During the first few hours of the
afternoon we had looked on deck several times, but
felt better satisfied to remain below, out of the
drizzle. Now the captain’s big voice rumbled
some kind of good news, and each of us made a dash
for the stairs.
Even as we piled out into the cockpit
the mate gave a yell and sailors sprang to haul down
the topmast-and main-topmast-staysails. Off in
the southwest, which had been leaden from horizon
to meridian showing no distinction of water and sky,
appeared a spot of light, a glow, growing rapidly
brighter. Before it the misty rain was being wiped
as if by magic from the air.
Looking toward the northward I beheld
the other yacht standing out in bold relief upon a
blacker, more dismal background. She was beautiful
at that moment her sides and sails unnaturally
whitened against the gloom, suggesting a cameo set
on a piece of slate. Our blocks began to creak,
sails bulged into huge scoops, masts tilted majestically,
and the Whim, freed from her enforced idleness,
bounded in response.
“Wind!” Tommy shouted,
his arms held skyward. “Aphrodite, sweet
and mighty, send a gale before the nighty!”
“But,” Monsieur looked
at him reprovingly, “Aphrodite is not goddess
of the wind!”
“Who said she was?” he innocently asked.
“You conjure her for the gale bah!”
“That’s because she rhymes
with nighty, gezabo! When my Muse sings, to hell
with mythology! Come join the clouds you’re
“These have been sordid clouds,”
the little fellow laughed. “I would rather
join you in other, but a more genial, wet.”
“Gates, how long before we catch her?”
“I carn’t measure her
speed yet, sir, but should say we won’t be far
behind in an hour and a harf.”
“Then,” Tommy announced,
“we’ll go below and drink to the safety
of our sweet Princess for, unless I’m
greatly mistaken, this day will see the finish of
one good yacht! Give over the wheel and join us,
It was a hilarious four that touched
glasses in the cabin, and after Gates went above we
set to work in good earnest on our arms and cartridge
belts. Having seen that each piece worked perfectly
we followed him up, and the sight which greeted our
eyes made us laugh for joy.
How we accomplished it only Gates
could have told, but now in the late afternoon light
the Orchid seemed to be less than half her former
distance. Looking over the rail at the flying
water I felt a great pride in my father’s craft,
for she fairly skimmed along. Monsieur began at
once to hug the captain, and this time the old skipper
did not mind at least, he permitted it.
There was, of course, some concern
along with our happiness; first of importance being
the declining day that held scarcely more than an hour
of light. Had it been otherwise, had the blessing
of good sailing weather come to us earlier, we might
have held an immediate council of war; but this for
the present could be left. It was a profound
disappointment, though, and showed in our strained
silence. Gates stood at my elbow.
“How’ll we find her in
the morning if we don’t catch up pretty
soon?” I asked.
“I was thinking of that, sir.
Now, as she sees we can sail circles around her with
a good breeze, she won’t hold the same course,
and can give us a mighty slip during the night.
We’re almost in” he
hesitated, and again ventured: “We’re
almost in close enough to send a shot across her bows,
sir, if you wish to bring her about!”
Tommy, overhearing, let out a yell
of joy. The old skipper’s suggestion electrified
us all, particularly myself, for it promised that he
would see this affair through at any and all costs and
I had been apprehensive regarding the attitude of
Gates, lest his love for me, or for the Whim,
cause him to balk short of the danger line. So,
hastily imploring Monsieur to hug him again, I dashed
below for one of the rifles. This arm was a neat
high-power sporting model, but I thought it might
persuade our kidnaper to look around.
Coming up, however, I found that another
plan had been adopted. Gates and Tommy were busily
unlacing the canvas cover from our brass cannon.
While it was only used for signaling, it could make
a stunning racket. Bilkins was holding a box
of blank shells, each containing somewhere near twenty
drams of black powder. As I approached, Tommy
was excitedly arguing with Gates who, this time, seemed
“It’s not of the Orchid
I’m thinking, sir,” he turned appealingly
to me, “but ourselves! Miss Nancy as
Mr. Thomas calls this young howitzer, here, won’t
stand much fooling. She warn’t built for
it, and if we go pressing her too hard she’ll
bust a stay which is the same, sir, as
sending harf of us to the sick-bay!”
“What I want to do,” Tommy
explained, “is load her up with sinkers and
truck like that, and touch her off right! Just
a blank won’t tell those devils anything, but
if we pepper ’em with a hat full of old junk
they’ll haul-to in a jiffy!”
