Chapter XI
 

Capt. Michael J. Murphy's futile tears of rage having dried almost as quickly as they came, he crawled painfully out of his berth and lighted a match, to discover he was a prisoner in his own state-room. He turned another electric switch, but still the room remained in darkness.

"Sneaking out of Pernambuco with the lights doused," he soliloquized. Then he remembered a little stump of candle he kept in his desk for use when heating sealing wax, so he lighted the candle and by its meager rays took inventory of his features in the little mirror over his washstand.

"By the Toe Nails of Moses," he soliloquized, "somebody's sea-boots did that, and if I ever find out who was wearing them at the time there'll be a fight or a footrace. I'm a total wreck and no insurance--yes, thank God! here's the ship's medicine chest."

Having spent the greater portion of an adventurous career far from medical aid in time of bodily stress, Michael J. was, as most shipmasters are, rather adept in rough-and-tumble surgery. His compact little library contained a common-sense treatise on the care of burns, scalds, cuts, fractures and the few minor physical diseases that sailors are heir to, and in accordance with immemorial custom he, as master of the ship, was the custodian of the medicine chest. So he washed the gore from his face, disinfected his split lip and patched himself up after a fashion. The bullet wound in his left shoulder proved to be a flesh wound, high up, so he cleaned that and decided his left wing would be in fair fighting order within a few days. Then he undressed and said his prayers, with a special invocation for help from his patron saint, holy Saint Michael, the archangel. Evidently Saint Michael inclined a friendly ear, for it is a curious fact that no sooner had his namesake risen from his marrow bones than a curious sense of peace and comfort stole over him. As in a vision he saw Herr August Carl von Staden standing on the bridge, bound at ankle, knee and hand and with a rope round his neck. From the supercargo's neck the rope led aloft through a small snatch-block fastened to the end of a cargo derrick and thence to the drum of the forward winch--a device which had been known to hoist with a jerk objects several tons heavier than Herr August Carl von Staden! This picture thus conjured in Murphy's imagination was so real he was almost tempted to recite the litany for the dying!

"'Twould have been better for them had they killed me dead and hove my carcass overboard," he decided. "The fact that they didn't, but took the trouble to carry me to my own bed and lock me in, is proof that they'll not murder me now--so I'll not worry. I'll have every beer-drinking, sausage-making son of a seacook begging me for mercy before the week is out. I'll just lie low and rest up a bit, and by the time we're off Rio I'll drop on them like a top-mast in a typhoon. Then with the help of the two Chinamen, the steward and Reardon 'twill not be hard to run her into Rio. I wonder if that pirate frisked me of my five thousand." He searched through his clothing and was amazed to discover that the bills were still in his possession.

"I'll give them back in the morning," he concluded. "I had a pistol in the drawer of my desk and a rifle in that locker;" and in the wild hope that his luck still held, he searched eagerly for both. They were gone.

Nevertheless, Michael J. Murphy smiled as he wrapped a wet towel round his throbbing head, for he had already decided upon his plan of campaign for regaining command of his ship, a coup for which he required no weapon more formidable than his native intelligence. As he sank groaning into the arms of Morpheus, however, even a Digger Indian would have realized that for the next two weeks the master of the Narcissus would be unable to defend himself against an old lady armed with a slipper. Nevertheless, the indomitable fellow, with the amazing optimism of his race, had already decided to attack and subdue, within four days, thirty-six husky male enemies; which lends some color to the oft-repeated declaration that an Irishman fights best when he is on his back with his opponent feeling for his windpipe.

When Michael J. Murphy awoke it was broad daylight and Herr August Carl von Staden was standing over him. The supercargo was clad in an immaculate suit of white flannels and was looking as fresh as new paint.

"Can it be possible?" Murphy queried in amazement. "Upon my word, friend pirate, I had flattered myself I'd tucked you away for a couple of days at least."

"The excellent Mr. Henckel tells me I was out for ten minutes from that solar-plexus blow you landed," Mr. von Staden replied in tones of mingled admiration and friendliness. "And of course you cannot see how sore my ribs feel. I take it rather ill of you to have kicked me."

