Sunday, 22 January 2017
One kiss spelled apparent doom for Martin Lane, and sent him down the swift descent to an Avernus from which it seemed that there could be no recovery.
FRANK L. PACKARD
NOVEMBER 15, 1924
This long novelette is complete in this issue.
THE Bonara, Singapore to Brisbane, heavy with cargo and low in the water, rolled sulkily, lifted sulkily, grumbling, chattering her disapproval of the night in the language of her kind, which is a language universal to all ships under whatsoever flag, and is, withal, a very human language.
Bulkheads, rivets, plates, stanchions, all the innards of her, lifted up their voices in an unanimity of discontent, refusing to be assuaged by the soft lullaby of the engines that sang in steady throb and beat as though to allay her fret.
She was unhappy, irritable and disgruntled. Not that it was heavy weather, but there was a choppy crosssea, and it was thick, misty, sticky, dirty weather.
She flung the seas from her bows, not smoothly, but in short, angry buffets, as though annoyed beyond her patience at their incessant teasing and the denial of her right to ride through their domain in comfort. Occasionally she seemed to shake herself much after the manner of a wet dog, as the wind in accentuated gusts every now and then deposited a tropical downpour upon her decks. Also, it was pitilessly black, save when, in the distance, on-driven, the showers seemed to take on a spread of grayish color, thinly transparent, like some strange wraith hurling itself through the night upon her. And her whistle blasts, bellowing raucous, in these moments of mist, were as though she were giving vent to her spleen.
On the bridge, Martin Lane, chief officer, a tall, sturdy figure, bulking the larger for his oilskin wrappings, brushed the wet out of his face, and as a downpour subsided temporarily into a mere drizzle, flung his oilskin jacket wide open. It was hot.
From forward the ship’s bell struck once. Half past four in the morning.
MARTIN LANE stood still for a moment, his steady gray eyes fixed over the weather cloth, staring, as though he wondered where the sound had come from. He could just barely make out the rise of the foc’s’le-head beyond the Bonara’s low, flush foredeck. Then he frowned, shrugged his shoulders a little impatiently, and resumed his pacing up and down the bridge again.
There was something uneasy in the night—or was it himself?
From the boat deck below, as he passed the head of the starboard bridge ladder, he caught a faint glimmer of light as a curtain swayed in the wind from one of the open portholes of the captain’s cabin. The old man was a bit uneasy himself—still up; or, at any rate, still stretched out on his settee with his ubiquitous pile of month or more old newspapers, of which it was his habit to garner an enormous sheaf in every port, and which he thereafter read with amazing thoroughness and pertinacity.
Martin Lane’s frown gave place to the flicker of a smile. The skipper’s hobby was quite harmless, and on a cargo boat any hobby that would pass the time was a blessing. Captain Botts prided himself on being a bit of a shark at world news. It was a man’s business, and especially a seaman’s, the old man was wont to say, to keep posted on what was going on in the world while one, in a way of speaking, was out of it. Eh? What? Wireless? Bah! Sketchy at best, Mr. Lane—and a lot you don’t even get, at that, with the forsaken sets they put into us cargo boats.
But it wasn’t the newspapers, as Martin Lane very well knew, that were keeping the old man up to-night, though he might be reading them, as, indeed, he undoubtedly had been doing when he, Martin Lane, had stuck his head inside the skipper’s cabin just before taking the bridge when the watch was changed a little more than half an hour ago. Nor was it the promise of worse weather. As a matter of fact the glass had been rising a little, even if grudgingly, for the last few hours. It was the ship’s position.
For two days the Bonara had ploughed her way by dead reckoning through what Captain Botts had designated as the tail of a bad doing somewhere up to the nor’eastward. There had been no stars, there had been no sun—a smoky haze had simulated daylight, the nights had been as this one was. The Bonara was beyond any question or doubt in the Flores Sea, but exactly where was another matter, and a matter of much moment. A parallel ruler and a pair of dividers applied to the chart proclaimed her, on the basis of dead reckoning, to be on her course due south from Celebes and with ample sea room. But in the Malayan Archipelago there are many other islands, very many—they loom up out of the sea at dawn, when there is dawn, and they are the specters of the night—and the dots on the chart that represent them are in number as the specks left by countless vagrant and wandering flies.
Martin Lane’s hand, gripping the bridge rail, tightened suddenly, fiercely, involuntarily — tightened until the knuckles cracked sharply. Yesterday, and the day before, times without number, he had consulted the chart, hung over it like a man fascinated, leaving it only to return to it again at frequent intervals. The parallel ruler and the dividers had strayed always to one particular point from the ship’s supposed position—on perhaps the most diminutive dot of all. To-night, for example, that dot was barely a hundred and fifty miles away—by dead reckoning.
“My God!” said Martin Lane.
He did not move. It was raining again—heavily. He did not rebutton his oilskin. Why should he? It was a night of moonlight, of sheer beauty, a placid sea, and a form in soft, clinging white stood beside him, and the moonrays caressed the great masses of dark hair so close to him, and her face.
“Carol!” he whispered. “Carol Gray!”
Somewhere out there, a hundred and fifty miles away . . .nearer to-night than in two years! Perhaps not. Perhaps she wasn’t there. Who knew!
A VOICE within him jeered: “Of course! Why try?
Go on, you silly fool, torture yourself! Two years ago you were first officer on a swell mailboat on the India run. And you chucked it when you got back to England. Go on, tell us why. We’d like to near it—we’ve never heard it before!”
“Carol!” said Martin Lane under his breath. “Carol!” He whispered it again. “Carol!”
Moisture that was not from the rain was on his forehead; his face had whitened and showed like a grayish blotch in the darkness. His eyes strained seaward-—to port. She was over there somewhere—perhaps. That was where she had been going. Whether she had ever reached her destination, or, reaching it, had remained there, he did not know. She had left the ship at Bombay. Eventually she was to reach Batavia, and after that, by some sort of trading vessel and in accordance with arrangements made for her by her uncle, that diminutive dot on the chart that represented an island and her uncle’s home. It was not an easy journey, nor, perhaps, one altogether safe for a girl alone. He had said so at quite an early stage in their acquaintanceship, and she had laughed at him. She loved the sea, and she loved the out-of-doors. “Is your uncle married?” he had asked her.
“No,” she had answered. “He lives all alone with his natives and his copra, except for a sort of white overseer, a man he calls Starling, who has been with him, I believe, for the last twenty years.”
“But what kind of a life could you possibly live there?” he had protested. “Perhaps once in six months a trading boat comes in. You are absolutely cut off from the world —not a woman of your kind—no companionship of your own age. You’ll be frightfully lonely, I’m afraid.”
She had turned her head away then as she had answered: “Ah, that! I don’t know. But uncle is no longer a young man, and I want to see him.”
As the voyage progressed they had been a great deal together on his watches off, and then had come that night —in the Gulf of Aden.
He did not seek to find excuses for himself even now, for there were no excuses to find, but at least he had been innocent of any premeditation in what he had done. He. had not been conscious of any formative prelude to his act, even to the consciousness of yielding to an impulse. It had come on the instant. His soul itself had been intoxicated. He had been conscious only that he had swept her into his arms, that his lips were upon her hair, her eyes, her lips, her throat. He had been unconscious of her struggles; unconscious that in his strength, ungoverned and like himself beyond restraint, he had done her physical hurt as wed—conscious only that what alone he desired of life was for the moment his; that she was in his arms, strained to him, that she belonged to him, that he had claimed his own. And at the end it was a limp figure that had slipped from his arms as he had released her, and, swaying, had caught at one of the boat’s lashings to keep herself from falling to the deck. She had not been able to speak for a moment; and he had been as a man racked, undone from some mad orgy, his brain, his mind, his soul shaken and adrift.
Strained, white, tortured her face had looked when she had spoken then; her voice low, monotonous, save that she gasped for breath.
“I mistook you for a gentleman,” she had said. “Let me pass!”
She had taken a faltering step forward, and, fearing that she would fall, he had reached out to catch her. She had instantly shrunk back.
“I—I would not care to have it known that—that I have been in your arms,” she had said in a dead tone. Are you going to force that shame upon me too—make me call out for protection?”
