had done after it was too late to prevent it, dashed madly across the deck toward his junior.
"You fool!" he shrieked. "You fool! What are you doing? Driving us straight for the rocks—murdering the whole lot of us!" and with that he sprang upon the Frenchman with maniacal fury, bearing him to the deck beneath him.
Barbara Harding saw the attack of the fear-demented man, but she was powerless to prevent it. The mucker saw it too, and grinned—he hoped that it would be a good fight; there was nothing that he enjoyed more. He was sorry that he could not take a hand in it, but the wheel demanded all his attention now, so that he was even forced to take his eyes from the combatants that he might rivet them upon the narrow entrance to the cove toward which the Halfmoon was now plowing her way at constantly increasing speed.
The other members of the ship's company, all unmindful of the battle that at another time would have commanded their undivided attention, stood with eyes glued upon the wild channel toward which the brigantine's nose was pointed. They saw now what Skipper Simms had failed to see—the little cove beyond, and the chance for safety that the bold stroke offered if it proved successful.
With steady muscles and giant sinews the mucker stood by the wheel—nursing the erratic wreck as no one might have supposed it was in him to do. Behind him Barbara Harding watched first Theriere and Simms, and then Byrne and the swirling waters toward which he was heading the ship.
Even the strain of the moment did not prevent her from wondering at the strange contradictions of the burly young ruffian who could at one moment show such traits of cowardliness and the next rise so coolly to the highest pinnacles of courage. As she watched him occasionally now she noted for the first time the leonine contour of his head, and she was surprised to note that his features were regular and fine, and then she recalled Billy Mallory and the cowardly kick that she had seen delivered in the face of the unconscious Theriere—with a little shudder of disgust she turned away from the man at the wheel.
Theriere by this time had managed to get on top of Skipper Simms, but that worthy still clung to him with the desperation of a drowning man. The Halfmoon was rising on a great wave that would bear her well into the maelstrom of the cove's entrance. The wind had increased to the proportions of a gale, so that the brigantine was fairly racing either to her doom or her salvation—who could tell which?
Halfway through the entrance the wave dropped the ship, and with a mighty crash that threw Barbara Harding to her feet the vessel struck full amidships upon a sunken reef. Like a thing of glass she broke in two with the terrific impact, and in another instant the waters about her were filled with screaming men.
Barbara Harding felt herself hurtled from the deck as though shot from a catapult. The swirling waters engulfed her. She knew that her end had come, only the most powerful of swimmers might hope to win through that lashing hell of waters to the beach beyond. For a girl to do it was too hopeless even to contemplate; but she recalled Theriere's words of so short a time ago: "There's no hope, I'm afraid; but, by George, I intend to go down fighting," and with the recollection came a like resolve on her part—to go down fighting, and so she struck out against the powerful waters that swirled her hither and thither, now perilously close to the rocky sides of the entrance, and now into the mad chaos of the channel's center. Would to heaven that Theriere were near her, she thought, for if any could save her it would be he.
Since she had come to believe in the man's friendship and sincerity Barbara Harding had felt renewed hope of eventual salvation, and with the hope had come a desire to live which had almost been lacking for the greater part of her detention upon the Halfmoon.
Bravely she battled now against the awful odds of the mighty Pacific, but soon she felt her strength waning. More and more ineffective became her puny efforts, and at last she ceased almost entirely the futile struggle.
And then she felt a strong hand grasp her arm, and with a sudden surge she was swung over a broad shoulder. Quickly she grasped the rough shirt that covered the back of her would-be rescuer, and then commenced a battle with the waves that for many minutes, that seemed hours to the frightened girl, hung in the balance; but at last the swimmer beneath her forged steadily and persistently toward the sandy beach to flounder out at last with an unconscious burden in his mighty arms.
As the man staggered up out of reach of the water Barbara Harding opened her eyes to look in astonishment into the face of the mucker.
CHAPTER IX. ODA YORIMOTO
ONLY four men of the Halfmoon's crew were lost in the wreck of the vessel. All had been crowded in the bow when the ship broke in two, and being far-flung by the forward part of the brigantine as it lunged toward the cove on the wave following the one which had dropped the craft upon the reef, with the exception of the four who had perished beneath the wreckage they had been able to swim safely to the beach.
Larry Divine, who had sat weeping upon the deck of the doomed ship during the time that hope had been at its lowest, had recovered his poise. Skipper Simms, subdued for the moment, soon commenced to regain his bluster. He took Theriere to task for the loss of the Halfmoon.
"An' ever we make a civilized port," he shouted, "I'll prefer charges ag'in' you, you swab you; a-losin' of the finest bark as ever weathered a storm. Ef it hadn't o' been fer you a-mutinyin' agin' me I'd a-brought her through in safety an' never lost a bloomin' soul."