"Kicked you! I wish I'd killed you! And, speaking of kicks, somebody certainly kicked me. Who was it?"

"Upon recovering consciousness," the supercargo replied with some embarrassment, "I was overcome with fury. You were lying on the floor of your stateroom, where Mr. Schultz and Mr. Henckel had hurriedly tossed you--so I came in and kicked you."

"I never kicked you in the face," Murphy complained.

"No, but you flattened my nose with your code book."

"Well, I'll admit a good smack on the nose does make a man mad. But you shot me in the shoulder. By the way, do your lungs hurt when you breathe, Dutchy?"

"No. Do yours?"

"A slight tickle. I think you caved in my super-structure. Who jumped on me from the top of the house?"

"The second mate."

"He dislocated my shoulder. I can wiggle my fingers, so I know it isn't a fracture. Suppose you take off your shoe, sit at the foot of my bed, put your foot under my right armpit and press, and at the same time pull on my right arm."

"Delighted, I'm sure," declared Herr von Staden in his charming Oxford accent, and forthwith snapped Michael J. Murphy's shoulder into place with great dexterity.

"Thank you," the skipper answered, and wiped the beads of agony from his white face. "If you'll frisk my trousers over there on the settee you'll find the five thousand dollars you gave me to sell out my owners. I don't want it. I never intended to keep it. I was suspicious of you and your confounded cablegrams, and I had to have a reasonable excuse to go ashore and cable my owners for confirmation. The bribe furnished that excuse. I suppose you thought I'd fallen for your game."

"I must confess your attitude completely deceived me."

"Thanks for the compliment. And now, if you don't mind, suppose you tell me something: Was it a German agent who put the bug in my ear about hiring the crew of that interned German liner in San Francisco?"

"I greatly fear it was," von Staden answered smilingly. "There is an old man who presides over the destinies of the Blue Star Navigation Company--"

"You mean Cappy Ricks?"

"I believe that is the name. He has a reputation for being at once the most reckless spendthrift and the most painstaking money saver in the world. He is always preaching economy--"

"And well I know it. If he hadn't preached it, Captain Peasley would never have stood for this rabble your friends wished on me."

The supercargo chuckled. "We wanted the largest vessel we could find," he explained; "and when it was reported to us that the Blue Star Navigation Company's Narcissus was going from San Francisco to the West Coast and thence to New York with nitrate, we decided to get her. We investigated you. Your name is Michael J. Murphy; naturally we knew you were Irish; and the Irish--your kind of Irish--are not sympathetic toward the cause of Merry England. The same held true of your chief engineer, Mr. Reardon. We knew of the passion of this interesting person, Cappy Ricks, for cutting down expenses. We knew you and Reardon were new to your jobs and would be likely to consider any reasonable plan for eliminating expense in your respective departments, in the hope of pleasing your employer. So the suggestion that you ship our people was made to you and Reardon, and you accepted it with alacrity. The rest was very easy. We got in touch with your New York agents through some friends of ours in very good standing there, and they were enabled to charter the ship merely by offering an extraordinary freight rate. They purchased the cargo of coal and sold it to us at a nice profit, and we depended on your national animosity and racial sympathy, seasoned with a liberal cash subsidy, to enable us to deliver it. We preferred to do the decent thing, but in the event that you proved unreasonable, we concluded it would be wise to have our own people aboard and take the vessel away from you. I admit we tried to trick you with the cablegrams. Why attempt to conceal the fact now? That was unsportsmanlike. However, if the fat is in the fire, as you Americans would say, you have put it there by forcing my hand."

"Very cleverly done," quoth Michael J. Murphy. "I always admire brains wherever I find them."

"Men in my line of endeavor are trained to provide for all conceivable emergencies, captain. I think I provided for all of them in the case under discussion. Who, for instance, would conceive that you would have taken the trouble to call upon the American consul for the cipher message that has caused all this unpleasant row and facial disfigurement?"

"You have read the translation, of course?"

"Naturally."

