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.

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