Chapter XIX

Michael J. Murphy had two shots left in his automatic, and he was saving those for daylight and Mr. Henckel's rush, when a searchlight came nickering and feeling its way across the dark waters. Slowly, slowly it lifted and rested on the big blunt bows of the Narcissus, hovered there a few seconds and came slowly aft, and as it lighted up the main deck Mr. Henckel rose from behind the hatch-coaming.

"_Deutschland uber Alles!" he yelled joyously--and rushed.

Terence Reardon, having pounded his firemen into insensibility, had crept down the port alleyway, and, unknown to Captain Murphy and Mr. Henckel, he had, from the opposite side of the deck, watched the flashes of their pistols as they fired at each other.

"I'll have to flank that fella an' put a shtop to this nonsense," Mr. Reardon decided presently, and forthwith crept across the deck on his hands and knees until he reached the hatch-coaming. Mr. Henckel lurked just round the other corner of the coaming, so close Mr. Reardon could hear him breathing. And there the crafty chief had waited until Mr. Henckel rose for his charge--whereupon Mr. Reardon rose also.

"Ireland upper always, ye vagabone!" he yelled, and launched himself at Mr. Henckel's knees. It was a perfect tackle and the second mate went down heavily.

In an emergency such as the present all Terence Reardon asked was good fighting light. Fighting in the dark distressed him, he discovered, for while polishing off the fireman in the black alleyway he had missed one punch at the fellow's head, and had been reminded to his sorrow and the ruin of his knuckles, that the deck of the Narcissus was of good Norway pine. However, H.M.S. Panther was scarcely three cable lengths distant now, and the officer on her flying bridge could see that some sort of a jolly row was in progress on the deck of the Narcissus; so he kept the searchlight on the combatants while Mr. Reardon bent Mr. Henckel's back over the hatch-coaming, took his automatic away from him, and proceeded to take a cast of the mate's features in the vulcanite butt of the weapon. And vulcanite is far from soft!

When Terence Reardon had completed his self-appointed task he stood up, hitched his dungarees, spat blood on the deck, and stood waving from side to side like a dancing bear. His face was unrecognizable; his dungarees, so neat and clean when he donned them the night before, were now one vast smear of red, and he grinned horribly, for he was war mad!

"Next!" he croaked, and turned to the master for orders.

But Michael Joseph Murphy was out of the fight. He lay prone on the deck, conscious but helpless, and because his broken rib was tickling his lung the froth on his lips bore a little tinge of pink. Only his eyes moved--and they smiled at Terence Reardon as the triumphant exiles of Erin faced each other.

Terence Reardon turned and shook his battered fists full into the rays of the searchlight. He was magnificent for one brief instant; then the war-madness left him, and again he was plain, faithful, whimsical, capable, honest Terence P. Reardon, chief engineer of the S.S. Narcissus, who considered it a pleasure to discourse on the fairies when he had nothing more important to do. Now that the fight was over and the German fleet had overhauled them at last, he had time to think of Mrs. Reardon and the children and his best job gone for ever--tossed into the discard with his honor as a faithful servant.

He sat down very suddenly on the hatch-coaming and covered his terrible face with his terrible hands.

"Ah, Norah! Norah!" he cried--and sobbed as if his heart must break.