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Title: Captain Calamity - Second Edition
Author: Bennett, Rolf
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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CAPTAIN CALAMITY

by

ROLF BENNETT

Author of "The Adventures of Lieut. Lawless, R.N."

Second Edition



Hodder And Stoughton
London New York Toronto
MCMXVI

Printed in Great Britain by Hazell, Watson & Viney, Ld.,
London and Aylesbury.



      To
    MY WIFE



CONTENTS


        CHAPTER I. THE PARTNERS                                13

       CHAPTER II. THE DEPARTURE OF THE "HAWK"                 21

      CHAPTER III. MUTINY                                      29

       CHAPTER IV. THE CASTAWAYS                               36

        CHAPTER V. DORA FLETCHER                               44

       CHAPTER VI. MR. DYKES RECEIVES HIS LESSON               53

      CHAPTER VII. THE AGITATOR                                61

     CHAPTER VIII. THE PRIZE                                   69

       CHAPTER IX. TRAGEDY                                     78

        CHAPTER X. THE CAPTAIN'S "APPEAL"                      86

       CHAPTER XI. THE FIGHT                                   95

      CHAPTER XII. A DESPERATE VENTURE                        103

     CHAPTER XIII. THE EBB TIDE                               114

      CHAPTER XIV. THE ATTACK                                 120

       CHAPTER XV. MCPHULACH EXPLAINS                         129

      CHAPTER XVI. CALAMITY KEEPS HIS WORD                    135

     CHAPTER XVII. THE CONFESSION                             147

    CHAPTER XVIII. DORA FLETCHER'S CHANCE                     155

      CHAPTER XIX. AT THE WHEEL                               163

       CHAPTER XX. IN COMMAND                                 171

      CHAPTER XXI. THE SIGNAL GUN                             179

     CHAPTER XXII. MR. SMITH SEEKS A PARTNER                  185

    CHAPTER XXIII. DORA FLETCHER ANSWERS "NO"                 194

     CHAPTER XXIV. THE MACHINATIONS OF MR. SOLOMON            201

      CHAPTER XXV. THE ARREST                                 209

     CHAPTER XXVI. THE TRIAL                                  217

    CHAPTER XXVII. THE LETTER                                 228

   CHAPTER XXVIII. HOME                                       239

     CHAPTER XXIX. NOBLESSE OBLIGE                            248



CHAPTER I

THE PARTNERS


     "_Know all men that we do by these presents issue forth and grant
     Letters of Marque and reprisals to, and do license and authorise
     John Brighouse to set forth in a warlike manner the ship called the
     'Hawk,' under his own command and therewith by force of arms to
     apprehend, seize and take the ships, vessels and goods belonging to
     the German Empire, wherefore it may and shall be lawful for the
     said John Brighouse to sell and dispose of such ships, vessels and
     goods adjudged and condemned in such sort and manner as by the
     course of Admiralty hath been adjudged._"

The man who had been reading aloud from the closely written parchment
laid it down on the table and glanced inquiringly at his companion. He
was a man of between forty and fifty, a little over five feet in height,
but so squarely built that, without exaggeration, he was well-nigh as
broad as he was long. His head was small and bullet-shaped with a thatch
of wiry black hair, and his face, bronzed to a copper-hue, was
clean-shaven. A pair of thick, shaggy eyebrows brooded over eyes that
usually produced a shock when first seen; for while one was steely-grey
and possessed extraordinary mobility, the other was pale green and gazed
upon the beholder with the fixed and stony stare of a dead fish. But
this alarming optical phenomenon admitted of a simple explanation. At
some period in his eventful career, Captain Calamity--for thus he was
known throughout the length and breadth of the Pacific--had had the
misfortune to lose an eye. After experiencing some difficulty in
obtaining a glass substitute, he had at last managed to secure one
second-hand from the relative of a gentleman who no longer required it.

The other man, Isaac Solomon by name, might have been any age from forty
to sixty. He was lean and angular, with features of a pronounced Hebraic
cast and a pair of beady black eyes that conveyed the impression of
mingled cunning and humour. His upper lip was shaven, but he wore a
beard which, like the few remaining hairs upon his head, was of a dingy
grey colour.

This oddly assorted pair were seated in a small room, half parlour, half
office, at the rear of the premises wherein Mr. Solomon carried on the
business of ship-chandler. The one window, partly shuttered to keep out
the fierce glare of the sun, looked out upon Singapore Harbour, with its
forest of masts and busy fleet of small craft darting to and fro across
the sparkling, unruffled surface of the water.

"That good enough for you, Solomon?" inquired Captain Calamity, tapping
the parchment.

"Vell----" the other paused and meditatively rubbed the palms of his
long, skinny hands together. "I suppose," he went on hesitatingly, "it
is all O.K.; genuine--eh?"

"What; this letter of authority?"

Mr. Solomon nodded in a deprecating, half-apologetic sort of way.

"I thought that the British Government did not issue any Letters of----"

"Listen!" interrupted his companion, snatching up the document. "'In the
name and on the behalf of His Britannic Majesty, King George the
Fifth----'"

He stopped abruptly and, pushing the parchment across the table with an
impatient gesture, pointed to a signature just above the large red seal.

"Look at that," he said.

Mr. Solomon scrutinised the signature as a bank clerk might scrutinise a
doubtful cheque.

"Yes," he murmured at last, "it is not a forg--I mean," he corrected
himself hastily, happening to catch the Captain's eye, "it seems quite
genuine. Oh yes, quite. Still, I would like to know----"

"How I came by this authority--eh?" broke in the other with a
contemptuous laugh. "And you'd like to know why I'm referred to there as
John Brighouse and not as Captain Calamity. You're itching to know,
aren't you, Solly?"

"Merely as a matter of pissness."

"Exactly. Well, as a matter of business, I'm not going to enlighten you.
How I obtained the Letters of Marque is my concern; the reason why I am
referred to therein as John Brighouse is not your concern. For the rest,
to you and to every one else in these parts, my name remains what it
always has been--Captain Calamity. Savvy?"

"A tree is known by its fruit--eh, Captain?" And Mr. Solomon
laughed--that is to say, his throat emitted a strange, creaking noise
which suggested that his vocal organs needed oiling, while his lips
twitched convulsively.

"And your ship," he went on when this mirthful mood had passed, "vere is
she?"

"That is a question which you can answer better than I."

Mr. Solomon's face was eloquently interrogative.

"I mean that, if you intend to join in this little venture with me, you
must solve the problem."

"But I don't understand," said the other anxiously. "You tell me you
have a ship called the _Hawk_, and now----" he shrugged his shoulders
with a helpless gesture.

"I'm afraid your enthusiasm's carried you away, friend Solomon. I never
said anything of the sort. The _Hawk_ referred to in that document is a
legal fiction--an illegal fiction some might call it. If you want to go
in for pigeon-plucking, you must provide the bird of prey," and Captain
Calamity chuckled grimly at his own facetiousness.

"Me! Provide a ship! Out of the question!" cried Mr. Solomon, backing
nervously from the table as though the mere suggestion alarmed him.

Calamity reached across the table and took from a box a big, fat,
Burmese cigar. This he proceeded to light, which done, he leaned back in
his chair and emitted huge clouds of smoke with obvious satisfaction.

"You must think of something else, Captain," went on his companion,
drawing still farther away from the table to escape being suffocated by
the Captain's smoke.

"Now see here," said Calamity, taking the cigar from his mouth and
speaking with great deliberation. "You're a clever business man; a
damned clever business man, or you wouldn't have kept out of jail all
these years. Well, here's a business proposition after your own heart.
You provide the ship and fit her out, and I'll provide the crew. Then,
within three months, I'll undertake to earn a bigger dividend for each
of us than you, with all your rascality, could make in a year. Doesn't
that tickle your palate, my friend?"

He paused and watched with a smile the obvious signs of perturbation on
his companion's face. It was clear to him that in the mind of Mr.
Solomon a terrific battle was in progress between exceeding avarice and
excessive caution.

"Vat security could you give?" asked the Jew at last. The struggle must
have been fierce, for he drew from his pocket a large, yellow silk
handkerchief and mopped the beads of perspiration from his face.

"Security!" echoed Calamity fiercely. "Why, the security of my name.
Have you ever known me break my word, Solomon? Is there, in the whole of
the Pacific to-day, a man living whom I've sworn to kill?"

Mr. Solomon started uneasily and edged towards the window as though to
be in readiness to call for help if necessary.

"But there aren't many enemy ships to capture now," he protested in a
feeble voice. "They have all been driven off the seas."

"I'll wager there are enough ships left to pay a healthy dividend on
your capital, Solomon. Besides, if the supply does run short we're not
dainty and----" He concluded his sentence with a grimly significant
laugh.

For some moments there was silence, broken only by the Captain's puffing
as he exhaled cloud after cloud of fierce tobacco-smoke. Mr. Solomon's
expressive countenance was again exhibiting signs of deep mental
agitation, and his brow was wrinkled by a perplexed frown. Suddenly this
cleared away and into his shifty eyes there came the triumphant look of
one who has unexpectedly found the solution to a seemingly impossible
problem. The change was so marked that Calamity regarded him with
undisguised suspicion, for when Solomon looked like that it generally
meant that somebody was going to be made wise by experience.

"I vill dink it over," he said at last.

A bland smile came over Calamity's face. He had not had intimate
business relations with his companion during the past ten years for
nothing, and knew that this was mere bluff, a sort of playful
coquettishness on Mr. Solomon's part. But he, also, was an old hand at
this game as his next remark proved.

"Please yourself," he answered indifferently, rising as if to go. "You
think it over as you say, and in the meantime I'll trip over to Johore
and see your pal Rossenbaum. He may be glad of the chance to----"

"Vait a minute! Vait a minute!" interrupted Mr. Solomon, starting to his
feet. "Vat you in such a 'urry for?"

In moments of excitement he was apt to drop the _h's_ which at other
times he assiduously cultivated.

"Well, you don't suppose I'm going to hang about Singapore and get drunk
on the local aperients while you make up your mind, do you?" inquired
Calamity.

"Now just you sit down, Captain, and ve'll talk the matter over," said
Mr. Solomon in a mollifying tone. "Make yourself at home now."

With an appearance of great reluctance, Captain Calamity reseated
himself and took another big, rank cigar from the box on the table.

"Go ahead," he said laconically as he lit the poisonous weed.

"Vat I propose," began Mr. Solomon, "is that you give me a bond...."

He continued for over half an hour to state his conditions, Calamity
never once interrupting him. When he had got through the Captain threw
the stump of his third cigar out of the window and drew his chair closer
to the table.

"Now you've used up your steam, and, I hope, feel better, we'll talk
business," he said in a cool, determined voice.

Two hours elapsed before Captain Calamity rose to his feet and prepared
for departure. It had been a tremendous battle, for Mr. Solomon's
demands had continued to be outrageous and he had resisted every
reduction tooth and nail. But they had at last come to an agreement,
though, even so, each felt that he was conceding far too much to the
other. The main points were, that Isaac Solomon was to procure a ship
and fit her out; that the profits of each privateering expedition were
to be divided into four equal shares, of which the partners each took
one. The remaining two shares were to be used for refitting,
victualling, bonuses for the crew, wages, and so forth. Mr. Solomon's
connection with the venture was to be kept secret from every one but his
partner, for, with a modesty that had its root in wisdom, the
ship-chandler avoided publicity as much as possible.

"I suppose you're going to wet the contract?" remarked Calamity as he
picked up his hat.

Mr. Solomon affected not to understand.

"Vet it?" he inquired innocently.

"Yes, drink to the prosperity of the venture, partner."

With no great show of alacrity, Mr. Solomon crossed to a cupboard and
was about to bring out a bottle of red wine, when Calamity stopped him.

"Damn you!" he cried. "I'm not going to drink that purple purgative;
save it for your fellow Sheenies. Come, out with that bottle of rum, you
old skinflint!"

Mr. Solomon made a chuckling noise in his throat, and, replacing the red
fluid, brought forth a square bottle and two glasses. He was about to
dole out a modest measure, when Calamity took the bottle from him and
more than half filled one of the glasses.

"Now help yourself, partner," he said, handing back the bottle.

The other carefully poured out about a teaspoonful of the spirit,
deluged it with water, and then held up his glass.

"Long life and success to Calamity and Co!" cried the Captain, and
tossed off the raw spirit with no more ado than if it had been milk.

"Calamity and Co!" echoed Mr. Solomon in a thin, shrill voice.



CHAPTER II

THE DEPARTURE OF THE "HAWK"


Captain Calamity appeared to be one of those men who, for various
reasons and often through force of circumstances, have drifted into the
backwaters of civilisation to a life of semi-barbarism. Men of this sort
are to be found all over the New World, but more particularly in the
luxuriant islands of the South Pacific, where life can be maintained
with a minimum of effort. Some are mere beachcombers, derelicts for whom
the striving, battling world has no further use. Some are just
"remittance men," social outcasts, bribed to remain at a safe distance
from their more respectable relatives.

A few, a very few, are men obsessed by a spirit of adventure; men who
can find no scope for their superabundant energy and vitality in the
overcrowded, over-civilised cities of the world. Of such as these was
Captain Calamity. Yet his past was as much a mystery to those who knew
him as was the origin of the suggestive name by which he was known
throughout the Pacific. No one--until to-day, not even Isaac
Solomon--had the slightest inkling of his real name. And, as might be
expected under such circumstances, various stories, each more incredible
than the last, were current among the islands concerning him. Still, the
one most generally believed, no doubt because it sounded romantic,
described him as an ostracised member of an aristocratic English family
upon whom he had in earlier years brought disgrace.

But, whatever the truth might be, Calamity never by any chance referred
to his past, and, as to the stories concerning himself, he did not take
the trouble to deny or confirm them.

For some days after his interview with Mr. Solomon Calamity was busily
engaged in collecting a crew--a crew which, as the _Hawk_ was to be a
fighting ship, would have to consist of about thrice the number which
she would have carried as a merchantman. So far as deck-hands and
firemen were concerned this was fairly easy, but when it came to finding
officers and engineers the task proved much more difficult. Men of this
class, who, for some reason or other, found themselves adrift in
Singapore without a ship, fought shy of the notorious skipper. They
believed--and probably with very good reason--that to sail under him
would ruin all prospects of getting a job with a reputable firm again.
So, while willing enough to absorb "pegs" at the Captain's expense, they
politely declined his offers of a berth on the _Hawk_.

Eventually, he ran across an engineer who had made several voyages with
him on trading and pearling expeditions; one Phineas McPhulach, a
little, red-haired Scotsman with no professional prospects, but an
unlimited capacity for death-dealing drinks. McPhulach, being in his
customary state of "down and out," and having no future that
necessitated consideration, eagerly accepted the berth of chief-engineer
which Calamity offered him. Moreover, he was able to introduce a
companion in misfortune named Ephraim Dykes. Mr. Dykes was a lean,
lanky individual, with a cast in one eye, and an accent that proclaimed
him a native of New England. He had once held a master's certificate,
but this, it appeared, had been suspended indefinitely owing to his ship
having piled herself up on a reef off New Guinea. Therefore, when
Calamity proposed that he should ship as first mate, he was quite
willing, as he put it, to "freeze right on."

Partly through the instrumentality of this latter acquisition, Calamity
was able to secure a second mate in the person of Mr. Sam Smith, a
little Cockney of unsober habits. A second engineer named Sims, a
taciturn man of middle age, was also picked up, and thus Calamity
succeeded in collecting a ship's company suitable in quantity if not in
quality.

In the meantime, Mr. Solomon had also been busy. On the day following
his entry into partnership with Calamity, he went to Johore and paid an
afternoon call on Mr. Rossenbaum, a gentleman of similar persuasions to
his own. For some weeks past they had been haggling over a business
deal, which, up to that day, had not been settled. Mr. Rossenbaum
possessed a steamer which he wanted repaired, and Mr. Solomon had the
docking facilities necessary for the job, and the only thing which had
so far stood between them was a difference of opinion as to price.

The meeting between these two gentlemen afforded a magnificent piece of
acting. Both appeared to have forgotten all about the subject over which
they had been negotiating, and conversed amicably on neutral topics. The
war, of course, came up for discussion, and this led Mr. Solomon to
remark that money was scarce. Mr. Rossenbaum agreed, not only because it
was the truth, but because he had always maintained this view, even
when money was plentiful.

Mr. Solomon went on to say that, in consequence of the said scarcity of
coin, he was now obliged to undertake contracts on unremunerative terms,
simply for the sake of the cash. Mr. Rossenbaum expressed his sympathy
and added, as though the matter had never before been mentioned between
them, that he had a steamer laying up, solely because he was unable to
pay the extortionate prices demanded by ship-repairers for overhauling
her.

This was tantamount to a challenge, and Mr. Solomon accepted it. For a
time they fenced and dodged, but at last, casting aside all pretence,
came to grips over the bargain. It was a combat of wits between two men
as well matched as any in the world, and it lasted well into the
afternoon. Eventually Mr. Solomon made a great business of giving way
and agreed to accept the contract on the amended terms if half the money
were paid in advance. Mr. Rossenbaum reluctantly consented on condition
that he was allowed 5 per cent discount on the advance. Mr. Solomon
nearly fainted, and, with tears in his eyes, declared that if he agreed
ruination would stare him in the face. Finally, he consented to a 2-1/2
per cent discount, and the business was concluded at last. Each, on
parting, assured the other that he had spent one of the most enjoyable
days of his life, and this was probably the only truthful statement
either had made throughout the interview.

Over a week elapsed before Calamity and his partner met again, and,
contrary to the Captain's expectations, Mr. Solomon evinced no desire to
back out of the venture. On the contrary, he exhibited an almost painful
desire to see the expedition set out with as little loss of time as
possible--a fact which his partner regarded with not unreasonable
suspicion.

"It depends on the ship," he said in reply to Mr. Solomon's eager
inquiries. "How long am I to wait for her?"

"No need to vait at all; the ship is vaiting for you," said the other,
pointing towards a newly painted steamer in the harbour.

Calamity gazed at the vessel and then at his companion with an air of
mistrust. Such promptitude on Mr. Solomon's part was, to say the least,
unusual.

"What about provisions, coal, guns, and so forth?" he demanded curtly.

"Everything's ready, and as to guns----" Mr. Solomon put his hand on the
Captain's shoulder and whispered the rest in his ear.

"H'm," grunted Calamity, "I hope she's not some cursed old derelict
you've picked up for a song."

"Picked up for a song!" echoed Mr. Solomon indignantly. "Vat you mean?
She cost me----"

"Well?" inquired Calamity with interest as the other paused abruptly.

"Nodding--I mean," Mr. Solomon corrected himself hastily, "it has
noddings to do with the matter. She is a peautiful ship."

"We shall see," said the Captain, rising to leave. "I'll go and have a
look at your hooker now and see what she's like. Meet you this evening."

Mr. Solomon nodded, and stood watching the short, squat figure of his
partner disappear in the direction of the harbour. Then, rubbing his
hands together and chuckling wheezily, he turned away from the window.

On reaching the harbour, Calamity engaged a sampan and was taken to the
steamer. There being no one on board, he was able to make an
uninterrupted and very thorough examination, and, to his surprise, found
that she was all that Solomon had claimed her to be. She was
comparatively new--not more than five years old at most--of about 3,000
odd tons and with every indication of being seaworthy and sound. The
food, too, was not as bad as it might have been; some of it, indeed,
seemed quite eatable. Moreover, Mr. Solomon, in an extraordinary fit of
liberality, had not only re-painted the ship, but had also caused the
name _Hawk_ to be emblazoned on her stern in letters of gold--which, by
the way, Calamity had painted out the very next day. Nor had Solomon
forgotten the primary object of the expedition, for in the after-hold
were six machine-guns--rather antiquated as such weapons go, perhaps,
but most decidedly serviceable. Ammunition and small-arms were there in
plenty, the latter a somewhat miscellaneous collection of varying
degrees of deadliness.

The Captain, as he noted all this, felt a growing sense of perplexity.
It was so utterly unlike Mr. Solomon to do anything thoroughly--always
excepting his clients, of course--that he felt almost apprehensive. He
was like an animal, sniffing an appetising morsel, while fearing that it
was merely the bait of some concealed trap. For some time he stood
leaning on the bulwarks thinking hard, but at last the worried
expression left his face and was succeeded by a smile; a smile that
would not have made Mr. Solomon any the happier had he seen it.

Having made himself acquainted with the ship, Calamity decided to waste
no further time. Going ashore again, he collected his crew and sent
them aboard under Mr. Dykes, the mate. Those who were not sober enough
to walk were carried by those who were and flung unceremoniously into
the boats--a joyful, polyglot crowd with complexions as varied as their
sins. On reaching the _Hawk_, the firemen were kicked below to get up
steam and the deck-hands set to holy-stoning and polishing.

When Calamity came on board a little later, he sent for Mr. Dykes, and
the two had a brief conference appertaining to the work of the ship.

"What's the crew like, Mr. Dykes?" asked the Captain presently.

"Like!" echoed the mate. "I reckon the devil's opened hell's gates
somewheres around here and we've picked up a few of them what's got out.
There'll be red, ruddy, blazin' mutiny before a week's out, and, with
the number we've got on board, we shan't stand a yaller dog's chance."

Calamity smiled.

"Don't worry yourself, Mr. Dykes, I don't think we shall have very much
trouble with them. One or two, I know, have sailed with me before and
they, probably, will give the others the benefit of their experience."

Mr. Dykes having been dismissed, chief-engineer McPhulach was summoned
to the cabin. Asked his opinion of the men under him, his reply varied
in terms but agreed in spirit with that already given by the mate.

"The scum of the bottomless pit," was how he put it.

"They may not be a liner's crew exactly," said Calamity in an almost
gentle voice, "but I think we shall understand one another before long."

Whereat McPhulach departed with an almost happy smile and knocked down
an insolent fireman for the good of his soul.

That evening, according to his promise, Captain Calamity arrived at Mr.
Solomon's store, accompanied by Mr. Dykes, whom he duly introduced. This
done, he informed his partner that he was sailing that night.

"Vat, so soon!" ejaculated Mr. Solomon.

"You don't want your capital lying idle longer than necessary, do you?"

"No, no, but----"

"Then sign these bills of lading and don't waste my time."

Mr. Solomon turned up the smoky little oil-lamp which inadequately
illuminated the room, put on his spectacles, and proceeded to examine
the papers Calamity had thrust before him. He scrutinised each one so
long and so carefully that at last the Captain lost patience and swore
he would not sail at all unless the remainder were signed without delay.
So, much against his better judgment, Mr. Solomon put his name to the
rest without doing more than glance over the contents.

That night the _Hawk_ weighed anchor and steamed unostentatiously out of
Singapore Harbour without troubling the customs authorities or any other
officials whatever.



CHAPTER III

MUTINY


By dawn the _Hawk_ was churning her way at full speed towards the Java
Sea and a destination unknown to any one but the Captain. It was too
early to judge of the qualities of the ship, but those of the crew were
already becoming manifest. Indeed, it looked as if the prophecies of the
mate and the engineer were likely to be fulfilled sooner than even they
expected. The men did not work with a will; worse still, they didn't
even grumble. They maintained a solid, stolid, sullen silence that had
the same effect on the nerves as a black and threatening cloud on a
still day. They quarrelled amongst themselves, but for the officers they
only had lowering glances and threats muttered below the breath. One
would imagine that they had all been shanghaied or shipped under false
pretences. Besides the boatswain, his mate and a couple of
quartermasters, there were very few white men amongst them, and between
these and the rest of the crew a state of hostility already existed.

When the boatswain's mate put his head inside the forecastle door to
call the morning watch no one swore at him, and that was a very bad sign
indeed.

"Now then, my sons, and you know the sons I mean! Show a leg, show a
leg, show a leg!" he called.

Nobody threw a boot at him, nobody consigned him to the nether regions,
nobody told him what his mother had been. The men tumbled out of their
bunks with surly, glowering faces and with scarcely a word spoken.

"Rouse out! Rouse out! You hang-dog, half-caste, loafing swine!" roared
the boatswain's mate, hoping that he might thus goad them into
cheerfulness and induce a homely feeling.

He failed, however, and though one man made a tentative movement with
his hand in the direction of a sheath-knife at his hip, nothing came of
it.

The matter was reported to Mr. Dykes, who shook his head gloomily.

"You ought, by rights, to be half-dead by now," he said, looking
resentfully at the boatswain's mate.

The latter evidently felt his position and tried to look apologetic.

"Can't even get an honest curse out of 'em," he said. "They've had three
feeds already, and the cook says not one's threatened to kill 'im. He
don't like it because, of course, he feels something's wrong. 'Tain't
natural that men should just fetch their grub and go away without
telling the cook just what they think of 'im. I've never see'd anything
like it before."

"Something's going to bust, and pretty soon," remarked the mate. "An'
it'll be a gaudy shindy when it does."

Later on he reported the state of affairs to Calamity, who merely
smiled.

"The men are doing their work, aren't they?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well?"

"The fact is, sir, things ain't settlin' down as they ought to. The ship
feels like a theatre when the boys are loosenin' their guns before the
curtain goes down. I've been in the foc'sle and there ain't so much as a
photo nor a picture-postcard nailed up. There's nothing homely about it,
sir, like you'd expect to see; no cussin' nor rowin' nor anything
cheerful."

"Probably the men will be more cheerful later on, Mr. Dykes," answered
the Captain. "They are new to the ship, remember."

The mate went away in deep dudgeon. So this was the notorious Captain
Calamity; the man whose name, he had been told, was sufficient to cow
the most disorderly ruffians that ever trod a ship's decks. Here he was,
with a crew who were on the very verge of mutiny, making excuses for
them and talking like some mission-boat skipper with the parson at his
elbow. It was disgusting.

That evening he confided his opinions to McPhulach, in the latter's
cabin.

"I reckon we've got this old man tabbed wrong," he said. "He ain't no
bucko skipper as they talks about; a crowd of Sunday School sailors is
about his mark. When I told him the men were only waitin' a good
opportunity to slit all our throats, he jest coo'd like a suckin' dove.
'Remember they're new to the ship,' says he, as soft as some old
school-marm."

"Aye, but he's a quare mon till ye ken him," remarked the engineer
thoughtfully.

"Queer! He'll let us all be dumped into the ditch before he raises a
finger."

"I wouldna go sa far as tae say that. Yon's a michty strange mon, I'm
telling ye, and the lead-line hasna been made that can fathom him."

Mr. Dykes gave a contemptuous grunt, and, as he walked away, opined that
the skipper and the chief engineer were a pair, and about as fit to
control men as their grandmothers would have been.

As he had anticipated, matters were not long in coming to a head. At the
machine-gun drill and rifle exercise, which occupied several hours each
day, the men grew increasingly slack. On the fourth day out it was as
much as he could do to get the men to obey orders, and if ever a crew
showed signs of mutiny it was the crew of the _Hawk_. But, early in the
morning of the following day, an incident occurred which, if it served
to distract everybody's attention for a little while, had the ultimate
effect of bringing about the long-threatened crisis.

The grey mist of dawn still lay upon the waters, when the sound of
firing was heard, apparently coming from the eastward. The _Hawk's_
course was changed slightly and an hour later those on the bridge were
able to make out, with the aid of glasses, a small German gunboat
"holding up" a French liner.

"Guess we could sink that little steam can as easy as swallowin' a
cocktail," remarked the mate. "Say, Cap'n, do we butt in here?"

Instead of answering, Calamity stepped up to the engine-room telegraph
and rang down "Stop!" By this time the Germans could be seen conveying
things from the liner to their own vessel, and, somehow or other, the
rumour spread among the _Hawk's_ crew that they were bullion cases.
Presently the liner was allowed to proceed on her way, and the German
steamed off in a north-easterly direction. Then Calamity rang down,
"Full speed!" to the engine-room and turned to the mate.

"Follow that packet," he said, indicating the German, "but don't
overhaul her."

"Then we're goin' to let that square-head breeze away?" asked Mr. Dykes
in a tone of acute disappointment. "Durned if this lay-out don't get me
stuck," he went on. "We could have froze on to them bars ourselves."

His opinion of Captain Calamity had touched zero by now, and he hardly
troubled to conceal his contempt. He, like the remainder of the _Hawk's_
company, knew that she was engaged on a privateering expedition, and was
eager to "taste blood." And it must be admitted that Calamity had
induced many of the men to ship with him by holding out promises of fat
bonuses, with, perhaps, the opportunity of a little plundering thrown
in. Now, when chance had thrown what appeared to be a rich prize under
their very noses, the skipper was calmly letting it slip through his
fingers.

It was pretty obvious that the mate's resentment was shared by the crew.
For the last half-hour they had lined the bulwarks, watching the Germans
transfer their plunder from the liner. Every man-Jack of them felt
certain that, in the course of a very short time, that same plunder
would find its way on board the _Hawk_ with material benefit to
themselves. When, however, it was seen that the Captain had no intention
of carrying out their notion, scowling faces were turned towards the
bridge, and there were angry mutterings. Soon the muttering grew louder,
and at last one of the men, a huge serang, stepped out of the crowd, and
shook his fist at Calamity, who was watching from the bridge.

Then, urged on by the others, he demanded that the ship should be put
back to Singapore and the men discharged with a month's wages. They did
not like, he said, being on a ship without knowing what port she was
bound for. They did not like the officers, and, more than anything
else, they did not like the Captain. The spokesman wound up his
peroration in broken English by hinting that, unless the _Hawk_ was put
about at once, the crew would take charge of her.

All this while Calamity had stood leaning on the bridge-rail, listening
to the serang with an expression of quiet, almost anxious, attention.
The mate, watching him out of the corner of his eyes, saw no sign of
that terrible berserker rage with which he had so often heard the
Captain credited. In fact, a member of Parliament could not have
listened to a deputation of constituents with more polite attention.

"I reckon if we don't do what they want they'll hand out some trouble,"
said the mate. "Them that ain't got one knife ready at their hips has
got two."

Calamity made no answer, but a peculiar pallor had overspread his face.
He turned away from the bridge-rail, and, without any sign of haste,
descended the companion-ladder and stepped calmly into the midst of the
snarling rabble.

"What are you doing on deck?" he asked the serang quietly. "Your place
is in the stokehold."

The man started to make an impudent reply, but before he had uttered two
words the Captain had snatched him off his feet as easily as if he had
been a child and flung him bodily into the crowd of astonished men,
knocking several of them over. Then, as the serang landed against a
steam-winch with a terrible crash, Calamity snatched up a capstan bar
and dashed into the crowd.

Then the mate, standing on the bridge, witnessed such a spectacle as he
had never seen before and devoutly hoped he would never see again.
Swinging the heavy iron bar above his head as though it were a flail,
the Captain smashed left and right among the men, hitting them how and
where he could--on the head, body, limbs--no matter where so long as he
hit them. Two or three drew their knives and made a desperate rush at
him, but there was no getting through the swinging circle of iron. In
two minutes the forward deck bore a horrible resemblance to a shambles,
for it was littered with injured men and blood was trickling down the
white planks into the scuppers. Groans, shrieks, and curses resounded on
all sides; the men scurried for shelter in every direction like rats,
and two or three, reaching the forecastle, locked themselves in. But a
couple of blows from the iron bar smashed the door to splinters and then
cries rang out again and with them the sound of the terrible weapon as
it crashed against a bulkhead or smashed a bunk to splinters. One man
managed to escape out of the forecastle and was running for his life
towards the poop when Calamity, his face distorted with demoniac fury,
flung the bar at him. It caught the man on the back of the head and he
pitched forward on the deck, where he lay weltering in his own blood.

Then, without so much as a glance at the fearful havoc he had wrought,
the Captain returned to the bridge.

"What were you saying before I left, Mr. Dykes?" he inquired calmly.

"Er--I was saying that it looked as if the wind would change round to
the nor' west before long, sir," answered the mate in a subdued and
extremely respectful tone.



CHAPTER IV

THE CASTAWAYS


The following morning, at eight bells, those of the crew not on duty or
on the sick-list were assembled upon the forward hatch. Many of them had
heads or limbs in bandages, and they were as meek as little lambs. As
the ship's bells were struck, Calamity mounted the bridge, accompanied
by the mate, and walked up to the rail.

"I'm not going to waste my breath by telling such a crowd of doss-house
and prison scum as you are what I think about you," he said in a harsh,
grating voice, that seemed to emphasise the insults. "What I want to say
is this: the first man who raises a murmur about anything or hesitates
in carrying out an order, that man I'll string up at the end of a
derrick with a hawser for a collar. And remember this: I like a cheerful
crew, and if I see a man who doesn't look as cheerful as he ought, by
God, I'll clap him in the bilboes. Now get out of my sight."

The Captain stepped back from the rail and turned to the mate.

"I always believe in exercising patience and in using persuasion, Mr.
Dykes," he said. "If, however, we should have any more trouble--and I
don't somehow think we shall--it will become necessary to deal
drastically with the offenders."

Without waiting for a reply, he walked into the chart-room, leaving Mr.
Dykes and the second-mate gasping.

"What in thunder would he call 'drastic,' I'd like to know?" inquired
the former. "He's already maimed half the crew and calls that
persuasion. The Lord stand between me and his persuading, that's all I
say."

"He's a bloomin' knock-aht, swelp me Bob," replied the second-mate in a
tone of subdued admiration. "I thought the yarns I'd heard about him was
all kid, but now--help!"

Later on, when Mr. Dykes conveyed his impressions to the chief engineer,
the latter merely nodded without evincing the slightest surprise.

"I told ye he was a michty quare mon," he remarked calmly. "I wouldna
advise ye to run athwart him even if ye've got liquor as an excuse."

"You bet I won't, not after this. I guess I'll have to load up pretty
considerable on liquor before I try to hand him a song and dance."

"Talkin' about liquor, ye'll find a bottle o' rum under the pillow o' my
bunk, Meester Dykes. We'll jest have a wee drappie an' I'll tell ye hoo
I marrit me fairst wife."

"Your first wife?" repeated the mate. "Say, how many have you had?"

"I couldna tell ye off-hand, mon. Ye see, the saircumstances in mony
cases were compleecated, if ye ken me," answered McPhulach thoughtfully.
"Me fairst, now ..."

Mr. Dykes listened for some time to the engineer's account of his
matrimonial complications and then turned in. For the first time since
leaving Singapore, he closed his eyes without an uneasy suspicion that
he and the rest of the officers might have their throats cut before the
morning. Indeed, the crew might henceforward have served as a model for
the most exacting skipper that ever sailed the seas. The men could not
have turned out for their respective watches with more promptitude had
they been aboard a battleship, and their language on such occasions was
such that even the boatswain's mate had no cause for complaint. And they
were cheerful, laboriously cheerful. Whenever Calamity happened to
approach a man, that man would start to hum a tune as if his life
depended on it; he'd smile if he had a ten-thousand-horsepower
toothache; everybody was happy, and only the ship's cat led a dog's
life.

"It's a bloomin' wonder," said the second-mate to Mr. Dykes, "that the
old man don't put up a blighted maypole and make all us perishers dance
round it."

For two days the _Hawk_ kept the smoke-trail of the German gunboat in
view, but made no attempt to overhaul her. Every one agreed that the
_Hawk_, with her four-inch guns, could sink the German. They were
puzzled, therefore, as to the Captain's seeming reluctance to engage
her. But never a word of wonder reached Calamity, never a hint or a
question from his officers; every one was certain that he knew his
business, or, if they weren't, carefully kept it to themselves. And the
Captain himself vouchsafed no explanation.

On the third morning the look-out reported that the gunboat was chasing
a large steamer. Immediately afterwards the men, even those who were not
on watch, came tumbling up on deck, in the hope that at last they were
going to sniff the promised booty. But not a word was spoken, not a man
so much as glanced at the bridge where the skipper stood with his
glasses focussed on the chase. They were patiently cheerful.

Presently there came the faint echo of a shot and the steamer lay-to,
apparently waiting for the pirates to board her. At her stern fluttered
the red ensign of the British Mercantile Marine.

The _Hawk_ had slowed down to quarter speed, and Calamity, through his
glasses, continued to watch events. In a remarkably short space of time
the Germans transferred a portion of the cargo, whatever it might be, to
their own vessel, after which the steamer was allowed to pursue her way.
One thing seemed clear, which was that the Germans cared less for
sinking enemy ships than for laying hands on the more valuable and
portable articles of cargo they happened to carry. The gunboat, having
captured and dismissed her prey, continued on her course, and so also
did the _Hawk_.

Calamity, no doubt, had fully developed his plans, but he appeared,
also, to have developed a very bad memory. For the instructions
accompanying his commission contained, among numerous other clauses, one
which laid it down that "if any ship or vessel belonging to us or our
subjects, shall be found in distress by being in fight, set upon, or
taken by the enemy ... the commanders, officers, and company of such
merchant ships as shall have Letters of Marque shall use their best
endeavours to give aid and succour to all such ship and ships...."

Which, of course, for reasons known only to himself, the Captain of the
_Hawk_ had not done, nor attempted to do.

The morning had been unusually hot, even for such latitudes, and, as the
day advanced, the heat became almost unbearable. The pitch boiled and
bubbled up between the deck-seams and the exposed paintwork became
disfigured with huge blisters. An awning had been rigged up over the
bridge, but, despite this and the fact that it was high above the decks,
the atmosphere was like that of a super-heated bakehouse, dry and
shimmering, nor was there a breath of wind to stir it. Occasionally a
whiff of hot, oily vapour came up through the engine-room gratings and
helped to make the air still more heavy and oppressive. Even the sea,
calm as a pond, looked oily and hot under the glare of a burning noonday
sun set in a sky of metallic blue.