“Surest thing in the world,”
I cried. “Suppose she does bust a stay,
Gates! We can huddle in the cockpit and fire her
with a long lanyard then let her bust!”
“That’s easy, sir,”
he still remonstrated, “but suppose Miss Sylvia’s
looking out a porthole and stops one of the sinkers!”
The thought of it made me shiver.
Tommy, however, his enthusiasm undampened, acquiesced
at once, saying:
“Righto, Gates! Blank it
is! Cartridge, Bilkins! I’m ready say
“Wait! Let’s get a bit closer, sir,”
Several minutes passed. We were
only four hundred yards from the Orchid now
and cutting down the space. She stood off our
starboard quarter and, although a great deal more
obscure in the gathering dusk, her cabin lights came
on changing the portholes to a line of golden disks.
Then another solitary light appeared, being carried
aft by a sailor who fastened it to the taffrail.
It was the stern lantern being swung out for the night,
and I could not help smiling at this delightful display
of audacity, deliberately to put up that tell-tale
beacon, right in our faces, as it were.
“It’s a good bluff,”
Gates chuckled, “but they don’t intend
leaving it there for long, sir. I’d say
we’d better fire now, Mr. Thomas, and when they
stop we’ll have a little chat with ’em.”
Tommy sprang up and pulled the string,
and our eyes were dazzled, our ears jarred, with a
perfectly glorious explosion that lighted up the sea
for a hundred yards.
“Whiz-bang!” Tommy yelled.
“I wish I had this thing in Kentucky! It’d
work wonders for the Democrats!”
Nothing happened aboard the Orchid.
She did not vary her course an inch. The sailor
at the helm had given a frantic jump when Miss Nancy
went off, but resumed his place evidently aware that
no missiles had been fired.
“Load her up again,” I
urged. “Let’s keep on till they get
Bilkins passed out the shells and
the piece was loaded and fired, loaded and fired,
till we seemed surely to have waked old Nep himself.
I do not know how many rounds we shot but it must
have continued for some time, thoroughly engrossing
us. Now suddenly the stern light went out, and
immediately afterwards the portholes, losing their
glow, became as nothing. The tropical night,
always swift in coming, had fallen more stealthily
than we realized, and the yacht melted into darkness.
“Sacre bleu!” Monsieur
raged for the night was overcast and as
black as sin.
But Gates was already stripping the
searchlight of its cover. When he had swung open
the big lens Tommy struck a match, which blew out.
His second was blown out by a hiss of air that preceded
the flow of gas, and the professor jumbled matters
by trying his hand. But these efforts scarcely
took more time than the telling, and when the powerful
streak of light finally pierced the darkness the very
first thing it showed us was a white sail.
“I shouldn’t have worried
about night catching us, sir, if I’d thought
of this before,” Gates laughed. “And
there’s plenty of extra acetylene tanks, too,
so she carn’t get away now!”
“You’ll have to haul down
some sail, though,” I replied, seeing that the
Orchid lay nearly abeam of us.
“No quicker said than done, sir.”
He went to direct this, while we held
our light squarely on the fleeing outlaw. Nobody
was astir about her deck; indeed, so undisturbed did
she appear that the sailor standing statue-like at
her wheel might have been the only living thing aboard.
I breathed fast with thinking that
maybe Sylvia might come up, and my senses were so
alert, my mind, eyes, ears so intently reaching toward
her, that now I heard what was indeed a most unexpected
sound: a piano. Grasping Tommy’s arm
I whispered this to him, and he nodded, saying in a
“Yes, I hear it plainly.
Reminds me of Monsieur’s master musician playing
a rhapsody in the dark, d’you remember?
Listen! Gods, it’s ’De puis lé
jour,’ from Louise!” Yet in the next
breath he added: “Cheerful girl you have,
Jack, she’s switched off from her
love song to Chopin’s funeral march!”
I dolefully smiled to myself, not
at the funeral march but at the realization that dreams
are only dreams and nothing more, that Gates’s
common sense had come nearer hitting the mark than
all of our professor’s psychology; for I had
seen no piano in that cabin, and five minutes ago
I would have sworn its interior was as well known to
me as the Whim. But an instant later my
smile had given way to a cry of rage, as a little
streak of fire spat from one of the portholes and the
big lens of our searchlight, with a bang, shattered
into a thousand pieces.
“The nerve of it,” Tommy
yelled, violently shaking his hand that had been resting
on the brass frame. “Damn his hide, he nearly
shot off my finger!”
