The Iconoclast

The wrecking-sloop _Sea-Horse_ came smashing the seas headlong past
Fowey Rocks, heading for the channel over the reef into Bay Biscayne.
She had left Nassau the day before, and had made a record run across
the Gulf Stream, carrying sail through a heavy head sea, which flew
in a storm of white water over her bows and weather-rail all day,
making the deck almost uninhabitable. Bahama Bill, otherwise known
as Bill Haskins, wrecker and sponger, mate and half-owner, held the
wheel-spokes, and sat back upon the edge of the wheel-gear, bracing one
foot to leeward. Sam, a Conch, and Heldron, a Dutchman, both sailors
and able seamen, lounged in the lee of the cabin-scuttle and smoked,
their oilskins streaming water, but loosened on account of the warmth
of the air. Captain Smart, late of the Dunn schooner wrecked just
below Carysfort Reef, on a cruise to Boca Grande Pass for tarpon, sat
in the doorway of the companionway and watched the giant mate of the
_Sea-Horse_ hold the flying sloop on her course with one powerful hand,
while with the other he shielded his pipe from the spray.

Smart was thinking over the strange events which happened to bring him
in contact with the wreckers: the loss of his schooner caused by the
leak made by Bahama Bill; the loss of his position as officer on the
liner he had left to take command of the yacht, and the strange fight
in the saloon at Key West, which ended in his going with the giant
black to keep out of trouble.

They had now just ridden out a bad spell of weather in Nassau, where
they had laid up with cartridge-cases taken from the brig _Bulldog_,
wrecked on the Great Bahama Bank, and they were hurrying to the nearest
American port to discharge them to some dealer, and realize what
profits they could. The ammunition was perfectly good and sound, in
spite of being submerged under the sea for a long time, for the cases
had been put up for tropical weather and made perfectly water-proof.
They had several thousand dollars’ worth aboard, and it would only be
necessary to prove their fitness for use to realize upon them. To Miami
they laid their course without delay, to get in touch with the express
and railroad.

“Seems like we got to git thar to-night, sure,” said the mate, sucking
at his pipe.

“Looks like we’ll make it easily,” assented Smart. “I suppose you know
the reef well enough to go in any time, hey?”

“Jest as well at night as daytime,” said the mate.

“And when we get in–what then? Do you know any one who’ll deal with
us? Do you know who’ll buy ammunition from you even at a twenty per
cent discount?” asked Smart.

“I reckon we won’t have to burn any of them ca’tridges, cap; not by a
blamed sight. We might have to wait a spell fo’ suah, but we kin sell
’em, all right.”

“Got enough money to live on while we wait, hey?” asked Smart.

Bahama Bill scowled. Then he gave the captain a queer look.

“See here, cap,” he said. “Yo’ know Bull Sanders is skipper an’
half-owner of this here sloop? Well, he’s on a tear up the beach.
If he comes back broke he’ll want toe borrow off’n me–see? Well, I
knows what that means. I jest naturally sent all the money abo’d to my
Jule–yo’ ain’t married, cap, or you’d know what a wife means. ‘Scrappy
Jule’ kin take keer of all de money I gets, an’ yo’ needn’t make no
moan toe dat. Jule is all right, an’ if yo’ got a right good memory,
yo’ suah remember she don’t do no washin’ fo’ po’ white folks.”

“I suppose that means that the ten-spot I saved from the fracas in
Journegan’s barroom is all the cash aboard, then,” said Smart.

He was thinking how strange it was for him to be associating with a
self-confessed wrecker of the old school, the type which waited not for
the elements, but made events happen with a rapidity which put even a
stormy season to shame.

He would have liked to get away from the whole business, get away
from men of Bahama Bill’s class, but he could not help thinking that
the giant black man had some cause, according to his way of looking at
things, to do as he had done.

The yacht owner had insulted him, had made it an open question of
hostility between them, and the wrecker had simply gone ahead and
regarded the owner’s feeling not at all, but caused by indirect means
the loss of his vessel.

Bill had many good points. He had helped Smart out of a difficult
situation in Key West, where the land-sharks had set out to trim him
clean. He had put him in the way, almost in spite of himself, of making
a few thousand dollars within a week or two, and had saved his life by
diving into a dangerous wreck after him when caught in her shifting
cargo.

Smart was in a strange position, almost dead broke, with several
thousand dollars’ worth of salvage due him from his efforts. He would
be tied up with the sloop for several weeks, perhaps several months,
until the sales were made and the salvage divided. To leave her would
risk losing the share due him, for Bahama Bill would hardly stand for
desertion until the affair was settled, no matter what the provocation.

They beat in over the reef, up the crooked, shallow channel into
Biscayne Bay, and laid their course for the docks at Miami, where they
arrived during daylight.

Two days were spent trying to make the sales of the cargo, but the
dealers insisted on testing the powder from each and every case before
paying, or taking it on, so there was a delay of at least two weeks
staring them in the face. The crew having enough to eat minded the
waiting not the least. The mate cared nothing as long as the ultimate
end was in sight, for he had enough hog and hominy aboard to last twice
as long.

The sloop lay off the docks in a scant seven feet of water, her keel
just grazing the coral bottom, which was as plainly visible beneath
her as though she were surrounded by clear air instead of the clearer
water of the bay. The huge, fashionable hotel loomed high against the
background of palms and cocoanuts, making an impressive sight, and also
a comfortable abode for the rich tourists who filled it during this end
of the season. Prices were high, and Smart spent much time watching the
idle rich wandering about the beautiful gardens.

Several gambling-joints were in full blast, for it was always the
policy of the eminent Florida philanthropist who owned the tourist
accommodations on the east coast to build a church upon one side of his
dominions, and then a gambling-hell upon the other. Both were necessary
to draw the lazy rich.

Smart noticed several of the sporting gentry wandering about, but,
having nothing to gamble with, he was forced to look on with little
interest.

On the third day of their stay in harbour, a man sauntered down to
the dock close aboard, and stood gazing at the _Sea-Horse_. He was
perfectly dressed in the height of fashion, and he swung a light cane
lazily while he gazed at the wrecker. He wore a thin moustache, and
his high, straight nose seemed to hook over it to an abnormal extent.
His eyes were a very light blue, so pale that they appeared to be
colourless, but he had an altogether well-fed, well-satisfied look;
one of seeming benevolence and kindliness, which attracted Smart’s
attention. Smart and the mate of the _Sea-Horse_ were sitting upon the
cabin-house in the shade of a drying trysail, and the stranger spoke to
them.

“Sloop for charter?” he asked abruptly, in a high voice, which carried
over the short distance of water with some force.

“What fo’?” asked Bahama Bill, without moving.

“Oh, we want to fish and shoot. I don’t care for the yachts for hire;
their owners don’t seem to know where to go to get sport. I’d rather
charter from a man who knows something of the reef to the southward,
and you look as if you belong around here.”

“Yo’ sho’ got a bad guesser in yo’ haid, Mister Yankee,” said the mate.
“What make yo’ think we belongs around here?”

Smart studied the man carefully while he was talking. He was a close
observer, but he failed to place this suave, well-groomed gentleman in
his vocation. He might be a gambler, a sport, or just a rich fellow
wanting amusement. The latter seemed most likely, so Smart spoke
up, hoping to land a few dollars while waiting for his share of the
salvage.

“We’ll charter for thirty dollars a day,” he said reluctantly, and, as
he did so, the black mate gave a grunt and grinned insultingly at the
shore.

“Will you go anywhere we want?” asked the man.

“Sho’ we will dat, perfesser,” broke in Bahama Bill, unable to restrain
himself at the thought of the graft. The idea of thirty dollars per day
was good, and he slapped Smart a terrific blow upon the back in high
good nature at the thought of it. “Sho’, perfesser, we’ll carry yo’ toe
hell–an’ half-way back, fer thirty a day. Are yo’ on?”

There was a slight sneer on the man’s face when he heard the mate’s
manner, but he answered quietly, in the same far-reaching voice, that
he would consider the vessel his, and that if one of them would come
ashore for the money, he would bind the bargain by pay for the first
day at once.

At the instant he stopped speaking Heldron the Dutchman came aft to
where the mate sat. Bahama Bill at once seized him about the waist and
hove him far out over the side.

“Git that money, yo’ beggar,” he laughed, as the sailor landed in the
water with a tremendous splash. Sam, the Conch, snickered. “Yo’ go
after him, toe see he comes back,” said Bill, and, making a pass at the
man, sent him over also. They swam the distance in a few moments, much
to the amusement of the gentleman on the wharf, who seemed to like the
mate’s energetic manner of doing things. The money was paid, and the
men swam back aboard, climbing into the small boat towing astern, and
coming over the taffrail none the worse in temper. There was good money
for all in the deal, and they were pleased.

II

In about an hour the man returned with a friend, both of them loaded
with fishing-rods and other parts of a gentleman’s sporting outfit.
They were rowed aboard by the mate, and announced that they were ready
at once to get to sea. The mainsail was hoisted, and in a few minutes
the wrecking-sloop was ready to stand down the channel.

Just at this moment the gentlemen, who had been arranging their
fishing-rods and clothes upon the transoms in the cabin, came on deck
and said that they had forgotten to bring any provisions for the
cruise. The second man declared he had ordered a large box sent aboard,
and asked with some anxiety if it had arrived.

“There ain’t nothing come abo’d sence yo’ left,” said Bill surlily,
annoyed at the delay. “We’s got good grub abo’d here, an’ enough fer a
week.”

“You will pardon me, my good fellow,” said the second man, who was
very tall and thin, with a lined face. “You know, or should know, I’m
an invalid, and cannot eat the ordinary food which I love so well. It
is for this that we have taken the boat. Won’t you allow me the use of
your crew to help carry the provisions aboard? We expect to be out for
several weeks, and must have plenty of the kind of food I am forced to
eat.”

“Yo’ don’t look so very puny,” said Bill; “but, o’ co’se, if youse an
invalid, yo’ sho’ly wants toe git some soft feed. We eats hoag an’
hominy abo’d here, an’ I tells yo’ it’s mighty good hoag; costs me
seven cents a pound.”

The small boat was called away, and, with Sam and Heldron to help carry
the provisions, the two gentlemen went ashore again.

Half an hour passed, and Bill was getting surly. The tide was
falling, and the chances of hitting the reef were good. The wind
dropped, and the surface of the bay was just ruffled by it. Far away
to the southward the little hump of Soldier Key stood out above the
surrounding reef, and the tall palms of Florida Cape seemed to be
motionless.

“What the name o’ sin d’ye think dem folks is doin’?” said Bahama Bill
finally, rising from the quarter and gazing toward the shore. “I sho’
likes toe make money easy, but when I gits de sail on dis hear ship, I
likes toe see her go. Gittin’ hot, an’ de wind’s dropped. I hate to run
that channel on a fallin’ tide without wind enough to drive her good
an’ strong over dem shoal places. Hello! what’s dat?”

Smart looked up, and followed the direction of the man’s gaze. A wagon
was tearing down the street at a breakneck pace, and upon it were the
two gentlemen who had chartered the sloop. Sam and Heldron sprang up
from the dock to meet them as the vehicle drew up, and with a great
show of haste all four men were struggling with a small but apparently
very heavy box.

In a few moments, in spite of its weight, it was being lowered into the
small boat, and Smart noticed that when all hands sprang in, she was
nearly gunwale down with the cargo. The men rowed as though urged to
their utmost, and in a few minutes the boat was alongside.

“Didn’t want to keep you waiting,” cried the tall, thin-faced man.

“No,” said the man who had chartered the sloop, “we knew you would hate
to be delayed, so we hurried.” His benevolent expression beamed up at
the mate, but Smart noted that every now and then his pale eyes shifted
uneasily toward the dock, where the wagon was still standing unattended.

A line was cast over the side, and Bill took hold to hoist the box on
deck. He gave a tug, and then stopped suddenly.

“What in thunder yo’ got toe eat in dere?” he growled. “Dat’s lead,
sho’ ’nuff lead, an’ no mistake. We got sinkers enough abo’d here fer
all de fishin’ yo’ll do dis spring. Sam! Heldron, yo’ Dutchman! Cap’n,
come, all hands git a hold an’ h’ist away. Man, I nigh broke my pore
ole back wid de heft ob dat box.”

They all tailed on to the line, and hoisted the box on deck.

“Get it below,” said the man with the moustache and pale eyes; “we’ll
give you a hand.”

In a few minutes the weighty box, which appeared to be of wood, was
landed safely below in the cabin. The gentleman opened a small bottle
of liquor, and offered a drink all around. It passed until Bahama Bill
came to it, and he silently uptilted the bottle and drained it to the
last drop, flinging it up the companionway and overboard.

“Good!” cried the gentlemen together. “Now for the open sea. Let’s try
to find out how quick we can get from here to the end of the reef.”
And suiting the action to the words, they sprang up the companionway,
followed by the mate, who was now in a better frame of mind.

“Git de hook off’n de groun’,” bawled Bill. “H’ist de jib.” And he
hauled flat the mainsheet, and rolled the wheel over as the short cable
came in and the anchor broke clear.

Smart hoisted the head-sails, and they filled away for the open sea.

Smart sat aft upon the taffrail, and the two guests settled themselves
upon boxes which Sam brought out in place of chairs. Bill held the
wheel, heading the _Sea-Horse_ down the narrow channel. She moved
slowly in the light air, and the thin-faced man stretched out his long
frame and looked her over critically.

“Seems like she isn’t very fast,” he remarked to his pale-eyed
companion.

Bahama Bill looked at him a moment, but said nothing.

“Pretty dirty sort of ship, hey?” said the thin fellow again, in a low
tone.

The mate was about to make some reply, but Smart nudged him, and he
relaxed into a scowl.

“Aw, well, I reckon we’ll make it all right,” said the pale-eyed man,
his face beaming satisfaction and his high nose sniffing the salt air.

“With a decent boat, yes,” said the other, “but this one’s mighty
rough. I never saw a more poorly rigged affair. Seems like she’s rigged
from the wrecks of other vessels. Don’t look like she’ll make six
knots.”

Bahama Bill grunted, but Smart nudged him again, and he said nothing.
The yacht captain knew that gentlemen would not stand for rough talk
from men of Bahama Bill’s type, and he did not want to lose the
charter. It meant plenty of money and comfortable living until he could
get his salvage.

“Let them talk–don’t butt in–say nothing,” he admonished Bill, in a
whisper.

The big mate heard, but seemed resentful. “What dey want toe knock my
ship fo’?” growled the giant. “Ain’t she a good sloop? Ain’t she done
her work all right every time? She’s paid me good money, me an’ Bull
Sanders–no, I don’t like no knockin’ goin’ on abo’d here.”

“Cut it out, keep quiet–we get the money if you do,” said Smart. “What
good will it do you to get them angry, so they won’t want to charter us
again? Man! it’s good money, thirty dollars a day–let it go at that.”

The pale-eyed man looked at the mate. “It’s about dinner-time, isn’t
it?” he asked. “We’re mighty hungry, and if you can let the cook get to
work, we’ll be ready.”

“Where’s the soft grub fo’ dat invalid?” growled Bahama Bill. “I
thought he couldn’t eat hoag an’ hominy–Heldron, yo’ Dutchman, git the
fire started an’ let the perfessers eat as soon as yo’ kin.”

They were well down the channel now, but Smart, on looking back, saw a
small schooner making sail hastily. She started off, heading in their
wake, and about a mile astern.

The passenger with the pale eyes watched her sharply for some moments,
and the benevolent expression faded from his face. The thin man, the
invalid, started up and gazed at her, but was pulled down again by his
companion.

“That fellow astern,” said the charterer, his high nose sniffing
sneeringly at the schooner, “thinks he has a smart vessel, and bet us
this morning that he could beat this old sloop to the Fowey Rocks.
Don’t let him come up on us whatever you do. I’ll give you ten dollars
extra to-day if you run him out of sight before dark.”

“Looks like a smart vessel,” said Bahama Bill, gazing aft. “I ain’t
much at racing, but give this sloop a good breeze, an’ maybe you’ll
land yo’ money.”

The passengers ate their meal, and to the credit of the invalid be it
said that he ate more of the “hoag” than his companion. He also put
away an immense portion of the hominy, and his thin face seemed less
wrinkled when he appeared on deck to take a look at the schooner.

Smart watched the following vessel, and saw that she was gaining. The
expression of the pale-eyed man was even more sinister than before, and
the quiet, urbane look gave way to one of ferocity. The high, thin nose
seemed like the beak of some bird of prey, and the moustache bristled
with anxiety and apparent vexation. The thin-faced invalid’s expression
was also one of evident concern, the lines of his face drawing tighter
as the distance lessened between the two ships.

“Who’s that fellow that looks like the marshal abo’d the schooner?”
asked the mate.

“Oh, that’s a friend of mine. He dresses up like that when he goes
hunting or fishing. He used to be in the army, and he likes to wear the
clothes like a uniform,” said the thin-faced man.

“Speaking of the army,” said the pale-eyed one, “that puts me in mind
of that little Colt automatic-gun I have. They use them now in the
service, and say they carry like a rifle. I believe I’ll take a pop at
Charlie just to scare him, hey? It won’t hurt him at this distance,
anyway.”

“By all means,” laughed the thin-faced man, “take a try at him. It’ll
scare him to death, I bet you.”

Bahama Bill eyed the men curiously, but as it appeared to be none of
his business whether they indulged in rough play, he said nothing.
Smart was too engrossed to notice that the pale-eyed man had drawn
a large automatic pistol, and was resting it upon the rail, until
he had pulled the trigger. The sharp, whiplike report without any
smoke startled him. The shrill whine of the projectile whistled over
the water, and the man who stood upon the schooner’s deck quickly
disappeared. In a few moments the “cheep” of a rifle-bullet cut the
air, and “spanged” with a thud into the mainmast, followed by a faint
crack sounding over the sea.

The pale-eyed man fired six shots in answer now, and they came so
quickly that there was hardly a second between the reports.

“What yo’ doin’, havin’ a gun fight?” roared Bill. “What yo’ mean by
shootin’ a fellow up what ain’t doin’ nothin’ but sailin’ after yo’?
What’s de lay? Sing out.”

The pale-eyed man turned his gaze upon the giant mate, and, as he did
so, he shoved another clip of cartridges into his weapon.

“Don’t get excited,” he said calmly. “My friend here is an iconoclast,
a knocker. He objects to the simplicity of your ship, to her rigging,
to her going qualities. He objected to the perfection of that schooner,
also. He speaks out, and consequently gets into trouble. Now it’s for
you to show him that he’s right; that, after all, racing is a game
between men, not between ships, I’ll make it fifty dollars if you keep
that schooner just where she belongs.”

“I’ll run her out of sight befo’ night, if de wind comes–hit looks
like it’s coming now, by the shake outside the reef–but dat’s de
United States marshal youse fired on, perfesser. I knows him of old,
an’ I got no use fer him. But watcher got in de box? Speak up, or I
throws her into the wind.”

“If you so much as alter the course of this sloop one point,” said the
thin-faced man quietly, from a place to leeward, where he had gone
unobserved, “I’ll fill you so full of lead that you’ll make a hole in
the bottom where you’ll strike. Head her out over the reef, and then
due east, until further orders.”

While he spoke he rested a long-barrelled six-shooter of the heaviest
pattern in the hollow of his arm, with its muzzle pointing directly at
the heart of the giant mate. The man with the pale eyes sat upon the
taffrail with his Colt automatic in readiness, and looked Smart and the
two men over without a word. Speech was unnecessary. The iconoclast
had done all that was needed to bring about a perfect understanding,
and, as both men were armed with guns that admitted of some respect,
the _Sea-Horse_ held her way over the reef under all sail, while the
freshening breeze heeled her gradually over until she fairly tore along
through a calm sea, leaving a snowy, boiling wake astern.

III

Bahama Bill looked his men over. He feared neither gun nor knife when
the time came for a fracas, but there was another consideration which
moved him deeper than the threat of the thin-faced invalid. The marshal
had libelled his vessel upon an occasion, for the payment of a small
bill. Here he was forced, at the point of a gun, to run away, to carry
the evident prey with him. It would exonerate him if caught, for he
could prove that it was a matter he had no discretion in. He could,
with all safety, put as much space between the two vessels as possible.
All hands would swear that he was forced to do so.

The idea tickled him, and his huge, ugly mouth broadened out into a
sinister grin as the _Sea-Horse_, racing along through the choppy water
of the edge of the Gulf Stream, poked her short horn out over the foam,
and tore away to windward.

