The Storm Breaks
BEFORE he went off watch at four in the morning, Venable passed the word to Garrity and Stormalong, also to the two Chinese quartermasters—the word that trouble was on the way, and that they must stand by to obey his orders when the time came. Certain of the crew whom Li John and Li Ho could trust were to be told also. Others, however, a number of the stokers and the two stewards, were known to have been won over by Hewson and Boris Kryalpin. How far they would follow Boris was questionable.
The parcel wrapped in burlap Venable had placed under the tarpaulin of the after starboard boat, lacing up the covering again.
Venable slept untroubled, wakening in time for breakfast when the bell was rung at seven-twenty, after shipboard custom. He messed with Garrity.
“If trouble is brewin’,” said the latter, “’tis a bad mornin’ for the same! I seen that chap Deardorf down the passage, and green he was; I’ll be seasick me own self if this holds!”
There was no storm, but the Kum Chao was wallowing and bucking into a stiff wind and bad sea. On his way to the bridge, Venable saw that her foredeck was being continually swept by the seas, and she was laboring hard. Jason, looking very haggard and unkempt, hailed the relief with joy.
“I’m keepin’ her off two points,” he said, “to hit the seas easier. She’s goin’ to drop her screw yet, the old tinpot! Hear the blade race when she lifts up her hind end? Wish ye luck with her! You’ll have to shoot the sun this noon; now that skipper’s gone, you an’ me got to hang together.”
Venable found himself alone, except for the two men at the wheel, with vast relief. He did not like Jason or trust him, and he found himself on a tension this morning, waiting for Mrs. Ivanoff’s prediction to be fulfilled. But nothing happened. Garrity informed him by tube that all was quiet below.
Shortly before four bells, or ten o’clock, Venable looked down at what had been the well-deck, and saw Shinski and Boris walking there and talking. As he gazed idly upon them, he saw the woman Marie appear.
Instantly Venable knew from the repressed excitement of her face, her manner, that something had happened. He turned and spoke through the open window to Li John, at the wheel behind him.
“Send another man up here to mind the wheel. Summon your brother, the second engineer, and the others. The time is at hand.”
“Aye, aye, sah,” responded the British-trained Li John. “Number one piecee bobbery come quick, huh?”
VENABLE gave his attention to the three below him. Marie had halted the two men, and now the uplift of the wind carried her words clearly to the bridge.
“It’s gone!” Her voice was tensely shrill. “It’s gone, I say I”
“What’s gone?” demanded Shinski, who was livid with seasickness.
“Everything!” Marie’s voice rose in hot anger. “Some one has been in my room,—it was in my trunk,—and it’s been stolen! The jewels—”
The two men broke into oaths of amazement. Then, his eyes blazing, Boris Kryalpin whirled on Shinski, and his hand went to his coat.
“You, you rat!” snarled his voice. “You’ve—”
Shinski swerved away with a bleat of fright; but Kryalpin’s pocket vomited a splash of smoke, and a revolver cracked. Shinski flung up his arms and pitched down the deck as the ship rolled.
Marie had whipped out an automatic as Boris turned to her—but from some point aft, outside the range of vision of the paralyzed Venable, came another shot, thin against the wind. Boris dropped his weapon, put one hand to his head and fell.
Another shot, a third, cracked. Marie threw up her automatic and answered it, shooting aft; then she leaped aside and was gone. Below him, Venable saw Shinski’s body rolling in the scuppers, while Boris Kryalpin was half kneeling amid a rush of green water and holding to the rail-chains.
Venable turned to the helmsman. “Steady as she is!” he ordered, his voice quiet. Then he took out his automatic and went to the ladder, descending.
He wondered why nothing more had happened—why Garrity and the others had not appeared. But it had all chanced in the fraction of a minute, that scene of murder. When Venable came to the deck, he saw Li John just at the hood of the forecastle hatch, leaning over and calling to his mates below.
Venable faced aft, along the port rail. He had no intention of going below to the cabins, for with murder afoot that narrow passage would be a shambles. Everybody seemed to be shooting at everything in sight. Hell had broken loose with a vengeance!
So some one had stolen the jewels, eh? Marie had been foolish to come and blurt it out, thought Venable; that had precipitated the fracas. Each man thought the other man had been guilty—but who really had taken the stuff? Boris, beyond a doubt. He was head and shoulders above the rest of them in brains. And he had been swift enough to shoot down Shinski!
And now Venable heard another weapon’s report, and the bullet screamed in the wind overhead.
Out ahead of him popped, grotesquely and terribly, the figure of Abe Gerin—crutch gone, reeling brokenly across the passage and back again. Behind Gerin came a second figure, that of the bearded Deardorf, revolver in hand, aiming at the staggering Gerin.
“Down with that gun!” roared out Venable.
Deardorf saw him, hesitated, then rapped out an oath and lifted his weapon. Venable threw out his automatic and pulled the trigger. He aimed blindly, ignorantly. He was astonished to see Deardorf flung back against the rail as though by some invisible hand, drop his gun, and clap his hand to his left shoulder.