Then, towards eight bells in the afternoon watch, a faint breeze sprang
up; the sky changed imperceptibly from blue to grey, and the sun became
a red, glowing disc with a slight haze round it. The sea had taken on a
yellowish-green tint and angry little wavelets began to chase each other
and to dash themselves viciously against the _Hawk's_ sides. Presently
the breeze died away as suddenly as it had arisen, but the sky became
more and more overcast and the wavelets grew into boulders,
white-crested and threatening. The sun disappeared behind a bank of
black, evil-looking clouds, while the atmosphere became still more
oppressive and the decks and awnings steamed. A strange, uncanny silence
had settled over everything, so that the least noise sounded curiously
distinct. The throb of the engines, usually mellow and subdued, came now
in sharp, staccato beats; the clang of the furnace-doors and the rattle
of rakes and shovels in the stokehold could be plainly heard on the
bridge.

"Strike me pink, if we ain't in for a bloomin' typhoon, a reg'lar
rip-snorter," muttered the second-mate as he mopped his perspiring
forehead.

The quartermaster set his teeth and gripped the wheel more
tightly--something was going to happen. A moment later, Calamity stepped
on to the bridge and gave a quick, comprehensive glance around him.

"Everything lashed up and made secure, Mr. Smith?" he asked.

"Yes, sir," answered the second, and added: "We're runnin' into a proper
blazer; none of your bloomin' twopenny-ha'penny breezes this time."

Already the awnings had been taken in, spars and loose gear made fast,
derricks secured, and ports screwed down. Every moment it grew darker
and the _Hawk_ was beginning to roll in an uncomfortable fashion.

Suddenly the sky was split by a blinding flash of lightning followed by
a crashing peal of thunder that seemed to shake the vessel from stem to
stern. There was a moment's interval, during which rain-spots the size
of pennies appeared on the deck and a grey haze settled over the sea.
Then came another flash of lightning, a terrific roar of thunder, and
the storm burst in all its fury. The rain came down now in solid sheets
of water, pouring off the bridge and deck-houses in cascades and
flooding out the scuppers which could not drain it fast enough. The sea
had gained in fury with the hurricane and now broke over the bulwarks,
mounted the forecastle, and swept along the decks from bow to stern. One
great wave even leapt up to the bridge, tearing away the awning spars,
smashing the woodwork to splinters, and very nearly wrenching the wheel
from the quartermaster's hands.

Another great roller struck the _Hawk_ amidships and she reeled till her
port bulwarks were under water. Gradually she righted, her funnel-guys
twisted into a mass of tangled wire, her boats carried away or stove in,
her decks, fore and aft, littered with wreckage and gear which had been
swept loose. Between the deafening peals of thunder, the shouts and
curses of the poor wretches in the stokehold could be heard as they were
thrown against the glowing furnace doors, or the firebars slipped out,
shooting great masses of red-hot coal and clinker among their half-naked
bodies.

Sometimes a wave would catch the vessel under the stern, lifting her so
that her bows plunged forward into the boiling sea ahead, her propeller
racing high in the air until the plates quivered with the vibrations. Or
she would lift her nose to an oncoming billow, and, rising with it, bury
her stern in the seething vortex till the wheel-house disappeared from
view beneath the turbid, foaming water. It seemed impossible that any
ship could live through such a storm.

But at last the lightning began to grow less vivid, the thunder
gradually died away in the distance and the sea, little by little,
subsided. Firemen, black from head to foot, staggered along the deck to
the forecastle and threw themselves just as they were upon their bunks;
the second engineer came off duty, a bloody sweat-rag twisted round his
head, and reeled, rather than walked, to his cabin. Then McPhulach
appeared at the fiddley, mopping his face with a lump of oily waste.

"Are you all right below?" shouted Calamity from the bridge.

"Aye, but some of the puir deils will carry the mairks o' this day upon
their bodies as long as they live," answered the engineer. "Hell must
be a garden party to what it was down yon a wee while aback."

As he spoke, two injured firemen, the upper parts of their bodies
wrapped round with oil-soaked waste, were brought on deck and carried to
the forecastle. Their faces, which had evidently been wiped with
sweat-rags, were of a corpse-like whiteness that was accentuated by the
circles of black coal-dust round their eyes.

"Half roasted," said McPhulach, indicating with a jerk of his head the
two injured men. "If they hadna rinds like rhinoceros hide, they'd be
dead the noo. Mon, the stokehold smelt like a kitchen wi' the stink o'
scorching meat."

The engineer disappeared and Calamity turned to Mr. Dykes, who had
relieved Smith on the bridge.

"Serve out a tot of rum to all hands," he said. "It's been a trying
experience."

"Trying experience!" echoed the mate. "It was as near hell as ever I
touched, sir."

The Captain was about to make some remark when he suddenly snatched a
pair of binoculars out of the box fastened to the bridge-rail. He
focussed them upon the seemingly deserted waste of tossing grey waters
and then handed them to the mate.

"What do you make of that, Mr. Dykes?" he asked, indicating a point on
the port quarter.

The mate stared through the glasses for some minutes, then handed them
back to the Captain.

"It's a boat with a man and a woman in it, or I'm a nigger," he said.

"So I thought," answered the Captain.



CHAPTER V

DORA FLETCHER


A signal was immediately hoisted to let the castaways know that they
were observed and the steamer's course was changed to bring her as near
as possible to the drifting boat. But there was still such a heavy sea
running that a near approach would have involved the risk of the boat
being dashed against the _Hawk's_ side before the occupants could be
rescued. So the bos'n, standing on the foc'sle head, cast a line which,
after three vain attempts, was caught by the young woman in the stern
sheets, who made it fast to one of the thwarts. Then one of the
steamer's derricks was slung outboard with a rope sling suspended and
half a dozen men laid on to the line attached to the boat.

"Catch hold of that sling as you pass under it!" roared Calamity from
the bridge.

After some difficult manoeuvring, boat and steamer were brought into
such a position that the former passed immediately under the sling.

"Quick now, my girl, or you'll lose it!" shouted the Captain.

But, to the amazement and indignation of everyone, it was the man and
not the girl who caught the sling and was hoisted safely out of the
boat.

"Oh, the gory swine," growled the second-mate. "Get the derrick inboard,
men," he added aloud.

The derrick swung round and the sling was let go with a run that
deposited the man on the deck with a terrific bump.

"Outboard again!" cried Calamity. "Stand by, bos'n."

"Get up, you swab!" ejaculated the second-mate, administering the
rescued man a heavy kick. "If the skipper wasn't lookin' I'd pitch your
ugly carcass back into the ditch."

The fellow staggered to his feet and cast an ugly look at the Cockney.
He was a great, hulking brute over six feet tall and broad in
proportion, with a sullen, hang-dog countenance that was far from
prepossessing.

"What d'you want to kick me for?" he asked truculently.

The second-mate was so astounded at what he regarded as super-colossal
impudence and ingratitude, that he just gasped. Then, before he could
recover his speech, the boatswain's mate came up, and, gripping the man
by the collar of his jersey, ran him into the foc'sle.

Meanwhile two unsuccessful attempts had been made to repeat the first
manoeuvre, but at the third the sling passed over the boat and the
girl caught hold of it. Next moment she was swung on board and lowered
gently to the deck.

"We ain't no stewardesses aboard this packet, Miss," said Mr. Dykes, who
had arrived just in time to frustrate the second-mate in assisting the
young woman to her feet. "Still, if you'll come to my cabin I'll send
you somethin' hot and you can make free with my duds."

"Or you can go to my cabin," put in the second eagerly. "Sorry I 'aven't
any 'airpins," he added with an admiring glance at the tawny mane of
hair which had become unfastened during her passage from the boat to
the ship's deck. "But I've a----"

"The young lady'll find better accommodation in my cabin, Smith,"
interrupted the mate. "This way, please," he added in the tone and
manner of a shop-walker, and departed with his prize.

"Talk about nerve," muttered the disgruntled Smith. "That Yank's got
more bloomin' nerve than a peddlin' auctioneer."

Calamity had sent word that, as soon as the survivors had been given
food and dry clothes, they were to be brought into his cabin. Half an
hour later, the man was ushered in by the mate and stood in front of the
Captain with the same hang-dog air that he had exhibited when first
rescued.

"Your name and all the rest of it, my man," said the skipper curtly.

"I'm Jasper Skelt, bos'n of the barque _Esmeralda_, London to
Singapore," answered the fellow in a surly voice. "We were hit by that
there typhoon and so far's I know she's at the bottom of the sea by
now."

"What about the Captain and the rest of the crew?"

"The skipper was knocked overboard by a boom. Then the crew took to the
boats and only me and Miss Fletcher, the Cap'n's daughter, was left. We
tried to keep the ship head-on to the seas, but she sprang a leak and we
had to abandon her."

"You don't know whether any of the other boats survived?"

"No, sir."

"And the ship's papers?"

"Miss Fletcher's got 'em."

"And now I want to know why you caught on to that sling before the woman
had a chance?"

"She told me to, and anyhow my life's as good as hers," answered the man
defiantly.

"I see. Well, by your own confession you're a coward, and by your looks
you're a scoundrel," answered Calamity. "Mr. Dykes," he added, turning
to the mate, "take this blackguard to Mr. McPhulach with my compliments
and tell him to give the rascal the worst job he's got in the
stokehold."

"I'm not going into no blasted stokehold!" cried the man fiercely.
"You've no right to make me work, damn you!"

"Very good," answered Calamity in that quiet voice which those who knew
him dreaded more than the most curseful outpourings. "You shall be a
passenger as long as you wish. Take him back to the foc'sle, Mr. Dykes,
and send the carpenter to me."

"Very good, sir," replied the mate, greatly wondering.

By the time the carpenter had received his instructions and departed to
carry them out, the mate reported that the girl, whose clothes had been
dried in front of the galley fire, was ready to be interviewed.

"Fetch her along then, Mr. Dykes," said the Captain.

A few moments later Miss Fletcher entered the cabin accompanied by the
mate. She was, without doubt, the most remarkable young woman that
either Calamity or his mate had ever set eyes on. Tall, and almost as
powerfully built as a man, her face was nearly the colour of mahogany
through constant exposure to the weather. Her eyes, a clear, cold grey,
had an almost challenging steadiness and directness of gaze, and she
held her head high as one who is accustomed to look the whole world
squarely in the face. Her whole manner was a curious blending of
authority and aloofness, suggesting a very difficult personality to deal
with. But, if lacking much of conventional feminine charm, there was a
freshness and vigour about her that was eminently pleasing. One womanly
attraction she certainly did possess in abundance, and that was a
wonderful mass of chestnut hair which she now wore tightly plaited round
her head. For the rest, this extraordinary young woman was attired in a
short, blue serge skirt, a man's blue woollen jersey, and a pair of
rubber sea-boots.

"Sit down," said the Captain.

The girl obeyed, looking at Calamity with an expression of mingled
perplexity and resentment. This may have been due to a little feminine
pique at his seeming indifference to her sex--for he had not risen to
his feet, nor had his face relaxed from its usual stern grimness. Or it
may have been due to the fact that his glass eye was cocked fully upon
her with its unswerving, disconcerting stare. The other eye--the
practical one--was not looking at her at all, but was meditatively
gazing down at the table.

"The man who was with you in the boat tells me that you are the daughter
of the Captain of a barque," he said. "His story was not altogether
satisfactory, so I should like to hear your version--as briefly as
possible," he added with a snap.

A slight flush of annoyance tinged the girl's face. Evidently she was
not used to being treated in this curt, unceremonious manner, and
resented it. Mr. Dykes, who was very impressionable where the opposite
sex was concerned, mentally compared the Captain's attitude with what
his own would have been under similar circumstances.

"My name is Dora Fletcher, and my father, who was killed during the
recent storm by being knocked overboard, was John Fletcher, master and
owner of the barque _Esmeralda_ of Newcastle," said the girl in a voice
as curt as Calamity's own. "We were bound from London to Singapore with
general cargo. During the height of the storm, the vessel sprang a leak
and the crew took to the boats, but I doubt if any of them survived."

"So you and the bos'n, Jasper Skelt, were left on board?" said the
Captain as the girl paused.

"Yes; Skelt would have gone with the men, only they threatened to throw
him overboard if he did. He's a damned rascal."

Mr. Dykes started and even looked shocked. It was not so much the
expletive itself which had disturbed his sense of propriety, but the
cool, forceful manner in which it was uttered; obviously it was not the
first time that Miss Fletcher had availed herself of this, as well as of
other masculine prerogatives.

"You have the ship's papers?" asked Calamity.

For answer the young woman drew from beneath her jersey a packet of
papers which she handed to the Captain. He glanced through them and then
handed them back to her.

"I should prefer to leave them in your charge till I am put ashore,"
said the girl. "What port do you touch first?"

"I can't say. This is not an ordinary merchant ship, but a licensed
privateer."

"A privateer! Then you expect to fight?"

"You will arrange what accommodation you can for Miss Fletcher, Mr.
Dykes," said the Captain, ignoring her question.

"Yes, sir; I suppose she will have her food in the cabin, sir?"

"Not in this one, Mr. Dykes."

Again the hot, angry blood rushed to the girl's face and she turned a
pair of blazing eyes on the Captain.

"Thank you for that privilege, at any rate!" she said with furious
sarcasm.

"Not at all," murmured Calamity imperturbably, and made a gesture to
signify that he wished to be alone.

As the mate escorted Miss Fletcher from the cabin, he was very nearly as
hot and indignant as herself at the Captain's behaviour. Here was a
handsome, strapping girl who had unexpectedly come into their midst and
Calamity treated her as if she were a derelict deck-hand. He had not
even expressed a word of sympathy for the death of her father.

"I'm real sorry you should have been treated like this," he said
awkwardly. "The skipper ain't no dude, but I did think----"

"I assure you it makes no difference to me," interrupted the girl. "I am
only too glad to think that I shan't have to see more of him than is
necessary."

"An' you ain't the only one who thinks that way, Miss," answered the
mate thoughtfully. "I wouldn't envy the man who took the inside track
with him; it'd be as pleasant as takin' your grub in a den with a hungry
lion."

Passing out of the alleyway, their ears were suddenly assailed by the
sound of oaths, curses, and blasphemies, intermingled with threats,
groans, and appeals for mercy. They emanated from Jasper Skelt, whose
demands to be treated as a passenger were now receiving attention
according to the Captain's instructions. Resting on two trestles placed
one on each side of the after-hatch was a thick wooden beam, inclined so
that one of its sharp edges was uppermost. Astride this unpleasant
perch, his feet about six inches from the deck, was the ex-bos'n of the
_Esmeralda_. His ankles were tied together beneath the beam, his wrists
securely fastened behind his back, and to a cord round his neck was
suspended a spit-kid--this last for the benefit of any man who felt a
desire to expectorate. To judge from Skelt's condition, there were many
indifferent marksmen aboard the _Hawk_.

"That guy was fool enough to sass the old man and now he's learnin'
better," explained Mr. Dykes to his companion. "He ain't a pretty sight,
is he?"

Seeing Miss Fletcher, the misguided Jasper had suddenly checked his
output of assorted profanity and now wildly appealed to her for help.

"Surely you ain't going to stand by, Miss, and see me tortured like
this!" he cried.

"You're a coward and it serves you right," answered the girl.

"Oh, you----" began the man, but someone interrupted him by shoving a
wet deck-swab into his face.

"He'll be there four hours," said the mate as they walked aft. "By that
time he won't have spirit enough to utter a cuss, not if you offered him
a dollar for the pleasure of hearin' it. When the skipper does hand out
trouble, he does it with both fists."

Mr. Dykes's prognostication was only partly correct, for the ex-bos'n,
though a strong man, lost consciousness after the third hour and had to
be carried into the foc'sle.

"Repeat the treatment to-morrow and every day until he volunteers to
work," said Calamity when this was reported to him.

The "treatment" was not repeated, however, for, on recovering his
senses, Mr. Skelt eagerly and anxiously begged to be allowed to share in
the work of the crew.

On the following morning they picked up the smoke-trail of the German
gunboat and the chase--if chase it could be called--was resumed.



CHAPTER VI

MR. DYKES RECEIVES HIS LESSON


For three days the _Hawk_ continued to follow in the gunboat's trail,
and everybody was asking everybody else in hushed whispers what the
Captain's plans were. The consensus of opinion now was that he intended
the German to play the part of the cat in the fable and pull the
chestnuts out of the fire: in other words, to wait till the enemy had
got all the plunder he could carry and then swoop down upon him. The
question was, when would the swooping start?

During all this time, Calamity had not spoken a single word to Miss
Fletcher, or, indeed, betrayed any sign that he was aware of her
existence. He had never even mentioned her or asked how she was
accommodated, and, for all he knew to the contrary, she might have been
sleeping on deck under a steam-winch. Mr. Dykes had not told him that he
had given up his own cabin to the girl and was sharing the
second-mate's. He feared, not without reason, that, had he done so,
Calamity would have ordered him back to his own quarters. As to the
ex-bos'n Skelt, he had become a very unobtrusive member of the crew, and
nothing further had been heard from him concerning his right to be
treated as a passenger. It is true that he once let out a dark hint to
the effect that he was "biding his time," but no one paid the slightest
attention to him.

Meanwhile, a change had come over the lives and habits of the two mates
and the chief engineer. The refining influence of feminine society--as
McPhulach poetically termed it--was already beginning to tell on them.
The mate, for instance, now used up two clean shirts a week and quite a
number of white pocket-handkerchiefs; the second followed the good
example by having his shoes cleaned every day, and substituting,
whenever he happened to think of it, "blooming," for the sanguinary
adjective he had hitherto favoured, and the engineer not only washed his
face every night when coming off watch, but, on his own confession,
changed his socks rather more frequently than he had done in the past.

Whether the lady on whose behalf these sacrifices were made was aware of
them, and duly appreciative, the three dandies had no means of
determining. McPhulach, who was a practical man and saw no merit in
hiding his light under a bushel, did once suggest that Miss Fletcher
should be tactfully made aware of the astonishing changes she had
wrought. The suggestion, however, was promptly sat upon by the mates,
who wanted to convey the impression that their present exemplary mode of
life was in nowise abnormal despite the strain it entailed.

"I've had twa pairs o' socks washed sin' we started, and that's no' a
month ago," grumbled the engineer, when his publicity proposition was
opposed.

"You've got to remember you're a--bloomin' gentleman nah," answered
Smith.

"It's awfu' expenseeve," murmured McPhulach plaintively.

Although Miss Fletcher was the last person to encourage familiarity, she
was capable of a certain _camaraderie_ through having lived so much
among men. She had, it seemed, lost her mother at an early age, and
since then had accompanied her father on nearly all his voyages.
Therefore she exhibited neither the coy timidity nor coquettish lure
which might have been expected from a girl of her age under
circumstances like the present. Her manner towards the three men who
had, as it were, appointed themselves her hosts was disarmingly frank;
as a woman she kept them at arm's length, as a companion she was as free
and easy as a man. Smith, when discussing her one day with the mate,
remarked that she only remembered she was a woman when something was
said which any decent man would resent. Mr. Dykes alone occasionally
assumed a patronisingly masculine attitude, towards which, so far, the
girl had shown no resentment. This, he sometimes tried to believe, was a
tacit admission that she regarded him with special favour, if not with
some degree of awe, though at other times common sense prevailed and he
realised that it was due to sheer indifference.

But Mr. Dykes was becoming very dissatisfied with things as they were.
For no particular reason, unless it was that he had given up his cabin
to her, the mate somehow felt that he had a prior claim to Miss
Fletcher's respect and esteem. He was, therefore, secretly aggrieved to
think that Smith and McPhulach, whose sacrifices on her behalf had not
exceeded a little extra personal cleanliness, were as much in favour as
himself. In short, Mr. Dykes was in danger of falling a victim to the
tender passion--if, indeed he had not already done so--hence the jealous
feelings that were beginning to ferment in his bosom. He suffered most,
however, when it happened that he was taking the second dog-watch, and,
from his post on the bridge, could see Miss Fletcher, Smith, and
McPhulach, laughing and chatting on the after-hatch as though he,
Ephraim Dykes, had never existed.

It was during one of these "free and easys," as Smith called them, that
the girl suddenly began to discuss the Captain of the _Hawk_. Hitherto
she had ignored him as completely as he had ignored her, though a keen
observer might have noticed that she frequently cast a curious glance
towards the bridge when he happened to be on it.

"Bless you, he's a bloomin' bag of mystery, he is; a reg'lar
perambulatin' paradox," replied the second-mate in answer to a question
which the girl had put regarding the skipper. "There ain't no gettin'
the latitude nor longitude of him."

"He's a michty quare mon," corroborated the engineer.

"But is his name really Calamity?" asked the girl.

"Meybe it is and meybe it isna," answered McPhulach cautiously. "Some
say he's a mon o' guid family, and others declare the revairse is the
truth; but which is right I dinna ken."

"Well, I've never sailed with him before," put in Smith, "but from the
little I've see'd of his gentle habits I should say he'd die of throat
trouble all of a sudden."

"Throat trouble?" queried the girl.

"Yes; the throat trouble that comes of wearin' a rope collar too tight.
Why, we'd only been out a few days when he starts to half murder the
whole bloomin' crew. A roarin', ravin', rampin' lunatic he was," and
Smith proceeded to relate, in pungent, picturesque language, the manner
in which Calamity had quelled the mutiny single-handed.

"I wish I'd been here to see it," murmured the girl almost fervently,
while a light leapt to her grey eyes which made Smith think of firelight
seen through a closed window in winter time.

"Blimey! I don't admire your taste, Miss," he ejaculated. "The decks
were like a blood--yes, they were--like a bloody slaughter-house.
There's no other way of puttin' it."

"At any rate, he's a man," retorted Miss Fletcher with a queer note of
defiance in her voice, "and I admire him for it."

Smith gazed at her for a moment in utter perplexity. He had confidently
expected that, after the way in which the Captain had treated her, the
girl would be only too ready to accept anything that could be said to
his disadvantage. Yet she was actually expressing admiration for him and
his bloodthirsty methods! Her attitude not only amazed him, but struck
him as being shockingly unfeminine. As a woman she ought to have
expressed the strongest disgust at the skipper's brutality, and not
gloried in it.

"Lummy! You're a queer'n and no error," he murmured.

He rose to his feet, and, going to the taffrail, expectorated over the
side with unnecessary violence. Like most men whose lives have been
spent in rough places and whose knowledge of women is limited, he
cherished a pathetic belief in their legendary gentleness and timidity.
It was true that this particular young woman had not displayed these
qualities in any marked degree, but he had never doubted their existence
even so. He felt now that, in being a woman, she was living under false
pretences, so to speak. It was a very real grievance in his eyes, more
especially when he reflected on the noble restraint he had exercised
over his speech and manners out of regard for her sex.

He returned moodily to the hatch and sat down. The girl was still
discussing Calamity with McPhulach, her voice defiantly enthusiastic.

"If I were a man I'd ask for no better Captain to sail under," she was
saying.

"It's a pity you ain't, then," growled Smith, who had returned just in
time to overhear this remark.

"I've often thought so myself," she retorted. "Men are getting too soft
nowadays."

"Meybe so," put in the engineer soothingly. "But ye'll hae no cause to
complain o' the saftness aboord this packet, I'm thinkin'. And gin it's
devilry ye're so muckle fond of, ye've no need to fash yersel' aboot
missin' any here."

"Not half you needn't," added Smith with a grim chuckle. "When the old
man----" he broke off abruptly as the ship's bell struck. "Holy Moses!
eight bells already!" he ejaculated, and, rising to his feet, went off
to relieve Mr. Dykes.

As the latter descended the companion-ladder after handing over the
watch to the second-mate, he paused suddenly before reaching the deck.
He was not an imaginative man and had never made a study of beauty
except as represented by the female crimps and spongers who infested the
various ports he had visited. But for a moment the sight of the girl
sitting on the hatch, her beautiful hair softly radiant in the
moonlight, and her figure in its close-fitting jersey so strangely
alluring in the half-concealment of the shadows, held him spellbound.
The splendour of the night, with its star-powdered sky of deepest,
limpid blue; the brilliant moon whose beams made an ever-widening track
of molten silver with shimmering tints of bronze, across the blue-black
waters; the wake of foaming, sparkling iridescence in the steamer's
track,--all these things moved him not one jot for he had witnessed them
times without number. He saw nothing, in fact, but the girl, sitting
with her face resting on her hands, gazing pensively out to sea. Never
before had he realised that she was beautiful and intensely feminine
despite all her affected masculinity.

"Durned if she don't look like a picture postcard," he murmured
ecstatically.

He walked up to the hatch and sat down near her, but she did not turn
her head nor show any sign of being aware of his presence. He coughed to
attract her attention, but without result; she continued gazing with
sad, thoughtful eyes into the distant mingling of crystal blue and
glistening silver-grey which marked the junction of sea and sky.

"Say, ain't it a dandy night?" he observed, unable to keep silence any
longer.

The girl made no answer, but the remark aroused McPhulach from the
reverie into which he, also, had fallen. Rising to his feet, he knocked
the ashes out of his pipe and yawned.

"Gin I bide here any langer, I'll be consooming anither pipe o' bacca;
so I'll wish ye a verra guid nicht, Miss Fletcher," he said.

"Good-night, McPhulach," answered the girl, who rarely used the prefix
"Mr." when addressing her companions.

The engineer strolled off towards his cabin and the mate, to his great
satisfaction, was left alone with her. For some time he sat fidgeting,
anxious to speak, yet unable to think of anything to say. He watched
her furtively out of the corner of his eye, secretly gloating over the
outlines of her shapely figure, the delicate poise of her head, and the
fascinating profusion of her wonderful hair.

Suddenly the girl rose to her feet, and, seeing the mate, started.

"I didn't know you were there," she said.

The mate made as if to speak, but uttered no sound. He rose unsteadily,
and as the girl was about to move away, strode to her side.

"I want you," he said in a hoarse, quivering voice.

He made a movement as if to encircle her waist with his arm, but, before
he could do so, her left fist shot out and, catching him unexpectedly
squarely between the eyes, sent him reeling into the scuppers.

When he recovered himself and sat up he was a different man. All the
passionate ardour, all the irresistible desire had left him, and he was
conscious only of a singing in the head.

"No," he remarked thoughtfully, addressing himself to an iron stanchion,
"she ain't no dime novel heroine, she ain't."



CHAPTER VII

THE AGITATOR


It was Sunday morning and those of the crew who were not on watch lay
upon the foc'sle head, sat on the for'ad hatch, or still lay snoring in
their bunks. A favoured few were lounging round the galley, some peeling
potatoes--for which they would receive their reward in due course--and
others helping them with good advice. From within the galley came the
voice of "Slushy," the cook, bellowing out snatches of hymns
intermingled with pungent profanities, each equally sincere.

    "There is a fountain filled with blood,
      Drawn from Emmanuel's veins,"

he roared. "Get to hell out o' this, you perishin' son of a swab!" he
added to a fireman who was making a surreptitious effort to get at the
hot water.

"Damn your 'ot water, you pasty-faced dough-walloper!" retorted the
fireman.

Then followed a scuffle, more profanities, and the fireman performed an
acrobatic feat which landed him in the scuppers.

"Put your lousy 'ead in 'ere again and I'll murder you," said the cook.
"I won't 'ave no bloomin' bad language in 'ere," he added warningly to
the others. "There's a damned sight too much of it on this bug-trap."

He again lifted up his voice in song.

    "And sinners plunged beneath the flood,
      Lose all their guilty sta--a--ains."

He paused to administer a cutting admonition to one of his assistants.

"Lose all their guilty stains," he trilled forth, pouring the hot water
in which potatoes had been boiled, into the iron kettle that held the
crew's tea.

In another part of the ship, under the lee of the forecastle a second
and somewhat different meeting was in progress. Jasper Skelt,
ex-boatswain of the _Esmeralda_, was addressing half a dozen men in
fierce whispers, emphasising his remarks with violent gestures of the
head and hands. The men listened, placidly smoking their pipes and
occasionally turning a nervous glance towards the bridge to make sure
that they were not being observed by the Captain.

"What proof have we that this boat is a licensed privateer?" Skelt was
saying--or rather, whispering--"only the Captain's word. We ain't seen
his Letters of Marque and ain't likely to. Why?"

The orator paused as if for a reply. It came.

"'Cause the first man 'as asked to see 'em 'ud get murdered," said one
of the audience.

For a moment Skelt was disconcerted by the subdued laughter which
followed this answer. But he pulled himself together and went on:

"No; and I'll tell you why we ain't likely to see his Letters of Marque:
because he ain't got any."

This statement, delivered with all the confidence of one who knew,
produced an effect. The men stared at each other with puzzled faces.

"'Ow the blazes do you know?" asked one of the men angrily.

"Because the British Government haven't granted any for this war,"
answered the agitator. "They're chartering merchant steamers and arming
'em themselves. Commerce-destroyers they call them, but they're really
Government-owned privateers."

"Who told you so?" queried a sceptic.

"Don't ask me, read the papers and see for yourself," answered Skelt.

"Ho yus, I forgot all about me Sunday paper!" ejaculated another member
of the audience sarcastically. "Boy, give me a _Lloyds_ and the
_Observer_."

A roar of unrestrained laughter went up at this witticism, and the
orator had some ado to master his wrath.

"It's all very well to laugh about it now," he said heatedly. "But wait
till later on; wait till this lunatic who calls himself a Captain sinks
one or two vessels; wait till he's called upon to show his papers--then
you'll change your tune, my merry clinker-knockers!"

"What the 'ell does it matter to us, anyway?" asked someone.

"I'll tell you, my innocent babe. If we start in to sink ships, commit
murder and rob the cargoes without having the proper authority--that is
Letters of Marque--we're not privateers at all; we're blooming, God-damn
pirates, that's what we are," answered Skelt. "What's more, if any
brainless swab here doesn't know what the punishment is for piracy, I'll
have much pleasure in telling him."

"'Anging, ain't it?"

"Right first time; hanging it is."

"It ain't nothin' to do with us, any'ow," said one of the objectors. "We
ain't responsible for what the skipper does."

"P'raps not, but if he orders you to shoot a man and you do it, you're a
murderer and will be treated as such. You won't save your neck by
telling the beak that you thought you were a privateer. No, my son,
it'll be a hanging job, you can take your Davy on that. Maybe they'll
put a photo of your handsome dial in the newspapers, but your gal will
soon be looking for another jolly sailor-boy to sponge on, and mother'll
lose her curly-headed darling."

There was a constrained silence for some moments, during which Skelt
grinned at his audience sardonically. Despite the affected incredulity
of his listeners, they were evidently beginning to feel nervous. To even
the most ignorant among them, piracy was an ugly word, much akin to
murder.

"S'posing what you say's right, what are we to do?" asked one of the
hecklers at last.

"Ask the skipper to let us get out and walk," suggested someone amidst
laughter.

"If any of you had brains a fraction of the size of your guts you
wouldn't ask me a fool question like that," answered Skelt. "If a bloke
came up and said 'I'm going to hang you in five minutes,' what would you
do?"

"Knock 'is bloomin' light out," said a fireman.

"Shove a knife between 'is ribs," suggested another.

"Of course you would," said the ex-boatswain. "But here's a man who gets
you on board his ship and then tells you to do something that'll get you
hanged as sure as infants eat pap. And you'd sooner risk your necks than
tell him that, if he wants any murdering done, he'd better do it
himself. You're a perishing set of heroes, strike me blind!"

"Why don't you tell that to the old man yourself?" asked one of the
audience. "Your neck's as much in danger as ours."

"Aye, aye, tell 'im yourself," echoed the others.

"So I would if I thought you'd stand by me. But you're such a set of
white-livered skunks that, at the first word from this one-eyed skipper,
you'd turn on me. Why, if you were men instead of a damned pack of
slaves, you'd take charge of this packet yourselves and clap that
lunatic aft in irons. Then you'd take the ship into the nearest port and
claim salvage, and a nice little fortune you'd make out of it. It'd be
every man his own pub then and don't you forget it."

"What about the orf'cers, old son?" inquired someone.

"Treat 'em the same if they refused to come in with us. One of them
would have to do the navigating, and if he had any objections we'd soon
get rid of them. A bit of whipcord tightened round a man's head is a
wonderful persuader."

"So's the wooden 'orse," cried a fireman, referring to the manner in
which the fiery orator had been induced to waive his claim to be
regarded as a passenger.

There was another burst of laughter at this sally, but the would-be
righter of wrongs, though annoyed, was not to be put down.

"Whose fault was that?" he demanded. "One man couldn't fight the whole
crowd of you, and if that swivel-eyed swine had given the word you'd
have been on me like a pack of dogs. But I haven't forgotten, and I'll
lay my life against a mouldy biscuit that I get even before I leave this
stinking slave-dhow."

"You oughter be in 'Ide Park, you ought," said the sceptical fireman.
"You'd look fine on a Sunday afternoon standin' on the top of a tub."

"If it pleases you to be funny, it doesn't hurt me," retorted Skelt.
"But wait till you're up before the beak on a charge of piracy on the
high seas; maybe you'll sing a different tune."

He stuck his hands in his pockets and, with an expression of utter
contempt on his face, turned away. But, despite the scornful incredulity
with which his remarks had been received, they had not fallen on
entirely barren soil. As a general rule, the sailor-man is hopelessly
ignorant of the law, and, in consequence, has a vague but very real
dread of it. For him, it possesses all the terrors of the unknown; its
very jargon cows him, and the wording of a summons sounds more terrible
in his ears than the worst abuse of the worst skipper that ever sailed
the seas. Skelt, it was true, had not served out any fear-inspiring
legal phrases, but he had mentioned piracy, which is an ugly word to use
on a ship whose character and mission savour somewhat of that offence.

So, while they pretended to laugh at the ex-boatswain's words, those who
had heard them began to feel a new and unpleasant sense of dread. This
quickly communicated itself to the rest of the crew, and before the
first dog-watch was called that day there was hardly a man who was not
obsessed by it. Many of them would have cut a person's throat for the
price of a drink; not a few had seen the inside of a prison for some
offence or other, but piracy, the greatest crime of which a sailor can
be guilty, made them shudder. It belonged to the highest order of crime,
and, though the punishment could not be greater than that meted out for
stabbing a man in the back, the fact that it was vaster and infinitely
more daring than anything their coarse minds had ever conceived, made it
seem appallingly stupendous.

During the afternoon those who were off watch discussed the subject in
whispers. Some were for sending a deputation to the skipper, but no one
could be found whose courage was equal to the task. Skelt, who was
approached on the subject, flatly declined to act as the crew's
representative. He had done his part, he asserted, by warning them of
their danger; let somebody else have the privilege of bearding Calamity.

"You didn't help me when I was strung across that damned spar and I'm
not going to help you," he said. "Still," he added, "I'll give you a bit
of advice. When the time comes for you to man the guns and start blazing
away at some ship or other, stand fast. Let the swivel-eyed blighter do
his own murdering."

"That's all right," growled a voice, "but 'e'll start doin' it on us."

"Yes, and you'll ask his kind permission to take off your jumpers so's
he can cut your throats easier," sneered Skelt.

"No, by God, we won't!" exclaimed someone truculently.

The new note of defiance was taken up. It was one thing to face the
terrible skipper in his cabin, but quite another to swear to disobey his
orders, when there was no immediate prospect of those orders being
given. Their courage went up by leaps and bounds, and they discussed
plans for defying the Captain's commands--in whispers.

"That's the right spirit," said Skelt encouragingly. "This skipper may
be a holy terror, but he can't murder us all if we stick together. Just
show him that you don't mean to put your necks in the hangman's rope for
his sake, and he'll soon calm down, I'll swear. I know them bucko
skippers: all froth and fury so long as they think you're afraid of 'em;
but once they see you don't care a Dago's damn for all their bullying,
they become as meek as lambs. Oh, I know 'em! Sailed with one----"

The ex-boatswain's reminiscence was cut short by the sound of a whistle
on deck. Next moment the foc'sle door was flung open and the second-mate
put his head in.

"To your stations, every man!" he shouted. "Uncover the guns and stand
by for orders!"

There was a rush from the foc'sle, and the first man to take his station
and start peeling the tarpaulins off the machine-gun, was the fiery and
defiant Jasper Skelt.



CHAPTER VIII

THE PRIZE


A slight haze hung over the water, so that sea and sky were merged in a
film of brooding grey. Through this, looking strangely flimsy and unreal
by reason of the mist, could be seen a large cargo-steamer of about five
thousand tons. She was steaming in the opposite direction to the _Hawk_
at something like ten knots, and from her triatic stay fluttered a hoist
of signal-flags indicating the question: "What ship are you?"

"What shall I answer, sir?" inquired Mr. Dykes of Calamity.

"'British steamer _Hawk_. Singapore for London.'"

The signal was hoisted and the reply came: "British steamer _Ann_, Rio
for Hongkong." At the same time the red ensign was hoisted at the stern.

"You say that when you first saw her she was flying the German flag?"
Calamity inquired of Mr. Dykes.

"Yes, sir. I think she must have just passed another German ship, for
the ensign was being hauled down when I sighted her."

"H'm, she was German a few minutes ago; now she's British. Signal her to
stop, Mr. Dykes."

The signal was duly hoisted, but the steamer paid no attention and
proceeded on her course, while from her funnel arose a thick cloud of
black smoke, showing that the stokers were firing up. Although the
skipper of the _Ann_ might resent being called upon to stop by what
looked like another merchant vessel, this sudden attempt to accelerate
speed, coupled with an unusual freedom in the use of national flags, was
suspicious to say the least of it.

"Put a shot through her funnel, Mr. Dykes," said Calamity.

With his own hands, the mate sighted the quick-firer on the bridge and
then nodded to the boatswain, who was also chief gunner. Next moment a
sheet of flame leapt from the muzzle, there was a terrific roar, and a
shell struck, not the _Ann's_ funnel, but the supporting guys and passed
through a ventilating cowl above the engine-room. Despite this
unequivocal hint, the steamer did not stop, and the foam under her stern
showed that she was putting on speed.