“Are you hit?” I asked quickly.
“Hell, no; but my hand feels
like a pincushion! Say, he knows how to shoot,
though! I’ll give him that much!”
“Those people are prepared for
all that comes, I tell you,” Monsieur vigorously
nodded his head. “They must even have violet
spectacles for looking into search-lights, else that
fellow’s eyes could not have stood the glare.”
Again the Orchid was invisible.
For a moment I thought that out of the dark sky my
gods were derisively mocking me; but it was a human
sound, a long, triumphant laugh, doubtless from the
coarse-throated creature who had made the lucky shot.
Gates, fearing we might answer it
in kind, came forward to counsel silence, at the same
time sending a sailor for the megaphone and ordering
another to extinguish our own lights. With his
knife he then hastily cut the megaphone in half, keeping
the large end whose openings now tapered from about
eight inch to eighteen inch diameters. As we
stood, not understanding what he meant to do, I heard
across the water a rattling of blocks and knew the
Orchid, free of pursuit, was changing her course.
Gates cocked his head and listened, then whispered
to the mate who went back and changed the Whim’s
“Now, Mr. Jack,” he said,
in a guarded tone, “we’re behind her, and
dark, too; so keep all hands as quiet as mice, sir!
Take the wheel and steer as I signal from under my
coat with this electric torch, like this: one
long, means put your helm up a point, two long means
two points; but a short flash means down a point,
two short down two points. D’you understand,
sir? We’ve got to keep close to her, or
daylight’ll find her gone! I’m going
out on the bowsprit and, with this piece of megaphone
to help, think I can follow by sound. They’re
apt to make some noise, believing themselves safe.
And their blocks are bound to rattle when they change
their course which they’ll be doing
before long as we’re both headed for the coast
of Florida, twenty-five or thirty miles off.
Now go back quiet, sir, and watch for my lights.”
God bless old Gates, I said to myself.
Till well into the night that indefatigable
sea dog sat astride the bowsprit with the crude sound
magnifier over his ear, while I, alert and watchful,
gripped the wheel as though I were driving a speed
boat. In the beginning he had sent a few signals,
and we jockied this way and that, but after perhaps
an hour we settled down to another straight course though
I could not tell how near we were, or if we were sailing
right, or if they suspected us.
Tommy had come aft to keep me company,
and now asked in a whisper:
“What do you think about that piano?”
“I think she played like an angel.”
“Son, you don’t get the
point. What do you think about changing suddenly
from that exquisite Charpentier love song to a funeral
march just before the rifle went off?”
“You don’t mean she was
signaling?” I asked in surprise, for the idea
knocked me a little bit silly.
“I mean just that; of course,
she was signaling, and taking a big chance, too.
You may put your own construction on the first piece
she played, but the instant she saw what they were
up to she sent us the flash. The only trouble
about it was that we weren’t anywhere near as
“But look here,” I said,
alarmed by another thought, “suppose she meant
it would be her funeral march if we keep up
Tommy considered this.
“I reckon not,” he finally
replied. “They might threaten us with her
death if we don’t turn back, but there’d
be no reason to kill her otherwise. No, she saw
them preparing to shoot which you can’t
deny that they did, jolly good and well.”
“She’s a queen,” I murmured.
“Queen! That girl must
be a royal straight flush in hearts, and if it weren’t
for Nell I’d adore her to the tips of my teeth!”
At midnight I sent the mate to relieve
Gates and gave the wheel to a likely sailor, and after
making sure they understood the signals we went below
for a bite to eat. Although the day of suspense
had been wearing, my brain was too active to permit
much thought of sleep; but finally Gates nodded, awoke
with a jerk, and started off to bed. He had had
no easy time of it on the bowsprit, good old Gates!
Tommy and I talked in low tones while
the professor sat to one side, humped over and buried
in thought. He was a strange looking spectacle
when buried in thought. His countenance then became
all wrinkles, with a kind of turned-up nubbin in the
middle that I knew to be a nose, only because I’d
previously seen it otherwise it might have
been almost anything that one does not expect to find
in the center of a man’s face. Tommy regarded
him a moment in silence.
“Monsieur,” he whispered,
“come join this confab. We’re up against
the real thing in the morning, and may as well begin
to lay pipe. The old catamount who shot out our
searchlight won’t have any more regard for our
personal lights, let’s keep that in mind.
What’s more, he has a real excuse now, because
we fired those blanks at him which he’ll find
it convenient to say weren’t blanks. So
the business is coming off to a certainty. What’s
“I meant to be that flattering,
yes. What do you think we’ll be up against
when ordering the Orchid to surrender?”
