A Rock in the Baltic by Robert Barr
Chapter XX. Arrival of the Turbine Yacht
Before Jack could fire, as perhaps he had intended to do, Drummond struck down his arm.
"None of that, Jack," he said. "The Russian in you has evidently been scratched, and the Tartar has come uppermost. The Governor gave a signal, I suppose?"
"Yes, he did, and those two have got away while I stood babbling here, feeling a sympathy for the old villain. That's his return current, eh?"
"He's not to blame," said Drummond. "It's our own fault entirely. The first thing to have done was to secure that boat."
"And everything worked so beautifully," moaned Jack, "up to this point, and one mistake ruins it. We are doomed, Alan."
"It isn't so bad as that, Jack," said the Englishman calmly. "Should those men reach the coast safely, as no doubt they will, it may cost Russia a bit of trouble to dislodge us."
"Why, hang it all," cried Jack, "they don't need to dislodge us. All they've got to do is to stand off and starve us out. They are not compelled to fire a gun or land a man."
"They'll have to starve their own men first. It's not likely we're going to go hungry and feed our prisoners."
"Oh, we don't mind a little thing like that, we Russians. They may send help, or they may not. Probably a cruiser will come within hailing distance and try to find out what the trouble is. Then it will lie off and wait till everybody's dead, and after that put in a new Governor and another garrison."
"You take too pessimistic a view, Jack. This isn't the season of the year for a cruiser to lie off in the Baltic. Winter is coming on. Most of the harbors in Finland will be ice-closed in a month, and there's no shelter hereabouts in a storm. They'll attack; probably open shell fire on us for a while, then attempt to land a storming party. That will be fun for us if you've got good rifles and plenty of ammunition."
Jack raised his head.
"Oh, we're well-equipped," he said, "if we only have enough to eat."
Springing to his feet, all dejection gone, he said to the Governor:
"Now, my friend, we're compelled to put you into a cell. I'm sorry to do this, but there is no other course open. Where is your larder, and what quantity of provisions have you in stock?"
A gloomy smile added to the dejection of the old man's countenance.
"You must find that out for yourself," he said.
"Are the soldiers upstairs well supplied with food?"
"I will not answer any of your questions."
"Oh, very well. I see you are determined to go hungry yourself. Until I am satisfied that there is more than sufficient for my friend and me, no prisoner in my charge gets anything to eat. That's the sort of gaoler I am. The stubborn old beast!" he cried in English, turning to Drummond, "won't answer my questions."
"What were you asking him?"
"I want to know about the stock of provisions."
"It's quite unnecessary to ask about the grub: there's sure to be ample."
"Why? Because we have reached the beginning of winter, as I said before. There must be months when no boat can land at this rock. It's bound to be provisioned for several months ahead at the very lowest calculation. Now, the first thing to do is to put this ancient Johnny in his little cell, then I'll tell you where our chief danger lies."
The Governor made neither protest nor complaint, but walked into Number Nine, and was locked up.
"Now, Johnny, my boy," said Drummond, "our anxiety is the soldiers. The moment they find they are locked in they will blow those two doors open in just about half a jiffy. We can, of course, by sitting in front of the lower door night and day, pick off the first four or five who come down, but if the rest make a rush we are bound to be overpowered. They have, presumably, plenty of powder, probably some live shells, petards, and what-not, that will make short work even of those oaken doors. What do you propose to do?"
"I propose," said Jack, "to fill their crooked stairway with cement. There are bags and bags of it in the armory."
The necessity for this was prevented by an odd circumstance. The two young men were seated in the Governor's room, when at his table a telephone bell rang. Jack had not noticed this instrument, and now took up the receiver.
"Hello, Governor," said a voice, "your fool of a gaoler has bolted the stairway door, and we can't open it."
"Oh, I beg pardon," replied Jack, in whatever imitation of the Governor's voice he could assume. "I'll see to it at once myself."
He hung up the receiver and told his comrade what had happened.
"One or both of these officers are coming down. If we get the officers safely into a cell, there will be nobody to command the men, and it is more than likely that the officers carry the keys of the powder room. I'll turn out the electric lamps in the hall, and light the lantern. You be ready at the foot of the stairway to fire if they make the slightest resistance."
The two officers came down the circular stairway, grumbling at the delay to which they had been put. Lermontoff took advantage of the clamping of their heavy boots in the echoing stairway to shove in the bolts once more, and then followed them, himself followed by Drummond, into the Governor's room. Switching on the electric light, he said:
"Gentlemen, I am Prince Lermontoff, in temporary charge of this prison. The Governor is under arrest, and I regret that I must demand your swords, although I have every reason to believe that they will be handed back to you within a very few days after I have completed my investigations."
The officers were too much accustomed to sudden changes in command to see anything odd in this turn of affairs. Lermontoff spoke with a quiet dignity that was very convincing, and the language he used was that of the nobility. The two officers handed him their swords without a word of protest.
"I must ask you whether you have yet received your winter supply of food."
"Oh, yes," said the senior officer, "we had that nearly a month ago."
"Is it stored in the military portion of the rock, or below here?"
"Our rations are packed away in a room upstairs."