"Aim for the chart-room and make a better shot of it," said Calamity.

Mr. Dykes, greatly chagrined at his first shot having gone wide of its
mark, again sighted the gun. Meanwhile the Captain was bringing round
the _Hawk_ in the arc of a circle to get her in the wake of the
retreating steamer.

Bang!

This time the mate had better luck, his second shot smashing through the
chart-room and completely wrecking it.

"That ought to bring them to reason," he remarked complacently.

It did. Before the thin veil of smoke had drifted away a man was seen on
the _Ann's_ stern, frantically calling up the _Hawk_ in the semaphore
code. A man on the privateer's bridge answered and then the other
started to flap his flags about.

"Don't fire, stopping," read the message.

The foam under the stranger's stern was subsiding and an arrow of white
steam shot into the air out of her exhaust-pipe. Already the distance
between the two vessels was rapidly diminishing and soon they were
within hailing distance. The skipper of the _Ann_ was the first to avail
himself of this, for, making a funnel of his hands, he demanded to know
what the sanguinary blazes was meant by this hold-up.

"I demand to see your papers," bellowed Calamity.

The other appeared to execute a sort of complicated war-dance on the
bridge, wildly waving his clenched fists above his head. No words came
for a second or more, and then a burst of raw, pungent, and
kaleidoscopic profanity hurtled across the intervening space, evoking by
its wonderful variety the admiration even of the _Hawk's_ crew.

"Blimey!" murmured Smith in an awed tone, "it's a treat to 'ear a bloke
handle cuss-words like that."

Even Mr. Dykes, who rather prided himself on his mastery of the
refreshing art of invective, was moved to wonder. Indeed, he made a
mental note of several vituperative combinations whose force and
originality impressed him.

When, at last, the master of the _Ann_ paused, presumably for want of
breath, the crew of the _Hawk_ looked expectantly towards Calamity.
Would he be able to rise to the occasion and wither his opponent by a
scorching blast of even deadlier profanity, or would he humiliate them
by using the commonplace swear-words of everyday life? He did neither.

"I'm going to board you!" he shouted. "Make one attempt to hinder me and
you go to the bottom."

His words, backed by the guns which were trained on the _Ann_, brought
an immediate reply:

"Come aboard if you must, but for the love of God don't sink me."

"Fizzled out like a damp squib," muttered Smith.

"I guess he's played his long suit," remarked the mate, who also felt
disappointed at the ignoble collapse of the _Ann's_ skipper after such
brilliant promise.

A boat was quickly lowered from the _Hawk_, and the Captain, before
getting into it, gave Mr. Dykes certain instructions.

"And remember," he added, "if you see any sign of trickery put a shot
under her water-line amidships."

"Very good, sir," answered the mate.

A few minutes afterwards Calamity had reached the deck of the _Ann_,
where he was met by the Captain and the first mate.

"I demand an explanation of this outrage!" blustered the former. "Are
you aware that you are committing piracy? that----"

Calamity cut him short.

"I know perfectly well what I'm doing, or I shouldn't be here. Your
papers, Captain."

"By what right do you ask for my papers?" demanded the other, who showed
signs of again becoming truculent.

"That," answered Calamity shortly, pointing to the _Hawk's_ guns.

"This is outrageous, and I shall----"

"Your papers, Captain," interrupted Calamity peremptorily.

There was something in his voice which made the _Ann's_ skipper realise
that argument was not only useless, but probably dangerous as well. He
shrugged his shoulders and led the way to his cabin, where he invited
Calamity to sit down. Then he unlocked a drawer and took from it a metal
deed-box which he placed on the table.

"Where the devil are the keys?" he muttered, and, stooping over the box,
began to fumble in his pockets.

Suddenly stepping back, he raised his head, and, as he did so, gave a
sharp exclamation of mingled rage and fear. He was staring right into
the barrel of a nasty-looking automatic pistol which Calamity was
pointing directly at him.

"I've seen that game played before," said Calamity with a quiet smile.
"Hand me your pistol; butt first, please."

And the discomfited skipper of the _Ann_ reluctantly handed over a fully
loaded revolver, which he had been in the act of drawing from his pocket
when he chanced to look down the barrel of the automatic pistol.

"Thanks," said Calamity as he took it. "Now for those papers, if you'll
be so kind."

Without a word, the other unlocked the box and handed over a bundle of
documents. Calamity glanced over them hastily and then smiled.

"Your other papers, Captain," he said.

"Other papers! What other papers d'you mean? They're all there."

"I think not. If you wish to avoid trouble, you will fetch out your
alternative papers at once. You didn't hoist the German ensign without
having something to justify it."

"I swear that----"

"Don't," broke in Calamity. "I can do all the swearing I want for
myself."

"But I can't give you what I haven't got!"

Calamity leant across the table till his face almost touched the
other's.

"The papers," he said in a low, menacing voice. "Understand me?"

The other did, apparently, for, with a muttered curse, he unlocked one
of the table drawers and took therefrom a second bundle of documents.

"Take them and be damned to you," he said, flinging them on the table.

Calamity picked up the papers, and, as he glanced at them there was a
look of grim satisfaction on his face.

"Will you be good enough to explain to me, Captain Noel, how it is that
you happen to have two different sets of papers?" he inquired. "The
first state that the _Ann_ is a British ship, owned by Masters and Ready
of Sunderland, and that she has cleared for Hongkong from Rio. The
second batch declare her to be a German vessel, cleared for Bangkok from
Bremen. They give the owner as----"

He stopped abruptly as he glanced again at the paper he was holding. A
look of incredulous astonishment appeared on his face, but it was almost
immediately succeeded by one of the keenest satisfaction.

"----Isaac Solomon of Singapore," he concluded.

The other made no answer, and for a moment or two Calamity regarded him
thoughtfully.

"It's a clever trick and how you managed to obtain these two sets of
papers I don't pretend to guess," he went on. "It may interest you,
however, to know that the esteemed Mr. Isaac Solomon is a dear--one
might almost say, expensive--friend of mine, and no doubt he will let me
into the secret later on. What is your cargo, Captain?"

"Sand ballast and Portland cement," growled the other.

"No doubt the cargo you took out was rather more interesting. But what's
this?" he added, holding up a document heavily sealed.

"I don't know."

"Still, it would be as well to find out," and without hesitation he
calmly broke the seals.

To the astonishment of them both, the document was absolutely blank; to
all appearances a virgin sheet of paper.

"H'm, this is strange," murmured Calamity. "It is not usual to enclose
and seal a blank sheet of paper with the ship's documents. Have you got
a candle?"

Captain Noel produced one from a shelf and lit it. He seemed as eager to
find out the meaning of this mysterious enclosure as Calamity himself.
The latter held the paper in front of the flame and, as he had expected,
writing began to appear. When the whole communication became legible he
spread the document out on the table and commenced to read.

It was, in effect, a letter from a German official to Mr. Isaac Solomon
of Singapore, informing him that his last cargo had reached its first
destination, a neutral port, without mishap. This was followed by some
very valuable advice concerning the manner in which another
cargo--referred to as "Eastern merchandise"--might be delivered at the
same port. There were also other matters of even greater interest, but
Calamity decided to study these at a more convenient time.

"I have only one more question to ask you, Captain," he said. "What was
the exact nature of this 'Eastern merchandise'?"

"Copper and nickel," answered the other.

"A very profitable cargo, I should imagine; yet not as profitable as
this one little piece of paper should prove to me--eh, Captain Noel?"

"I'll take my oath I knew nothing of this," answered the latter eagerly.

"You knew about the cargo, at any rate. However, that's a matter which
doesn't concern me. I shall hand you back your German clearance papers,
but the English ones, together with this interesting little document, I
shall keep."

"You--you're going to keep the English papers?" faltered the other.

"Yes."

"But, good God, man, I shall be captured! I can't reach a port with
German papers. I'm at the mercy of the first British cruiser I meet!"

"Exactly. And dear Isaac Solomon, bless his gentle heart, will have his
ship confiscated. Still, I'll wager he'd sooner the authorities took his
ship than this piece of paper."

Calamity rose to his feet, and, leaving the German papers on the table,
put the others in his pocket.

"I'll wish you good-day, Captain Noel," he said. "I may capture a few
prizes during my cruise, but I can never hope to get another like this.
If you should meet Mr. Solomon during the next week or so kindly
remember me to him. Captain Calamity; he'll not have forgotten the
name."

He left the steamer, and, returning to the _Hawk_, told Mr. Dykes to
continue the original course.

"Very good, sir," answered the mate. "I suppose," he added, "there
weren't nothin' worth freezin' on to aboard that packet?"

Calamity made no answer, and, going to his cabin, locked himself in.
Meanwhile, to the surprise and disappointment of the crew, the _Ann_ was
permitted to proceed on her way and the _Hawk_ resumed her course.

"Don't savee what it means, don't you?" Jasper Skelt was saying in the
foc'sle. "It means this, my jolly sailor-boys. The skipper's helped
himself to the money-chest on that blooming barge and he's going to
stick to it. Yes, my festive deck-wallopers, all the prize-money and
plunder that comes your way you'll be able to stick in a hollow tooth."

A low, angry murmur went up, and then a man, bolder than the rest, rose
to his feet.

"If I b'lieved you, Jas Skelt, I'd 'ave a go at that un'oly swine aft,
and chance it."

"Aye, aye," growled some others. "We ain't goin' to be done out of our
rights."

"Then you stand by me," answered Skelt, "and I'll see that you get 'em."

"We'll stand by you, mate," said the first speaker. "And, what's more,
we'll make you skipper of the _'Awk_. Ain't that so?" he added, turning
to the others.

There was a low murmur of approval.



CHAPTER IX

TRAGEDY


As Calamity sat in his cabin reading the secret document which had so
unexpectedly fallen into his hands, he chuckled grimly. It proved,
beyond any vestige of a doubt, that Mr. Isaac Solomon was playing an
extremely profitable, but also extremely hazardous game. It was not
simply a case of blockade-running, it was a matter of trading with the
enemy--in effect, treason. He was, by devious tricks and dodges,
supplying the enemy with war material, and, it went without saying,
making a gigantic profit on each rascally transaction. His method was
wonderfully ingenious, for, by providing German and English clearance
papers for his ships, he was reasonably sure of their getting through,
whether stopped by British vessels or those of the enemy. Moreover, the
cargoes were shipped to neutral ports and their real nature disguised,
to lessen further the risk of discovery. But how the astute Solomon had
managed to get these papers Calamity could not imagine; still, he had
done so.

This remarkable document also shed a light on the character and variety
of some of Mr. Solomon's numerous business activities, and seemed to
show that he was even wealthier than rumour had alleged. Until now,
Calamity himself had never guessed that his partner possessed any
ships, and certainly Singapore knew nothing of it.

"Inscrutable are the ways of Solomon," he murmured with a smile.

He would not have parted with the incriminating document for a fortune
because it meant that, henceforward, Solomon would be in his power. In
all his transactions with the wily ship-chandler, he had always been
made to feel that it was the latter who held the whip-hand. He had been
conscious of it when he left Singapore on this privateering expedition
and had more than suspected that Solomon's motives for financing him had
been only partly concerned with the making of a profit out of possible
prizes. He felt even more sure of it now, but it only increased his
sense of grim satisfaction. The tables had been turned, and it was he
who held the whip-hand, for it was in his power not only to ruin his
partner financially, but to have him sent to prison for what, in all
probability, would be the term of his natural life.

While Calamity was gloating over these matters, and while Jasper Skelt
was doing his best to incite the crew to mutiny, Mr. Dykes was
ventilating a grievance to the chief engineer. What puzzled and
irritated him, as it did nearly everyone else on the _Hawk_, was the
Captain's seeming folly in letting the _Ann_, admittedly an enemy ship,
get away. Even if she carried no cargo of any value, she could have been
escorted into Singapore and claimed as a prize. The Admiralty award
would surely have been generous, and well worth all the trouble.

This view he explained at some length to McPhulach, who was absorbing a
fearful concoction of gin and rum. The engineer was not a very
sympathetic listener at any time, but as both the second-mate and the
second-engineer were on watch, there was no one else to whom Mr. Dykes
could unburden himself with anything like freedom.

"I ain't saying but what he mayn't have his reasons, and very good
ones," said the mate; "but, if he has, he ought to tell us. The crew are
startin' to look nasty again, and who's to blame 'em? Three times
already we've had a chance to rope in a prize and he's let every one
breeze away. It gets by me, and that's a fact."

McPhulach, who had been dozing between drinks, opened his eyes as the
speaker paused.

"He's a michty quare mon; a verra michty--hic--quare mon," he murmured,
and closed his eyes again.

"Mind you," went on the mate, "I ain't grouchin', but, all the same, I'd
like to know where this dance is going to end. Is he goin' to tote us
all over the Pacific for the fun of stoppin' ships and letting 'em go
again? And where's the prize-money that we were goin' to get such
lashings of?"

A stentorian snore was the only reply, and Mr. Dykes, realising that the
engineer was fast asleep, suppressed a desire to administer him a hearty
kick, and left the cabin. Outside he came upon Miss Fletcher sitting on
a camp-stool at the door of the cabin that had once been his.

"What's the matter? You're looking very serious," she said.

Mr. Dykes paused, and, leaning his back against the opposite bulkhead,
stuck both hands in his pockets and assumed an air of weary resignation.

"I was jest tryin' to figger out whether we're on a yachtin' trip or
whether the old man is jest dodgin' about for the sake of his health,"
he answered.

The girl looked puzzled.

"I don't understand," she said.

The mate heaved a sigh and sat down on the cabin step beside her. In
spite of that past episode when he had forgotten himself, they were on
very friendly terms. She did not appear to resent or even to remember
the incident, probably because she knew that Mr. Dykes had learnt his
lesson and would be more discreet in future. Certainly she had not
reported the matter to Calamity, as he had at first feared she would,
and this fact raised her in his esteem as much as the blow between the
eyes had done. In fact, he had a very healthy respect for this
self-possessed young woman.

"I don't understand what you mean," she reiterated.

Whereupon Mr. Dykes repeated more or less what he had said to the
engineer concerning the Captain's apparent want of enterprise.

"You may be sure he knows what he's about," she said, when the mate had
finished.

"I'm willin' to allow that," he answered; "but it don't help us any. We
didn't sign on this packet for a pleasure cruise, and good intentions
don't cut no ice."

"Then you don't trust the Captain?" she inquired, with a touch of scorn
in her voice.

"Now you're gettin' a hitch on the wrong cow. I didn't say anything of
the sort. What I want to know is, when are we goin' to start biz, the
real biz? I ain't out to study the beauties of the deep; none of us are;
we've seen 'em too often, and they ain't none too beautiful neither."

"Why don't you ask the Captain?"

"That ain't all," went on Mr. Dykes, ignoring the question, "it won't do
to bank too much on this here crew. They're gettin' ugly, and when they
do stampede it won't be like last time. There'll be real, genuine
trouble accompanied by corpses--you can put your shirt on that."

"But you told me he quelled a mutiny single-handed when you were only a
few days out."

"Yes; but this is different. Then the men were unprepared, they didn't
know what to expect, and so the old man was able to raise Cain before
they'd got their bearin's. This time it'll be different; it'll be a
real, genuine, bloody mutiny, with hell to pay."

"Personally, I have no fear. I would back your Captain against any
number of such scum," answered the girl a little contemptuously.

Mr. Dykes shook his head gloomily.

"This ain't the sort of ship for a woman to be on," he remarked.

"I am quite capable of taking care of myself."

The mate made no answer, and, realising that his forebodings were not
meeting with any sympathy, rose slowly from the step and yawned.

"Guess I'll turn in for a spell," he said; "mine's the middle watch."

She made no attempt to detain him, and he lounged away towards the
second-mate's cabin to get some sleep before going on duty.

The brief twilight of the tropics had given place to night, and, though
there was no moon, the sky was ablaze with myriads of brilliant stars,
some in clusters like groups of sparkling gems, others strewn, as it
were, promiscuously over the translucent blue dome and a few isolated
and outstanding by reason of their wonderful brilliance. The cool
night-air was filled with a subtle, intoxicating perfume, and the sea
was like a vast steel mirror save for the expanding streak of bubbling,
foam-flecked water in the steamer's wake. And the only sounds to be
heard were the steady, rhythmic beat of the engines and the gurgling
swish of the water as it swept past the ship's sides, clear, cool, and
enticing. The mast-head light shone out steady and bright like a star of
enormous magnitude and on either beam the navigating lights cast red or
green reflections on the placid sea.

Dora Fletcher retired to her cabin, where she sat watching, through an
open port, the beauty and wonder of the starlit night. She had
extinguished the lamp the better to enjoy this and the sense of peace
which the darkness induced. Presently, however, she turned away with a
sigh to prepare for bed, and, as she did so, glanced carelessly out of
the port which looked across the deck towards the foc'sle. The door of
the latter was shut, but through the chinks a yellow ray of light
penetrated, and, listening intently, she caught the murmur of voices.

For a moment she forgot all about the beauty and peacefulness of the
night, and her thoughts turned to the lugubrious forebodings of the
mate. On such a night, and under such conditions, it was almost
impossible to imagine a scene such as he had hinted; impossible to
picture the silent and deserted decks aswarm with savage, bloodthirsty
men, intent upon murder and destruction. Yet she, who had been afloat
before most children have left the nursery, knew that it was possible,
just as she knew that it was only the iron mastery of one man which kept
this horde of ruffians in check. Since babyhood, almost, she had
listened to tales of mutiny and crime on the high seas; had sailed with
men who had witnessed such things, and some who even boasted of the
parts they had played therein.

Suddenly she was roused from the vague, waking dream into which she had
fallen by the sound of a man's voice raised almost to a shout. It
dropped abruptly as though the speaker had suddenly recollected himself
and was conscious of having committed an indiscretion. It was evident,
however, that something unusual was going on in the foc'sle which,
ordinarily, should have been silent till the relief watch was routed out
and the off-going watch tumbled in. After a while she again heard
voices, and then sounds that seemed to suggest subdued quarrelling.
These sounds again died down, all was silent, and soon afterwards the
light in the foc'sle was extinguished.

For some moments the girl lingered at the port, wondering what the
commotion for'ad portended, wondering also whether the officer on the
bridge had noticed it. The chances were that he had not, for the noise
of the engines coming through the gratings would probably have drowned
the sounds in the foc'sle, and the fact that it had been lighted up was
not in itself suspicious; a dim light was always kept burning there.

She was just about to move away and turn in, when she saw the foc'sle
door open and a man creep stealthily out. Had he stepped out boldly she
would have thought nothing of it, but his furtive movements at once
roused her curiosity. Keeping well in the shadow of the bulwarks, he
crept forward till at last he reached the alleyway between the cabins
amidships and disappeared. Next moment the girl heard soft footsteps
approach her cabin, pass the door, and die away.

She kept quite still for a few seconds in order to let the man pass,
then softly opened her door and peered out. At the other end of the
alleyway, giving upon the after-deck, she caught sight of the shadowy
figure making its way aft, and still keeping well in the shadows.
Stepping noiselessly out of the cabin, she followed him in obedience to
an insistent desire to find out what he was about to do. On reaching the
deck-house aft which led to the Captain's quarters, the man stopped and
the girl had barely time to sink behind a steam-winch before he turned
round and gazed furtively about him.

Then, apparently satisfied that he was not being watched, the man did an
extraordinary thing. Climbing over the taffrail, he began to lower
himself gently towards the water. A wild fear that he intended to commit
suicide took possession of the girl, and she was about to cry out, when
his next action arrested her. With his feet on the iron wind-shoot that
projected from the scuttle of the Captain's cabin, he lowered himself
still farther and then, grasping the shoot with his hands, let himself
down till he was nearly up to the waist in water.

Then, and not till then, the girl guessed what his intention was. The
Captain's bunk was situated immediately beneath the porthole, a fact she
had noticed during her first and, so far, last interview with Calamity.
From his present insecure position, the man could, by putting his arm
through the open port, reach the Captain as he lay asleep, and,
providing he had a weapon, a knife for instance, stab him before he
could utter a cry for help or defend himself.

And, even as she looked, Dora Fletcher saw the gleam of a knife in the
man's hand; saw it raised for the murderous blow. Involuntarily she
closed her eyes and was about to shriek for help when she felt herself
seized from behind and a hand pressed tightly over her mouth.



CHAPTER X

THE CAPTAIN'S "APPEAL"


"Not a word," whispered a harsh voice which, to her astonishment, she
recognised as belonging to Captain Calamity.

He removed his hand from her mouth.

"Go back to your bunk," he said in a low tone. "And not a whisper of
what you have seen to a soul. Understand?"

She nodded.

He jerked his head in a manner signifying that she was to go, and the
girl crept back to her cabin, feeling very much like a school-boy who
has been discovered breaking bounds. What she had thought to be a
horrible tragedy had, so far as she was concerned, turned out to be a
farce. Yet, with feminine inconsistency, her secret admiration for
Calamity was increased a hundredfold. His extraordinary preparedness,
his calm, unshakable self-reliance, his independence of everyone else,
fascinated her. There was nothing picturesque or heroic in his manner or
appearance, yet he had proved himself a match, and more than a match,
for the desperadoes who surrounded him. There was not a man on board his
equal in resourcefulness, watchfulness, or strength of purpose; he was
master of them all.

Even while she felt deeply humiliated at his treatment of her, she
realised the absurdity of such a feeling. To him she was of less
consequence even than the most inefficient fireman or sailor on board;
for all she knew to the contrary, he had, until this brief and
unexpected encounter, forgotten her very existence. She felt that to
nourish resentment on this account would be childish; a wave might as
well nourish resentment against the rock on which it ineffectually
dashed itself. For the first time in her life Dora Fletcher had met a
man who was as indifferent to her feelings as he was to her sex, and,
curiously enough, she was not altogether displeased by this.

Calamity, meanwhile, was playing his own game in his own way.
Withdrawing into the shadows, he awaited the return of Skelt from his
murderous errand. He had not long to wait. A moment or two after Dora
Fletcher had been so curtly ordered back to her cabin, the head of the
ex-boatswain appeared over the taffrail. He cast a hurried glance right
and left, then cautiously clambered over the rail and lowered himself on
to the deck. As he did so a hand shot out from the darkness and clutched
his throat with a grip of steel. Not until he was on the verge of being
suffocated did the choking grip relax, and then a hand fastened upon his
shoulder.

"Silence. Come with me," said a voice which sent a thrill of terror
through him.

Skelt had no alternative but to obey, and so, with the Captain's heavy
hand still upon his shoulder, accompanied him into the cabin.

"Now," said Calamity as he seated himself and surveyed his prisoner, "be
good enough to explain this disobedience to orders."

The fellow looked at him in astonishment. It was disconcerting enough to
find himself a prisoner in the hands of the man he had intended to
murder, but it was amazing to be accused by him of what sounded like a
minor offence.

"I don't understand," he answered sullenly.

"Is that how you have been in the habit of addressing your Captain?"

"Sir," growled the man.

"Remember that the next time you speak. Now then, what is your excuse
for being on the after-deck when, as you know, no men are allowed there
after sunset unless by express command?"

Something akin to hope arose in the ex-bos'n's breast. Could it be
possible, he thought, that the Captain was unaware of his real intention
and thought that he had merely disobeyed one of the ship's regulations?
And, being wholly ignorant of the extraordinary methods of the terrible
skipper of the _Hawk_, Jasper Skelt permitted himself the luxury of a
little secret contempt.

"I didn't know anything about the orders, sir," he answered.

"Indeed? Do you know the penalty for disobedience on board a privateer?"

"No, sir."

"Death."

The man started nervously and turned a shade paler. Things were not
going quite so well as he had thought, after all.

"I've never been aboard a privateer before, sir," he replied humbly.

"So I presume. What's more, I don't think you're likely ever to be
aboard another."

Again the ex-boatswain glanced nervously at the skipper. The last remark
struck him as being unpleasantly ominous. The question which followed
confirmed his worst fears.

"Did the men know why you came aft to-night?"

"I--I can't say, sir," faltered Skelt.

"You mean to say that you told none of them what you intended to do?"

The man's knees were trembling. He made an attempt to speak, but seemed
to choke before he could get the words out.

"Answer me!" rapped out the Captain, and Skelt started as if at the
sound of a pistol-shot.

"N--no, sir," he faltered, hardly realising what he said.

"Then I am to understand that they didn't know you intended to murder
me?"

Skelt's last hope deserted him. His face turned an ashen grey. He tried
to speak, but only a dry sob of abject terror escaped him.

"If you don't answer my question, you die inside two minutes," said
Calamity quietly.

"Not all of them, sir," replied the wretched man.

"You admit that you meant to kill me, then?"

"God forgive me, sir, I----"

"Never mind about God," interrupted the Captain grimly. "It's me you're
up against at the moment. Answer me, did all the men know of this?"

"Yes, sir."

"And they were all quite willing you should do it."

"Only two objected, sir."

"Who were they?"

"Li Chang and Brunton, sir."

"But they made no effort to warn me."

"The others said they'd kill them if they did."

"I see."

Calamity leant back in his chair and surveyed his prisoner with the
calm, questioning scrutiny of a scientist surveying some new and
interesting specimen.

"So," he remarked at length, "it never occurred to any of you that I
might be acquainted with everything that went on in the foc'sle; you
even felt sure that I knew nothing of the little indignation meeting you
held last Sunday. You were actually such fools as to suppose that,
having shipped the worst gang of port vermin that ever soiled a ship's
decks, I should remain quietly in my cabin in the hope that they were
behaving themselves like decent men. I never thought that rascality and
faith went hand in hand."

Skelt made no answer, and the Captain rang a little hand-bell on the
table. Next moment the steward, a huge Chinaman called Sing-hi, entered
the cabin.

"You lingee?" he inquired.

"Yes." Calamity turned to the prisoner. "Have you anything to say?" he
asked.

"For God's sake don't be hard on me," implored the would-be murderer
with abject piteousness. "Give me a chance, sir, and I'll do anything
for you. Only one chance, sir, only one, and, before Christ, I'll be
your slave."

A queer smile came over Calamity's face as he regarded the cringing
servility of the ruffian.

"You would, would you?" he observed. "If I asked you to kill a certain
man fora'd while he was asleep, would you do it?"

"Yes, sir, if you'll spare my life. I'll do anything, sir!" cried the
man, with grovelling eagerness.

"You'd swear to do it?"

"I'll take my oath on the Bible, sir."

"I thought you would," answered the Captain grimly. "Steward, lock the
man up in your room and don't hesitate to kill him if he tries to
escape. Savee?"

"Savee plenty muchee," answered the huge Chinaman with a grin, whereupon
he caught hold of the ex-boatswain's collar, swung him round, and
hustled him out of the cabin. When they had gone, Calamity arose and
made his way to the bridge, where Mr. Dykes was on watch.

"Anything to report?" asked the Captain.

"No, sir."

"How are you managing with the crew?"

"Well, sir, they ain't quite as peaceful as they might be; not since we
met the _Ann_."

"Indeed? why?"

"They seem to think we might have made her a prize and taken her into
port. In fact," added the mate, warming up, "I may as well tell you
there's going to be trouble, sir."

"Mutiny, you mean?"

"Yep, and when they start there'll be blue murder. It's that swine we
picked up that's been workin' the mischief."

"Then we must deal with him, Mr. Dykes."

"I guess it'll be a stiff proposition, Cap'n; he's gotten all the crew
behind him. D'rectly you lay hands on him, it'll be like a spark in a
powder-barrel."

"Then you regard him, virtually, as Captain of the ship?"

The mate made no answer, but shrugged his shoulders significantly. He
believed that, in utterly disregarding the wishes of the crew, and, at
the same time, maintaining an iron discipline, Calamity had bitten off
"a bigger chunk than he could chew." However, he considered it prudent
to keep this opinion to himself, and therein he was undoubtedly right.

"By to-morrow morning," went on the Captain after a pause, "all signs of
mutiny will, I think, have disappeared."

"I hope to God they will, sir."

"I feel sure that an appeal to the men's reason, such as I shall make
to-morrow, will not fail in its effect."

"An appeal to their reason, sir!" gasped the mate.

"Yes. A mild demonstration of the absurdity of attempting to mutiny."

"I don't get you, sir."

"No? Well, muster all hands on deck at eight bells. Good-night, Mr.
Dykes."

"Good-night, sir," answered the mate, and, walking to the bridge-rail,
expectorated over the side. "Well," he muttered, "if it ain't enough to
make a feller spit blood. An appeal to their reason! Gee, he'll be
holdin' family prayers in the cabin next."

At six bells, which was an hour before his watch was up, the mate
perceived a man mounting the bridge-ladder.

"Hello!" he exclaimed, "who are you?"

"Brunton, sir," answered the man.

"Well, what d'you want? It's not your watch."

"Have you seen Skelt, sir?"

"Seen Skelt!" roared the mate. "What the hell do you take me for? D'you
think I know where every perishin' son of a cock-eyed monkey aboard this
packet is?"

"He was going to murder the Captain, sir. I couldn't get away before, as
all the others were watching me. I only got out now because they think
he's funked it."

"Goin' to murder--here, fetch the second-mate up, quick!"

The man hurried to Smith's cabin and roused out the sleeping occupant,
who stumbled up to the bridge vomiting profanity of varied hues.

"Get aft!" shouted the mate, "they're murderin' the old man."

Smith turned and dashed off to the Captain's cabin, which he entered
without even the ceremony of knocking. It was empty, but from a small
room adjoining came the sound of stentorian snores.

"Blimey!" muttered Smith, glancing round him. "He don't sound as if he
were dead."

His eye fell on the ship's log which lay open on the table.
Instinctively he glanced at it and, under the entry for the day, read
the following:

"Jasper Skelt, boatswain of the barque _Esmeralda_. Died at sea. Cause,
misadventure."

He slowly returned to the bridge and told the mate what he had seen.

"You're sure he was alive?" asked the latter.

"Well, he was makin' a noise like a motor-'bus climbin' a hill,"
answered Smith.

At eight bells that morning Mr. Dykes, in quite a different frame of
mind to that of a couple of hours ago, sent the bos'n to muster all
hands on deck. The men tumbled out sullenly, muttering among themselves
in a manner which seemed to justify the mate's recent warning to the
Captain.

Suddenly one of them gave a cry.

In the clear, grey morning light, they beheld, hanging from one of the
derricks, the lifeless body of Jasper Skelt. His hands and feet were
tightly bound with cords, and he was suspended from the boom by a rope
round his neck.

Judging from the men's faces as they stared at the ghastly spectacle,
Calamity's "appeal" was not likely to prove a vain one.



CHAPTER XI

THE FIGHT


The German gunboat, that the _Hawk_ had been following so assiduously,
had disappeared in the fog of the Sunday on which the _Ann_ was stopped.
Nevertheless, Calamity set the course each day with an unhesitating
decisiveness which seemed to suggest that he had some definite plan in
view. A day or two after that encounter a large steam-yacht painted
war-grey, and flying no ensign, was sighted steaming in a northerly
direction. Calamity, who was on the bridge at the time, examined her
through his glasses and then handed them to Smith, the mate being below.

"What do you make of her?" he asked.

The second-mate, after a long and careful scrutiny, handed the glasses
back.

"Looks like a commerce-destroyer," he said, "but blowed if I can tell
what nationality she is."

"H'm, we'll soon find out," answered the Captain. "Go for'ad and send a
shot after her as soon as I've altered the course."

Smith left the bridge, and, mounting the foc'sle, took the tarpaulin
cover off the quick-firer which was mounted there. Meanwhile Calamity
had brought the _Hawk's_ nose round so that he was now in the wake of
the strange ship.

"All ready, sir!" shouted Smith.

"Then let her have it."

The second-mate carefully laid the gun and next minute a shell went
hurtling over the yacht's stern; too high to do any damage, yet near
enough to make any nervous persons on board feel more nervous still. The
noise brought the privateer's crew tumbling on deck, eager to see what
was happening. Then, before the sound of the shot had died away, the
yacht was observed to be changing her course--steaming round in the arc
of a circle to starboard of the _Hawk_. Obviously she was not running
away, and the inference was that she intended to fight.

"Pipe to quarters!" cried Calamity from the bridge; but before the bos'n
had time to obey the order the men were rushing to their places. It
seemed as if there was going to be a fight at last.

The yacht, a steamer of about 3,000 tons, came round with her bows
pointing towards the _Hawk's_ starboard quarter, and, as she reached
that position, there came the sullen boom of a gun. A shell whistled
above the privateer's upper works, smashing to splinters one of the
boats which the carpenter had been repairing on the davits. A second
shot followed hard upon the first, and then a third, which smashed one
of the raised skylights above the engine-room, sending a shower of
broken glass upon the men below.

"Blimey!" ejaculated Smith as he stood by his gun, lanyard in hand,
"this looks like the real thing--not half it don't."

The damage done by the last two shots would have been greater still had
not Calamity thrust the quartermaster away from the wheel and taken it
himself. Under his control, the _Hawk_ slewed round so that she
presented only her bows as a target for her opponent. As the sound of
the latter's guns died away, she was seen to hoist the German naval
ensign at her stern, while a signal hoist was run up to the mast-head
signifying "Surrender or I sink you."

There was a lull, the two vessels facing each other bows-on like a
couple of fierce dogs about to fight. Then a little bundle trundled up
to the _Hawk's_ triatic stay, broke, and two burgees, one blue and
white, the other red, fluttered out in the breeze. It was Calamity's
answer: "Stand by to abandon ship." As his men looked up and read the
signal there was a burst of hoarse laughter, followed by a ringing
cheer. They realised the grim humour of the message, and thoroughly
appreciated it.

During the next half-hour the engagement consisted only of the exchange
of a few shots, one or two of which did damage on both sides. The
belligerents were manoeuvring for position, each trying to force the
other to fight facing the sun, which would, of course, place him at a
serious disadvantage. While these tactical evolutions were in progress,
a couple of the _Hawk's_ men received wounds and Miss Fletcher, who had
been watching the spectacle through her cabin porthole, rushed on deck,
in spite of the risk she ran of being hit herself. She was helping to
remove one of the injured men, when Calamity caught sight of her.

"Send that fool-woman to her cabin!" he roared to Mr. Dykes.

The mate hesitated. He was extraordinarily impressed by the girl's
plucky act, but the Captain's order, though a wise one, struck him as
being unduly harsh. Besides, he was loth to miss such a unique
opportunity of, perhaps, doing daring deeds under her very eyes.

"D'you hear what I say?" shouted the Captain.

"Excuse me, sir," he answered; "but who's to look after the wounded if
Miss Fletcher doesn't?"

"If the girl wants to make herself useful she can dress the men's wounds
in the hold. But I won't have a woman on deck during a fight."

It was an ungracious order, but Mr. Dykes had nothing for it but to
leave the bridge and acquaint Miss Fletcher with the Captain's
instructions.

"The skipper's compliments," he said, "and would you attend to the
wounded when they're taken down to the hold?"

The girl glanced at him sharply; probably the hesitating manner in which
he spoke roused her suspicions.

"That's not what he said?" she challenged.

"Well, I guess it's as near as no matter."

"You mean he has ordered me off the deck?"

The mate made a deprecatory gesture and turned away. For a moment the
girl hesitated, half inclined to defy the Captain's orders and remain on
deck. Then the futility of any such act of defiance occurred to her, and
she returned to her cabin, locking the door behind her.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, stamping her foot with rage, "I hate him!"

She continued to hate him ardently for a while, and then, as this gave
little real satisfaction, she opened her cabin door and peered out just
as Smith was passing.

"Are you going on to the bridge?" she asked.

"Yes," he answered, pausing.

"Then be good enough to tell the Captain that he can tend the wounded
himself," she burst out, and slammed the door before the astonished
second-mate could recover from his surprise.

He duly delivered her message, but it was doubtful if Calamity heard it;
certainly he made no comment, and Smith thought it wise to let the
matter go at that.

The two vessels were still fencing and manoeuvring, getting a shot in
when and wherever they could. But at last both the commanders tired of
these fruitless tactics, and then the engagement began in real earnest.
The yacht was armed with lighter guns than those of her opponent, but
she had more of them, and, in addition, possessed the advantage of
speed, being capable of answering her helm twice as quickly as the
privateer. This enabled her to swing round at all angles, catch the
_Hawk_ broadside-on and sweep her decks fore and aft. Notwithstanding
this, she by no means had it all her own way, for the privateer kept up
a steady, well-trained fire that made things aboard her adversary more
than lively.

As only those men who served the guns were allowed on deck, the
casualties were relatively small on the _Hawk_. Whenever a man fell, his
place was taken by another from the reserve men in the foc'sle and thus
unnecessary losses were avoided. A hospital of sorts had been rigged up
in the for'ad hold and here the wounded men were carried and placed on
mattresses until such time as they could be attended to.

Calamity had thrown off his jacket, and, with arms bared to the elbows,
was working the quick-firer on the bridge, three of the gun's crew
having been killed or wounded.

"Hit her amidships, in the engine-room!" he shouted to Mr. Dykes, who
had charge of the gun on the poop.

A minute or two later there was a loud explosion on the yacht, owing to
one of her guns being hit while loaded, by a shell from the _Hawk_. A
wild cheer went up from the privateers' men, and Calamity, thinking he
might board his adversary in the confusion, bellowed an order to the
quartermaster.

"Hard a starboard! Quick, damn your eyes!"