The box in the cabin excited his curiosity, but he felt sure that it
was of value, and that the men were trying to make a getaway with it.
Smart was sitting quietly watching the affair, and being, like the
mate, under the guns of the passengers, there was nothing to do but
obey orders, or take the consequences.

“Seems like your health has improved wonderfully since you dined on the
ship’s grub,” said the yacht captain, addressing the invalid, who held
the revolver.

“The sea air is good for the health,” assented that gentleman, his thin
face lining up into something resembling a smile. “It’ll be healthy
for all of us out here in the broad ocean, free from all cares. Oh,
the life on the bounding wave for me–isn’t that so, Jim?” said he,
referring to his companion.

The sharp “ping” of a bullet interrupted the answer, and it was found
that to be perfectly safe it was necessary to remain under cover.

“Those bullets would go through the ship both ways and back again,”
said the invalid, as the rest snuggled down, “but of course it’s well
to keep out of sight. Better put everything you can on her, skipper,”
he added, addressing the mate, “if you want to keep clear. Let her go.
Don’t stop on our account. When we get an offing, I’ll trust you to
steer without trouble, and I’ll put out a line to catch some supper.
There ought to be fine fishing off the reef this time of year.”

“Oh, I’m mighty feared ob those guns,” said Bahama Bill, in a deep
voice, which he tried to raise to a frightened treble. “I’ll steer her
all right toe any place yo’ wants toe go. Lay de co’se, says me. I’ll
take youse dere if the hooker’ll go.”

“It’s a pity you haven’t some decent canvas aboard her,” said the
invalid.

“If you had some decent gear, we might show that fellow a clean wake.
You seem to know your business, all right.”

“If you want to make a getaway, you better stop knocking this sloop,”
said Smart.

“Dat’s right, cap’n, ef dese perfessers want toe make good, dey
better quit hittin’ de _Sea-Horse_. I won’t stand fer much ob dat
foolishing,” said Bahama Bill.

“The invalid is a regular image-breaker,” said the pale-eyed man
sympathetically; “don’t mind the knocks, my good fellow. Tell me what
other cloth you can put on the ship, and I’ll see that it’s spread.
They’re getting out everything that will hold wind astern of us.”

This was the case aboard the schooner. The United States marshal, Tom
Fields, had been told of the successful onslaught of “Thin Jim” and
Dick Nichols, sometimes known as “the Owl” on account of his colourless
eyes, upon the safe of the gambling establishment. This contained seven
thousand dollars in cash, and nearly as much more in jewelry that had
been accepted for gambling debts.

The two crooks, a pair of the most desperate and notorious cracksmen,
had made good the haul in broad daylight, having first arranged to
have the sloop ready and waiting for the reception of the valuables.
The ignorance of her crew was rightly depended upon, and the plot had
so far been fairly successful. If they could once get to sea, the rest
would be easy, for they could land anywhere upon the Bahamas, from
Nassau a thousand miles down to the Great Inagua Bank. It would be next
to impossible to catch them. It all depended upon the vessel and her
manoeuvring.

Fields recognized the _Sea-Horse_ at once, and, knowing her peculiar
character, and also that of her owners, he at once came to the
conclusion that the giant mate of the wrecker was in the game with the
other two experts from the North. He at once pressed the yacht _Silver
Bar_ into service, and making sail about the time the _Sea-Horse_ was
standing out the channel, came along in pursuit, with the conviction
that he would soon run the heavier working vessel down under his gun
and force her to surrender.

Armed with a modern rifle of small bore and great range, he had
returned the fire of the burglars at once, in the hope that he might
cripple some one, even at the range of half a mile. His ammunition
consisted of hardly more than a handful of cartridges, and he was
forced to use these sparingly, depending now upon the seamanship of his
crew and the seaworthiness of the _Silver Bar_ to make his catch.

With all sail he stood down the channel, and was beginning to haul
up on the _Sea-Horse_, when she took the first of the southerly wind
coming over the reef. This had given her a good start, and she was now
about a mile to windward, and going like mad to the eastward, across
the Gulf Stream.

“Clap everything you can on her,” begged the marshal; “put out the
awning, tarpaulins, anything that will drive us. It’s a thousand
dollars reward if we land them, and I’ll split even with you if we do.”

The captain of the _Silver Bar_ needed no urging. He wanted that
five hundred. He would have to go, anyway, and here was the chance
of the season. He broke out jib-topsails, stretched his mainsail
to the utmost, and trimmed his canvas for the struggle, setting a
club-topsail aft and a working one forward, with a big maintopmast
staysail. He was soon making the most of the lively breeze, and
plunging through the blue water to the tune of ten knots, heading right
into the wake of the flying _Sea-Horse_.

The wrecking-sloop, leaning well down to the now freshening gale, tore
a way through the Gulf Stream, sending the spray flying over her in a
constant shower. She headed well up, a trifle closer than the schooner,
and she waded through it like a live thing. Her rough gear, meant for
work and hard usage, stood her in good stead in the heavy water off
shore.

All the lines stretching taut as bow-strings to the pressure made a
musical humming which sounded pleasantly upon the ears of the listening
men aft. They still held their weapons in readiness, but it was evident
that Bahama Bill was going to send his favourite through to a finish in
a style fitting her record.

With one hand upon the wheel-spokes, he lounged upon the steering-gear,
nor ducked nor winced as the rifle projectiles now and again sang past.
The range was getting too great to be dangerous, and the ammunition
of the marshal was getting low. Finally the fire astern ceased, and
the two vessels raced silently across the Stream, each striving to the
utmost for the objective point, the Great Bahama Bank, seventy miles
away, due east.

Once upon the shoal, the wrecker would have the advantage, for he knew
the Bank well, and could follow channels which the heavier schooner
would almost certainly fetch up in. The marshal knew this, and urged
the schooner to the limit of her powers.

Away they went across the Stream. The _Silver Bar_ was rooting deeply
into the choppy sea, caused by the strong northerly current which flows
eternally between the Florida Reef and the Great Bahama Bank. She would
plunge headlong, and bury her bows clear to the knightheads, ramming
the water so heavily that it burst into a great comber from both sides.
Then she would raise her dripping forefoot clear, until one could
see under her body aft to the heel of the foremast, rearing up like
a spirited horse under the spur. Down she would plunge again with a
forward lunge, and every line of standing rigging would set like a bar
with the strain.

Fields, the marshal, was getting all he could out of her, and she was
gradually hauling up in the wake of the wrecker. Before the sun sank
in the west she was less than half a mile astern, and coming along
handsomely.

Smart, on the _Sea-Horse_, trimmed his canvas, stretched the peak of
the mainsail, and sweated the topsail sheet and tack until the lines
would stand no more. The _Sea-Horse_ was literally flying through it,
and her heavy build caused her to strike the seas with a smash which
flung the spray in showers.

Bahama Bill glanced astern, and saw that he would soon be alongside the
pursuer, and the anxious faces of the passengers told of a nervousness
which could not be concealed. Both Sam and Heldron were aware that
they were making a getaway, but they had no choice in the matter, and
they would obey the mate to the last.

Smart studied out several wild propositions which occurred to him to
disable the sloop and be overhauled, but, as there was every prospect
of getting shot for any attempt, he wisely kept on, feeling sure that
the marshal would soon be alongside and force surrender.

They had run all the afternoon, and had gone many miles, but now that
they were really at sea, the schooner would have the advantage.

Darkness came on, and the thin man holding the revolver appeared to
tire. “You might get dinner ready,” said he, “I’m about ready to eat
again.”

“I don’t got noddings but pork, cold an’ fat,” said Heldron, who acted
as cook.

“Bring it on deck,” said the invalid. “It’s a shame you fellows live
the way you do.”

He bolted a full pound of the greasy meat, and seemed to enjoy it.

“Does me good to see how you’ve improved under the salt air,” said
Smart.

“The more he eats the thinner he gets,” said the pale-eyed man,
shifting his automatic pistol into his left hand. “You can let me have
a try at it now.”

After all hands had eaten, the darkness had grown to the blackness of a
tropic night. The _Sea-Horse_ kept along without lights, but those of
the schooner soon showed close astern, and appeared exceedingly near.
No shots had been fired, although the range was now close, and there
was every opportunity, could the marshal see, of hitting a man, but
the plunging of the vessels evidently made his aim uncertain, and he
reserved his fire, feeling sure that he would soon be close enough to
force matters to a satisfactory conclusion without bloodshed.

“Dere ain’t but one chanct in fo’ty ob our makin’ de gitaway,” said
Bill, gazing astern at the approaching vessel, “but I’ll do the bes’
I kin to shoo fly dat ornery marshal. Dere’s a bit ob a squall makin’
ah’ad, an’ ef we kin hold on till it comes up, I’ll try to fluke him
when it’s thick.”

“My black friend, if your boat was any good you could make a getaway
without trouble, but this craft is surely on the bum,” said the
thin-faced invalid ruefully. “I’ve no doubt you think her all right in
her way, but her way is not that of those who expect to make either
comfort or time when afloat–she’s rotten.”

“Look here,” said Bahama Bill. “Yo’ better take my advice an’ not hit
this sloop any more. If yo’ don’t think she’s any good, why yo’ come
abo’d her? Why yo’ want to run off with her, hey?”

“Why, indeed?” sighed the invalid, shifting his gun and gazing ahead
at the gathering blackness of the squall, which was just one of
those little puffs of smudge, a bit of breeze and drizzle, common to
southerly wind in the Stream.

“Shall I run her off an’ make the try fo’ it?” asked the mate.

“Yes, do the best you can,” said the iconoclast, nursing the barrel
of the six-shooter. “Looks like we’re up against it,” he added to his
pale-eyed partner, who seemed to grow more and more anxious as the
pursuing schooner drew up in the wake of the _Sea-Horse_.

“Stand by to haul down the jib an’ fo’sta’s’l,” ordered the mate, and
just then the first puff of the squall heeled the sloop over slightly,
and gave her greater speed. The rain came with the breeze, and for a
moment the vessel fairly tore along with the increased pressure. It
gave them considerable advantage over the schooner, for it struck them
first.

Just as it began to show signs of slacking up, Bahama Bill gave his
final orders. The head-sails were run down so as not to show against
the sky, and the mainsail run off until the leech was on edge to the
pursuing vessel, the _Sea-Horse_ squaring away and running off at
nearly right angles to her course. In this manner she presented little
besides her mast to be seen in the darkness, her white canvas being now
almost if not quite out of sight.

“Stan’ up an’ look astern, now,” said Bahama Bill to the thin-faced man.

The request was complied with, both men standing up and gazing back
into the blackness, which now showed only the port, or red, light of
the schooner, telling plainly that she had not discovered their ruse,
and was holding on with the freshening breeze, confident that when it
let up she would be close aboard the sloop.

The course of the _Sea-Horse_ was almost due north, while that of the
pursuing vessel was east. Before the thickness of the rain was over,
the wrecker would be safely out of sight to the northward, and the
marshal would hold on only to find he was chasing nothing. They watched
her pass on toward the Bahamas, and her lights fade out, and then the
thin-faced passenger spoke.

“For a bum old boat, this did the trick, all right,” said he to his
partner. “I didn’t think we’d make it, but I guess we will, all right,
now–what?”

“Looks like we’re off for fair,” said the pale-eyed man. “We’ll make
a landing without delay, and let the marshal go hunting the town of
Nassau for two well–but not favourably–known gentlemen. That’s a
strong shooting rifle he carries, hey?”

While they talked, interested in the chase, the mate of the _Sea-Horse_
had begun to think of his part in the affair. Both he and Smart had now
to face a serious charge, and the prospect was not pleasant, especially
as they had not chosen to take part in the escape of the two men who
now had shown that they were fugitives from the law and the marshal.

The mate had outwitted his old enemy, and, as the success of his
seamanship became evident, he began to realize that the game was now
up to him. Smart stood near, and was about to say something to that
effect, when he caught the glint of the black man’s eye, shining white
in the darkness.

It conveyed a meaning to the yacht captain, for he was well versed in
tricks of the sea, and he at once spoke to the passengers, calling
their attention to the vanishing ship. He did not know just what Bahama
Bill would do, but he knew from that look he would act, and act at once.

Almost instantly the mate pushed the wheel-spokes slowly over, doing it
so gently, so gradually, that only Smart was aware that the wind was
hauling to the lee, and that the mainsail would soon be taken aback. He
spoke again, and the men gazed a moment more at the shadow passing out
across the Stream. Then the mainsail took the wind to port, and swung
with a quick jibe to starboard.

The sheet well off came over in a bight, and, while the two gentlemen
of fortune had agility enough to dodge the main boom, the line caught
the tall, thin-faced invalid, and jerked him quickly over the side into
the sea.

The other man sprang out of the way, but almost instantly recovered
himself, and covered the mate with his weapon. He seemed to realize
that some trick had been played, but just what he failed to understand.
He hesitated to fire, and that instant cost him the game. Bahama Bill
made a quick plunge over the taffrail, and disappeared in the white
wake astern. The pale-eyed man held his pistol in readiness to shoot,
but he was warned again by Smart’s voice.

“Don’t fire, you fool, he’ll save your friend,” cried the captain.
“They’ll hear the shot aboard the schooner–put up your gun.”

The quickness of events seemed to cause even the cool-headed burglar
to hesitate as to what course to pursue. The mate had gone overboard
evidently to save his companion. It was certain death to be left out
there in the ocean, and Smart was even now swinging the _Sea-Horse_
around in a great circle, heading well to the westward, to make it
farthest from the disappearing schooner.

Heldron and Sam had sprung to the sheet, and were rapidly hauling it in
hand over hand, while Smart bawled out orders for them, regardless of
the saturnine passenger with the gun, who seemed undecided whether to
shoot some of them or not.

He sat down and gazed astern at the place where the two men had
vanished. He knew his companion was a strong swimmer, but he knew
nothing of the black man’s giant strength, his remarkable staying
powers, and fishlike ability in the sea.

Smart hauled the sloop up on her port tack, and slowly circled, knowing
almost exactly where he would pick up the mate. He would not go too
fast, for fear of overrunning him, and he felt certain that he need not
hurry on his account.

The pale-eyed man appeared to think there was little use hunting for
men in the darkness, and his knowledge of his whereabouts was evidently
completely lost.

“What’s the use, now?” he asked finally. “You can’t find a man in the
ocean on a dark night. Better give it up. Let’s make a run back for the
Keys.”

“With Bill trying to save your partner?” asked Smart, in feigned
disgust.

“Oh, well, my friend, if there was any use of hunting for them, I would
stay as long as the next man.”

“I’m not exactly what you might call your friend,” said Smart coldly,
“but I’m going to stay around here a little while. Don’t try to force
matters, because I won’t leave this part of the Atlantic until I’m
satisfied both are gone for good.”

“See here, Mr. Sailor-man,” said the pale-eyed one. “I hold the
decision just now. I don’t want to make rough-house on board of your
excellent yacht, but you must do as I say. I’m not a knocker. I don’t
want to say anything against you. But you take my orders, and make a
getaway from here in about two minutes. I want to land that box before
daybreak–you understand?”

Smart was about to argue the matter further, but desisted for a few
minutes while he had the forestaysail run up and the jib hoisted. He
was swinging around in a large circle, and was now ready to carry
head-sail and have his vessel manageable. In the meantime, Bahama Bill
was busy some two hundred fathoms distant.

IV

When the mate plunged overboard after the thin-faced gentleman, he had
a very definite idea of what he must do. To attempt to retake his ship
under the guns of two armed men who were expert at the use of firearms
would have been suicide. They would have shot him before he could have
taken charge.

He knew Smart to be a good sailor, and had considerable faith in his
ability to handle himself properly in an emergency. He felt certain
that the captain understood the game, and gave him merely a look to
signify that he was ready. Then he had gone over the side for the man
who had the six-shooter, feeling sure that the fellow would not let go
of the weapon until he had to.

He swam quickly along in the swirl of the wake, keeping his eyes open
for the head of the passenger to appear upon the whitened surface. In a
moment he saw him.

The thin-faced rogue was a strong swimmer. He was also a powerful man,
spare and muscular, capable of taking care of himself in that smooth
sea for a long time. He had suddenly found himself flung far over the
side by the jibing sheet, but he clutched his pistol firmly, knowing
that his partner would take charge until he was safe aboard again.

The weapon was heavy, but he jammed it into his waist-belt and struck
out slowly, meaning to swim along easily until the sloop returned to
pick him up. He could see her plainly, and he saw Smart start to swing
her around to return.

Then he was suddenly aware of a black head and face close aboard him,
the head sticking out of the sea and coming along at a smart pace. At
first the sight startled him. He hardly knew what had happened. Then he
surmised that the mate had been swept overboard also, and was swimming
near for company.

“You got it, too?” he asked, as the head of Bahama Bill came nearer.
The answer was a terrific blow between the eyes, which sent the stars
sailing through his brain. Then he felt the powerful hands of the
giant black closing upon him, and he fought with furious energy to
keep free. They clutched and clinched, the mate getting a firm hold of
the man’s right hand, which he twisted around behind him. The struggle
caused them to sink below the surface, and the straining made breathing
necessary.

The giant mate swam fiercely to regain the surface, dragging his
antagonist along with him. He finally got his head clear, and breathed
deeply the salt air of the ocean, spitting out a quantity of salt water.

The thin-faced man had swallowed much brine, and he came up weakly.
He still struggled, but he was no match for the black diver. In a few
minutes Bahama Bill had his hands secured behind him, and then rolling
easily over upon his back, he grasped the fellow by the collar, and
proceeded to swim with him in the direction of the _Sea-Horse_, turning
his head now and then to keep her whereabouts certain.

He lost her several times in the splash and froth of little seas, which
broke again and again over his head, for he swam low and saved his
strength, but he knew that Smart would stand by. Soon he made her out
coming along smartly right for him, and he suddenly raised himself and
called out loudly:

“Get the small boat over–don’t yo’ try to pick me up from de sloop,”
he bawled, in his bull-like tones.

Smart understood, and threw the _Sea-Horse_ into the wind, Sam and
Heldron heaving the small boat upon the rail, and waiting for her
headway to slacken before launching her. Then they dropped her over and
sprang aboard.

Somewhere off in the darkness they stopped and pulled the men from
the water, but neither Smart nor his passenger could see in just what
condition they were rescued. The boat seemed to take a long time over
the matter, and when she finally started back the pair on board the
_Sea-Horse_ saw only the two men, Sam and Heldron, rowing as they had
started out.

As the boat came alongside, the pale-eyed man peered over to see if his
partner had been rescued. He still held his weapon in readiness for
enforcing his orders, intending to push matters rapidly the moment the
men were aboard again.

The first intimation he received of anything wrong was a spurt of
fire issuing from the bottom of the small boat, accompanied by a loud
explosion.

At the same instant a heavy bullet struck him just below the
collar-bone, slewing him around and causing his pistol to fall from his
hand. The next instant Smart was upon him, and bore him to the deck.

The men clambered aboard, Bahama Bill leading, and in less than
five minutes they had the two worthies triced up in a shipshape and
seamanlike manner, lying upon the after-deck.

The giant mate gave a grunt of approval as he glanced at Smart.

“Yo’ suah did de right thing, cap–I reckoned yo’ might–but dat was a
bad place toe jump a man, out dere in de water; it was dat, fer a fact.
Now, yo’ Dutchman, yo’ Sam, git de grub from de box ob dat invalid,
I’m mighty hungry, I kin suah eat a tid-bit–then we’ll see how long
it takes us toe git in behind Floridy Cape. I s’pose yo’ wouldn’t mind
a bite ob dat good grub yo’ brought abo’d, hey, perfesser?” he asked,
addressing the reclining invalid.

“Don’t rub it in, cap’n; don’t rub it in,” said the thin-faced man from
his place upon the planks. “You take my advice and let that box alone.
It’ll take a stick of dynamite to bust it, being as it is made of steel
under the outside wood cover. It’s a very good safe, and strong. Better
let that Dutchman get us a few pounds of that salt pig you have aboard,
and some boiled corn. I’ll risk the indigestion–and let it go at that.”

Before daylight they had landed their prisoners and the safe upon the
dock at Miami, and Sam had gone up-town to notify the authorities that
the marshal was taking a cruise for his health to the Great Bahama Bank.

“If the vessel had been any good,” muttered the thin-faced, as he
was led away, “we’d have made good easily enough. She was a bum ship,
mighty poor, and that was what caused the trouble.”

“I still has a lot ob faith in her,” said Bahama Bill.

Continue Reading

The Survivor

“Light dead ahead and close aboard, sir,” said the mate in a tone of
anxiety, as he poked his streaming sou’wester down the companionway.