"I am sorry, gentlemen, that I must put you into cells until my mission is accomplished. If you will write a requisition for such rations as you are accustomed to receive, I shall see that you are supplied. Meanwhile, write also an order to whomsoever you entrust in command of the men during your absence, to grant no one leave to come downstairs, and ask him to take care that each soldier is rigidly restricted to the minimum quantity of vodka."
The senior officer sat down at the table, and wrote the two orders. The men were then placed in adjoining cells, without the thought of resistance even occurring to them. They supposed there had been some changes at headquarters, and were rather relieved to have the assurance of the Prince that their arrest would prove temporary. Further investigation showed that there would be no danger of starvation for six months at least.
Next day Jack, at great risk of his neck, scaled to the apex of the island, as he had thought of flying, if possible, a signal of distress that might attract some passing vessel. But even though he reached the sharp ridge, he saw at once that no pole could be erected there, not even if he possessed one. The wind aloft was terrific, and he gazed around him at an empty sea.
When four days had passed they began to look for the Russian relief boat, which they knew would set out the moment the Governor's telegram reached St. Petersburg.
On the fifth day Jack shouted down to Drummond, who was standing by the door.
"The Russian is coming: heading direct for us. She's in a hurry, too, crowding on all steam, and eating up the distance like a torpedo-boat destroyer. I think it's a cruiser. It's not the old tub I came on, anyway."
"Come down, then," answered Alan, "and we--"
A cry from above interrupted him. Jack, having at first glance spied the vessel whose description he had shouted to Drummond, had now turned his eyes eastward and stood staring aghast toward the sunrise.
"What's the matter?" asked Alan.
"Matter?" echoed Jack. "They must be sending the whole Russian Navy here in detachments to capture our unworthy selves. There's a second boat coming from the east-- nearer by two miles than the yacht. If I hadn't been all taken up with the other from the moment I climbed here I'd have seen her before."
"Is she a yacht, too?"
"No. Looks like a passenger tramp. Dirty and--"
"No. She's got guns on her--"
"Merchantman fitted out for privateersman, probably. That's the sort of craft Russia would be likeliest to send to a secret prison like this. What flag does--"
"No flag at all. Neither of them. They're both making for the rock, full steam, and from opposite sides. Neither can see the other, I suppose. I--"
"From opposite sides? That doesn't look like a joint expedition. One of those ships isn't Russian. But which?"
Jack had clambered down and stood by Alan's side.
"We must make ready for defense in either case," he said. "In a few minutes we'll be able to see them both from the platform below."
"One of those boats means to blow us out of existence if it can," mused Jack. "The other cannot know of our existence. And yet, if she doesn't, what is she doing here, headed for the rock?"
With that Jack scrambled, slid and jumped down. Drummond was very quiet and serious. Repeating rifles stood in a row on the opposite wall, easy to get at, but as far off as might be from the effects of a possible shell. The two young men now mounted the stone bench by the door, which allowed them to look over the ledge at the eastern sea. Presently the craft appeared round the end of the island, pure white, floating like a swan on the water, and making great headway.
"By Jove!" said Jack, "she's a fine one. Looks like the Czar's yacht, but no Russian vessel I know of can make that speed."
"She's got the ear-marks of Thornycroft build about her," commented Drummond. "By Jove, Jack, what luck if she should prove to be English. No flag flying, though."
"She's heading for us," said Jack, "and apparently she knows which side the cannon is on. If she's Russian, they've taken it for granted we've captured the whole place, and are in command of the guns. There, she's turning."
The steamer was abreast of the rock, and perhaps three miles distant. Now she swept a long, graceful curve westward and drew up about half a mile east of the rock.
"Jove, I wish I'd a pair of good glasses," said Drummond. "They're lowering a boat."
Jack showed more Highland excitement than Russian stolidity, as he watched the oncoming of a small boat, beautifully riding the waves, and masterfully rowed by sailors who understood the art. Drummond stood imperturbable as a statue.
"The sweep of those oars is English, Jack, my boy."
As the boat came nearer and nearer Jack became more and more agitated.
"I say, Alan, focus your eyes on that man at the rudder. I think my sight's failing me. Look closely. Did you ever see him before?"
"I think I have, but am not quite sure."
"Why, he looks to me like my jovial and venerable father-in-law, Captain Kempt, of Bar Harbor. Perfectly absurd, of course: it can't be."
"He does resemble the Captain, but I only saw him once or twice."
"Hooray, Captain Kempt, how are you?" shouted Jack across the waters.
The Captain raised his right hand and waved it, but made no attempt to cover the distance with his voice. Jack ran pell-mell down the steps, and Drummond followed in more leisurely fashion. The boat swung round to the landing, and Captain Kempt cried cordially:
"Hello, Prince, how are you? And that's Lieutenant Drummond, isn't it? Last time I had the pleasure of seeing you, Drummond, was that night of the ball."
"Yes," said Drummond. "I was very glad to see you then, but a hundred times happier to see you to-day."
"I was just cruising round these waters in my yacht, and I thought I'd take a look at this rock you tried to obliterate. I don't see any perceptible damage done, but what can you expect from British marksmanship?"