"Stow it!" admonished Theriere at last; "your foolish bluster can't hide the bald fact that you deserted your post in time of danger. We're ashore now, remember, and there is no more ship for you to command, so were I you I'd be mighty careful how I talked to my betters."
"What's that!" screamed the skipper. "My betters! You frog-eatin' greaser you, I'll teach you. Here, some of you, clap this swab into irons. I'll learn him that I'm still captain of this here bunch."
Theriere laughed in the man's face; but Ward and a couple of hands who had been shown favoritism by the skipper and first mate closed menacingly toward the second officer.
The Frenchman took in the situation at a glance. They were ashore now, where they didn't think that they needed him further and the process of elimination had commenced. Well, it might as well come to a showdown now as later.
"Just a moment," said Theriere, raising his hand. "You're not going to take me alive, and I have no idea that you want to anyhow, and if you start anything in the killing line some of you are going to Davy Jones' locker along with me. The best thing for all concerned is to divide up this party now once and for all."
As he finished speaking he turned toward Billy Byrne.
"Are you and the others with me, or against me?" he asked.
"I'm ag'in' Simms," replied the mucker non-committally.
Bony Sawyer, Red Sanders, Blanco, Wison, and two others drew in behind Billy Byrne.
"We all's wid Billy," announced Blanco.
Divine and Barbara Harding stood a little apart. Both were alarmed at the sudden, hostile turn events had taken. Simms, Ward, and Theriere were the only members of the party armed. Each wore a revolver strapped about his hips. All were still dripping from their recent plunge in the ocean.
Five men stood behind Skipper Simms and Ward, but there were two revolvers upon that side of the argument. Suddenly Ward turned toward Divine.
"Are you armed, Mr. Divine?" he asked.
Divine nodded affirmatively.
"Then you'd better come over with us—it looks like we might need you to help put down this mutiny," said Ward.
Divine hesitated. He did not know which side was more likely to be victorious, and he wanted to be sure to be on the winning side. Suddenly an inspiration came to him.
"This is purely a matter to be settled by the ship's officers," he said. "I am only a prisoner, call me a passenger if you like—I have no interest whatever in the matter, and shall not take sides."
"Yes you will," said Mr. Ward, in a low, but menacing tone. "You're in too deep to try to ditch us now. If you don't stand by us we'll treat you as one of the mutineers when we're through with them, and you can come pretty near a-guessin' what they'll get."
Divine was about to reply, and the nature of his answer was suggested by the fact that he had already taken a few steps in the direction of Simms' faction, when he was stopped by the low voice of the girl behind him.
"Larry," she said, "I know all—your entire connection with this plot. If you have a spark of honor or manhood left you will do what little you can to retrieve the terrible wrong you have done me, and my father. You can never marry me. I give you my word of honor that I shall take my own life if that is the only way to thwart your plans in that direction, and so as the fortune can never be yours it seems to me that the next best thing would be to try and save me from the terrible predicament in which your cupidity has placed me. You can make the start now, Larry, by walking over and placing yourself at Mr. Theriere's disposal. He has promised to help and protect me."
A deep flush mounted to the man's neck and face. He did not turn about to face the girl he had so grievously wronged—for the life of him he could not have met her eyes. Slowly he turned, and with gaze bent upon the ground walked quickly toward Theriere.
Ward was quick to recognize the turn events had taken, and to see that it gave Theriere the balance of power, with two guns and nine men in his party against their two guns and seven men. It also was evident to him that to the other party the girl would naturally gravitate since Divine, an old acquaintance, had cast his lot with it; nor had the growing intimacy between Miss Harding and Theriere been lost upon him.
Ward knew that Simms was an arrant coward, nor was he himself overly keen for an upstanding, man-to-man encounter such as must quickly follow any attempt upon his part to uphold the authority of Simms, or their claim upon the custody of the girl.
Intrigue and trickery were more to Mr. Ward's liking, and so he was quick to alter his plan of campaign the instant that it became evident that Divine had elected to join forces with the opposing faction.
"I reckon," he said, directing his remarks toward no one in particular, "that we've all been rather hasty in this matter, being het up as we were with the strain of what we been through an' so it seems to me, takin' into consideration that Mr. Theriere really done his best to save the ship, an' that as a matter of fact we was all mighty lucky to come out of it alive, that we'd better let bygones be bygones, for the time bein' at least, an' all of us pitch in to save what we can from the wreckage, hunt water, rig up a camp, an' get things sort o' shipshape here instid o' squabblin' amongst ourselves."
"Suit yourself," said Theriere, "it's all the same to us," and his use of the objective pronoun seemed definitely to establish the existence of his faction as a separate and distinct party.