"Hard a----" the quartermaster started to echo, but before he could
finish a fragment of shell struck him, and Calamity, swinging round to
see what had happened, was bespattered with blood and brains. He sprang
to the wheel, and, pushing aside the dead body with his foot, altered
the helm. But it was too late, the other had divined his purpose and was
drawing off. Instantly the _Hawk_ started in pursuit, but, as she came
round in the yacht's wake, a ricocheting shell dropped through the
engine-room skylight and there was an explosion below which shook the
vessel from stem to stern. Volumes of hissing steam ascended through the
gratings and ventilators, while, above the roar, came the agonised
shrieks of some wretched firemen who were being scalded to death in the
stokehold.

A man, his face a wet, shapeless, raw mass of flesh, stumbled out of the
fiddley, staggered a few paces, and fell sprawling on the deck. Another
followed whose hair, still attached to the skin, was falling off in
lumps, and he, too, collapsed on the deck. At the same moment the steady
throb of the engines ceased and the _Hawk_ began to lose way. Meanwhile
the German had drawn off, and, for the time being, firing ceased on both
sides. The enemy, it would seem, was in little better condition than the
privateer, for she was steaming at a rate of certainly not more than
five knots. Calamity, watching her from the bridge, cursed aloud as he
saw his hoped-for prize slowly but surely getting away while he was
unable to prevent her or to go in pursuit.

"Send for McPhulach!" he cried; but, before anyone could obey, the
chief-engineer mounted to the bridge.

"I'm sair dootin' we'll hae to bide where we are," he remarked placidly.

"Do you mean to say the engines are wrecked?" demanded Calamity.

"I wouldna go sae far as tae say that," answered the engineer. "Ye micht
speak o' them as assorted scrap-iron."

The Captain laid a firm hand on McPhulach's arm.

"You've got to repair those engines," he said quietly.

"Eh!"

"You heard me."

"Losh presarve us, mon, the A'michty Himsel' couldna do it!"

"The Almighty's not chief engineer of the _Hawk_, so you needn't worry
about that. Get those engines going or I'll string you up at the end of
a derrick."

"Guid God, are ye mad, mon!" gasped the engineer.

"Mad or sane, I'll do what I say."

"I tell ye the engine-room's like a steam-laundry," wailed McPhulach.
"There isna a pipe that isna squairting steam out of some crack or itha,
and it'll take all the cotton-waste in the ship to bind up the leaks.
It's a plumber's job, no' an engineer's."

"Well, if you can't do your job, I'll undertake to do mine," said the
Captain grimly.

McPhulach emitted a groan, then took from his pocket a short and very
rank briar pipe. A look of phlegmatic resignation had come over his
face.

"Maybe ye're richt, skipper," he said. "Hae ye got sic a thing as a plug
o' tobaccy on ye'r pairson?"

Calamity handed him a pouch of tobacco. McPhulach filled his pipe, and,
remarking that he might run short, also put some tobacco loose in his
pocket.

"Gin ye hae a match, I'll go below and see what can be done," he said.

The Captain produced a box of vestas. The engineer lit his pipe, and,
absent-mindedly dropping the matches into his own pocket, left the
bridge.

The mate, meanwhile, had been superintending the removal of the wounded
and the washing down of the decks. Three men had been killed, not
including two firemen scalded to death in the stokehold, and the wounded
numbered eleven. The latter were made as comfortable as possible in the
hold and the former were carried into the wheel-house pending burial.

Gradually the commerce-destroyer became smaller and smaller, until, by
evening, all that was visible of her was a feathery smoke-trail on the
horizon.

Soon after eight bells that night, McPhulach succeeded in performing a
miracle--the _Hawk's_ engines began to move.



CHAPTER XII

A DESPERATE VENTURE


Slowly, like a convalescent taking his first walk and as yet doubtful of
his strength, the _Hawk_ began to push the seas aside and move ahead.
The engines, instead of working with rhythmic regularity, were banging
and thumping in jerky spasms--still, they were working--the bridge shook
with their ponderous vibrations, while the wire funnel stays tautened
and slacked as the smokestack quivered.

The first duty accomplished after the clearing up of the decks was the
disposal of the dead, which were placed in canvas bags weighted with
firebars to ensure their sinking. There were no prayers, services, or
ceremonies of any kind; they were simply dropped over the side....

In the hold Calamity and the mate were at work with their coats off and
shirt-sleeves rolled up. Some of the hatch-covers had been removed to
secure better ventilation and a couple of lanterns suspended from the
girders flickered feebly in the semi-twilight. Against the bulkheads
were two rows of mattresses arranged so as to leave a passage between
them, and on some of these lay wounded men, each with a coarse, black
blanket thrown over him. The Captain, assisted by Mr. Dykes, was
attending to the more serious cases in a manner which caused the mate
considerable secret astonishment. He had expected to see the skipper
perform the duties of surgeon in a rough and ready if not a brutal way,
and had felt a strong sympathy for his prospective victims. Instead,
Calamity handled the men with almost professional skill, performing even
serious operations with deft, quick fingers, and without either
nervousness or hesitation. A smile, a cheery word of encouragement, a
full-flavoured joke worked wonders, and a man, even in excruciating
pain, would grin feebly at some broad jest uttered by the Captain.

Dora Fletcher, who had thought better of her first hasty decision, was
dressing some of the minor wounds. To her, Calamity's new rôle came as a
startling revelation of a hitherto unsuspected phase of his character.
She, who had seen him commit acts of unquestionable brutality, now
watched him pass from bed to bed with an air of quiet assurance that
inspired even the worst cases with new confidence and hope. Men flinched
apprehensively as he approached to examine their injuries, but his
touch, though firm, was as gentle as a woman's, and their fears were
quickly set at rest.

He scarcely even glanced at the girl, and when he did so it was to give
some curt directions as from a surgeon to a nurse. Yet she felt
strangely happy and triumphant, for at last he had been forced to
recognise and to demand her assistance. She felt herself necessary to
him, and the terse orders, involving her co-operation in the work of
succour, seemed to her a tacit admission of the fact. Henceforth she
would at least be an entity in his eyes; he would have to acknowledge
her existence, even if he resented it.

After the Captain and Mr. Dykes had gone; throughout the whole night,
indeed, the girl remained at her post. She found plenty to do; giving
cooling drinks to those whose throats were parched with fever,
readjusting dressings which had worked out of place, and performing the
hundred and one offices which fall to the lot of a watcher of the sick.
At intervals during the night the mate or Smith would enter the dim
hold, which now reeked with the pungent odour of antiseptics, to proffer
their services, and once Mr. Dykes tried to persuade her to turn in. But
she rejected the suggestion indignantly, and ordered him out of the
place, whereupon he departed sheepishly. At about five o'clock in the
morning Calamity looked in again and seemed surprised to find her there.

"How long have you been on watch?" he asked.

"Since you left," she answered.

"Then you'd no right to. Dykes or Smith should have told off a man to
keep watch. Get off to your bunk. I don't want a sick woman aboard."

Without a word she left the sick-bay, and then, for the first time,
realised how exhausted she really was. Without troubling to undress, she
flung herself upon the bunk and was asleep almost before her head
touched the pillow.

All that day and the next as well, the _Hawk_ chugged her way in a
northerly direction, her speed never exceeding six knots and sometimes
falling below that. How McPhulach had contrived to patch up her engines
sufficiently to do even so much was a mystery no one but himself could
have explained. Still, they might break down again at any moment, and it
was absolutely necessary to find some port where the repairs could be
carried out more thoroughly, and with the proper appliances. In the
meantime much of the damage sustained in the encounter with the yacht
had been repaired. Paint and canvas had done much to cover the effects
of shot and shell, and outwardly, at least, the _Hawk_ had resumed her
normal appearance. But it was merely superficial, like the creams and
cosmetics used by a faded beauty to hide the ravages of time. In fact
she was, as Smith put it, "a whited bloomin' sepulchre."

On the second morning, as Miss Fletcher was going down to the hold, she
met Mr. Dykes.

"The skipper's orders are that you're to take four-hour watches, so that
you'll have a rest between each spell," he said.

She merely nodded and passed into the hold. The dim, yellow glow of the
lanterns was fading in the growing daylight, making the surroundings
more gloomy and depressing than even the half-light. She moved from bed
to bed with noiseless steps, performing various little services for the
sufferers. One man, who knew that he was dying, asked her to write down
and witness his last will and testament--a curiously pathetic
document--and for another she wrote a letter that was to be posted at
the first port the ship touched. In a far corner she found a man making
feeble efforts to undo the front of his shirt. He was too weak to speak,
and, wondering what he wanted, the girl unbuttoned it to find a small
silver crucifix suspended from a piece of string round his neck.
Divining his need, she placed it in his hand, and the coarse, misshapen
fingers closed over the Symbol; thus he died.

Soon afterwards the Captain entered and passed between the beds,
stopping to ask each of the patients how he was getting on, and giving a
cheery word of encouragement to everyone. At last he reached the bed
where Dora Fletcher stood over the dead figure, whose fingers still
clasped the little silver crucifix.

"H'm," he grunted, "another loss. Anything to report?"

In a few words the girl described the condition and progress of the
various patients. At the conclusion Calamity nodded, but made no
comment.

"I should like to ask you a favour, Captain," she said quietly.

"A favour? Well, what is it?" he demanded in a tone that was the reverse
of encouraging.

"Do you think you could give this poor fellow"--she indicated the dead
man on the bed--"a Christian burial? I--I think he would have wished
it."

A look of mingled surprise and annoyance came into the Captain's face as
he glanced at the unconscious figure.

"The man's dead, isn't he?"

"Yes, of course," answered the girl, puzzled by the question.

"Then what difference can it make to him how he's buried?" demanded
Calamity, and, without waiting for an answer, walked away.

Later on that day Mr. Dykes urged the request again at Miss Fletcher's
desire.

"I can't make distinctions," replied the Captain. "The man's got to take
his chance of paradise with the rest. I'm not going to give him an
unfair advantage over the others. Besides, this is a cheerful ship, and
I don't intend to depress the living by reading burial services over the
dead. They'll get their proper ratings without my assistance."

So that evening the corpse, sewed up in canvas and weighted with a
piece of pig-iron, was cast over the side without ceremony.

Early on the following morning the look-out upon the foc'sle head
reported land on the starboard bow.

The news brought the men rushing on deck at once, for the sight of land
to sailors at sea is always an interesting event, savouring of
adventure, women, and wine. The news was immediately reported to the
Captain, who hurried on to the bridge and scrutinised the seeming cloud
for some time through the glasses which Smith, who was on watch, handed
to him.

"H'm," grunted Calamity, "an island."

"One of the Palau Group I should say, sir."

"Which means that it's German--eh?"

"_Was_ German, sir," corrected the second-mate.

"There's no knowing; among so many scattered islands it's quite possible
that one or two may have been overlooked by our cruisers."

"Maybe, sir," answered Smith doubtfully.

Calamity again focussed the glasses on the dark smudge in the dim
distance. As he had just pointed out to the second-mate, it was quite
possible that some of the small islands which went to make up what was
once called the Bismarck Archipelago had escaped official annexation.
This seemed the more probable since two German vessels, the gunboat and
the commerce-destroyer, were apparently still at large in these waters.
Both ships, particularly the former, would require a coaling station not
too far away, and what more likely, therefore, than that there should be
one hidden away among these innumerable islands?

The _Hawk_ slowly bore down upon the land, but her speed was now so
reduced that night had set in before those on board were able to get a
really good view. By the following morning, however, they found
themselves within a mile of it, and its palm-fringed beaches could be
seen plainly from the deck. There was nothing about the island to excite
wonder or interest, save that it just happened to be dry land amidst a
boundless waste of blue waters. Numbers of such islands, many of them
far larger, were to be met with in these latitudes.

Yet, because it was land, and suggestive of illicit pleasures, there was
an air of suppressed excitement aboard the _Hawk_. Throughout the day
she coasted slowly round it, but never once did a canoe or a catamaran
put off to trade; indeed, not a vestige of human life was to be seen. At
last, after they had nearly completed a circuit of the island, a small
harbour was sighted at the eastern extremity. On a hill, overlooking the
entrance, was a structure which suggested a fort, and this at once gave
Calamity the idea that the gunboat which had hitherto eluded him was
probably ensconced within this harbour. To "dig out" the pirate and take
possession of her spoils was the first thought which occurred to him,
but another and a stronger motive made him decide to enter the harbour
at all costs. This was the fact that the _Hawk's_ engines were next door
to useless, and, unless they could be more effectually repaired, would
become entirely so. It was quite possible, he reflected, that if the
island really was a German station, there would be appliances for
dealing with engine-room mishaps.

So, towards sundown, he steered boldly for the harbour, even blowing the
steam syren to call attention to his visit. The flagstaff on the fort,
he noticed, was bare, although as the _Hawk_ drew nearer it was possible
to make out an inconspicuous wireless installation.

"German without a doubt," he remarked to himself. "If it were British
the Union Jack would be floating up there."

He turned to Mr. Dykes and in a few words explained what he wanted done.
The _Hawk_ was to pose as a harmless American merchantman which had put
in for the purpose of trying to obtain some coal. The large crew,
totally out of proportion to the number required to man a peaceful
"tramp," were to remain in the foc'sle, except one or two who were to
lounge about the deck for show purposes. Therefore in a very few minutes
the decks were deserted except for the look-out and a couple of grimy
firemen who leant over the bulwarks expectorating into the water. Half
an hour later, the _Hawk_ reached the mouth of the harbour and the syren
emitted three ear-piercing shrieks.

The sound had scarcely died away when a boat, manned by natives and with
a white man seated in the stern-sheets, put off from a small, wooden
jetty beneath the fort. When within hailing distance, the man in the
stern stood up and put both hands to his mouth.

"Wie heisst das schiff?" he bawled.

"Don't get you," answered Calamity; "have another try."

"Vot schip vos dot?" bellowed the other, who was evidently some sort of
port official.

"This is the American steamer _Hawk_, Singapore for Valparaiso."

"Vy you no show your flarg?" inquired the official, his boat coming
nearer the _Hawk_ every moment.

"Sorry; if I'd known it was your birthday, guess I'd have hoisted a bit
of bunting," replied the pseudo Yankee skipper, and gave an order which
resulted in the Stars and Stripes fluttering out astern.

The reply, however, did not appear to please the official.

"You 'eave-to!" he commanded. "I vant to see your papers."

Calamity rang down "Stop," the engines ceased thudding and a couple of
men came out on deck and threw a rope-ladder over the side. A moment
later the boat came alongside and the official, a short, fat little man,
ascended the ladder with some difficulty, alighting on deck hot and
breathless. Meanwhile his coffee-coloured cox'n having made the boat
fast to a rung of the rope-ladder, sat down and lighted a cheroot.

"You vas der Captain?" asked the newcomer of Calamity, as soon as he had
recovered his breath.

"Yes."

"You must produce your papers."

"If you'll come with me, sir, I'll show them to you," answered Calamity
politely, and led the way towards his cabin.

Suddenly he stopped near the after-hatch, from which a couple of the
covers had previously been removed.

"Like to have a squint at the cargo?" he asked. "Guess it'll interest
you."

The fussy little man looked surprised at the question, but he stepped up
to the hatch, and, leaning over the combing, peered into the obscure
depths below. While he was still in this convenient attitude an
impelling force caught him in the small of the back, and he shot
downwards into the hold, alighting head foremost on a heap of
sand-ballast. Then, before he had recovered sufficiently to raise a
shout, the hatch-covers were promptly clapped on again and he was left
there in the dark to meditate on the ups and downs of a port official's
life.

Having satisfactorily disposed of this inquisitive person, Calamity
returned to the bridge and the _Hawk_ began to steam slowly past the
fort into the harbour. Two or three sentinels on the hill watched her
progress, but they having seen her boarded by one of their officials
doubtless concluded that all was well. Meanwhile Mr. Dykes had managed
to convince the dusky cox'n in the waiting boat alongside that his
master would remain on board, whereupon the man saluted, cast off the
painter, and steered his boat shorewards.

When the _Hawk_ had rounded the bend which hid the upper portion of the
harbour from view, Mr. Dykes gave vent to a sudden exclamation of
astonishment.

"Durned if that ain't our old bug-trap?"

Looking in the direction indicated by the mate, Calamity saw the pirate
gunboat beached just beyond the jetty and lying on her side, evidently
for the purpose of being repaired. His assumption, then, had been
correct: this island was a secret coaling station and place of refuge
for the very few German vessels which were still at large. However, he
made no comment aloud, and in a few more minutes the anchor was let go
and the _Hawk_ swung peacefully at her moorings.

The situation in which Calamity had voluntarily placed himself by
entering this harbour was, as he fully realised, fraught with infinite
peril. He knew that if he now attempted to escape he risked being sunk
by the guns on the fort, yet he could not remain where he was much
longer without being subjected to investigations which would result in
capture, if not worse. Under the circumstances, therefore, there was
only one thing to do, and that was to attack the fort and capture it.
This plan, viewed impartially, seemed hopelessly impossible, especially
if, as appeared highly probable, the fort were strongly garrisoned.
Still, Calamity did not hesitate between this and the only
alternative--surrender.

He sent for the two mates to whom, in a few curt sentences, he outlined
his plan of action. It was simple in the extreme, and, by reason of its
amazing boldness, might even be successful. The Germans, he argued,
though regarding the vessel with suspicion, would hardly anticipate the
landing of an armed party, which was what he contemplated. The brief
twilight would soon descend, and, the _Hawk_ being safely bottled up in
the harbour, the enemy would probably not worry much about her till the
morning; therefore the attack was to be carried out as soon as darkness
fell.

When this had been explained Calamity and his officers set about making
preparations for the landing. A party consisting of as many men as could
be packed into the ship's boats was to effect a landing under cover of
the darkness, while those left on board were to open fire on the fort
with the machine-guns directly the enemy discovered the attack. By this
means it was hoped to cover the landing operations and prevent the
defenders turning their heavier guns on the storming party. To this end
Mr. Dykes was placed in temporary command of the _Hawk_, Calamity
himself undertaking to lead the attack from the shore.

In a remarkably short space of time the preparations were complete, and
the only thing they waited for now was darkness--the swift, enveloping
darkness of the tropics.



CHAPTER XIII

THE EBB TIDE


At last night came. Calamity gave the word and the men streamed out of
the foc'sle, some rushing to the falls ready to lower the boats from the
davits, others stowing arms and ammunition under the thwarts. Every man
had his own particular duty to discharge; there was no confusion, no
shouting of orders, no wild and objectless rushing about--everything was
done quietly and systematically.

"Stand by!"

The Captain's voice was low but penetrating. Everyone stood still at his
post.

"Slip!"

The boats dropped from the davits, the falls were cast off, the oars
flung out, and the bowmen stood up, ready to push off at the order.
Quickly, and with scarce a sound, the landing party swarmed down the
rope-ladders and took their places in the boats.

"Give way!"

As one man, the rowers bent to their oars, the boats shot out into the
darkness, and were lost to view by those left on board. The oars had
been muffled, so that the only sounds which could be heard were the soft
plash of the blades as they dipped into the water and the creaking of
the thwarts and stretchers. But soon these noises died away in the
distance, and then all seemed perfectly still to the dark figures
crouching beside the guns on the _Hawk's_ decks.

About five minutes after the boats had left a tongue of flame suddenly
leapt from the fort, followed by a dull boom. Evidently the Germans had
just discovered the attack, and were attempting to sink the boats before
they reached the shore. The sound of the gun had scarcely died away when
Mr. Dykes passed the word to open fire on the fort, and there ensued a
lively duel between the latter and the _Hawk_. As it was a pitch dark
night, each side had to guide its fire by the flashes of the enemy's
guns, so that, at first, the shooting was somewhat erratic. But, after a
while, the Germans began to get the range of the _Hawk_ and to make such
good practice that Mr. Dykes had to order some of his men to fill bags
with sand ballast and stack them along the bulwarks to afford additional
protection to the gun crews. Unfortunately, the enemy's guns were of
much heavier calibre than the _Hawk's_, so that, when a shell struck the
vessel, it did considerable damage.

"By Gum!" ejaculated the mate, "this is getting durned hot."

He had not reckoned upon receiving such a tremendous fusillade from the
fort, and, though by no means a timorous man, began to fear that the
_Hawk_ would be sunk at her moorings. So far as he was able to tell at
present, there had been only a few casualties on board, the bulwarks and
sandbags affording an excellent protection for the men working the guns,
although, had it been daylight, these would probably have been of little
avail. But the steamer herself had suffered considerably; the
deck-houses were mostly in splinters, all the skylights had been
smashed, and where the funnel had once stood there was now only a jagged
stump. Once the enemy succeeded in battering down the defences, his guns
would simply annihilate every living thing on board.

"I wish some of them shells would cut our cables," he murmured to
himself, "then we could just skidoo out of the harbour, and the old man
couldn't say a word."

The notion of slipping the cables himself and creeping out of the
harbour occurred to him more than once, but each time he dismissed it
from his mind. It would certainly savour of cowardice to leave Calamity
and his men on the island without a chance to retreat, while, if the
Captain should ever succeed in getting within reach of him afterwards,
the consequences would be very far from pleasant.

By this time one of the _Hawk's_ machine-guns had been put out of
action, and still the fort kept up an unceasing bombardment. Mr. Dykes
was now fervently hoping that Calamity would abandon the attack, return
on board, and get out of this hornet's nest with all possible speed--if,
of course, the steamer was not already too battered about to get under
way. With this possibility in view, he sent a man to fetch McPhulach and
was exceedingly surprised to learn that the engineer could not be found.

"Ain't he in his cabin?" he inquired.

"No, sir, nor yet in the engine-room," replied the messenger.

"But he must be, the skipper said he was to stand by the engines."

"'E's not there," repeated the man.

"See if he's in the alleyway."

The man departed but returned with the information that McPhulach was
not in the alleyway. Moreover, nobody on board had seen him since the
landing party left.

"Fetch up Mr. Sims," said the mate.

Mr. Sims was the second-engineer, a melancholy man with watery eyes, a
pallid face, and chronic dyspepsia, who never mixed with the other
officers or uttered a word if he could possibly help it. He was, too, an
indifferent engineer; but, as McPhulach had once said, the biggest
success as a nonentity he had ever met.

"How long will it take us to get under way?" inquired the mate when Mr.
Sims appeared.

"Half an hour, may be."

"What!" ejaculated Mr. Dykes.

Mr. Sims nodded in confirmation of his statement.

"Ain't there no steam, then?"

Mr. Sims shook his head.

"Then what in thunder have you been doing down there? Didn't you have
orders to keep up a full head of steam?"

Mr. Sims nodded.

"For God's sake use your tongue, man," roared the mate. "Why ain't there
no steam?"

"Because all the firemen are on deck."

Mr. Dykes almost danced with rage, yet this time he could say nothing
for the simple reason that he now recollected having ordered all hands
on deck for the purpose of serving the guns and passing up ammunition
out of the hold.

"Oh, get to hell out of it!" he spluttered and Mr. Sims vanished back
into obscurity.

Having despatched some firemen below to get up steam, the mate again
fell to considering the advisability of drawing off since the enemy's
fire showed no signs of slackening. To do him justice, it was not from
fear of being himself hit at any moment, but rather from a vivid
anticipation of the fate in store for him and the others on board if
they fell into the hands of the enemy. Still, if Mr. Sims's report was
correct, nothing could be done for at least half an hour.

In order to assure himself that the firemen were doing their utmost, Mr.
Dykes left the bos'n's-mate in charge of the deck and descended to the
stokehold--a thing he would not have dared to do had McPhulach been on
board. Having ascertained that there was already a fair pressure of
steam, he returned to the deck and personally tested the capstans used
for hauling up the anchors.

"I'm goin' to get out of this death-trap," he said to the bos'n's-mate,
"so stand by to pick up the anchor. Keep the men at the guns till I give
the word to cease firing, else them durned Germans will smell a rat and
butt in before we can quit."

"'Ow about the Cap'n, sir?" asked the man doubtfully.

"Damn your eyes, do what I tell you, and don't ask fool questions!"
snapped the mate.

The man walked away, somewhat unwillingly Mr. Dykes thought, which made
him all the more angry and determined to carry out his plan. He wasn't
going to be dictated to by a swab of a bos'n's-mate or anyone else so
long as he was in charge of the ship.

Having rung down "Stand by" to the engine-room, he went on to the
foc'sle head to superintend the weighing of the anchor. When all was
ready and he was about to pass the word to the man at the steam capstan,
Miss Fletcher suddenly appeared on the foc'sle.

"What are you going to do?" she asked.

"Get under way," he answered curtly.

"And leave the Captain and his men in the lurch?"

"There ain't any Captain, nor men either, by now, so just quit this
foc'sle," answered the mate in a voice of suppressed rage.

"That's as it may be," said the girl quietly, "but you're not going to
heave that anchor."

"Eh!" exclaimed Mr. Dykes, scarce able to believe his ears.

"I say that you shan't leave this harbour till the Captain comes on
board."

For a moment Mr. Dykes was so overcome with mingled astonishment and
indignation that he could not speak. Then, uttering an oath, he sprang
towards her, apparently with the intention of thrusting her off the
foc'sle. Suddenly, however, he stopped dead as he caught sight of a
revolver in the girl's hand. Then, while they still stood eyeing each
other, the vessel gave an unexpected lurch which nearly threw them off
their feet. The mate sprang to the side and gazed down into the dark
water below.

"Euchred!" he ejaculated. "The tide's runnin' out and we're fast
aground."



CHAPTER XIV

THE ATTACK


Having failed in his attempt to effect a landing without discovery,
Calamity regarded the crossfire between the fort and the _Hawk_ as the
next best thing, as it would to some extent distract the attention of
the Germans from his own operations. Nevertheless, the defenders did not
concentrate their fire wholly on the steamer, and some of their guns
were firing, more or less promiscuously, into the harbour. Fortunately,
they did not appear to have either searchlights or illuminating shells,
for it was only the darkness and consequent inaccurate aim of the
gunners that prevented the little force from being annihilated before a
single boat touched the shore. Even as it was, the water around them was
constantly sending up cascades where shells or fragments of bursting
shrapnel struck it.

"Pull like hell!" roared Calamity above the din.

The men needed no urging and the boats leapt through the water with oars
that bent under the strain. Suddenly, above the thunder of the guns, a
terrible cry was heard, and where there had been a boatload of men a
moment before, there was now only some splintered wreckage with a few
wounded men clinging to it. Yet none dared go to their assistance for
that would have meant inevitable destruction now that one, at least, of
the enemy's guns had found the range. So, deaf to the shrieks of their
comrades, the men in the remaining boats pulled like demons, expecting
every moment to be blown out of the water by a well-placed shot. But at
last the first boat, which was under the charge of the Captain himself,
grounded. The men leapt out, waist-deep in the water, and, grabbing
their rifles and cartridge belts, waded ashore. The other boats quickly
followed, and Calamity, collecting his force, led it up the beach at the
double towards some warehouses or "go-downs" that served to screen the
enemy's fire.

Here he let them have a few minutes "stand-easy," while he consulted
with his lieutenants, Smith and the bos'n. He had already formed a
fairly accurate idea of the nature and strength of the defences to be
overcome, and had arranged his plans accordingly. The fort, so far as he
had been able to ascertain with the aid of glasses when steaming past
it, appeared to be built principally of mud and shale with an outer
defence consisting of a tall bamboo stockade. The approach from the
harbour side consisted of a very steep incline which seemed totally
devoid of any sort of cover and without anything in the nature of a road
or track. But the fact that it was so steep placed the defenders at one
disadvantage, because it made it practically impossible for them to
train their big guns on the attacking force, although a well-directed
musketry fire could not fail to cause fearful havoc in the latter's
ranks. Still, Calamity's chief asset was the darkness, which, for one
thing, prevented the Germans from seeing what a ridiculously small force
he had with him.

Calamity gave the order to advance, the party left the shelter of the
"go-downs," and moved towards the hill in open order. It was not till
they started to climb that the enemy showed himself to be aware of their
presence on the island. Then a brisk rifle-fire was opened on them from
the fort, but the aim was too high, and the bullets flew harmlessly
above the sailors' heads. Even by the time they were halfway up, only
one man had been hit, and his wound was so slight that he continued to
advance with the others. But now with each forward step the danger
increased, and, as the attackers drew nearer and nearer to the stockade
the bullets came perilously near, one or two men dropping out of the
advance. But the long, thin line of creeping figures never wavered,
though not one of them had as yet fired a shot. For the last fifty yards
or so they simply crawled forward on their bellies, while a hail of
bullets whistled above their heads.

Then, high above the din, there arose the long, shrill call of the
bos'n's pipe. This was the signal to storm the fort, and the men,
leaping to their feet, rushed across the few remaining yards that
separated them from the stockade. While some, slinging their rifles
across their backs, made prodigious efforts to scale the bamboo
defences, others, provided with dynamite cartridges, tried to blow gaps
in it to enable their comrades to enter. For a few minutes there was a
terrific struggle, those of the attacking party who had succeeded in
getting over or through the stockade, engaging in fierce hand-to-hand
encounters with the defenders, using whatever weapon came handiest,
rifle-butt, sheath-knife, or simply bare fists. But eventually the
seamen, finding themselves hopelessly outnumbered, began to waver and
fall back, fighting desperately all the time. At last they were forced
to abandon the hardly-won ground altogether and then, as if acting on a
common impulse, they turned and fled.

The Captain made a vain attempt to rally them, but they were unnerved,
and, heedless of his shouts, fled in panic down the hill, till they
reached the shelter of the "go-downs" at the bottom of the slope.

"To the boats!" cried someone. "We've 'ad enough of this 'ell. To the
boats!"

But just as the men were about to make a move towards the water's edge,
there came the sound of a terrific explosion and a great flame shot
upwards from the fort on the hill, lighting up the landscape with a
weird, lurid glare that must have been observable for miles around.
Calamity's first thought was that a shell from the _Hawk_ had exploded
the magazine in the fort, but, whatever the cause, he saw here an
opportunity to convert a rout into a victory.

"Fall in!" he shouted.

At sight of the disaster which had overtaken the enemy, the men regained
their courage, and, forming into line once more, followed their Captain
up the slope. On this occasion no deadly fire swept down upon them, and,
in the light of the flames, they could see small bodies of terrified
soldiers scrambling over the stockade or forcing their way through the
gaps, in panic-stricken endeavours to escape from the blazing enclosure.

"Steady, lads!" cried Calamity. "Now give it them."

The straggling line of seamen halted, and next moment a hail of lead
swept through the chaotic mass of Germans with fearful effect. Another
volley followed, and some of the fugitives, in their terror, dashed back
towards the blazing fort while others, more cool-headed, flung
themselves flat upon the ground. Even so, a heap of dead and wounded lay
around the stockade, and the few who had escaped threw up their arms in
token of surrender.

Since it was impossible to enter the fort here owing to the flames,
Calamity led his men round to the other side which, so far, had escaped
the fire, and gave the word to attack. With a wild yell of triumph, the
party rushed up to the palisades and those who could not scale them,
smashed a way through with their rifle butts. So far there had been no
resistance, but, as Calamity reformed his men inside the enclosure, some
twenty or thirty soldiers advanced upon them, led by an officer who
appeared to be the commandant of the fort. The space was too confined
for an exchange of rifle-fire and so the two parties immediately engaged
in a close encounter with whatever weapons came handiest. The defenders
fought with the desperate courage of men determined to sell their lives
as dearly as possible, the seamen with the savage ferocity of men still
smarting under defeat and eager to avenge it. Yet so fierce was the
resistance that it seemed as though the _Hawk's_ party might even now be
forced to retreat, when, from the dense smoke in the Germans' rear,
there came the sound of shots. The defenders, believing themselves
attacked by another force from behind, threw down their arms, and their
officer called out that he surrendered unconditionally.

There was a brief lull while Smith and the bos'n took charge of the
prisoners. Then suddenly above the crackling of the flames, there arose,
from amidst the smoke, a hoarse, stentorian voice bawling:

    "Oh I'll tak' the high road,
    An' you'll tak' the low----"

The voice ceased abruptly and there staggered into the open the figure
of Phineas McPhulach, a revolver in one hand and a gin-bottle--which, at
the moment, he was holding up to his mouth--in the other.

    "For the days of auld Lang Syne!"

bellowed the engineer as he removed the bottle from his lips.

Then, heedless of the sensation he was causing among friend and foe
alike, he commenced to dance a Highland fling, at the same time waving
the revolver above his head and firing it to the peril of all beholders.
Suddenly he threw the weapon from him, tried to execute a complicated
step, failed, and collapsed on a heap of smoking timber.

"How the devil did you get here?" demanded Calamity.

A beatific but uncomprehending smile illumined the engineer's face and
he made a vain effort to raise the gin-bottle to his lips.

"It's a--hic--michty square bus--hic--iness," he murmured.

"Get up," commanded the Captain.

"Eh, mon, but will ye no hae a wee sup o' this--hic--cordial. It's a
verra----"

His voice died away into an incoherent murmur, his eyes closed, and he
emitted a lusty snore. Calamity seized his arm and dragged him to his
feet; but McPhulach, still snoring, slid gently back into his former
recumbent position. Suddenly, however, he sat up with a jerk and his
expression changed from befuddled contentment to genuine horror.

"Mon!" he cried, pointing a trembling finger in front of him, "D'ye ken
yon snake? An' losh presairve us, there's anither beastie, a pink ane,
wi' thairty legs!"

He raised the bottle above his head and threw it with all his might at
the imaginary reptile, narrowly missing Calamity.

"Smith!" called the latter, "take this drunken sot back to the ship and
pour a bucket of cold water over him."

With the assistance of a couple of men, the inebriated engineer was
raised to his feet. After a vain attempt to embrace Calamity, whom he
addressed as "me ain dear mither," and to kiss one of the German
prisoners, he burst into tears and was carried away by four seamen, who
ducked him in the water before depositing him in the bottom of one of
the boats. Here, although soaked to the skin, he fell into a peaceful
slumber, from which he did not awake till the morning, when he found
himself back in his bunk.

In the meantime, the prisoners were marched down the hill and placed in
the "go-down," except the commandant, whom Calamity wished to question
concerning the place where the booty taken by the gunboat was
stored--for it was pretty certain the Germans had not left it on board
her. He was, however, unable at first to elicit any satisfactory reply,
the prisoner declaring that he knew nothing about it.

"Very well," said Calamity, "since you refuse to tell me, I must take
measures to induce you to change your mind."

"What is that?" asked the prisoner, starting. Like most German officers,
he understood English perfectly.

"I mean," answered the Captain suavely, "that if your memory is at fault
concerning the disposal of the gunboat's plunder, I shall try and find
some means of refreshing it."

"You would not dare to torture me, sir!" exclaimed the commandant,
turning pale.

"There are a few things I wouldn't dare, perhaps, but that's not one of
them."

At last the commandant, fearing that his captor was in earnest,
reluctantly gave the required information, and Calamity, with the bos'n
and half a dozen picked men, made his way to the place indicated. There
they found, on the side of the hill, a strong iron door, in front of
which was a narrow foot-track about twenty yards long, evidently the
result of sentinels pacing up and down. This door, of course, was
securely fastened, but a charge of dynamite sufficed to blow it in, and
Calamity, followed by the others, who carried storm lanterns, entered.
There was nothing romantic or suggestive of Aladdin's cave about the
place; in fact, it looked much like an ordinary store-house, with cases
and packages stacked around it.

"Open that," said Calamity, indicating one of several heavily sealed
cases, edged with metal.

After some little difficulty, for the case was very stoutly made, the
top was knocked off, revealing bars of bullion.

"Very good," murmured the Captain, "very good."

From the marks on the cases, he judged that the gold had been sent out
from England to a Colonial bank. Obviously the ship carrying it had been
stopped and robbed by the German pirate-captain, who, taking one thing
with another, appeared to have been both industrious and successful in
the profession of his adoption. A methodical search showed that there
were quite a number of these cases, not all of them bearing the same
marks, for some were French, and must have been taken from a different
ship. There were other things besides bullion: bales of cloth, cases of
wines and spirits, tobacco and cigars, and so forth. A money-chest, well
stocked with English, American, and German notes and gold, was probably
the property of the German Government for use in paying wages,
purchasing coal, ammunition, and such-like necessaries, while the
Kaiser's cruisers were still at large in the Pacific.

Dawn was breaking and the fires which had consumed the fort were dying
down as if satiated, when the treasure, strongly guarded, was taken on
board the _Hawk_, where, under Calamity's personal supervision, it was
carefully stowed away.



CHAPTER XV

MCPHULACH EXPLAINS


On the following morning Calamity went ashore, Mr. Dykes having preceded
him for the purpose of finding out what stores, coal, and so forth had
escaped the fire. Of coal there proved to be an abundance stored in a
"go-down" near the little jetty that ran out into the harbour, and so
arrangements were made to replenish the _Hawk's_ bunkers, which were
running low.

"By the way," said the Captain after Mr. Dykes had made his report,
"have you come across any natives? Surely there ought to be some on an
island like this."

"Well, sir, I guess if there ever were any they've been cleared out by
the squareheads," answered the mate. "I ain't seen a sign of one."

"Well, come with me and bring half a dozen men with you," said Calamity,
and led the way up the hill to the smoking remains of the fort. Upon the
very summit a spar was set up on end with the Union Jack nailed to it,
and Calamity formally annexed the island in the name of His Britannic
Majesty, King George the Fifth. This done, the Captain, accompanied by
Mr. Dykes, paid a visit to the beached gunboat and found that, although
her propeller had been damaged, the work of repair was all but
completed. Moreover, in a shed near by they found a forge and a
well-fitted engineer's workshop, with all the tools and machinery for
repairing damaged engines.

"This is better than I could have hoped," said Calamity. "They seem to
have established a regular small dockyard here."

