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Jane gazed through the doorway at the sea. There was apparently no horizon, no telling where the sea ended and the faded blue of the sky began. There was something about this sea she did not like. She was North-born. It seemed to her that there was really less to fear from the Atlantic fury than from these oily, ingratiating, rolling mounds. They were the Uriah Heep of waters. She knew how terrible they could be, far more terrible than the fiercest nor’easter down the Atlantic. Typhoon! How could a yacht live through a hurricane? She turned again toward Cunningham.
“You are like that,” she said, irrelevantly.
“Like the sea.”
Cunningham rose and peered under the half-drawn blind.
“That may be complimentary, but hanged if I know! Smooth?—is that what you mean?”
“Kind of terrible.”
He sat down again.
“That rather cuts. I might be terrible. I don’t know—never met the occasion; but I do know that I’m not treacherous. You certainly are not afraid of me.”
“I don’t exactly know. It’s—it’s too peaceful.”
“To last? I see. But it isn’t as though I were forcing you to go through with the real voyage. Only a few days more, and you’ll have seen the last of me.”
“I hope so.”
“What I meant was,” she corrected, “that nothing might happen, nobody get hurt. Human beings can plan only so far.”
“That’s true enough. Every programme is subject to immediate change. But, Lord, what a lot of programmes go through per schedule! Still, you are right. It all depends upon chance. We say a thing is cut and dried, but we can’t prove it. But so far as I can see into the future, nothing is going to happen, nobody is going to walk the plank. Piracy on a basis of 2.75 per cent.—the kick gone out of it! But if you can bring about the reconciliation of the Cleighs the old boy will not be so keen for chasing me all over the map when this job is done.”
“Will you tell me what those beads are?”
“To be sure I will—all in due time. What does Cleigh call them?”
“Love beads!” scornfully.
“On my solemn word, that’s exactly what they are.”
“Very well. But remember, you promise to tell me when the time comes.”
“That and other surprising things.”
“I’ll be going.”
“Come up as often as you like.”
Cunningham accompanied her to the bridge ladder and remained until she was speeding along the deck; then he returned to his chart. But the chart was no longer able to hold his attention. So he levelled his gaze upon the swinging horizon and kept it there for a time. Odd fancy, picturing the girl on the bridge in a hurricane, her hair streaming out behind her, her fine body leaning on the wind. A shadow in the doorway broke in upon this musing. Cleigh.
“Come in and sit down,” invited Cunningham.
But Cleigh ignored the invitation and stepped over to the steersman.
“Has Miss Norman been in here?”
“How long was she here?”
“I don’t know, sir; perhaps half an hour.”
Cleigh stalked to the door, but there he turned, and for the first time since Cunningham had taken the yacht Cleigh looked directly, with grim intentness, into his enemy’s eyes.
“Battle, murder, and sudden death!” Cunningham laughed. “You don’t have to tell me, Cleigh! I can see it in your eyes. If Miss Norman wants to come here and ask questions, I’m the last man to prevent her.”
Cleigh thumped down the ladder. Cunningham was right—there was murder in his heart. He hurried into the main salon, and there he found Jane and Dennison conversing.
“Miss Norman, despite my warning you went up to the chart house.”
“I had some questions to ask.”
“I forbid you emphatically. I am responsible for you.”
“I am no longer your prisoner, Mr. Cleigh; I am Mr. Cunningham’s.”
“You went up there alone?” demanded Dennison.
“Why not? I’m not afraid. He will not break his word to me.”
“Damn him!” roared Dennison.
“Where are you going?” she cried, seizing him by the sleeve.
“To have it out with him! I can’t stand this any longer!”
“And what will become of me—if anything happens to you, or anything happens to him? What about the crew if he isn’t on hand to hold them?”
The muscular tenseness of the arm she held relaxed. But the look he gave his father was on a par with that which Cleigh had so recently spent upon Cunningham. Cleigh could not support it, and turned his head aside.
“All right. But mind you keep in sight! If you will insist upon talking with the scoundrel, at least permit me to be within call. What do you want to talk to him for, anyhow?”