"I struck the rock on the other side, Captain. I think your remark is unkind, especially as I've just been praising the watermanship of your men."
"Now, are you boys tired of this summer resort?" asked Captain Kempt. "Is your baggage checked, and are you ready to go? Most seaside places are deserted this time of year."
"We'll be ready in a moment, captain," cried his future son-in-law. "I must run up and get the Governor. We've put a number of men in prison here, and they'll starve if not released. The Governor's a good old chap, though he played it low down on me a few days ago," and with that Jack disappeared up the stairway once more.
"Had a gaol-delivery here?" asked the Captain.
"Well, something by way of that. The Prince drilled a hole in the rock, and we got out. We've put the garrison in pawn, so to speak, but I've been mighty anxious these last few days because the sail-boat they had here, and two of the garrison, escaped to the mainland with the news. We were anxiously watching your yacht, fearing it was Russian. Jack thought it was the Czar's yacht. How came you by such a craft, Captain? Splendid-looking boat that."
"Oh, yes, I bought her a few days before I left New York. One likes to travel comfortably, you know. Very well fitted up she is."
Jack shouted from the doorway:
"Drummond, come up here and fling overboard these loaded rifles. We can't take any more chances. I'm going to lock up the ammunition room and take the key with me as a souvenir."
"Excuse me, Captain," said Drummond, who followed his friend, and presently bundles of rifles came clattering down the side of the precipice, plunging into the sea. The two then descended the steps, Jack in front, Drummond following with the Governor between them.
"Now, Governor," said Jack, "for the second time I am to bid you farewell. Here are the keys. If you accept them you must give me your word of honor that the boat will not be fired upon. If you do not promise that, I'll drop the bunch into the sea, and on your gray head be the consequences."
"I give you my word of honor that you shall not be fired upon."
"Very well, Governor. Here are the keys, and good-by."
In the flurry of excitement over the yacht's appearance, both Jack and Drummond had temporarily forgotten the existence of the tramp steamer the former had seen beating toward the rock.
Now Lamont suddenly recalled it.
"By the way, Governor," he said, "the relief boat you so thoughtfully sent for is on her way here. She should reach the rock at almost any minute now. In fact, I fancy we've little time to waste if we want to avoid a brush. It would be a pity to be nabbed now at the eleventh hour. Good-by, once more."
But the Governor had stepped between him and the boat.
"I-- I am an old man," he said, speaking with manifest embarrassment. "I was sent to take charge of this prison as punishment for refusing to join a Jew massacre plot. Governorship here means no more nor less than a life imprisonment. My wife and children are on a little estate of mine in Sweden. It is twelve years since I have seen them. I--"
"If this story is a ruse to detain us--"
"No! No!" protested the Governor, and there was no mistaking his pathetic, eager sincerity. "But-- but I shall be shot-- or locked in one of the cells and the water turned on-- for letting you escape. Won't you take me with you? I will work my passage. Take me as far as Stockholm. I shall be free there-- free to join my wife and to live forever out of reach of the Grand Dukes. Take me--"
"Jump in!" ordered Jack, coming to a sudden resolution. "Heaven knows I would not condemn my worst enemy to a perpetual life on this rock. And you've been pretty decent to us, according to your lights. Jump aboard, we've no time to waste."
Nor did the Governor waste time in obeying. The others followed, and the boat shoved off. But scarcely had the oars caught the water when around the promontory came a large man-o'-war's launch, a rapid-fire gun mounted on her bows. She was manned by about twenty men in Russian police uniform.
"From the 'tramp,'" commented Alan excitedly. "And her gun is trained on us."
"Get down to work!" shouted Jack to the straining oarsmen.
"No use!" groaned Kempt. "She'll cross within a hundred yards of us. There's no missing at such close range and on such a quiet sea. What a fool I was to--"
The launch was, indeed, bearing down on them despite the rowers' best efforts, and must unquestionably cut them off before they could reach the yacht.
Alan drew his revolver.
"We've no earthly show against her," he remarked quietly, "and it seems hard to 'go down in sight of port.' But let's do what we can."
"Put up that pop-gun," ordered Kempt. "She will sink us long before you're in range for revolver work. I'll run up my handkerchief for a white flag."
"What else can we do?"
"And be lugged back to the rock, all of us? Not I, for one!"
The launch was now within hailing distance, and every man aboard her was glaring at the helpless little yacht-gig.
It was the Governor who spoke. Rising from his seat in the stern, he hailed the officer who was sighting the rapid-fire gun.
"Lieutenant Tschersky!" he called.
At sight of the old man's lean, uniformed figure, rising from among the rest, there was visible excitement and surprise aboard the launch. The officer saluted and ordered the engine stopped that he might hear more plainly.
"Lieutenant," repeated the Governor, "I am summoned aboard His Highness the Grand Duke Vladimir's yacht. You will proceed to the harbor and await my return to the rock. There has been a mutiny among the garrison, but I have quelled it."
The officer saluted again, gave an order, and the launch's nose pointed for the rock.
"Governor," observed Lamont, as the old man sank again into his seat, "you've earned your passage to Stockholm. You need not work for it."