Simms, from years of experience with his astute mate, was wont to acquiesce in anything that Ward proposed, though he had not the brains always to appreciate the purposes that prompted Ward's suggestions. Now, therefore, he nodded his approval of Squint Eye's proposal, feeling that whatever was in Ward's mind would be more likely to work out to Skipper Simms' interests than some unadvised act of Skipper Simms himself.
"Supposin'," continued Ward, "that we let two o' your men an' two o' ourn under Mr. Divine, shin up them cliffs back o' the cove an' search fer water an' a site fer camp—the rest o' us'll have our hands full with the salvage."
"Good," agreed Theriere. "Miller, you and Swenson will accompany Mr. Divine."
Ward detailed two of his men, and the party of five began the difficult ascent of the cliffs, while far above them a little brown man with beady, black eyes set in narrow fleshy slits watched them from behind a clump of bushes. Strange, medieval armor and two wicked-looking swords gave him a most warlike appearance. His temples were shaved, and a broad strip on the top of his head to just beyond the crown. His remaining hair was drawn into an unbraided queue, tied tightly at the back, and the queue then brought forward to the top of the forehead. His helmet lay in the grass at his feet. At the nearer approach of the party to the cliff top the watcher turned and melted into the forest at his back. He was Oda Yorimoto, descendant of a powerful daimio of the Ashikaga Dynasty of shoguns who had fled Japan with his faithful samurai nearly three hundred and fifty years before upon the overthrow of the Ashikaga Dynasty.
Upon this unfrequented and distant Japanese isle the exiles had retained all of their medieval military savagery, to which had been added the aboriginal ferocity of the head-hunting natives they had found there and with whom they had intermarried. The little colony, far from making any advances in arts or letters had, on the contrary, relapsed into primeval ignorance as deep as that of the natives with whom they had cast their lot—only in their arms and armor, their military training and discipline did they show any of the influence of their civilized progenitors. They were cruel, crafty, resourceful wild men trapped in the habiliments of a dead past, and armed with the keen weapons of their forbears. They had not even the crude religion of the Malaysians they had absorbed unless a highly exaggerated propensity for head-hunting might be dignified by the name of religion. To the tender mercies of such as these were the castaways of the Halfmoon likely to be consigned, for what might sixteen men with but four revolvers among them accomplish against near a thousand savage samurai?
Theriere, Ward, Simms, and the remaining sailors at the beach busied themselves with the task of retrieving such of the wreckage and the salvage of the Halfmoon as the waves had deposited in the shallows of the beach. There were casks of fresh water, kegs of biscuit, clothing, tinned meats, and a similar heterogeneous mass of flotsam. This arduous labor consumed the best part of the afternoon, and it was not until it had been completed that Divine and his party returned to the beach.
They reported that they had discovered a spring of fresh water some three miles east of the cove and about half a mile inland, but it was decided that no attempt be made to transport the salvage of the party to the new camp site until the following morning.
Theriere and Divine erected a rude shelter for Barbara Harding close under the foot of the cliff, as far from the water as possible, while above them Oda Yorimoto watched their proceedings with beady, glittering eyes. This time a half-dozen of his fierce samurai crouched at his side. Besides their two swords these latter bore the primitive spears of their mothers' savage tribe.
Oda Yorimoto watched the white men upon the beach. Also, he watched the white girl—even more, possibly, than he watched the men. He saw the shelter that was being built, and when it was complete he saw the girl enter it, and he knew that it was for her alone. Oda Yorimoto sucked in his lips and his eyes narrowed even more than nature had intended that they should.
A fire burned before the rude domicile that Barbara Harding was to occupy, and another, larger fire roared a hundred yards to the west where the men were congregated about Blanco, who was attempting to evolve a meal from the miscellany of his larder that had been cast up by the sea. There seemed now but little to indicate that the party was divided into two bitter factions, but when the meal was over Theriere called his men to a point midway between Barbara's shelter and the main camp fire. Here he directed them to dispose themselves for the night as best they could, building a fire of their own if they chose, for with the coming of darkness the chill of the tropical night would render a fire more than acceptable.
All were thoroughly tired and exhausted, so that darkness had scarce fallen ere the entire camp seemed wrapped in slumber. And still Oda Yorimoto sat with his samurai upon the cliff's summit, beady eyes fixed upon his intended prey.
For an hour he sat thus in silence, until, assured that all were asleep before him, he arose and with a few whispered instructions commenced the descent of the cliff toward the cove below. Scarce had he started, however, with his men stringing in single file behind him, than he came to a sudden halt, for below him in the camp that lay between the girl's shelter and the westerly camp a figure had arisen stealthily from among his fellows.