“Marie!” gasped out Gerin, half lying on the deck. “They—caught her—”
He pointed aft, and with a lurch of the ship rolled against the rail. Then, unexpectedly, a rush of feet sounded behind Venable, who turned to see Garrity and Stormalong, followed by half a dozen yellow men, streaming toward him. He passed Gerin and went on to the after-deck.
MARIE was there, struggling in the firm grip of Jason, while Pinsky was searching her. Garrity flung himself for ward, a cry of fury bursting from him; Venable found himself thrown against Jason, and swung his fist against the mate. He was answered by a smash that lifted him against the rail, and then clinched.
But for the wound which had stretched him half senseless on the fore-deck, Kryalpin would have won the ship in that moment. The stewards had gathered other yellow men of his party, and Jason was bellowing to them to come on—but they held back, irresolute. Then Li John and his brother turned to face the danger, Stormalong leaped at the threatening party, and they turned tail and vanished with howls of fright.
Small wonder, indeed! Venable had come to his full height, holding over his head the screaming figure of Jason, whose bald head was crimsoned; bending himself, he flung the hapless mate along the deck, sent him slithering and sliding over the white planks, to bring up with a crash against a section of the flimsy false super structure. Mr. Jason lay there silent and unmoving.
“Garrity!” Venable’s voice bit into the wind. “Go for’ard and seize Kryalpin—also Shinski, if he’s alive! Stormalong, grab that fellow Deardorf, and bring Abe Gerin here. What’s become of Pinsky?”
He stared about the deck, passing over the frightened, wondering gaze of Marie, who had shrunk against the rail. Pinsky had vanished.
Then Venable had his answer. His gaze caught a black thing in the ship’s wake—a head and arm that rose out of the water, made itself seen and was gone. Li John touched his arm, grinning.
“Misteh Gallity knockum off!”
Venable shrugged his shoulders, after another look at the tossing waters which showed no further trace of the Bolshevik.
“Shinski’s dead!” came Garrity’s voice, who appeared, leading two of his men, their hands busy with Boris Kryalpin. “This bird has a scratch across the skull, but he’ll be up to more divilment when he comes around, I’m thinking.”
Stormalong showed up in charge of Deardorf, and Abe Gerin was helped to the scene. He looked at Venable with a grim smile.
“Just in time, Venable! Thanks. My ankle’s been twisted up pretty badly, I guess. All the fish in the net? Where’s Jason?”
THE mate was disinterred from his canvas shroud, and found to be senseless but not particularly damaged. Marie was helping to support Gerin, whose face was blazing with an indomitable energy that mastered his pain.
“Now!” he cried out at Venable. “Finish it, man—finish it! Put them in a boat and be rid of the lot—”
“In this sea!” Venable shook his head. “I’m no murderer, Gerin. If it were calm water—”
Garrity pushed forward, laughing.
“Nonsense, Parson!” he roared. “It’s a grand idea, that! And in this bit sea they’ll come to no harm, more’s the pity! Jason’s a seaman. He’ll have a sail up and be scudding before the wind in no time.”
“I’ll not do it,” answered Venable. “It would be sheer murder. Take care of the hurt men and make them all prisoners; I’ll ask Mrs. Ivanoff what to do with ’em. Madam, are you injured?”
This to Marie, who dumbly shook her head. She was upholding Gerin; yet her eyes were fastened upon Garrity in fascination.
Venable turned his back upon all of them and passed to the saloon-deck ladder. His scuffle with Jason had opened the cut upon his forehead given him by Marks, and he wiped the trickle of blood away, absently, careless that it left a broad smear of red.
His refusal to dispose of the prisoners as Gerin had suggested was wholly from utilitarian reasons, for he had no particular pity on any of them. Jason was needed, and very much needed, as being the only navigator aboard—the only man able to extricate the ship from her present wanderings, and to take her safely to Honolulu or San Francisco. She was now rolling down toward Micronesia, and Venable thought of that much-spotted chart with a positive shiver.
When he reached Mrs. Ivanoff’s door, he knocked. She herself opened it to him, and beyond a slight widening of the eyes at his appearance, betrayed no astonishment.
“The ship is at your disposal, madam,” said Venable laconically.
“Ah!” she exclaimed. “I suspected as much, from the sounds, and was just coming up. You have not been shot, I hope—”
“No, no,” said Venable. “Merely a blow. It is most astonishing that none of us have been hurt; Gerin’s leg was injured a trifle, I think. Shinski is dead. In fact, Deardorf, Mr. Jason and Boris Kryalpin are all more or less hurt, and prisoners. David Pinsky went overboard. It seems that Gerin murdered Captain Hewson yesterday.”
MRS. IVANOFF nodded. She appeared to be quite composed, as though she had seen so many perils that her present situation was entirely without power to excite her. She indicated a samovar bubbling in a rack in one corner of the cabin.
“There is no hurry, Mr. Venable,” she said, “and—you know I am a Russian; let us have a cup of tea before we go on deck; I’m sure you look as though you needed it! And I want to know exactly how things stand before I take charge.”