Captain Johnson was bending over his chart, his parallel ruler placed
firmly on east by south. The droning roar of the gale overhead and
the booming of the storm canvas and taut standing rigging made the
officer’s voice sound strangely expressionless. The slight nervousness
evident in the lowness of the tone was the only thing that made the
master look up.

The swinging lamp cast a strong light upon the articles of his room,
and as he took up his sou’wester and tied the strings under his chin,
he caught a momentary glimpse of a photograph pinned over his desk. The
wild rolling and plunging of the ship caused him to brace himself for
a moment, and he stood with legs apart, swaying, to keep his balance.
The picture was of his wife and children; those for whom he toiled at
sea, and he thought of them the moment he made ready to go on deck. He
was only a moment getting ready, for he had kept on his rubber boots
and coat, but in that moment his thoughts went to the home ashore. He
loved those children, and he adored the woman who was their mother.
They were all of his world ashore, and it was for that little world he
worked and strove at sea.

In less than a minute after the mate had called he was on deck gazing
through his night glasses at the light ahead. He was almost in the
middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and the light was bright, the headlight
of some steamer. Her side lights had not yet appeared through the drift
and spume of the gale, but the headlight was bright and it was not
changing its bearings, which was the bad sign that had worried the mate.

Johnson knew he had the right of way. Every man who knows anything of
the rules at sea knows the sailing ship has the right of way over a
steamer, and Johnson knew he was hove-to under storm canvas and must
not give way or change his course. For him to get out of the steamer’s
way would put the burden of blame for anything that might happen upon
himself, for it might confuse the steamer, which would, of course, at
the right time shift her course and go clear.

But the light ahead grew brighter, and the moments were flying like
the gale. The light was right over the jibboom end when the ship
fell downward into the sea. Then it would swing to leeward a little,
and then as the next sea swung her head off it would appear on the
weather bow. Yes, it bore almost dead ahead and it was not changing its
bearings.

The mate was getting nervous.

“Shall we keep her off, sir?” he asked.

“No, hold your course,” came the order.

Ten men of the watch on deck had their eyes upon the light. They
gave it small attention, however, for they knew, of course, that the
steamer would sheer clear of them. The watch below and the passengers
were sleeping as well as the rolling and plunging of the vessel would
permit, and they were concerned not at all with lights. Those below in
a ship know nothing of the strenuous life of those on deck.

“I can see his red light, sir,” came the voice of the mate, strained
and hoarse with excitement, and raised to a loud cry.

But Johnson could see the green light also, and he saw they were
equally distant on either side of and below the bright eye which was
bearing down upon them. The vessel was now close aboard, and of a
sudden he felt his heart give a great bound under his ribs.

“Hard up the wheel,” he roared. “Hard up, hard up–quick,” and as he
roared out he sprang to the spanker sheet and cast it off, letting
the sail go to leeward with a thundering thrashing. Sharp cries came
from forward where the men on lookout saw the danger and passed the
word aft. And then as he turned, Johnson saw the giant bulk of a liner
showing dimly through the gloom of the stormy night. A hundred little
lights showed in her upper works. He even saw a man on her forecastle
head peering forward, and then the great black stem rose above him,
and with a thundering crash and rushing roar it tore its way through
his ship almost amidships.

For a moment which seemed an age, the great black side of the hull rose
before his vision, grinding, smashing, tearing its irresistible way
past. Then the great black demon of destruction drew away and faded
into the gloom, leaving nothing but a boiling sea forward of where the
mainmast had been. The next minute the wild sea of the Western Ocean
closed over what had been a short time before a fine ship.

Johnson found himself facing a living hill which rose against the
night sky. Above it a great comber roared and foamed down upon him as
the top of the sea broke and fell downward along the slope. He was in
the sea and the water was warm, warmer than the air had been when on
deck. He had on his rubber boots and oilskins, and he wondered why he
still floated. He had heard that men with boots on sank at once. He
remembered this distinctly and he struck out strongly as the foaming
crest of the comber swept over him and smothered him down into the
blackness beneath. He kept struggling and his head came out into the
night again. The wind swept over his face, driving the foam and spume
so that he could not see or breathe, but he knew he was still upon the
surface of the sea. He turned his back toward it and managed to get a
little breath. Then, half blinded and strangling with the brine, he
struck out again.

It suddenly occurred to him that the steamer would stop and try to
pick up the wrecked crew, but then he knew it would be impossible to
lower a boat that night, and the masters of liners seldom stopped for
anything. Transatlantic express steamers hardly ever stopped in good
weather for a man overboard in daylight. Never unless they could see
him distinctly upon the surface. If those upon the steamer could not
see a four-masted schooner under storm canvas with her lights burning
brightly, they would hardly hope to see a floating man who could not be
seen ten fathoms distant by the sharpest eyes in that wind and sea. He
tried to raise himself to see if the hull of the vessel was still in
view, or if she were burning lights, but not even a Coston flare was
visible. There was nothing save the desolate storm-lashed sea.

He had kicked off his rubber boots in a few moments, as they were
dragging him down, and being a powerful man he struggled steadily to
rid himself of his oilskins. Death had not made his appearance yet.
He could not come upon a strong man so quickly while that man had his
powers still left him to fight with. The very thought of the ending
made him exert more power and a sudden realization of his position
caused him to tear off his coat in a frantic effort. The faces of those
he had left at home came before his half-blinded vision. He knew he was
facing almost certain death, and that it would come quickly if no one
picked him up. He was apparently alone in the middle of the Atlantic
Ocean, and the steamer had kept on her course after completing the
destruction of his ship. The rest of his crew must also have gone
overboard. There were twenty-five souls all told, and he cursed the
men of the steamer who had caused their sudden end. It had been vile
carelessness. It had been more than brutal disregard for life. Their
callousness amazed him, and he had been to sea many years and knew its
heartlessness.

What would his family do without him? He could see their amazed and
terrified looks when the news would be brought to them. His poor wife
who adored him and whose only thought had been for him and the little
ones. No, he could not die. No, no, by God, he would not die. He shook
the water from his face and dashed it out of his eyes with his hand,
and raised his head again for a look. The snoring roar of a comber
sounded near, but even as he noted it he thought he heard the surging
wash of something floating heavily in the sea. He knew there might be
pieces of wreck about him. It was a chance and he flung himself high
out of the water to see. The next instant the bursting wave fell over
him and bore him down again into the blackness below. It seemed a long
time it held him down, and he was exhausted when he got his head out
again and drew in a mixture of water and air. A few more heavy seas
and he would be very weak. The knowledge of it caused a terror within
him. His heart began to beat rapidly. The end was really approaching in
spite of his struggles. He was beginning to realize it, to realize that
death could win after all.

But the thought of those ashore still steadied him. He must do his
utmost. Had he been alone in the world the futility of his exertions
would have been instantly apparent. He would have made a slight,
ordinary effort, the effort of the animal who instinctively fears
death, but his reason would have quickly told him that the sooner he
went under the better it would be for him. He would have died like the
twenty-five souls who had been in his care half an hour before. But he,
no, he could not go, he would swim on, and on, and on.

He had been in the water half an hour now and he saw nothing but the
house where his family lived. The sun was shining bright and the grass
was green near the front gate. His wife stood upon the front steps and
smiled at him. He reached toward her, but she seemed to recede and
smile at him, leading him on, and on, and on.

He was still swimming but did not know it. His breath had gone to
little choking gasps which hardly reached his half-filled lungs. His
jaws were working spasmodically, clinching under the strain and opening
to gasp out the briny mixture which he was forced to breathe. But
always before his vision, before his blinded eyes, was that picture of
his home. The whirling, choking blackness around him seemed to close
in upon him. He stopped time and again to drive the drowning spray and
spume from his face. He was drowning. The wind and sea were too heavy
for a man to face for any length of time. The great combing crests of
the seas swept over him, and it was only by that dogged, persistent
effort to reach the vision before him that he managed to keep himself
upon the surface after the smothering foam held him under. Once he
seemed to realize his hopeless surroundings and raised himself out to
the shoulders to try to see. He happened to be upon the lee slope of a
hill of water and he got a momentary glimpse of the turmoil about him.
All around was the gloom of the night, lit here and there by the white
flashes of foam. It dawned upon his fading senses that he had reached
the limit, he was going under, there was no hope.

Like the lamp that flares up before it dies, the flame of his life rose
again in one more desperate resolve. He would keep on fighting, he
would not go.

The pitiful futility of his struggle roused his expiring senses to a
strange fury. He struck out fiercely, driving himself ahead before the
wind and raising himself with each stroke. He sank into the hollow of
a great sea, the slopes on either hand raised high above him and he
was in a sheltered spot for a second. The surging wash of some heavy
floating thing again came to his half-filled ears, and as he rose upon
the crest he made a mighty effort. He raised himself and shook the
water from his face. Right alongside of him lay a black object outlined
by a white fringe of foam which now and then showed phosphorescent
flares. He had been swimming now for more than fifty minutes.

With failing brain and cramping muscles he strove for it, swimming,
striking, reaching, the last expiring effort of a dying man who dies
hard in the full powers of his manhood. His headway through the water
was almost nothing. He was not a good swimmer. Few sailors can swim
at all. A sea hurled him close to the object, and another swept him
clear out of sight of it. Then one drove him against it heavily and he
clutched frantically for a hand-hold.

When he set his fingers upon an edge about three feet above the
surface he hung and rested. His senses were failing and he fought
instinctively. Something within him seemed to tell him that he must
get upon that object, that he must get clear of the water about him,
and he rested before making the effort which must decide his fate. It
was a high lift for an exhausted man and he set his strength slowly
and persistently, hauling steadily with all his remaining energy. He
managed to get his face level with the edge, but here he stopped. His
head wobbled weakly with the surge of the sea. His eyes were closed and
his jaws set. The sunshine seemed to play upon the green grass before
him and the form of his wife stood beckoning. He sank an inch lower. A
sea washed over him and he was slipping slowly back as it went past.
He gave a choking cry, a strangling groan of despair and slipped down
again into the sea just as a hand reached over the edge and closed upon
his shirt collar.

The sun was shining and the wind-swept sea presented a beautiful
aspect the following morning. The water broke over the lower edge
of the deck-house upon which he lay, but only reached to his feet,
foaming down the slant until it made a whirlpool in a mass of line
which floated in a tangle. A line about his waist was made fast to a
ring-bolt near him, and sitting alongside of him, with his head thrust
forward peering out over the sea, was Garfunkle, his second mate.

An exclamation and their eyes met. Johnson raised himself to a sitting
posture, though the pain in his cramped limbs made him groan.

“The forrad house, eh?” he said.

“Yessir,” said the mate.

“You saved me?”

“Yessir, I just heard your call in time. You were done for, but were
right within a foot of me. It was dark.”

“No one else but us two?” asked the captain.

“All gone, sir, and it looks like we are going. There won’t be another
ship this way in a week. That was the West India liner, _Hammersea_,
from Kingston to Liverpool, who ran us down. I saw the name on one of
her boats that was torn off her. It was smashed up and floating close
aboard us an hour ago.”

“To run a man down is carelessness, but to leave him afterwards is
murder,” said Johnson with bitterness.

They were about six hundred miles from the Bahamas and to the eastward
of the Stream. The water was warm and blue and the sea was going down.
The easterly weather was dying out and the semi-tropical warmth was
taking its place. Near them several dark objects showed now and again
upon the slopes of the seas, and they knew they must be débris from the
sunken ship.

Johnson had probably not swam over twenty fathoms in the whole
desperate endeavour he had made the night before. The darkness had
prevented him from making any definite course and he had swum with the
drift of the house. Garfunkle had been swept overboard with the wreck
of the mainmast; the stem of the steamer had torn its way through the
forward house, knocking it overboard. It was the only thing that had
floated clear, for the spars were all stayed with steel rigging and the
lanyards of the lee rigging had held against the shock although the
mainmast had been driven out of her. The great spar had been dragged
down with the sinking ship, but the house had floated clear and was
resting upon its side. In the open doorway they could see clothes and
sea-chests which had remained in the forecastle and which had not been
washed out with the force of the sea.

They were weak and exhausted from the night of effort, but they went to
work at a chest and dragged it through the door and upon the slanting
side of the house. It sent the float down a good foot in the sea, but
they persisted in the hope of finding something of value. The chest was
almost empty. It contained a few clothes, a Bible and a large revolver,
the cartridges still intact within the chambers. Johnson stuck the
weapon in his waist-band, and his mate placed the Bible and clothes
clear of the sea. Then he kicked the chest adrift. It floated off,
setting high upon the water and looking absurdly out of place.

“Nothing to eat–nothing to drink–looks pretty bad,” said Garfunkle.

Johnson made no comment. He was grateful that he was still alive, and
being a sailor he felt that it was a long way between that floating
deck-house and drowning. He would get ashore again soon enough, and
would not let his wife or children know how near he had come to
passing. It would be simply a money loss. He had owned several shares
in the schooner, and she had been a fine ship, paying twenty per cent.,
but he would get another and go on as before. If he ever caught up with
the pilot of that steamer, he would see that the fellow gave an account
of himself. His cargo had been insured fully, and the underwriters
would make things hot for the rascal who had so ruthlessly run him down.

The first day passed without incident of importance. The pangs of
hunger were beginning to be felt keenly by both men upon the float.
Johnson was cheerful but Garfunkle was pessimistic and grumbled
continually. He stood up every now and then to scan the horizon, but
nothing broke the evenness of the dark blue rim.

The second day it was hot and calm. Both men took off their clothes and
cooled themselves in the sea until a huge shadow rising alongside made
them hasten up the slanting side of their float. A great tiger shark
rose at the edge of the house, and taking a shove, sent his broad nose
up the slanting side until it almost touched their feet. Then he slid
back again into the sea and swam slowly around the house, coming back
again to the side that sloped into the water for another effort to get
his prey. The men were more amused than frightened at his attempts.
Garfunkle stripped a plank off the edge where it had been shattered,
and at the monster’s third effort he drove the ragged sharpened point
deep into its eye. He floundered back into the sea and remained
motionless some ten fathoms distant upon the surface. A smaller denizen
of the same species came up and tried the same method, but he was
rapped sharply over the head and he kept away. But as the darkness came
on, the men realized that they must not relax their vigilance, for the
hungry fish made other attempts to get them.

The morning of the third day Garfunkle was delirious. He raved about
water and stood up oftener to scan the sea. Johnson was very weak,
but kept his senses. He noticed a floating object near at hand and
soon made out the sunken small boat torn from the steamer’s side. As
the morning wore on it drifted nearer and finally came alongside. He
grasped the painter and managed to get the mate to give him a hand.
Together they managed to drag the boat’s bow up the slope of the float,
and they saw that the plank at the stem just below the water-line had
been smashed in. Weakened as he was, Johnson determined to patch it
and accordingly set to work. By placing a piece of the house planking
on the outside and lashing it fast with the line, he managed to get
the leak stopped sufficiently to allow the bailing of the craft. Then
by getting into the stern, they kept the leak clear of the sea and
the boat was safe enough. Searching through the locker aft, where
the food for emergency was kept, they came upon the case of biscuit,
water-soaked, to be sure, but still in partly solid shape. They ate
some and felt better for a time, but their thirst was aggravated. The
small water-breaker usually kept in lifeboats was missing. Under the
thwarts was a sail, and one oar was still fast in her bottom. Johnson
cut the lashings and drew the gear out. It would be of service to them
for a rudder.

The hunger pains had died away by the fourth day, but their thirst was
terrible. A man may go for days upon water alone, but without it he can
last only a short time under a warm sun. By keeping their bodies wet
they eased themselves a little, but not much. The absorption through
the skin was insufficient to do them much good. Time and again, they
seemed to see a ship bearing down upon them and one or the other would
cry out, but after a while they desisted. The sea was a heaving plain
as far as the sight could reach, unbroken by a single object. The deep
blue turned to a deeper steel-gray nearer the horizon in the calm,
meeting the almost cloudless sky in a haze. There was no wind, but
they must get away. To remain any longer on the house was to invite a
terrible death. It might be the same thing in the boat, but they would
at least feel that they were going somewhere, getting nearer to help
and water.

It was water, always water. The liquid around them made the madness of
thirst double. They had gazed down into the clear depths for hours,
seeing visions of streams of fresh water, craving to plunge into them,
the burning and all-consuming thirst in their throats waxing more and
more intense. They had no longer any idea of hunger. The ship’s bread
they left untouched, for it was wet with salt water and the slightest
bit of that liquid made them frantic. They could have just as well
drunk pure alcohol.

Garfunkle was for starting off at once. He had become rational again,
but his eyes held a certain light when they met the captain’s that
told of the madness in his brain. He always lowered them when Johnson
looked at him, but he spoke always in a low, soft voice now, a sort of
purring, and Johnson knew it was the purring of the famished tiger.
Garfunkle was a big man and very powerful. He had risen to mate’s berth
as much by his physical abilities as mental. He was stripped to the
waist, and his body, which he had kept wet, was burned to a bright
red by the sun. The patch of hair on his broad chest showed in marked
contrast to the surrounding skin. Johnson had kept his shirt on his
back and saved himself the extra annoyance of the sun. He preferred to
shiver a bit at night than to burn during the daytime.

When they had stepped the mast and made all ready for a start, they
noticed some small fish swimming close to the edge of the float.
The dorsal fin of a large shark lay twenty fathoms distant upon the
surface of the sea, and they wondered at the carelessness of the fish
who ignored it. They seemed quite tame, and Johnson took the piece
of wood they had used to keep off the sharks, whittled the end into
a fresh point and lay at full length upon the house, his idea being
to spear a few of the small fry and take them along for food. He was
quite weak and his brain was dizzy. The exertion of mending the boat
was exhausting and he made many ineffectual attempts to strike the fish
without looking up.

Suddenly he was aware of a feeling of danger. He turned and saw
Garfunkle stealthily coming upon him with the upraised oar. There was
a wild look in the mate’s eyes, but he grinned when Johnson turned
and began a soft speech, half incoherent. Johnson was lying down, but
managed to draw the pistol he had kept in his belt. The mate smiled,
put the oar back into the boat and suddenly shoved her clear of the
house, springing into her and sitting down upon a thwart.

Johnson looked at him, dazed, half understanding, his brain reeling in
the sunshine.

“Come back,” he said calmly.

Garfunkle grinned at him and grasped the sheet, hauled it aft and put
the oar over the stern for a rudder. There was no wind and the boat
remained motionless. The mate began to scull away slowly.

“Come back,” said Johnson in a low tone.

The mate turned his back upon him and as the boat’s head payed off,
kept her on her course to the westward.

“Come back,” said Johnson again.

The boat drew slowly off. She was ten fathoms before Johnson realized
that he was being deserted. Garfunkle sculled her slowly, the sail
slatting with the roll of the sea.

Johnson still held the revolver. It came upon him suddenly that he was
being left, that he was lost. The vision of the home ashore flashed
before him, the green grass and white cottage, with his smiling wife
and romping children. He was being left to die.

He drew the hammer of the revolver back and raised the weapon, letting
the front sight stop full upon the middle of Garfunkle’s back between
the shoulders. He hesitated, and as he did so he remembered that the
man had saved his life but a few days before. He would have drowned
but for the rescuing grip which hauled him upon the house. He let the
weapon sink until its muzzle touched the planks, and he put his left
hand to his head to try to help his reeling brain to reason properly.
No, he could not die. The vision of the home ashore came stronger to
him. It was not for himself alone that he would live, but live he must,
and would.

The sights of the pistol settled again upon the back of his mate. He
was twenty fathoms distant and drifting slowly away. Johnson pressed
the trigger.

The report jarred him. The puff of smoke disappeared at once into the
air, and he saw Garfunkle look around and grin. Then the mate stood up,
reeled, staggered, and plunged headlong overboard. He saw him no more.

Without waiting an instant Johnson swam toward the craft and managed to
gain her. He had forgotten about the sharks, but nothing struck him. He
took the oar the mate had dropped in the water alongside, and after he
climbed aboard he trimmed the sheet and settled himself in the stern,
making the oar fast in a becket. If he let go of it now he would not
lose it. The sun was in the west and he headed away, steering as near
as he could guess for the Bahamas.

The wrecking sloop _Sea-Horse_ was coming along up the coast and the
captain, Sanders, of Key West, noticed something floating upon the
broad stretch of sea which looked like a small white boat. Boats were
not met with so far off shore, and the object sat so low in the water
and appeared without control that the skipper of the wrecker called his
mate.

“What d’ye make of that, Bill?” said he, pointing to the white speck.