He remembered that a voice had spoken. It wasn’t his voice, though the sounds had come from his lips:
“Carol—my God, have pity! I love you!”
Love! She had flung the word back at him, her small hands clenched, her eyes blazing now. “To such as you it is evidently only the instinct of the beast! And—and you dared to think—”
He had never seen her, never spoken to her again. She had remained in her cabin thereafter unless perhaps at such hours as she knew him to be on duty on the bridge.
A note that he had sent along to her had been returned unopened. She had left the ship at Bombay.
“O God!” Martin Lane cried out into the night.
HE HAD chucked the passenger run on his return to England. It was perhaps unreasonable but he had not reasoned about it. Mailship life had become abhorrent to him—the boat deck had not been empty of other couples on the homeward voyage. And then, back in England, he had played, perhaps, in a little luck. The Bonara, a new cargo boat of the same line, was just going into commission; her route the area lanes of the world, her ports where cargo offered. It appealed. He applied for the transfer and got it—and in a sense, too, got promotion.
He became chief officer of the Bonara. And to-night, after two years, spanning the countless leagues that since had lain between them, the Bonara in her wanderings from end to end of the world had brought him, by dead reckoning, to within a hundred and fifty miles of her again—like a hand’s throw from her, it seemed.
Two bells—five o’clock!
Martin Lane turned as a step sounded on the starboard bridge ladder.
It was Captain Botts.
“Still thick, Mr. Lane,” said the old man as he stepped on the bridge. “I was hoping for something better with the glass rising.”
“Yes, sir,” said Martin Lane. He muttered something, quite mechanically, about the hope of getting longitude sights in the morning.
“I hope so,” agreed Captain Botts with mild fervency. “I’d feel the easier for it, Mr. Lane. Most peculiar weather—damme, most peculiar! I think I mentioned it must be the tail of a very unusual disturbance somewhere to the nor’east.”
“Yes, sir,” said Martin Lane.
“H’m!” said Captain Botts mildly. “Damme!”
Martin Lane shook himself together.
“I don’t think there’s anything to worry about, sir,” he said cheerfully. “I’m quite certain her position’s all right.”
“It’s the islands, Mr. Lane,” said Captain Bouts. “Ticklish business anywhere in these seas even in clear weather. Damme, they even seem to shift their moorings. You take a plate of soup, Mr. Lane, and a pepper pot, and shake the pepper in good and hard, and, the pepper being the islands, Mr. Lane, you’ve got as good a chart of these waters as you’ll find anywhere.”
Martin Lane smiled.
“You’re not far wrong, at that, sir,” he said.
“No,” said Captain Botts; “I’m not. And speaking of islands. I’ve just been—h’m—I’ve just been reading about that affair over at Samatoa in the Polynesian group. And a rascally piece of business it was, I must say, Mr. Lane. Fancy making a clean sweep of every agent’s safe on the beach—six of them!”
Martin Lane stared.
“Agents’ safes!” he ejaculated. “You mean robbed, sir? I don’t remember that ‘Sparks’ ever picked up anything about it.”
“Quite so,” said Captain Botts mildly; “but, as I’ve had occasion to remark, the wireless is sketchy at best, and there’s a lot you don’t get anyhow. You should read the papers, Mr. Lane. I think I’ve said so before. You’re welcome at any time to help yourself in my cabin.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Martin Lane hastily. “But when did this happen, sir? It must have been before we left port, else it wouldn’t have been in your paper, but I didn’t hear any talk about it in Singapore.”
“Well,” said Captain Botts, “come to think of it, the paper I was reading this in to-night was one of the older ones I brought aboard. I fancy the excitement had died out, if there ever was any, seeing that Polynesia isn’t exactly next door to Singapore by several thousand miles. Allowing for the date of the paper, I’d say it was a matter of five or six weeks ago.”
“I see,” nodded Martin Lane. “But whoever did it got caught, of course. Not much of a game to try to get away with in a place like that!”
“Caught!” Captain Botts repeated. “No chance! There wasn’t anybody caught! or, at least,” he amended, “not at the date when the paper was published—and I haven’t run across anything else about it in any of the others. It was professional work, Mr. Lane. I’m not saying the average run of safes you’ll find in the islands aren’t jim-crack affairs at best, but these were all opened with neatness and dispatch in one night, and not a blessed quid left in ’em in the morning. What do you make of that, Mr. Lane?”
“Well, I’d say, sir,” he hazarded, “that, if it was professional work, it might be some blighter sailing as a passenger maybe on one of the ships that touched there, and that he went ashore and cleaned up, and the ship steamed off with him and his loot.”
“And you’d be wrong, Mr. Lane,” said Captain Botts promptly, “because there wasn’t any shipping in port at the time it happened.”
“Is that so?” exclaimed Martin Lane. “What theory, then, does the paper advance, sir?”
Captain Botts shook his head.
“It doesn’t advance any,” he said. “Just a brief statement of the facts as I’ve given them to you. But I’ve a theory of my own, Mr. Lane. Simple enough, I’d say. There’s a queer lot, off and on, drifts into the islands—beachcombers and the like. What’s to have prevented one of that kind, who was a professional at home, doing the trick, then hiding the stuff, and then sitting tight for months if need be, playing at whatever job he’d taken up, until the excitement blows over and he finally gets away with nobody to give him a thought, and—”
But Martin Lane was no longer paying any attention to his commander’s mental delving into the realms of crime. He was staring out into the black ahead, suddenly tense, listening.
“Excuse me, sir,” he said quickly. “But did you hear anything?”
Captain Botts became instantly alert.
“No,” he said. “What was it?”.
“Perhaps a mistake, sir,” said Martin Lane quietly. “I wouldn’t be at all sure. Listen, sir!”
A moment passed in silence between the two men on the bridge. Then Martin Lane spoke again abruptly: “There, sir! Did you hear anything then?”
“Well, I wouldn’t be sure,” said Captain Botts a little anxiously; “but I thought I did—like—like the—”
“Creak of a boom,” suggested Martin Lane.
“Yes, by God!” said Captain Botts. “That’s what I’d say it was, if it’s anything. A point off the port bow, I’d say.”
“It seemed to me to come from starboard,” said Martin Lane tersely. He bawled suddenly through his cupped hands: “For’ard, there!”
“Aye, sir?” a voice floated back from the foc’s’le-head.
“D’ye hear anything? Make out anything ahead?”
“No, sir,” the man answered. “Save that there’s another rain squall comin’ down with the wind, an’ it’s goin’ thick again.”
“Damme!” said Captain Botts a little nervously. “Thick’s the word! It’s settling down again, right enough! But if there’s anything out there, you’d have thought she’d have heard our siren and then answered it. A trifle queer, Mr. Lane! Maybe it’s no more than a bit of loose tackle aboard ourselves, but in any case you’ve sharper ears than that chap, and you’ll oblige me by going up for’ard there for a bit. I’ll keep the bridge, Mr. Lane.”
“Very good, sir,” said Martin Lane.
He ran to the starboard bridge ladder and swung himself to the deck below. Was it imagination? The creak of a boom borne down on the wind—a faint sound like that out of the noises of the ship and the night!
FROM above him there came a series of choked, sputtering gasps of escaping steam, as though the whistle, preparatory to its regular-interval pronouncement, were clearing its throat—and then suddenly above this noise there came a shout from the foc’s’lehead, a shout that he himself echoed wildly—and both were drowned out as the whistle burst into its resonant roar.
He was halfway along the foredeck close to the rail. It came suddenly out of the mist and the sheeting rain like some great, ghostly apparition, towering, high, onrushing, shapeless save that it had vast, outspread, fluttering wings of grayish white which seemed to seek to enshroud the Bonara as with a weird, unearthly pall. And on the instant there was a terrible crash; the rent and tear of wood; a snap of big timber like the report of a gun; the squeals, like hurt things, of the foredeck iron rail stanchions giving way; the rattle of falling blocks; the whine of parting cordage—shouts, yells, hoarse cries, a tumult of them.