"It is self-explanatory. You intend delivering my cargo somewhere off the south coast of Uruguay. May I be pardoned for expressing some curiosity as to your plans thereafter, my piratical friend?"

"Please do not call me your piratical friend."

"Well, you're a pirate, aren't you?"

"Legally--yes. Morally--no. In times of national necessity one's patriotism--one's duty to one's country--excuses, in the minds of all fair men, the commission of acts which ordinarily would bring about the deepest condemnation. I assure you that if we had had the faintest hope of doing business in a businesslike way with your owners, we should have been happy to pay almost any price for their ship, for she carries ten thousand tons of coal; and you surely must realize, Captain Murphy, how limited is the number of ships suitable for our purpose under the American flag. We were desperate--"

"I believe Bethmann-Hollweg said something of the same nature with regard to Belgium," Murphy replied blandly. "A nation fighting for its life is a law unto itself, eh?"

"Self-preservation is the first law of human nature," the supercargo replied.

"All right. Then we understand each other. While I decline to terminate the war between August Carl von Staden and Michael Joseph Murphy, nevertheless under the law you have just cited I believe I'm entitled to breakfast. I'm starved. I figured on having supper ashore last night, but after I received that cablegram from my owners I forgot all about food. Now I'm remembering. I wish you'd send the steward in with about forty dollars' worth of spoon victuals. My grinders are very loose."

"Captain Murphy," his jailer declared, "do you know you are a very wonderful man?"

"All the Murphys are. It runs in the blood, like a wooden leg."

"I really regret that you are such a wonderful man. If you were not I'd give you the liberty of the ship. As it is, I crave your pardon for keeping you a prisoner in your state-room. The exigencies of war, you know."

"Don't mention it, Dutchy. For the second time I ask you: When you have delivered this cargo of coal, what do you intend to do with my ship?"

"We will, in all probability, give you a new crew, and the present crew of the Narcissus will go aboard one of our warships and thus remove themselves from the reach of a possible indictment for piracy and mutiny on the high seas."

"Where will you get a new crew for me?"

"Our fleet has sunk a few British tramps in mid-ocean during the past sixty days. Naturally they removed the crews first. These prisoners are in our way, and the admiral will welcome an opportunity to load them all aboard the empty Narcissus, for even prisoners of war must eat, and the stores aboard our fleet are more valuable than these captured seamen. In obedience to that first law of human nature they will not object to working the Narcissus into the nearest South American port."

"Well, that's comforting; but for heaven's sake don't be too much of a hog with my cargo. Leave me enough of it to carry my ship to the nearest port. She burns about thirty-five tons a day--you might get the statistics from Reardon."

"By all means, captain. Our capture of the Narcissus is merely a deplorable national necessity. We would not lose her for you for anything."

"How about a British cruiser picking her up before we make connections with your fleet?"

Herr von Staden shrugged. "That," he replied, "would be the fortune of war."

"It would look like the picture of misfortune to me. And how about the freight on this cargo you've stolen? Don't my owners get something out of this deal to help pay expenses? You're going to play as fair as you can with me, aren't you, Dutchy?"

"By all means. However, you are evidently in doubt as to the real situation. Your charterers are responsible to your owners for the freight money. If they do not pay it Mr. Cappy Ricks can sue them. As for the cargo, we have not stolen it, since one cannot steal that which one owns. We paid cash for this cargo before you cleared from Norfolk, for our go-between would take no risks whatsoever."

"I see. Well, I suppose I'll have to grin and bear it. By the way, don't forget to take back your blood money. It's in my trousers pocket."

Von Staden was genuinely distressed. "Are you quite certain you want me to do that?" he queried. "Five thousand dollars is quite a sum for a poor sea captain to toss aside so contemptuously. Why not accept it as compensation for that broken rib, and that bullet I put through your left shoulder, the dislocated right shoulder, the loose teeth and the split lip? In fact, I am so certain five thousand dollars will not cover your personal injuries I am willing to be a sport and add something to the sum."

Michael J. Murphy grinned--rather a horrible grin it was, owing to his swollen lip and jaw.