Bahama Bill, the huge negro diver and wrecker, looked long and intently
at it.

“‘Pears to me like it was er wrack, cap–what? Looks to be a stove-in
boat, an’ I reckon we might as well pick her up–maybe we kin fix her
to be ob use wid a little paint and putty. Ennyways, we kin sell her to
some dub in Miami en clar enough fo’ de trouble–what yo’ say, cap?”

“Oh, let her head up to it if you want to,” said Sanders. “I don’t like
running out of my line when I’m in a hurry, but if you want her, get
her. I reckon we might pass her off for a few dollars–stand by the
main sheet.”

“Ship’s boat–yassir, dat’s a ship’s boat fo’ shuah, cap,” said the
giant mate as the wrecking vessel drew nearer. “Must be some ob de
wrack hereabouts–we better lay by en take a look eround, yassir.”

“Let her luff a little,” called Sanders to the man at the wheel.
“Steady–so, let her go, jest so–steady–Good God! What–There’s a man
in her–”

“Stand by de jib sheet,” roared Bahama Bill. “Yo’ kin let her come to
when yo’ ready, sah–I’ll stand by toe ketch him, sah.”

The huge mate leaned far over the side of the _Sea-Horse_ and with a
mighty grip seized the floating small craft by the gunwale. She was
half full of water, but he sprang into her and passed up her painter
to a man on deck while the wrecking sloop plunged and bucked into the
sea, her sails slatting and switching as she lay right in the wind.
In a moment the mate had lifted the body and passed it aboard and the
half-sunken small boat was dropped astern.

They poured water between his sun-baked lips and upon his swollen,
livid tongue. In a few hours the corpse showed signs of life, but
the blue-black face was motionless for days, and they had reached
Jacksonville before the man’s features relaxed enough for him to
speak. He could not make himself understood, and it was three weeks
later, when he was able to sit up in the cot at the seaman’s hospital,
before he could tell of his affair.

He was discharged as cured and went to his home. He had heard nothing
from his wife and supposed she had heard nothing concerning him. When
he entered the gate he noticed that all was silent about the place. A
neighbour accosted him and asked who he was, but he was put out at the
delay and refused to tell his business. Then the man told him how the
news had come in that he had gone down in his ship nearly a month ago
and that his wife had failed and died within a week.

He listened silently, and when the man finished he went into the house.

They found him dead that evening with a bullet-hole between the eyes.

“Crazy with grief,” said the neighbours who knew his home life. The
doctor who examined him thought differently.

“There is absolutely nothing abnormal about him,” said the physician.
“He looks like a man who has gotten tired out–clean exhausted with the
futility of some great effort–look at his face.”

X

On the Great Bahama Bank

Stormalong Journegan was a Conch, a native of the Bahamas. He stood six
feet four inches upon his thin spindle-shanks, and it is doubtful if he
ever weighed more than one hundred pounds; no, not even when soaking
wet. He was thin.

He lit up for the night, wiped the bar free from the gin and bitters
spilled there by a drunken customer, and then turned to survey his
room, waiting for the whistle of the liner. It was the night the ship
was due, the giant New York mail liner, ten thousand tons and not less
than three hundred passengers. All of these would be thirsty, for the
weather is always warm in Key West in the early spring.

Journegan was a “spouter.” That is, he had been with a religious bunch
of reefers, and he was free to make use of the Scriptures–too free
entirely to suit the orthodox ecclesiastics of Key West. Over the sign
of “The Cayo Huesso” the legend ran thus: “As it was in the beginning,
it is now,” showing that Journegan was not a reformer at all, but
believed in the Bible and the true creed. And the worst of it all
was that he was accurate in his quotations; not only accurate, but
invincible and gifted with that terrible weapon–an unfailing memory.

“Why do you use such blasphemy?” asked a divine, shocked at the sign
and its motto.

“I was taught that there creed by a better man than you, suh, and he
said: ‘As it ware in the beginning, it is now, an’ ever shall be, world
without end. Amen.’ I heard ye say them same words onct when I ‘tended
meetin’. What ye got agin’ ’em, hey?”

“Nothing at all–nothing at all.”

“Then cl’ar out. Git erlong. Don’t come makin’ no trouble fer me. I
don’t ask ye to drink–git away.”

“Yes, sir,” went on Journegan, turning to an approaching customer.
“It’s the same now as it always ware–same as it ware in the
beginning–always shall be just the same–human nature never changes,
not at all. There’ll always be the bad, and always be the good. The bad
are the strong gone wrong. The good are the weak tryin’ to make good;
sometimes they’re strong too, but very seldom. Strength and goodness
don’t go together except in rare cases, but when a good man’s strong,
he’s sure nuff strong.

“Ye see, we’ve all got a livin’ to make. We hire men to study religion
for us and pay ’em to preach it out of pulpits–yes, sir, actually pay
’em to git up and preach about th’ Gospel as if you or me couldn’t
read or write! What’s the sense? What’s the sense of paying a man for
doing something you can do yourself just as well? If salvation depends
on a fellow’s ability to translate the Gospel, then it’s a mighty
poor Gospel for poor folk–but it don’t. It’s a good livin’ they make
preachin’, and I for one don’t take no offense at a feller chargin’ for
his talk; not that he knows any more than you or me–’cause he can’t
know a blame bit more–but we’ve all got to live, an’ the feller what
talks has to live, too. Let him live by talk. Let me live by sellin’
things. I don’t ask no favours, but I don’t want no guy what jest talks
an’ talks fer money to come around an’ bother me–that’s all; yes,
that’s erbout all, I reckon.”

You will see that Journegan was very popular with the strong men who
worked and very unpopular with the men who preached.

“Your head is as long as your body,” admitted Captain Smart, entering
the gilded hall. “What you say goes, Stormalong–gimme a drink.”

“Goin’ to meet the ship?” asked Journegan.

“Yep, I’m goin’ back in her if I get the chance,” said Smart. “I’ve
been on the beach here a week now. Dunn settled up his wrecking bill
with that fellow ‘Bahama Bill’ and Captain Sanders and their gang, and
that lets me out. I’m out a good berth. She was a fine yacht.”

“‘Twasn’t your fault you lost her, I heard tell,” said Journegan, with
a leer.

“I did all I could,” admitted Smart, “but I lost her, just the same.
There is no excuse for the loser, you know.”

“Yep, I knows well enough,” said Journegan slowly, as if thinking over
something. “‘Peared to be leakin’ badly all o’ a sudden-like, hey?”

“Yes, started to leak during the blow, or just before it. A bit of hard
luck you may say.”

“Well, you’ll know more about the reef if you stay here a while.”

There was some strange meaning in Stormalong’s tone, and it was not
lost on Smart.

“You are the second man who has said something to that effect,” said
the seaman. “Now, what the devil do you mean by it?”

“Oh, nothing much. No use getting worked up by what I said. You don’t
know much about the ways of folk along the reef and bank. That’s
all–there goes the whistle of the liner.”

A deep-toned siren roared out over the quiet waters of the reef,
sounding far away to sea, and seemed to be coming from some distant
point to the southward. Smart recognized it as the call of his ship,
the ship he had left months before for the sake of a woman.

He drank off his liquor and started for the dock, making his way along
the white roadway and joining the throng of Conchs who lazily walked
toward the shore to see the great liner make her landing. She was a new
ship, a ship of huge tonnage for a Southern liner, and it was a treat
to watch her officers dock her. Slowly she came drifting in toward the
land, her mighty engines sending the white coral water moving gently
from her stern.

Her giant bows came near the landing. A tiny figure flung a filmy line
through the air, a line so small in proportion to her great bulk that
it seemed but a spider-web. But behind it followed a great hawser,
and a dozen lazy black men hauled it ashore and threw the loop over a
pile-end.

Then a shrill whistle sounded, and the deep rumble of the engines told
of the backing strain. She swung alongside the wharf finally and made
fast her stern and spring-lines. Then a gangway shot out, and the
captain came quickly down, followed by a swarm of passengers.

As the ship was to stop only a half-hour at Key West, her commander had
to make a quick clearance and entry, taking on some fifty passengers
who were in the cigar business and who made Key West an important stop
on that account. They were all through first-class to New York. Smart
joined Captain Flanagan while he walked briskly toward the customhouse.
The skipper shook his hand warmly, and asked how he came to be down
there. Then followed the story of the wreck of a yacht, and the tale
of an officer out of a berth, all of which Flanagan listened to with
waning interest. The old, old story was uncommonly dull to him. He was
powerless to do anything, and he spoke forth.

“It’s no use of talking about it any more, Smart. You know the rules
of the company as well as I do. You know there are other men waiting
to step into berths, and when a man steps out like you did it’s up to
him to stay out and give the rest a chance. How would you like to have
a man come back into a ship and block you for perhaps twenty years? No,
it won’t do, even if I could do it. You are out. Stay out, unless you
want to start in again at the foot, as a third mate.”

“No, I can’t drop to that position at my age,” said Smart sadly. “I’m
holding a master’s ticket, and if you can’t take me on as a second at
least, why, all right, I’ll have to ship somewhere else.”

“I’m mighty sorry, old man,” said Flanagan, “but you know it’s not my
fault. It’s the rules of the company, and if I took you on to New York
you would be dropped as soon as we landed. I can give you a passage up,
if you want it. Here’s a key to the stateroom–take it.”

“No, you don’t. If I stay ashore, I stay right here. Don’t worry about
me. I’ll try to make good. I know I was a fool, but sometimes we all
play the fool. Good-bye, and good luck. How does the ship run?”

Flanagan was gone. The light of Stormalong’s shone out brightly in
the distance. Smart kept his eyes upon them for a long time, and
wandered about the streets. The warning whistle of the liner blew for a
farewell, and as the sound roared out upon the night the seaman turned
away and went up the street.

II

Captain Smart was in a particularly uncomfortable mood. He had left
the liner for a woman, a woman whom he desired and whom he thought
worth any sacrifice. Later he discovered that she was selfish to the
core. He had expected companionship, love, and sympathy. He had found
cold, calculating animalism: a brutality all the more horrible for its
refinement, for its servitude to wealth and position. Yes, she had
told him plainly just how she felt about it, and had made it perfectly
plain that she would mate only with some one who could place her in
surroundings which she desired, not what she would get as the wife of
a seaman, a captain of a ship. And he could not blame her. No, it was
manifestly not her fault. It was the fault of the society in which she
had been brought up. It had stifled the woman in her and developed the
snob to an extent that would admit of no choice on the part of either.

He had seen his mistake, and the loss of the yacht upon which she was a
guest had given him a chance to complete the affair, to get away from
all the familiar surroundings. Now he was “on the beach.”

“On the beach,” to a sailor means without a ship and without money.
Smart had neither ship nor money, but he had a strong constitution
and high spirits, and the lights of Stormalong’s were still burning
brightly down the long, smooth road.

He entered and noticed that the tables were full. A company of men were
playing cards at the farthest end of the saloon, and he made his way
toward them. A game of poker always fascinated him, and he hung over
the back of a player, watching his cards and noting the manner he
threw away a high pair to fill a flush.

“Would ye like to set in?” asked Stormalong, who had come over to get
an order for drinks.

“I wouldn’t mind setting in for a short time,” Smart nodded. “No
all-night séance for me, and quit when you want to.”

“Gents,” began the saloon-keeper, “this is Captain Smart, of the
schooner–ah, well, never mind that, hey? Well, Smart was chief officer
of the ship just gone out. He’s got the dough, and kin play a keard or
two, if you give him a chance.”

“Set right in here, cap,” said a thick-set, sunburnt man whose calling
was manifest in his face. “I’m a reefer, an’ run a sponger, but I
reckon I kin play with yer.”

“You make five–just right for luck,” was the greeting of another, a
thin, eagle-nosed fellow who declared that his name was Smith–Wilson
Smith.

A man with a thick growth of beard nodded to him across the board, and
a squat, twinkling-eyed little fellow, with the hue of the tobacco
factory upon him, held out his hand. “My name’s Jacobs–traveller for
the Garcias’–glad to meet you.”

The cards were dealt round afresh, and Smart took up his hand. For some
time nothing occurred to distract the attention of the players from
the game, but gradually their talk and the clink of money as they made
change attracted the crowd.

Smart was aware of a huge form just behind him, and, glancing up,
he looked right into the face of Bahama Bill, the black mate of the
wrecking-sloop _Sea-Horse_. A huge grin was upon the black man’s ugly
face, and he laid his enormous hand upon Smart’s shoulder. “Huh, how
yo’ is, cap? Thought you’d gone away fo’ sho. Stopped to teach ’em how
toe play de game, huh? Yah, yah, ya-a-a!”

“Stormalong,” broke in Wilson Smith, “I don’t want to appear rude, but
I draw the colour line sometimes, especially at keards. If the big
nigger standing behind us will sit down or move along, it’ll facilitate
the game some.”

Bahama Bill heard the remarks, but, being in a white man’s saloon,
he said nothing. He showed his teeth in a mirthless smile, a smile
which boded no good for the man who had spoken and who was evidently a
stranger to him.

Stormalong motioned to the wrecker to sit down, and Bill did so without
comment. He was well known and fairly well liked, and his record
allowed him some privileges which were not accorded to men of his
race. Being part owner as well as mate of the wrecking-sloop made him
a person of more or less note. Therefore Stormalong furnished him with
unlimited rum, which he paid for from a wad of bills which made the
observers gaze with surprise. Mr. Dunn, the owner of the yacht which
Smart had lost, had been trimmed very cleanly. The salvage on her had
been large for so small a vessel, owing to the valuable silverware,
furnishings, and other fittings.

III

The game progressed slowly, but Wilson Smith began to win little by
little. Smart suddenly found he held three aces. He raised the limit
before drawing, and discarded two cards, hoping to draw another ace.
Jacobs, the cigar man, came in, and Smith raised it one better, which
Smart made good, the other two men dropping out.

Bahama Bill had drunk several glasses of rum by this time, and he again
appeared to fix his attention upon the game, but not so as to attract
attention, standing well back of all but keeping his eyes fixed in a
steady gaze upon the thin-faced man’s cards.

The cards were dealt, and Smart drew a pair of queens, filling, and
thus holding a strong hand. Jacobs drew one card, and quietly slipped
it into his hand. His face was emotionless, and he puffed lazily at his
cigar, complacently cocked up at a high angle in his jaws. Smith drew
four cards, and, after conning his hand carefully, bet a dollar.

Jacobs raised, and Captain Smart came upon him for the limit. Wilson
Smith, to the surprise of all, raised back the limit. The cigar man was
game, and came again. Smart holding an ace-full, could not, of course,
let it pass him, so he again raised it.

“We all bein’ so mighty peart about our hands–let’s throw the limit
off,” suggested Smith.

“I’m more’n willin’,” agreed Jacobs. “What d’ye say, cap?”

“I haven’t much money”–Smart hesitated–“and just came in the game to
pass the time, but if the rest are willing, I’ll stay.”

Wilson Smith looked around approvingly. “I’ll make it fifty dollars
better than what there’s in it.” He drew a cigar from his pocket and
lit it with an easy air.

“I’ll have to make it two hundred better,” Jacobs protested grimly. “I
hate to gamble, but I can’t let a hand like this pass me.”

“Oh, I haven’t any money like that.” Captain Smart’s brows were raised
in surprise. “Fifty is all I can show.”

“Well, I’m sorry about that,” said Jacobs. “Of course we’ll give you a
show, but the limit was put off on purpose to let us play keards.”

Smart was aware of a heavy hand upon his shoulder. He turned, and found
Bahama Bill standing close to him.

“Take dis hear, cap.” And Bill thrust an enormous roll of bills unto
his pile upon the table. “I’ll stand by toe see yo’ through.”

Wilson Smith looked up again, and then called for Stormalong Journegan.

“Journegan,” said he, “this is the second time I have had to speak to
you about being annoyed. If it happens again there’ll be trouble.”

“Play poker,” came a voice from the crowd.

Smart gazed about him for a moment. It was evident that the mate of the
_Sea-Horse_ had an object in putting up his cash. He was quick-witted
enough to see that it was best to go ahead without making any comment.
He could stop after this hand.

Bahama Bill drew back at a sign from Journegan, but still fixed his
gaze upon Smith’s hand. It seemed as though he had seen the hands of
the men, and was betting upon the best. Smart could think of no other
reason for the money being left him, and he felt certain that he would
win. Bill was just backing the hand he had seen to be the winner.

As long as that was the case he would go the limit. He counted out five
hundred dollars and laid it upon the table. Then he picked up his cards
again and skimmed over the squeezers, waiting for the end.

Jacobs drew out the amount to make good, and the thin-faced man felt
in his pocket for his roll. He bent over in doing this, and as he did
so he held his cards close to his breast in his left hand. He was
still fumbling in his trousers pocket with his right when a black hand
suddenly reached over his shoulder and drew forth a complete “hold-out”
from under his waistcoat where his hand pressed. The movement was so
quick, so powerful, and so disconcerting, that for an instant there was
a silence, and the fellow threw up his head. The next moment he had
drawn his gun, a long, blue-barrelled revolver of heavy pattern, and
had swung it up over his shoulder and fired like a flash of lightning
into Bahama Bill.

Instantly there was an uproar, and above the noise of the struggling
mass of men there sounded the bull-like bass of the mate of the
_Sea-Horse_: “I got yo’ fer sho, Skinny Ike–I got yo’.”

IV

Captain Smart grabbed what money he could get hands upon, and while
thus engaged the cigar man dealt him a powerful blow over the shoulders
with a chair. It had been meant for his head, but instead it landed
upon the heavy muscles Smart had earned by hard work hauling lines.
He gave a yell, and sprang upon his assailant. Just then Stormalong
Journegan opened with his gun, and the quick firing drowned all other
sounds.

Through the smoke of the fight Smart saw his man, and smote him with
all his power upon the jaw. The fellow went down and out. Many of the
bystanders had been with the crooks, probably a gang of six or more,
and these fell upon Smart and Bahama Bill.

Smart found himself fighting two quick, agile fellows who struck at him
with weapons he could not distinguish. The rest piled upon the giant
mate while Journegan fired upon the bunch, taking care not to hit any
one, for he had no desire to ruin his business. His lead, however,
went so close that one man got a clip that knocked him over. The room
filled with smoke, and the uproar was loud enough, but suddenly Smart
was aware of the giant Conch struggling to his feet and swinging out
right and left with two mighty fists, sending men tumbling about like
chips before a storm. Just beneath him the thin-faced man, Wilson
Smith–dubbed “Skinny Ike” by Bill–lay in a heap.

“Come on, yo’ muckers, come on an’ git yo’ medicine,” he bawled. Then
he picked up the prostrate man, and, taking him by the shoulders, used
him as a flail, swinging him about his head and knocking every one
in his path into a state of submission. The men around Smart fled in
confusion, and in a moment Bahama Bill and the captain stood alone in
the end of the room, the rest of the onlookers making good their escape
to the street. Journegan stood behind his bar and grinned down the
barrel of his empty gun.

“Air ye hurted much, Bill?” he asked.

“Hurt!” roared the giant mate. “What’d hurt me here, anyway, ‘cept yo’
blamed rum, hey?”

“Well, if you want to make a gitaway now’s the time, I reckon, for this
place’ll be pulled to-night sure–an’ that in a mighty few minutes.”

Bahama Bill dropped the limp form of Wilson Smith. The man was not
seriously hurt, only horribly bruised. The rest were either insensible
from blows or unable to rise from the smash of the thin fellow’s body
upon them, for the mate had stove them hard enough to break ribs and
arms with his human whip. Some of the gang essayed to sit up and take
notice after the mate ceased to speak. One had the temerity to draw a
gun, which Bill unceremoniously kicked out of his hand.

“I reckon we’d better be goin’ ‘long, cap,” said the big black. “This
place’ll be pulled by the marshal inside o’ ten minutes. Take up w’at
dough you sees; I’ll kerlect it off’n you later.”

“Didn’t you git a plug?” asked Journegan.

“Oh, yas; jest a little hole in de shoulder–dat’s nothin’. Come on,
cap.”

Smart hesitated a minute. “Where do we go?” he asked.

“Aboa’d de _Sea-Horse_–an’ to sea as fast as we kin git her movin’.
Ought toe been gone befo’ dis, but when I see dat Skinny settin’ in to
skin yo’ I jest naterally had toe take a hand. Whatcher s’pose I handed
yo’ dat money fer?”

“But I haven’t done anything wrong–nothing to run for,” said Smart.