It was quick as the winking of an eye. Something fetched him a blow upon the head, his feet were swept from under him, and there came tumbling upon him great smothering folds of canvas. The creak of a boom! He hadn’t been mistaken! In a giddy sort of way he remembered that. A sailing vessel of some kind!
As he tried to free himself, half stunned though he was, his mind was correlating cause and effect. With the Bonara low in the water the flush foredeck had not overmuch freeboard, and that was the spot where the sailing vessel, of whatever kind or description she was, had rammed into the steamer, pushing her bowsprit upward and aboard, gouging the rail to pieces, and, protruding over the foredeck, had snapped, bringing jib and jib-topsail, or whatever headsail she was carrying, down with a run.
Heavens, how his head ached—and it began to swim around now! What was the matter? Why couldn’t he free himself? His feet seemed to be entangled somehow in the cordage that kept tightening and tightening like a noose around his ankles. He felt himself being dragged bodily along the deck, and he could clear neither head, nor arms, nor shoulders of the weight of the folds of heavy canvas that enveloped him.
He heard shouts; he could even catch snatches of the words themselves, though they came in a dead, muffled way through the canvas—a torrent of blasphemy, a broadside of ribald and unbridled epithets being hurled at the Bonara and all that pertained to her:
“You rusty-plated hulk . . . you scrougy, misbegotten son of Belial! . . .”
He shouted nimself—but he didn’t seem able to make himself heard. They must be talking through megaphones.
He heard Captain Botts:
“Shall I stand by?”
“Aye, stand by in Hell!” a voice answered in a virulent screech. “You’ve no business tryin’ to navigate anywhere else!”
And Captain Bott’s mild voice rose for once injurious retort.
“Damme!” screamed Captain Botts. “Mr. Lane!”
MARTIN LANE made another attempt to shout, even though conscious of the futility of it. He was sick with the sense of falling—falling—falling, through his brain filtered the fact that he had at last been dragged overboard. He was plunging downward. But now the weight of canvas, the great folds of it that had wrapped themselves about him, that had half smothered him, seemed suddenly to belly out and float away. He clutched wildly, frantically, madly—at nothingness. He struck the water helplessly, doubled up, and seemed to continue on down and down interminably.
He had been called a good swimmer, but it seemed to stand him in no good stead now, for something was dragging at his feet, pulling him along—keeping his head and shoulders submerged. Yes, he knew what it was—the cordage entangling his legs—some of the gear that had come down with the canvas. His lungs were bursting. He struggled now in a sort of panic desperation for the surface—and his head bobbing suddenly above water, he drew a gasping breath. And then he was under again, but his feet now seemed to be jerked straight upward, and it was as though he were standing on his head.
He was being hauled up.
He came out of the water dangling head down. He bumped against something — again — and yet again. He put out his hands to protect himself.
Yes, that was it—a vessel’s side. He fended himself off weakly. They were getting the wrecked gear aboard, and he was being pulled in with it. If that tangle of cordage around his feet and ankles gave way, became untangled—
He tried again and again to cry out. He was not certain that he made any sound. It seemed now, more than anything else, that he was fighting to prevent consciousness from slipping away from him. His head throbbed as though a thousand devils were beating a tattoo upon it, and flashes, sickening, giddy flashes, swam before his eyes. He felt himself bumping over something; felt himself grasped by the knees and by the collar of his oilskin.
“Gawd, look what’s come aboard!”
From a prone position on what his fleeting senses still realized must be a vessel’s deck, Martin Lane struggled as far up as to get upon his knees.
The truculent voice bawled again:
“Say, who t’hell are you?”
“I—I’m the mate of the Bonara,” mumbled Martin Lane weakly—and collapsed.
When he came to his senses again, his surroundings were strange. He could see little or nothing because it was but faintly light like the first gray of dawn; but his hands, feeling out and around him, had rewarded him instantly with a sense of unfamiliarity and confusion.
Perhaps it was his head.
It hurt brutally, and spun around in a crazy fashion.
No; it wasn’t his head.
He was lying on a bunk, but it certainly was not his bunk on the Bonara; and he could hear the running swish of water against the hull, and there was a peculiar motion—certainly not at all the motion of the Bonara in no matter what kind of sea. He sat bolt upright suddenly—and, in dizziness, grasped as suddenly at the edge of the bunk for support. The sensation passed. He remembered now.
His eyes roved around him. There was just enough light beginning to filter in through the porthole to enable him to make out the boundaries of a very small cabin, and to locate the door two or three steps away. With his hand on the wall for support, he reached the door, opened it and stepped out. He found himself in an extremely narrow alleyway. It was not so dark here because, a few yards away at the end of the alleyway in one direction, a door, evidently on the hook, was partially open, and through this there streamed a ray of yellow artificial light.
The sound of voices reached him from this doorway, and he began to move in that direction. It was not far, only a few yards, but he had not traversed half the distance when he halted suddenly. The voices were quite distinct now.
“I wasn’t for it then, and I ain’t for it now,” came in thin, snarling tones. “You should have cut the fool loose and let him sink. This ain’t no place for him with what we got on hand. And it ain’t too late to get rid of him now. Drop him overboard—the crew’s for it. Who’s to know on that steamer what happened to their mate? He just went over with the wreckage at the time—get me? We never saw him, did we? You ain’t got no love for him, have you?”
BY HUGGING back against one wall of the alleyway, Martin Lane could see in through the opening of the door without being seen himself. Though not very large, it was evidently the vessel’s main cabin. Two men, their side faces to him, sat opposite to each other at the table under the swinging lamp. One was a big blotched-faced, thick-set, heavy man with red hair and a short, rust-colored beard; the other was slight, rat-eyed, with a thin, hatchet-like face of a yellow, pasty, unhealthy color, the more unprepossessing for its several days’ growth of dirty black stubble. Martin Lane again brushed his hand across his eyes. In a kind of subconscious way he stated to himself that they were as hard looking a couple of blighters as ever he had clapped his eyes upon.
It was the big, red-haired man who spoke now. “No, it ain’t for love of him, Muggy MacGuire,” he said in a deliberate, truculent growl. “It’s love for our own skins, and in partic’lar for my own.”
Muggy MacGuire leaned forward in his chair and, though his little black eyes narrowed, forced a laugh that was evidently intended to placate the other.
“That’s all right, Captain,” he said hurriedly. “I ain’t tryin’ to start anything. I’m only tryin’ to play safe, and knowin’ it ain’t because you’re chicken-livered about it, I don’t get you, that’s all.”
“H’m!” said Captain William Dorsay a little more graciously. “No, it ain’t because I’m chicken-livered; it’s because I sometimes look a little ahead of my nose—a habit, if you’d only had it, which might have saved you from runnin’ like a scared cat from the U.S.A. with a fleet of cops at your heels!”
The little rat-eyed man grinned in an oily way.
“But then I wouldn’t have met Captain William Dorsay of the Molly Deane at the Peep-of-Day Bar in Trinidad,” he said smoothly, reaching out to where a bottle and glasses stood on the table. “And I think we’ll drink to that, just to show there’s nothing to get sore about.”
“Aye!” said Captain William Dorsay with sudden heartiness. “By God, we’ll drink to that! I’ll not say but what it’s been a rare good thing for both of us!”
Martin Lane leaned heavily against the wall, staring into the cabin. What was all this about? Perhaps he was delirious, imagining it, while in reality he was off his head and still actually lying on his bunk.
“Here’s how!” said Muggy MacGuire.
“Here’s chin-chin!” said the red-haired man. He swallowed the contents of his glass at a gulp, and wiped his lips with the back of his hand. He stared for a moment in speculative fashion at his companion, then nodded his head brusquely. “Aye,” said he, “I’ll tell you why. That little business at Samatoa was well done and no traces left behind. And I’ll say this, you did some amazin’ neat work, but we had luck with us, too, that nobody spotted the Molly Deane lyin’ offshore.”
There was a sudden queer pounding in Martin Lane’s pulse, as he still stood leaning against the alleyway wall. The skipper and his newspaper!
“Samatoa!” he whispered to himself.
Muggy MacGuire poured himself another drink.
“Go on, Captain,” he invited. “I get you on all those counts, but I don’t see how the bird we’ve fished aboard is goin’ to help us out any.”