"Dutchy," he said, "listen to me: All the money in the world couldn't make me be untrue to my salt. And if you have any lingering notion that I'm not going to collect a million dollars' worth of satisfaction for the way you've acted aboard my ship, I can only say that as a fortune-teller you'll never earn enough money to keep yourself in cigarettes. You say you have been trained to provide for all conceivable emergencies, so I'm advising you, as a friend, to brace yourself for the surprise of your life before you're a week older. Have you pondered the possibility of sudden death aboard the S.S. Narcissus?"

"Certainly. Should we be overhauled by a British cruiser I should take a short cut to eternity. One naturally dislikes the thought of being hanged for a pirate. It would be a reflection on one's family. As for sudden death by violence at the hands of any member of the crew of this steamship, I should be willing to risk quite a sum of money that no such tragedy will be enacted."

"Just why?"

"Well, you'll be safe in this stateroom until I am ready to turn your command back to you, and a man with two shoulders in the condition of yours is hardly likely to try battering down this stout state-room door."

"Correct. And I'm a trifle too thick in the middle to think of crawling through the state-room window."

"And if," the supercargo continued, "you have any idea of calling the engine-room on that speaking tube and soliciting aid from Mr. Reardon, please be advised that for the present Mr. Reardon has been relieved from duty in the engine-room."

"So you've got Reardon locked up, too?" Murphy queried. "Well! Well! I'd hate to think of being locked up and that man Reardon free. However, you need not have worried. I'd die before I'd ask that fellow for help--and he'd die before he'd give it."

"So I understand from the first mate. However, I thought it prudent to guard against a temporary truce and an alliance for the common interest."

"Dutchy," said the skipper, "you're pretty smart."

Von Staden smiled most companionably. "I also took the precaution to remove some weapons from your apartment."

"Take anything from me, Dutchy, except my honor, my pipe and tobacco, and my ship. Take any one of those four, however, and may the Lord have mercy on your soul. Please hand me that book entitled Backwood's Surgery till I see what's good for a broken rib; then send the steward for my breakfast order. After that--well, after that you might make your will, Dutchy."

"I did that in Pernambuco," the delightful Herr von Staden replied, "so your advice is wasted."

He handed the skipper the book on surgery and went out, carefully locking the door behind him. He returned presently and stood beside the steward, who thrust his head through the state-room window and desired to know the captain's choice of breakfast.

"A bowl of mush and milk, three soft-boiled eggs and a pot of coffee. No toast. Hurry!"

When the steward returned with the order he was accompanied by Mr. Schultz, the first mate. The sight of the traitor threw Mike into a furious rage.

"Mr. Schultz," he said ominously, "the things I'm going to do to you would make the devil blush."

"So?" Mr. Schultz replied soothingly.

"I'm going to hang von Staden. He's a pirate, and the rule of the Seven Seas is that a skipper hangs a pirate whenever he can lay hands on him. And you know me, Mr. Schultz. I'm a devil for etiquette aboard ship. As for you, you're only guilty of mutiny, so I'll content myself with tricing you up to the shrouds and flogging you with a cat soaked in brine."

And so on, ad libitum, ad infinitum.

Mr. Schultz was frankly mystified. Being a German, he did not understand the Irish, although in view of the fact that during the war he had room in his head for but one thing--the Fatherland--perhaps the skipper might have pardoned his mate the glance of contempt and utter disgust which the latter now bent upon him. Here was a man, Mr. Schultz told himself, who, having stipulated his price and struck a bargain, had demonstrated beyond cavil that he was not a gentleman, for he had refused to stay bought. More, he had basely attacked his benefactor.

"So?" he repeated.

"Out, you blackguard, and leave me alone!" Murphy yelled.

"It iss an order dot I stay und see dot der steward shall mayg no conversations vatsoefer," Mr. Schultz declared firmly.

"Verboten, eh?" sneered the skipper. He had once been to Hamburg, and naturally he had acquired the word most commonly used in the German language.

"Ja," Mr. Schultz replied placidly, but with an air of finality that left no room for further argument.