“Yo’ try an’ think straight a minute, cap. Yo’ ain’t got many friends
here. Take my advice an’ don’t git pulled. De clink is mighty mean
here. I don’t know why I should take a shine toe yo’ cap, but yo’ shore
did set in dat game ter win–an’ yo’ kin hit pretty straight, too.”

“Gwan, before it’s too late,” said Journegan.

A rush of feet sounded in the street, followed by the hoarse voices
of men nearing “The Cayo Huesso.” The door of the saloon was suddenly
burst open, and the marshal, with a posse of twenty men behind him,
came into view.

“De window, cap,” yelled Bahama Bill, and without waiting a moment he
sprang through, carrying the sash and glass, shutters, and all with
him. Through the opening Smart plunged instinctively, and as he did so
he heard the sharp command to halt, followed by the crack of a gun. He
had managed to get clear by a fraction of a second, and, landing upon
his feet, started after the dark shadow which he knew was the black
sailor making for the beach.

V

Down the road Captain Smart ran as fast as he could go, trying vainly
to reach the tall form of the mate, who kept the lead easily until the
lights of the harbour came into view. Then he slacked up and Smart came
up with him.

“Dat sho was fun, hey?” laughed the mate, not the least winded from his
dash for liberty. “Cost yo’ a hundred dollars to git clear ef dey catch
yo’. Dey don’t run yo’ in fer fun down here. Dat’s de _Sea-Horse_. Git
inter dat small boat–so.”

“How about Journegan? Will they fine him for the fracas?”

“Oh, no. He stands in wid de gang–pays fer de trouble he makes.
Journegan is a good man–he’s all right.”

“He was with the crooks, was he?” asked Smart.

“Oh, yes, he thought you had money–he has to stand in wid de gang.
He was mad as er hornet at me buttin’ in, but jest couldn’t help it.
I’ll square him some day, an’ he knows it. If he didn’t know it, he’d
‘a’ plugged me when dey jumped me. I reckon he c’u’d ‘a’ done it, all
right, for he’s a mighty fine shot, dat Journegan. But I sho had it in
fer Skinny Ike–he done me onct.”

“Seems like a pretty tough bunch of men along the bank here, don’t it?”
said Smart. “Journegan hinted that there was something done wrong to
Mr. Dunn’s yacht–he said she must have leaked–what?”

Bahama Bill stopped rowing the small boat. They were half-way to the
_Sea-Horse_, and lights were already showing along the shore, telling
plainly that pursuit would be made in short order. The tide set them
toward the vessel, but Bill gazed steadily at Smart through the
darkness.

“Did Journegan say dat?” he asked quietly.

“Yes, and I would like to know what he meant by it.”

“You know why he did all dat shootin’–all dat firin’ to hit nobody?
Dat was jest to get the place pulled–pulled before you made a gitaway,
toe git your money. He knowed you an’ me were enemies–knowed dat yo’
had it in fer me, knowed dat I wrecked Mr. Dunn’s yacht, an’ dat yo’
sho had no claim wid me–an’ dat’s where he made a mistake—-”

“You wrecked the schooner?” cried Smart.

“Sho, cap, I dun wrecked her. Don’t yo’ remember de day–de night–I
came abo’d, harpooned by a fool Yankee mate? Well, I was pullin’ a seam
dat night–dat’s what made her leak—-”

“You are a devil–the blackest rascal I ever met. You can take me
ashore, I won’t have anything more to do with you–turn about.”

“Not a bit–no, suh. Yo’ goes wid me dis trip, sho.”

Smart hesitated not a moment, but sprang overboard and struck out for
the shore, calling loudly for help.

Bahama Bill sat gazing after him for a moment, swearing deeply. Then
he carefully shipped the oars, stood up, and the next moment plunged
over the side after him. In a few rapid strokes he came up to the
sailor. With one mighty arm he circled the swimmer, holding his arms to
his sides as easily as though he were a child. With his other hand he
struck out lustily for the sloop and gained her side, where two heads
peered over looking at him.

“Pass a line, quick,” he called.

A line dropped instantly over the side and fell within reach. Smart was
quickly trussed and hoisted aboard and the mate climbed up after him.

“Put de mains’l on her–heave her short–jump!” bellowed Bahama Bill,
at the same time casting off the gaskets from the boom and throwing the
beckets off the wheel.

A Dutchman, Heldron by name, and a Conch called Sam, sprang to obey.
The sail went quickly up with a clucking of blocks and snapping of
canvas. Then in came the anchor, the three men hauling line with a
will. One man loosed the jib while another sent it up with a rush, and
just as the sweeping strokes of a pursuing oar fell upon their ears
the _Sea-Horse_ stood out the nor’west passage and to sea.

“Where’s Sanders?” asked the mate.

“Oh, de cap’n, he dun take de mon’ he get an’ go to Tampa on de steamer
this night. He say he goin’ to do somet’in’ to dem big hotels Mr.
Flagler builds–dem dat run de gamblin’-houses. Won’t be back fer a
week.”

“Cap,” said Bahama Bill, casting Smart adrift, “yo’ kin go below an’
put dat money in de co’ner of de right-han’ locker–no use yo’ tryin’
to swim away wid it. Yo’ an’ me is goin’ to the Bank fer a bit o’
work–dat’s it, Sam, hook de boat as we come past–pass de painter aft,
an’ let her tow.”

Smart saw that he was caught fair enough. To resist was only to make
more trouble. He was broke, anyway, and without a berth. He might just
as well try wrecking for a change–why not? Yes, he would go below and
turn in without more ado. He had forgotten the money he had taken from
the game at Journegan’s, the money which belonged to the mate of the
_Sea-Horse_. No wonder Bahama Bill had jumped in after him and brought
him aboard. It was easy to see that in spite of all Bill’s apparent
carelessness he took no chances as he saw them. The _Sea-Horse_ was
standing out, and there was no chance of spending the night in the
lockup. After all, it was pleasanter out here in the brisk sea air,
even in the company of such men. He went slowly below.

“Turn in the po’t bunk, cap,” came the mate’s big voice down the cuddy.

Smart did so, and he fell asleep while the wrecking-sloop rose and
plunged into the short sea.

VI

“I reckon we’re about dar, cap. Dem masts stickin’ up yander air de fo’
an’ main’ o’ de brig _Bulldog_. We skinned her clean, took a share ob
de salvage, an’ cleared fo’ town.” Thus spoke Bahama Bill, resting one
hand upon the wheel-spokes to hold the _Sea-Horse_ and sprawling upon
the deck. The sloop was approaching the edge of the Great Bahama Bank,
and the shoaling water told of the coral bottom.

“Well, what are you going to stop here for, then?” asked Smart.
Although he had decided to cast in his lot with Bahama Bill temporarily
he was averse to wandering about on the old _Sea-Horse_ for any length
of time. He was anxious to hunt a berth as navigator upon some ship of
size. Nassau was close at hand, not fifty miles away, and there were
many ships stopping there.

“I’ll tell yo’, cap–I’ll tell yo’ jest what I want yo’ to do fer me,”
said the big black. He rounded the sloop to, and Sam let go the anchor,
while the Dutchman Heldron hauled down the jib.

The _Sea-Horse_ dropped back with the sweep of the current and wind,
until she lay just over the mainmast of a sunken brig, which stuck out
of the water at a slant, the top coming clear some twenty feet to port
of her. The wreck was lying upon her bilge and heeled over at a sharp
angle, the partners of the mainmast being about ten feet below the
surface.

“I heard yo’ tell Stormalong Journegan you’d been down in a
diving-suit, de kind dey use in de No’th–hey? Yo’ know about rubber
suits an’ pumps?” He looked keenly at Captain Smart while the seaman
told him that he had heard aright. He had been in suits, and helped
others diving in them. He thought he knew something about air-pumps.

The mate went below forward, and shortly came on deck with a complete
rubber diving-suit, helmet, and weighted shoes.

“I don’t go in much fer dis kind ob divin’,” said he, “but I dun paid
a fellow a hundred dollars fer de whole suit. Show me how to work it,
an’ show me how dat pump works. Ef yo’ do, we’ll go halves–break
even–on what I think is below in dis hear wrack. I knowed yo’ must
know something erbout divin’–dat is, erbout rubber divin’, which ain’t
divin’ at all, but dat’s what I want ter know.”

“I thought you said the wreck was finished with?” Smart commented.

“All de money, all de coin was got out ob her, yas, suh, dat’s all
straight, but dishar wrack ain’t been under water more’n a few months,
an’ I been thinkin’ dat maybe some hard work would tell on some cases
of ammunition left in her.”

“What did she have?”

“Rifles, money, and provisions for Vensuela–some ob dem
revolutionists had de charter. Dey took up de rifles, and dey took up
de money, but dey left a lot ob ammunition in her, sayin’ it ain’t no
good. Well, suh, I got a hole in mah shoulder where one ob dem bullets
came troo–yo mind de little fracas at Stormalong’s. I dun sold a
feller a dozen boxes ob dem ca’tridges, de onliest .45’s in Key West.
Dat’s de reason I cum to know somethin’ about dem. Ef dey kin mak’ a
hole in me, dey kin mak’ a hole in mos’ enny one, I reckon–hey, what?”

“I see,” said Smart. “And that’s the reason you wanted me to help you
out? You want me to help dive for the goods. How much is there–and how
were they put up? They won’t stay for ever any good under water, you
know.”

“Dey were put up in tins too big to handle, goin’ naked like I dives.
De cases were mighty big, an’ I don’t care much erbout smashin’ ’em up
wid de ‘tarnal things ready to go off. I knows where dey is–way back
in de lazarette ‘way back aft, an’ I knows dat dere’s erbout a millun
ob dem.”

Smart had been overhauling the suit and found it to be in fair
condition. Evidently some hard-up diver had sold out to Bahama Bill,
who always went naked as deep as three or four fathoms, and could stay
long enough under to do the ordinary work required of divers upon
vessels on the reef. He could make two or three minutes’ work at short
intervals, and being a mighty man, the strain told upon him very little
indeed.

The rubber part of the suit was just about right for a man of Smart’s
build. It would not begin to go upon the giant frame of Bahama Bill.
The great mate of the wrecker very well knew it, and he knew also that
he could never get any of his men to go down in it. They knew nothing
about such gear, and the very sight of it filled them with dread. It
was up to Captain Smart to make the effort, if effort there was to be
made.

In the meantime Bahama Bill would go down once or twice to locate the
place in the wreck to work upon. It would require careful work not to
explode the cases in blowing out a hole in the bilge to make an entry;
further, it was impossible to think of going down the hatchway aft, for
the distance was too great.

It was upon this vessel that the mate of the _Sea-Horse_ had had
trouble before, being chased into her by a shark and barely escaping
with his life. He knew her pretty well, and could locate the ammunition
in a couple of dives. After that Smart could take his time in four
fathoms and work the stuff out to hoist aboard, using as little
dynamite as possible.

“How about the pump?” asked Smart, after he had overhauled the suit.

The machine was brought on deck. It was dirty and much out of order,
but after an hour’s work he had it so it could be relied upon for the
shallow water. For greater pressure than four fathoms he would not have
cared to test it with himself upon the bottom.

While he was refitting it the mate stripped and stood upon the rail
ready for the plunge. The water was clear and the bottom could plainly
be seen, the varicoloured marine growths making it most beautiful.

Bahama Bill dropped outboard, and went down with a plunge so light that
he hardly disturbed the surface. The others, watching, saw him swim
rapidly down under the bends of the wrecked ship, leaving a thin trail
of bubbles.

He was only down a few moments this dive, and came rising rapidly to
the surface, his ugly face showing through the clear liquid, his eyes
wide open and gazing upward.

“Gimme a piece ob chalk, Sam,” he said, as he came into the air again.

A piece was handed him, and he went below again and marked the spot
where the hole would be blown in the vessel’s side, and in the meantime
Smart donned the diving-suit.

The Dutchman Heldron had never even seen a suit of this kind before,
and his messmate Sam gazed at it with a sort of superstitious dread.

“Yo’ sure ain’t goin’ under in that outfit, cap?” he protested, as
Smart put on the shoes weighing fully twenty pounds apiece. “Man, them
slippers will sure hold you to the bottom!”

“I guess you dummies will have sense enough to haul me up when I pull
the line and signal,” remarked Smart. “Now, give me the helmet and
screw down these bolts.” He had the head-piece on by the time Bahama
Bill came on deck and surveyed the proceedings.

“I’ll have to trust you to tend the lines,” said Smart to the black
giant. “Remember, now, one strong pull and you haul me up–not quickly
unless I give three quick pulls afterward. Two pulls is to slack away,
one on the hose is to give me more air, and two to give me less.
Understand?”

Bahama Bill wiped the water out of his bleary eyes and nodded. He
apparently had some misgivings about the concern, but he was far too
careless of human life to express them. He coupled up the air-hose and
started the pump, and the whistling inside the helmet told of the wind
coming in behind the diver’s head.

Smart held the front glass ready, and after being satisfied that the
machine was working, he had Sam screw it on and Captain Smart was cut
off from the wrecker’s crew, his face showing dimly through the thick
glass plate. The heavy leaden belt was fastened tightly about his
waist and he stepped over the rail on to the little side ladder, and
so overboard, letting himself slowly down until he swung clear of the
sloop’s side. Then he was lowered away and went to the bottom, Bahama
Bill slacking off the life-line and hose until he saw him standing upon
the coral bank some twenty-five feet below the wrecker’s deck.

Heldron turned the air-pump and Sam made fast the charge of dynamite,
fixing the wires of a “Farmer’s Machine” into the mercury-exploder and
wrapping the whole tightly in canvas made fast with marline, the whole
weighted so that it would sink quickly.

He lowered the charge, and saw Smart’s hand go out and receive it. Then
the diver disappeared under the bilge of the wreck, leaving a thin
trail of boiling water just over his head to tell of the escapement of
the air.

VII

Having fixed the charge where the mate had marked the surface of the
wreck, Smart started to walk away. The light was strong in the clear
water, and he gazed about him at the beautiful coral formations. The
heavy growths took on many-coloured hues, and he walked out among them
to admire them as one would the scenery on shore.

An albacore darted past like a flash of silver light. In the shadow of
a huge sponge an enormous grouper took shelter, his eyes sticking out
and gazing unwinkingly at the apparition of the man upon the bottom.

Smart went toward him and gave him a gentle poke, and in doing so gave
the lines a sudden jerk. Instantly he was lifted off his feet and drawn
upward, for Bahama Bill had felt the pull, and lost no time hauling his
man aboard. Luckily the depth was not great, or the sudden change of
pressure would have hurt.

Smart came to the side gesticulating wildly, and the more he waved his
hands the quicker he was yanked up. In a moment the mate had him on
deck, and was unscrewing the front glass.

“What’s de matter, cap?” he asked anxiously, when the diver’s face
appeared.

“Nothing; you fellows make me tired!” said Smart. “Go ahead and fire
the charge.”

The spark was sent along the wire, and a dull crack sounded from below.
The water rose in a boiling mass astern, and spread out, churning and
bubbling. It was not a large charge, and it had not been necessary to
move the sloop.

Smart started Heldron again at the pump, and screwed on the glass.
Then, taking his tools and a line, he went back to the work below.

The hole blown in the wrecked hull was quite large for the amount of
powder used, but the splintered edges made it necessary to be careful
on entering, on account of the air-hose and line. A swirling of
disturbed water still made the light bad, but Smart, feeling the edges
with his hand, stepped within the darkness, and proceeded to explore
the interior of the lost ship.

He climbed slowly upward, dragging his lines after him, and stumbling
over a mass of timber which obstructed the way. He was in the
after-part of the brig, the part where the dead wood, narrowing toward
the stern-post, made a difficult passage to go through. He went along
carefully, feeling for dangerous projections which might entangle his
air-hose. The ammunition was supposed to be in the lazarette, under
the cabin flooring, and he made his way in this direction.

Owing to the darkness, he was some time locating anything in the way
of cases. Finally, however, he felt the square ends of boxes, and made
haste to break one open. There were cans of tomatoes, or some kind of
food, in the first one, and he felt along farther. Then he came in
contact with a bulkhead. As it was inky dark below in the bilge of the
sunken ship, he had to do all his work by means of the sense of touch
alone. He couldn’t see his own hand upon the glass of his helmet.

Something brushed against him and nearly upset him. It gave him an
uncomfortable feeling, and a longing for the sunshine upon the sea
floor of the Bank. He was not of a nervous temperament, and he knew
that some sea denizen had evidently made the brig his home. Perhaps
some spawning grouper or huge jew-fish.

Feeling along the bulkhead, he came upon a lot of small boxes. One
of these he took under his arm and backed slowly out of the hole
and into the clear water of the Bank. He laid the box upon the sea
floor, and broke the covering with his hammer, hitting it lightly, the
resisting power of the surrounding medium making it difficult even to
strike at all. He tore away the fragments of the lid, and saw rows of
cartridge-clips, the whole fixed and packed carefully. Making fast a
line to the case, he signalled to hoist away, and brought his find to
the surface.

The stuff proved to be all right. On breaking open a cartridge, the
powder appeared dry, in spite of the long submergence, showing how
carefully the ammunition had been put up. The dipping of the bullets
into tallow had made the cartridges absolutely airtight, and they were
as good as new.

The usual cost of ammunition was about two cents per cartridge
wholesale. Half a million rounds would make quite a fortune, or
something in the neighbourhood of ten thousand dollars to divide
between himself and the black mate. Yes, it had been worth while, after
all. Wrecking was not such a bad thing, if there was anything worth
wrecking, and he wondered how the salvors of the brig had overlooked
such a valuable asset. Even if he had to divide with the former
owners–which he probably would not–he would have something worth
going below for.

“Git de stuff–we’ll ship him to Noo York,” said Bill. “Ought to cl’ar
a bit on dis hear deal. Dey’s got de Winchester mark on dem, an’ dat
goes wid de agents, so do de Union ca’tridge. Git de stuff outen her,
cap, fo’ we cayn’t stay here long–it’s comin’ on bad befo’ dark, an’
dere’ll be too much sea to work ag’in fer a week.”

Smart lost no time getting back to the lazarette of the brig. He took
his line with him, and, after fastening it to some of the cases, he
signalled to haul away.

Case after case he removed in this manner, and, after being below
nearly an hour, he began to feel the effects of the pressure. He
concluded to go up and rest for a short time before finishing the job.
He hauled a lot of boxes together and lashed them firmly with a line,
and signalled to haul away. He felt the pull, the tautening of the
rope, and the cases slipped from under his hand. He straightened up and
started to follow.

Then he felt the whole side of the ship suddenly fall toward him. It
seemed like a mass of stuff, chest upon chest, toppling down upon him,
and, before he could make even the slightest movement to get away, the
whole pile of cases rolled over him like a great wave.

He was thrown upon his back, and a heavy weight rested upon the lower
part of his body. He tried to move, and found himself jammed fast.
Feeling nervously for his life-line and hose, he saw they were clear.
He would not suffocate for awhile, anyway. He pulled lustily upon his
life-line, and felt the strain of Bill’s strength upon it, but it
failed to move him. He was afraid the line would cut into his suit with
the enormous strain.

He pulled the signal to slack away, but the men above were evidently
excited, and they pulled all the harder. Then came a sudden slacking.
He reached up and drew in the end of the life-line. It had parted near
his helmet.

In the blackness of the sunken wreck Smart felt his nerve going. It was
a bad place to have trouble. There was no other suit, no other machine
or outfit for a man to go to his assistance. He might live for an hour
longer, or perhaps even two, but the end seemed certain unless he could
free himself from the mass of cargo which had so suddenly piled down
upon him.

It had been one of those accidents which are likely to happen to any
one working in the darkness of a ship’s hold where the cargo is not
known, or not located by previous knowledge of the ship’s loading.

He had evidently unshipped some of the ammunition-cases, and brought
a mass of boxes of both provisions and cartridges upon him like an
avalanche. His right arm was free, but his left was crushed under some
mighty weight, and hurt him painfully. The air still whistled into his
head-piece, showing that Heldron was working the pump steadily.

Bahama Bill was a cool hand, a man used to desperate emergencies, and
Smart felt that the giant mate of the _Sea-Horse_ would do what he
could to set him free. He knew the black diver to be a mighty swimmer.
He had cause to remember that fact, but it was far away from the
surface where he now lay, and it looked as if he would have to pass in,
to die the terrible death of the lost diver.

His imagination held him thinking, in spite of the pain and weight upon
him. He could breathe easily, and the numbing effect of the pressure
made his sufferings less than otherwise. He tried again and again to
shift some of the cases, straining until the stars flashed into the
darkness before him. It was useless. He could not budge anything.

