THE WINGS OF THE MORNING
Author of A Son of the Immortals, The Stowaways, The Message, The Wheel o' Fortune, etc.
New York Grosset & Dunlap Publishers
If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me. Psalm CXXXIX, 9, 10
I The Wreck of the Sirdar II The Survivors III Discoveries IV Rainbow Island V Iris to the Rescue VI Some Explanations VII Surprises VIII Preparations IX The Secret of the Cave X Reality v. Romance—The Case for the Plaintiff XI The Fight XII A Truce XIII Reality v. Romance—The Case for the Defendant XIV The Unexpected Happens XV The Difficulty of Pleasing Everybody XVI Bargains, Great and Small XVII Rainbow Island Again—and Afterward
THE WRECK OF THE SIRDAR
Lady Tozer adjusted her gold-rimmed eye-glasses with an air of dignified aggressiveness. She had lived too many years in the Far East. In Hong Kong she was known as the "Mandarin." Her powers of merciless inquisition suggested torments long drawn out. The commander of the Sirdar, homeward bound from Shanghai, knew that he was about to be stretched on the rack when he took his seat at the saloon table.
"Is it true, captain, that we are running into a typhoon?" demanded her ladyship.
"From whom did you learn that, Lady Tozer?" Captain Ross was wary, though somewhat surprised.
"From Miss Deane. I understood her a moment ago to say that you had told her."
"Didn't you? Some one told me this morning. I couldn't have guessed it, could I?" Miss Iris Deane's large blue eyes surveyed him with innocent indifference to strict accuracy. Incidentally, she had obtained the information from her maid, a nose-tilted coquette who extracted ship's secrets from a youthful quartermaster.
"Well—er—I had forgotten," explained the tactful sailor.
"Is it true?"
Lady Tozer was unusually abrupt today. But she was annoyed by the assumption that the captain took a mere girl into his confidence and passed over the wife of the ex-Chief Justice of Hong Kong.
"Yes, it is," said Captain Ross, equally curt, and silently thanking the fates that her ladyship was going home for the last time.
"How horrible!" she gasped, in unaffected alarm. This return to femininity soothed the sailor's ruffled temper.
Sir John, her husband, frowned judicially. That frown constituted his legal stock-in-trade, yet it passed current for wisdom with the Hong Kong bar.
"What evidence have you?" he asked.
"Do tell us," chimed in Iris, delightfully unconscious of interrupting the court. "Did you find out when you squinted at the sun?"
The captain smiled. "You are nearer the mark than possibly you imagine, Miss Deane," he said. "When we took our observations yesterday there was a very weird-looking halo around the sun. This morning you may have noticed several light squalls and a smooth sea marked occasionally by strong ripples. The barometer is falling rapidly, and I expect that, as the day wears, we will encounter a heavy swell. If the sky looks wild tonight, and especially if we observe a heavy bank of cloud approaching from the north-west, you see the crockery dancing about the table at dinner. I am afraid you are not a good sailor, Lady Tozer. Are you, Miss Deane?"
"Capital! I should just love to see a real storm. Now promise me solemnly that you will take me up into the charthouse when this typhoon is simply tearing things to pieces."
"Oh dear! I do hope it will not be very bad. Is there no way in which you can avoid it, captain? Will it last long?"
The politic skipper for once preferred to answer Lady Tozer. "There is no cause for uneasiness," he said. "Of course, typhoons in the China Sea are nasty things while they last, but a ship like the Sirdar is not troubled by them. She will drive through the worst gale she is likely to meet here in less than twelve hours. Besides, I alter the course somewhat as soon as I discover our position with regard to its center. You see, Miss Deane—"
And Captain Ross forthwith illustrated on the back of a menu card the spiral shape and progress of a cyclone. He so thoroughly mystified the girl by his technical references to northern and southern hemispheres, polar directions, revolving air-currents, external circumferences, and diminished atmospheric pressures, that she was too bewildered to reiterate a desire to visit the bridge.
Then the commander hurriedly excused himself, and the passengers saw no more of him that day.
But his short scientific lecture achieved a double result. It rescued him from a request which he could not possibly grant, and reassured Lady Tozer. To the non-nautical mind it is the unknown that is fearful. A storm classed as "periodic," whose velocity can be measured, whose duration and direction can be determined beforehand by hours and distances, ceases to be terrifying. It becomes an accepted fact, akin to the steam-engine and the electric telegraph, marvelous yet commonplace.