AND then suddenly the red-haired man laughed out in a hoarse and unpleasant guffaw.
“Him!” said he. “Blimy! He’s the witness for the defense if we ever needs one, which mabbe we’re likely to. He gives us a clean bill of health. It’s like this, ye’see. Samatoa’s a regular port of call for some of the passenger boats and it’s known long ago all over the lot what happened there, but it ain’t known how it happened. Well, the bits of islands where we’ve picked fruit since then on the way along do know, some of ’em, how it happened to them, but they ain’t got any means of outside communication for months mabbe until the first tradin’ vessel puts in. Savvy? But in time the news of it’ll trickle out, and by and by there’ll be a gunboat nosin’ around lookin’ for a schooner whose description might answer to us. Two and two makes four, Muggy MacGuire, and whoever did it to one did it to all. If you’ve got an alibi on one count you’re clear on all of ’em.”
“Sure,” agreed Muggy MacGuire, “all that’s straight enough—but I’m hanged if I see what you’re drivin’ at yet.”
“Well,” said Captain William Dorsay with a harsh chuckle, “it’s simple enough. With a jury rig for’ard where that swine took our bowsprit off, and with the help of the auxiliary, we’ll rise old Gray’s island at the proper hour after dark tomorrow night. That’ll be our last port of call before we run into civilization to refit. There’s nothin’ to it! This mate of—what’d he call her?—the Bonara—is goin’ to tell the world that we treated him with real honest-to-God, Christian kindness, and that on the night old Silas Gray was stuck up for his cash we was sailin’ along as best we could makin’ for port to repair damages after smashin’ into his ship.”
The red-haired man thumped the table in a sort of triumphant self-applause and reached for the bottle again.
“And the reason he ain’t goin’ to feel well enough is because he’s goin’ to get a drop or so of laudanum out of the medicine chest dumped into his tea now and then for the next two days, judiciously administered, as the sayin’ is, Muggy MacGuire —not to make him too dopey, but just dopey enough to keep him from feelin’ like gettin’ up, and so he’ll think it’s his hurt and the maulin’ he’s had that’s delayin’ his convalescence. And tomorrow night, with the help of an extra drop or two, he’ll fall off into a little sounder sleep so’s he won’t know we’ve anchored.
“And that’s that!” said he with a complacent grin. “But to ease your mind in case anythin’ did happen and he found out what was goin’ on, which he ain’t in no ways likely to, I’ll say this, that you can drop him overboard then without hesitatin’ any about it, and furthermore that I’ll see to it you do.”
“I get you!” said the little rat-eyed man. “I guess there ain’t anythin’ to it now except how much we get, and accordin’ to you this bird Gray keeps a wad there.”
“Aye!” said Captain William Dorsay“So they say. It’s common talk that he keeps a good few thousand pounds by him. Why, I don’t know. I’ve never seen it, of course, though I touched there once for water a few years ago; but I seen the old safe he’s got, and it won’t bother you no more than as if it was made of the galvanized iron he’s got on the roof of his house.” He warmed suddenly to his subject and rubbed the palms of his hands together pleasurably.
“It’s the last little tradin’ visit we make this voyage, but it’ll be the easiest and pleasantest of all, I make no doubt. We’ll run in on the other side of the island from the house where there’s deep water close in by the shore, and at which partic’lar point it ain’t much more’n a mile across. And the natives countin’ for nothin’, there’s only two whites on the island, Silas Gray and an old fellow he’s had there as boss for years, except mabbe a girl, a niece of his, that I heard had come out to live with him a year or so ago.”
The little rat-eyed man leaned forward, a sudden ugly smirk on his face.
“A girl—eh?” he said. His lips parted in a slow smile —he touched them here and there with the tip of his tongue as though they were parched. He mouthed the words again: “A girl—eh?”
Martin Lane found himself groping his way back to his cabin. He couldn’t kill those two men in there with his bare hands. It was quite impossible—He was too weak. Mechanically he reached and closed the cabin door silently behind him, and staggering to his bunk flung himself upon it.
“Carol!” he said aloud. “Oh, my God—Carol!”
He lay there an hour—motionless. It grew light. A step sounded along the alleyway, and his door opened. The red-haired man came in.
Martin Lane lifted his head.
“How’re you feelin’?” demanded the red-haired man pleasantly.
Martin Lane’s eyes fastened on a small tray the other held in his hand. He shook his head.
“Here’s a mug of tea for you, and some biscuits, son,” said the red-haired man.
“Leave ’em,” said Martin Lane in a voice that simulated weakness. “I’ll take ’em by and by.”
“Right you are!” said the other heartily. “Just you buck up and you’ll have the hair on your teeth again in less than no time.” He set the tray down on the cabin floor beside the bunk. “Anythin’ you’d like?” Again Martin Lane shook his head.
The red-haired man went out of the cabin.
Martin Lane listened until the retreating footstep had died away, then he reached over for the mug of drugged tea, emptied it under the mattress of his bunk—and ate the biscuits.
“I’ve got to get my strength back,” said Martin Lane in a queer, judicial manner to himself, “and I’ve got two days and one night to do it in.”
HE SAT up on his bunk after a while, haggard-faced, staring across the small cabin. What could he do after all? What chance had he, alone, unarmed, against an entire crew who, through their captain as a mouth-piece, were self-acknowledged sea-pillagers, whose trade was robbery, to whom murder, if expedient to their lawless plans, was merely an incident? The majority of them were probably Malays, maybe a few Chinese, the whites the scum of the world’s waterfronts. A hell’s brood.
At intervals through the day food and drink were brought him; sometimes by the red-haired man, and sometimes by a disfigured Malay who had a white scar across one cheek bone—and each visit found him listless, tossing on his bunk, or by way of variety, pathetic and drowsy. The food he ate. If it were water that was brought, he drank it, for water would disguise no foreign taste; if it were other than water, followed the first mug of tea under the mattress.
And that night he slept well, tired with exercise, and because his strength was returning, and the pain and giddiness were going from his head.
He awoke with a grim sense of physical well-being the next morning, and began the routine of the day before, but added thereto a search of the cabin. Shoes hid weapon! The only place here in the cabin where there could be anything that was not already in plain sight was the locker there under the bunk—two big drawers on top of which the bunk was built. He started to open one. It wasn’t locked, but it came with difficulty as though packed with something extremely heavy, he stared a little in amazement when it was wide enough open to permit him to inspect the contents. It was full of ankle and wrist-irons—thick, heavy, rusty ones, some locked, some unlocked, that gaped open as though eager for prey upon which to snap themselves together, each pair connected by a short but also rusty piece of chain. He pulled out the other drawer—it was equally full of the same thing. He nodded tersely to himself. The red-haired renegade had not lied any about one of the favorite pursuits of the Molly Deane.
“Blackbirding,” said Martin Lane—and nodded his head again.
There were no shoes and no weapons—unless one of these things might be called a weapon. He picked up and examined a pair of the wrist-irons. They were better than nothing. At close quarters they would at least deal a much uglier blow than a bare fist—not the ones that had been snapped together; they were too small in circumference for the purpose—but with a pair where the jaws gaped open he could encase his knuckles rather neatly, make them, as it were, iron shod. He chose a pair of the latter, thrust the manacles into his trousers pocket, and closed the locker drawers again.
It grew dark. An hour passed. Suddenly Martin Lane raised himself on his elbow and listened. The next instant he lay prone again, his head on an out-flung arm, his face to the bulkhead. Queer how, above the creak of timber and the noises of the vessel, he had come to recognize unerringly the footsteps of the red-haired man in the alleyway there outside!
He felt the schooner swing quickly to a more even keel, as though she were coming sharply up into the wind. He heard the hurried patter of feet on the deck above his head. He heard the slatting of canvas. And then the door of the cabin opened.
It was black inside here, utterly black.
“Hello, son,” inquired the voice of the red-haired man, “how goes it?”
Martin Lane made no answer.
A footstep crossed the cabin. Then he felt the other’s hand on his shoulder, shaking him gently.
He made no movement.
A head was bent low, a breath was on his cheek; eyes, he sensed, were peering at him fixedly in the darkness.
