The Last Cruise of the Spitfire/Chapter 19
THE BURNING OF THE SPITFIRE.
Already I could smell the smoke that was pouring out of the cracks around the hatchway. It would not be a great while before the entire vessel would be consumed.
In my cell near the bow I could hear but little of what was going on at the stern. I had no doubt but what active preparations were being made to leave the ship. I knew well enough that no means would be taken to subdue the conflagration. It was not Captain Hannock's desire to undo his nefarious work now it was once begun. The quicker every one left the Spitfire to her doom the better he would be suited.
But my attention was soon taken from the schooner and centered upon my own safety. At the start I had no thought but what somebody would come to release me, but, as the moments went by and no one came, the awful suspicion crossed my mind that the master of the Spitfire meant to leave me to my fate.
I could not at first believe this to be possible, but finally the thought forced itself home to me. No sooner had it done so than I made every effort to attract the attention of some of the sailors, who, in their panic, had evidently forgotten my existence.
I cried out at the top of my voice, not once, but a number of times. But such was the bustle and confusion on deck that no one heard me, or if they did paid no heed.
Would the captain or Lowell come? Surely, surely, they would not dare to leave me to die on board! But the moments went by, and no one put in an appearance. The captain was going to make certain that nobody should live to tell any tales against him. He had probably discovered that I knew of the plans he and my uncle had concocted.
It was not long before I made an attempt to liberate myself. The cell in which I was confined was built entirely of wood, and the door was not an extra heavy one. But with my hands locked together I was at a disadvantage. Yet terror lent me an artificial strength.
I threw my whole weight against the door, once, twice, thrice. It groaned on its hinges, but that was all. I tried to obtain a purchase upon the floor, and thereby push the door open. But the flooring was slippery, and this was a failure.
As I have said, the cell contained nothing but a bench. In my desperation I took hold of this, and was surprised to be able to pull off the heavy board seat.
For an instant I was at a loss as to the manner in which I could utilize the board; then the idea came to rest one end against the rear of the cell and the other against the top of the door, and this I did. Then I brought my full weight down upon the pry thus formed, as near the top as possible.
Instantly the door was pressed open at the top to the width of several inches. Into this opening I slid the end of the board, and by thus working it down, managed in a few moments to snap the lock, and then the door flew open.
Meanwhile I could hear the creaking of the pulleys as the jolly-boat was let down into the water. Would they leave before I could reach them?
With my hands still chained together I rushed out upon the forward deck. A heavy pall of smoke blew directly into my face, and for a moment I was completely blinded, and knew not which way to turn. I noticed that the sails had been lowered, and it was a strong west wind that caused the smoke to thus rush towards me.
By the time the wind had shifted slightly I was half choked, and staggered against the rail to recover my breath. The jolly-boat had reached the water in safety, and the sailors and Captain Hannock were not long in entering it. I tried to shout to them, but the sound only ended in a violent cough, due to the smoke, which every moment was getting thicker.
At last I got my wind, and then cried out at the top of my voice,
"Help! Stop the boat! Help!"
No one paid the slightest attention.
"Pull away, boys," I heard Captain Hannockcall out; and an instant later the jolly-boat had left the schooner's side!
In vain I repeated my cry. If the master of the Spitfire heard me, he gave no heed, and as for the sailors, they were too busy doing their duty to give me a thought.
Deserted! Left to fight for life amidst the flames! Oh, how bitterly I realized the awful position in which I was placed!
The wind blew in such a manner that soon the jolly-boat was hidden from view by the smoke. Evidently all had left the schooner in safety but myself.
What was I to do now? Had my hands been free I could have done much, but as it was I was next to helpless. For a moment I stood irresolute upon the stern. Should I take a plank or what ever came to hand, jump overboard, and trust to luck?
Suddenly a wild cry startled me.
"Save me! Save me!" I looked, and was astonished to see Phil Jones standing terror-stricken near the companionway!
"Phil Jones!" I cried.
"Oh, Foster, is that you?" exclaimed the cabin boy, and he came running to my side.
He was deadly pale, and shook so that he could hardly speak.
"Oh, Foster, where are the others?" he continued.
"Gone!" I replied.
"Gone!" he ejaculated. "And we are left behind?"
"Yes; the cowards have taken the small boat, and we are left without any."
"What shall we do?"
"I was just trying to think. The fire is gaining headway fast."
"Can't we put it out?"
I shook my head.
"It might have been put out at the start, but it's too fierce now."
"There ain't any other boat," he went on. "There used to be, but it got stove to pieces."
"I can do but little with my hands chained together," said I. "Do you know where the key to this pair of handcuffs is?"
"On a nail in the cabin. I saw Captain Hannock put it there."
"Come, show me."
I ran into the cabin, Jones following. Here all was confusion, as if the inmates had been forced to leave in a great hurry. The captain of the Spitfire had left nothing undone to make the loss of the schooner appear purely accidental.
"Here is the key," said Phil, producing it. "Let me take them off.
In a moment he had the handcuffs loose, and I slipped them off.
"They should be on Captain Hannock," I remarked, as we hurried on deck.
"Indeed they should," replied the cabin boy, though he did not fully understand me. "I was dead tired, and went to sleep on the pantry floor, and no one came near me to wake me up. I suppose the old man would just as soon see me dead as alive."
"I, too, was left alone," I replied. "Captain Hannock and Lowell set the ship afire, and they didn't want any one to know it."
"I guess you're right," was Phil's reply. "I overheard Lowell speaking about something of the kind, though I could not quite make it out."
By this time we had reached the stern, where the smoke was not so dense. By the flames that were gradually working their way through the cracks in the deck, where the oakum had burnt away, I knew it would not be long before the entire ship would be enveloped. If anything was to be done it must be done quickly.
"We will have to make a raft," I said. "Get all the ropes you can find near at hand."
The cabin boy willingly complied. Now that he had a companion he did not appear so frightened, and he worked with a will.