So her ladyship dismissed the topic as of no present interest, and focused Miss Deane through her eye-glasses.
"Sir Arthur proposes to come home in June, I understand?" she inquired.
Iris was a remarkably healthy young woman. A large banana momentarily engaged her attention. She nodded affably.
"You will stay with relatives until he arrives?" pursued Lady Tozer.
The banana is a fruit of simple characteristics. The girl was able to reply, with a touch of careless hauteur in her voice:
"Relatives! We have none—none whom we specially cultivate, that is. I will stop in town a day or two to interview my dressmaker, and then go straight to Helmdale, our place in Yorkshire."
"Surely you have a chaperon!"
"A chaperon! My dear Lady Tozer, did my father impress you as one who would permit a fussy and stout old person to make my life miserable?"
The acidity of the retort lay in the word "stout." But Iris was not accustomed to cross-examination. During a three months' residence on the island she had learnt how to avoid Lady Tozer. Here it was impossible, and the older woman fastened upon her asp-like. Miss Iris Deane was a toothsome morsel for gossip. Not yet twenty-one, the only daughter of a wealthy baronet who owned a fleet of stately ships—the Sirdar amongst them—a girl who had been mistress of her father's house since her return from Dresden three years ago—young, beautiful, rich—here was a combination for which men thanked a judicious Heaven, whilst women sniffed enviously.
Business detained Sir Arthur. A war-cloud over-shadowed the two great divisions of the yellow race. He must wait to see how matters developed, but he would not expose Iris to the insidious treachery of a Chinese spring. So, with tears, they separated. She was confided to the personal charge of Captain Ross. At each point of call the company's agents would be solicitous for her welfare. The cable's telegraphic eye would watch her progress as that of some princely maiden sailing in royal caravel. This fair, slender, well-formed girl—delightfully English in face and figure—with her fresh, clear complexion, limpid blue eyes, and shining brown hair, was a personage of some importance.
Lady Tozer knew these things and sighed complacently.
"Ah, well," she resumed. "Parents had different views when I was a girl. But I assume Sir Arthur thinks you should become used to being your own mistress in view of your approaching marriage."
"My—approaching—marriage!" cried Iris, now genuinely amazed.
"Yes. Is it not true that you are going to marry Lord Ventnor?"
A passing steward heard the point-blank question.
It had a curious effect upon him. He gazed with fiercely eager eyes at Miss Deane, and so far forgot himself as to permit a dish of water ice to rest against Sir John Tozer's bald head.
Iris could not help noting his strange behavior. A flash of humor chased away her first angry resentment at Lady Tozer's interrogatory.
"That may be my happy fate," she answered gaily, "but Lord Ventnor has not asked me."
"Every one says in Hong Kong—" began her ladyship.
"Confound you, you stupid rascal! what are you doing?" shouted Sir John. His feeble nerves at last conveyed the information that something more pronounced than a sudden draught affected his scalp; the ice was melting.
The incident amused those passengers who sat near enough to observe it. But the chief steward, hovering watchful near the captain's table, darted forward. Pale with anger he hissed—
"Report yourself for duty in the second saloon tonight," and he hustled his subordinate away from the judge's chair.
Miss Deane, mirthfully radiant, rose.
"Please don't punish the man, Mr. Jones," she said sweetly. "It was a sheer accident. He was taken by surprise. In his place I would have emptied the whole dish."
The chief steward smirked. He did not know exactly what had happened; nevertheless, great though Sir John Tozer might be, the owner's daughter was greater.
"Certainly, miss, certainly," he agreed, adding confidentially:—"It is rather hard on a steward to be sent aft, miss. It makes such a difference in the—er—the little gratuities given by the passengers."
The girl was tactful. She smiled comprehension at the official and bent over Sir John, now carefully polishing the back of his skull with a table napkin.
"I am sure you will forgive him," she whispered. "I can't say why, but the poor fellow was looking so intently at me that he did not see what he was doing."
The ex-Chief Justice was instantly mollified. He did not mind the application of ice in that way—rather liked it, in fact—probably ice was susceptible to the fire in Miss Deane's eyes.
Lady Tozer was not so easily appeased. When Iris left the saloon she inquired tartly: "How is it, John, that Government makes a shipowner a baronet and a Chief Justice only a knight?"
"That question would provide an interesting subject for debate at the Carlton, my dear," he replied with equal asperity.