It was Theriere. Cautiously he moved to a sleeper nearby whom he shook gently until he had awakened him.
"Hush, Byrne," cautioned the Frenchman. "It is I, Theriere. Help me awaken the others—see that there is no noise."
"Wot's doin'?" queried the mucker.
"We are going to break camp, and occupy the new location before that bunch of pirates can beat us to it," whispered Theriere in reply; "and," he added, "we're going to take the salvage and the girl with us."
The mucker grinned.
"Gee!" he said. "Won't dey be a sore bunch in de mornin'?"
The work of awakening the balance of the party required but a few minutes and when the plan was explained to them, all seemed delighted with the prospect of discomfiting Skipper Simms and Squint Eye. It was decided that only the eatables be carried away on the first trip, and that if a second trip was possible before dawn the clothing, canvas, and cordage that had been taken from the water might then be purloined.
Miller and Swenson were detailed to bring up the rear with Miss Harding, assisting her up the steep side of the cliff. Divine was to act as guide to the new camp, lending a hand wherever necessary in the scaling of the heights with the loot.
Cautiously the party, with the exception of Divine, Miller, and Swenson, crept toward the little pile of supplies that were heaped fifty or sixty feet from the sleeping members of Simms' faction. The three left behind walked in silence to Barbara Harding's shelter. Here Divine scratched at the piece of sail cloth which served as a door until he had succeeded in awakening the sleeper within. And from above Oda Yorimoto watched the activity in the little cove with intent and unwavering eyes.
The girl, roused from a fitful slumber, came to the doorway of her primitive abode, alarmed by this nocturnal summons.
"It is I, Larry," whispered the man. "Are you dressed?"
"Yes," replied the girl, stepping out into the moonlight. "What do you want? What has happened?"
"We are going to take you away from Simms—Theriere and I," replied the man, "and establish a safe camp of our own where they cannot molest you. Theriere and the others have gone for the supplies now and as soon as they return we further preparations to make, Barbara, please make haste, as we must get away from here as quickly as possible. Should any of Simms' people awaken there is sure to be a fight."
The girl turned back into the shelter to gather together a handful of wraps that had been saved from the wreck.
Down by the salvage Theriere, Byrne, Bony Sawyer, Red Sanders, Blanco, and Wison were selecting the goods that they wished to carry with them. It was found that two trips would be necessary to carry off the bulk of the rations, so Theriere sent the mucker to summon Miller and Swenson.
"We'll carry all that eight of us can to the top of the cliffs," he said "hide it there and then come back for the balance. We may be able to get it later if we are unable to make two trips to the camp tonight."
While they were waiting for Byrne to return with the two recruits one of the sleepers in Simms' camp stirred. Instantly the five marauders dropped stealthily to the ground behind the boxes and casks. Only Theriere kept his eyes above the level of the top of their shelter that he might watch the movements of the enemy.
The figure sat up and looked about. It was Ward. Slowly be arose and approached the pile of salvage. Theriere drew his revolver, holding it in readiness for an emergency. Should the first mate look in the direction of Barbara Harding's shelter he must certainly see the four figures waiting there in the moonlight. Theriere turned his own head in the direction of the shelter that he might see how plainly the men there were visible. To his delight he saw that no one was in sight. Either they had seen Ward, or for the sake of greater safety from detection had moved to the opposite side of the shelter.
Ward was quite close to the boxes upon the other side of which crouched the night raiders. Theriere's finger found the trigger of his revolver. He was convinced that the mate had been disturbed by the movement in camp and was investigating. The Frenchman knew that the search would not end upon the opposite side of the salvage—in a moment Ward would be upon them. He was sorry—not for Ward, but because he had planned to carry the work out quietly and he hated to have to muss things up with a killing, especially on Barbara's account.
Ward stopped at one of the water casks. He tipped it up, filling a tin cup with water, took a long drink, set the cup back on top of the cask, and, turning, retraced his steps to his blanket. Theriere could have hugged himself. The man had suspected nothing. He merely had been thirsty and come over for a drink—in another moment he would be fast asleep once more. Sure enough, before Byrne returned with Miller and Swenson, Theriere could bear the snores of the first mate.
On the first trip to the cliff top eight men carried heavy burdens, Divine alone remaining to guard Barbara Harding. The second trip was made with equal dispatch and safety. No sound or movement came from the camp of the enemy, other than that of sleeping men. On the second trip Divine and Theriere each carried a burden up the cliffs, Miller and Swenson following with Barbara Harding, and as they came Oda Yorimoto and his samurai slunk back into the shadows that their prey might pass unobserving.
