Jack Grey, Second Mate/Chapter X
The night had come. The second mate, the upper portion of his face swathed in wrappings, was seated on the sea-chest below his bunk. The girl was sitting by him, and their right hands were clasped.
The crack along the edge of the door had been stuffed up with a strip of blanket. Upon the edge of the table was stuck a tiny fragment of candle, and by the light of this she was reading slowly the betrothing passage from the Solemnization of Matrimony--that in which the man plights his troth. The second mate was repeating the words after her.
Presently they had made an end, and the girl slipped her hand gently from his; then, taking hold of his in turn, she read in a firm voice that passage in which the woman gives her troth. At the end, she released the second mate's hand and drew a ring from off one of her fingers. This she put gently into his hand. Then having given him her left, he slid the ring on her third finger, repeating themeanwhile, after her, the passage which she whispered to him.
And after that they sat a while, too full of thought for speech.
Presently the candle went out abruptly, and the two were alone in the darkness.
From the deck beyond the door came an occasional mutter of speech, an occasional padding of feet and an occasional creaking of gear, and the two within sat and waited.
Toward midnight the moon rose and limned the outline of the door in pale light. Presently the girl spoke.
"The moon has risen, Jack."
She rose from his side and moved to the door. Perhaps she might be able to see what the crew were busied at. Abruptly, as she stooped forward to peer, something struck the door a tremendous blow, filling the interior of the house with a deafening, hollow boom. She cried out in fear, and even as she cried came the second blow and the crack of a breaking rivet.
She realized that the attack had begun, and groped a moment for the matches. She struck one and examined the door. To the casual glance it was unharmed; but by the light of the third match she made out that a rivet in the bottom hinge was snapped. By this, a dozen blows had been dealt, and yet, from the second mate, seated upon the sea-chest, no sound.
All at once he spoke.
"Come here, Mary."
She came to him quickly, wondering, half-consciously, at the strange harshness of his tone. By the light of the match which she carried, she saw that he had in his hand the revolver.
"It's no good, Jack," she said despairingly, thinking he had a mind that she should use it in their defense. "There are no cartridges!"
"I kept--one," he said with a jerk, and still in that unnatural voice.
He reached out his left hand to her. And at that she comprehended, and comprehending shrank back with a little wail.
"O-o-h! O-o-h! Jack!" she sobbed, with a sudden plumbing of the abyss of mortal terror.
There came a louder crash on the door, and then the second mate's voice.
She went up to him, quivering.
"Not yet, Jack! Not yet!"
He put his left arm round her.
"Mary!" he said, and the fierce agony which possessed him spoke out in his voice. "Tell me when the door begins to go!"
And she knew that the time of the door's standing was the span of her life.
At each ringing thud of the ram she could feel the place quiver. By now it had become a steady, almost rhythmic boom, boom, boom, which, as a rivet gave, blent into a crash. The inside of the steel house was like the inside of a great drum.
And so a minute passed, and another, and still the door stood, while that dread booming beat out the knell of the two within--he grim for very fear of himself, and she shaking because of the thing that was to happen, and still with some room in her soul for his sufferings, yet unable to say anything; for in those last moments he had become her executioner as well as her lover, and there were things she could not say to the two.
Boom! Boom! Boom! Crash!
"Mary?" His voice sounded like the cry of a lost soul, and the love in the woman answered to it. Yet the physical terror of death was upon her.
"The--the door--is--is--stop! It's only the bottom hinge has broken. It isn't down yet!" Crash! Crash! Crash!
The girl, all of a shiver, turned suddenly and put her arms round his neck.
"Kiss me, Jack!"
He repelled her for a moment, then, drawing her to him, kissed her good-by.
"Don't! Don't! Not yet! It isn't down yet! Give me--give me as long as you--you can!"
For the arm about her shoulders had tightened with a sudden grip. Then abruptly--
"Have you--have you a--a--a knife, Jack?"
He took his arm from about her and brought something from behind, which he held out for her to take.
She saw it faintly by the glimmer of moonlight that came through the shaken door.
"No, no, no!" she cried, and shuddered. "You---you take it! Give me the pistol. I--I can see."
He gave up the revolver to her and shifted the knife to his right hand. Even as he did so, the door crashed in. He felt the girl thrill in the grip of his arm; then her right hand went up, and, an instant later came the click of the hammer, but no report--the cartridge had missed fire. She had aimed at a dark figure beyond the doorway, which she had recognized as Pathan. Yet the cruelty of fate denied her even the consolation of knowing that she died leaving her lover not at the mercy of that creature.
She cried out her dismay, and then again in terror, for the grip of the second mate's arm warned her that the end had indeed come. There came the rush of feet along the deck, and the blaze of a flare. Then Pathan's voice:
"Don't hurt the girl!"
