Chapter XVI
 

At eight o'clock Mr. Schultz relieved the second mate on the bridge, and five minutes later Terence Reardon, for the first time invaded that forbidden territory. "Bad cess to me!" he complained plaintively. "I'm the picthur av bad luck. I've a leaky connection below an' divil a bit av red lead. Could ye lind me a dab av red lead from yer shtore-room, Misther Schultz?"

Mr. Schultz marvelled that any man could force his mind to dwell on red lead, leaky pipe connections, sulphur and bedbugs in a ship like the Narcissus at a time like this. He had met a few innocents in his day, but this Irish engineer was most innocent of all.

"Sure, Mike!" he replied, and grinned at his feeble play on words. "Und as I gannot leave der bridge yet, here iss der key to der store-room. Helb yourself, mine Freund, und den gif me der key back."

"Ye addie-pated son of sin!" Mr. Reardon soliloquized as he took the key and departed. "Faith, a booby birrd has more sinse nor you! D'ye suppose I didn't wait until ye were on djooty before axin' ye, well knowin' ye'd lind me the key an' I'd be alone in yer shtore-room!"

Mr. Reardon was in the store-room less than two minutes. When he emerged he carried a daub of red lead on an old spoon, as Mr. Schultz, looking down on the dimly lighted main deck, observed. What he did not observe, however, was the chief's action in tossing the spoon overboard the instant he passed beyond the range of Mr. Schultz's vision. It is probable, also, that the mate would have been disturbed could he have seen Mr. Reardon in his state-room, with the door locked, removing from beneath his dungaree jumper several fathoms of light, strong, cotton signal halyard, two five-foot lengths of half-inch steel chain, and a strip of canvas. His pockets also gave up two padlocks, with keys to fit. This loot Mr. Reardon very carefully hid in the space under his settee, after which, with due thanks, he returned the key to Mr. Schultz.

The remainder of the evening until nine-thirty Terence spent in the wireless room with Herr von Staden. Then he retired, very low in spirits, to his state-room, to make his preparations for wholesale assault with a deadly weapon--possibly wholesale murder! He cut the signal halyard into short lengths; then he cut the piece of canvas into strips about two inches wide and secreted the halyard and canvas strips here and there about his person. Then he descended to the engine room and selected his monkey wrench from the tool rack on the wall, helped himself to a handful of cotton waste, and returned to his state-room mournfully keening "The Sorrowful Lamentation of Callaghan, Greally and Mullen, killed at the Fair of Turloughmore."

"Wirra," he murmured presently, "but 'tis a terrible thing to hit an unsuspectin' man wit' a monkey wrench! An' that divil von Staden, for all his faults, is not a bad lad at all at all. An' I'd give five dollars--yes, seven an' a half--if he were bald an' shiny on any other shpot save an' exceptin' the shpot I have to hit him. Ochone!

   "'Come tell me, dearest mother, what makes me father shtay
    Or what can be th' reason that he's so long away?'
   'Oh, howld yer tongue, me darlin' son, yer tears do grieve me sore,
    I fear he has been murdhered in the fair av Turloughmore!'

"Sure, I haven't got the heart to dhrive the head av this monkey wrench into that bald shpot. If he'd hair there I wouldn't mind." Mr. Reardon sighed dismally. "I'll have to wrap a waddin' av waste around me weapon, so I'll neither kill nor mangle but lay thim out wit' wan good crack--

   "'It is on the firrst av August, the truth I will declare,
    Those people they assimbled that day all at the fair,
    But little was their notion that evil was in shtore,
    All by the bloody Peelers at the fair av Turloughmore.'

"I must practice crackin' the divils! Sure, 'twould be an awful thing to have the sin av murrder on me sowl--not that 'tis murrder to kill a Dutchman that's a self-confessed pirate into the bargain. Shtill, 'tis a terrible t'ought to carry to the grave--"

Wham! Mr. Reardon brought his padded wrench down on his defenseless bed. "Too harrd," he told himself. "Sure a blow like that on top av the head would knock out the teeth av the divil himself! Less horse-power, Terence!"