Impulse, born of a mad surge of passion, seized upon him. He was strong enough now; he could do it. With a single movement he could lock his fingers in a stranglehold on the other’s throat.
“That’s the boy!” said the red-haired man with a low chuckle. “We’re just goin’ to let go the mud-hook, but I thought I’d make sure first it wouldn’t disturb you, ’cause you’ve had a hard time of it, and you need the few snatches of sleep you’ve been able to get.”
The footsteps retreated across the cabin. The door opened and closed. Martin Lane came up on his elbow again—listening intently. The footsteps died away along the alleyway. And then Martin Lane was on his feet. In a second he was across the cabin, and, with the door closed behind him, stood in the alleyway listening again. There was commotion on the deck above his head, a good deal of it. Then he heard the plunge of the anchor going overboard. How far to the shore was it? They would go in a boat, and he would have to swim for it. He must hurry. Every minute counted now.
THE door to the main cabin from the alleyway stood wide open, and the swinging lamp gave light. The companionway to the deck was there, of course. He stole forward, gained the threshold of the door, and, pressed back against the alleyway wall, halted again for an instant. So far the way was clear. The cabin was empty and deserted.
He darted through the cabin and up the companionway, and at the top of this halted once more, throwing himself flat on his belly. He crawled out now on the deck making for the starboard rail, and, gaining this, searched around on hands and knees for a bit of rope. Almost anything would serve his purpose, which was to avoid the sound of a splash, for it wasn’t far from the schooner’s rail to the waterline. His lips grew tight with impatience. He had not been seen yet, but every second was inviting discovery— perhaps it would be even safer to risk the splash.
And then his lips relaxed. His hand was on a loose rope’s end. Feeling along, he found it to be the slack of a rope that was fast to a belaying pin inside the rail. There was more than enough to reach well over the side and still leave it fast to the pin. He worked with desperate haste now, paying out the rope’s end over the rail; then, swinging himself over, he lowered himself down and slid silently into the water.
He swam under water until forced to the surface for breath. And now for the first time he obtained his bearings. A black, serrated, irregular mass, the shore line, the tree tops curiously like the jagged teeth of a saw, showed a little to his right against a sky-line that was scarcely less black. It did not seem to be very far away, but it was almost impossible to gauge the distance in the darkness. And there was a stiff wind blowing too, if those ugly, scudding clouds meant anything; though here, in some sort of a cove probably, the water was comparatively calm. The weather hadn’t cleared very much, if any, in spite of the Bonara’s rising glass—or maybe there was another storm coming up, there was a sinister feeling astir a bad season of the year in these waters, anyhow!
The schooner was indistinct, and he had therefore little or no fear of being seen himself. He could just barely make out a faint medley of sounds from the deck. They were very quiet on board there.. And then another sound caught his ear—a low, steady, rhythmical splash. Oars! His lips compressed. It wasn’t that he was afraid of being seen by the boat, he could evade that in the darkness easily enough; but he had hoped that they would not have left the schooner so soon—that he might have reached shore first. There was no hope of that now. The greater the distance, the farther he would be left behind. From the sound, the boat was pulling a good many oars. He found himself wondering how many of the cutthroats, apart from the red-haired man and the little rat-eyed fugitive from justice, were in her. Perhaps four or six. The schooner wasn’t very large. She wouldn’t have a crew of more than ten or twelve all told, and a few would certainly be left on board. What did the exact number matter? There would be enough of them anyway!
HE CAUGHT a glimpse of the boat—just a black smudge passing across the face of the water over there to his right. A feeling of bizarre unreality swept over him. It was full of intense, unholy humor. He hadn’t even a pair of shoes; and the weapons with which he was to slash and slay his way to victory singlehanded were a pair of rusty old manacles!
Suddenly his feet touched bottom, and presently he drew himself up on a stretch of sand. He was conscious of great physical lassitude, a desire to lie down and rest. But, instead, he ran, stumbling at first, but seeming to regain vigor under the mental lash with which he drove himself onward. A girl’s face swam before his eyes. She seemed to be angry with him. His nails were biting into the palms of his hands.
“On the other side of the island—about a mile across” —that’s what the red-haired man had said.
He was running through a wooded tract; through vegetation that sought maliciously to bar his way, where creepers and undergrowth tripped him at almost every step. He fought and twisted his way through this for a long time.
He stopped short. Out of the utter stillness there had come a single shot. And then there came another and another, quickening into a fusilade—and the night became suddenly hideous with yells. The sounds came from slightly to his left, and from still some distance away. He swerved in that direction and plunged on once more. The shots and yells continued. And now occasionally he heard low cries and the sound of speeding feet here and there about him, a branch snapping, native words gasped out, terrified exclamations—as though the woods were suddenly peopled with unseen ghosts. He nodded. He understood—that’s what the red-haired man had said. The natives didn’t count. Wherever they had come from, they were now in full flight.
Flashes stabbing the blackness, vicious little tongues of flame, showed through what was now but a fringe of trees separating him from the scene of the firing; and beyond this fringe of trees and across what seemed like a clearing he could make out a long black shadow from which, here and there, came answering spurts of flame —that was the house, of course—and there were no lights in the windows except when those little tongue-flames spurted out.
AGAIN Martin Lane nodded his head. The red haired man had evidently failed to take the household unawares, and so, taking cover here at the fringe of the woods, he was attacking it from this point. The only chance then for him, Martin Lane, to get to the house was by working his way around to the other side.
They would have arms in there, plenty of them, and—
A strange, bewildered look spread over his face. It seemed as though he had been dealt a terrific blow on his upper left arm and shoulder. It spun him half round like a top, and the whirl, short as it was, made him ridiculously dizzy. He flung out his right hand to grasp at a tree for support—and then he felt himself sliding towards the earth as though he were melting into it. And then sound and sight were blotted out.
He became conscious first of all that boisterous singing, outbursts of hilarity and jubilation had given place to the screams, yells and shots that had been ringing in his ears. He next discovered that he was lying full length on the ground. He raised himself up to a sitting posture—and bit his lips with pain. He put his hand to his shoulder. It was wet, sticky, hot; his left arm hung helplessly at his side. He sat still for an instant trying to collect his senses. He had been hit by a stray bullet, of course—that was obvious. And the shot must have been fired by someone in the house—that was also obvious—but it was also absurdly ironical that he should have been shot by someone in the house. How long had he been lying here on the ground unconscious? There was no telling, naturally, but long enough so that in the meantime the attack on the house had succeeded and instead of shots—A low cry came from him. He staggered to his feet. It was over, then! He was too late! Where was Carol? What had they done to her? No—not too late! Not too late to get his fingers around the throat of that evil-eyed rat! A smashed arm! Ha, ha!
His brain was in riot.
He moved out to the edge of the trees. There was a light now in one of the windows of the house at least— just opposite where he stood and perhaps a couple of hundred feet away; while much farther off and over to the right, three or four lanterns kept moving around and bobbing up and down—and it was from this latter direction that the sounds of raucous singing and hilarity came. It was very shadowy and indistinct, but thanks to the lanterns he was able to make out another building there, quite detached of course from the house itself. A storage shed probably—but certainly being looted, whatever it was. And from the sounds it was fairly obvious that amongst the contents had been found spirits of some sort.
HE DROPPED down on his knees and began to crawl, like a dog with one forefoot crushed, toward the lighted window of the house. They couldn’t see him if he kept close to the ground. He halted before he had gone five yards. His left hand kept dragging and bumping on the ground, swinging his arm like a pendulum that was out of control. The thing wobbled too, and it bothered him. He lifted his left hand with his right, tucked the former into the bosom of his shirt, improvising in that fashion a sling, and crawled on again.
The window was open, and as he reached it he heard the sound of voices from inside. It was only shoulder high, and, standing up, well at one edge of the window frame, he peered in.
Something indefinable, save that it was primal, elemental, in its merciless fury stirred him. He had seen death before—many times—but never one by murder. Strange that he should first come upon it here on a lonely little island! A gray-haired man with face upturned, a smudge of blood across temple and cheek, dead, lay upon the floor. And his requiem was a coarse laugh. The red-haired man was laughing. He stood over in the far corner holding, by one of its two handles, a handbag that gaped open; and, kneeling in front of him, was the furtive, rat-eyed little MacGuire, working with some tools at a safe, large, but many years out of fashion.