She caught so much of it. Then the touch of her lover's fingers upon her breast made her quiver. She felt his right arm go back for the blow.
"Oh, my God, help me! Help me! Help me!" he heard her whispering desperately, and it shook him badly in that supreme moment. But, for the love he bore her, he meant that there should be no faltering in his stroke. Abruptly, the girl felt him start violently, and he began to quiver from head to feet. He cried out something in a strange voice.
"Oh, my God!" he said in a sort of whispering, husky shout. "I can see! I can see! Oh, my God, I can see! We're going to win! Mary, Mary! we're going to win! I can see! I can see! I can see! I tell you, I can see!"
He loosed her and put both his hands up to his bandages, which had slid down on to his nose, and tore them away in a mad kind of fashion, while the girl stood limp and sick against him, still half-fainting.
"I can see! I can see!" he began to reiterate again.
He seemed to have gone momentarily insane with the enormous revulsion from utter despair to hope. Suddenly he caught the girl madly into his arms, staring down at her through the darkness. He hugged her savagely to him, whispering hoarsely his refrain of:
"I can see! I can see! I tell you I can see!"
He held her a single instant or two like this; then he literally tossed her into one of the upper bunks.
"Don't move!" he whispered, his voice full of the most intense purpose. "I'm going to get square with that brute now. There's a chance for both of us. Here, take the knife in case I don't manage. Just lie still, whatever happens. You must be out of the way. I could tackle a hundred of them now."
He was silent, listening. By the sound of the men's voices, the second mate knew that they had halted some little distance from the doorway. There they hung for a few moments, no man anxious to be the first to face the big officer. For they had no knowledge of his blindness.
Then he caught Pathan's voice urging them on. "Go on, lads! Go on! There won't be much fight left in him!"
At that, a feeling of dismay filled him. It was evident that Pathan was not going to head the attack, and he might die without ever getting his hands on to him.
From the irresolute men came a shuffle of feet. Then a man's voice rose--
"Trow de flare into ze hoose."
To the second mate the remark suggested a course of action. He threw himself upon a sea-chest, so that his face could be seen from the doorway. He kept perfectly still. If the man threw the flare into the house they would see his damaged face and think him dead. It might be that the coward Pathan would venture to come into the place--then!
Thud! Something struck the floor near him.
He kept his eyes shut. He could see no light; but the smell of burning paraffin was plain in his nostrils. He listened intently and seemed to catch the sound of stealthy footsteps. Abruptly, a voice just without the doorway shouted:
"They're both dead! Both of 'em!"
It was Pathan's voice. He heard the noise of booted feet approaching at a run. They hesitated one instant on the threshold, then came within, and a surge of barefoot pads followed. The booted feet came to a stand not two yards away.
For an instant there was silence, a bewildered, awestruck silence. Pathan's voice broke it.
"My God!" he said. "My God!"
Immediately afterward he screamed, as the huge, bloodstained form of the big officer hurled itself upon him. There were cries from the men, and a pell-mell rush to escape. Someone fell upon the flare and extinguished it.
There was a shivering silence. It was filled abruptly by the beginning of a sobbing entreaty from Pathan. This shrilled suddenly into a horrid screaming. The men were no longer trying for the doorway, for the second mate had got between it and them. They could see him indistinctly against the moonlight beyond. He was flogging the steel side of the house with something. Beyond the hideous thudding of the blows, the house was silent.
One of the crouched men, tortured to madness, threw a belaying-pin. The next instant the second mate hurled himself among them. He had the battered steel door for a weapon, and the edge of it was as a plowshare amidst soil.
Amid the cries of the men, the side of the house rang out a dull thunder beneath the weight of some blind, misdirected blow.
Most of the men escaped upon their hands and knees, creeping out behind the man who smote and smote. They got to the forecastle upon all fours, too terrified and bewildered even to get to their feet. There, in the darkness, behind closed and barred doors, they sat and sweated, in company of those who had hesitated to enter the house.
Presently the ship was quiet.
The berserker rage eased out of the second mate and he perceived that the house was empty, and the mutiny truly ended. He cast the heavy steel door clanging through the open doorway, out on to the main deck, a dripping testimony of a man's prowess against enormous odds.
He stood a moment, breathing heavily. Then, remembering, he wheeled round in the darkness to where, in the gloom of the upper bunk, the girl lay shivering, with her hands pressed tightly over her ears.
He caught her up in his great arms, with the one word, "Come!" and stepped through the open doorway into the moonlight, the fallen door ringing under his tread. Then, master of his ship, he carried her aft to the cabin.