Theriere had the bulk of the loot hidden in a rocky crevice just beyond the cliff's summit. Brush torn from the mass of luxuriant tropical vegetation that covered the ground was strewn over the cache. All had been accomplished in safety and without detection. The camp beneath them still lay wrapped in silence.
The march toward the new camp, under the guidance of Divine, was immediately undertaken. On the return trip after the search for water Divine had discovered a well-marked trail along the edge of the cliffs to a point opposite the spring, and another leading from the main trail directly to the water. In his ignorance he had thought these the runways of animals, whereas they were the age-old highways of the head-hunters.
Now they presented a comparatively quick and easy approach to the destination of the mutineers, but so narrow a one as soon to convince Theriere that it was not feasible for him to move back and forth along the flank of his column. He had tried it once, but it so greatly inconvenienced and retarded the heavily laden men that he abandoned the effort, remaining near the center of the cavalcade until the new camp was reached.
Here he found a fair-sized space about a clear and plentiful spring of cold water. Only a few low bushes dotted the grassy clearing which was almost completely surrounded by dense and impenetrable jungle. The men had deposited their burdens, and still Theriere stood waiting for the balance of his party—Miller and Swenson with Barbara Harding.
But they did not come, and when, in alarm, the entire party started back in search of them they retraced their steps to the very brink of the declivity leading to the cove before they could believe the testimony of their own perceptions—Barbara Harding and the two sailors had disappeared.
CHAPTER X. BARBARA CAPTURED BY HEAD-HUNTERS
WHEN Barbara Harding, with Miller before and Swenson behind her, had taken up the march behind the loot-laden party seven dusky, noiseless shadows had emerged from the forest to follow close behind.
For half a mile the party moved along the narrow trail unmolested. Theriere had come back to exchange a half-dozen words with the girl and had again moved forward toward the head of the column. Miller was not more than twenty-five feet behind the first man ahead of him, and Miss Harding and Swenson followed at intervals of but three or four yards.
Suddenly, without warning, Swenson and Miller fell, pierced with savage spears, and at the same instant sinewy fingers gripped Barbara Harding, and a silencing hand was clapped over her mouth. There had been no sound above the muffled tread of the seamen. It had all been accomplished so quickly and so easily that the girl did not comprehend what had befallen her for several minutes.
In the darkness of the forest she could not clearly distinguish the forms or features of her abductors, though she reasoned, as was only natural, that Skipper Simms' party had become aware of the plot against them and had taken this means of thwarting a part of it; but when her captors turned directly into the mazes of the jungle, away from the coast, she began first to wonder and then to doubt, so that presently when a small clearing let the moonlight full upon them she was not surprised to discover that none of the members of the Halfmoon's company was among her guard.
Barbara Harding had not circled the globe half a dozen times for nothing. There were few races or nations with whose history, past and present, she was not fairly familiar, and so the sight that greeted her eyes was well suited to fill her with astonishment, for she found herself in the hands of what appeared to be a party of Japanese warriors of the fifteenth or sixteenth century. She recognized the medieval arms and armor, the ancient helmets, the hairdressing of the two-sworded men of old Japan. At the belts of two of her captors dangled grisly trophies of the hunt. In the moonlight she saw that they were the heads of Miller and Swenson.
The girl was horrified. She had thought her lot before as bad as it could be, but to be in the clutches of these strange, fierce warriors of a long-dead age was unthinkably worse. That she could ever have wished to be back upon the Halfmoon would have seemed, a few days since, incredible; yet that was precisely what she longed for now.
On through the night marched the little, brown men—grim and silent—until at last they came to a small village in a valley away from the coast—a valley that lay nestled high among lofty mountains. Here were cavelike dwellings burrowed half under ground, the upper walls and thatched roofs rising scarce four feet above the level. Granaries on stilts were dotted here and there among the dwellings.
Into one of the filthy dens Barbara Harding was dragged. She found a single room in which several native and half-caste women were sleeping, about them stretched and curled and perched a motley throng of dirty yellow children, dogs, pigs, and chickens. It was the palace of Daimio Oda Yorimoto, Lord of Yoka, as his ancestors had christened their new island home.
Once within the warren the two samurai who had guarded Barbara upon the march turned and withdrew—she was alone with Oda Yorimoto and his family. From the center of the room depended a swinging shelf upon which a great pile of grinning skulls rested. At the back of the room was a door which Barbara had not at first noticed—evidently there was another apartment to the dwelling.
The girl was given little opportunity to examine her new prison, for scarce had the guards withdrawn than Oda Yorimoto approached and grasped her by the arm.
"Come!" he said, in Japanese that was sufficiently similar to modern Nippon to be easily understood by Barbara Harding. With the word he drew her toward a sleeping mat on a raised platform at one side of the room.