The minutes seemed hours, and he began at last to feel the drowsy
effect of the air too long driven into his lungs. He saw the beach, the
white coral sand–then he was again at Key West.

VIII

Upon the deck of the _Sea-Horse_ the men gazed blankly at each other
when Bahama Bill hauled up the life-line, parted far below. Heldron
stopped pumping, and Sam gave an exclamation.

“Keep dat pump workin’; keep it goin’, I tell yo’,” snapped the black
mate, turning upon his man.

Heldron instantly turned away again, rapidly, sending the air below.

“Name ob de Lord–now whatcher make wid dat?” said Bill, looking at Sam.

“Gone fer sure,” said Sam. “I wouldn’t go down in them lead shoes for
no money. I done knowed something like this would happen.”

“I t’ink I don’t need to give no more air, den,” said Heldron.

“You turn dat pump, yo’ blamed Dutchman, or I’ll turn yo’ hide
wrong-side out, yo’ hear me,” snarled the mate. “Gimme a heavy line,
Sam; gimme something I can’t break–jump, yo’ Conch!”

“Goin’ after him?” asked Sam, hauling the end of the mainsheet clear to
the rail. “I don’t think you kin get him. Better leave him down; them
shoes is enough to hold him. I’d hate to lose the cap’n, but he’s gone
for sure!”

The huge form of the mate balanced for an instant upon the rail. He
cleared enough line to take to the bottom, and had Sam stand with
coils of it ready to pay out. Then down he went with the end of it,
swimming strongly for the hole in the bilge of the brig. The opening
showed before him, but he hesitated not a moment. He swam straight
into the black hole, butting his head against the carlines under the
half-deck, but keeping straight as he could for the diver by following
the air-hose with his hand.

It was a long swim to the place where Smart lay. A full minute had
been taken up before the mate felt the contact of the metal helmet. He
passed the heavy line under it, but found his wind giving way under the
strain. Quickly following the air-hose out, he struggled for the clear
water, and came to the surface with a blow like a grampus. He had been
down two minutes and a half.

Sam seized his hand and helped him aboard, where he lay upon the deck,
bleeding, a slight trickle from the corner of his ugly mouth and from
his nose.

“You can’t make it, Bill,” Sam declared. “Let the poor devil go. You
done the best you could.”

“I stop now wid de air, hey? Wat you says, Mr. Bill?”

Heldron’s query aroused Bahama Bill. “If you slack up on dat pump, yo’
dies a wuss death ‘n Cap’n Smart,” he said wearily, and in an even
tone. It was evident that the strain had been hard on him, but he was
game.

In a minute he sat up.

“I get him dis hear time,” he growled, shaking himself and standing
upon the rail again.

His giant black body twitched, the huge muscles under the ebony skin
worked, flowing, contracting, and slacking up, making a wavelike
motion, but showing the mighty power which lay in his frame. He was
getting worked up to a nervous pitch, and the trembling was not from
weakness. It was the gathering power in his thews which was beginning
to work.

He flung far out, and dropped straight downward with a pitch-pole
plunge, going furiously down like some monstrous sea-demon. Only a
flash of his black body showed before he had turned the bend, and was
following the air-hose into the hole.

This time he saved many seconds. He reached the form of Smart, and
caught the end of the mainsheet about him, quickly slipping a hitch.
Then he hauled himself out into the sunshine again, and came rising
like a fish to the surface. In a moment he was back aboard the
_Sea-Horse_, and then he spoke.

“Git on to dat line, yo’, Sam … git hold quick … I got him … give
him de air, yo’ Dutchman. … An’ now fer a heave what is a heave.”

With a mighty effort the two men threw their whole weight upon the
line. It held. Nothing gave for a moment. Bahama Bill, bracing his
naked feet upon the rail, bent his mighty loins, and took a deep
breath.

“Heave-ho!” he bellowed, and set his muscles to the strain.

Sam lifted with all his force. Almost instantly the two of them plunged
backward, and fell over each other on deck. The line became slack, but
before they could get to their feet, Heldron had left the pump and was
hauling in hand-over-hand, and in a moment the form of Smart showed
below the surface.

The black mate sprang to his feet and gave the Dutchman a cuff which
sent him over the side, and, seizing the line, he hauled the limp form
of the diver on deck quicker than it takes to tell it. In a moment he
had the glass off the helmet, and was staring into the white face of
the insensible seaman.

“Get somethin’ to drink–quick,” he said.

Sam rushed for a dipper of water, and, upon bringing it, was knocked
over the head with it for his pains.

“Yo’ bring me somethin’–quick–yo’ understand,” roared the mate. “I
knows yo’ got some forrads–now, then, jump!”

Sam quickly brought a bottle of gin, half-full. Smart had some of the
fiery liquid poured between his lips. Then Heldron, who had scrambled
back aboard, cursing and spluttering, came aft, and helped them to get
off the suit.

It was half an hour afterward before the captain came around enough to
tell what had happened. His left arm was badly mashed, but not broken.
The heavy suit had not been cut through, and to this fact he owed his
life. His legs were stiff and sore from the heavy weight which had lain
upon them, but he was otherwise uninjured.

“I reckon yo’ll be able to go down ag’in in a little while,” said the
mate. “We got most of the stuff, I reckon, but we might as well take
all dat’s dere.”

“How many cases have we?” asked Smart.

“‘Bout fifty–nearly a million rounds, an’ all good.”

“Well, that’s all we’ll get to-day,” said Smart, “unless you want to
take a try at it.”

“Toe bad, toe bad,” muttered Bahama Bill. “I’se sho sorry you’s sech
a puny little man, cap, but de wedder is gittin’ bad, ennyways, an’ I
reckon we might as well make a slant fer Nassau.”

“That’ll about suit me, all right,” said Smart.

Continue Reading

The Trimming of Mr. Dunn

Mrs. Dunn sat under the awning stretched over the quarter-deck of the
yacht _Sayonara_ lying in the stream, off the government coal-dock, at
Key West. It was winter, but the air was warm, and white linen duck was
the most comfortable clothing. Even the six men who composed the crew
of the trim little schooner showed nothing but white in their garments,
save the black silk ties knotted rakishly, drawing together their wide
sailor-collars. Phenix Dunn was a broker, a gambler in the productions
of others, and because of this he was wealthy. He had bought and sold
certain commodities known as stocks, and they had proved profitable–so
profitable that he had decided to take a few months away from the
excitement of the game and buy a yacht and cruise.

Mrs. Dunn was something of a beauty. That is, many men thought so. Some
women differed in opinions, especially those women whom she counted
as her friends. Anyhow, she possessed a dashing air, a figure beyond
criticism, and clothes that made Phenix say many bad words when the
bills came in. Also she had a disposition the gentle side of which had
not been overdeveloped. She was not quarrelsome. Far from it. She had
plenty of tact and ability, but the absence of children and household
cares had given her more time than necessary for the contemplation of
self, and this had not been satisfying. She worked it off by dint of
much outdoor exercise.

Dunn joined her at the taffrail and flung himself into a chair with a
show of wrath. Something had gone wrong, as it always does upon yachts
of any size where the owner is not used to the sea or its peculiar
people.

“The steward is gone, the cook is going, and here we are a thousand
miles from anywhere at all–anywhere at all, I say; and the commandant
of the yard will be aboard to-morrow with not less than twenty officers
and their wives. What’ll we do about it?” he rapped out.

“Why do you ask me?–I’m not good at riddles,” answered his wife lazily.

“Well, we’ve got to take on a couple of blacks–niggers they call ’em
here–and I don’t like the idea of it. I’ve no use for ’em. What I
want is Japanese servants. Japanese are good. Good fighters make good
servants. You don’t want a servant to think, and a good fighter never
thinks. If he did he would see something else besides glory in walking
up to a man with a gun. The Japs do that–and they are good servants. I
don’t want any of these black people aboard this vessel.”

“Well, what are you going to do about it?”

“I don’t know,” grumbled Dunn, “but when in doubt, take a drink–I’ll
go and get one.”

While he was below, a dingy-looking vessel came slowly in the northwest
channel. She was a heavily built sloop, and upon her deck lounged
a rather numerous crew. They were picturesque, half-clothed in
nondescript rags, their bare arms and shoulders seeming impervious to
the rays of the torrid sunshine, for along the Florida reef, even in
winter, the sun is burning.

The craft dropped anchor about twenty fathoms astern of the yacht,
and when Dunn came from below, bringing with him an odour of gin and
bitters, the crew of the sloop regarded him silently.

“Hello, a wrecker!” exclaimed Dunn.

His sailing-master had come to the taffrail and was gazing at the
stranger, while Mrs. Dunn, careless of nautical neighbours, read her
magazine.

“Yes, seems like one of the wreckers,” said Captain Smart; “an
ugly-looking crew, for a fact. They say these spongers divide their
time between wrecking and smuggling. Not that either’s bad if indulged
in moderately, but they are apt to get loose after awhile and do queer
things.”

“There ought to be plenty of good in a wrecker, if he plied his trade
right–ought to save lives and property,” said Dunn. “Let’s have a look
through the glass.”

The men of the wrecking-sloop gazed back insolently at the yachtsman,
and a giant black man among them rose up, placed his fingers in line,
and applied the thumb of one hand to his big, flat nose, wiggling his
huge digits in derision.

“That fellow is a corker,” said Dunn, watching the wrecker
good-humouredly.

“He’s a big one, all right,” assented Smart, “and I reckon they don’t
like us looking so hard at ’em.”

“Lower a boat and send over for that fellow–I want him,” said Dunn.

The captain looked at him for a moment. “I go ashore for Miss Marion
Harsha in a few minutes,” he said. “Mrs. Dunn gave the order. If you
say so, I’ll let the gig go for the wrecker afterward–go myself in
her.”

The yacht skipper was about forty, and slightly grizzled, his tanned
face lined from work and exposure in more than one hard-run merchant
vessel. But he made a rather good-looking yacht captain when dressed in
his blue broadcloth coat with gold-braided cuffs, white duck trousers,
and white canvas shoes. His cap bore the flag of Mr. Dunn upon its
front, and was the only badge of dependence about him.

“All right, go ahead when you’re ready; I’m in no hurry,” said the
owner. “Only I want to see that big nigger who was insolent enough
to poke his fingers at me. Seems like he’d make a good man aboard
here–steward, maybe, or even cook, if he knows how to do the work.
They say these Southern darkies know how to cook like a French
chef–and maybe his wife takes in washing. Get him, bring him
in–there’s some one waving on the dock now.”

“Bring the gig to the starboard gangway,” ordered Smart; and two men
swung into her from the boom-end and dropped her aft. In a moment the
captain was on his way to the dock.

Miss Harsha was young, stout, pug-nosed, and short-haired, but she
dressed well and swung her parasol daintily as she walked down the
dock end beside a uniformed marine officer from the yard. At the
landing-steps the officer assisted her into the gig, talking so
interestedly that she failed to notice the yacht captain until he took
her hand and helped her into the cushions in the stern-sheets. She
suddenly dropped his hand, started, and stared at him a moment.

“You–you–what are you doing here?” she stammered.

“I’m to bring you aboard–Mrs. Dunn’s orders,” said Smart.

“Er–yes, I suppose so. Oh, good-bye, Major Simson, we’ll see you
to-morrow; you must come aboard, you know. Nice little boat–so
different from a ship, and Miss Jennings will be there. Good-bye.”

The officer bowed low, waved his helmet, and started back as the small
boat pulled away.

“I thought you were still aboard the liner–the _Ampersand_,” said Miss
Harsha casually, as she edged away to give the captain room to steer.

“No, I left the next voyage. I was taught that a ship’s officer was not
in the class I supposed him to be.”

“Please don’t,” interrupted the girl. “You know, or ought to know,
the difference between a common sailor–a mate of a transatlantic
steamer–and a naval officer. I hoped to spare your feelings, but you
would not listen to me. I am the daughter of a naval officer. You are
very little different from Mr. Dunn’s butler, socially speaking. You
wear his livery—-”

“A very pretty uniform it is,” suggested the skipper, interrupting and
smiling complacently at her.

“You must pardon me if I hurt your feelings, but it seems necessary for
me to make myself plainly understood—-”

“Oh, I understand you thoroughly,” said Captain Smart gently. “You are
away above me–high up. I know I’m only a sailor. So was my father.
But I’m not a bit ashamed of it. I work for my living. I have no kind
Uncle Sam to provide for me that I may loaf about in white duck and
seek diversion among the fairer sex. You’ll excuse me if I cannot hold
a poorer opinion of myself than I do of many of those who wear the
country’s livery and draw pay for it. They are mostly good fellows–but
there are others.”

“But you won’t understand. It isn’t that. It’s the–well, we won’t
discuss it any further. I know you are too much of a man to make me
uncomfortable aboard the yacht. If you do, I shall have to speak to
Mr. Dunn.”

Captain Smart chuckled softly. He seemed to enjoy the situation very
much, but he said no more, for the men rowing were beginning to listen
to the conversation. He swung the boat alongside with precision, and
assisted the girl up the companion.

Aboard the wrecker the crew watched these proceedings with interest.
The big mate bit off a piece of tobacco and settled himself comfortably
in the sun upon the deck, with his head just above the rail.

“Here comes the boat for us,” grinned Captain Sanders, poking his head
out of the cuddy. The rest grinned silently in turn.

Captain Smart came alongside, and the big mate rose to a sitting
position at the rail, squirting a stream of tobacco over the side,
barely missing the gig.

“Mr. Dunn, the owner of the _Sayonara_, would like to see you aboard
the schooner,” said Smart, addressing the black.

“What fur?” growled the giant.

“Oh, he has some business, I suppose–will you come?”

Sanders winked at his mate, and a Dutchman named Heldron nudged him in
the ribs.

“Sho’, I’ll come,” said the mate.

“Me, too,” said Sanders, winking hard at the rest. “I’m the captain of
the wreckin’-sloop _Sea-Horse_, an’ it’s no more’n proper for me to pay
my respect to his nibs. This here little black boy”–pointing to the
black giant–“is my first officer. They calls him Bahama Bill. He’s a
bad man to call out o’ his name.”

Bahama Bill frowned and his ugly face leered for a moment at the crew
on deck. Then he swung easily over the side and dropped with a crash
into the small boat. Some of the men sniggered, but Sanders gave them a
look and followed.

“Shove off,” said Smart, and in a moment the gig was heading for the
yacht.

Upon the deck of the schooner the captain and mate of the _Sea-Horse_
seemed slightly out of place, but Bahama Bill swaggered aft with an
air that had little retirement or modesty about it, and his skipper
followed behind him.

The giant mate was much amused by the immaculate decks, the new
rigging, and, above all, the spotless clothes of the crew. He knew
a good ship, and this toy, this playship of the rich Northerner was
much to his liking, for the _Sayonara_ was strongly built and had much
valuable material in her building.

Dunn was sitting under the awning aft when the visitors were announced.
Sanders, hat in hand, stood awkwardly smiling and smirking at the
ladies, but his mate cocked his cap over his ear and leered savagely at
the owner.

“You sent fur us, cap–an’ here we is,” said he.

Dunn had been watching them for several seconds.

“Yes, yes, my good man, I wanted to see you,” he said. “Do you know of
any one who wants a job cooking aboard here? I heard there were some
good sea-cooks knocking about these keys, perhaps you’re one–what?”

“Does I look like a cook?” said Bahama Bill, staring at him.

“Most certainly not, but appearances are sometimes deceptive. Maybe you
know of one–what?”

“I does,” said Bill.

“Can you get him aboard here to-day?” asked Dunn.

“I cayn’t–nussur. I cayn’t.”

“Why not? I’ll give good pay–fifty dollars. Steady job, if they make
good.”

“Well, de onliest good cook I knows is ‘Scrappy Jule,’ dey calls
her—-”

“Oh, no, she won’t do; we don’t want any disrep—-”

“She’s my wife,” went on Bill, with a smoothness in his tone that made
his captain smile broader than ever, “an’ don’t reckon she’ll come
abo’d no boat onless hit’s me dat takes her.”

“Perhaps she’ll do some washing for us, then?”

Bill stared at the yachtsman for nearly a minute, and the smile died
away from Sanders’ face.

“Look here, yo’ white man, did yo’ send fur us to come ober heah to
listen to a lot ob nonsense?” said Bill solemnly. “What yo’ takes me
fur, anyhow? We comes ober to take a drink an’ pass de time o’ day like
ship’s officer, an’ yo’ begins wid a lot o’ foolishness ’bout cooks
an’ washerwomen. What yo’ reckon I am?”

“Good heavens! Captain Smart, come here a minute,” called Mr. Dunn,
while the two ladies who were near enough to hear the last part of the
conversation sat staring at the wreckers in amazement.

“Take these men forward and give ’em liquor,” said Dunn, as his skipper
came aft, “and then send them back aboard their craft. They won’t suit
us.”

“You men come with me,” said Smart, motioning to Sanders and Bahama
Bill. His tone was quiet, but there was no mistaking its meaning. He
had seen enough of them, and would put them back aboard their craft.
He had known from the first that it was a mistake to have brought
them. They were a rough, independent type who respected no one, a type
that had furnished the worst class of buccaneers and pirates some
generations before. The West Indies had been infested with them for
years, and these wreckers, the descendants of the wild seamen of the
Spanish Main, were not the kind of men for a yacht.

Bahama Bill glared sourly at the men forward as he made his way to the
gangway followed by Sanders.

“I don’t drink with no such po’ white men as yo’,” said the giant. “Yo’
kin put me back abo’d the _Sea-Horse_–sorry I came.”

“I’ll take a pull afore I go,” put in Sanders. “Bring out yer pizen
an’ let’s have a try at it. I seen more onsociable fellers than your
owner–but I can’t quite call to mind jest where.”

“You ought to know yachtsmen, captain,” said Smart. “There’s a
difference between them and seamen. I’ll drink with you, if you don’t
mind.”

“Naw, yer needn’t. I don’t want nothin’ more to do with yer–see? I
drinks alone.”

Smart took a bottle of liquor from the boy, who had brought it from the
cabin and poured a tumblerful, handing it to Sanders.

“Drink, and make your getaway,” he said.

Sanders tossed off the glassful, and looked hard at him.

“I’ll go when I git good an’ ready,” he said. “Don’t give me none o’
your slack, or I’ll take it out o’ yer.” Then he flung the dregs of the
liquor into Smart’s face.

The sting of the fiery stuff blinded the captain for an instant, but it
also angered him enough to do a foolish thing. He brought the bottle
down upon the wrecker’s head and stretched him upon the deck. The next
instant he was seized by the giant black man and flung like a coil of
rope into the scuppers.

“Don’t make no rough-house, or you’ll be sorry. Put us abo’d the
_Sea-Horse_,” said the big mate.

Dunn had rushed for the cabin at the first signs of a fracas, and now
came forward with a rifle held in readiness.

Smart saw that any further strain would result in bloodshed, and he was
used to handling men. With strong self-control he sprang to his feet
and held up his hand to Dunn. Then he called for the boat in a natural
tone, and the men who had witnessed the trouble obeyed.

The yacht’s deck was not the place for an affair of force. Captain
Smart knew it at once and deplored his action. In a second he could
precipitate a fight that would be fatal to at least one or more men,
for Dunn was an excellent shot and exceedingly quick. The mate of
the _Sea-Horse_ cared as little for the rifle as for a cane, if he
once broke loose. Even Sanders would not hesitate to face any kind of
weapon. The two wreckers were ushered over the side and rowed back to
their craft.

Bahama Bill was sullenly silent all the afternoon. Something, an
indefinable something of refinement, of an air above what he had been
used to, had kept him from an outbreak aboard the yacht. He had many
times gone forth on the beach and made rough-house for the sport of
it, handling half a dozen tough longshoremen, armed and unarmed. On
the _Sayonara_ the presence of the ladies had kept him in check. He
could not quite understand it. Sanders had less control of himself, and
growled out vengeance during the hours of daylight. When it grew dark
he took his mate to one side.

“When the tide turns we’ll rake her–hey?” he said.

“I dunno–I cayn’t quite make up my mind,” said Bill.

“Feared?”–with a sneer.

“Feared o’ what?” asked the black man.

“Oh, I dunno. I reckon the captain, or the owner–hey?”

Bahama Bill spat disdainfully over the side into the dark water where
the phosphorus shone in the ripples. He sat for an hour upon the rail,
and the rest of the crew watched him, for they knew pretty well what
was coming.

After supper the big mate went on deck. Heldron brought him a hook, a
powerful instrument with a long tooth that would reach well into the
seams of a vessel and pull out any calking that might be there. Sanders
took out a fine steel bar, a regular jimmy, and joined them. The rest
of the crew remained below and played checkers or cards, making no
comment whatever.