"German thoroughness, sir," answered the mate. "You see, if any of their
small boats in the Pacific got knocked about they could put in here for
repairs. I'll bet the _Emden_ would have quitted business long ago if it
hadn't been for this little cosy corner."

"Well, we'll take over the gunboat since we can't cram all the prisoners
on board the _Hawk_, otherwise I should blow her up."

"Don't know how you're going to officer her, sir."

"We must manage somehow," answered Calamity.

Mr. Dykes, however, mildly protested. He pointed out that there were
only himself and Smith available to take command of her, and, since only
one of them could be spared from the _Hawk_, the whole work of
navigating the gunboat would fall on one man.

"It would mean that he'd have to be on the bridge practically night and
day, sir," he concluded.

"You'll have to make the best arrangements you can, that's all."

"Me, sir!" ejaculated the mate.

"Yes, I shall place you in command of the gunboat with some of the
_Hawk's_ men. You must divide the watches with the bos'n's-mate and any
other man you like to select. You may pick your crew."

Mr. Dykes groaned, but decided that it was not safe to offer any further
objections. To be placed in command of a steamer without even one
reliable officer under him, and with, perhaps, twenty or more prisoners
on board, was a great deal more than he had bargained for.

"What about an engineer, sir?" he asked.

"You can have Sims."

The mate choked back the remark he was about to make concerning
the qualities of Mr. Sims. But inwardly he vowed that, if the
second-engineer had no conception of what hell might be like, he would
be in possession of a good working theory before he left the gunboat.

"Now that's settled," went on the Captain, "you had better go aboard her
and make preparations for coaling and victualling."

"Very good, sir," answered Mr. Dykes in a spiritless voice, and departed
in deep dudgeon. Had the Captain shown any inclination to listen to his
advice, he would have suggested leaving the prisoners on the island
under a strong guard, till the British authorities were informed and
could send a vessel to take them away. However, to argue with Calamity
would be about as cheerful a job as trying experiments with a live
shell, and so the mate wisely accepted his burden with what fortitude he
could muster.

Having acquainted himself with what resources the one-time German colony
possessed, Calamity returned to the _Hawk_. He was anxious to consult
McPhulach concerning the repairs to the engines and other parts of the
ship which had suffered from the fort's guns on the preceding night.
There was to be explained, also, the mystery of the engineer's presence
in the fort, when, according to orders, he should have been in the
engine-room of the _Hawk_.

"Where is Mr. McPhulach?" asked the Captain as soon as he stepped on
board.

"In his cabin, sir," answered one of the men.

"Then go and fetch him--no, stay though, I'll go to him myself," and
Calamity made his way to the engineer's abode.

"Wha's there?" inquired a feeble voice in answer to the Captain's knock.

Calamity, instead of answering, opened the door and stepped in. The
cabin was darkened by having the curtains drawn across the ports, but he
could make out the figure of McPhulach propped up in his bunk with the
aid of a battered leather bag and a pillow. The engineer presented a
sorry spectacle; his head was enveloped in a wet towel, and on a locker
by his side stood a cup of tea and a half-eaten slice of dry toast.

"How are you?" inquired the Captain, drawing the curtains apart to admit
the daylight.

"I'm no verra weel, an' I thank ye," replied McPhulach, still in a
feeble voice. "Ma heid is like a footba' filled wi' lead."

"Naturally," remarked the Captain coldly.

"Aye, I ken it weel," groaned the sufferer.

"What I want to know is, how the devil you got into the fort and what
you did when you got there," went on Calamity.

"It's a michty quare business, skeeper, an' I dinna a'togither ken it
mesel'."

"You were ordered to remain on board, instead of which, I suppose, you
smuggled yourself into one of the boats when they put off."

"Weel, I didna swim," answered McPhulach testily, and held his aching
head in both hands.

"You disobeyed orders."

There was an ominous ring in the Captain's voice which made the victim
of alcoholic excess pull himself together sharply.

"It was a' due to a nichtmare I had, d'ye ken?" he said, thinking as
hard as his befuddled brain would permit.

"A nightmare! What in hell are you talking about?"

"Weel, I must ha' walked in ma sleep. I thocht ma second--or mebbe 'twas
ma thaird--wife was after me...."

McPhulach rambled on till Calamity, losing patience, pulled him up and
demanded to know the truth. It came out gradually, and the Captain
learnt that, just as the boats were putting off from the _Hawk_,
McPhulach had been seized with an irresistible desire to feel dry land
under him again. So, unobserved in the darkness, he had slipped into the
last boat and been taken ashore. There he mingled with the men and
advanced with them in the first attack. During the fight which followed,
he succeeded in scaling the stockade and had just landed safely on the
other side when a soldier sprang forward and clubbed him with the
butt-end of a rifle. For a time he lay there unconscious, but, on coming
to, quickly realised that he was inside the stockade and might be killed
at any moment. As this latter contingency did not figure on his
programme, he started to crawl away and at last came to an orderly-room
which was untenanted. Taking careful observations, he noticed on the
table several bottles of spirits, and drew the conclusion that the place
was a sort of smoking-room used by the officers of the fort; at any
rate, he decided to sample the contents of the bottles.

By the time he had finished what must have been nearly two pints of
mixed spirits, he felt equal to taking the fort single-handed; in fact,
as he now confessed to Calamity, he would have charged a whole
battalion.

"I didna quite ken what to do," he said, gazing dreamily out of the
porthole, "so I sat doon on the doorstep an' waited for ma temper to
rise."

Apparently it rose pretty quickly, for soon afterwards he wandered out
into the dark enclosure--having first placed the remains of a bottle of
gin in his pocket--to see what he could do. As a start, he drew his
revolver and one of the first shots, fired at random, hit a charge of
powder as it was being removed from the magazine.

"An' after that," concluded the engineer wearily, "I kenned no mair."

"I see," murmured Calamity, for now the mysterious explosion which had
resulted in the capture of the fort was explained. "I suppose," he
added, with unwonted geniality, "you don't remember trying to kill pink
snakes with an empty gin-bottle?"

McPhulach slowly shook his head.

"I ca' to mind seein' a green spider an' a blue centipede creepin'
across yon bulkhead a whiles since," he replied. "But ye meet wi' unco'
quare animals in these latitudes."

Calamity rose to his feet.

"I've a good mind to log you a week's pay for disobeying orders," he
said.

The threat did not seem to impress the engineer, who suddenly leant over
the side of his bunk and stared fixedly at the floor.

"I'll hae to get a rat-trap," he murmured.



CHAPTER XVI

CALAMITY KEEPS HIS WORD


The next day a number of sampans and canoes loaded with fruit,
vegetables, and flowers, came alongside the _Hawk_. Mr. Dykes had been
in error when he stated his belief that the Germans had cleared all the
natives out. As it was discovered afterwards, the people had fled to the
interior on hearing the guns and had only come back that afternoon.

Smith, walking along the deck, caught sight of Dora Fletcher leaning
over the taffrail, just below which was a sampan loaded with wonderful
tropical flowers. Its owner had been endeavouring to sell these, but
without much success, because none of the crew wanted flowers, being
chiefly concerned with the eatables.

"How much?" asked the girl of the native in the sampan.

The man did not understand English, but he comprehended the girl's
gestures, and made some unintelligible reply.

Miss Fletcher, seeing Smith, asked if he would help her.

"Like a bird," answered the second-mate cheerfully, and, addressing the
owner of the flowers, shouted something in the vernacular.

"Well?" queried the girl, when the man had answered.

"He says," answered Smith, "that you can have all those flowers for a
pair of old trousers."

The girl stared at him with a look of astonishment that gradually gave
place to amusement.

"It's the truth, straight," went on Smith, as though she had questioned
the accuracy of his translation.

"What am I to do?" she asked helplessly. "I wanted those flowers."

"I dunno, unless--half a mo' though. I'll be back in a jiff," and the
second-mate darted off towards his cabin.

He returned a couple of minutes later with a pair of greasy,
paint-daubed trousers over his arm.

"Here, corffee-dial," he said, and flung the garments into the sampan.

The native's face expanded into a broad grin, he cast an approving eye
over the discarded trousers, and then started to hand up the flowers.

"How's that?" demanded Smith triumphantly, when the sampan had been
emptied.

"It's very kind of you," answered the girl. "How much do I owe you for
the trousers?"

"Owe me!" ejaculated the other. Then he smiled. "Well, I reckon I could
have got a bob for them from a Whitechapel Sheeny."

"Then I owe you a shilling."

Smith nodded. He knew she would insist on paying him that shilling and
was wondering how on earth she would raise it. He helped her to carry
the flowers away and heap them on the bunk in her cabin.

"Oh, aren't they lovely?" she murmured.

"Um--m, I s'pose so," answered Smith, eyeing them critically, "but I'd
rather have a cokernut myself," whereupon he departed.

Dora Fletcher, susceptible to beauty herself, was amused at the
second-mate's polite contempt for the flowers. She began to arrange them
about the cabin, and, while doing so, was struck by a whimsical thought.

What, she wondered, would the grim and taciturn Captain think if he came
back and found his cabin full of tastefully arranged flowers?

She paused for a minute with one finger on her underlip, considering the
startling proposition. Then her mouth curved in an ironical little
smile, and, half-amused, half-contemptuous of her action, she gathered
up some scarlet hibiscus into a bunch and made her way towards the
Captain's cabin. Descending the companion quietly, she found herself for
the second time in that mysterious sanctum. It was not very large, and
there were none of the homely decorations--photographs, pictures, and so
forth--with which some skippers decorate their quarters. Some maps and
charts, a pair of pistols, one or two bracket-shelves with books hung
from the bulkheads, and the sideboards were littered with odds and
ends--tobacco-pipes, half-empty boxes of matches, and other masculine
lumber. The place reeked, too, of strong tobacco, and there were two or
three cigar-butts lying on the table.

The girl glanced around her with an expression of mingled amusement and
perplexity, then took a tumbler from the rack and filled it with water.
Having arranged the flowers in it to her satisfaction, she stood for a
moment surveying the effect, with that half-ironical smile still playing
about her lips.

As she stood thus, the cabin door opened softly and she swung round, the
blood mounting in a crimson flood to her face. But, with a gasp of
relief, she saw that the intruder was Sing-hi and not the Captain, and
her heart ceased beating tumultuously.

The imperturbable celestial showed not the slightest sign of surprise at
finding her there, and merely greeted her with his usual urbane smile.

"Sing-hi, I have been putting some flowers here for the Captain," she
said; "but you're not to tell him I've been here--savee?"

"Savee," answered Sing-hi, and the girl left the cabin feeling tolerably
sure that the Chinaman would not betray her.

She was quite correct in this assumption, for, after watching her
disappear up the companion, Sing-hi shuffled back into the cabin,
emptied the flowers out of the port, dried the glass, and returned it to
the rack.

During the afternoon McPhulach, who had recovered from the effects of
his debauch, went ashore to meet Calamity. The engineer wished to
inspect the workshop and the plant it contained, in order to make
arrangements for repairing the _Hawk's_ engines as speedily as possible.
Also, since the Captain had decided to convey some of the prisoners to
Singapore in the gunboat, the latter had to be examined and overhauled
before she could be floated; thus, in one way and another, McPhulach and
his staff were likely to be kept busy for several days to come.

Leaving the engineer to attend to these matters, Calamity went in search
of Mr. Dykes, whom he found superintending the loading of lighters with
coal for replenishing the _Hawk's_ bunkers. To facilitate this work, the
mate had pressed some of the German prisoners into his service and these
were employed in transferring the coal from the "go-down" to the jetty.

"Thought I might as well make use of these squareheads, sir," he
explained when the Captain came up.

"Where are the others?"

"Still in the shack yonder, sir. Before rations were served out this
morning I made 'em all take a bath in the harbour. One of 'em, who
speaks English, said he should complain to you."

"On account of the bath?"

"Yes, sir. Called it cruelty towards defenceless prisoners."

"We'll see about that later. How many have you got, Mr. Dykes?"

"Somewhere between thirty and forty I guess, sir. One of them--the slob
who complained about the bath--reckons that the explosion and the fire
did for about the same number, not countin' those who were killed and
wounded in the fighting."

"Which means that there must have been about a hundred men in the fort
all told."

"That's how I figger it out, sir."

"Well, you'd better fetch the prisoners out, Mr. Dykes, and I'll have a
look at them," said Calamity.

Accordingly they were marched out of the "go-down" under an armed guard
and paraded before the Captain. Most of them were soldiers, but a few
had formed part of the gunboat's crew and belonged to the German Naval
Reserve.

"Which is the man who wishes to make a complaint?" asked Calamity, when
the prisoners had filed past him.

"You with the grouch, fall out!" cried the mate.

A man in sailor's uniform stepped out of the ranks, and, drawing himself
up stiffly, saluted the Captain. The latter, as he glanced at him more
closely, started, and a look of recognition flashed between the two.

"Your name?" asked Calamity.

"Fritz Siemann, sir," answered the prisoner.

"Mr. Dykes," said the Captain, "have this man sent aboard the _Hawk_,
and see that he's kept away from the other prisoners."

"Very good, sir," answered the mate, who supposed that Calamity was
going to deal with the grumbler in a manner that would check any further
display of discontent.

When, later on in the day, the Captain returned on board the _Hawk_, he
ordered Fritz Siemann to be brought to his cabin. The prisoner was
brought in by a couple of sailors, who, at a word from Calamity, left
them together.

"This is a strange meeting, my worthy Fritz," said the Captain, looking
at the man with an ironical smile.

The prisoner shrugged his shoulders, but made no answer. He was a man of
between thirty and forty, very fair, tall, and with a pair of small,
cunning eyes.

"Well, how is it that I find you out here in the Pacific, a sailor
instead of a valet?" asked the Captain after a pause.

"I came out on a cruiser as a Naval Reservist, and was afterwards
transferred to the gunboat," answered the fellow.

"When did you leave England?"

"A day or two before war was declared."

"You were recalled by the German Government?"

"Yes."

"H'm; and how was your master when you left?"

"He died about three months before I went," answered the man.

"Died!"

"Yes, sir, he fell from his horse while hunting."

Calamity was silent for some moments, and then he turned once more to
the German.

"Did he ever mention my name in your presence?"

"Not often, but he was always trying to find out if you were dead."

A grim smile stole over the Captain's face at this. Somehow it seemed to
amuse him.

"But, so far as you know, he was never able to find out for certain?"

"I don't think so, but everyone thought you were dead, except Mr.
Vayne."

"Yes, Vayne was the only friend I had," muttered the Captain. He turned
sharply to the prisoner. "Did my brother pay you well for assisting him
in his rascality?"

"I--I don't understand," faltered the German nervously.

"Nevertheless, I should advise you to try," answered Calamity quietly,
"it may save you considerable discomfort. Now, answer my question."

"He paid me well enough while I was in his service," growled the man
reluctantly; "but, as for rascality----"

"I'm referring to the forged cheque," broke in the Captain.

The prisoner started and shot a keen glance at him.

"Forged cheque?" he repeated as if puzzled.

"I am perfectly aware of the part you played in that little affair, so
don't risk your neck by trying to prevaricate. As it is, I'm half
inclined to hang you here and now, but you shall assuredly swing, my
lad, if you utter a single lie."

The ex-valet turned deathly pale, for he realised that the threat was no
empty one. He shifted uneasily from one foot to another, glanced
furtively round the cabin as if considering the possibilities of escape,
and finally let his gaze rest on the Captain.

"What do you want me to say?" he asked sullenly.

"I want you to tell me the truth, and bear in mind that your life
depends on it."

"About the cheque?"

"About the cheque."

"He forged it."

"How do you know?"

"I was in the room with him?"

"You helped him, in fact?"

"I suppose so."

"By God, you deserve to be hanged if ever a man did," exclaimed the
Captain.

"You asked me to tell you the truth, sir," said the man, shrinking back.

"Get on with your story."

"There's nothing much to tell, sir. The scheme worked without a hitch,
and everyone was deceived--except Mr. Vayne; he was always doubtful."

"Well, and what did you get out of it? Such assistance as you gave was
invaluable."

"Five hundred pounds."

"H'm, a very profitable stroke of business on your part, especially as
it placed you in a position to levy blackmail at will. Now what fee"--an
ugly expression crossed the Captain's face as he uttered this--"do you
require in consideration of your writing down a full account of that
interesting transaction and signing it in the presence of witnesses?"

The other hesitated a moment.

"A thousand pounds in cash and a guarantee that I shall not be handed
over to the British authorities as a prisoner of war."

"Agreed. You shall have the money in English and American notes as soon
as you have prepared the document."

"And if I change my mind?"

"Why, then," answered Calamity with a genial smile, "it'll be the last
time you ever change it on this earth," and, rising, he laid pen, ink,
and paper before the prisoner.

"Call the steward when you have finished and he will send for me," said
Calamity as he left the cabin.

For nearly an hour the German wrote steadily, pausing every now and
again to read what he had written. When at last he had finished he
called for the steward.

"Tell the Captain I'm ready," he said as Sing-hi appeared in the
doorway.

The Chinaman nodded and a few minutes afterwards the Captain entered,
accompanied by Smith and McPhulach.

"Be seated, gentlemen," said Calamity, himself taking a chair. "I have
brought you here," he went on, "to witness the signature of a document
which this man has written. He will read it over first, and when I tell
you that every word is absolutely confidential, I feel sure you will
both observe the strictest secrecy. At least," he added significantly,
"it will be to your advantage to do so."

The two witnesses murmured assent and settled themselves down to listen.
Then, at a nod from the Captain, Fritz picked up the paper and began to
read. At the start, the engineer and the second-mate looked mildly
surprised, but as the man read on their expressions changed to amazement
and they stared from the reader to Calamity with looks of mingled
incredulity and awed wonder. At length the prisoner, having finished
reading the document, laid it on the table and signed it.

"Blimey!" muttered Smith under his breath.

"A michty quare business," remarked McPhulach.

"Now, gentlemen," said Calamity, "I will ask you to append your
signatures as witnesses of this interesting confession."

Smith picked up the pen, and, after a preparatory flourish, signed his
name. Then he handed the pen to McPhulach, who took it somewhat
gingerly.

"I'm no incurrin' ony liabeelity?" he asked cautiously.

"None whatever," answered the Captain.

"I dinna hauld wi' signing papers mesel'," went on the engineer, "it's
producteeve of unco----"

"Are you going to sign that paper or not?" interrupted the Captain.

McPhulach hesitated no longer, but hastily scrawled his signature
underneath Smith's.

"Thank you both," said Calamity; "that's all I shall need."

Smith and the engineer, taking the hint, departed and left the Captain
with his prisoner.

"Now you want your reward, I suppose," remarked Calamity, and, stepping
into his little sleeping cabin, he brought out the money-chest which had
been taken from the treasure-house in the fort. From this he counted out
the equivalent of one thousand pounds, most of it, at the prisoner's
request, in American notes.

"You must give me a receipt for these," he said.

The man wrote out a receipt, signed it, and took in exchange the parcel
of notes.

"You've promised not to hand me over to the British, remember," said he.

"I shan't forget it," answered the Captain. "There are quite enough
scoundrels in English prisons already, without adding to their number."

"And I can't go back to the island."

"I suppose not. Well, I will see what can be done, and in the meantime
you had better stay here."

Calamity locked the document in a steel deed-box, placed it under the
bunk in his sleeping-cabin, and then went on deck, having previously
told Sing-hi to keep watch outside the cabin and not to let the prisoner
leave it. He was somewhat puzzled with regard to the promise he had made
Fritz Siemann, for, should he be taken to Singapore with the other
prisoners, he would certainly be interned. The only way out of it,
seemingly, was to put in at some neutral port and land the man there.

Some two hours later he returned to the cabin and found the prisoner
seated on the settee ostensibly reading a book.

"I hope," said the Captain quietly, "you find the book entertaining, Mr.
Siemann?"

"Ye--yes, thank you," answered the man rather nervously.

"May I ask, purely as a matter of curiosity, whether you always read
your books upside down?"

The volume slipped from the German's hand and he muttered a guttural
oath.

"I just picked it up as you came in," he said.

"And did your investigations meet with success?"

"My--I don't understand."

"I mean," went on the Captain, "did you succeed in your efforts to force
that deed-box and abstract your confession?"

The prisoner's face changed colour, but he tried to bluster out a
denial.

"I--I haven't touched the box," he said.

"Then it's rather strange that your jacket should be smeared with white
paint. You see, my bunk was re-painted only this----"

The Captain's remark was cut short, for the German suddenly sprang to
his feet and aimed a terrific blow at him with a short, pointed
sheath-knife. Calamity was just in time to avoid the weapon, which
struck the table with such force that the point snapped off, while the
would-be murderer stumbled forward under the impetus of the stroke.
Before he could recover himself, the Captain had seized him by the
throat, at the same time calling for Sing-hi.

"The irons out of my drawer," he said when the Chinaman appeared.

Sing-hi opened a drawer, took therefrom a pair of handcuffs and slipped
them over the prisoner's wrists.

"You'd better lock the fellow in your pantry for the time being," said
Calamity as he went out.

The same night Mr. Fritz Siemann--that is to say, his mortal
remains--was lowered into the sea, sewed up in a canvas bag. And, inside
that bag, besides the firebars used as sinkers, was the thousand pounds
in notes.

Captain Calamity was not the man to break his word.



CHAPTER XVII

THE CONFESSION


During the next three days the work of repairing the _Hawk's_ engines
went on unceasingly under McPhulach's supervision. The gunboat, which,
it was found, had already been repaired by the Germans, was floated, and
arrangements were made for accommodating the prisoners she would have to
carry. Calamity christened her _Satellite_, and the name was painted on
her stern in big white letters over the word _Gnesen_, which had
formerly been there.

On the afternoon of the day preceding Calamity's departure three of the
guns in the fort which had escaped damage from the fire were rendered
useless, while such stores, ammunition, and coal as could not be taken
away were destroyed or flung into the sea. This seeming waste was
necessary in order to prevent any stray vessel that might put in there
from re-coaling or victualling with what would otherwise have been left.

On the following morning, McPhulach, grimy of person and half-dead from
want of sleep, reported that the engines were in working order and that
he had a full head of steam in the boilers. A few hours afterwards
everything was ready for the departure; the prisoners had been divided
into two lots, one being sent aboard the _Satellite_, now under the
command of Mr. Dykes, and the other transferred to the _Hawk_, whose
after-hold had been fitted up for the purpose.

A blast from the _Hawk's_ syren gave the signal to weigh anchor; the
winches rattled, the cables came rumbling up through the hawse-pipes,
and the privateer slowly steamed towards the harbour mouth with the
_Satellite_ in her wake. As she passed the ruined fort with the Union
Jack fluttering above it, she fired an irregular salute of three guns,
while the _Satellite_, not to be outdone, dipped her flag.

Leaning over the _Hawk's_ stern rail, watching the hissing water being
churned into foam by the propeller, was Dora Fletcher. She was still
there when the trees which lined the shore had dissolved into a vague
green outline that presently took on a bluish tint, and finally became
merged in the hills beyond. When the hills themselves faded, became
blurred, and melted into the horizon leaving against the sky-line
nothing but a dark smudge resembling a low-lying cloud, the girl had not
moved from her post, but still continued to gaze with wistful eyes into
the distance. Long before the brief twilight cast a cooling shadow
across the flaming sky the last vestige of the island had faded out of
sight and nothing was to be seen save an unbroken vista of sea that
changed from green to grey, was for a few moments transformed into a
shimmering expanse of molten gold in the rays of the dying sun, then
slowly changed to purple, and so to a deep, unfathomable blue. Darker it
grew as the twilight deepened, and when night abruptly blotted out the
soft half-lights, the sea became a vast and trembling mirror, reflecting
in its depths a thousand twinkling points of light.

It was not by any means the first time that Dora Fletcher had seen sea
and sky swallow up the land, but for a reason she could not explain even
to herself, there seemed to be something unusually depressing in this
departure from the island. It was not that it had possessed any
particular charm for her; she had seen lands far more beautiful and
islands infinitely more picturesque--no, it was not this.

To add to her unaccountable depression came thoughts of her dead father
and the great, empty future which lay before her. Now that her father
had gone, she reflected, there was no one in all the world to whom she
mattered, or who would miss her were she never to return. A sensation of
utter loneliness descended upon her, and with it a strange foreboding,
none the less disquieting because it was so vague. She felt an urgent
desire for human companionship, and, looking round the deck, saw that it
was deserted. Smith was on the bridge, but she had no wish to speak to
him, even had it been possible. And Mr. Dykes, now aboard the
_Satellite_, would not have satisfied this hunger of her soul for
fellowship. Her thoughts turned to the Captain, and him she did not
dismiss from her mind, but lingered contemplatively upon this strange,
taciturn man; so vital, so dominating.

Illogically, she found herself wishing that this cruise might last for
ever; there was something soothing in the thought of her utter
dependence on this man's will. For a moment she lingered luxuriously
upon the thought of her life ordered and controlled by him, and gave
herself up to a delicious feeling of absence from care and
responsibility. Suddenly she experienced a revulsion of feeling, and
flushed vividly with a sensation of shame. Was it possible, she asked
herself angrily, that she was no stronger than some bread-and-butter
miss who had lived sheltered all her days? Was she so dismayed because
she must start life for herself, that she must needs wish for dependence
and protection; in short, a master?

The cool night-wind fanned her hot cheeks and she made an effort to
compose herself and reduce the chaos of her thoughts to some sort of
order. Unfortunately for her efforts in this direction the door of the
little deck-house above the companion-way opened, and turning, she saw
the Captain himself.

"Good evening," she said, but for some reason her voice was half-choked
and utterly unlike her own.

Something about her, perhaps the unconscious appeal of her graceful
figure or the unusual note in her voice, arrested him as he was about to
pass on.

"Good evening," he answered, a little less curtly than was his wont.

She hoped he would go on, but, as if recollecting something, he paused.

"I suppose you know we are bound for Singapore?" he said.

"Yes."

"Have you, by any chance, friends there?"

"No."

"I gathered from the papers you placed in my charge that your home is in
England."

"My home is not in England," she answered; "it is here," and she waved
her arm dramatically as if to indicate sea and space.

"At any rate, I presume you will go to England," he said, in nowise
affected by her poetic suggestion.

"If I must."

"I can't force you to go anywhere against your will," he answered in
the tone of one trying to keep patient. "If you take my advice, you will
consult the British Consul."

"You seem very anxious to get rid of me!" exclaimed the girl with sudden
bitterness. "Have I been such an encumbrance since I came on board?"

Calamity gazed at her flushed and angry face with surprise.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"I mean this," she replied impulsively. "Ever since I have been on this
ship you've either ignored me or else treated me as if I were a nuisance
which had to be tolerated somehow. Yet I've done my share of the work,
haven't I?"

The question was flung out like a challenge, and some moments elapsed
before the Captain spoke. It was, perhaps, the first time he had ever
considered this girl as an entity, as anything but an unwelcome
passenger forced upon him by circumstances.

"What has all this to do with your destination?" he asked at last.

"Everything," she answered, in a voice that trembled with anger and
indignation. "You ask me where I want to be sent, as though I were
a--a----" her voice failed, and to the Captain's astonishment no less
than her own, she burst into a passion of tears.

"You had better come to my cabin," said Calamity, when she had regained
control of herself, and he led the way down the companion.

She felt abashed and humiliated now, and, metaphorically, kicked herself
for her foolishness. Yet even so, she realised that this sudden burst of
emotion had not been anger at his treatment of her, so much as despair
at the thought that she must soon pass out of his life as utterly as
though she had never been; that to him, henceforward, she would be
something less, even, than a memory.

On reaching the cabin, Calamity shut the door and swung a chair round
for her to sit upon.

"Now," he said, "just tell me what you want me to do. You say you have
no home, and you object, apparently, to being placed in charge of the
British Consul. What then?"

He spoke very quietly, almost gently, and because of this, perhaps, a
feeling of utter hopelessness came over the girl.

"You must do as you think best," she answered in a voice from which all
fire and spirit had gone.

"But just now you refused to let me do this."

"I know. I--I was foolish and unreasonable, I suppose."

Calamity remained silent for a minute or two, regarding her curiously.
He read her better than she guessed. When he spoke again she recognised
a new quality in his voice. It made her feel as if they two, though so
near, were yet miles apart. There was a note of pity in it which hurt
her more than anything she had ever known before because it demonstrated
so positively the distance between them.

"You and I, Miss Fletcher," he said slowly, "can never be friends; at
least, not in the sense I am thinking of, for our paths lie wide apart.
If my assumption is wrong--and you have sense and discrimination enough
to know what I mean by that--you must pardon me and put it down to lack
of insight on my part, not to any presumption or vanity. If it is not
wrong, you will understand without my saying more, why it is necessary
that you should leave this ship for good at Singapore."

The girl was looking at him with large, startled eyes. What, she
wondered, was that unnamable something about him which she had never
observed before? Why was it that, of a sudden, he seemed to have assumed
the guise of another class--a class about which she had read, but with
which she had never come into contact? The bold, fearless sea-captain,
the man of infinite resource, unscrupulous and even brutal, had
disappeared. In his place was a quiet, self-contained gentleman,
speaking in a low, kind voice; chiding her while he apologised for doing
it.

In some subtle way he had made her feel pitifully small and ignorant; he
awed her; but in a way she had never been awed before. It was impossible
to resent this, because she did not know how to do so; it was something
outside her experience. For the first time in her life she felt herself
up against that indefinable power which for centuries has made the
masses of the world subject to the few. It was something more than the
power to command, it was the power to be obeyed.

There was a long pause, and then the girl, too proud to deny her love
for him, spoke.

"You have not misunderstood me," she said, with a frankness that lent
dignity to her confession. "Without knowing it I have come to love you.
I think I would willingly and gladly have followed you to the uttermost
ends of the earth; I would have suffered with and for you. I believed
that I was meant for such as you; but you have made me see how foolish I
have been. Don't think that I am ashamed you should know this. I'm not."

She stopped, her eyes fixed on his defiantly as though daring him to
misunderstand her. In any other man but Calamity her words would have
produced a deep impression, but he, to all appearances, was perfectly
unmoved.

"We will forget all this," he said quietly. "The thing still to be
settled is this matter of what's to become of you when we reach
Singapore."



CHAPTER XVIII

DORA FLETCHER'S CHANCE


"From what you have told me, I assume you have no mother," Calamity went
on. The note of pity had left his voice, and his manner, if not brusque,
was cold and judicial.

"No," answered the girl, "my mother died when I was four years old." Her
manner, too, had changed; all the heat and defiance had left it and she
spoke in a subdued, colourless voice, as though these matters hardly
concerned her.

"And you have no relatives living?"

"I have a couple of aunts in Sunderland. I stayed with them until I was
eight years old. I--I hate them!" She made a passionate gesture as
though the very mention of these people aroused bitter memories. "It was
not that they were unkind exactly; but--well, it doesn't matter now.
Soon after my eighth birthday my father took me away with him on a
voyage to the East, and after that I went with him on nearly all his
voyages. He educated me, too; taught me French, mathematics, navigation,
and so on."

"Navigation, eh?" remarked Calamity with a note of surprise in his
voice.

"Yes; if I had been a man I could have passed for mate and got my
master's ticket long ago. I'd pit my knowledge of seamanship against
that of any man on this ship," she concluded defiantly.

"That wouldn't be a very hard test," answered the Captain with a cynical
smile. "But what did your father intend you to be; surely he didn't
suppose you would eventually command a ship?"

"I don't know what his intentions were; but the trip before this last
one, he bought a fruit farm near Los Angeles, California, and I think he
meant to settle down there when he retired from the sea."

"Probably he thought it might provide you with an occupation."

"Perhaps so; but he never spoke of it."

"Then he had no home of his own in England?"

"No. The house my aunts occupy and several others in Sunderland were
his, but he never lived in any of them."

"He made a will, I suppose?"

"Yes, it's among those papers that I handed over to you. I know
everything's left to me, because he told me so when he made his will."

"H'm, then you're not so badly off after all. I should strongly advise
you to go to California and see what you can do with the fruit-farm.
It's both a healthy and remunerative occupation I've been told."

The girl nodded, but made no answer.

"What I propose to do is to take you to Singapore and place you under
the protection of the British Consul, who, no doubt, will advise you
concerning the proving of your father's will and so forth, for I know
nothing of such matters."

"It's very kind of you," murmured the girl.

"Well now, I think that's all we can arrange for the present," said
Calamity in a tone which intimated that the interview was at an end.

She rose, and, with a murmured "Good-night," left the cabin and mounted
the companion-way to the deck. Slowly, as one in a dream, she made her
way to her cabin, casting no glance at the unruffled sea with its
millions of scintillating reflections. Her bold statement to Calamity,
admittedly a declaration of love, had met with a rebuff which would have
induced in most women a feeling of intolerable shame and, in all
probability, inspired them with a lasting hatred of the man who had so
humiliated them. But this was not the case with Dora Fletcher; she felt
neither shame nor anger. Indeed, she would have been puzzled to say
exactly what her feelings were, so incoherent and altogether strange
were they. But she knew she had met a hitherto unrecognised force; that
she had been awed not so much by a man as by a mysterious something
inherent in him; by a quality rather than an individual.

During the next few days she avoided the Captain in every possible way.
Not that he ever attempted to seek her out, for, since that memorable
interview he seemed to have forgotten her existence as completely as
though she had ceased to be. He had again become the grim, taciturn, and
mysterious individual she had first encountered. Yet, despite the girl's
avoidance of him, there was gradually developing in her mind a desire to
do something which would exalt her in his eyes. She wanted to bridge
that vague gulf between them; to achieve something which would prove her
worth. It was a delightfully ingenuous dream, only possible to a girl as
unsophisticated and natural as this young Amazon of the Seas.

In due time and through no effort of her own, the hoped-for opportunity
did occur and the girl was able to play the part she had so often
pictured in her waking dreams. It came about, as such things usually do,
in quite a fortuitous manner.

One day, about a week after her interview with Calamity, the weather,
which had been remarkably fine since they left the island, showed signs
of a change and before mid-day the sun had disappeared behind a curtain
of sombre-tinted clouds. A wind sprang up and freshened as the day wore
on, the sea became choppy, and a great bank of black clouds spread over
the sky till there was barely sufficient light by which to read the
compass on the bridge. Soon the _Hawk_ was rolling and pitching in a
nasty fashion and shipping seas over her weather-bow every time she
ducked her nose. In view of the approaching storm, hand-lines were
rigged across the decks, the prisoner in the wheel-house was transferred
to the hold, and a couple of men stationed at the hand steering-gear in
case the steam-gear should break down at a critical moment.

Swiftly and with ever-increasing violence the hurricane swept down upon
them. The seas, a turbid green, with great, foaming crests, had
increased in fury and every moment grew higher, while the valleys
between them, streaked and mottled with patches of foam, became deeper
and more engulfing. In the midst of the _mêlée_ of raging waters, the
_Hawk_ lurched and rolled and pitched, curveted and plunged as though
she were on gimbals. Blacker and blacker grew the sky, higher and higher
leapt the waves. Now they rose in front of the straining ship in solid
walls of inky water, to plunge down upon the forecastle with a roar like
thunder and a force which made her reel and stagger. Then a great wave
would leap high above the weather-bow, and, rushing past her listing
beam, descend with a mighty crash upon the starboard quarter, filling
the wheel-house waist-deep with seething water.

Night came on, scarce darker than the afternoon which had preceded it,
and with never a friendly star nor a rift in the solid blackness. Above
the wild, devouring waste of tumbling seas the mast-head light tossed
and circled--a dim, luminous speck in the fathomless darkness. The wind
howled and shrieked and moaned like a chorus of lost souls in torment.

Throughout that seemingly endless night Calamity and Smith kept
the bridge together, drenched and cold despite their oilskins; their
faces whipped by the stinging wind, their eyes sore with the salt
spray that was flung in ghostly eddies against them. Two bells
struck--four--six--eight; the two relief quartermasters fought their way
along the sea-swept for'ad deck and took over the wheel from the
worn-out men who clutched it. Two--four--six--eight bells over again;
another four hours had passed, and another two quartermasters had come
upon the bridge to take their "trick" and release the exhausted men at
the wheel.

Soon after this--it was four o'clock in the morning--Calamity staggered
up the inclined deck to the spot where Smith was standing.

"You'd better get below," he yelled above the roar of the gale. "You've
been up here over twelve hours."

"I'm all right, sir," answered the second-mate, as he clung to the
bridge-rail.

"Never mind, get to your bunk."

Though well-nigh exhausted and shivering with cold, the little Cockney
obeyed with reluctance, being loth to leave the Captain up there to con
the ship alone. But he knew better than to disobey or argue, and so,
grumbling to himself, he crawled down the companion-ladder and sought
his cabin.

At last the dawn broke, chill and sombre and leaden. Calamity, weary and
heavy-eyed, scanned the forbidding, sullen sky in the hope of glimpsing
a break in its glowering expanse. But no break was there; only
wind-torn, tattered shreds of black cloud driving across it to assemble
eastward in a massed and solid bank of evil aspect.

At six bells--seven o'clock in the morning watch--Smith tumbled out of
his bunk after three hours' unbroken slumber, dragged on his oilskins,
and stepped into the alleyway with the object of relieving the Captain,
who had now been on the bridge over twenty hours. As he reached the
deck, still only half awake, he was caught up by a huge sea which came
leaping over the bulwarks, swept him off his feet, and dashed him
violently against the iron ladder leading up to the bridge. It was a
miracle that the wave, as it receded, did not carry him overboard. As it
was, it left him a limp, crumpled figure, lying motionless under the
ladder with one foot jammed beneath the lowest rung.