Wham! He tried it again, this time with better results. For five minutes he beat the bedclothes; then his spirits rose and, like the mercurial Celt that he was, he chanted blithely a verse from "The Night Before Larry Was Stretched":

   "'Though, sure 'tis the best way to die,
        Oh, the divil a betther a-livin'!
    For sure whin the gallows is high,
        Your journey is shorter to heaven;
    But what harasses Larry the most,
        An' makes his poor sowl melancholy,
    Is to think av the time whin his ghost
        Will come in a sheet to sweet Molly!
            Oh, sure, 'twill kill her alive!'"

He slipped the short, heavy monkey wrench up his right sleeve, walked out on deck and stood at the corner of the house, smoking placidly and gazing down on the main deck forward. The look-out on the forecastle head was not visible in the darkness, but Mr. Reardon was not worried about that. "For why," he argued to himself, "should I go lookin' for the skut whin if I wait a bit he'll come fluttherin' into me hand?"

He did. At five minutes after ten Mr. Schultz hailed the look-out in German, and although Mr. Reardon spoke no German, yet did he understand that order. Mr. Schultz, a victim of habit, desired the look-out to go to the galley and bring up some hot coffee for him and the helmsman. It was the custom aboard the Narcissus, as it is in most Pacific Coast boats, for the cook, just before retiring, to brew a pot of coffee, drain off the grounds and leave it to simmer on the galley range where, at intervals of two hours during the night, the watch could come and help itself.

Terence Reardon knew that the look-out, after heating the coffee and bringing a few cups up on the bridge, would return to the galley and partake of a cup and a bite himself.

The man came down off the forecastle head, crossed the main deck and disappeared in the galley. In about ten minutes Mr. Reardon saw him climb up the port companion to the bridge; a minute later he came down. Mr. Reardon waited until he was certain the fellow was sipping his coffee in the galley; then with the utmost nonchalance he went up on the bridge and hailed Mr. Schultz, who was standing amidships blowing on a cup of coffee.

"Begorra," he complained, "Divil a wink can I shleep to-night. I've been sittin' wit' the wireless operator all evenin', an' now, thinks I, he's weary listenin' to me nonsinse, so I'll go up on the bridge an' interview Misther Schultz. If I--be the Rock av Cashel! What was that?"

"Vot? Vere?" Mr. Schultz exclaimed, and set down his cup of coffee. He was all excitement, for he had been looking for the flash of a searchlight for the past hour and he wondered now if the unsuspecting Reardon had seen it first.

"Over that way." Mr. Reardon pointed off the port bow. "Did ye not see that light?"

"A light. Gott im Himmel!"

"Ye can't see it now," Mr. Reardon replied soothingly. He stepped round to the back of the mate and permitted his trusty monkey wrench to slip down into his hand. "But if ye continue to look in that direction, Misther Schultz, ye'll see not wan light but several."

"Donnerwetter! I gannot see dem," Mr. Schultz protested, wondering if there might not be some defect in his eyesight.

"Have no fear. Keep lookin' that way an' ye'll see thim," Mr. Reardon reassured him. "Ha-ha, ye divil!" he crooned--and struck.

"I'll gamble ye saw the lights I promised ye," he breathed into the ear of the unconscious mate as he deftly caught the falling body and eased it noiselessly to the deck to avoid calling the attention of the helmsman to the interesting tableau going on behind him. Quickly he gagged Mr. Schultz with a strip of canvas; then he tied his hands behind him and bound him at ankle and knee with the short lengths of signal halyard. As a final attention he "frisked" the mate and removed his keys and a heavy automatic pistol.

"Lie there now, me jewel," he said, and trotted out to the starboard end of the bridge, whistling shrilly "God Save the King." When the swift patter of feet along the deck warned him that the steward was coming, he walked back amidships and opened the little sliding trap in the roof of the pilot-house, which on the Narcissus was set just below the bridge. The quartermaster's head was directly beneath the trap. "Oh-ho, me laddybuck!" Mr. Reardon murmured, and dropped his padded monkey wrench on that defenseless head. Instantly the quartermaster staggered and hung limply to the wheel.