The giant mate took the bar and hook and slid gently over the side, and
the next instant they saw a thin line of fire, his wake, leading toward
the yacht.

Aboard the yacht the incident of the afternoon was almost forgotten.
Miss Harsha played the piano and Mrs. Dunn sang sea songs, while Dunn
smoked and applauded alternately. The men were all below, and only
Smart and his mate, a tall Yankee sailor from Maine, sat on deck, for
the air was chill.

“Looks like we’ll have a bit o’ weather coming along soon,” said the
mate to Smart; “heavy bank makin’ to th’ north’ard.”

The captain smoked in silence. He thought of the scene on deck that
day, and he felt more than ever that Miss Harsha had reason to feel
displeased at his attentions. He remembered the nights upon the liner
when he had taken the girl for walks against the rules of the company,
the usual ending of such affairs, and the cold-blooded manner in which
she had sent him off. He was occupied intensely with his thoughts and
keenly disgusted. In the dark water alongside a large fish seemed to
make considerable disturbance and attracted his attention. He went to
the rail and looked over, and instantly the creature, whatever it was,
sank below the surface. Then he went back and smoked.

Bahama Bill, the wrecker, had reached the yacht and had started to work
her seams about three strakes below the water-line. It was his business
to drag out the oakum and spread the seam, leaving nothing but a bare
thread to keep the water from coming into the hull.

It was an old game, but new to the vicinity and victims. When the
vessel filled and sank, which she would surely do if not docked at
once, the wreckers would be on hand to claim their salvage. As this
would amount to about one-third the value of the yacht, it would be
worth while. Even if the marks of bar and hook were discovered, no one,
unless an expert in the methods of the reefers, would suspect what had
caused the trouble. No one could possibly give any testimony of any
value against the wreckers.

They would board her boldly at just the right moment, and, knowing her
condition, would have no rivals on hand. Her salvage would ease the
pain of the insults they had received at the hands of her owner. He
wouldn’t drink with them–what? He would wish he had drunk many bottles
before they were through with him, the rich bum. Who was he to put on
airs to them?

The giant black diver had raked the seam and then swung his weight
upon the bar. The two-inch planking of the small vessel gave to his
tremendous strength. His head, a foot beneath the surface, kept him out
of sight while he worked, but he had to raise it clear every little
while to breathe. At these times he turned his eyes upward and tried to
pierce the gloom, letting just his nose come out, and drawing breath
ready for instant disappearance should any one be looking over the side.

It was desperate work, toiling there in the tideway, and, in spite of
his power, he found that he must rest after the first seam had been
raked to the bends. He jammed the bar fast in a seam and clung to it,
lying at full-length and letting his body float with the current.

The night was quite still and very dark. The bank of cloud in the
north told of a heavy wind approaching, the uncomfortable norther
which sweeps at periods over the reef during the winter months. The
water, however, was always warm; the close proximity of the Gulf Stream
kept it near the temperature of eighty all through the year. While he
rested, he was aware of a movement in the sea near him, and he sniffed
the air uneasily. The smell of a shark was plain in his nostrils.

To lie quietly in the sea at night with a shark in the vicinity was
to invite almost certain destruction. To thresh about aimlessly would
surely attract attention from the deck above, and bring death in the
shape of a rifle-bullet, or, worse yet, a boat, which would catch
him before he could gain the _Sea-Horse_. He left the bar in the
_Sayonara’s_ side, and, grasping the hook, swam strongly to the bobstay.

Silently the mighty black hauled himself clear of the water, just as
a long shadow, darker than the surrounding sea passed beneath him,
leaving a long line of fire to mark its passage. He had cleared with
about a second to spare. The sea-monster passed on down the tide toward
the open ocean, but Bahama Bill waited before slipping back again to
his task.

In a short time he worked the next seam; then, taking the thin cotton
line he had fast about him as a belt, he unwound it, pulled the last of
the calking oakum out, and replaced it quickly with the line the entire
length of the destroyed seam, leaving the ends clear to be jerked forth
at a moment’s notice. It would at once let a stream of water into the
hull of the yacht which would test her pumps to their fullest capacity,
and where he had worked there was hardly a trace of violence. A few
augur-holes would have accomplished the end more readily, but they
would remain as telltale evidence. The starting of a seam and butts
could not be proven against such careful work.

At the right minute the wreckers would pull the cord, and then it would
be–stand by the pumps or run her ashore. All they would have to do
now would be to follow her about the reef until she arrived at a spot
conveniently far from a tugboat or dry dock, follow her like a shark
until, wounded and unable to keep the sea, they would fall upon her the
instant her crew and owner would leave her, or call for help.

Bahama Bill had just put the finishing touches upon his excellent work,
and was resting, preparatory to swimming back to the _Sea-Horse_,
where he knew Sanders and the rest were awaiting his arrival with some
impatience. He had his bar jammed in a seam, and was hanging upon it,
when the mate of the _Sayonara_ happened to peer over the side.

The wrecker saw him just in time, and sank from view. In doing so he
made a slight disturbance in the sea, and the phosphorus flared and
trailed from him, giving him the long shape beneath the surface common
to a fish of about his length.

“I reckon I’ll take a whack at them fellers swimmin’ around us,” said
the sailor to Smart, “seems to me there might be a barracuda, or
jew-fish, loafing about. I’m going to get the harpoon.”

Bill, instead of making good his getaway, at this moment, hung easily
on to his resting-place and poked his head clear about the time the
mate had ceased speaking. Seeing that the head over the rail had gone,
the wrecker started to pull his bar clear, and had just shoved off from
the yacht’s side, when the mate arrived with the iron.

The long Yankee had been accustomed to spearing sword-fish upon his
native coast in summer, and he hesitated not an instant, but hurled
the iron at the form below him. As he did so Bill saw the movement and
gave a mighty shoot ahead. It saved his life by a fraction of a second,
but the iron struck him fair upon the ankle and passed through between
his heel-cord, or tendon, and the bone. He was hung as securely as a
quarter of beef upon a hook.

“I got him,” yelled the mate. “Lend me a hand. Captain Smart.”

“Killed him outright,” said the captain. “He makes no flurry for a
heavy fish. Must have struck his backbone.”

They put their weight upon the line, and it came in easily, hauling as
though a log were fastened to the iron. And in the meantime Bahama Bill
was whirling over, trying to think of some way to cut clear.

Still holding to his bar, the giant wrecker came swashing alongside
the yacht, making a lot of foam and fire, which completely hid his
identity. By good luck the men above him stopped hauling just when his
great weight began to put a heavy strain upon the line.

Captain Smart, not wishing to trust the thin runner, went for a heavy
line to make a bowline to slip over the fish’s tail and heave him
aboard shipshape Bill jammed the jimmy into a seam and worked it
far enough in to get a strong hold. His head was half-submerged, but
he held on while the strain upon the harpoon lifted his leg clear of
the sea. His leg was numbed from the wound, and when they slipped the
bowline down upon it he knew there was no use of further resistance.

The pain was intense when they put the line to a tackle, and he gave
up. Throwing the bar clear to make away with the last evidence of his
work, he let them haul him feet foremost into the air and hang him
dangling over the rail.

“A nigger, by all that’s holy!” exclaimed the long mate. “Now, how in
the name did—-”

“The mate of the wrecker,” said Smart, slacking the giant down upon the
deck and gazing at him. “Hooked in the ankle, all right and seamanlike.
Is he drowned?”

“Naw, I ain’t drowned,” said Bill, staggering to his feet, the iron
from the harpoon still transfixing his leg. “Yo’ put a stopper on that
barb, and pull that iron out. Cayn’t a man take a swim without you
fellows huntin’ him like a bloody fish?”

The mate offered his apologies, somewhat tinged with humour, for the
mistake, and, being entirely without suspicion, went below to get a
stiff drink for his victim. The giant black stood gazing down at the
yacht captain for a moment, and as the wound did not bleed to any
extent, he refused to have any further fuss made over it.

“Aren’t you afraid of sharks–to be swimming about this harbour in the
night?” asked Smart.

“No, I ain’t scared o’ much,” said Bill, “an’ I takes it all in good
part, yo’ ketchin’ me the way yo’ did. I don’t mind the little hole in
mah laig, but I do mind bein’ h’isted up feet fo’most. I don’t allow no
liberties wid me body, ‘n’ ef yo’ had dun it a purpose, I sho’ would
have tu wake yo’ up some–but I takes no offence.”

The long mate appeared with the liquor, and the wrecker drank it down.

“Ah’m goin’ now,” said Bill, and without further ado he made a plunge
over the rail and was gone. A faint trail of fire showed his rapid
progress toward the _Sea-Horse_, and his captors were left alone again
on deck.

“That was something strange–what?” said the mate.

“‘Twas a bit out of the ordinary,” said Smart, thinking of the
strangeness of the scene, the dark night, the disturbed water, and
the sudden appearance of a giant negro hauled on deck feet foremost
by a bowline run over a whale-iron. “You better keep an anchor-watch
to-night. Some of those fellows might steal half our brasswork before
morning. I’m going to turn in. Good night.”

II

In the brisk wind of the failing norther, the _Sayonara_ hoisted
her snowy canvas. The mainsail, taut as a board and white as the
coral-beach, stood with luff cutting the wind and leach cracking gently
while the boom-tackles held it like a hound in leash. The foresail was
run up, and the word was passed aft that the ship was ready.

Mr. Dunn stood near the companion and chatted to Miss Harsha, while
Mrs. Dunn entertained two marine officers from the yard with tales of
the yacht. The reception aboard the day before had been a success, and
these remaining guests were to spend a week cruising to the northward
as far as Boca Grande.

Dunn was a keen fisherman, and would try for tarpon, the giant herring
of the reef.

“I tell you, Miss Marion,” said he, “it’s a great sport. It takes skill
to land one of those fellows, skill to hook him, skill to play him, and
skill to kill ’em–are you a good fisherman?”

Miss Marion, pug-nosed, fat, and not entirely good-natured, thought a
moment. Not upon fish, but concerning certain officers she had known
lately.

“I–er–I really don’t quite know, you know. I never tried it. It must
be something grand. It appeals to me, the idea of fishing. It must be
awfully exciting when you’ve hooked him.” And her eyes roved just for a
moment in the direction of Mrs. Dunn and her friends.

“She’s hove short, sir,” said Smart, coming near. “Shall we break her
out and let her go? The tide is just right, and the wind a close reach
up the Hawk’s Channel.”

“Er–yes. I don’t know. Well, yes, let her go. What’s the odds?”
murmured Dunn, losing interest suddenly. “You’ll excuse me, Miss
Marion.” And he went down the companionway. “When in doubt, take a
drink,” he repeated to himself. “Maybe I’ll run into some people who
think of something besides their–their—–” but he left the sentence
unfinished as he drank off a dram of gin and lime-juice. Dunn was a bit
of a sport at bottom, and his wife’s friends were not–not of the kind
he was used to. It was hard to run a yacht as big as his schooner for
the amusement of silly women, and even more silly men.

Captain Smart hove up his anchor, hoisted both jib and staysail, and
while the trim little ship broke off to port, the white-ducked crew
neatly catted her hook and stretched up her topsails, sending out a
big balloon forward which bellied out and sent her racing through the
northwest passage.

It was a beautiful day, and the sun shining upon the white hull made
a very pretty picture of the fabric rushing through a whitening path
upon the blue water. The solid-silver trophies in the saloon were made
fast in their places, for the vessel was leaning heavily away from the
breeze, and Dunn locked his little buffet and came on deck to join his
guests.

The men of the _Sea-Horse_ watched the yacht until she was hull-down to
the northward, her canvas alone marking the spot of her whereabouts,
which was changing at the rate of ten knots an hour. But they were in
no particular hurry to follow.

Sanders had found out where she was bound, and it was not until late in
the afternoon, when the sun was setting, that the _Sea-Horse_ hoisted
her dirty mainsail. Then she stood away for Cuba, passing out by the
Sand Key Light into the Gulf Stream.

When darkness fell she was shortened down and allowed to drift along
slowly with the current, which took her many miles before the following
day.

In the morning the _Sayonara_ stood in through the pass of Boca Grande.
It is here that the tarpon, the giant herring of the south sea, makes
his entrance to the shallow waters of the Florida reef. Dunn lost no
time engaging guides and preparing for the kill. In the waters of the
reef one does not catch fish; he kills them. A tarpon is not usually
eaten, and is caught solely for the excitement of the fight. Nearly all
the great game fish are equally unpalatable, therefore the sportsman
has long ceased to speak of his catch, which in other waters is useful,
and generally brought home for food.

The small boats were gotten overboard, and the party, made up in pairs
with a guide to each, headed into the pass. Boats from the floating
hotel back among the keys joined them, and during the forenoon the fish
struck.

Dunn managed to land two huge fellows, but the boat containing Miss
Harsha and the major of marines caught nothing. If there was an
attempted killing, it was only witnessed by the guide, and he, being
a discreet “Conch,” had the good taste to remain silent for ever
afterward.

Late in the evening, after the fish had stopped striking, the party
sat upon the deck of the _Sayonara_ enjoying the soft air of the
semi-tropical sea. Far away to the southward the sail of a single
vessel rose above the sapphire rim of the horizon. The air was warm,
and felt almost oppressive. There was evidently going to be a change in
the weather, and Smart noticed it at once.

“The glass has fallen considerable since morning,” said he to Dunn,
“and the pass is not the best anchorage in the world. I don’t exactly
like the idea of lying so far off.”

“We’ll stay as long as the fish bite,” said Dunn. “Now that I’ve gotten
here you’ll not scare me away until there’s something happened. Give
her plenty of scope and let her ride it out, if it blows. A bit of
motion will do the party good, shake ’em up and put some sense into
them. Stay where you are.”

“All right, sir,” said Captain Smart. “I don’t want to cut out the
sport, but if I know anything of the weather by signs, it’ll sure blow
some before this time to-morrow. The warm weather may make the fish
come in, but it means something back of it. It’s too late in the season
for such warm air up here, or it’s too early. We’ll catch it from the
southeast, and we’ll have a nasty sea where we are lying.”

“Let her blow,” said Dunn, “but when in doubt, take a drink.” He went
below.

“I do so wish we would have a terrible storm–then you could have a
chance to show how superior a U.S. marine officer is in an emergency,”
said Miss Harsha, smiling up at the major, who had noticed the
threatened weather and had heard part of the conversation between Dunn
and his captain.

The major leered at her. He was trying to think how a pug-nose and
freckles would inspire him at the psychological moment. It seemed to
cause him an effort, for he spoke wearily in reply.

“You remember what we did at Guantanamo?” he said.

“Yes, but I have heard of nothing else since the Spanish War,” said the
girl sweetly. “You surely have something else in the record of your
excellent corps, for I know personal bravery exists everywhere in it. I
love heroes–men who can do things. It’s foolish, no doubt, but, then,
most women are foolish. What use would your beautiful uniform be to us
if we were not?”

The major gazed out over the darkening sea and watched the tiny speck
of white where the single sail rose above the horizon. He was tired and
thirsty, and he had seen Dunn go below.

“We are to have a fish-dinner–I must go and get out of these
fish-killing togs,” said Miss Harsha, and she left him to follow his
inclinations.

The night was dark and quiet, the sea murmuring distantly under the
black pall which crept up from the southward. The glass fell lower, and
Smart ranged twenty fathoms of cable to let out when the wind struck.
He also got his heavy anchor ready to let go, with sixty more, and made
ready with hemp-stoppers to take the strain off the bitts when she
surged.

There were only four fathoms of water in the part of the pass where
they lay, and with a great scope to both anchors he felt certain that
he could hold on unless some accident happened.

The sea would not break where he lay, on account of the formation
of the reef beyond, and if he could get all his line out before she
started to drag, he could hold her without great danger, although she
would do some lively jumping if it blew heavy. A man on watch would
report the first change for the worse.

By midnight all was silent aboard. The anchor-light burned brightly,
and its rays fell upon the form of the man upon the forecastle, who
nodded drowsily. The calm continued, and the great flame from the
lighthouse at the pass sent long streaks into the darkness.

Coming along with the flood-tide and just going fast enough to keep
steering-way upon her, a small vessel headed into the pass, burning no
lights and heading close to where the _Sayonara_ lay. At her helm a
giant negro sprawled, and upon her deck several men lay in attitudes of
great ease.

“She lays still, like mit a ghost,” said Heldron, peering at the yacht.

“Good graft,” said Sam, straining his eyes to catch every detail.

“I reckon we’ll git to work on her,” said Sanders. “Lower down those
jibs and slack the anchor away easy when I luff her under the lee o’
that p’int yander. How is it, Bill? Do you feel like swimming to-night?”

Bahama Bill, the mate of the wrecker, growled out an assent. His
leg was sore from his experience with the iron in the hands of the
_Sayonara’s_ mate, and his feelings were exceedingly ruffled from
certain personal affronts he had endured from the yacht’s owner. Could
he cook? Could his wife, the renowned Julia, wash? Well, he would ask a
few questions some day after settling his account with the yacht–maybe.

At present the cotton line he had placed in the opened seam was ready
to haul out. Then he would witness some work upon that yacht’s deck.
There would be something doing.

He grinned as he thought of the trim white duck clothes. How they
would look after twenty-four hours’ work at the pumps! Even the
yacht’s captain, who seemed to be something of a sailor in spite of
his wonderful rig, would have something to do besides sitting about
like a well-dressed monkey. And as for those officers, the guests of
Dunn–well, he had already had dealings with them, and once spent the
night in the “cooler” for ruffling a couple of their Jap messmen.

“Yo’ kin lower down the starbo’d boat when we lets go,” said Bahama
Bill; “‘n’ I wants one o’ you fellers to drap to lor’ard toe pick me
up, fer I’ll be comin’ mighty fast–see?”

Sam understood, and a few minutes later the _Sea-Horse_ had hooked the
reef close in the shelter of the key and about a mile distant from the
yacht. Her mainsail was left standing, in case of sudden need. They
could lower it any minute after the job was done. If anything happened
they could stand out in less time than it takes to tell of it, for the
head-sails were all ready to hoist and the anchor just holding. Six
strokes upon the brakes, and she would go clear. Then, with everything
drawing, she would stand through the pass.

The mate dropped into the small boat, and Sam rowed him rapidly ahead
of the yacht. He would drop overboard and drift and swim quickly down
with the current, while the small boat would circle around at a great
distance and out of sight to pick him up after he had finished and
drifted astern.

Swimming strongly with a deep breast-stroke which made no foam or
noise, Bill slipped through the black sea like a fish. In a short time
he gained the anchor-chain, which strained out ahead with the force of
the tide upon the hull.

Resting for a few moments and listening to make sure the man on deck
had not seen him, he let himself drift along the vessel’s side until he
reached the end of his line. This he pulled out of the seam and let go.

It opened her for a length of thirty feet–a thin, nasty leak, which
would be hard to find and impossible to stop without docking. It was
the work of an expert wrecker, and he grinned to himself as he let the
current take him away.

Not a mark had he made upon the beautiful white hull, and yet she was
even now filling rapidly through seams which had been carefully calked.

Of course, if the weather remained calm enough for them to work a small
boat alongside and study her bilge a couple of feet below the water,
they would come upon the seam. But the weather was not going to remain
calm very long. He knew it would be blowing hard before daybreak,
before there would be any light to see her smooth side below the water
where the green of her copper paint had hardly been disturbed.

He had passed his knife along the seam after the line was removed, and
it was open. His work was done.

Sam picked him up half a mile astern, and they rowed silently back
aboard the _Sea-Horse_. All the others had turned in, and they did
likewise, after lowering down the mainsail and paying out enough cable
to hold the vessel should it blow before they awoke. The small boat
was towed astern, for they were well back behind the key, and quite
sheltered.

In the still hours of the early morning Captain Smart was awakened
by the unusual sound of water washing about in the yacht’s bilge. He
roused himself and listened. The first note of the rising wind droned
through the rigging, and the man on watch came to his door to call him.
In a moment he was on deck.

The night was still dark, although it was nearly four o’clock. The wind
had come from the southeast, and it was freshening every moment. The
hands were called, and the cable given to the anchor while the heavy
bower was dropped, that she might set back upon them both.

There was plenty of room, and she brought up nicely, riding easily to
the fast-increasing sea. She was heading it, and, therefore, had not
begun to plunge enough to wake the party aft. But every moment the
whistling snore aloft told of what was coming.

