The Iron Pirate/Chapter 14

The Iron Pirate  (1905)  by Max Pemberton
Chapter XIV



There was light from six lanterns, held by giant negroes, to greet me when I had mounted the ladder and was at last on the deck of the great ship; but none of the men spoke a word, nor could I see their faces. Of those who had brought me from the jolly-boat, I recognised two besides "Four-Eyes" as men whom I had seen in Paris, but the Irishman appeared to be the captain of them; and, in lack of other leader, he spoke when all were aboard, but it was in a monosyllable. "Aft!" he said, looking round to see if anyone else were near; and one of them silently touched me upon the shoulder, and I followed him along a narrow strip of iron deck, past a great turret which reared itself above me, and again by the covered forms of quick-firing guns. We descended a short ladder to a lower deck; and so to the companion way, and to a narrow passage in which were many doors. One of these he opened, and motioned me to enter, when the door was closed noiselessly behind me, and I found myself alone.

My first feeling was one of intense surprise, I had looked to enter a prison; but, if that were a prison, then were lack of liberty shorn of half its terrors. The cabin was not large, but one more artistic in effect was never built. Hung all round with poppy-coloured silk, the same material made curtains for the bunk—which seemed of unusual size, and furnished with sleep-bespeaking mattresses. It was employed also for the cushions and covering of the arm-chair and the couch, and to drape the dressing- glass and basin which were in the left-hand corner. It seemed, indeed, that the whole room was a harmony in scarlet, with a scarlet ceiling and scarlet hangings; but the luxury of it was unmistakable, and the feet sank above the ankles in the soft Indian rug, which was ornate with the quaint mosaic-like workings and penetrating colours of all Eastern tapestry. For light, there was an arc-lamp, veiled with gauze of the faintest yellow; and upon the table in the centre stood a decanter of wine and a box of cigars. The room would have been perfect but for a horrid blot upon it—a blot which stared at me from the outer wall with bloodshot eyes and hideous visage. It was the picture of a man's head that had been severed from the body; and was repulsive enough to have been painted by Wiertz himself. The picture almost terrified me, but I thought, if no worse harm befall me what odds? and I sat down all wondering and dazed, and drew a cigar from the box upon the table. The wine, of which I drank nearly a tumblerful, put new courage of a sort into me; and so, troubled and amazed, I began to ask myself what the proceeding meant, or what the portent of it all could possibly be.

My conclusion was, when I thought the whole thing out, that the man Black could be showing me this marked consideration only for some motive of self-interest. It was evident that he had been aware of my intention to follow him from the moment when Roderick purchased our new steam-yacht. He had put one of his own men craftily upon the ship to watch us, and had made a bold attempt to deal with us in mid-Atlantic. Foiled there, he had taken advantage of my folly in entering such a place as the Bowery, and had given orders that I should be carried to his own ship—for I knew then that the strange craft he owned was capable of many disguises—and should be carried alive. Why alive, if not that he might learn all about me, or that a more dreadful fate than mere death should be mine? I had seen the appalling end of poor Hall, the merciless severity with which his death had been compassed: why should I expect more gentle usage or other recompense? If ever man had been trapped, I had been; and, beneath all my placid self-restraint, I felt that my life was not worth an hour's—nay, perhaps ten minutes'—purchase. It was as if I had been taken clean out of the world with no man to extend me a helping hand. Roderick, truly, would move heaven and earth to reach me, but what could he hope for against such a crew; or how should I expect to be alive when he brought his attempts to a head? And I thought of him with deep feelings of friendship at that moment, and wondered what Mary would say. She will be serious, I argued, for the first time in her life, and they will know much anxiety. Yet that must be—in the floating tomb where I lay I could hope to send no word to the living world which I had left.

I had smoked one cigar in the cabin, listening to the tremendous throb of the ship's screws, and the swish of the sea as we cleaved it, when the electric light went out, and I was left in darkness. The sudden change gave me some alarm, and I cocked my revolver, being resolute to account for one man at least, if any attempt were made upon me; but when I had sat quite still for some half-an-hour there was no noise of movement save on the deck above, and my own cabin remained as still as the grave. It appeared that I was to be left unmolested for that night at any rate; and, being something of a philosopher, I waited for another hour or so, and finding that no one came near me, I undressed and lay down in one of the most seductive beds I have met with at sea. I did, indeed, take the precaution of putting my Colt under the pillow; but I was so weary and fatigued with my sufferings in the open boat that I fell asleep at once, and must have slept for many hours.