"Bad luck to me, I'll have to hit ye agin," Mr. Reardon complained --and did it. Then he slid through the trap into the pilot-house, steadied the wheel with one hand and unlocked the pilot-house door with the other to admit the steward.

"Strike me pink!" that astounded functionary exclaimed as he gazed at the quartermaster lying beside the wheel.

"I will--if ye don't take howld av this wheel an' do less talkln'," Mr. Reardon replied evenly. "Bring her round very slowly, me lad, an' in the intherval I'll wrap up me little Baby Bunting on the floor forninst ye."

When the quartermaster had been duly wrapped a la Mr. Schultz and dragged clear of the wheel, Mr. Reardon returned to the bridge and with brazen impudence set the handle of the marine telegraph over to full speed ahead. He hummed "Colleen Dhas Cruthin Amoe" as with a light heart he skipped down to the galley and found the look-out eating bread soaked in coffee. Mr. Reardon nodded and said "Good nicht, amigo" for his voyages had taken him to many ports and he was naturally quick at picking up foreign languages. The fellow, concluding Mr. Reardon desired a cup of coffee also, turned to the rack to get him a cup.

"How dare ye ate up the owners' groceries in this shameful manner?" Mr. Reardon demanded. "Do ye not get enough at mess that ye must be atin' between meals? Shame on you--"

One tap did the trick. "'Tis a black way to repay a kind t'ought," Mr. Reardon observed to his victim as he bound and gagged him; "but war is war, an' a faint heart an' a weak stomach never shtole a ship back from forty German pirates!"

He closed the galley door on the unfortunate look-out and climbed up on the boat deck to get Michael J. Murphy out of prison. Cautiously he unlocked the state-room door with the key taken from Mr. Schultz, and the skipper came forth. Mr. Reardon led him under an electric light and gazed upon him wonderingly.

"Begorra, Michael, me poor lad," he whispered, "be the look av the white face of you I'm thinkin' ye ought to be in bed instid av out raisin' ructions."

"I'm weak; I have a fever," Murphy replied. "Still, half that fever may be plain lunatic rage. Did you find a gun on the mate?"

"I did. Take it, Michael, I'll have nothin' to do wit' it."

The skipper grasped the weapon eagerly. "The ship is headed due west undher full speed," Terence explained, "an' the mate, the quarter-master an' the look-out have all received evidence av me affectionate regard. Next!"

"Von Staden. He kicked me and broke my ribs, Terence."

"Wit' the greatest joy in life, Michael. The skut's busy in the wireless room."

So they went to the wireless room. Von Staden was taking a message as they entered; at sound of their footsteps he turned carelessly and found himself looking down the muzzle of the captain's automatic.

"Will ye take it peaceably, ye gossoon, or must I brain ye wit' this monkey wrench?" Mr. Reardon queried fiercely.

"And take your hand off that key, you blackguard. No S O S," Murphy ordered.

The supercargo stared at them impudently. "This," he said presently, "is one of those inconceivable contingencies."

"Your early education was neglected, Dutchy. However, don't complain and say I didn't give you warning. Terence!"

"What is it, Michael?"

"All well-regulated ships carry a few sets of handcuffs and leg irons. If you will put your hand in my right hip pocket, Terence, lad, you'll find a pair for present emergencies. They were in my desk and I concluded to bring them along."

"An' a pious t'ought it was, Michael."

So they handcuffed Herr August Carl von Staden and gagged him, after which Mr. Reardon, leaving the skipper to guard his prisoner, ran round to his own room and got the two lengths of chain and the padlocks. When he returned, Michael J. Murphy kicked his unwelcome supercargo to the mate's store-room and Mr. Reardon locked him in among the paint pots, pipe, old iron and other odds and ends which accumulate in a mate's store-room.

They went next to the door of the forecastle. It was open--and, what was better, it opened inward. Also, it was of steel with a stout brass ring on the lock, this ring taking the place of what on a landsman's door would have been a knob.