Calamity, who alone had witnessed the accident, took the wheel from the
quartermasters and sent them to rescue the second-mate from his perilous
position. After some difficulty they succeeded in releasing the
imprisoned foot and then carried the unconscious man, whose left leg
dangled loosely from the knee, to his cabin. Here, after roughly
bandaging a wound on his forehead, they stripped him of his dripping
garments and laid him in his bunk.

When these details were reported to the Captain he frowned and muttered
something under his breath. He dared not leave the bridge, and yet
there was no one on board but himself who could set a broken leg or even
administer first-aid. No one, that is, except----

"Tell Miss Fletcher," he said curtly.

That order, probably, represented the biggest humiliation he had ever
suffered.

One of the men went to Miss Fletcher's cabin and informed her of what
had taken place, adding that he had been sent by the Captain.

"What did he say?" asked the girl.

"All 'e says was 'Tell Miss Fletcher,'" answered the man.

"Tell him I will attend to Mr. Smith," she said with a curtness that
matched Calamity's own. "Stop," she added as the man was leaving, "send
the steward along first."

There was a look of triumph in the girl's eyes as she stepped out of her
cabin and went over to the one occupied by the hapless second-mate. He
was still unconscious and she at once proceeded to remove the crude
bandage from his forehead and bathe the wound properly. While she was in
the act of binding it up again Sing-hi entered.

"I want you to help me fix Mr. Smith's broken leg," said the girl. "Do
you think you can manage it?"

"Plenty savee," answered the Chinaman with a grin, "two piecee man fixee
one piecee leg." He had often assisted Calamity with surgical cases and
was proud of his experience.

"Yes, that's right. Can you make me a splint?"

"One piecee leg wantchee two piecee wood?" inquired Sing-hi.

"Yes."

The Chinaman glanced round the cabin, then removed the books from a
narrow shelf just above the bunk and took it down. He split this in two
with his hands, and, without awaiting further instructions, started to
wind a towel round it to form a pad on which the injured limb could
rest.

"Excellent," she said, watching him. "You're a splendid assistant."

Sing-hi understood her tone more than her words.

"Plenty muchee helpee," he replied modestly.

At that moment Smith opened his eyes, stared about him in bewilderment,
and then uttered a loud groan.

"Gawd, what's happened?" he ejaculated.

"Your left leg is broken and there's a nasty gash on your forehead,"
answered the girl tersely.

"Just my bloomin' bad luck. As if----" he broke off suddenly, a new
thought having occurred to him. "What the devil will the old man do now?
He's been on watch over twenty hours, and there ain't a soul to relieve
him. Dykes is on that blighted packet astern--leastways, I suppose he is
if she's still afloat--and I'm half corpsed. It's a cheerful look-out
and no bloomin' error."

"Don't worry," answered the girl calmly as she took the improvised
splint from Sing-hi. "I'll relieve the Captain myself presently."

"What--you!" And Smith, despite the pain he was suffering, laughed
outright. "Oh my stars, I can see him going below and leaving you in
charge of the ship--I don't think."

"Then the sooner you do think, the better," retorted the girl
cheerfully.



CHAPTER XIX

AT THE WHEEL


Before Smith had time to recover from his astonishment at Miss
Fletcher's remark, the business of placing his broken leg in splints was
begun. The operation--no easy one with the ship rolling and lurching
incessantly--proved so painful that he swooned before he was able to
make any audible comment.

"There," remarked the girl when the difficult task had been
accomplished, "it may not be a perfect job, but I think it'll answer
till we reach port."

"Heap good doctor pigeon," murmured Sing-hi complacently.

Having made the patient as comfortable as circumstances would permit,
the girl left the cabin and stepped into the alleyway. Here she paused
for a moment, steadying herself against the bulkhead and gazing at the
waves breaking over the bulwarks and flooding the decks knee-deep with a
swirling mass of turbid, green water. Then, with an abrupt movement as
though she had arrived at some momentous decision, she went to her own
cabin and hastily donned sea-boots, oilskins, and sou'-wester. This
done, she passed out into the alleyway again, just as the bos'n, with a
life-belt strapped over his oilskins, appeared at the entrance,
staggering and slithering.

"S'truth!" he ejaculated, "it's 'ell down there."

"Down where?" asked the girl.

The bos'n jerked his head in the direction of the after-hatch.

"In the 'old," he answered. "Jest been down there, and, Gawd, it fair
made me sick. Never see'd anything like it since I was aboard a River
Plate cattle boat."

"What's the matter there, then?"

"Matter! Why, it's what I said it was just now--'ell. The 'atches are
battened down, it's as 'ot as a furnace, and the stink of the bilge
water's enough to knock you down. There ain't no light except for a
lantern, which don't give no more than a glim, and the air's that thick
you could cut it into slabs and 'eave it overboard."

He was about to turn away when the girl's attire arrested his attention.

"You ain't going on deck?" he said.

"I am."

"Well, don't you go; you didn't ought to this weather."

"That's my affair, bos'n."

"It'll be the skipper's, too, when 'e catches sight of you," answered
the man grimly. "Still, it ain't no business of mine, and if you wants
to try and get drownded, I s'pose you must," with which philosophical
reflection the bos'n proceeded on his way.

The storm had reached such a pitch of fury that the girl was half
inclined to follow the bos'n's advice, but pride forbade, and, clinging
to the handrail, she made her way towards the deck. Experienced sailor
as she was, it proved no easy task, for the _Hawk_ was rolling to such
an extent that at times she seemed to lie on her beam-ends, and the
girl had to cling with both hands to the rails to prevent herself from
being flung violently against the bulkheads at each terrific lurch.
However, she succeeded at last in reaching the deck, where the seas came
thundering down with the force of battering-rams.

She paused here because the nearest hand-line had been torn away, and to
have ventured further without anything to cling to would have been
courting certain death. Yet it was very nearly as dangerous to remain
where she was, since at any moment an extra large sea might swoop down,
and, tearing her from the insecure handrail, sweep her overboard. And,
once engulfed in that inferno of raging waters, rescue would be utterly
impossible, even if anyone happened to witness the catastrophe.
Therefore, watching her opportunity, she made a dash, reached the iron
ladder leading up to the bridge, and clung to it while another huge wave
flung itself upon the reeling ship. When it had passed she started to
mount, clinging to the rails for dear life. As her head came level with
the bridge she saw Calamity gripping an iron stanchion to steady
himself, and apparently trying to peer ahead through the swirling
spindrift. His back was towards the girl, and he did not even see her as
she set foot on the sacred bridge and glanced doubtfully around.

She was still hesitating--none but a sailor realises the extraordinary
sanctity of the bridge--when one of the quartermasters uttered a warning
cry. Almost before the words had left his lips a terrific sea struck the
_Hawk_ on the port beam, and, leaping high into the air, discharged
itself with a deafening roar upon the bridge. The iron stanchion to
which the Captain had been clinging was wrenched from its socket,
Calamity was swept off his feet, and, but for the fact that, in falling,
he became wedged between the rails and the engine-room telegraph, would
certainly have been carried overboard by the receding water. As it was,
one of the two quartermasters was swept away and lost for ever in the
raging sea, while the other lay stunned against the binnacle.

Trained as she had been in seamanship, Dora Fletcher saw in a flash the
peril which threatened the ship. With no one to control the
steering-gear, the _Hawk_ would fall away into the trough of that
tremendous sea and then no mortal power could save her. Even as this
thought struck her, the girl sprang to the wheel and brought the vessel
round again bows-on to the rollers just as she was about to swing
broadside-on.

Calamity, staggering to his feet, saw the girl there at the wheel and
the inert form of the quartermaster at her feet. Imbued with the
traditions and customs of the sea as she was, Dora Fletcher experienced
a momentary misgiving at thought of the sacrilege she had committed and
wondered whether the Captain, in his just wrath, would order her to be
locked in her cabin for the rest of the voyage. The fact that, by her
presence of mind, she had saved the ship and all on board from
inevitable destruction did not occur to her at the moment. Involuntarily
she clenched her teeth in expectation of the storm of anger she felt
sure was about to descend upon her. Then, above the howling of the gale,
she caught the Captain's voice, harsh and commanding.

"Port a little! That'll do; steady now, steady!"

And that was all. Her presence there at the wheel seemed to have caused
him no more surprise than if she had been one of the deck-hands. It
was, in a way, humiliating, because it robbed her of all sense of
triumph; all the wilful delight of having committed a daring and
unauthorised act.

In answer to a signal from the bridge, a couple of seamen came up from
the forecastle and removed the unconscious quartermaster, leaving the
Captain and the girl by themselves upon the bridge. Calamity took no
further notice of her, but, hanging on to the rail, continued to gaze
into the teeth of the gale. Presently, without turning round, he shouted
a hoarse command which the girl obeyed, repeating the order as she
turned the wheel. Her apprehension had left her now, and she was even
conscious of a feeling of pride that the Captain, seemingly, was content
to trust the steering to her, and, though he had hitherto kept two
quartermasters at the wheel, seemed to take it for granted that she was
quite competent to manage alone.

When six bells struck--eleven o'clock in the forenoon watch--Dora
Fletcher had been at the wheel over three hours. The storm, far from
abating, had increased in fury, and some there were among the crew who
began to doubt whether the steamer would live through it.

At eight bells the relief watch came up to take over the wheel. The girl
relinquished it thankfully, for she was both hungry and exhausted.
Reaching her cabin, she ate ravenously of the food which the steward had
left for her, and then turned in, falling asleep almost before she had
removed her sea-boots. She did not awaken till eight bells in the
afternoon watch, and then, as the crew were keeping "watch and watch,"
she turned out of her bunk and donned oilskins and sea-boots once more.
Whether or no Calamity expected her, she was determined to take it for
granted that she should do her "trick" as though she were a regular
member of the crew.

Feeling just a little bit apprehensive, she climbed to the bridge, took
over the wheel, and was given steering directions by the off-going
quartermasters, one of whom paused as he was going and bellowed in the
girl's ear:

"Better keep a bright look-out, Miss. The skipper's got one of 'is
malaria attacks comin' on. I've sailed with 'im before, and I know."

This was startling, for the girl, somehow, had never conceived it
possible that Calamity could suffer from any of the ordinary ills which
flesh is heir to. She watched him more intently after the sailor's
warning, and noticed that he moved stiffly as if in pain, and that,
whenever he stood still, he seemed to be trembling in every limb.

On the whole, it was not a very cheerful prospect. The Captain sick and
likely to become worse, the only officer incapacitated, and the crew, in
all probability, ready to break into open mutiny if they felt assured
that the one man they feared was unable to raise a hand against them.
And there were the prisoners to be reckoned with as well, should there
be trouble on board. As for Mr. Dykes, it was useless to count on any
assistance from him, for the gunboat had been lost sight of twelve hours
ago.

Another two hours passed by, and it was plain that Calamity was growing
worse. Though he did not utter a word of complaint, the girl realised
that he was fighting with all his might against the fever which was
slowly but surely sapping his strength. Once or twice he would have
fallen had he not clutched the bridge-rail in time to save himself, and
it became evident that even his iron will could not stave off the
threatened collapse much longer. Suddenly, as though some sustaining
force had snapped, he reeled back against the starboard rail and
collapsed against the pedestal of the engine-room telegraph. The girl,
who dared not leave the wheel for a second, called to a couple of seamen
who were on deck, and, when they had arrived on the bridge, told them to
carry the Captain to his cabin and put him to bed.

"When you have done that," she said, "come back here."

They lifted up the senseless form of the Captain, and, with considerable
difficulty, carried him aft. When they had done this and returned to the
bridge, Miss Fletcher placed them in charge of the wheel with directions
concerning the course they were to steer. It was, of course, a somewhat
risky proceeding to leave the bridge without any officer there to give
orders in case of a sudden emergency; but, under the circumstances,
there was nothing else for it.

She went aft and found Calamity in a semi-conscious condition. Having
satisfied herself that he had been made comfortable, she unlocked the
medicine chest and mixed him a stiff dose of quinine. She had just
administered this and was about to give Sing-hi instructions concerning
the patient, when there came a knock at the cabin-door.

"Come in," said the girl.

The door opened to admit the bos'n and a couple of able seamen.

"Well?" she inquired curtly, somewhat surprised at this visit.

"We wanted to know if it's true that the skipper's on the sick-list,
beggin' your pardon, Miss," said the bos'n.

"He is down with an attack of malaria. Why?"

The men exchanged significant glances.

"Well, Miss," went on the bos'n, fingering his dripping sou'-wester
nervously, "we thought we'd like to know who's in command while the
skipper's laid up."

"I am," answered the girl without a moment's hesitation.



CHAPTER XX

IN COMMAND


For a moment the little group of men remained standing in the doorway,
staring at the girl open-mouthed. Then abruptly and with one accord they
left the cabin and she heard the tread of their heavy sea-boots going up
the companion-way. Having given the steward directions concerning
medicine and a supply of hot-water bottles so long as the patient
remained in the cold stage of the fever, Dora Fletcher went up on deck.
The weather had moderated considerably, but night was coming on, and it
was quite possible that the hurricane might spring up afresh. To her
surprise, she found groups of men standing about the after-deck, though
their presence in that part of the ship had been expressly forbidden by
the Captain.

"What are you men doing here?" she demanded sharply.

They stared at her with sullen sheepishness, but no one answered.

"Get for'ard to your quarters at once and don't let me find a man aft of
the bridge unless he has some duty to perform," she went on after a
pause.

But the men did not stir, and a low murmur, incoherent but menacing,
reached the girl's ears. Suddenly the bos'n, who had been standing by,
stepped up to her.

"It's like this 'ere, Miss," he said, in a voice that was
half-apologetic and half-defiant, "we want to know where we are, we do.
The skipper's took with fever, the mate ain't 'ere, and the second's
crippled. Who's going to navigate this packet back to Singapore and take
the old man's place?"

"I have already told you that I am."

"I know, Miss, but we didn't take it as you was serious."

"Well, you can take it that I'm serious now."

The bos'n shifted awkwardly from one foot to another, and glanced
doubtfully at the sullen figures of the men.

"I'll tell them what you say, Miss," he said at last, "but I don't know
how they'll take it. You see," he went on hastily, "maybe some of 'em
aren't partial to taking orders from a woman, which don't seem natural,
as you may say."

"See here, bos'n," answered the girl, raising her voice so that all
could hear, "can you, or any other man on board, navigate this ship to
Singapore?"

"No, Miss, I can't say as any of us could."

"Well, I can. I'm a practical navigator, and I will undertake to bring
the _Hawk_ safely into port. But if there's a man among you who thinks
he can do it, let him take command."

"Of course that alters it a bit," answered the bos'n thoughtfully, "we
didn't know you could navigate, Miss."

"You don't suppose I should propose to take command otherwise?"

"That's what we was wondering. You see"--the bos'n became
confidential--"some of us 'ave sailed in ships where the skipper's 'ad
'is wife aboard, and it's generally she what's done the bossing. Of
course we know you ain't this skipper's wife, but all the same we
thought as 'ow you might be wanting to try your 'and like."

"Well, you see the position now," said the girl. "Please explain it to
the men, and let them understand that, while I am in charge of this
ship, I am Captain and will be obeyed."

Without quite realising it, she had copied Calamity's curt and decisive
manner, and this, together with the fact that they were really helpless
in the matter, was not without its effect on the men. After a short
discussion with the bos'n, they trooped off to their quarters, some
sullen, others pulling their forelocks as they passed the girl.

"We'll carry out your orders, if you'll take the ship fair and square
into Singapore," said the bos'n.

"Then that's agreed; I'll do my part as long as the crew do theirs."

"Very good, Miss," answered the bos'n, and he went for'ad in the wake of
the men.

Feeling decidedly relieved, Dora Fletcher was about to go on the bridge
when she caught sight of McPhulach standing at the fiddley door, having
apparently just come off watch. Seeing her, he came forward, rubbing his
hands on a piece of oily cotton-waste.

"You must have been getting a rough time of it down below," she said by
way of greeting.

"Rough, d'ye ca' it," he answered; "if I wasna a guid Presbyterian like
me fairther before me, I'd be a convairted sinner the noo. Bradlaugh
himsel' wouldna hae denied hell if he'd been below during the last four
an' twenty hoors."

The girl nodded sympathetically.

"I want to have a few minutes' chat with you, if you can spare the
time," she said.

"I'm at ye'r deesposal."

"Then please come into the chart-room. I don't want to leave the bridge
longer than I can help."

"Leave the bridge!" echoed McPhulach in astonishment. "D'ye----"

"Please come at once," interrupted the girl, and led the way up to the
bridge. After first ascertaining that Calamity was not there, the
engineer followed, wondering, as well he might, what such an
extraordinary invitation portended. When they had entered the chart-room
the girl shut the door and pointed to a seat.

"Have you heard about the Captain?" she asked.

"Haird what?" inquired McPhulach.

"Then you haven't. He is down with a severe attack of malaria; and is
quite incapable of doing anything."

"Ye dinna say!"

"It's quite true, he had to be carried off the bridge half an hour ago."

"Weel, weel," murmured the engineer, "he always was a michty quare mon."

"And Smith, as I suppose you know, has broken his leg."

"Aye, ane of the firemen was tellin' me."

"Therefore," she went on, "I have decided to take command of the _Hawk_,
since no one, except myself, is capable of navigating her."

She had expected the engineer to show some sign of surprise, even
resentment, and was prepared to combat it. But, for all the emotion
McPhulach exhibited, she might have been telling him that she had
decided to alter her time of getting up or going to bed. He did not even
appear interested, but, stooping down, proceeded to take off one of his
boots.

"It's verra bad policy to buy ye'r boots second-hand unless ye'r
sairtain they'll fit," he remarked, and then remained silently staring
at a hole in his sock as though it were a subject for long and earnest
meditation.

"I suppose you think I am taking a great deal on myself," she said,
wishing to force some comment from him.

The engineer jerked his head in a manner which might have been a nod or
a shake, agreement or disagreement. His eyes were still fixed on the
gaping aperture in his sock. But at last he spoke, slowly and incisively
as a man might who had come to a momentous conclusion after much mental
tribulation.

"Yon's the thaird pair o' sacks I've holed at the first wearin'. Gin I
go on at this rate I'll no hae a pair to me name by the time we reach
Singapore."

"I don't believe you've been listening to a word I've said!" exclaimed
the girl, goaded to exasperation.

McPhulach looked up with an expression of mingled surprise and pain on
his face.

"Wasna ye tellin' me that ye were goin' to tak' command o' the _Hawk_?"

"Yes."

"Then ye were wrang in saying I didna hear ye," he answered
triumphantly.

"The point I want to get at," said the girl, trying hard to be patient,
"is this. Can I depend on your support and assistance if necessary? I
have made it all right with the crew. Will you be responsible for your
men down below?"

The engineer did not answer immediately. Apparently he was turning the
matter over in his mind.

"Ye'll be takin' upon ye'rsel' the privileges and powers of a skipper,
I'm tae understand?" he inquired at last.

"Yes, since I shall be responsible for the navigation."

Again McPhulach paused meditatively, and the girl noticed, with a
feeling of apprehension, that his eyes wandered towards the hole in his
sock. But this time it did not monopolise his thoughts.

"Calamity's no said anything tae ye consairning mesel', I suppose?" he
asked.

"Certainly not," she replied, rather surprised at the question. "In
fact, I've had no opportunity to discuss anything with him."

"Because," continued the engineer, "he's as good as promised me a rise
of a poond a month in recogneetion of me sairvices. But I've heard
naething aboot it syn."

"I know nothing about that. It's a matter for the Captain to consider
when he returns to duty."

"Nae, nae, it isna," protested McPhulach. "The captain's the captain
whether he wears skirts or breeks. I'd like ye, in ye'r capacity of
skipper of the _Hawk_, to confairm that promise of an extra poond a
month."

"I will undertake that you shall have the extra money so long as I am in
command, even if I have to pay it myself," answered the girl.

"Guid enough. Gin ye hae a bit o' paper handy, meybe ye'd no objec' to
putting it doon in writing. I'm no dootin' ye'r word, mind ye, but
'twould be mair satisfactory to hae it in black and white, if ye ken
me."

He drew a fountain-pen from a pocket beneath his dungarees and the girl
found a piece of paper in one of the table drawers. She took the pen
from McPhulach, and, hastily scribbling a few lines, handed it to him.

"Will that do?" she asked.

The engineer took the paper and read it with extreme care. It was to the
effect that, during her command of the _Hawk_, Dora Fletcher agreed that
Phineas McPhulach, chief engineer of that vessel, should receive a pound
a month extra pay.

"Aye," he murmured, handing it back to her, "ye'll be guid enough tae
sign it, please."

The girl did so, and McPhulach waved it gently to and fro to dry the
ink.

"So ye've made ye'r intentions known tae the crew," he remarked.

"Yes."

"An' hoo did they tak' it?"

"Not very well at first. I shouldn't be surprised if some of them tried
to make trouble, especially as they know we have treasure aboard."

"Aye, I shouldna be sairprised. Sic an ungodly lot o' heathen I've never
sailed wi' before. But ye're a michty plucky lassie. Mind, ye're no me
ideal of a woman, but gin it wasna that I'm a wee bit confused in me
matrimonial obligations I dinna say that I wouldna marry ye mesel'."

"It's good of you, I'm sure."

"Nae, nae, dinna thank me," answered McPhulach hastily, "I wasna meanin'
to propose tae ye. It jest crossed me mind like that ye'd mak' a guid
wife gin ye was properly trained." He rose to his feet and yawned. "I'm
for turnin' in," he said, "so I'll be wishin' ye guid nicht, Miss
Fletcher."

"Good-night," she answered, and the engineer left the chart-room. When
he had gone the girl took from a drawer a chart, pencil, and parallel
rulers, and, sitting down, marked out the ship's course. This done, she
wrote up the log and then stepped out on to the bridge, just as two
relief quartermasters came up to take the wheel over.

"I shall only want one man at the wheel now," she said. "The storm, I
think, has passed over."

A little later on, when she was taking off her sea-boots in the
chart-room preparatory to lying down, there was a knock at the door.

"Come in," she said.

It was McPhulach, who, with an oilskin over his pyjamas, stood at the
door.

"I jest wanted to mak' sairtain, Miss Fletcher, that ye didna
misunderstand me a whiles back," he said anxiously.

"Misunderstand what?" she asked in surprise.

"Weel, I'd like tae mak' it clear that I didna propose tae ye. I wouldna
like ye tae attach any false hope to what I said aboot marryin' ye
mesel' gin I was able. It were jest a wee bit joke, ye'll ken."

She reassured him concerning her intentions, and the engineer, with a
sigh of relief, returned to his bunk.



CHAPTER XXI

THE SIGNAL GUN


The morning dawned bright and cloudless, with every promise of a spell
of fine weather. But although the hurricane had spent itself, there was
still a heavy sea running which impeded the work of clearing up the
decks and repairing the damage wrought by the storm. In the brilliant,
penetrating sunshine, the _Hawk_ presented a disreputable appearance:
her funnel encrusted with dirty grey rime, both her for'ad derricks a
heap of splintered wood and tangled cordage, her boats smashed to
matchwood, and her decks a depository of wreckage of all sorts.

Dora Fletcher had been able to snatch only a couple of hours' sleep
during the night, but when dawn broke she went to see Calamity. She
found him tossing in his bunk, and murmuring incoherently. When she
spoke to him he showed no sign of comprehension. Sing-hi stood by while
she went to the medicine-chest and took out a bottle of sweet spirits of
nitre. To him she explained what dose he was to give the patient, and
the Chinaman nodded comprehendingly; he had already proved himself a
conscientious and trustworthy sick-nurse, albeit possessed of no
initiative. He would have gone on pouring medicine down the Captain's
throat at intervals long after the latter was dead, unless given
instructions to the contrary.

Her next visit was to Smith, who, as Sing-hi had as much as he could do
in the cabin, was being attended by one of the deck-hands.

"What cher!" he exclaimed genially as she entered, "how's the old man
this morning?"

"In the hot stage now," answered the girl. "But how are you?"

"Not so dusty considerin'. It's a bit orf, though, lying here on a shelf
like a bloomin' parcel that's been left till called for."

"But you're not in pain?"

"Oh, nothing to make a shout about. But how are you getting on with the
crew? I've been expectin' mutiny ever since the skipper was knocked
out."

"I don't think there's much fear of that," answered the girl, and
described her interview with the bos'n on the preceding evening.

"You see," she concluded, "the men are helpless."

"There's something in that," Smith admitted. "By crikey, you're a
bloomin' knock-out, and no kid," he added admiringly.

"I must leave you now," she said, going to the door, "but I'll look in
again later on."

"Right you are, sir," replied the patient jocularly.

When she entered the foc'sle to see the injured quartermaster some of
the men, impelled by a rude courtesy, rose to their feet, but there were
others who regarded her with an air of aloofness which almost amounted
to defiance. Having ascertained that the patient was progressing as
favourably as could be expected, she left the foc'sle and was met on
the for'ad deck by the bos'n, who appeared to be in an agitated state of
mind.

"Been looking for you everywhere, Miss," he said breathlessly. "Didn't
you 'ear the gun?"

"Gun! What gun?"

"A signal from somewheres astern. Struck me it might be the _Satellite_
in trouble, Miss."

The only thing to do under the circumstances was to search for the
vessel in distress. The girl went on the bridge, and, telling the
quartermaster to stand aside, took the wheel herself. At the same moment
she heard the distant boom of a gun, obviously a signal for help. It now
became necessary to bring the _Hawk_ round in a semi-circle and this, in
such a sea, was a task which called for extremely nice judgment and
skilful seamanship. Yet the amazing young woman accomplished it without
mishap, though once, when broadside on to a beam sea, those on board
experienced a few nasty moments with a solid mountain of green water
towering above them, and looking as if it must fall upon the ship and
crush her under its stupendous weight.

"S'truth!" ejaculated the bos'n softly when the steamer's nose swung
round to meet the oncoming rollers, "that was touch-and-go if you like.
But she can 'andle a boat, can that gal."

And the carpenter, who stood near him, agreed.

Suddenly the look-out shouted "Ship on the port bow!" and, giving the
wheel to the quartermaster, Dora Fletcher snatched up the glasses and
looked in the direction indicated. There, sure enough, was a vessel
which looked remarkably like the _Satellite_, but, most amazing thing of
all, _she was not rolling_, and the seas were breaking clean over her.
In a flash the girl divined what had happened; the gunboat had struck
some uncharted reef and was firmly wedged aground. Presumably,
therefore, she was making water fast and the only thing to do was to get
the crew and prisoners off as quickly as possible.

"Signal we're coming to her assistance," said the girl, and the bos'n
hoisted the flags, H.F. The reply came immediately, "Want a tow, no
damage."

"Gawd, she must 'ave struck a feather piller instead o' a reef,"
commented the bos'n _sotto voce_, as he communicated the reply to Miss
Fletcher.

Slowly the _Hawk_ bore down to leeward of the stranded vessel,
signalling the _Satellite_ to send a boat with tow-lines, for it was far
too perilous to come near enough for the lines to be thrown from one
ship to the other. Thanks to Mr. Dykes's foresight in having thrown out
oil-bags, the sea around the _Satellite_ had subsided considerably and a
boat was lowered without much difficulty. But as soon as she got outside
the oil radius the frail cockleshell of a boat was tossed about like a
cork, and more than once it looked as if she must inevitably be swamped
and capsized. But she fought her way manfully, and at last came within
hailing distance of the _Hawk_.

"Stand off!" shouted the girl through a megaphone. "Heave from where you
are."

The wisdom of this order was apparent to all, for, had the boat come
much nearer or attempted to get alongside, she would almost certainly
have been swept against the steamer and crushed to pieces. So while the
crew kept her head-on to the sea, the man in the bows waited for a
favourable opportunity. It came when the boat was carried upwards on the
crest of a huge wave till on a level with the _Hawk's_ bridge; then he
stood up, and, swinging one of the lines round his head, gave it a
cast. The thin rope leapt through the air in a long, sinuous curve, and
descended on the steamer's deck, where it was promptly caught and
secured to the drum of a steam-winch. Then ensued another period of
tense waiting before a chance came to send the other line aboard; but it
was successfully accomplished at last, and the boat started on its
return journey.

As soon as the second line had been secured the steam-winches were
started and began to wind in the lines until the hawsers appeared under
the _Hawk's_ stern, one on each side.

"Vast heaving!" came the order.

Then, with the assistance of the winches, the ends of the hawsers were
carried through the hawse-holes and parcelled with chafing-mats to
lessen the friction. The _Hawk_ was now astern of the _Satellite_, which
was to be towed off the reef stern foremost, and the work would commence
as soon as the hawsers had been made secure.

At last the bos'n reported all ready and the girl rang down "Stand by"
to the engine-room. There was a tense pause, and then she again moved
the lever. A faint "ting-ting" came from below, the telegraph pointer
swung round to "Slow," and the _Hawk's_ engines began to move with a
steady, ponderous beat. All eyes were fixed upon the hawsers, which, as
the steamer began to move, slowly raised their dripping lengths from the
water. Then the moment arrived when the great ropes tautened till they
vibrated under the tension like fiddle-strings when a bow is passed
across them. The _Hawk_, which had been slowly forging ahead, seemed to
pull up with a sudden jerk, and then gradually slide back, stern
foremost, in her own wake, while the hawsers sagged and dipped into the
sea. The girl on the bridge waited with her hand on the telegraph, every
nerve braced as if for stupendous effort, while she watched the hawsers
disappear. Then, as the _Hawk's_ stern-way was arrested, she rang down
"Half speed" and the engines pulsated with quickened beats.

Again the hawsers grew taut as the steamer forged ahead, only to recoil
once more like a straining hound suddenly jerked back by its leash. But
this time the recoil was only momentary and then she gathered a little
way, while, at the same moment, the _Satellite_ was seen to move. Once
more Dora Fletcher pressed the lever of the telegraph, the decks
vibrated to the thunderous beat of the engines, and, to the
accompaniment of a cheer from the anxious watchers, the gunboat slid
gently into deep water.

"Gawd!" ejaculated the bos'n, wiping the sweat from his brow, and the
monosyllable was more eloquent than an oration.

With a little moan of utter fatigue which was not that of the body only,
Dora Fletcher slipped into the chart-room and flung herself on the
settee. The terrible nervous strain of these hours when she alone had
been responsible for the safety of the _Hawk_ and all those souls
aboard, added to the strain of the last hour, had been too much for her.
She collapsed suddenly in a dead faint, and it was thus that McPhulach
discovered her when he put his head into the chart-room some fifteen
minutes later.



CHAPTER XXII

MR. SMITH SEEKS A PARTNER


McPhulach, thinking the girl was asleep, shook her gently by the
shoulder; but, as this met with no response, he took a closer look at
her.

"Losh presairve us!" he ejaculated, "the lassie's fainted."

He took from his pocket a small, flat flask, and, after drawing the
cork, placed the bottle to his nose and sniffed the aroma
appreciatively. Then, with a sigh, he forced some of its contents
between the girl's teeth, pillowing her head on his arm as he did so. In
a moment or two she opened her eyes and stared at him with a dull,
uncomprehending gaze, which, however, quickly gave place to a look of
bewilderment.

"Why, what's happened?" she murmured and passed a hand across her
forehead as if trying to remember.

"Ye've jes' swallowed a drap o' unco' guid whusky," answered the
engineer, holding up the flask to see how much he had "wasted."

"Why I--I must have fainted!"

"Aye, ye were lying on the cooch like a wax-work figger when I came in."

The girl sat up with cheeks that had suddenly become very red. Obviously
she was ashamed of being found out in an essentially feminine weakness.

"I was very tired," she said apologetically, "and--and----"

"Ye jes' swooned," put in McPhulach as she hesitated. "Weel, I'm no
sairprised. I'm subjec' tae it mysel', which is why I always carry a wee
drappie aboot me pairson. It's likewise a muckle fine thing for stomach
troubles, ye ken."

The girl nodded absently and gazed through the chart-room window at the
_Satellite_, now steaming about a cable's length astern. Under the
bos'n's directions, the towing hawsers had been cast off and hauled back
aboard the gunboat. It had not occurred to her till this moment that Mr.
Dykes must have been considerably exercised in his mind at seeing her on
the bridge, and in command instead of Calamity. She wondered what he
thought about it.

"Weel, I'll be ganging below," remarked McPhulach. "It was a michty guid
thing I came up here for a breath o' fresh air an' tae see hoo ye were
getting alang."

"It was, and I'm very much obliged to you for what you did," answered
the girl. "But please don't say anything about it to anyone."

She stammered and blushed as though asking him to compound a felony.

"Nae, nae, I'll no breathe a word, gin ye dinna want me tae," he assured
her. "Mr. Smeeth's man tells me a steam-pipe has burstit in his cabin,
sae I'll jes' gang doon and hae a speer at it," saying which the
engineer left the chart-room, and, descending to the deck, made his way
to the second-mate's cabin.

After an amiable exchange of greetings between himself and Smith, he
found the leak in the steam-pipe and plugged it with cotton waste.

"'Tis a fine bit o' wark that Miss Fletcher has done," he remarked,
preparing to leave.

"You mean gettin' the _Satellite_ off?" answered Smith. "Yes, Byles was
telling me about it; said it was one of the finest feats of seamanship
he'd ever seen."

"Aye, 'twas that. Mon, she'd mak' a splendid wife for a body who could
manage her."

"D'you think so?" said Smith thoughtfully.

"Never a doot, lad. But the mon who'd be strang enoo' to marry the like
o' her, would be strang enoo' not tae marry at a', I'm thinkin'."

There was a pause and McPhulach made to leave the cabin. As he was about
to open the door, Smith called him back.

"Thinkin' it over," said he, "I ain't such a bad-lookin' cove, am I?"

"It's haird tae say," answered the engineer slowly. "Wi' a few
alterations an' repairs, some women micht regaird ye as an Adonis."

"Never met the bloke. But," went on the second-mate, trying to pin the
other down to a definite statement, "you wouldn't say I was hideous,
would you?"

Again McPhulach regarded him critically before venturing an opinion.

"It's haird tae say," he replied at last.

"Oh hang!" ejaculated Smith in disgust. "Still," he went on, "I'm blowed
if I don't have a try."

"Eh?"

"She might do worse."

"D'ye mean that ye're goin' tae ax Mees Fletcher tae marry ye?"

"Why not?"

"You're a brave mon, Smeeth."

"But why shouldn't I?" reiterated the second-mate.

"I wish ye luck," said the engineer dryly. "Hoo-ever, I ken nae reason
why ye shouldna ax her."

"D'you mean you don't think she'd have me?"

"Nae, nae, women hae quare tastes, an' it isna always the best-lookin'
mon that comes oot the best."

"Look here, Mac, d'you think you could put out a feeler for us?"

"Eh!"

"Jest sound her, so to speak; find out whether she likes me."

"Nae, nae," answered the engineer hastily. "I've enough troubles of me
ain, an' I'm no goin' tae do anither body's coorting."

"Tell you what, Mac," went on Smith coaxingly, "you shall be best man at
the wedding."

"Ye're verra generous, but it's no' the job I'm speerin' after."

"All right, you can give us a wedding present then."

"Eh! Weel, mebbe I'd be ye'r best mon gin ye were marrit."

"Half a mo, Mac," said the second-mate, as the engineer made another
attempt to escape. "You don't think there's any one else in the runnin',
do you?"

"It's a verra deeficult question tae answer," replied McPhulach.

"How d'you mean?"

"There is an' there isna'."

"What the devil are you driving at?"

"I mean that she's wishfu' tae marry the skeeper, an' he's no wishfu'
tae be marrit."

"Crikey!" ejaculated Smith, the look of pleasurable anticipation dying
out of his face. "Who told you that?"

"Ony fu' wi' a pair o' een in his held could hae telt ye that."

"I guessed she was a bit gone on him at first, but blimey, I never
thought she was in love with him--why, he's old enough to be her father,
I should say. Besides, he's only got one eye, and you can't call him
handsome, look at him any way you like."

"I told ye women hae quare tastes."

"Well, if I ain't a better man to look at than that one-eyed old crock
aft, I'll eat my bloomin' hat."

"I wouldna advise ye tae mak' rash promises," answered McPhulach, and
managed to slip out of the cabin before Smith could detain him.

For a time the amorous second-mate lay still, trying to make up his mind
as to the best and most effective manner of declaring his passion to
Miss Fletcher. McPhulach's reference to the Captain, though it had
disconcerted him at the moment, upon mature consideration seemed so
preposterous that he had found no difficulty in dismissing it from his
mind. The more he thought over his matrimonial scheme, the more
convinced he became that, in marrying him, Miss Fletcher would be a very
fortunate young woman. Besides, she would have the inestimable privilege
of keeping him "straight," which would, no doubt, provide her with an
interest in life. Women, he believed, liked reforming, and his future
wife would have ample opportunity for indulging in this hobby. She
might, in time and with patience, even effect a permanent reform.

Little guessing the good fortune in store for her, Dora Fletcher stood
on the bridge with a sextant in her hands, "shooting the sun," it being
then exactly at the meridian. This was the first time since they had
been overtaken by the hurricane that a chance had occurred for taking
observations. For the last two or three days the ship's approximate
position could only be ascertained by dead reckoning, and, therefore, it
was necessary to correct this at the earliest opportunity. Having
concluded her observations, marked the _Hawk's_ position on the chart,
and laid out the course, the girl lay down on the settee to try and make
up a little for the inadequate amount of sleep she had had during the
last forty-eight hours. Later on in the day she again visited the
Captain's cabin. He was sleeping when she went in, and it was evident
that his condition had improved. Having given the steward some further
instructions, she went to Smith's cabin to see how he was getting on.

"Well, how do you feel this evening?" she inquired on entering.

"Pretty fair, thanks," answered the invalid with a deep sigh.

"Your leg's not hurting you?"

"Oh no, my leg ain't hurting me."

