Chapter XVII
 

At twelve o'clock the second assistant engineer, hurrying along the deck to relieve the first assistant on watch, found Mr. Reardon leaning over the rail meditatively puffing his old briar pipe. In answer to the former's query as to what kept the chief up so late, the latter replied that he was burning sulphur in his room to kill bedbugs.

"The good Lord forgive me the lie," he prayed when a few minutes later he was called upon by the first assistant, hurrying off watch, to repeat the same tale.

The first assistant and his watch had a shower-bath and turned in. They were not interested in the workings of the deck department in the dark; they could not know that the vessel's course had been changed; they thought only of getting to sleep. Mr. Reardon waited until one-thirty A. M. to provide against possible sleepless ones, and then crept aft on velvet feet. The Narcissus had very commodious quarters in her stern, where her coolie crew had been housed in the days when she ran in the China trade; and when the Blue Star Navigation Company took her over these quarters had been fitted up to accommodate the engine room crew. In the same manner, therefore, that he had imprisoned the men of the deck department in the forecastle, Mr. Reardon now proceeded to imprison the men of the engine department in the sterncastle. This delicate mission accomplished, he went up top-side and measured the diameter of the ventilators, in order to make certain that the thinnest of his German canaries could not fly the cage via that difficult route. Having satisfied himself that he had no need to worry on this score, he made his way forward again.

"Well, Michael, me poor lad," he announced as he rejoined the skipper, "I'll tell you wan thing--an' it isn't two. The crew av the Narcissus off watch at this minute will never come on watch ag'in--in the Narcissus."

The skipper smiled wanly. "I'm sorry you must take all the risks and do all the work, Terence," he replied.

"Gwan wit' ye, Michael. Sure if I had a head on me like you, an' a college edication in back av that ag'in, I'd be out playin' golf this minute wit' Andhrew Carnegie an' Jawn D. Rockefeller--ayther that, or I'd have been hung for walkin' away wit' the Treasury Buildin'."

They discussed the remaining details of that portion of the ship cleaning still before them. "Remember, Terence," Mike Murphy warned the chief, "when the blow-off comes at four o'clock and the uproar commences fore and aft, we have the means to keep them quiet. I'll go forward and you go aft. When we threaten to throw burning sulphur down the ventilators and suffocate them, they'll sing soft and low!"

Mr. Reardon chuckled. "An' Schultz t'ought I was afther bedbugs whin I asked the shteward for the sulphur," he replied. "Shtill an' all, Michael," he added, a trifle wistfully, "I could wish for a bit more excitement, considerin' the size av the job."

"Don't worry, Terry, you may get it yet. I'm dizzy and weak, chief; I'm fearful I'll not be able to last out the night--and these Germans are desperate. Suppose we go forward now, while I'm able, and awaken Mr. Henckel. It's high time he relieved Mr. Schultz, and he'll be waking naturally if we let him oversleep much longer."

The subjugation of Mr. Henckel was accomplished without the slightest excitement or bloodshed. Mr. Reardon rapped at his door and Mr. Henckel replied sleepily in German. The skipper and the chief merely lurked, one on each side of his state-room door, until he stepped briskly out; whereupon the captain jabbed him with the gun while Mr. Reardon shook the monkey wrench under his nose. Indeed, Mr. Reardon had the gag in the second mate's mouth even while it hung open in surprise. They bound him hand and foot, and Mr. Reardon picked him up and tucked him gently in his berth, for, as the chief remarked to him, he was as safe there as anywhere and far more comfortable, although Mike Murphy objected and was for putting him in the mate's store-room with von Staden, whom they had put in the dirtiest and most unwholesome spot aboard the Narcissus, for two reasons: In the first place, he had kicked Michael J. Murphy and shot him through the shoulder; and in the second place, he was the cleanest German and the most wholesome pirate they had ever seen, and they figured the contrast would annoy him. Mr. Reardon, however, objected to this plan. He argued that von Staden would be glad of Mr. Henckel's company, and was it not their original intention to keep that laddybuck von Staden in solitary confinement? It was. They closed the state-room door on Mr. Henckel, and left him to meditate on his sins while they repaired to the carpenter's little shop, to return to the boat deck presently with the scantlings and cleats Mr. Reardon had prepared.

With the scantling the chief shored up the doors to the state-room occupied respectively at the time by the first and third assistant engineers; then he screwed the cleats into place at top and bottom, so the scantling could not slip. Not for worlds would he have used a hammer to nail them into place, for that would have spoiled the surprise for the objects of his attentions. Throughout the entire operation he was as silent as a burglar, although by way of additional precaution the captain stood by with drawn pistol.

"Now thin, Michael," Mr. Reardon whispered as they pussy-footed away, "there are six fine Germans below in the ingine room, an' two Irishmen an' half an Englishman on deck. The Chinee cooks don't count, for sure the poor heathens would only get excited and turrn somebody loose if we asked them to do anything desperate. And, as ye know, wan good Irishman--and bad luck to the man that says I am not that--can keep a hundhred Germans from comin' up out av that ingine room. Go to yer bed, Michael, an' lie down until I call ye."

"Better take this automatic," Murphy suggested, and showed him how to use it.

But Mr. Reardon resolutely refused to abandon his monkey wrench, although he consented to carry the automatic to Riggins in the pilot-house. The estimable Riggins had been steering a somewhat erratic course, for he found it impossible to keep his eye on the lubber's mark while the bound quartermaster glared balefully at him from the floor. Indeed Riggins had been pondering his fate should that husky Teuton ever get the upper hand again; hence, when he found himself in a state of preparedness and was informed that he must stick by the wheel until relieved, the prospect did not awe him in the least. The present odds were counterbalanced by the strategic position held by the minority, and Riggins was content.

On his way back to his state-room, there to rest until the final call to arms, Michael J. Murphy concluded it would be well to search the quarters of the second mate and Herr von Staden for contraband of war. So he did, with the result that he unearthed in von Staden's room the rifle and revolver which belonged to the Narcissus, and under the second mate's pillow he found another automatic pistol. He confiscated all three weapons by right of discovery, and hid the rifle in the galley, the last place anybody would think of looking for it.

In the meantime Mr. Reardon proceeded further to strengthen his position by closing the port entrance to the engine room and shoring up the door with a stout scantling, cleated at top and bottom to hold it securely in place. Then he donned Mr. Schultz's heavy watchcoat, dragged round from the lee of the house the upholstered easy-chair Mrs. Reardon had insisted upon his taking to sea with him for use in his leisure moments, placed this chair on deck just outside the starboard entrance to the engine room, loaded his pipe, laid his trusty monkey wrench across his knee and gave himself up to the contemplation of this riot we call life. He resembled a cat watching beside a gopher hole. By half-past three o'clock he had finished figuring out approximately the amount of money Mrs. Reardon would have in the Hibernia Bank at the end of five years--figuring on a monthly saving of fifty dollars and interest compounded at the rate of four per cent. So, having satisfied himself that Johnny would yet be a lawyer and the girls learn to play the piano, Mr. Reardon heaved a sigh and reluctantly went to call Michael J. Murphy for the final accounting.