Suddenly the passengers still seated experienced a prolonged sinking sensation, as if the vessel had been converted into a gigantic lift. They were pressed hard into their chairs, which creaked and tried to swing round on their pivots. As the ship yielded stiffly to the sea a whiff of spray dashed through an open port.
"There," snapped her ladyship, "I knew we should run into a storm, yet Captain Ross led us to believe—— John, take me to my cabin at once."
From the promenade deck the listless groups watched the rapid advance of the gale. There was mournful speculation upon the Sirdar's chances of reaching Singapore before the next evening.
"We had two hundred and ninety-eight miles to do at noon," said Experience. "If the wind and sea catch us on the port bow the ship will pitch awfully. Half the time the screw will be racing. I once made this trip in the Sumatra, and we were struck by a south-east typhoon in this locality. How long do you think it was before we dropped anchor in Singapore harbor?"
No one hazarded a guess.
"Three days!" Experience was solemnly pompous. "Three whole days. They were like three years. By Jove! I never want to see another gale like that."
A timid lady ventured to say—
"Perhaps this may not be a typhoon. It may only be a little bit of a storm."
Her sex saved her from a jeer. Experience gloomily shook his head.
"The barometer resists your plea," he said. "I fear there will be a good many empty saddles in the saloon at dinner."
The lady smiled weakly. It was a feeble joke at the best. "You think we are in for a sort of marine steeple-chase?" she asked.
"Well, thank Heaven, I had a good lunch," sniggered a rosy-faced subaltern, and a ripple of laughter greeted his enthusiasm.
Iris stood somewhat apart from the speakers. The wind had freshened and her hat was tied closely over her ears. She leaned against the taffrail, enjoying the cool breeze after hours of sultry heat. The sky was cloudless yet, but there was a queer tinge of burnished copper in the all-pervading sunshine. The sea was coldly blue. The life had gone out of it. It was no longer inviting and translucent. That morning, were such a thing practicable, she would have gladly dived into its crystal depths and disported herself like a frolicsome mermaid. Now something akin to repulsion came with the fanciful remembrance.
Long sullen undulations swept noiselessly past the ship. Once, after a steady climb up a rolling hill of water, the Sirdar quickly pecked at the succeeding valley, and the propeller gave a couple of angry flaps on the surface, whilst a tremor ran through the stout iron rails on which the girl's arms rested.
The crew were busy too. Squads of Lascars raced about, industriously obedient to the short shrill whistling of jemadars and quartermasters. Boat lashings were tested and tightened, canvas awnings stretched across the deck forward, ventilator cowls twisted to new angles, and hatches clamped down over the wooden gratings that covered the holds. Officers, spotless in white linen, flitted quietly to and fro. When the watch was changed. Iris noted that the "chief" appeared in an old blue suit and carried oilskins over his arm as he climbed to the bridge.
Nature looked disturbed and fitful, and the ship responded to her mood. There was a sense of preparation in the air, of coming ordeal, of restless foreboding. Chains clanked with a noise the girl never noticed before; the tramp of hurrying men on the hurricane deck overhead sounded heavy and hollow. There was a squeaking of chairs that was abominable when people gathered up books and wraps and staggered ungracefully towards the companion-way. Altogether Miss Deane was not wholly pleased with the preliminaries of a typhoon, whatever the realities might be.
And then, why did gales always spring up at the close of day? Could they not start after breakfast, rage with furious grandeur during lunch, and die away peacefully at dinner-time, permitting one to sleep in comfort without that straining and groaning of the ship which seemed to imply a sharp attack of rheumatism in every joint?
Why did that silly old woman allude to her contemplated marriage to Lord Ventnor, retailing the gossip of Hong Kong with such malicious emphasis? For an instant Iris tried to shake the railing in comic anger. She hated Lord Ventnor. She did not want to marry him, or anybody else, just yet. Of course her father had hinted approval of his lordship's obvious intentions. Countess of Ventnor! Yes, it was a nice title. Still, she wanted another couple of years of careless freedom; in any event, why should Lady Tozer pry and probe?
And finally, why did the steward—oh, poor old Sir John! What would have happened if the ice had slid down his neck? Thoroughly comforted by this gleeful hypothesis, Miss Deane seized a favorable opportunity to dart across to the starboard side and see if Captain Ross's "heavy bank of cloud in the north-west" had put in an appearance.