"Then what's the matter? You seem rather melancholy."

"I've been thinkin'," said Smith still more gloomily, "of me future."

"Your future?"

"Yes. A man lyin' on a sick bed gets queer notions into his head,
especially if he's got brains."

"But why should you worry about the future?" asked the girl, puzzled.
"Your leg will soon be all right, and you'll be able to go on duty
again."

"The fact is," replied Smith, suddenly becoming confidential, "I'm
thinking of settlin' down."

"Yes?"

"A man like me, who's always led a rovin' life, so to speak, wants an
anchor. A home and wife and kids, and so on."

"Then you're thinking of getting married?" asked the girl innocently.

"That all depends," he answered. "Although you mightn't think it, I'm
rather a particular sort of cove. Of course I've got my faults----" and
he waved an arm as if to signify that he also had his virtues, which
were too obvious to specify.

Miss Fletcher, not feeling called upon to make any comment, remained
silent, and, after a moment or two, Smith went on.

"What I want is a young woman who understands men of my sort. A woman
with a bit of spirit, mind you, not bad-lookin', and able to turn her
hand to 'most anything."

"H'm; I should think you'd better advertise, stating all your
requirements."

"No need," replied Smith triumphantly. "I've got the very woman in my
eye."

"Oh? That ought to save you a lot of trouble, not to say expense,"
answered the girl with a touch of irony, which, however, Smith failed to
perceive.

"Yes, but the trouble is that I ain't quite certain yet whether she'll
have me," he said.

"I should think the easiest way out of the difficulty would be to ask
her," she replied, wholly ignorant of the direction in which the
second-mate's laborious confidences were tending.

"You don't think she'd be offended if I did?"

"Good gracious, how should I know!"

"Better than you think, p'raps," replied Smith mysteriously. "Shall I
tell you her name?"

"Really, Mr. Smith, I don't think it concerns me in the slightest what
the lady's name is."

"But it does!" he almost shouted, raising himself on his elbow and
staring at her hard.

For the first time Dora Fletcher began to see the trend of all this. She
rose from the locker upon which she had been seated.

"I must leave you now," she said a little coldly. "I have to----"

"Half a mo'," broke in Smith, "you haven't heard the lady's name yet."

"I don't think I want to, thanks. It's not a matter which----"

"Isn't it! You wait. The lady's name is Dora Fletcher--how about that?"

An angry flush mounted to the girl's face, and then, being blessed with
that rare possession, a sense of humour, she had much ado to prevent
herself from laughing outright.

"I'm afraid I can't oblige you, Mr. Smith," she said. "Although, of
course, I appreciate the honour you've done me."

"That ain't any use to me," growled the second-mate, rather taken aback
at this unhesitating rejection.

"I'm sorry, but----"

"What's wrong with me, then?" he burst out. "Of course I'm not a
bloomin' earl or a dook nor yet a Captain----"

"I think we had better forget all about it," answered the girl. "Please
don't speak of it again."

But Smith, his hopes dashed to the ground, and his pride wounded, was
not inclined to drop the subject so lightly. In fact, he completely
lost his temper.

"I suppose it's because you're sweet on the skipper," he said savagely.
"But I can tell you that you ain't got a ghost of a chance there; no,
not if you lived to a hundred. He ain't no ornery, bloomin' skipper, nor
Calamity ain't his name. Would you like to know who he is?"

The girl hesitated, torn between an almost irresistible desire to learn
the secret of that strange man's identity, and disgust at the vulgar
outburst of the little Cockney.

"You may as well know," he added, noticing her indecision.

"Well, tell me then," she retorted, unable any longer to resist the
temptation.

Smith glanced furtively around the cabin as if to make sure no one was
concealed there, and then leaned over the edge of his bunk.

"Come nearer," he said; "it ain't the sort of thing to shout out loud."

Reluctantly she moved a little closer to him, and he whispered two words
in her ear.

"Well, what do you say to that?" he asked triumphantly.



CHAPTER XXIII

DORA FLETCHER ANSWERS "NO"


A week had passed, and Calamity, now convalescent, was able once more to
resume command. As, however, Smith was still unable to discharge his
customary duties, the Captain appointed Miss Fletcher temporary mate.

"Since you are now an officer," he said with that grim smile of his,
"you had better take your meals in the cabin with me."

The girl's eyes lit up with pleasure for a moment, then the light died
out of them and her lips hardened.

"Thank you all the same, but I should prefer to have my meals in my own
cabin as before," she answered.

"Please yourself," answered Calamity carelessly.

After this, although their relationship remained superficially much the
same as it had always been, the Captain taciturn and abrupt, the girl
quiet and self-possessed, there was a subtle change in the attitude of
each towards the other. Calamity had come to rely on the girl, and now
accepted at her hands many little services which tended towards his
greater comfort, services which he would have rejected with curt
imperiousness less than a fortnight ago.

One day he sent for McPhulach, and in due course the engineer appeared,
clad as usual, in soiled dungarees, and clasping a piece of oily
cotton-waste in his hand.

"Ye're wishfu' tae see me, sir?" he inquired.

"Yes; sit down."

The engineer perched himself on the cabin skylight, and began
mechanically to rub the brass rails with his cotton-waste.

"Would you care to go to England after this trip, McPhulach?" asked the
Captain abruptly.

McPhulach ceased rubbing the brass rails, and stared at Calamity in
astonishment.

"Tae England?" he repeated.

"Yes. I may want you in connection with that document you signed, and
quite possibly I shall be able to give you a good shore job."

"It a' depends," answered the engineer thoughtfully. "Ye see, skeeper, I
hae sairtain financial obleegations in that country which I canna
dischairge. An' meybe there are ane or twa leddies who'd mak' it no
verra pleasant for me gin they were tae ken I was back."

"H'm; I should have thought that a man of your resource and experience
could have overcome that difficulty."

McPhulach considered for a little time, and the cloud on his brow
lifted.

"I ken brawly wha' tae dae, sir!" he exclaimed. "Gin ye'll ca' me Jones
and give oot that I'm a Welshman, there's no a body who'd recognise me."

Something like a chuckle escaped the Captain, but he answered in a
perfectly grave voice.

"If you think that device will overcome your difficulties, I have no
objection to calling you Jones and informing all whom it may concern
that you're a Welshman."

"Frae Pontypreed."

"From Pontypridd, if you like. That sounds Welsh enough."

"Then I'll sign on wi' ye, sir."

"Right, then that's settled," answered Calamity, and McPhulach, preening
himself upon his astuteness, returned to the engine-room.

That evening, when Miss Fletcher came on the bridge to relieve the
Captain, he seemed inclined to linger.

"By the twenty-seventh," he said, "we ought to be in Singapore."

"In Singapore," murmured the girl, and nodded as if in answer to some
unspoken thought.

"Yes. Have you finally decided what to do?"

"I shall see the British Consul, lay before him my father's papers, and
ask him to advance me sufficient money to----"

"There's no need to ask him that," interrupted Calamity. "I could let
you have whatever you wanted, even if there wasn't----"

"Still, if you don't mind, I should prefer to borrow it from the
Consul," she broke in without looking at him.

"As you please. Then I take it that you have made up your mind to go to
California?"

"Yes; I will take your advice and try fruit-farming."

"H'm," grunted Calamity.

"You told me it was the best--in fact, the only thing I could do," she
said with a faint touch of sarcasm in her voice.

"Yes--yes, I suppose I did."

"The profession I know best and which I love best--that of the sea--I
cannot follow, being a woman. You pointed that out yourself."

"It is self-evident!"

Calamity turned away as if to leave the bridge, hesitated on the top
step of the companion-ladder, and then came back again. Seemingly he did
so only to glance at the compass, but, having done this, he came up to
the bridge-rail and leant over it.

"You are a strange young woman," he said abruptly.

"Am I?"

He lapsed into silence again and Dora Fletcher, looking at him
surreptitiously out of the corner of her eye, marvelled exceedingly.
Once more this extraordinary man was revealing himself to her in a new
light. Usually so self-confident and determined in manner and speech, he
exhibited a curious hesitancy this evening that puzzled the girl. He was
like a man who wished to say something yet, for some reason or other,
feared to say it. This so impressed her that she grew uneasy, and,
moving a little farther away from him, leant against the starboard rail
and gazed fixedly across the darkening waters.

Presently the Captain straightened his back, walked to the port rail,
and, after standing there a moment or two, crossed to where the girl was
standing. He did not speak, and, although her back was towards him, she
knew that he was very close. Involuntarily she clutched the rail tightly
as if to support herself, her heart began to beat faster and her breath
came in little catches. And yet, she told herself, there was no reason
for this; it made her angry, angry with herself for being unreasonably
agitated, and angry with him for being the cause of it. He remained
standing close behind her, saying nothing, till at last she could bear
it no longer.

"Won't you miss your watch below, sir?" she asked.

"That is my affair," he answered in his old curt way, and she felt a
sense of relief at the familiar tone.

He remained where he was, however, regarding her intently and with an
expression that would have startled the girl had she seen it. There was
every excuse for that look on the Captain's face, for she made as comely
a picture as any man might wish to gaze upon, with her slim, supple
figure and the great braid of red-brown hair coiled round her shapely
head. Masculine as she was in her fearlessness, her strength, and her
power of command, she was withal intensely feminine, possessing besides
all the lure of blossoming womanhood.

All this Calamity recognised clearly enough now, if he had never done so
before. He was very far from being a sentimentalist, but, as he stood so
near to her, the memory of that day when she had frankly avowed her love
for him came back with poignant vividness. He knew now that he had been
a blind fool and a brutal fool as well. The greatest treasure that life
can give had been his for the taking, and he had spurned it. But now he
had awakened to a sense of what he had lost.

Such were the thoughts which passed through Calamity's mind as he
lingered irresolutely on the bridge. It was an altogether new sensation
to him, this self-condemnation and timid hesitancy. For the first time
in his life, perhaps, Calamity was afraid. It was, if nothing else, a
chastening experience.

As for Dora Fletcher, her whole being was in a tumult of warring
emotions. Instinctively she felt something of what was passing through
the Captain's mind. She could not but guess that this sudden and
remarkable change in his manner was due to herself, that it meant the
beginning of a new relationship between them--at least, so far as he was
concerned. Already their relations had passed through several different
phases: first she had been a mere nonentity in his eyes; then an
individual to be tolerated, a nurse later on, then a trusted and
efficient officer, and finally--finally, she supposed, a memory ever
growing more indistinct as the years passed.

Just as his near presence was becoming intolerable to the girl because
of the complex emotions it occasioned, he moved away and strolled
towards the other end of the bridge. She wished fervently that he would
go below, for while he remained near her she was in a fever of
apprehension.

Presently, however, he turned again and walked slowly back to where she
was standing on the lee side of the bridge.

"Miss Fletcher," he said abruptly.

"Yes, sir," she answered, turning and facing him.

"Will you marry me?"

It had come at last, the inevitable climax she had felt approaching ever
since his recovery from that illness. For a moment she was conscious of
a thrill of exquisite joy, and her carefully nursed resolution wavered.
Then, remembering the communication Smith had made to her, she pulled
herself together.

"No," she answered in a low voice.

The Captain turned on his heel and walked in a leisurely manner to the
other end of the bridge, where he lingered for a moment. Then he came
back, glanced at the compass, and turned towards the girl.

"Keep her west by north," he said, and slowly descended the
companion-ladder.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE MACHINATIONS OF MR. SOLOMON


"Land ahead!"

At that cry the men came tumbling out of the foc'sle on to the for'ad
deck of the _Hawk_, for it meant they were in sight of port at last.
With luck, they would be paid off before many more hours had passed, the
prize-money would be distributed--and then for a flare-up; a riotous,
drunken orgy which would probably lead to three-fourths of their number
finishing up in the police-cells. It would be a great night for the
drink-shops of Singapore when Calamity's men, free from the iron
discipline they had endured throughout the voyage, let themselves go.

So the men crowded against the bulwarks watching, with hungry eyes, the
indistinct coast-line far away on the starboard bow. Even the most
sullen and discontented among them dwelt in cheerful anticipation upon
the glorious debauch in store. However, they were not permitted to dwell
upon these delights undisturbed. In common with most captains, Calamity
was accustomed to bring a ship into port looking like a new pin, with
not so much as a smudge on the brasswork or a blemish on the white
paint. So all hands were turned-to for the purpose of scouring,
cleaning, and polishing. They worked with a will, for this would be
practically their last day on board, even if the _Hawk_ did not take up
her moorings till the next morning. One of the men, a grizzled old
shellback whose memories reached to the days of clippers and
square-rigged ships, started to drone a chanty, popular enough in its
day but now consigned to the limbo of masts and sails and salt junk. And
this was the burden of his song:

    "A Yankee ship's gone down the river,
    Her masts and yards they shine like silver.
    How d'you know she's a Yankee clipper?
    By the Stars and Stripes that fly above her.
    And who d'you think is captain of her?
    One-eyed Kelly, the Bowery runner.
    And what d'you think they had for dinner?
    Belaying-pin soup and monkey's liver."

There was a chorus between each line of "Blow boys, bully boys blow,"
which the others took up and yelled at the tops of their voices. In
fact, the men were in such high spirits that, on the smallest
provocation, they would have raised three cheers for the skipper--but
the provocation was not given.

Calamity paced up and down the bridge, grim and taciturn as ever, his
hands buried in the pockets of his monkey jacket. About a cable's length
astern was the _Satellite_, with Mr. Dykes lolling on the bridge and
making mental calculations as to the number of dollars that would fall
to his share when the final settlement was made. Like their comrades on
the _Hawk_, the crew was busy making the ship spick and span, nor were
their anticipations less cheerful. Even the prisoners on both vessels
were perking up at the prospect of being released from the hot and
stifling quarters where they had spent so many weary days.

Perhaps the only gloomy members of the expedition were the Captain
himself and Dora Fletcher. The latter was sitting in her cabin gazing
thoughtfully out of the open port. Since that evening when Calamity had
asked her to marry him and she had refused, he had not mentioned the
subject again; his manner, indeed, seemed to indicate that he had
dismissed the matter from his mind. With feminine inconsistency she now
fervently wished that Smith had never told her the secret of the
Captain's identity, for then everything would have been quite simple.
Yet she tried to comfort herself with the thought that it was better as
it was, better that she should know the truth before it was too late and
she found herself faced by a situation with which, she assured herself,
she was totally unfitted to grapple. Involuntarily the girl sighed. So
this was to be the end of her one and only romance. Rightly or wrongly,
she had rejected the love she desired above all else and the one man
with whom she would have gladly mated.

Meanwhile the _Hawk_ and her consort were drawing nearer to Singapore,
and presently, in answer to a signal, a pilot-boat approached, and,
standing off, lowered a boat which quickly came alongside the yacht. The
pilot, a grizzled, weather-beaten man, scrambled out of the stern-sheets
and climbed on board.

"Well I'm jiggered!" he exclaimed as the Captain stepped forward to
greet him, "if it ain't Calamity."

"The same, Abott," answered the latter as they shook hands, for this was
not the first time by a good many that the pilot had taken him into
Singapore.

"But, bless my soul, skipper, this is the hooker that you wafted out of
Singapore."

"It is," answered Calamity. "But come along to my cabin and have a
drink, Abott. I'd like to have a little pow-wow with you."

Nothing loth, the pilot accompanied him to the cabin, where Calamity,
after carefully locking the door, brought out a bottle and some glasses
from a cupboard.

"The usual?" he inquired.

"Aye, skipper, my tastes ain't changed since we last met."

The Captain poured out a generous helping of brandy, which he handed to
the pilot and then poured out a like dose for himself.

"Here's luck," said the other as he raised his glass.

Calamity nodded and tossed off his drink.

"What's the news?" he asked.

"About the war? Oh, nothing special, the Germans ain't took Paris, and
we haven't burnt down Berlin. But say, skipper, what in thunder made you
hike off with the old _Arrow_?"

"The what?" asked Calamity staring hard at the other.

"The _Arrow_, this old packet of Rossenbaum's."

The Captain made no answer for a moment and then a look of understanding
came into his face.

"Oh, so the story is that I made off with Rossenbaum's ship?"

"You bet it is and there's a nice old shindy over it," answered the
pilot. "Rossenbaum accused Solomon of having stolen his blooming
steamer, and Solomon took his oath that you'd taken it unbeknownst to
him."

"What you've told me explains a lot of things, Abott. The excellent
Solomon's manoeuvres puzzled me from the start, but now I begin to see
daylight. I'll have one or two little bones to pick with Isaac when I
get ashore."

"Now, see here, skipper, jest you take my tip," said the other
earnestly. "Don't put into Singapore. It ain't a healthy place for you,
and that's a fact."

"Why not?"

"Why not! Well, you don't suppose a man can be accused of pinching some
other party's ship and the authorities not say a word, do you?"

"You mean they're after me?"

"There's a warrant out for your arrest under the Piracy Act or something
of that sort."

"H'm," grunted Calamity; "that's news."

"Now see here, skipper, we've known each other a tidy while, and you
know I'm not the man to lead an old friend into a mess if I can help it.
Take my advice and make for some other port; you may take your oath that
I shan't say a word about having picked you up."

"Abott, you're a white man," answered Calamity, "but I'm not taking your
advice, good as it sounds. Solomon has played his card, but I can trump
it; he's absolutely in my hands, though he doesn't know it yet. Now
we'll dismiss that subject for the present, and talk of something far
more important. First of all, can you trust the men on your boat?"

"Trust 'em? Well, I should say so," answered the pilot in surprise.

"What I mean is, can they keep their mouths shut?"

"Like limpets."

"Right. Now just listen to this little yarn of mine, Abott, and don't
interrupt before I'm through. Savee?"

"Forge ahead, skipper."

For close upon half an hour the Captain talked in lowered tones, and,
as he proceeded, the pilot's face exhibited every degree of
astonishment. Even when Calamity had finished he remained silent for
some moments, as if unable to wholly realise what the latter had told
him.

"Well I'm damned!" he muttered at last, and, taking a large blue
handkerchief from his pocket, mopped his face.

"And now the question is, will you accept the proposal or not?" asked
the Captain.

"I don't know that I've fairly got my teeth into it yet, skipper. It
sort o' takes one's breath away, and that's a fact."

"I'm afraid I can't give you much time to think it over, Abott."

"By thunder, I'll take it on then!"

"I'm glad, because there's no other man I could trust," answered
Calamity. "We'd better set to work and get the job over as quickly as
possible."

"Wait, though," said the other. "This is the sort of thing that wants to
be done at night. Suppose we sheer away from land a bit and don't put in
till to-morrow morning?"

"That's not a bad idea. Your boat could come alongside after dark then?"

"Yes, but there's another thing to consider as well. How about the men?
Can't you pay them off, prize-money and all, before we put in? You'll
want to get rid of that crowd as soon as possible after the hook touches
mud."

"It might be possible. Just lend me a hand, Abott."

With the pilot's assistance, all the boxes containing money, including
the heavy box found in the fort, were dragged out into the middle of the
cabin and opened.

"Before we count this you'd better tell the first-mate--a woman, by the
way--to alter the course and signal the _Satellite_ to do the same,"
said the Captain.

The pilot left the cabin, and when he returned Calamity had already
started to count out the money. Even with the two of them at work it
took a long time, and when it was finished and the values of the various
currencies adjusted, Calamity made some hurried calculations on paper.

"I can offer each man about a hundred pounds in addition to wages due,"
he said at last.

"And a pretty fine bonus, too, for such a short trip! They won't jib at
that offer, you bet your life. The sooner that deal's squared the
better, I should say, skipper."

The Captain unlocked the cabin door, and, calling Sing-hi, told him to
fetch the bos'n.

"I want you to make a proposal to the men," said Calamity, when the
bos'n appeared. "In the ordinary way they might have to wait a week or
more before they received the prize-money due to them, but, if they
prefer it, I will pay each man a hundred pounds cash in addition to
wages. They might get more by waiting till the stuff is valued and
disposed of, but, if they prefer the cash, I will divide the balance
among the various marine charities."

"I'm for the cash myself, sir, and I think the others'll be the same;
but I'll tell them what you say," answered the bos'n.

"As for the officers and engineers," said Calamity when the bos'n had
left the cabin, "they will have to wait until their shares can be
properly adjudged."

"As long as we can get rid of the crew, they don't matter, skipper."

In a few minutes the bos'n returned and said that the men were
unanimously in favour of taking the cash.

"Then assemble the men aft at eight bells, bos'n."

"Aye, aye, sir," answered the latter, and departed.

"Now," said Calamity, rising from his chair, "I'll signal Mr. Dykes to
put the same proposal to his men."

He accordingly did this, and in a very short time received a message
back to the effect that the men would prefer the cash payment.

At eight o'clock that evening the crew of the _Hawk_ lined up aft to
receive their money. As each man's name was called out by the bos'n, the
owner of it stepped up to the little table where Calamity was seated and
received in his hat the equivalent in money and notes of about a hundred
and twenty pounds, prize-money and pay. When they had all been paid, a
boat was lowered and the Captain went aboard the _Satellite_, where a
similar distribution was made.

Later on that night, when it was quite dark, a boat approached the
_Hawk_ and made fast under her stern. Some cases and bags were lowered
into her and then she slipped away into the darkness again.



CHAPTER XXV

THE ARREST


Early on the following morning the _Hawk_, with the gunboat in her wake,
steamed towards Singapore harbour. As the vessels drew nearer, a
motor-boat was seen approaching at full speed, and presently a man in
the stern stood up and began to wave his arms frantically, apparently as
a signal for the ships to heave-to.

"Now, who the devil's that?" muttered Calamity, who was on the bridge
with the pilot.

"Looks uncommon like Solomon's new motor bum-boat," answered the latter.
"That's his water-clerk in the stern."

By this time the motor-boat had come within hailing distance, and the
excited person ceased waving his arms and applied both hands to his
mouth funnel-wise.

"Ship ahoy!" he yelled. "Is Captain Calamity on board?"

"Great Scot! How in the name of all that's uncanny did Solomon know that
I was coming into port!" ejaculated Calamity, turning to the pilot.

"Well, he might have heard from one of my men who went ashore last
night. I didn't tell them not to say anything about your coming in."

"Is that Captain Calamity?" shouted the water-clerk once more.

"Yes, what do you want?" answered the Captain.

"I want to see you, sir. I have a message from Mr. Solomon."

"Then come alongside."

The motor-boat sheered alongside the _Hawk_, and the water-clerk,
gripping a rope which had been thrown over the taffrail, hauled himself
on board. He waited at the foot of the bridge companion-ladder for
Calamity to come down, having learnt from experience that it was an
unforgivable offence to go on the bridge himself unless requested to do
so.

"Now then, what's your message?" asked Calamity, as he descended the
ladder.

The water-clerk, an undersized Malay half-breed with small, shifty eyes,
made a movement that was something between a salaam and a salute.

"I have important news from Mr. Solomon, Captain," he said.

"Well, go ahead."

The clerk glanced at the men at work on deck and made a significant
gesture.

"It is very private, sir," he answered.

"Then you'd better come to my cabin," said the Captain, and led the way
aft. On entering the cabin he sat down, but did not request his visitor
to do likewise, and the latter knew enough to remain standing.

"Now unload your instructions," said Calamity.

"The fact is, Captain, there's been great trouble about you in
Singapore," began the clerk, speaking in subdued tones. "It's said that
your Letters of Marque were forged and that you're nothing but a
pirate----"

"A what?" broke in the Captain, so fiercely that the other jumped.

"I--I'm only telling you what people say," the clerk answered nervously.

"You mean you're telling me what Solomon told you to say. Well, get on
with it."

"I know nothing about the matter myself, Captain, but the authorities
are going to arrest you and take possession of the ship."

"And Mr. Solomon has sent you to warn me, is that it?" asked Calamity
with an ironical smile.

"Yes. He is afraid that the authorities will seize the ship and all the
plunder."

"That's better, now we're getting at the truth. But how does Solomon
know I've got any plunder?"

"He did not think you would return without any."

"H'm, a far-seeing man is Solomon. But what does he expect me to do?"

"His idea is that you should transfer the most valuable stuff to the
motor-boat so that it may be taken away to a safe place. Then, you see,
when the officials board your ship they will find practically nothing."

"An excellent plan," remarked Calamity almost with enthusiasm. "But what
about me?"

"About you, Captain?"

"Yes; am I to be left to the care of the police while Solomon is looking
after the plunder?"

"Oh no!" ejaculated the clerk in shocked tones. "If there is nothing of
value on board the authorities can't do much to you. Besides, Mr.
Solomon will do his utmost to secure your acquittal if you are tried."

"A very ingenious scheme. And now tell me about this story of the
_Arrow_."

"The _Arrow_?" repeated the other with affected innocence.

"Exactly. Hasn't Solomon declared that I stole it; that, in short, it
belonged to Rossenbaum?"

A startled expression crossed the water-clerk's face, but it was gone in
an instant.

"I think you must be mistaken, Captain," he answered suavely. "I have
heard nothing about the _Arrow_."

"Well, you go back to Solomon and tell him that his little scheme's gone
adrift, and that he needn't worry himself about the plunder, because I'm
looking after it myself. Now quit."

The clerk looked as if he would have liked to protest, but thought
better of it, and, leaving the cabin, hurried back to the motor-boat
which then made for the harbour at full speed.

"That'll shake up our friend Solomon a bit, I fancy," said Calamity,
when he had told Abott about the interview. "It was a clever scheme, and
might have succeeded if you hadn't told me about that _Arrow_ affair."

"He'll be about the maddest thing between here and 'Frisco when that
little runt gives him your message," answered the pilot with a grin.

"The whole thing's as clear as daylight now," went on Calamity. "He got
hold of Rossenbaum's ship and palmed it off on me as his own, so that,
when the time came, he could get me arrested on a charge of piracy and
collar the whole of the proceeds himself. There are two things he didn't
count on, however, and one of them was that I might get rid of the stuff
before reaching Singapore."

"But you've still got to prove that you didn't pirate old Rossenbaum's
hooker."

Calamity laughed softly, but made no answer. Very soon afterwards a
naval steam pinnace hove in sight, and, without signalling the _Hawk_ to
stop, came alongside. A young Lieutenant caught hold of the rope by
which the water-clerk had lowered himself into the motor-boat and
scrambled on board with the agility of a monkey.

"Captain Calamity?" he inquired briskly as the latter, who had left the
bridge, came forward.

"At your service," answered the Captain.

"It is my duty to inform you, sir, that you are under arrest," said the
officer.

"On what charge?"

"The charge will be formulated by the authorities," replied the
Lieutenant, who, apparently, had no very great liking for this police
work.

"What do you propose to do with me then?"

"I must ask you to accompany me ashore as soon as this vessel is
anchored."

"I am at your disposal," answered the Captain.

Steaming into the harbour, the _Hawk_ dropped her anchor, and the
_Satellite_, having received no orders to the contrary, followed suit.
While this work was proceeding, a native boat put off from the shore and
approached the yacht. In it was a passenger attired in a frock coat,
and--a thing as rare in Singapore as snow--a tall silk hat. The boat
came alongside, and the boatman, in answer to an inquiry from his
passenger, indicated the rope that was still hanging over the taffrail
of the _Hawk_.

"Hullo, what is it?" shouted the Lieutenant from the deck above.

"Can you tell me if Mr. John Brighouse is on board?" inquired the
silk-hatted person in dignified tones.

"I will ask, but who are you?"

The stranger took a card-case from his pocket, but, realising the
impossibility of handing it up to the officer, put it back again.

"I am Henry Vayne, of Vayne & Paver, solicitors, Chancery Lane, London,"
he said in the same dignified tone.

"You had better come aboard, sir."

"Thank you, but--er--is there no other means of ascending than by this
rope?"

"If you'll wait a moment, I'll let down the accommodation ladder,"
answered the Lieutenant.

The ladder having been lowered, the visitor, who carried a small leather
handbag, mounted to the deck.

"I should be greatly obliged," said he, taking the card-case from his
pocket again and presenting a card to the officer, "if you would give
this to Mr. John Brighouse, and ask if I might be permitted to see him."

The Lieutenant took the card, and, turning to the bos'n who was standing
near, asked him if there was any one called John Brighouse on board.

"No one as I knows of, sir," answered the bos'n.

"I'm afraid you have made a mistake, sir," said the Lieutenant, but at
that moment Calamity appeared on deck, and, catching sight of the
visitor, hurried towards him.

"Vayne, by all that's wonderful!" he exclaimed.

The solicitor stared at him in a puzzled fashion for a moment, and then
his eyes lit up with a flash of recognition.

"Bless my soul, John, I shouldn't have known you!" he exclaimed as they
shook hands.

"Fifteen years make a great difference, eh?"

"Fourteen years, ten months and nine days," corrected the lawyer. "I am
always most exact on the subject of dates. The last time we met was in
my office, and the circumstances were--er--somewhat painful."

"Yes," answered the Captain, "they were. Still, Vayne, you behaved like
a brick; you were the only person who believed in me."

"Pah! Nonsense!" exclaimed the other. "But you've altered," he went on,
"altered most remarkably."

"Yes," said Calamity grimly, "I have altered, as you say. Strange you
should turn up at this juncture, because I'm in trouble once more."

"Dear me, dear me," murmured the lawyer in a tone of concern.

"Yes, I've been arrested on a charge of piracy, if I'm not mistaken."

"Pi----" began the other, and then, stopping short on the first
syllable, hastily adjusted a pair of pinc-nez on his nose and regarded
the Captain through them. "Piracy, did you say?" he went on.

"Yes, that's my latest crime. Last time we met it was forgery."

"Tut, tut," said the lawyer in a peevish tone, "you mustn't put it like
that. But, my dear John, piracy! Surely you are joking?"

"Ask that gentleman," answered Calamity, indicating the Lieutenant, who
had moved a little distance away.

"But you will disprove the charge?"

"Yes, I have a pretty good defence, I fancy."

"You will, of course, place it in my hands?"

"Since you've arrived at such an opportune moment, Vayne, it would be an
insult to the gods not to do so."

"Good," answered the lawyer. "But that reminds me. You haven't asked why
I'm here. It's some distance from Chancery Lane, eh?"

"Oh, I know why you're here," replied Calamity, "and for that reason we
can discuss your errand later on. This piracy charge is a more pressing
matter, and the sooner I place you in possession of the facts, the
better. I will ask the Lieutenant if he can let us have half an hour
alone together before I'm taken ashore."

The officer readily consented, and Calamity, accompanied by the lawyer,
went to his cabin. There they remained in close conference until a
seaman knocked at the door and informed the Captain that the Lieutenant
was waiting for him. Then, under an escort of bluejackets, Captain
Calamity was taken ashore.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE TRIAL


A couple of hours later Calamity, with the Lieutenant and Mr. Vayne--the
latter having been permitted to accompany them in his character of
solicitor to the accused--was ushered into a spacious room where several
men sat round a large table, at the head of which was a bronzed,
hard-featured man in naval uniform, evidently the president.

"You are John Brighouse, otherwise known as Captain Calamity, I
believe?" said the latter, addressing the prisoner.

"That is correct," answered the Captain.

"Briefly, the charge against you is that you did wilfully and
feloniously seize in this harbour a steamer called the _Arrow_,
belonging to Jacob Rossenbaum of Johore, and did detain and use the same
with criminal intent. Are you guilty or not guilty?"

"Not guilty."

Mr. Rossenbaum having been called upon to give evidence, stated that,
having contracted with Isaac Solomon of Singapore for the repair of his,
witness's ship, the _Arrow_, the latter was sent round to Mr. Solomon's
shipyard. Witness had every reason to believe that the repairs were
carried out, for he received a wire from Mr. Solomon telling him to
send a crew to take over the _Arrow_, which had then left the yard and
was lying in Singapore harbour. He had duly despatched a crew, but, on
the following morning, received another wire from Mr. Solomon asking him
to come to Singapore at once. On arrival, he learnt that his vessel had
been boarded and taken out of the harbour under her own steam by a
person known as Captain Calamity.

The president then called upon Isaac Solomon. The latter, who had
carefully abstained from looking at Calamity, took his stand as far from
him as he possibly could.

"According to the statement previously laid before us," said the
president, "you undertook to repair the steamer, _Arrow_, belonging to
Mr. Rossenbaum. The repairs having been duly executed, the steamer was
anchored in the harbour to await a crew which you had wired Mr.
Rossenbaum to send?"

"That is so," answered the witness.

"But while the steamer was waiting for this crew, she disappeared
mysteriously?"

"Yes."

"And you have reason to believe that the accused committed the offence?"

"I can prove it," said Mr. Solomon eagerly, but still carefully avoiding
the Captain's eye.

"That will do," said the president, and Mr. Solomon, with a grin of
triumph on his face, was about to retire, when the solicitor rose from
his chair.

"With your permission, sir," he said, addressing the president, "I
should like to ask this witness a question."

"Proceed then."

"Was there anything in the nature of a partnership existing between
yourself and the accused?" asked the solicitor.

"Most emphatically not!" exclaimed the witness. "I have never had any
dealings vith the man. He showed me a paper vich purported to be a
privateer's licence, but in my opinion it vas a forgery."

"That was all I wanted to know," said Mr. Vayne, and sat down.

The next witness was Tilak Sumbowa, Solomon's water-clerk, who, in
answer to the president, proceeded to give a long and detailed account
of how, on the very day that the _Arrow_ disappeared, his employer, Mr.
Solomon, had instructed him to wire Mr. Rossenbaum that his steamer was
awaiting a crew.

"That wire," said the witness impressively, "is in Mr. Rossenbaum's
possession now. On returning to the office I found that Mr. Solomon had
gone out and left a note saying that he had been called away on
business, and would not be back till next morning. I still have that
note. Then, having certain business to do myself, I went out of town and
did not get back till the following day."

"Then neither you nor your employer were in Singapore on the night the
_Arrow_ disappeared?" suggested the president as the witness paused.

"No, sir."

Other witnesses were then called--all of them natives or half-castes--to
show that Mr. Solomon was not in Singapore on the night of the _Arrow's_
departure, and that he had never had any business dealings with
Calamity.

"I will now call upon the accused to make his defence and examine any
witnesses he thinks fit," said the president.

Mr. Vayne at once stood up, and, adjusting his pinc-nez, addressed the
tribunal.

"I think it only right to inform the court that my client is not quite
the nameless adventurer the prosecutor would have you believe," he said
in a loud, sonorous voice. "It is true that he is known in these parts
as Captain Calamity, and it is equally true that his name is John
Brighouse. But he is also Viscount Redhurst of Redhurst--a fact which I
mention, gentlemen, because I assume that, when we come to deal with
conflicting statements, you will grant that the word of an English peer
is at least equal to that of a semi-Asiatic ship-chandler."

Mr. Vayne paused for a moment or two after this _dénouement_, in order
to let the full significance of his statement sink into the minds of his
opponents. He had taken their measure pretty accurately, and calculated
upon the effect which his words would produce.

"With the permission of the court," he went on, "I will recall the
prosecutor and put a few questions to him."

At a gesture from the president, Mr. Solomon stepped forward. The air of
conscious rectitude which had distinguished him when giving evidence
against Calamity was not now so apparent.

"I understand," said the lawyer, focussing his pinc-nez upon the
ship-chandler, "that it was you, and not Rossenbaum, who informed the
authorities that my client had illegally appropriated the steamer,
_Arrow_?"

"Yes," replied the witness.

"How soon, after you had discovered that the _Arrow_ was missing, did
you inform the authorities of the fact?"

"About three veeks," answered the witness reluctantly.

"You mean that three weeks elapsed before the authorities were made
aware of what had taken place?"

"Yes."

"Then do you wish the court to believe that if a man stole your watch
and chain, or broke into your office, you would wait three weeks before
informing the police?"

"That vould be a different thing."

"I believe you. Now," added the lawyer with sudden vehemence, "I put it
to you, sir, that your reason for waiting such a long time was that the
accused might get safely away before the authorities had a chance to
capture him."

"It vas not!" cried Mr. Solomon hotly. "Vy should I not wish him to be
captured?"

The lawyer placed both hands on the back of his chair and leaned
forward.

"Because," he said in a denunciatory tone, "you were the accused's
partner; because, having partly financed his scheme, you wanted to reap
all the profits by swindling your partner out of his share. I maintain,"
he went on, waving aside an interruption that Mr. Solomon was about to
make, "that your object was to let my client capture what prizes he
could, and then, by contriving his arrest, seize for yourself all the
proceeds of the expedition, together with any money that might accrue
from the Government."

"It is a lie, a vicked lie!" the witness almost shrieked.

"I will go even further," pursued the lawyer, ignoring Mr. Solomon's
indignant protest. "I will assert that the whole thing was a plot,
engineered by you as soon as my client had laid his plans before you.
With or without the connivance of Mr. Rossenbaum, the _Arrow_ was
brought round to Singapore, coaled, provisioned, and armed by you, and,
after you had caused the name _Hawk_ to be substituted for _Arrow_, was
handed over to my client with the understanding that it was your ship."

Mr. Solomon attempted to make a reply, but was so overcome with
indignation, anger, and other emotions that he could only utter
inarticulate sounds.

"I should like to recall the witness, Tilak Sumbowa," went on Mr. Vayne,
and the ship-chandler sat down, biting his nails with rage.

The water-clerk came forward looking very nervous.

"I gathered from your evidence that neither you nor Mr. Solomon were in
Singapore on the night the _Arrow_, or, as she was then called, the
_Hawk_, left," said Mr. Vayne.

"No; Mr. Solomon left me a note at mid-day saying he was called away on
business. I have it here," and the witness triumphantly produced an
envelope from his pocket.

"Let me see it."

Sumbowa passed the note to the lawyer, who scrutinised the envelope
critically.

"This envelope is addressed to Mr. Solomon," he said.

