Chapter LIII
 

For the first time in his life Cappy Ricks was in financial and physical danger coincidently. Old he was, and a landlubber, for all his courtesy title; but in his veins there coursed the blood of a long line of fighting ancestors. It occurred to him now that in all his life he had never cried "Enough;" that always, when cornered and presumably beaten, he had gone into executive session with himself and, fox that he was, schemed a way out. In this supreme moment there came to him now the words of the gallant Lawrence: "Don't give up the ship!" They inspired him; his agile old brain, benumbed by the shock of the exciting events of the last quarter of an hour, threw off its paralysis; his little five-feet-four body thrilled with the impact of a sudden brilliant idea.

"I have it!" he piped. "By the Holy Pink-Toed Prophet, it might be done! Mike, the submarine lies to starboard. Tell the mate to lower the port gangway."

Murphy ran out on the end of the bridge and bawled the order. Then he came back, and he and Terence and Cappy Ricks put their heads together while in brief, illuminating sentences Cappy Ricks unfolded the fruit of his genius.

"Tell me," he pleaded when he had finished, "is that scheme practicable?"

"It might be done, sir," Mike Murphy assented.

"I'll thry anything the wanst," Terry Reardon almost barked.

"It means some fighting--probably some killing."

"Sorra wan av me'll feel broken-hearted at killin' the likes av that Dutchman," Terry answered. "Shtill, we'll be needin' some help, I'm thinkin'."

"We'll get it, or I'm no judge of human nature. Mike, pass the word for Sam Daniels, the boss of muleteers and broncho busters. Sam used to be a Texas Ranger."

Accordingly Sam Daniels was sent for and arrived on the jump.

"Sam, my dear boy," said Cappy calmly, "I'm enlisting volunteers to raise hell with that submarine. They're going to put bombs in the bilges and blow up the ship."

"Count me in, Cap," Sam Daniels replied laconically. "Want me to rustle up a couple of the boys?"

"Yes, about three real ones--boys that are handy with a six-shooter."

"I guess most of the boys from the border have their guns in their war bags. I'll go get them together."

He did--in about three minutes; by which time the collapsible boat from the submarine had been launched and was pulling toward the Narcissus. While her master directed them to pull round to the port gangway, Sam Daniels slipped down unobserved into Number Three hatch, two of his horse wranglers disappeared with an equal lack of ostentation down the gangway into Number Two hatch, and a third man went forward and down Number One. The trap was set.

A stout young lieutenant clad in soiled dungarees, his uniform cap alone denoting his rank, came briskly up the companion, followed by four jackies carrying the bombs. A fifth man remained in the boat, fending it away with a boat hook from the tall black side of the Narcissus.

"Who commands here?" the German demanded in most excellent English.

"I do," the master of the Narcissus replied, and stepped a pace forward.

"Then hurry and get your boats overside. We're going to bomb the ship, and if anybody remains aboard when those bombs explode it will be his fault, not ours."

The motor cruiser had already been dropped overboard, and the life-boats, having been for two days swung out in the davits, were quickly filled and lowered away. As each boat pulled clear of the ship the man in charge of it was ordered by the submarine lieutenant to stay to port of the Narcissus, and to pull well clear of the ship before proceeding to pass the towing painters to the cruiser.

"Are all your men off the ship?" the officer queried of the skipper as the latter entered the last boat and gave the order to lower away.

"All off; I've accounted for all of them," was the answer.

The German waited until the boat had slipped away in the gloom before turning to his command.

"Proceed!" he said briefly; and, followed by his four men, he led the way down the cleated temporary gangway built diagonally down Number Three hatch to accommodate the horses when they had been led aboard.

The better to facilitate their progress, Terence Reardon had turned on all the electric lights in the ship, and the detail proceeded quickly to the lower hold, where they set two bombs and piled double-compressed baled hay round them, with the fuse leading out from under the bales. In addition to blowing a hole in the ship they were taking the added precaution of setting her afire after the explosion.

From the spot where the bombs were set a long alleyway, lined on each side with the rumps of horses, each neatly boxed in a stall just wide enough and long enough to inclose him firmly and hold him on his feet in the event of rough weather, led forward and aft to the bulkheads. And in one of these stalls, close up against the rump of a horse he could trust, Sam Daniels, the ex-Texas Ranger, crouched, with one eye round the corner of the stall, calmly watching the grim proceedings. Something told him that, having arranged the bombs in that hold, the enemy would not light the fuses until he had set similar bombs at the bottom of the other hatches; then, all being in readiness, a man would be sent into each hold to light the fuse, scurry on deck, descend to the waiting boat, and be pulled clear of danger before the fuses should burn down to the fulminating caps.

So Daniels waited until the men were about to pick up the remaining bombs and ascend to the deck; whereupon he stepped quietly out into the alleyway, a long-barreled forty-five in his hand, and pussyfooted swiftly toward the Germans, whose backs were now turned toward him. Halfway down the alleyway, on one of the heavy six-by-six-inch uprights temporarily set in to support the weight of the hundred mules on the deck above, was the electric switch controlling the circuit in that hold--and Sam Daniels reached up and turned it down. Instantly the hold was in darkness; and then the horseman spoke:

"Hey, you Dutchies! Stay right where you are! I want to have a little powwow with you before you go any farther."