“I do not know; but something
we are not expecting, you may be sure,” he dolefully
“That sort of gloom won’t
get us anywhere,” Tommy retorted. “Try
“It gets us very far! If
we expect to experience what we are not expecting,
then we are expecting it! How can we be surprised
when we are prepared for the thing we are not prepared
for? It is obvious. That is my idea.”
“Then you ought to keep it in
a less fragile place. Try still another, gezabo!”
But he was inclined to pout now, and
would neither talk nor listen to our entreaties.
“Well,” he exclaimed at
last, with a superior smile as he struck the table
smartly, “I will tell you this: I have nothing
more to say!”
It was a lot of preparation for a
mighty small result, I thought, and Tommy smiled at
the childish gentleman, murmuring sweetly:
“If you really mean that, and
stick to it, pray accept my congratulations upon having
reached the height of conversational charm. Now,
Jack, let’s plan!”
But Monsieur, while unwilling to talk,
was also unwilling to be ignored. I think he
wanted to be coaxed. People get that way, sometimes.
So he petulantly exclaimed:
“You think I am what you call an old crank!”
“No I don’t, honest!”
Tommy gave me a wink. “Even if I did, it’s
a compliment in America to be called a crank, because
cranks make things move. Now help us out, like
a good sport. By this time tomorrow you’ll
be shot to pieces, for all we know.”
He said it solemnly, but his humorous
mouth showed how much he wanted to laugh. I believe
Tommy would have walked to the gallows joking with
his executioner. That infectious smile, sometimes
the flash of his teeth, but always a snap in his honest
gray eyes, were invariably quickened by the imminence
of danger. I knew Tommy; therefore I also knew
that beneath his jocose raillery were nerves stretched
to concert pitch that meant music for whoever stood
in his way tomorrow.
The professor sat up straighter and blinked at him.
“Why do you say I get shot to pieces?”
“Why not? The fellow’d
be a fool to sit by and let us go aboard and
we’ve got to go aboard!”
“It is nonsense! You want my advice?
Then leave him alone!”
I think that Tommy’s eyes narrowed
slightly. I know that my teeth clenched at this
evidence of quitting; yet what could we expect from
a chap who did nothing but teach in a University?
“You won’t be in any danger,”
I said, arising. “We’ll manage all
right. Come on, Tommy!”
“You will not manage that
is just it,” he angrily retorted. “You
two boys will strut about like roosters showing what
good fighters you are, and get blown up through the
insides! Have I not seen it often? Bah!”
He ran his hands through his hair. “Why
is it, when brains are as easily cultivated as biceps,
that young bloods think only of a strong arm!
You stay in the cabin and leave the man to me; then
I will take him before your eyes, and nobody get hurt!”
“I don’t think we quite understand!”
“Of course! But there are
no ladies on the Orchid whom I desire to charm,
therefore I will be rational. Your Capitaine
Gates will lower a boat, we row to the scoundrel’s
yacht, I present my authority, he surrenders, and
we bring him back. There is no bloodshed, and
my two young friends who are disposed to ridicule
me will not get hurt!”
Tommy flushed, and I felt uncommonly like a pup.
“But suppose he won’t
come? suppose he begins to fight?” we
asked these questions simultaneously. They were
quite unnecessary, for the man would not come and,
moreover, he would fight; but Monsieur’s earnestness
and visionary assumption had completely disarmed us.
“In that case, your Gates and
I will shoot him,” he answered, as a matter
of course. “Such grizzly alternatives must
sometimes be the means of peace and harmony.”
Some might at times have called him
an idiot, and on occasions I have found myself wondering
if he possessed a scintilla of common sense, but no
one after this could call him a coward. He would
have gone single-handed to the Orchid with
the same beautiful faith that a wee child would crawl
into the kennel of a vicious dog. It was not in
Monsieur to consider that anyone would dare disobey
his Azurian authority.
“Gezabo,” Tommy said tenderly,
“I’m going to lock you up tomorrow, for
if anyone so much as rumples your noble topknot I’ll
cut him to ribbons so’ll Jack.
Now kick us, and go to bed. We’ve been a
pair of braying asses, and you’re a sure-nuff
And, although I thought that Tommy
had done most of the braying, I was willing to let
it go at that. A lack of discriminating accuracy
on his part might have been pardoned when we were
faced by issues of so much greater portent. The
dawn was but six hours off, and with it would come what?