“Neither of you will stoop to ask him questions, so I had to. And I have learned one thing. He is going pearl hunting.”
“What? Off the Catwick? There’s no pearl oyster in that region,” Dennison declared. “Either he is lying or the Catwick is a blind. The only chance he’d have would be somewhere in the Sulu Archipelago; and this time of year the pearl fleets will be as thick as flies in molasses. Of course if he is aware of some deserted atoll, why, there might be something in it.”
“Have you ever hunted pearls?”
“In a second-hand sort of way. But if pearls are his game, why commit piracy when he could have chartered a tramp to carry his crew? There’s more than one old bucket hereabouts ready to his hand for coal and stores. He’ll need a shoe spoon to get inside or by the Sulu fleets, since the oyster has been pretty well neglected these five years, and every official pearler will be hiking down there. But it requires a certain amount of capital and a stack of officially stamped paper, and I don’t fancy Cunningham has either.”
Cleigh smiled dryly, but offered no comment. He knew all about Cunningham’s capital.
“Did he say anything about being picked up by another boat?” asked Dennison.
“No,” answered Jane. “But I don’t believe it will be hard for me to make him tell me that. I believe that he will keep his word, too.”
“Jane, he has broken the law of the sea. I don’t know what the penalty is these days, but it used to be hanging to the yard-arm. He won’t be particular about his word if by breaking it he can save his skin. He’s been blarneying you. You’ve let his plausible tongue and handsome face befog you.”
“That is not true!” she flared. Afterward she wondered what caused the flash of perversity. “And I resent your inference!” she added with uplifted chin.
Dennison whirled her about savagely, stared into her eyes, then walked to the companion, up which he disappeared. This rudeness astonished her profoundly. She appealed silently to the father.
“We are riding a volcano,” said Cleigh. “I’m not sure but he’s setting some trap for you. He may need you as a witness for the defense. Of course I can’t control your actions, but it would relieve me immensely if you’d give him a wide berth.”
“He was not the one who brought me aboard.”
“No. And the more I look at it, the more I am convinced that you came on board of your own volition. You had two or three good opportunities to call for assistance.”
“You believe that?”
“I’ve as much right to believe that as you have that Cunningham will keep his word.”
“Oh!” she cried, but it was an outburst of anger. And it had a peculiar twist, too. She was furious because both father and son were partly correct; and yet there was no diminution of that trust she was putting in Cunningham. “Next you’ll be hinting that I’m in collusion with him!”
“No. Only he is an extraordinarily fascinating rogue, and you are wearing the tinted goggles of romance.”
Fearing that she might utter something regrettable, she flew down the port passage and entered her cabin, where she remained until dinner. She spent the intervening hours endeavouring to analyze the cause of her temper, but the cause was as elusive as quicksilver. Why should she trust Cunningham? What was the basis of this trust? He had, as Denny said, broken the law of the sea. Was there a bit of black sheep in her, and was the man calling to it? And this perversity of hers might create an estrangement between her and Denny; she must not let that happen. The singular beauty of the man’s face, his amazing career, and his pathetic deformity—was that it?
“Where’s the captain?” asked Cunningham, curiously, as he noted the vacant chair at the table that night.
“On deck, I suppose.”
“Isn’t he dining to-night?”—an accent of suspicion creeping into his voice. “He isn’t contemplating making a fool of himself, is he? He’ll get hurt if he approaches the wireless.”
“Togo,” broke in Cleigh, “bring the avocats and the pineapple.”
Cunningham turned upon him with a laugh.
“Cleigh, when I spin this yarn some day I’ll carry you through it as the man who never batted an eye. I can see now how you must have bluffed Wall Street out of its boots.”
When Cunningham saw that Jane was distrait he made no attempt to pull her out of it. He ate his dinner, commenting only occasionally. Still, he bade her a cheery good-night as he returned to the chart house, where he stayed continually, never quite certain what old Captain Newton might do to the wheel and the compass if left alone too long.