Terence Reardon and Michael J. Murphy listened. From within came a medley of gentle sighs, snores and the slow, regular breathing of sleeping men. Softly Mr. Reardon closed the door, turned the ring until the latch caught, drew a section of chain through the ring in such a manner as to prevent the latch from being released, passed the ends of his chain round the steel handrail along the front of the forecastle and padlocked them there.

"Now, thin," Mr. Reardon announced, "that takes care av the carpenter, the bos'n, four seamen, two waiters an' the mess bhoy. Do ye wait here a minute, Michael, lad, whilst I run up on the bridge and give that unmintionable Schultz the wanst over."

The weak, half-dead Murphy sat down on the hatch coaming and waited. The chief was away about ten minutes and the captain was on the point of investigating when Mr. Reardon appeared.

"That unfortunate divil had come to, an' was lookin' an' feelin' cowld whin I wint up on the bridge," he explained, "so I wint to me room an' got a pair av blankets to wrap round him where he lay. It's wan thing to tap a man on the head, but 'tis another to let him catch his death av cowld."

Captain Murphy smiled. Ordinarily he would have laughed at the whimsical Terence, but he didn't have a good laugh left in him. His lung was hurting, so he suspected an abscess.

They returned to the boat deck, and with his rule Mr. Reardon carefully measured the exact distance between the ship's rail and the center of the doors of the state-rooms occupied by the mates and assistant engineers. This detail attended to, they went to the carpenter's little shop and cut two scantlings of a length to correspond to the measurements taken, and in addition Mr. Reardon prepared some thin cleats with countersunk holes for the insertion of screws. He worked very leisurely, and it was eleven o'clock when he had everything in readiness.

"There's nothin' to do now until midnight, whin the watch in the ingine room is changed," Mr. Reardon suggested, "so lave us go to the galley. Wan av me brave lads is in there, an' if he's not dead intirely, faith, I'm thinkin' I might injoy a cup av coffee!"

So they went to the galley and found the look-out glaring at them. He made inarticulate noises behind his gag, so Mr. Reardon, much relieved, found seats for each of them and poured coffee. Then he filled his pipe, crossed his right leg over his left knee and puffed away. He was the speaking likeness of Contentment. And well he might be.

The first assistant engineer had been driving the Narcissus for an hour at full speed at right angles to the course he believed she was pursuing. He would, being totally ignorant of the change of masters, continue to drive her at full speed until midnight, when he would come off watch, tired and sleepy, and go straight to his state-room. The second assistant would go direct from his state-room to duty in the engine-room and continue to drive the Narcissus at full speed until four o'clock, and inasmuch as it would be quite dark still when the third assistant came on at four o'clock to relieve the engineer on watch, there was not the slightest doubt in the minds of Murphy and the chief but that the deception could go on until breakfast. However, that would interfere with their plans. Long before that hour the men locked in the forecastle would have discovered their plight, and the noise of the discovery might reach below decks and bring up, to investigate, just a few more husky firemen and coal passers than even the redoubtable Terence Reardon could hope to cope with successfully.

"By four o'clock we'll be more than fifty miles off the course Schultz was holding her on," the captain suggested. "In all likelihood the German admiral wirelessed his last position and the course he was steering, and von Staden gave Schultz his course accordingly."

"Faith, we're not a moment too soon at that," Mr. Reardon replied. "Schultz was lookin' for searchlights whin I tapped him. Be the Toe Nails av Moses ye're right, Michael. We'll be so far off that course be daylight they won't even see our shmoke. D'ye think that little handful av bones, Riggins, can manage the wheel until we've claned up the ingine-room gang? We can relieve him wit' wan av the Chinamen then."

"Tell him he'll have to stick it out. And by the way, Terence, come to think of it, you had better run forward and remove the sidelights; then unscrew all of the incandescent lamps on deck until the contact is lost. You can screw them in again just before the watch is changed, so they won't suspect anything, and unscrew them again after we have the watch under lock and key. The fleet may be too far away to see our smoke by daylight, but they may be close enough to see our lights to-night! Tell Riggins to darken the pilot-house. The binnacle light is enough to keep him company."

"Thrue for ye," Terence replied, and hurried away to carry out Murphy's instructions.