One of the women awoke at the sound of the man's voice. She looked up at Barbara in sullen hatred—otherwise she gave no indication that she saw anything unusual transpiring. It was as though an exquisite American belle were a daily visitor at the Oda Yorimoto home.
"What do you want of me?" cried the frightened girl, in Japanese.
Oda Yorimoto looked at her in astonishment. Where had this white girl learned to speak his tongue?
"I am the daimio, Oda Yorimoto," he said. "These are my wives. Now you are one of them. Come!"
"Not yet—not here!" cried the girl clutching at a straw. "Wait. Give me time to think. If you do not harm me my father will reward you fabulously. Ten thousand koku he would gladly give to have me returned to him safely."
Oda Yorimoto but shook his head.
"Twenty thousand koku!" cried the girl.
Still the daimio shook his head negatively.
"A hundred thousand—name your own price, if you will but not harm me."
"Silence!" growled the man. "What are even a million koku to me who only know the word from the legends of my ancestors. We have no need for koku here, and had we, my hills are full of the yellow metal which measures its value. No! you are my woman. Come!"
"Not here! Not here!" pleaded the girl. "There is another room—away from all these women," and she turned her eyes toward the door at the opposite side of the chamber.
Oda Yorimoto shrugged his shoulders. That would be easier than a fight, he argued, and so he led the girl toward the doorway that she had indicated. Within the room all was dark, but the daimio moved as one accustomed to the place, and as he moved through the blackness the girl at his side felt with stealthy fingers at the man's belt.
At last Oda Yorimoto reached the far side of the long chamber.
"Here!" he said, and took her by the shoulders.
"Here!" answered the girl in a low, tense voice, and at the instant that she spoke Oda Yorimoto, Lord of Yoka, felt a quick tug at his belt, and before he guessed what was to happen his own short sword had pierced his breast.
A single shriek broke from the lips of the daimio; but it was so high and shrill and like the shriek of a woman in mortal terror that the woman in the next room who heard it but smiled a crooked, wicked smile of hate and turned once more upon her pallet to sleep.
Again and again Barbara Harding plunged the sword of the brown man into the still heart, until she knew beyond peradventure of a doubt that her enemy was forevermore powerless to injure her. Then she sank, exhausted and trembling, upon the dirt floor beside the corpse.
When Theriere came to the realization that Barbara Harding was gone he jumped to the natural conclusion that Ward and Simms had discovered the ruse that he had worked upon them just in time to permit them to intercept Miller and Swenson with the girl, and carry her back to the main camp.
The others were prone to agree with him, though the mucker grumbled that "it listened fishy." However, all hands returned cautiously down the face of the cliff, expecting momentarily to be attacked by the guards which they felt sure Ward would post in expectation of a return of the mutineers, the moment they discovered that the girl had been taken from them; but to the surprise of all they reached the cove without molestation, and when they had crept cautiously to the vicinity of the sleepers they discovered that all were there, in peaceful slumber, just as they had left them a few hours before.
Silently the party retraced its steps up the cliff. Theriere and Billy Byrne brought up the rear.
"What do you make of it anyway, Byrne?" asked the Frenchman.
"If you wanta get it straight, cul," replied the mucker, "I tink youse know a whole lot more about it dan you'd like to have de rest of us tink."
"What do you mean, Byrne?" cried Theriere. "Out with it now!"
"Sure I'll out wid it. You didn't tink I was bashful didja? Wot fer did you detail dem two pikers, Miller and Swenson, to guard de skirt fer if it wasn't fer some special frame-up of yer own? Dey never been in our gang, and dats just wot you wanted 'em fer. It was easy to tip dem off to hike out wid de squab, and de first chanct you get you'll hike after dem, while we hold de bag. Tought you'd double-cross us easy, didn't yeh? Yeh cheap-skate!"
"Byrne," said Theriere, and it was easy to see that only through the strength of his will-power did he keep his temper, "you may have cause to suspect the motives of everyone connected with this outfit. I can't say that I blame you; but I want you to remember what I say to you now. There was a time when I fully intended to 'double-cross' you, as you say—that was before you saved my life. Since then I have been on the square with you not only in deed but in thought as well. I give you the word of a man whose word once meant something—I am playing square with you now except in one thing, and I shall tell you what that is at once. I do not know where Miss Harding is, or what has happened to her, and Miller, and Swenson. That is God's truth. Now for the one thing that I just mentioned. Recently I changed my intentions relative to Miss Harding. I was after the money the same as the rest—that I am free to admit; but now I don't give a rap for it, and I had intended taking advantage of the first opportunity to return Miss Harding to civilization unharmed and without the payment of a penny to anyone. The reason for my change of heart is my own affair. In all probability you wouldn't believe the sincerity or honesty of my motives should I disclose them. I am only telling you these things because you have accused me of double dealing, and I do not want the man who saved my life at the risk of his own to have the slightest grounds to doubt my honesty with him. I've been a fairly bad egg, Byrne, for a great many years; but, by George! I'm not entirely rotten yet."