“You made too much noise gettin’ in the window, Muggy,” laughed the red-haired one grossly. “For a swell New York footpad it must have been painful to have come a cropper like that! But you sure crowded on all sail when you came out again—with the wind of a bullet blowing you along. You looked like you was in a hurry! I’m laughin’ yet!”
“Aw, go to Hell!” said Muggy MacGuire politely. “It wasn’t my fault. It was the girl that spotted me and let out a screech. She’ll wish to Gawd she hadn’t! I’ll fix her when I’m through with this piece of tin junk!”
“There’s no one else left to fix,” said the red-haired man roughly. “There was only the three of ’em—and old Gray’s probably gone out by now too. All the information the natives can give is that a ship came here—an’ anybody’d know that. But I ain’t sure”— he laughed again in the same gross way—“that, havin’ clapped eyes on the girl myself, I can see where you’ve got any personal and preferred claim to her. She’s some looker!”
“You don’t, eh?” snarled the other.
“No; I don’t!” returned the red-haired man, mimicking the other’s tone.
Muggy MacGuire turned a face suddenly distorted by a thin and evil-mouthed grin.
“Well, anyway,” he said, his leer broadening, “we don’t have to fight about it. She can’t be taken on board even for a few days on account of that bird from the Bonara, but we’ve got until daylight here. See? And we’ll—” Martin Lane was moving silently away from the window, edging the wall of the house. He was conscious of two things: one, a desire to kill—this possessed him— hugely, savagely, remorselessly, he desired to kill. He lusted for it. And, as though it seeped through senses drunk with this intoxicant, the other thing: she was in there somewhere . . . somewhere in there . . . somewhere in there . . .
THE house here seemed to make an L. He turned the corner, and suddenly crouched down, motionless and still. Against the wall in the shadows of the angle it was very black and he was quite safe from observation, but farther along the shadows were less opaque and he could make out a man’s figure pacing slowly up and down.
“Got a guard here, eh?” said Martin Lane to himself in a curiously detached and unemotional way. “Wonder if it’s to keep Carol from getting out or the rest of the lot from getting in until those two God-mocking devils are ready for them?”
The man struck a match, bending his head to light his tobacco. It threw his face into relief. Martin Lane smiled unpleasantly. It was the scar-cheeked Malay who had brought him drugged tea for two days. He began to creep forward again, very cautiously, hugging the wall. The match-light had disclosed more than the other’s face. There was a door there just opposite to where the Malay stood.
The man resumed his pacing up and down, now bulking up out of the shadows, now lost in them. Martin Lane crept forward. There mustn’t be any noise about it—just quiet. But there mustn’t be any mistake either. There was certainly a door on the other side of the house, because the other side must be the front facing the sea, and if there was a guard here there would certainly be one on the other side too. There mustn’t be any noise about it.
From his pocket Martin Lane drew out his rusty pair of manacles. He encircled the knuckles of his right hand with them. He mustn’t miss . . . there would be no second chance . . . if the man grappled with him . . his left arm must be broken at the shoulder. . . . he felt a bit sick with the pain of the thing . . . but he had to fight that too . .
He marked the limit of the Malay’s approach—and reached that spot while the man was pacing slowly in the other direction. The Malay was coming back now— nearer—still nearer.
AND then, from where he crouched in the shadows, Martin Lane sprang, and struck—struck with every ounce of his weight behind the blow—struck to kill if he could. And there was no sound—save a queer little crunching sound as the iron-shod knuckles met flesh and bone just back of the other’s ear.
There was a crumpled thing on the ground. Martin Lane bent over it, felt over it. He thrust the manacles back into his pocket, and, in their stead, stood up with the Malay’s revolver in his hand. He stepped quickly, silently then to the door, opened it noiselessly, and entered. A ceiling lamp, burning low, lighted the place dimly. He was standing in a wide hallway that obviously made the entire breadth of the house, and ended in another door that fronted on the side facing the sea. The hallway, he noted, was evidently used as a sort of lounging room, judging from the wicker chairs and tables with which, throughout its length, it was furnished. To his right was a closed door—the red-haired man and the little crook were in there, of course. There was another door, also closed, on his left. He stepped cautiously toward this one, and opened it. It was quite dark inside except for the faint light, not enough to enable him to see, that now filtered in from the hallway behind him—but a strange, confused murmur of voices reched him from, apparently, somewhere across the room. He moved forward again. The voices became more distinct. He felt his pulse quicken fiercely. He could distinguish a girl’s tones. It must be Carol—it couldn’t be anyone but Carol!
He brought up against the opposite wall of the room— and suddenly he remembered the little rat-eyed man’s remarks about the thinness of tropical partitions. It was Carol’s voice, and he could hear every word now as he felt along the wall for a door that obviously must open somewhere here into still another room beyond.
“No, no—I won’t! I can’t!” Her voice was low, broken —a half sob. “I—I can’t leave you here, uncle, like this, no matter what happens.”
A weak voice answered her—a man’s voice—the words coming evidently with great effort, almost in gasps, with long pauses between each one.
“They’re counting on that—that you wouldn’t leave me—that’s why they’ve left you alone so far. It’s the only chance. You must take it, Carol—at once. Try and get out of the house. Take the boat at the dock. Find some of the natives in the woods—row you—only twenty miles straight across to Marston’s island. You’ll be there before daybreak. You mustn’t think of me—you mustn’t —do no good. They’ve done for me—like—like Starling. I— I haven’t got much longer—your only chance—you mustn’t think of me— I—”
Martin Lane found the door, opened it and stepped into the other room. The light of a small shaded lamp that stood on a table beside a bedstead in the far corner threw into a sort of filmy relief only its immediate surroundings. The rest of the room was in shadow. But the light showed a man’s face on the bed—an old man’s face— waxen, deathlike in pallor; and kneeling on the floor beside the bed, the drooped shoulders of a girl.
“Carol!” There was a catch in Martin Lane’s voice— like a dry sob. He stepped toward her. “Carol!” he said again.
WITH a low, startled cry, she sprang to her feet and, turning, faced him. He was in the shadows; she was not. He could see the brown eyes wide with amaze—and then, suddenly, snatching the lamp from the table, she held it up until the rays were in his face. He saw the color fade from her cheeks, and whiteness come, and deepen into an ashen gray. He saw the lamp tremble in her hand.
Her lips moved. Contempt, loathing, the bitterness of despair were in her voice.
“I heard you had left your ship,” she said. “So you have come to this—a marauder!”
For a moment his mind seemed stunned, his brain to refuse its functions. And then it cleared—but with the throbbing pain that follows the numbness of a blow.
“My Heavens, Carol!” he whispered hoarsely. “You don’t think—you can’t think that I—that I am one of these devils!”
She made no answer. She replaced the lamp on the table, and, turning her back, knelt again at the bedside. And the old man on the bed raised himself on his elbow and made a pitiful effort to reach out and shake a clenched fist.
“May God damn you all to the pit!” he gasped out.
Martin Lane lurched a little on his feet. His mouth was dry. His words came thickly.
“Carol—it’s impossible that you should think anything like that!”
“Is it—since you have come here with them!” she said in a monotone. “And it must have been you who led them here. I noticed you have been wounded—I suppose that is what kept you from appearing on the scene until now—and why, until now, perhaps, I have been left alone.”
Martin Lane brushed his hand, that still held the Malay’s revolver, across his eyes. There wasn’t much time, none to waste— and he was wasting it. He could hardly blame her. It was quite natural—very natural—but absurdly grotesque, of course, when he wanted to save her if he could—not simply because sue was a woman, but because she was the woman he loved—only she wouldn’t believe that— he had been mad, insanely mad once. Curse that shoulder—it was trying to get the better of him again! And there wasn’t an instant to spare now—that Malay out there might be dead—or he might only be stunned, and, coming to life, raise the alarm. Or the red-haired man—
“Well, I am not one of them.” He found himself speaking in a cool, quick, incisive way. “Do you hear, Carol? I am not one of them. There is no time for explanations now. They can come afterwards—if there ever is an afterwards. You must run for it. Quick, Carol! The way is clear for the moment to get away from the house. I can’t answer for even the next minute.”