Having said this, the astute Mr. Daniels, out of a vast experience gained while fighting Mexicans and outlaws in the dark, promptly lay down. In case the enemy should become rattled and fire at the sound of his voice he preferred to have plenty of room for the bullets to pass over him.

"Who's there?" the lieutenant demanded in English; and by the firm, resolute voice the Texan knew that the German was not rattled and that his men would not fire unless he gave the word.

"Great thing, this naval discipline!" Mr. Daniels soliloquized. Aloud he replied:

"The fastest, straightest little wing shot with a six shooter that ever was, old-timer!"

"What do you purpose doing, my friend?"

"I purpose giving you some good advice; though whether you accept it or not is a matter of indifference to me. You will observe that this hold is in comparative darkness. I say comparative, because through the hatch space a certain amount of light is projected from the deck above, and you and your men are standing in that light, whereas I am in the dark. I can see you and you cannot see me. I have a forty-five caliber revolver in my hand and another in reserve. There are five of you fellows, constituting a fair target--and I seldom miss a fair target. I can kill all five of you in five seconds. Of course some of you may manage to fire at the flash of my gun and accidentally kill me; but--make no mistake about it, son--I'll get you and your gang before I kick the bucket. Now, then, which do you want to do--live or die? I'm going to be fair to you fellows and give you some choice in the matter--which is more than you did when you launched those two torpedoes at us. Speak up, brother! I'm a nervous man and dislike suspense."

The German lieutenant glanced at his men, who had not yet touched the other bombs and were looking stolidly at him for orders. He licked his lower lip and scowled, sighed gustily--and made a swift grab for his automatic. A streak of flame came out of the dark alleyway and the German's arm hung limp at his side. He had a bullet in his shoulder.

"Told you I was a wing shot!" the plainsman cautioned him pleasantly. "I would have put that one through your heart if I didn't need an interpreter. I imagine these roustabouts with you only speak their mother tongue."

"What do you want me to do?"

"Well, first, I want you to leave that high explosive right where it is. Then I want you to deposit all your sidearms on the floor, and have your men do likewise."

The German had had his lesson and arrived at the conclusion that valor without discretion is not good business. He slipped his belt off and let it drop to the floor; at a word from him his men did likewise, whereupon Daniels stood up, threw on the electric switch, and revealed himself and his artillery to the gaze of the invaders.

"Forward; in a bunch, up the gangway!" he ordered.

They obeyed. As the Texan passed the little heap of belts, with the automatics in the holsters attached, he gathered them up and followed. Just before the procession reached the main deck he halted them and whistled--whereupon Michael J. Murphy, Terence P. Reardon and Cappy Ricks came to the edge of the hatch and peered over.

"Well, look who's here!" Cappy exclaimed maliciously. "Five nice little pirates, who would sink my Narcissus without so much as a be-damned to you! Mike, bring the irons. Terence, my boy, restrain yourself. If you use that monkey wrench until I give the word the Blue Star Navigation Company will have a new port engineer. Undress these fellows. Just remove their caps and outer garments--and be quick about it."

"Tell them to molt--muy pronto!" Sam Daniels ordered the lieutenant, who relayed the order in a voice that had in it a suspicion of tears.

In three minutes they were undressed and handcuffed together; leg irons were put on them, and they were expeditiously gagged and chained to a stanchion.

"Now then, Terence, I have work for you and your monkey wrench," Cappy continued. "You're about the same size as this officer. Into his dungarees and uniform cap; and don't forget to slip on his belt, with the automatic."

"In two shakes av a lamb's tail, sor. What next?"

"As you run down the gangway to the waiting boat, hold your handkerchief over that Irish mug of yours. Pretend you're blowing your nose. The man in the boat won't recognize you until you're on top of him."

"Wan little love tap--no more!" Terence breathed lovingly.

"When Terence has tapped him, Sam," Cappy continued, "you go down and help to get him out on the landing stage. He'll be off our hands there and the submarine people cannot see what's happened to him. They're still lying on our starboard beam."

Terence and the deadly Samuel disappeared, to return presently and report all well. Thereupon Michael J. Murphy retired to the port side of the house, lit a kerosene torch he had brought up from the engine room and waved it. He waited. Presently, in the gloom off to port, he saw the red and green side lights of the little cruiser. For a moment both lights were visible; then the master of the Narcissus, now in charge of the cruiser, ported his helm and showed his red only. Murphy waited, and presently both red and green showed again.

"Starboard now, and show your green," Murphy pleaded.

The red went out and the green alone showed; so Mike Murphy extinguished his torch and rejoined Cappy Ricks, Terence and the ubiquitous Mr. Daniels.

"Sam, my dear boy," Cappy was saying as Murphy came up, "Mike and Terence own in the Narcissus and they work for me--hence their alliance. You owe me no fealty--"

"The hell I don't, Cap!" Sam retorted lightly. "You're a fine old sport, and I'm for you till the last dog is hung."

"Sam, I am deeply grateful. Your friendship is very dear to me indeed. I have a twenty-two-thousand acre ranch down in Monterey County, California--don't know why I bought it, unless it was because it was a bargain and ranch property in California is bound to increase in value--and you're my foreman if we ever get out of this with a whole skin. I'll make it the best job you ever had, Sam."

"Thank you, Mr. Ricks!" A moment before it had been Cap. "If you never saw a man fight for a good job before, just watch me!"