"Yes. The note was lying on his desk without an envelope, so I picked
one out of the waste-paper basket and put the note in it."

"And this is the identical envelope which you picked up out of the
waste-paper basket?"

"Yes."

"At the time you found the note?"

"Directly I had finished reading it."

"All of which circumstance took place a few hours before the _Hawk_ left
Singapore and during the time that Mr. Solomon was out of town?"

"Yes."

"Then," said the lawyer quietly, "how do you account for the fact that
this envelope bears on it a postmark dated a week after the _Arrow's_
departure?"

There was a dead silence. The witness looked from one to the other with
an almost pitiful expression of bewilderment.

"Well," said the lawyer after a long pause, "what explanation have you
to offer us? I presume you will not suggest that the postal authorities
post-date letters?"

"I--I must have made a mistake," faltered the unhappy Sumbowa. "Now I
come to think of it, I didn't put the note into the envelope till some
days afterwards."

"Oh yes, you've made a mistake," commented the lawyer drily, "but not
exactly in the way you would have us believe. However, we will let that
pass for the moment. Were you in the office yourself on the night that
the _Arrow_ left?"

"No."

"What time did Mr. Solomon arrive at the office on the following
morning?"

"I don't know."

"Don't you go to the office in the mornings, then?"

"Oh yes, I went to the office at eight o'clock as usual, but Mr. Solomon
was not there. I waited about for a little while and then went away.
When I came back at half-past ten he had returned."

"Was there anyone in the office at the time he arrived?"

"Oh no."

"How do you know?"

"It was locked up. That was why I went away."

A gleam came into the lawyer's eye as he realised, in a flash, what he
had accidentally stumbled upon. Without looking, he knew that Solomon
was making frantic but stealthy signs to Sumbowa, and by a kind of
hypnotism he kept the little water-clerk's attention fixed upon himself.
It would never do to let the half-caste guess what a mess he was getting
his employer into. Mr. Vayne's next question, therefore, was purposely
casual.

"You, yourself, had no key to the office then?"

"Oh no."

"Mr. Solomon had the only one?"

"Yes."

"Then do you suggest that he went away and left the office unlocked,
because, if not, how did you get in and find the note? And if it was
unlocked when you went in, how came it to be locked when you returned in
the morning, you having no key and Mr. Solomon not having arrived?"

The witness looked bewildered for a moment and then, catching sight of
Mr. Solomon's face, seemed to crumple up.

"Come, answer my question," rapped out the other.

"He--he must have come back to the office after I found the note,"
whimpered Sumbowa.

"You have simply been telling the court a tissue of lies from beginning
to end," thundered the lawyer. "You have contradicted yourself so many
times that you can't remember what you have said. Now let me tell you
this, my man: unless you are prepared to confess the whole truth, and
nothing but the truth, you will find yourself in the dock on a charge of
perjury and with the moral certainty of being sentenced to a long term
of imprisonment with hard labour. Now, answer me; did you receive that
note before or after the departure of the _Hawk_?"

"Af-after," sobbed the witness.

"How long after?"

"About a fortnight."

"Do you know why Mr. Solomon gave you that note?"

"No."

"But he told you to swear that you found it in his office on the day in
question?"

"Yes."

"You knew that it was he who provided the vessel with guns and
ammunition, and also caused the name _Hawk_ to be substituted for that
of _Arrow_?"

Sumbowa hesitated for the fraction of a minute.

"Well?" rapped out the lawyer.

"Er--yes."

"Thank you; that will do."

The witness tottered back to his seat and almost collapsed in it. Never
had he passed through such an ordeal before, and, for the time being, he
was a nervous wreck.

Mr. Vayne turned to the tribunal.

"I shall not waste your time, gentlemen," he said, "by calling witnesses
for the defence--as, for instance, my client's chief officer, who was
with him when he visited the prosecutor on the night of sailing--or by
arguing a matter which I regard as proven. All I shall do is to draw
from the evidence conclusions which, beyond a doubt, prove my client's
innocence of the charge brought against him. After having treated us to
a series of palpable falsehoods at the instigation of his employer, the
witness Sumbowa has admitted that Solomon did not give him the note
saying that he would be out of town until a fortnight after the
_Arrow's_ departure and the inference is that Solomon _did_ see my
client on that particular night. Had he not done so, why should he have
tried to establish an alibi; why should he have taken such pains to try
and prove that he was not in Singapore that night?

"Further, I contend that these deductions are confirmed by the fact that
Solomon, on his own admission, did not make known the alleged offence
until three weeks after the steamer had left. I put it to you,
gentlemen, as men of the world, that this was an extraordinary
procedure, and can only be accounted for by the assumption that the
prosecutor did not want his victim to be arrested before the latter had
secured what, for want of a better term, I shall call a generous profit
on the initial outlay.

"In short, I submit that Solomon entered into a conspiracy with divers
persons to bring about the ruination of my client in order that he, the
prosecutor, might reap the entire benefits of this privateering
expedition.

"And now a word concerning the allegation that my client possessed
forged Letters of Marque. I don't think it necessary to prove or
disprove this charge, seeing that, under the circumstances, Letters of
Marque were quite unnecessary. Any British ship, or any ship belonging
to an allied Power, has the right to attack and destroy an enemy vessel,
a statement which is borne out by the fact that the British Government
offered rewards to any merchant captain who could prove that he had
sunk, captured, or destroyed an enemy submarine. This, gentlemen, is
all I have to say."

After a few minutes' whispered consultation with his colleagues, the
president turned towards Calamity.

"We are unanimously of opinion that the charge brought against you is
without the smallest foundation, and that you have been the victim of a
malicious conspiracy," he said. "You are, therefore, acquitted. As to
the prosecutor and his witnesses, they will be dealt with in due course
upon charges arising out of this case."

As the president ceased speaking, Calamity rose and, drawing some papers
from his pocket, handed them to him. They were the forged clearance
papers and the secret instructions from a German source, addressed to
Mr. Solomon, which he had taken from the _Ann_.

The president hastily glanced through them, asked Calamity a few
questions in a low voice, and then touched a little bell at his side. A
sergeant of marines entered in answer to the ring and stood at
attention.

"Arrest that man and see that he is well guarded," said the president,
indicating the ship-chandler.

With the sergeant's vice-like grip upon his arm, Mr. Isaac Solomon was
dragged protesting from the room and so vanished for ever from the ken
of friends and enemies alike.



CHAPTER XXVII

THE LETTER


Although the trial had been held in camera, the news of Calamity's
arrest and acquittal soon became known throughout Singapore, though
there were at least half a dozen different versions of the affair. And,
as might have been anticipated, various inaccurate accounts of his
adventures as a privateer were put into circulation by his crew, with
the result that, before many hours had passed, he was looked upon as a
hero of the most romantic type. Crowds flocked to the harbour to gaze at
the two vessels, and the native boatmen did a thriving business in
taking the more enthusiastic spectators round them. Wild tales were
spread concerning the amount of booty which had been taken and the
fabulous sums of prize-money which had been distributed among the crew.
In addition to these confused exaggerations, another one soon gained
currency to the effect that Calamity had been created a lord in
recognition of his exploits.

As for the crew, they were having the time of their lives, being
regarded as heroes by everybody save the police. They were feted both
publicly and privately; interviewed, photographed, and written about,
until, at the end of a week, they had become so overbearing and insolent
that people grew tired of them and the police intimated that the sooner
they found ships and departed the better. Most of the men, having spent
all their money in a brief but glorious debauch, adopted this wise
counsel, but a few, who overrated the patience of the authorities and
continued to act as if the town belonged to them, were seized during a
drunken orgy and locked up.

In the meantime Calamity had left Singapore and gone to Paku, a little
town easily reached by train, where he was reasonably safe from
newspaper men and inquisitive people generally. In order that he might
do this, Mr. Vayne had undertaken to act as his representative in paying
off the officers and making arrangements for them to receive their share
of the prize-money in due course. On the day following the trial, the
lawyer went over to Paku and found Calamity seated on the verandah of
the house where he was staying, clad in white ducks and smoking a very
strong cigar.

"By the way, have you seen anything of Miss Fletcher?" asked the Captain
after they had been talking for some time.

"No, but I heard of her at the Consulate this morning. She had been to
see the Consul concerning certain private matters and will be leaving
for Yokohama in a P. and O. boat to-morrow. I gathered that from
Yokohama she will sail for San Francisco."

"H'm," grunted Calamity, but made no comment.

"And she left this for you," went on the lawyer, and, taking a letter
from his pocket, he handed it to Calamity who glanced at the
superscription and put it aside.

"Thanks very much, Vayne, I'm afraid I'm giving you a lot of trouble."

"Not at all, not at all! But if you would just go into these matters
now, I should be greatly obliged," and the lawyer opened the little
leather handbag he had brought with him.

"Everything," he went on, taking out some documents, "is perfectly
straightforward and simple. By your elder brother's death you inherit
the title and estates, while, of course, his own private property,
investments, and so forth, go to his wife and child----"

"Child?" interrupted Calamity. "Did George have a child, then?"

"Yes, a little girl. She'd be about twelve now."

"And Lady Betty, I suppose, is still at the Towers?"

"Yes."

Calamity's lips tightened and his brows met in a frown. The lawyer
regarded him for a moment, and then, leaning forward, touched him gently
on the knee.

"You're thinking of that wretched business of the alleged forgery," he
said. "You may safely regard it as forgotten now; at least, no one is
ever likely to refer to it in any way unless----" Vayne hesitated and
smiled.

"Unless what?"

"Unless you go in for politics."

Calamity laughed in spite of himself.

"You may safely dismiss that possibility from your mind," he said. "But,
as it happens, I'm going to reopen the matter myself."

"Eh?" ejaculated Vayne.

"You remember the story, don't you? A cheque for five thousand pounds
was forged in my father's name, and, by a series of artificially
prepared 'clues,' it was traced to me. The belief that I was the culprit
was strengthened by the fact that I had been playing the fool pretty
generally and was head over ears in debt at the time. Well, what you
don't know is, that my brother forged the cheque in such a way that I
should be suspected. He had been trying to poison the old man's mind
against me for a long time and----"

"Was it on account of a woman?" interrupted the lawyer shrewdly.

"Yes; I see you understand. We were both madly in love with the same
woman, and--well, my brother held the strong suit. But to continue: the
guv'nor accused me outright of forging his signature, and I, being too
proud to deny such a vile charge, especially coming from him, was
branded as a promising young criminal by the entire family. The guv'nor
offered me a sum of money to clear out, which bribe I refused, though I
cleared out all the same."

"And you released Lady Betty from her engagement?" murmured Vayne as the
Captain paused.

The latter winced and went on hurriedly:

"The night before I left I was sitting at the window of an unlighted
room, thinking--God knows what I was thinking, it doesn't matter
now--when I heard voices in the shrubbery and recognised them as
belonging to my brother and his German valet. Hearing my own name, I
leant out of the window and listened; I felt no shame about it, for I
guessed the part George had played in my affairs. And, anyway, I wasn't
caring much about the conventions just then. There's no need to repeat
what I heard, but my suspicions were confirmed, and when the pair moved
out of the shrubbery I knew for certain that, between them, they had
engineered my ruin. To put the matter in a nutshell, my brother had
forged the cheque, having previously arranged matters so that suspicion
should fall on me.

"My first thought was to rush to the old man at once and tell him what I
had discovered. But a moment's reflection convinced me that I hadn't an
atom of tangible proof, that the whole thing would rest on my word,
which, under the circumstances, I could hardly expect anyone to accept.
No, there was nothing for it but to acquiesce in the inevitable and
go--which I did."

"Yes," said Vayne thoughtfully, "you came up to my office one morning
early. There was a look in your face that I shan't forget as long as I
live. It has often puzzled me since why you came to me."

"I don't quite know, myself," answered Calamity. "But you had always
been pretty decent to me, Vayne, and when I was acting the fool at
Oxford, you befriended me more than once. Why a staid and eminently
respectable family lawyer like yourself should lend a helping hand to a
scatter-brained idiot I don't know; but you did, and there it is."

"As to that, my dear John, your family have been clients of my firm for
generations," said the lawyer almost apologetically.

Calamity laughed.

"I'm afraid that's a very weak defence, Vayne, not to say irrelevant.
However, we'll let it pass. You lent me the money to get out of the
country and--well, you know the rest."

"I know as much as you told me in one scanty letter a year," answered
the lawyer drily. "I don't believe you would even have written me to
that extent had I not extracted the promise from you before you left my
office."

"I'm afraid you wouldn't have been very edified had I given you a full
and particular account of my adventures. I served three years before the
mast, got my mate's ticket, and after that a master's ticket. I've
sailed in whalers, colliers, cattle-boats, liners, tramps, blackbirders,
and God knows what sort of craft. I've dug for gold in Alaska, been a
transport rider in South Africa, skippered a pearling-ground poacher in
Japanese waters, run guns in the Persian Gulf, and--well, ended up by
becoming a privateer. Also, I nearly pegged out once with malaria, and,
as you see, I lost an eye."

The lawyer nodded.

"Your father, as I informed you in one of my yearly letters, died in the
belief that you were dead, and so did your brother," he said. "Seeing
that they are both gone, I suggest that you do not attempt to reopen the
matter of the forged cheque. As you have said, you can prove nothing,
and----"

"But I can now," interrupted Calamity, with almost savage energy. "Look
at this."

He took a wallet out of his pocket and extracted from it the document
that Fritz Siemann had drawn up and signed and which Smith and McPhulach
had witnessed.

"There," he said, handing it to the lawyer.

The latter took the document, adjusted his pinc-nez, and carefully read
it through twice.

"That clears you once and for all," he remarked as he handed it back.

"It does, and I'm going to use it."

"My dear fellow!" exclaimed the lawyer in a tone almost approaching
horror.

"Oh, I don't mean that I propose publishing it in the newspapers. But
all those who knew me and believed in my guilt at the time shall see
it."

"But whatever wrong your brother may have done you, he is dead now, and
it would hardly be--er--good form to dishonour his memory. _De mortuis
nil nisi bonum._"

"Damn his memory!" flashed out Calamity. "I beg your pardon, Vayne," he
went on in a quieter tone, noticing the other's shocked expression, "but
I don't see why a live man should suffer in order to shield a dead man's
reputation. He made me suffer while I was alive, and it is a very poor
revenge, albeit the only one at my disposal, to charge him with his
crime now he's dead. I for one won't bow down to the shibboleth of
honouring the dead just because they are dead; I hate my brother as much
now as ever I did, and the mere fact that he's no longer able to enjoy
the fruits of his rascality makes no difference to that."

"As you will, John; it's a matter for you to decide, not me."

The lawyer rose from his chair and slowly fastened his little leather
bag.

"By the way," he said a little hesitatingly, "have--er--have Letters of
Marque been revived since the war started?"

"'Pon my word, Vayne, I don't know," answered Calamity.

"Then you----"

"Oh, as usual, I took risks."

"H'm," grunted the lawyer, and added, after a pause, "when will you be
ready to sail?"

"A fortnight or three weeks from now. I want to make sure that all my
officers receive their proper share of the profits."

"Very well. I shall see you to-morrow, I suppose?"

"Yes, I shall be here," answered Calamity, shaking hands.

The lawyer had scarcely gone when a native servant entered and stated
that a gentleman had called to see Captain Calamity.

"What is his name?"

"Abott, master."

"Then show him up."

The pilot was duly ushered in, and, as soon as the servant had departed,
he congratulated Calamity on having been acquitted of the charge which
Solomon had brought against him.

"Thanks," answered Calamity. "I told you I had something in store for
the old rascal."

"Then it's true he's been arrested?"

"Yes; I don't think you're likely to gaze on his benevolent smile again,
Abott."

"Then there's a story going round that you're a lord or a dook or
something of that sort."

"Don't take any notice of it," answered Calamity; "you'll hear a good
deal worse than that when rumour's got well under way. And now to
business."

"The stuff's down at my old shack, and, as it'll be dark in a few
minutes, I thought we might as well toddle over there."

Calamity agreed, and, leaving the house, they proceeded at a rapid walk
till the outskirts of the village were reached. By this time it was
dark, and Abott, taking an electric torch from his pocket, led the way
along a narrow foot-track till they reached the sea-shore.

"Here we are," he said, throwing a gleam of light on a tumble-down hut
about fifty yards from the water's edge. "I'll go first."

He unlocked the door, a crazy affair that a good push would have brought
down completely, and led the way in. With the aid of the torch he found
an old lantern with a piece of candle in it, and, after lighting this,
set it on an upturned barrel.

"There we are," he remarked; "'tain't much of a light, but it'll do to
talk by."

In the yellow glimmer it was just possible to make out a number of cases
and sacks piled in a corner with lumber of various sorts, such as empty
water-beakers, odd spars, rusty anchors, and so forth.

"Looks as if it were worth about half a dollar the lot, doesn't it,
instead of somewheres around two hundred and fifty thousand dollars?"
remarked the pilot as he seated himself on a water-beaker. "And to
think," he went on musingly, "that I pull fifty thousand out of it. What
for?"

"For playing the game," answered Calamity gravely, and, taking a handful
of cheroots from his pocket, he offered them to the other.

Abott took one, opened the door of the lantern, and they both lit up.

"Now," said the pilot, exhaling huge clouds of pungent smoke, "we'd
better fix matters up. This isn't the sort of stuff you can tuck under
your arm, walk into a bank with, and ask for it to be placed to the
credit of your account. No, sir, questions might be asked, seeing that
bar gold and promiscuous jewellery ain't common currency even in this
country. And, I take it, if the Admiralty knew about it, they'd want to
confiscate a tidy lump as treasure trove, or whatever it's called."

Calamity nodded.

"Well, I know a man in Sumatra who'll negotiate this little lot, though
he'll charge 5 per cent. for doing it. How does that strike you?"

"Excellent. Will you see to it, Abott?"

"I will, and you shall hear directly the job's through. I reckon you'll
have done the right thing by everybody; the Government's got a new
island, a German war-boat, thirty or forty prisoners, and about a
thousand pounds' worth of merchandise stacked away on board the _Hawk_."

"Likewise a traitor in the person of the late respected Solomon, and a
ship called the _Ann_," added Calamity.

"The _Ann_?" queried the other. "I heard of a packet named the _Ann_
having been collared by a British cruiser and taken into Penang; would
that be the hooker?"

"Without a doubt, but I haven't time to tell you the story now, Abott.
If ever you happen to meet Solomon--which isn't likely--ask him about
it."

The pilot rose, kicked aside the beaker on which he had been sitting,
and picked up the lantern. Calamity also got up, and, going outside,
waited while the other extinguished the light and locked the door. They
returned to Paku and stopped outside the house where Calamity lodged,
the pilot having refused to go in as he wanted to get back to Singapore
as quickly as possible.

"I shall see you again before I leave," said Calamity as they shook
hands.

On reaching his own room, he took from his pocket the letter which Vayne
had given him earlier in the day. It was addressed to "Captain Calamity"
in a large, bold handwriting. Tearing open the envelope Calamity took
out a sheet of notepaper and read:

     "This is to say 'Good-bye' and to explain why, when you asked me to
     marry you, I refused. During your illness I chanced to learn who
     you really were, and then I realised why it was that you once said
     to me 'Our paths lie wide apart.' As the wife of Captain Calamity I
     might have made you happy, but as the wife of Viscount Redhurst I
     believe I should fail utterly and bring unhappiness to us both. I
     am going to California as you suggested, where, should you ever
     have a desire to see me again, I shall be found."

The note was signed "Dora Fletcher," and Calamity, before folding it up,
read the last sentence twice--the second time with a faint smile playing
about his lips. Then he took out his leather wallet which contained the
confession of Fritz Siemann and placed the note in it.



CHAPTER XXVIII

HOME


It was spring, and although spring that year had not done its worst, the
two men who alighted from the train at Redhurst Station turned up the
collars of their greatcoats and shivered. One of them, a powerful,
squarely built man with a glass eye, gazed round the little country
station as if in search of someone, and at last fixed his serviceable
eye upon a richly dressed woman in a motor just outside the wicket-gate.
He thereupon turned to his companion, a red-headed man who was arguing
in broad Scotch with a porter over the alleged damage done to a very old
and dilapidated cabin trunk.

"Tell them the luggage must be sent on at once, Jones," he said.

Leaving McPhulach, _alias_ Jones, to see that his instructions were
carried out, Calamity passed through the wicket-gate. As he approached
her, the woman leaned out of the tonneau expectantly; but at that moment
the sun emerged from an obscuring cloud and shone right into her eyes.
By the time she had opened her sunshade and could see again Calamity had
reached the car. The words of honeyed welcome died on her lips and she
shrank back against the cushions as she saw him standing there with a
grim smile on his face.

"Well, Betty?" he said.

"Is--is it you?" she faltered.

"Yes, you find me changed, eh?"

"A--a little," she answered.

The flicker of a smile crossed Calamity's face again as he looked at
her.

"You are the same as ever, anyhow," he commented.

His words restored Lady Betty's self-possession. His altered appearance
had frightened her at first, and she had not recognised in him the man
she had once promised to marry. But now he had spoken in a familiar
language words which showed, as she thought, that, despite the years,
her charms had not lessened in his eyes.

"I am so glad you have come back," she said softly.

At that moment, to her annoyance, McPhulach came up accompanied by a
porter.

"He says it will be ane an' saxpence to tak' the luggage," said the
engineer indignantly.

"Pay him then," answered Calamity.

"But, mon, 'tis only a sheeling, forby----"

"Pay him," snapped Calamity, and McPhulach grumblingly paid the money in
pennies and half-pennies, counting them twice before handing them over.

"Won't you get in?" asked Lady Betty, as Calamity again turned to her.

He obeyed, at the same time calling to McPhulach, who was watching the
luggage being hoisted on to the station 'bus. As he approached--an
uncouth figure in an ill-fitting, ready-made overcoat--Lady Betty
elevated her eyebrows.

"Who is this?" she whispered quickly.

"Let me introduce him," answered the Captain.

"Lady Betty Redhurst, Mr. Jones, until recently my chief engineer.
Jones, Lady Betty Redhurst."

"I'm unco' pleased tae meet ye," said McPhulach, extending a huge red
hand with its blunt, misshapen fingers. "I'm frae Pontypreed mesel'," he
added inconsequently.

The elegant woman touched the engineer's hairy paw with the tips of her
gloved fingers and smiled sweetly.

"Better sit down there," said Calamity, indicating the seat opposite,
but Lady Betty spoke hastily.

"Wouldn't you prefer to sit in front, Mr. Jones?" she asked, with
seeming solicitude for his comfort; "you can see the country much better
there, and it's really very pretty just now."

McPhulach, only too glad of a chance to sit beside the chauffeur, where
he might smoke, obeyed with alacrity, and the Captain had to own himself
out-manoeuvred. The chauffeur then took his seat, and the car glided
noiselessly out of the station precincts.

"Does it seem strange to you to be coming home again?" asked Lady Betty
in a voice which sounded almost caressing.

"It does--very," answered Calamity.

His tone puzzled her, and she went on, curious, perhaps, to probe his
real feelings.

"You are glad?"

"Glad? I should never have returned but for one thing--the memories of
the place are too unpleasant."

A faint and delicate tinge of colour came into the woman's face, for she
did not doubt that he was thinking of her and the shattered romance of
the past. It moved her to think that, after all these years, this
memory was still fresh with him.

"Why darken your home-coming by thoughts of the unalterable past?" she
answered softly. "It is all forgotten and forgiven now."

"It is not forgotten, neither is it forgiven--I am not that sort."

A deeper colour flooded her face. He considered himself wronged, then,
that she had believed in his guilt and married his brother. At that
moment she wished passionately to justify herself in his eyes, for this
stranger who had been her lover was beginning to exercise an ascendancy
over her weaker nature that he had never possessed in the old days.

She was about to stammer out words of excuse and apology, when McPhulach
turned round and leaned over the wind-screen.

"Hae ye such a thing as a match aboot ye, skeeper?" he inquired.

Calamity tossed him a box of matches, whereupon McPhulach produced a
well-worn briar from his pocket and transferred it to his mouth.

"You must try and forget all that old story of the cheque," said Lady
Betty recovering herself. "It is so long ago that everyone is prepared
to be as nice to you as if it had never happened."

"H'm," grunted Calamity.

"You'll see," she went on hopefully. "I've got some people staying at
the Towers, and Judge Pennyfeather--Lady Di----you remember her as a
pert young flapper, I expect--the Bishop and some other people are
dining with us to-night."

"Then the story of the forgery was not kept in the family," remarked
Calamity icily. "All these people know it?"

"Well--yes," a little hesitatingly. "It was impossible to keep it
secret; you know George had a valet----"

"A fitting epitaph," said Calamity grimly.

"What----" began Lady Betty, but was interrupted once more by McPhulach,
who for some moments had been pulling at an empty pipe.

"I'm oot o' baccy," he said, again peering over the wind-screen. "Ye'll
no be haein' a pooch on ye'r pairson, skeeper?"

Without a word Calamity passed him a tobacco pouch, while Lady Betty bit
her lips with annoyance at this interruption of their _tête-à-tête_.

"I'm tell't that yon's ye'r ain hoose," said McPhulach, as he filled his
pipe. "It's a gey braw place, an' I wouldna mind haein' it mesel'."

He pointed with the stem of his pipe to a picturesque old mansion
standing in its own luxuriously wooded grounds at the summit of a slope
just ahead.

Calamity made no answer, but gazed thoughtfully at this home of his
childhood, the home he had never expected to see again. And thinking of
his early days there, and of the soft and sheltered lives of those who
live in such mansions, it seemed very desirable to the world-worn,
battered man. All sorts of trivial incidents of the past, forgotten
until now, flashed across his mind as the car turned into a road that
ran through a wood on the estate. In that wood, as a boy, he had seen an
adder swallow a young bird and remembered killing the reptile with a
heavy ash stick. In that piece of marshy ground, almost hidden by trees,
there used to be a pond fringed with yellow iris; he wondered if that
pond were still there, and the iris.... He made a resolution to go and
see later on, but, even as he did so, knew that he would find it the
same. Everything remained the same; Betty was the same; it was only he
who had altered.

Then his mood changed, and, while he felt a grim satisfaction at thus
returning as master to the home from which he had been thrust forth as a
criminal, he was not at all sure whether, apart from this sense of
triumph, he was glad to be back or otherwise--probably he was neither.
He wondered, too, whether the old life, with all its luxury and ease,
would appeal to him; whether he would feel at home again amidst these
remembered surroundings, or at variance with them.

And then, of course, there were the people whom he would have to meet;
people more foreign to him now than the polyglot rabble which had formed
his last crew. He had seen Lady Betty shrink from him at first sight,
and imagined that her present amiability was forced; that her words and
those soft, languishing glances she cast upon him were void of
sincerity. Others would shrink from him too, he supposed, and then hide
their feelings under a mask of well-bred composure as she was doing.
Could he meet these people on their own ground, speak their language,
lead their life? he asked himself.

Seeing Calamity deep in thought, McPhulach, who had leaned over the
wind-screen to return the tobacco-pouch, slid gently back into his seat
and absent-mindedly dropped the pouch into his own pocket.

The car was now proceeding up a broad avenue which led to the main
entrance of the Towers, and a vision came to Calamity of himself as a
small boy on horseback, cantering down this same avenue with his father.
The thought of the latter brought back to his memory the brother who
had blackened him in his father's eyes and made him what he had been;
what, in heart, he still was--an outcast and an exile.

Never had he hated his brother as he hated him at this moment.

Lady Betty, meanwhile, was taking advantage of his thoughtfulness to
examine his profile at her leisure. It was a strong face, she reflected,
stronger and harder far than that of the youth she had loved fifteen
years ago.

"A penny for your thoughts," she said lightly, to dissipate an emotion
induced by his proximity and those memories of their youth.

He turned swiftly, and the baffling, rather grim smile which played
about his mouth, together with the fixed and merciless stare of his
glass eye, embarrassed her to the point of actual nervousness.

"You shall have them at your own price when I put them up for sale," he
answered.

She coloured. Her first thought was that he intended to snub her, but
she quickly dismissed the idea. No, he must have meant that the moment
was not propitious. Perhaps he, also, had been thinking of....

"You never married in all those years?" she asked abruptly, and with a
little tremor in her voice that she could not control.

"No."

"Why?"

He smiled at her in a quizzical way and shrugged his shoulders.

"Ah, here we are," he said as the car drew up before the stately
entrance to Redhurst Towers. Springing out, he made his way round to the
other side in order to help her to alight. McPhulach, however, was
before him and stood with his arm crooked at an angle of forty-five
degrees, his body bent, and an ingratiating leer on his face.

"Hae a care o' yon step, ye'r leddyship," he remarked.

But the lady was equal to the occasion. Ignoring his arm, she sprang to
the ground.

"Will you be so kind as to bring my furs from the car?" she asked
sweetly, and to herself: "Why on earth has John brought this uncouth,
seafaring savage with him?"

The sound of the approaching motor had brought a child of about twelve
running out on to the terrace. She waited at the head of the stone
steps, colouring up shyly as she met the stranger's gaze.

"This is my little girl, Elfrida," said Lady Betty. "Elfrida, this is
your Uncle John."

The child held her hand out frankly to her grim relative, and there was
no suggestion of shrinking in her manner.

"I came out to be the first to welcome you home to Redhurst, Uncle
John," she said a trifle primly. Then, becoming all child again, she
turned to her mother. "Oh, mummy, I thought you'd never come. I'll go
and tell them you're here. We're all having tea in the hall."

As he watched the fair-haired child disappear, Calamity thought, with
something of a pang, that she might have been his own. But this feeling
lasted only a moment, and he remembered once more that she was the child
of the man who had ruined him.

"Welcome home," said Lady Betty softly.

"Thank you," he answered without enthusiasm.

"It has been home to me, and I have loved it for fourteen years," she
said, and then continued archly, obviously inviting and expecting a
denial. "And now you've come to turn me out."

Calamity fixed his disconcerting gaze upon her face.

"There's no hurry for a week or so," he said.



CHAPTER XXIX

"NOBLESSE OBLIGE"


Grouped about the hall--a splendid example of Tudor architecture with
its oak wainscoting and great, open fireplace--were several people
chatting and drinking tea. Calamity recognised some of them immediately
as people he had known in the old days. Life had dealt gently with them,
and they had changed but little despite the intervening years. They had
lost the rude vitality and adventurous spirit of youth, and had become
sleek and soft and habit-governed; but otherwise they were essentially
the same, living the same clean, sheltered, uneventful lives.

As Calamity entered with Lady Betty, these people gathered about him
with words of welcome. He was, after all, one of themselves, and in the
years which had passed the old story of the forged cheque had almost
faded into a legend of doubtful authenticity. Calamity, despite the
bitter memories which his home-coming had brought back, knew that these
greetings were not insincere; that these friends of a by-gone period
regarded him as a wanderer returned to the fold.

When everyone had settled down again to drink tea and chatter, Calamity
seated himself between Lady Betty and an eminent politician for whom he
had "fagged" at Eton, while Elfrida stood near, watching him with the
grave deliberation of childhood. During a momentary pause in the
conversation she drew closer to him and placed a beseeching hand on his
knee.

"Oh, Uncle John," she said breathlessly, "do tell us about fighting the
pirates. Were you afraid?"

Calamity smiled almost genially as he turned to the eager little
questioner.

"No, Elfrida, I wasn't afraid. A pirate is a person I thoroughly
understand. In fact, I came very near being hanged for a pirate,
myself."

Elfrida clapped her hands with delight and the others smiled tolerantly
at what they took for granted was a joke.

"Isn't he sweet?" murmured a motherly dowager to McPhulach, who was
sitting near her.

The engineer started.

"Eh?" he ejaculated.

"Isn't he sweet?" repeated the dowager, shouting at him a little in the
belief that he was deaf.

McPhulach did not answer for a moment. Before him there arose a vision
of the Captain of the _Hawk_ smashing right and left among his mutinous
crew with a capstan-bar, and another picture of the same man as he led
his rabble followers up the bullet-swept slope of the German island.

"Weel," he replied at last, "I wouldna go sae far as tae say that. He's
a michty quare mon, ye'll ken."

The dowager's comment had been overheard by Lady Betty, and it set her
thinking. Was it only to her eyes that this man whom she had once
promised to marry seemed so grim and terrible? Lady Mitford had called
him "sweet," Elfrida obviously adored him, and the others seemed to be
at their ease with him. Why was it that his terrific personality seemed
to disquiet her alone?

The matter was still exercising her mind when she came down that
evening, dressed for dinner. She had heard Calamity go down a little
earlier and had hastened her dressing in order to snatch a quiet talk
with him before the others left their rooms. But he was in neither the
smoking-room nor the library, and so she made her way to the gallery,
where his ancestors gazed down from the walls in painted stiffness.

Here she found him, pacing up and down, apparently in a brown study. He
looked up as she entered, and Lady Betty, after a second's hesitation,
went to him and laid her hand upon his arm.

"I was sure you'd be here," she said softly. "I know you so well."

She looked very delicate and sweet in the shaded light, and the fire,
suddenly flaming up, glinted on the gold of her hair.

He laughed, a little bitterly.

"Know me, do you?" he asked. "Is that why you married my brother after
promising to marry me?"

She looked at him silently for a moment, affronted by his tone yet not
knowing what to say.

"It is cruel of you to take that tone," she said at last. "You know very
well that after what happened I--I couldn't----"

"Be decent to me again," he concluded for her. "You don't seem to find
it so difficult to-day, although the charge against me has not been
disproved."

"It's so long ago. You must see, yourself, that it's different now."

"Since I've become head of the family?" he suggested.

She drew herself up haughtily and walked towards the fireplace, where
she stood looking down into the blaze.

"What would you have had me do?" she asked without looking round.

"Believe in my innocence!"

She shook her head.

"I couldn't do that," she answered. "But if I had been that kind of--of
fool, what then?"

He shrugged his shoulders and said nothing. Standing there in the
firelight, Lady Betty looked unquestionably beautiful, and yet Calamity
felt a great weariness of her and of this scene. His mind took a leap
through time and space, and he saw himself once more upon the deck of
the _Hawk_, facing, not this delicately nurtured woman, but a girl with
fearless eyes and wind-swept hair; a girl who would have believed in him
against the world.

Lady Betty crossed to him.

"You are unjust to me," she said.

"You were unjust to me," he replied.

She gave a weary little sigh. It seemed hopeless to try and make him see
her point of view.

"Suppose I told you that I could now prove my innocence," he said,
turning on her abruptly, "how would you feel about the past?"

"It's--it's impossible."

"Impossible! Not a bit of it. I suppose you wondered why I brought that
Scotchman here? Well he's one of the witnesses to a confession signed by
a confederate of the real criminal. Vayne will be coming to-night
bringing that confession with him. I told him that we would all adjourn
to the library after dinner to hear him read it."

Fifteen years ago when her lover had declared his innocence, Lady Betty
had not believed him; now, when he told her that he could prove himself
guiltless, she knew intuitively that he spoke the truth.

"John, I--I'm very glad," she said, her face colourless and stricken.

He nodded and moved away. To him, also, the moment was poignant.
Presently he became aware of her hand on his arm, and turning, saw her
standing beside him with bowed head.

"John, what can I say? Words are so useless--now."

"You haven't asked me who did it?"

"What does that matter?" she asked, wondering at the passion in his
face.

"For fifteen years," he went on as though he had not heard her, "I have
known the truth and hated him. When, by chance, I met the man who made
this confession, I determined to clear my name no matter how others
might suffer in consequence."

He paused and then, with a contemptuous laugh, went on,

"Now, at the last moment--the moment of triumph--the traditions of this
house are too strong for me. I can't do it."

While she looked at him wonderingly, he seized her by the arm and led
her to the portrait of his brother, her late husband.

"There," he said, pointing violently at it, "George, Viscount Redhurst,
forger and liar! As unworthy to take his place among these noble members
of a noble race as I should be if I proved his guilt."

He released her arm, and, turning away, paced up and down the room, his
face working. Lady Betty groped her way to one of the window-seats,
and, sinking into it, covered her face with her hands. Of the two she,
perhaps, was suffering more at that moment than the victim of her dead
husband's crime, for her world seemed to be crashing about her ears. The
husband whom she had respected, if not loved, a forger and worse than a
forger; the man whom she had loved and whom she knew at that moment she
still loved, guiltless and perhaps extending to her the hatred he bore
his dead brother. What, indeed, was left to her?

She raised her head to find him standing before her, with no trace in
his face of the passion of a moment ago.

"Don't be afraid," he said, "there will be no meeting in the library
to-night, and to-morrow I leave for California."

"California?" she repeated blankly.

"Yes," he answered; "what is there to keep me here? This place is no
more home to me now than when my father turned me out of it."

A revelation of what the sacrifice he was making meant to this man came
to her, and she mentally saw him set out again from the home of his
boyhood, an exile and still bearing the burden of another's guilt.

"Are you doing this for me?" she asked in a trembling voice, dreading
his answer.

"No."

"Then why----"

"Partly Elfrida, partly these," and he moved his arm to indicate his
ancestors in their frames. "_Noblesse oblige_, you know."

"But--California." Her voice was a husky whisper.

"California, Betty. I----" he paused a moment and smiled as if at some
unspoken thought. "I am interested in fruit-farming."

But here Lady Betty's self-control gave way. She knew that he meant what
he said, and that if he left England she would probably never see him
again. She began, incoherently:

"Oh, John, I can't let you leave me. Do you understand, I can't----"

A deafening clangour arose close at hand and drowned her words. When it
had ceased Calamity did not wait for her to continue.

"The dinner-gong," he said. "Shall we go?"



_Printed in Great Britain by Hazell, Watson & Viney, Ld.,
London and Aylesbury._





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