Venable smiled. “You appear quite unconcerned before the most amazing changes of fortune!” he said. “I must congratulate you on your poise.”
“It is not poise,” she broke in. “It is because I have seen the great agony of Russia, and after that, all little things pall upon one. But come! Tell me what started affairs up above?”
She was busy with the samovar and tiny cups taken from a rack built in the corner.
Venable described to her how the battle had started. “And so far as I know,” he concluded, “the missing loot which began the affair has not yet been located. Whoever took it certainly precipitated events.”
“I took it,” she said, a slow laugh breaking in her motherly features. “I took it with precisely that intention!”
“Great Jehu!” murmured Venable, astounded.
In her eyes he saw a gayety, a sheer impulse to high spirits, that was new; there was a flame in her manner, a vibrant buoyancy of soul, an upburst of energy. For the first time he realized the strength of this woman, the abounding vigor beneath her placid surface.
And then, suddenly, she was turned half away from him in pretended business about the samovar; and he saw the rush of tears upon her cheeks. It was a moment before she was able to speak.
“I am a woman—I was not meant for such work,” she said, between low sobs. “I knew what would happen—I had to fight; but the killing of men—”
Venable towered above her, and placed his arm about her shoulders as he turned her face toward him. In his eyes was tenderness, and a great understanding; sympathy had melted the iron contours of his rugged features, until one saw that here was a man who had suffered greatly but well, and would be loved for his deep strength of endurance.
“Be patient, dear woman! I know how you feel. Like you, these many years I have been in the world but not of it—living my own little life in my own environment, out of contact with primitive things and emotions, coursing in a narrow path and unable to see beyond it; like you, I have been in touch only with the gentler side of life, dreaming of God and sufficient unto myself alone—thanking Heaven that I was not as other men were! And now it’s all changed.”
His deep voice filled the room with a thrum of music, and the woman gazed into his working features with eyes widened by this sudden baring of his inner self.
“Now I’ve been among men, I’ve plumbed the depths—I’ve become primitive again,” he went on. “And I’ve come to know more of God and man! It’s a fight, this world, a great fight. Uprightness is strength, and it must prove itself pitilessly. If we have a cause, we must fight for it—look at that pitiful man Abe Gerin! His whole fight here is for the woman Marie who loves him not, and he gives himself because he loves her—”
“I am very silly,” said Mrs. Ivanoff, breaking in upon his disjointed words, and striking the tears from her cheeks. “I thought no one could understand.”
SHE turned again to the samovar, and began to draw tea into the tiny cups. When she extended one of them to him, she was smiling again; between them had arisen a wordless warmth, a contact of the spirit, a comprehension. It was with a start of recollection that Venable came back to mundane things.
“We must go on deck—I had forgotten—”
“Oh!” The exclamation broke from Mrs. Ivanoff. “I too—”
Together they sought the deck, and the noonday sun burst upon them. The ship was rolling on her course, lifting to the long seas, smashing into the foaming rollers that swept her bows. Venable turned to the after-deck.
They came plump upon Abe Gerin, supported by Marie and Stormalong. The poet’s injured leg had been dressed, but fever sat in his flushed face.
“Gone!” he cried out at sight of them. “We cannot find the stuff; it’s gone.”
Mrs. Ivanoff smiled. “I know,” she said quietly. “I took it last night; you shall have the jewels again, my friends—and I must thank you for the success of our partnership. My dear Marie, I understand that in times past you have suffered because of those around me. Will you forgive the fault of those who are gone? Will you let the dead bury their dead?”
The outburst of passionate emotion that filled the face of Marie was quenched by the softness of the sea-gray eyes that compelled hers. Her lips quivered; and abruptly she caught the outstretched hand of Mrs. Ivanoff. Tears smothered the words in her throat.
“Where’s Garrity?” demanded Venable of the two men.
Abe Gerin poised himself upon Stormalong’s arm.
“Down lookin’ to his engines,” growled the second engineer, an anxious frown up on his burly face as he watched Venable. “Say! I was lookin’ for you. This guy—”
“The prisoners?” exclaimed Venable.
“Gone! ” cried out Gerin, flinging up his free arm and shaking his fist at the horizon. “Gone—by my orders! Undo it if you can!”
A gasp broke from Venable. “Murdered? If you’ve dared—”
“No,” broke in Stormalong. “He had ’em put in a boat—give ’em water an’ grub and charts. Jason was fit to take charge o’ things. They’ll be all right.”
Venable lifted his gaze to the empty horizon, and slowly conquered the anger that had gripped upon him. When he looked again at Abe Gerin, his eyes were cold and emotionless.
“So you did this, you fool!” he said bitingly. “After I had refused to allow it! And who’s to take charge of this ship?”
“You,” retorted the flushed poet. “You’re the second officer, aren’t you?”
“Oh, hell!” broke from Stormalong in sudden and dismayed comprehension.
Venable looked at them, then sought the startled gaze of Mrs. Ivanoff. Each of them, save Gerin, understood the situation perfectly, and was wordless before it.
“Put Gerin to bed,” said Venable, and turned. “And Stormalong! Send Garrity up to the bridge, will you?”