Dennison came in immediately after Cunningham’s departure and contritely apologized to Jane for his rudeness.
“I suppose I’m on the rack; nerves all raw; tearing me to pieces to sit down and twiddle my thumbs. Will you forgive me?”
“Of course I will! I understand. You are all anxious about me. Theoretically, this yacht is a volcano, and you’re trying to keep me from kicking off the lid. But I’ve an idea that the lid will stay on tightly if we make believe we are Mr. Cunningham’s guests. But it is almost impossible to suspect that anything is wrong. Whenever a member of the crew comes in sight he is properly polite, just as he would be on a liner. If I do go to the bridge again I’ll give you warning. Good-night, Mr. Cleigh, I’ll read to you in the morning. Good-night—Denny.”
Cleigh, sighing contentedly, dipped his fingers into the finger bowl and brushed his lips.
The son drank a cup of coffee hastily, lit his pipe, and went on deck. He proceeded directly to the chart house.
“Cunningham, I’ll swallow my pride and ask a favour of you.”
“Ah!”—in a neutral tone.
“The cook tells me that all the wine and liquor are in the dry-stores compartment. Will you open it and let me chuck the stuff overboard?”
“No,” said Cunningham, promptly. “When I turn this yacht back to your father not a single guy rope will be out of order. It would be a fine piece of work to throw all those rare vintages over the rail simply to appease an unsubstantial fear on your part! No!”
“But if the men should break in? And it would be easy, because it is nearer them than us.”
“Thank your father for building the deck like a city flat. But if the boys should break in, there’s the answer,” said Cunningham, laying his regulation revolver on the chart table. “And every mother’s son of them knows it.”
“All right. But if anything happens I’ll be on top of you, and all the bullets in that clip won’t stop me.”
“Captain, you bore me. Your father and the girl are good sports. You ought to be one. I’ve given you the freedom of the yacht for the girl’s sake when caution bids me dump you into the brig. I begin to suspect that your misfortunes are due to a violent temper. Run along with your thunder; I don’t want you hurt.”
“If I come through this alive——”
“You’ll join your dad peeling off my hide—if you can catch me!”
It was with the greatest effort that Dennison crushed down the desire to leap upon his tormentor. He stood tense for a moment, then stepped out upon the bridge. His fury was suffocating him, and he realized that he was utterly helpless.
Ten minutes later the crew in their quarters were astonished to see the old man’s son enter. None of them stirred.
“I say, any you chaps got an extra suit of twill? This uniform is getting too thick for this latitude. I’m fair melting down to the bone.”
“Sure!” bellowed a young giant, swinging out of his bunk. He rummaged round for a space and brought forth a light-weight khaki shirt and a pair of ducks. “Guess these’ll fit you, sir.”
“Thanks. Navy stores?”
“Yes, sir. You’re welcome.”
Dennison’s glance travelled from face to face, and he had to admit that there was none of the criminal type here. They might carry through decently. Nevertheless, hereafter he would sleep on the lounge in the main salon. If any tried to force the dry-stores door he would be likely to hear it.
At eleven o’clock the following morning there occurred an episode which considerably dampened Jane’s romantical point of view regarding this remarkable voyage. Cleigh had gone below for some illuminated manuscripts and Dennison was out of sight for the moment. She leaned over the rail and watched the flying fish. Suddenly out of nowhere came the odour of whisky.
“You ought to take a trip up to the cutwater at night and see the flying fish in the phosphorescence.”
She did not stir. Instinctively she knew who the owner of this voice would be—the man Cunningham called Flint. A minute—an unbearable minute—passed.
“Oh! Too haughty to be a good fellow, huh?”
Footsteps, a rush of wind, a scuffling, and an oath brought her head about. She saw Flint go balancing and stumbling backward, finally to sprawl on his hands and knees, and following him, in an unmistakable attitude, was Dennison. Jane was beginning to understand these Cleighs; their rage was terrible because it was always cold.
“Denny!” she called.
But Dennison continued on toward Flint.
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