She answered still with her back to him, still in the same hard monotone:
“Í prefer to stay here. I should on no account leave my uncle, even if I thought I would be safer with you alone than in the hands of the others.”
His shoulder was bullet-smashed, his hand tucked helplessly in the bosom of his shirt. He couldn’t carry her in spite of herself. That was impossible. And, besides, it would be a beastly thing to tear her away from that man, even if he were dying and wouldn’t live probably more than a few minutes anyhow—and the man was dying, going fast—he couldn’t even speak any more, though he was trying to —and making only contortions with his lips.
AN INSTANT longer Martin Lane hung there, and then, as a sudden, desperate inspiration came to him, he turned and, without a word, half ran, half staggered from the room. If she wouldn’t come of her own accord, there was still a chance perhaps to save her. If it failed, then that was the end of both of them.—that was all. He wasn’t sure how much of a chance it was. He was sure only that in case of failure the end would not come for them alone. It was queer that those manacles were the basis of that inspiration—that they might be put to still another use to-night, and perhaps now mean the way to freedom. Manacles—freedom! Sounded foolish, that! Damn it, he was shaky—a bit sick—but he couldn’t afford to crash.
He reached the hallway and paused now to listen. There was no sound from the Malay guard outside. The voices of the red-haired man and Muggy MacGuire came indistinctly from behind the closed door in front of him. He released his hand from its sling. A good deal would depend on what he could do with it—if, for instance, he could raise his forearm from the elbow. He tested it. It brought sweat beads out on his forehead, gave him excruciating pain, and he bit his lips to suppress a cry—but the forearm came up from the elbow, and, by supporting it against his hip, he could keep it there. It was enough—quite enough. He let it dangle again at his side.
He stepped now to the door from behind which came that sound of voices. It took an instant, no more, to fling the door wide and stand inside the room. The safe was open now, and the two men crouching before it, in the act of transferring its contents to the hand bag, swung sharply around—to stare at a bare-footed, bloodstained and bedraggled figure who smiled coldly as he covered them with a revolver. There was a look of stunned bewilderment on the red-haired man’s face as he lurched to his feet—a quick snarl and a torrent of blasphemous invective from the little rat-eyed man, who, instead of making any attempt to gain his feet, jerked his hand toward his pocket.
“Don’t do that!” Martin Lane’s voice was level, ominously without inflection. The man’s hand dropped back.
Martin Lane spoke again—as though there had been no interruption:
“The only chance to live you two have got is that you do what you are told, and the only chance I have to live and get out of this depends on the same thing. It’s an even break. If you raise the alarm and bring the rest of your cutthroats here, I am perfectly well aware that it is the end of me and that girl in there—but the point is that if you force the issue you two will die first. It’s rather plain, isn’t it? The cards are on the table. Now”—his voice rang sharp and imperative—“stand up beside each other, face the wall and put your hands above your heads!”
Sullenly, slowly, the two men obeyed. The little crook had become speechless, though his lips worked as if in a sort of dumb fury. The red-haired man had found his voice—he cursed without cessation in a monotone, but one that he took care to keep guarded and low.
MARTIN LANE stepped up behind them, transferred his revolver to his left hand which he raised to his hip, and with his right hand he relieved the two of their weapons. These he tucked inside his shirt, and from his own pocket drew out the pair of manacles.
“Now,” he ordered curtly, “each of you put the hand that is nearer the other down behind your back!”
Again sullenly, slowly, they obeyed.
The manacles snapped over their wrists.
“You may turn around now,” said Martin Lane sharply, “and finish your work. Put the rest of that cash into the handbag! You came for it, and there’s no reason why you should go away without it—instead of leaving it for the rest of your blood-spilling lot. And”—his voice of a sudden rasped and snarled—“shake a leg, damn you! You’ve no time to spare. If I’m caught in here, I fire—at you.” They mouthed, they cursed, they raved at him; but they worked. They knelt on the floor again, and what of cash and papers that were left in the safe they placed in the handbag—and the while, it seemed to Martin Lane as he glanced in that direction, the upturned face of the murdered man near-by brooded upon the scene with strange and gruesome contemplation. Martin Lane turned his head away, his lips twitching. If it were not for Carol—! He restored his wounded arm to its improvised sling.
“Take the bag between you now with your manacled hands,” he ordered. “Each a handle! Yes, like that! And now listen to what I say! The bag swinging between you won’t interfere. You are like one man now with his two arms still free. You will go into that room where the girl and the wounded man are, pick the man up from the bed, carry him down to the beach in front of the house and put him in a boat that is moored there at the dock. If any of your crew see you, or attempt to interfere, you will inform them that it is all right and order them away. If they do not obey your orders, you know the consequences— for all of' us.” He stepped behind the two men and shoved his revolver muzzle into the nape of the red-haired man’s neck. “Now—march!” he said coldly, and gave the man an unceremonious push forward.
Prodded on by Martin Lane’s revolver, they crossed the room, went out into the hall, the two men, not graciously, but silent now under the spell of a grim logic that they could quite appreciate was flawless, and on which depended their tenure upon life. And then they came into the inner room beyond.
Martin Lane’s lips were like a tight-drawn line; pain from his wound, the loss of blood seemed to come striving with renewed effort to rob him of his senses. He fought it back with all his mental strength. He mustn’t let go—he mustn’t. He walked behind the two, a little unsteadily upon his feet. But they could not see that. If her uncle were taken away, Carol would go too of her own accord—anywhere—she wouldn’t leave her uncle—that was the idea. But that wasn’t all. The minutes were still counting. That Malay might still be a factor and if the alarm were given Carol couldn’t be saved by just shooting these two men here. He couldn’t stand off the whole ruffianly crew. He could hear that shouting, singing—a mad revelry now from outside. They were getting drunker out there.
They were nearly across the room. Carol was still kneeling by the bed, her back turned. She neither moved nor looked around.
The two men hesitated. Martin Lane jabbed at them with his revolver.
“Go on!” he said, between his teeth. “You know what you’ve got to do. Pick that man up!”
And then the girl was on her feet, facing them defiantly.
“You shan’t!” she cried out. “Let him alone! You shall not touch him!”
The red-haired man brushed her aside, and bent over the bed. He made a sudden sucking sound with his teeth, and gave vent to an ugly grunt.
“He’s dead,” said the red-haired man.
“Dead!” Martin Lane leaned over the red-haired man’s shoulder. For a moment he stood there staring at the form on the bed. It was true—quite true. The old man was dead. He found himself striving as though against great odds to think clearly and rationally. Carol would come now— there was no good of her staying here any longer—the man was dead—nothing to be gained by it. “Come away, Carol,” he heard himself saying.
“No!” she cried wildly. “I don’t believe it! He’s not dead—he’s not! I won’t go!” She flung herself on her knees, her arms outspread over the bed as though both to protect and cling to the form that lay there, and broke into sobs.
“But you must, Carol.” Martin Lane’s voice was breaking; he tried to steady it. “You must come at once. Can’t you believe me—oh, my God, can’t you believe me—it’s the only way. Look! You can see that I have these two men handcuffed.”
Her sobs turned to laughter—a wild outburst of it—mad, hysterical laughter. She seemed suddenly beyond self-control.
“Carry her!” said Martin Lane hoarsely.
The red-haired man and the rat-eyed little crook strove to pick her up. She turned upon them, gaining her feet again, and fought them off madly, battling with them, pounding at them with her fists, laughing, crying as she struggled.
“My God!” moaned Martin Lane miserably. “My God!”
She had gone down in a limp, pitiful, unconscious little heap on the floor.
“Carry her!” said Martin Lane again hoarsely.
They picked her up. The bag had dropped from their hands. Martin Lane raised it so that they could grip it again between them..
“Go on!” rasped Martin Lane. “Quick now!”
They passed out into the hallway, and along to the door facing the sea. Martin Lane opened this, stepped aside and took up his position again close behind the two men.
“Go on!” he repeated under his breath.