Byrne was silent for a few moments. He, too, had recently come to the conclusion that possibly he was not entirely rotten either, and had in a vague and half-formed sort of way wished for the opportunity to demonstrate the fact, so he was willing to concede to another that which he craved for himself.
"Yeh listen all right, cul," he said at last; "an' I'm willin' to take yeh at yer own say-so until I learn different."
"Thanks," said Theriere tersely. "Now we can work together in the search for Miss Harding; but where, in the name of all that's holy, are we to start?"
"Why, where we seen her last, of course," replied the mucker. "Right here on top of dese bluffs."
"Then we can't do anything until daylight," said the Frenchman.
"Not a ting, and at daylight we'll most likely have a scrap on our hands from below," and the mucker jerked his thumb in the direction of the cove.
"I think," said Theriere, "that we had better spend an hour arming ourselves with sticks and stones. We've a mighty good position up here. One that we can defend splendidly from an assault from below, and if we are prepared for them we can stave 'em off for a while if we need the time to search about up here for clews to Miss Harding's whereabouts."
And so the party set to work to cut stout bludgeons from the trees about them, and pile loose fragments of rock in handy places near the cliff top. Theriere even went so far as to throw up a low breastwork across the top of the trail up which the enemy must climb to reach the summit of the cliff. When they had completed their preparations three men could have held the place against ten times their own number.
Then they lay down to sleep, leaving Blanco and Divine on guard, for it had been decided that these two, with Bony Sawyer, should be left behind on the morrow to hold the cliff top while the others were searching for clews to the whereabouts of Barbara Harding. They were to relieve each other at guard duty during the balance of the night.
Scarce had the first suggestion of dawn lightened the eastern sky than Divine, who was again on guard, awakened Theriere. In a moment the others were aroused, and a hasty raid on the cached provisions made. The lack of water was keenly felt by all, but it was too far to the spring to chance taking the time necessary to fetch the much-craved fluid and those who were to forge into the jungle in search of Barbara Harding hoped to find water farther inland, while it was decided to dispatch Bony Sawyer to the spring for water for those who were to remain on guard at the cliff top.
A hurried breakfast was made on water-soaked ship's biscuit. Theriere and his searching party stuffed their pockets full of them, and a moment later the search was on. First the men traversed the trail toward the spring, looking for indications of the spot where Barbara Harding had ceased to follow them. The girl had worn heelless buckskin shoes at the time she was taken from the Lotus, and these left little or no spoor in the well-tramped earth of the narrow path; but a careful and minute examination on the part of Theriere finally resulted in the detection of a single small footprint a hundred yards from the point they had struck the trail after ascending the cliffs. This far at least she had been with them.
The men now spread out upon either side of the track—Theriere and Red Sanders upon one side, Byrne and Wison upon the other. Occasionally Theriere would return to the trail to search for further indications of the spoor they sought.
The party had proceeded in this fashion for nearly half a mile when suddenly they were attracted by a low exclamation from the mucker.
"Here!" he called. "Here's Miller an' the Swede, an' they sure have mussed 'em up turrible."
The others hastened in the direction of his voice, to come to a horrified halt at the sides of the headless trunks of the two sailors.
"Mon Dieu!" exclaimed the Frenchman, reverting to his mother tongue as he never did except under the stress of great excitement.
"Who done it?" queried Red Sanders, looking suspiciously at the mucker.
"Head-hunters," said Theriere. "God! What an awful fate for that poor girl!"
Billy Byrne went white.
"Yeh don't mean dat dey've lopped off her block?" he whispered in an awed voice. Something strange rose in the mucker's breast at the thought he had just voiced. He did not attempt to analyze the sensation; but it was far from joy at the suggestion that the woman he so hated had met a horrible and disgusting death at the hands of savages.
"I'm afraid not, Byrne," said Theriere, in a voice that none there would have recognized as that of the harsh and masterful second officer of the Halfmoon.
"Yer afraid not!" echoed Billy Byrne, in amazement.
"For her sake I hope that they did," said Theriere; "for such as she it would have been a far less horrible fate than the one I fear they have reserved her for."
"You mean—" queried Byrne, and then he stopped, for the realization of just what Theriere did mean swept over him quite suddenly.
There was no particular reason why Billy Byrne should have felt toward women the finer sentiments which are so cherished a possession of those men who have been gently born and raised, even after they have learned that all women are not as was the feminine ideal of their boyhood.