After seeing that his ship was snug and safe for the time being, Smart
went below to get into his oilskins. It had not yet started to rain,
but it was coming, and he would not have time to leave the deck if
anything went wrong.

While he sat upon his bunk-edge he again heard the washing sound from
below. It came loud and insistent, not to be confounded with the wash
from the sea outside. At that moment the mate came into his room.

“What’s the matter below, sir?” he asked. “Sounds like we’ve got water
in her. Shall I try the pumps?”

“Well, if we do, it will frighten every one. It’s going to blow a
regular snorter. There can’t be any water in her–she’s tight as a
bottle. You might sound her, but don’t let any one see you do it.”

Before Smart had buttoned on his sou’wester, the mate came below again.
He had a naturally long face and seemed solemn even in his most happy
moment. Now he pulled a face as long as a rope-yarn.

“Four feet of water in her, sir,” he said, and he looked at Smart as
though that officer had said something to hurt him.

Smart gazed at him for a moment-in perplexity. He saw his mate was
sober. He was too good a sailor to come aft with any silly story. He
knew there was something wrong, and he sprang up the companion.

In the rush of the wind on deck all sounds from below were, of course,
silenced. The droning roar in the rigging as squall after squall tore
past made it evident that it was beginning to blow some. Forms appeared
aft, and Dunn came staggering along the rail to the mainmast followed
by his male guests.

“Will she hold on all right?” called Dunn to his captain, who now stood
at the pump-well with the sounding-line in his hand. It was too dark
for the owner to notice the skipper’s movements, but Smart put the line
out of sight.

“Oh, yes, she’ll hold all right,” bawled the captain. “You better go
below for a bit, or else put on your rain-clothes; it’s going to wet up
here soon.”

The men stood near the mast for a few moments, and, seeing that nothing
unusual was taking place, began edging aft again. A spurt of rain sent
them down the cabin companion, and Smart dropped his line into the
well. It showed a depth of four and a half feet of water below, or just
up to the cabin floor.

Something must be done at once. All hands were called to the pumps, and
the clank of the brakes warned the owner that all was not well. He came
on deck with his guests, and as they were now in their rain-clothes,
Smart requested them to get busy. He would need all the men he could
get to keep her clear.

Daylight dawned upon a wild sea to the eastward. The reef roared in a
deep thunder, but the heaviest sea was shut off from them. Streaming
scud fled past above them with the gale, and the mastheads seemed to
pierce a gray sky, which hurled itself to the northward at a terrific
rate.

The sea that struck the _Sayonara_ was short, and had a great velocity,
but it was not high enough to make her plunge bows under. She rode it
with short jerks and leaps, smashing into it and sending a storm of
flying water as high as her crosstrees. This the wind hurled aft and
away in a heavy shower.

She was holding to one hundred fathoms on one, and seventy fathoms upon
her largest anchor, and as the sea was shallow where she lay, the taut
chains stretched right out ahead, like two stiff bars of metal.

“How did it happen–what is it?” Dunn kept asking; but his skipper
could give no response. All he knew was that she was filling fast, so
fast that they could just keep her about even with the leak. It was
three hours before it showed less than four feet of water below, and by
that time the men were getting tired.

Smart told off the watches, and sent one below for a rest while the
makeshift cook tried to get all hands some coffee. They were going to
have plenty of work cut out for them, and they needed all the rest and
refreshment they could get.

With only one watch at the pumps the water began to gain slowly upon
them, and by noon it was as high as ever again. The yacht plunged
heavily under this extra weight, and Smart gave her every link he had
aboard, afterward putting heavy stoppers upon both cables to take the
strain of the setback from the bitts.

He had done all he could, and now waited with anxious eye upon the
glass, hoping for the shift which he knew must soon come. If he could
hang on for another twelve hours, he felt certain he would ride the
gale down safely; then–well, then it was up to Dunn to say whether to
risk a run to Key West or beach her. Just now the sea was too heavy to
think of going to leeward anywhere. She would go to pieces on the reef.

Smart crouched under the lee of the foremast, watching men and anchors
alternately. Dunn joined him.

“The women are getting a bit nervous, Smart,” said the owner. “There’s
no danger as long as she holds, is there?”

“Not a bit,” was the short answer. He was thinking how much easier it
would have been if Dunn had allowed him to make a good anchorage before
the blow began.

“Well, I’ll go below and tell ’em–when in doubt take a drink–come!”
And his two guests followed him.

All that wild day the _Sayonara_ tugged and plunged at the end of her
cable, the water gaining slowly in her bilge; and when the darkness
with all its terrors came on, the men began to have some misgivings as
to what the yacht would do.

Just as the wild night darkened the storm-torn sea, Smart wiped the
ends of his glasses to get them free from the flying salt water and
spume. He then took a last look around to see if anything was in sight.
Only the lighthouse showed above the waste of reef and white water to
the westward. Not a sign of humanity. Not a thing else from which to
expect human sympathy.

Suddenly he noticed something like a mast rising from behind the end
of the key. Yes, it was a single vessel, snug and close in behind the
shelter. He could not make out her hull, or he would have at once
recognized the _Sea-Horse_, victor over many a hard-fought battle with
the elements of the Florida reef, now lying snug and safe as a house
with her crew below. He was not aware of it, but a pair of eyes were
at that moment gazing fixedly at his vessel, peering out of a dirty
port-hole.

Bahama Bill had never ceased to watch the yacht from the first drone
of the storm, and all the night the giant mate had kept watch upon the
tiny star of his anchor-light as it rose and fell with each plunge.

As the night wore on and the water had not gained sufficiently to make
it necessary to call all hands, Smart went below for the first time and
took a good meal, eating heartily of everything, and washing down the
food with two large cups of coffee.

It was now nearly midnight, and the glass showed signs of rising. The
squalls were of less violence, and the captain hoped now to weather it
out safely before putting his ship upon the beach to get at the leak.

While he ate he was aware of a sudden shock. The _Sayonara_ seemed to
shift her nose from dead into the sea, and then a peculiar trembling
of the hull told him of that thing all ship-masters dread. At the same
instant the rush of feet sounded upon the deck, and the mate poked his
head into the hatchway.

“Starboard anchor’s gone, sir–she’s dragging back unto the reef inside
the light—-”

“Get the foresail on her–all hands!” roared Smart, tearing up the
ladder.

The _Sayonara_ had carried too heavy a load. She was too deep with the
water in her, and had at last parted her steel cable to starboard. The
other anchor was not heavy enough to hold her with the extra tons of
water below; she had broken it clear, and was dragging it back–back
upon the coral bank, where she would soon be a wreck if she struck.

One instant told Smart what he must do. He was too far in to try
to get to sea, and, even if he were not, he could not drive the
half-sunken vessel up against that sea and wind. To do so would be
certain destruction, for there would be no chance to keep the leak
under. He must run her in and beach her where it would be least
dangerous.

In the blackness of midnight he might make a mistake and hit a bad
spot, but it was the only chance. If he could get her far enough in
behind the key to make a lee upon the bank beyond, he might save
her–at least save all hands. There was little room to work her, but
she was a stanch ship.

“Cut the chain–break it with an axe!” he bawled. And the men sprang to
obey.

The thunder of the close-reefed foresail brought Dunn from below, but
as he was no use forward he wisely remained aft. His two guests stood
near him. A feminine form appeared in the companionway.

Smart was at the wheel, rolling it hard over to break the yacht off and
fill away the foresail, but he caught the words:

“Oh, isn’t it grand? A real storm! Oh, major, this is what you’re used
to. I know you will bring us out of it all right. No, I don’t need a
wrap, my dear Mrs. Dunn. Splendid!”

The _Sayonara_ filled away, the chain was broken, and the dragging
anchor left behind. With the wind upon her quarter, she tore away
through the night, leaving a white path astern.

Smart strained his eyes for the edge of the bank behind the lower key.
It was the most sheltered spot, but even in a sheltered spot to leeward
there would be a mighty sea breaking, with the wind blowing with
hurricane force. He would do the best he could.

The whole uselessness of the affair lay upon him, and he swore,
muttering at the folly of his owner. A little shelter and the yacht
would have ridden down anything as long as she would float. The leak
would not have mattered so much had they been in out of that heavy sea
that made her surge so heavily upon her cables. He could have kept it
under easily enough, but now he was running the vessel to her end to
save those aboard.

The light of the Boca Grande Pass showed him the direction of the reef.
The surrounding blackness showed nothing. He must make his landing by
the bearing of the lighthouse, and trusting that his distance would be
run right.

A heavy squall snored over him, and the straining bit of foresail
responded to the furious rush, heeling the _Sayonara_ down to her deck.
All about them the water was snow-white with the sweep of the wind. He
heard a call from forward, and saw his mate running aft at full speed.
A heavier sea lifted the yacht, heeled her to leeward; then there was a
tremendous shock.

A wild burst of sea tore over the yacht, the following sea had broken
against her side as she stopped in her run. The water was blinding, but
Smart could feel her swing up, and off from the wind. The wheel was
suddenly whirled out of his hands, and with a crash the _Sayonara_ set
her heel again into the coral of the reef.

“Get below, every one,” roared Smart, and the struggling Dunn, with the
major, who had been washed to leeward, fought their way back to the
companion.

Smart shoved them roughly down and followed, closing the hatchway after
him. It was the only way. To remain on deck while the sea broke over
her would be to invite almost certain death. Again and again the yacht
rose and crashed down upon the coral bank beneath, the smashing crash
of her rending timbers making a deafening noise to those confined in
her. It was like being within a drum while it was being beaten by a
mighty stick.

If they could remain below until the vessel drove well up on the bank,
it would be well. If the filling hold drove them on deck they would
have to face a whirling sea, which was breaking in a wild smother clear
across the wreck. Smart watched the water rising above the cabin floor,
and waited.

Forward, the mate had got the crew below and closed all hatches. It
would be some time before she filled full enough to drive them on deck,
and all the time the stanch little craft was driving higher and higher
up the bank into shallow water.

Smart took a look at the glass. It was rising. There would be three
more hours of inky darkness, and he hoped the little ship would last
it out. In the morning it would break clear, and there would be good
weather, a splendid chance to save not only the people aboard the
vessel, but much of her valuable fittings.

Dunn tried to calm the fears of his guests. The major, white and
ghastly in the light of the cabin lamp, tried to put on an air of
unconcern. His companion tried to joke with Miss Harsha, but even that
young woman seemed to feel that the storm was entirely too real, the
end not quite in sight.

“When in doubt, take a drink,” suggested the owner, and proceeded to
fill three glasses. A sudden rise and smash of the yacht flung the
glasses to leeward, where they shivered into fragments upon the cabin
deck. Dunn saved his whiskey only by hanging on to it with one hand,
while he clung to the buffet with the other.

The water rose rapidly in the cabin. It was over the floor two feet
deep by three o’clock, and the mate came through the bulkhead door and
announced that the yacht had stove amidships, and was hanging upon a
point of coral, which prevented her from driving farther in.

As near as he could make out, there was still seven feet of water
alongside to leeward, the vessel now lying almost broadside to the sea,
which broke heavily over her. She had been drawing twelve feet, and had
driven up five feet, resting upon her starboard bilge, except when she
lifted with the sea. Something must be done, for the water would be too
deep below to remain there much longer. It would be at least five feet
deep in the cabin, and would swash about enough to drown any one.

The roar of the wind was growing rapidly less, but the crash of the
seas prevented Smart from noting it definitely. He waited and watched
the rising flood. O for a little daylight, to see where he had struck!
Was there a chance to make a landing? To put off in that smother
in the small boats without knowing where he would bring up was too
disagreeable to contemplate until the last moment.

The water gained steadily, and the women became panicky. The major no
longer jested, and Dunn was not in doubt. He had stopped drinking, for
the peril of the night was upon him now in earnest.

Smart, with the mate, made his way on deck, closing the hatchway after
them. They crawled along the weather-rail and gained the waist, where
the whale-boat was snugly stowed under the shelter of the rail to
leeward. The water broke over them constantly, but the wind was going
down, and Smart decided to make ready to try to effect a landing.

The whale-boat was in perfect order, and it would hold all hands, but
he decided that half of the crew should make the first attempt, in
order to see if there was any place to make the beach. They could bring
her back for the rest, and if they failed, there was the gig; it would
hold the women and the rest of the crew.

When they had the boat over the side, it was all they could do in the
darkness to keep it from smashing back with the back-wash of the sea.
The mate managed to get four men into her, and sprang in himself. Smart
went aft and brought Dunn and some of the others, the major staying
with Mrs. Dunn and Miss Harsha. Ten men left the _Sayonara_, and were
instantly swallowed up in the gloom. Then Smart went back below to
await the mate’s return.

In the meantime the water below had risen so high that even the
transoms upon which the refugees perched were several inches under, and
at each surge it went all over them, roaring and washing about. The
cabin lamp was extinguished, and the black darkness which ensued lent
terror to the turmoil in that little cabin.

An hour passed, and no boat came back. It looked ominous. The mate
would surely come back if he could. He was evidently lost or unable to
pull up against the heavy wind and sea. There was no use waiting any
longer. The water was still rising below, and the women must be taken
ashore if it were possible.

Smart got the rest of the watch to work upon the gig, and by superhuman
efforts they finally swung her to leeward, and held her clear of the
side. Miss Harsha was lowered into her, and then Mrs. Dunn. The latter
seemed perfectly at ease, and scorned the assistance of the major,
who gallantly offered to go with her. The noise of the roaring water
precluded any attempt at conversation, and the darkness made all cling
close to the rail in a bunch, each helping the other as best they could.

After all hands had jumped in, Smart followed, and gave the order to
shove clear, and, with the hope of striking the bank in a safe spot,
he headed out from under the lee of the wreck. The gray dawn of early
morning was breaking upon the scene, and the wind was falling rapidly.
It looked as though there would be no great trouble making the land.
But the sea was very heavy.

From under the lee of the wrecked yacht a giant roller, which had
failed to burst upon the outer reef, foamed in a huge smother, and
swept down upon the small boat. Smart had kept her head to the sea,
and was allowing her to drift back very slowly, so that in case he saw
a bad place he could pull out and away without turning around. The
surge struck her and filled her half-full, but she rose again and rode
safely. Men bailed for dear life.

In the growing light Smart saw the rise of the bank to leeward, and the
sea falling heavily upon it. It was a most dangerous surf for a small
boat. He stopped his craft, and lay heading the sea for half an hour,
waiting for a chance to run in, and in the meantime the dawn came to
reveal the desolate coral bank.

Smart stood up and looked about him. Not a sign of the whale-boat
showed anywhere. His own craft was taking the sea heavily, and kept
every one not rowing busy bailing. He saw it was no use waiting any
longer, and began to go back into the surf.

Steering with one of the oars, he managed to keep the craft’s head to
the sea until they were in less than six feet of water. The bank being
flat for nearly a mile to leeward of the yacht, the seas rolled foaming
across it. He was within a quarter of a mile of the dry reef, which
showed in the growing light, when a rolling sea caught the small boat
and swerved her head a bit.

The next instant the steering-oar broke, and before the men rowing
could swing her straight to the sea, she took the following one
broadside and rolled over in the smother.

Smart had a vision of floundering men, women, and boat. The seas broke
over his head and blinded him, strangled him, and seemed to hold
him under. It was all white water, rolling foam, and it was almost
impossible to breathe in it.

Then the sense of the danger dawned upon him with renewed force, and he
struggled to where the dress of Miss Harsha showed upon the surface. He
seized her, and dragged her to the upturned boat.

The major was already holding on to the keel, assisted by two men. Mrs.
Dunn swam easily alongside, and grasped a line thrown her. The painter
was passed along the keel and made fast to a ring-bolt aft. Then all
hands held fast to this line, and waited for the sea to wash them in.

After an hour of struggling it became apparent that the boat was not
nearing the shallow water fast enough. The tide was ebbing, and setting
her out to the deep water; carrying her to the heavy sea, when it
would soon be impossible to live.

“If you will take Miss Harsha, major,” said Smart, “you will be able to
make a landing. Take two men with you, and swim her ashore before it’s
too late.”

“I think I’ll stay by the boat,” said the major.

The girl was half-fainting.

“It’s my duty to stay by the boat, Mrs. Dunn,” said Smart, “but unless
some one takes Miss Marion in, we’ll lose her. I’m going to try for it.”

Taking the ablest man to help him, Smart fastened a couple of the oars
together, for an aid to float, and then started the struggle in through
the surf.

It was a long, desperate fight through the broken water over the flat
coral bank. Sometimes they would be able to touch the bottom, and then
were swept from their feet again by the sea. Sometimes they would be
gaining, and then the current, sweeping strongly out, would set them
offshore until the fight seemed hopeless.

With the girl’s head resting upon his shoulder, and the oars under his
arms, Smart kept the struggle up. The sailor helped him, and finally
they managed to get into water shoal enough to stand. Then they were
aware of forms approaching along the shore, and the recognized the mate
and his men who had gone in the whale-boat. In a few minutes willing
hands dragged them to the dry land.

The mate’s boat had been stove in, and this had kept him from coming
back. He had made a successful landing, but had failed to notice the
other until a few minutes before he had sighted Smart in the breakers.

A glimpse of sunlight shot through the flying scud. The wind was
slacking up and the sea going down very fast. The key they were upon
was separated from the one with the light by a broad sheet of water.
They were unable to reach any help from there.

While they gazed at the speck of the upturned boat, Smart rubbed the
wrists of the fainting girl, and endeavoured to revive her.

The mate spoke up. “Seems like I see a boat coming around the key to
the s’uthard,” he said.

From the masthead of the _Sea-Horse_, Bahama Bill had seen the accident
to the gig, and he was coming into the surf with a heavy boat, manned
by a full crew of men who knew the reef. They watched him, and saw him
pick up the survivors of the accident, one by one, and then row slowly
in to where the rest of the yachting-party stood.

In a short time all were landed safely, and by the time they looked
about them they were aware of the wrecking-sloop getting under way and
running to leeward from her shelter. She rounded up to windward of the
_Sayonara_, and dropped both anchors, paying out cable until she was
close to the wreck. Then she signalled to the giant black, and he stood
ready to take passengers aboard.

Dunn came forward and began to thank him for his heroism, but the black
man looked over his head, and just the faintest flicker of a sneer
seemed to show upon his ugly face.

“Yo’ think I make a good cook, eh?” he asked, with a leer. “I don’t
believe yo’ need no washin’ done fer a day er two. Git inter that
boat wid de rest, an’ thank me fer takin’ yo’, yo’ gin-drinkin’,
whiskey-swillin’ good-fer-nothin’ white man.” And Dunn did as he was
bidden.

Aboard the _Sea-Horse_ they were made as comfortable as possible.
That afternoon, when the sea went down and the wind sank to a gentle
breeze, the entire party were taken to the lighthouse in the pass,
and arrangements were made to send them to Key West. The major was
extremely cool and formal in his manner to all, but Mrs. Dunn cheered
them the best she could.

Miss Marion Harsha paid some attention to Captain Smart, more than is
usual to a yacht captain; but Smart appeared tired and unresponsive.

“You saved my life,” said the girl indulgently, when they were alone
at the lighthouse. “You saved me from a very disagreeable death–and I
shall never be able to repay you. The major acted abominably. Won’t you
forget what I said at Key West?”

“Most certainly,” said Smart, “but not what you meant. I was a
fool–and paid the penalty. I’ll go back to the liner to-morrow.
There’s a great difference between the way we’ve lived. It could never
be forgotten. I forgive you with all my heart, and if you’ll allow me,
I’ll kiss you good-bye.”

The next day Smart and his owner–owner no longer, for his vessel
was too badly wrecked to use again as a yacht–rowed out to get what
personal belongings they wanted before starting for Key West. Upon the
deck of the _Sayonara_ stood the giant mate of the _Sea-Horse_.

“What yo’ want abo’d here?” asked the black man, as they came alongside.

“What d’ you mean?” asked Dunn smartly.

“Well, this here wessel was abandoned–left by her crew–an’ I be here
to take charge,” drawled the black. “Yo’ cayn’t take nothin’ away from
her without my permission. Ef yo’ want to make a deal wid the skipper,
he’s abo’d de _Sea-Horse_. We generally claims two-third salvage. Yo’
kin make de deal wid him–see?”

Dunn didn’t see, but Smart finally convinced him of the truth. It was
humiliating, but there was no help for it–it was the law.

“Right fine ship, cap’n,” leered Bahama Bill to Smart, after things
were settled; “seems a shame to have to wrack her. Wouldn’t yo’ like a
job as cook till yo’ git another berth?”

Later they towed her hull into Key West.

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