IT WAS dark out here, but out of the darkness a footstep sounded, coming quickly in their direction. Martin Lane’s jaws clamped. Yes, of course! He had expected someone to be on this side of the house, just as the Malay had been on the other. Close against the red-haired man, his revolver muzzle bored into the small of the other’s back.
A voice called out: “That you, Cap?”
The revolver muzzle increased its pressure.
“Yes; it’s all right,” the red-haired man snarled.
The step came nearer.
“What you got there—the girl? I heard her yowlin’. Let’s have a look.”
The revolver muzzle at the small of the red-haired man’s back again increased its pressure.
“Damn it!” shouted out the red-haired man in a sudden frenzy. “Get out of here and mind your own business!”
“Oh, all right, Cap,” snickered the voice. “Keep yer shirt on! I ain’t buttin’ in!”
The step retreated. The revolver muzzle released its pressure.
“Straight down to the beach!” whispered Martin Lane.
A path leading toward the shore was just barely discernible in the blackness. They followed it. It led to a small dock where, at the foot of the steps of a little landing stage, a boat was moored. These they descended, and at Martin Lane’s orders Carol Gray was lowered into the stern of the boat, and the handbag deposited beside her. He smiled a little grimly as he noted the outline of the craft. It was a fairly large boat—the kind in general use amongst the islands where man-power was abundant, and which was usually rowed by from four to six natives.
“Cast off that line for’ard!” Martin Lane directed briefly; and then, as he was obeyed: “Now get in yourselves—up there toward the bow!”
“No!” The red haired man mouthed a sudden oath, and held back. “I’m damned if I do! What for? We’ve done what you told us so far because we couldn’t help ourselves, but that’s an end of it—though some day I’ll make you wish you’d never been born for this!” He broke into a flood of furious profanity. “You take these cursed things off our hands, and let us go!”
“Get in!” Martin Lane clipped off his words.
“Don’t you do it, Captain!” snarled the little rat-eyed MacGuire. “He don’t dare fire any more, ’cause he’s got his chance to get away now, and he ain’t goin’ to risk it.”
“You’re quite wrong,” said Martin Lane evenly. “I can’t row the boat, as unfortunately my left arm has been hurt. You two are going to do it. You are going to row twenty miles across to an island out there.”
“Twenty miles! Out there!” The red-haired man wheezed his words, he seemed to suck them in and out, half in fear, half in fury. “Why, you fool, you’d never get there! Not to-night! There’s a storm brewin’. It’ll be bad out there before mornin’.”
“It would be worse ashore.” Martin Lane spoke without movement of the lips. “Get in!”
They made no movement.
Martin Lane spoke again—with ominous patience:
“I can’t go without you—you see, it is still an even break. Shall we all go—or all stay?” His revolver muzzle cuddled suddenly behind the little rat-eyed man’s ear. “I will give you until I count three. One—”
The little rat-eyed man squealed and lunged forward. He drew the red-haired man after him as the manacles jerked tight. They half sprawled, half clambered into the boat.
Martin Lane’s head was going around.
“That’s better!” He bit at his lips. “Now sit down beside each other on that seat and ship an oar apiece!”
He fumbled with the stern line, cast it off and stepped into the boat himself.
The boat slipped out past the dock and headed for the open sea.
MARTIN LANE’S mind seemed trying to evade itself—most curious!—trying to lay down on its job—quit! There were two things he must do—ship the tiller and make Carol comfortable. He succeeded after difficulty with the tiller; he had nothing other than the handbag for Carol’s comfort—to use as a support for her head and shoulders as she lay there beside him in the stern-sheets.
He lashed at his brain again, driving it to service. There weren’t any stars to steer by—only the wind—the direction of the wind—he hoped it wouldn’t shift, no matter how hard it blew. Straight across to Marston’s island—straight across, the old man had said—twenty miles—there by daylight.
He laid the revolver on the thwart beside him that he might steer with his one good hand. The girl stirred now for the first time—sat up—but did not speak.
There was a cross sea. And now, losing the lee of the island, the wind was fresh. The boat was heavy. The manacled pair toiled at the oars. After a while their efforts slackened—the little rat-eyed man seemed weary.
“Pull!” Martin Lane heard himself say sharply.
They began to quarrel with each other.
“You see what we’ve got for this!” the little rat-eyed man’s voice shrieked out suddenly. “I told you to throw him back into the water as soon as we’d hauled him aboard after that collision with his damned ship!”
“Hold your cursed tongue!” shouted back the red-haired man.
“Hold nothin’!” screamed the other. “Dope him up and use him as a witness to prove we’re regular Sunday school kids! Oh, hell! Do you know what kind of a witness he’ll make now? We’ll swing for this—that’s what we’ll do—”
The voices floated away in a gust of wind.
Then broken fragments of a sentence low, guarded, but caught in a momentary lull, came again:
“Bash of an oar . . . kill . . .”
THE boat began to ship water. The waves were running higher. Martin Lane nodded in a sort of mechanically judicial way to himself. She’d swamp, naturally, if he kept her on this course and it got much worse—but she must be kept on the course—that was the way to this Marston’s island. What was that? It was very black, of course—but what were those two fools doing standing up like that —were they trying to capsize the boat and—
“Martin!” That was Carol’s voice— ringing—clear—imperative. “Martin— look out!”
It was like some weird, double-headed giant stumbling toward him—like the pictures in his books at home when he was a kid. And it was brandishing a long club —no, that was an oar—in each hand.
He let go the tiller and snatched up his revolver and fired—and fired again. The flashes hurt his eyes. There came a scream of pain. The boat rocked and shipped a great quantity of water. The giant retreated, seeming to drag the smaller half of his body with him.
Martin Lane was conscious of a very queer feeling—as though he were mentally clinging in extreme desperation to the edge of some great abyss—and his hold was slipping— slipping—slipping— A voice bawled out of the darkness, maddened with fear—the red-haired man’s voice:
“She’ll fill! She’ll fill! Take off these damned irons! Are you goin’ to let me drown like a rat—he’s shot in the knee.”
“I have no key,” said Martin Lane. His answer was mechanical. There was something else he wanted to say before something, he didn’t know what it was going to be, but something, happened to him. His arm didn’t ache—queer it didn’t—it was more like a sort of torpor creeping upon him all over. Oh, yes, he had it now—to get the water out of the boat. “Bale!” said Martin Lane. “Bale —use your hat—bale!”
HE SAGGED against the tiller, and was conscious that an arm went suddenly out around him in support. That must be Carol—Carol’s arm. “Martin—oh, Martin!”
She was sobbing brokenly. Why was she sobbing? There was life for it yet— plenty of it—just keep on baling with hats—
“I know now—I know. I heard what they said. Oh, Martin—Martin—Martin—”
But Martin Lane’s chin had crumpled on his breast.
The red-haired man baled, frantically, fiercely, fear gnawing at him; the little man shackled to him lay half across a thwart and moaned.
The hours dragged on. Dawn came. In the stern-sheets a girl, with drawn, white face, with a man’s head pillowed on her lap. She held a revolver in her hand. The man was motionless, inert, his eyes closed. A bandage made from a torn skirt was about his left shoulder.
The day passed. Another came . . . another . . .
There was no water in the boat save that which swished in the bottom to the rise and fall of an oily swell.
Still another day.
The gold-laced skipper of a mailboat leaned over his bridge rail and peered down to where, at his lowered gangway, one of his own boats was towing a battered looking craft of about its own size alongside. He rubbed his eyes. In the forward part of the boat two men, outstretched and motionless, appeared to be manacled together; in the stern, seemingly lifeless, were a man with a bandaged shoulder and a woman—the woman’s arms around the man.
The sunlight glinted on a revolver lying beside the woman on the seat.
The ship’s surgeon standing up in the boat hailed the bridge:
“Two of them, wounded, but there’s life in all of them yet, sir. I think they’ll pull through.”
The promenade deck was lined with excited passengers crowding anxiously, eagerly, curiously, against each other. A cheer went up.
The skipper, still leaning over the bridge rail, rubbed his eyes again as he continued to stare down into the boat.
“My word!” he ejaculated. “Now what the devil sort of a yarn is at the bottom of all this I wonder?”
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.