Billy's mother, always foul-mouthed and quarrelsome, had been a veritable demon when drunk, and drunk she had been whenever she could, by hook or crook, raise the price of whiskey. Never, to Billy's recollection, had she spoken a word of endearment to him; and so terribly had she abused him that even while he was yet a little boy, scarce out of babyhood, he had learned to view her with a hatred as deep-rooted as is the affection of most little children for their mothers.
When he had come to man's estate he had defended himself from the woman's brutal assaults as he would have defended himself from another man—when she had struck, Billy had struck back; the only thing to his credit being that he never had struck her except in self-defense. Chastity in woman was to him a thing to joke of—he did not believe that it existed; for he judged other women by the one he knew best—his mother. And as he hated her, so he hated them all. He had doubly hated Barbara Harding since she not only was a woman, but a woman of the class he loathed.
And so it was strange and inexplicable that the suggestion of the girl's probable fate should have affected Billy Byrne as it did. He did not stop to reason about it at all—he simply knew that he felt a mad and unreasoning rage against the creatures that had borne the girl away. Outwardly Billy showed no indication of the turmoil that raged within his breast.
"We gotta find her, bo," he said to Theriere. "We gotta find the skirt."
Ordinarily Billy would have blustered about the terrible things he would do to the objects of his wrath when once he had them in his power; but now he was strangely quiet—only the firm set of his strong chin, and the steely glitter of his gray eyes gave token of the iron resolution within.
Theriere, who had been walking slowly to and fro about the dead men, now called the others to him.
"Here's their trail," he said. "If it's as plain as that all the way we won't be long in overhauling them. Come along."
Before he had the words half out of his mouth the mucker was forging ahead through the jungle along the well-marked spoor of the samurai.
"Wot kind of men do you suppose they are?" asked Red Sanders.
"Malaysian head-hunters, unquestionably," replied Theriere.
Red Sanders shuddered inwardly. The appellation had a most gruesome sound.
"Come on!" cried Theriere, and started off after the mucker, who already was out of sight in the thick forest.
Red Sanders and Wison took a few steps after the Frenchman. Theriere turned once to see that they were following him, and then a turn in the trail hid them from his view. Red Sanders stopped.
"Damme if I'm goin' to get my coconut hacked off on any such wild-goose chase as this," he said to Wison.
"The girl's more'n likely dead long ago," said the other.
"Sure she is," returned Red Sanders, "an' if we go buttin' into that there thicket we'll be dead too. Ugh! Poor Miller. Poor Swenson. It's orful. Did you see wot they done to 'em beside cuttin' off their heads?"
"Yes," whispered Wison, looking suddenly behind him.
Red Sanders gave a little start, peering in the direction that his companion had looked.
"Wot was it?" he whimpered. "Wot did you do that fer?"
"I thought I seen something move there," replied Wison. "Fer Gawd's sake let's get outen this," and without waiting for a word of assent from his companion the sailor turned and ran at breakneck speed along the little path toward the spot where Divine, Blanco, and Bony Sawyer were stationed. When they arrived Bony was just on the point of setting out for the spring to fetch water, but at sight of the frightened, breathless men he returned to hear their story.
"What's up?" shouted Divine. "You men look as though you'd seen a ghost. Where are the others?"
"They're all murdered, and their heads cut off," cried Red Sanders. "We found the bunch that got Miller, Swenson, and the girl. They'd killed 'em all and was eatin' of 'em when we jumps 'em. Before we knew wot had happened about a thousand more of the devils came runnin' up. They got us separated, and when we seen Theriere and Byrne kilt we jest natch'rally beat it. Gawd, but it was orful."
"Do you think they will follow you?" asked Divine.
At the suggestion every head turned toward the trail down which the two panic-stricken men had just come. At the same moment a hoarse shout arose from the cove below and the five looked down to see a scene of wild activity upon the beach. The defection of Theriere's party had been discovered, as well as the absence of the girl and the theft of the provisions.
Skipper Simms was dancing about like a madman. His bellowed oaths rolled up the cliffs like thunder. Presently Ward caught a glimpse of the men at the top of the cliff above him.
"There they are!" he cried.
Skipper Simms looked up.
"The swabs!" he shrieked. "A-stealin' of our grub, an' abductin' of that there pore girl. The swabs! Lemme to 'em, I say; jest lemme to 'em."
"We'd all better go to 'em," said Ward. "We've got a fight on here sure. Gather up some rocks, men, an' come along. Skipper, you're too fat to do any fightin' on that there hillside, so you better stay here an' let one o' the men take your gun," for Ward knew so well the mettle of his superior that he much preferred his absence to his presence in the face of real fighting, and with the gun in the hands of a braver man it would be vastly more effective.