Ha! there it was, black, ominous, gigantic, rolling up over the horizon like some monstrous football. Around it the sky deepened into purple, fringed with a wide belt of brick red. She had never seen such a beginning of a gale. From what she had read in books she imagined that only in great deserts were clouds of dust generated. There could not be dust in the dense pall now rushing with giant strides across the trembling sea. Then what was it? Why was it so dark and menacing? And where was desert of stone and sand to compare with this awful expanse of water? What a small dot was this great ship on the visible surface! But the ocean itself extended away beyond there, reaching out to the infinite. The dot became a mere speck, undistinguishable beneath a celestial microscope such as the gods might condescend to use.
Iris shivered and aroused herself with a startled laugh.
A nice book in a sheltered corner, and perhaps forty winks until tea-time—surely a much more sensible proceeding than to stand there, idly conjuring up phantoms of affright.
The lively fanfare of the dinner trumpet failed to fill the saloon. By this time the Sirdar was fighting resolutely against a stiff gale. But the stress of actual combat was better than the eerie sensation of impending danger during the earlier hours. The strong, hearty pulsations of the engines, the regular thrashing of the screw, the steadfast onward plunging of the good ship through racing seas and flying scud, were cheery, confident, and inspiring.
Miss Deane justified her boast that she was an excellent sailor. She smiled delightedly at the ship's surgeon when he caught her eye through the many gaps in the tables. She was alone, so he joined her.
"You are a credit to the company—quite a sea-king's daughter," he said.
"Doctor, do you talk to all your lady passengers in that way?"
"Alas, no! Too often I can only be truthful when I am dumb."
Iris laughed. "If I remain long on this ship I will certainly have my head turned," she cried. "I receive nothing but compliments from the captain down to—to——
"No. You come a good second on the list."
In very truth she was thinking of the ice-carrying steward and his queer start of surprise at the announcement of her rumored engagement. The man interested her. He looked like a broken-down gentleman. Her quick eyes traveled around the saloon to discover his whereabouts. She could not see him. The chief steward stood near, balancing himself in apparent defiance of the laws of gravitation, for the ship was now pitching and rolling with a mad zeal. For an instant she meant to inquire what had become of the transgressor, but she dismissed the thought at its inception. The matter was too trivial.
With a wild swoop all the plates, glasses, and cutlery on the saloon tables crashed to starboard. Were it not for the restraint of the fiddles everything must have been swept to the floor. There were one or two minor accidents. A steward, taken unawares, was thrown headlong on top of his laden tray. Others were compelled to clutch the backs of chairs and cling to pillars. One man involuntarily seized the hair of a lady who devoted an hour before each meal to her coiffure. The Sirdar, with a frenzied bound, tried to turn a somersault.
"A change of course," observed the doctor. "They generally try to avoid it when people are in the saloon, but a typhoon admits of no labored politeness. As its center is now right ahead we are going on the starboard tack to get behind it."
"I must hurry up and go on deck," said Miss Deane.
"You will not be able to go on deck until the morning."
She turned on him impetuously. "Indeed I will. Captain Ross promised me—that is, I asked him——"
The doctor smiled. She was so charmingly insistent. "It is simply impossible," he said. "The companion doors are bolted. The promenade deck is swept by heavy seas every minute. A boat has been carried away and several stanchions snapped off like carrots. For the first time in your life, Miss Deane, you are battened down."
The girl's face must have paled somewhat. He added hastily, "There is no danger, you know, but these precautions are necessary. You would not like to see several tons of water rushing down the saloon stairs; now, would you?"
"Decidedly not." Then after a pause, "It is not pleasant to be fastened up in a great iron box, doctor. It reminds one of a huge coffin."
"Not a bit. The Sirdar is the safest ship afloat. Your father has always pursued a splendid policy in that respect. The London and Hong Kong Company may not possess fast vessels, but they are seaworthy and well found in every respect."
"Are there many people ill on board?"
"No; just the usual number of disturbed livers. We had a nasty accident shortly before dinner."
"Good gracious! What happened?"
"Some Lascars were caught by a sea forward. One man had his leg broken."
The doctor hesitated. He became interested in the color of some Burgundy. "I hardly know the exact details yet," he replied. "Tomorrow after breakfast I will tell you all about it."
An English quartermaster and four Lascars had been licked from off the forecastle by the greedy tongue of a huge wave. The succeeding surge flung the five men back against the quarter. One of the black sailors was pitched aboard, with a fractured leg and other injuries. The others were smashed against the iron hull and disappeared.
For one tremulous moment the engines slowed. The ship commenced to veer off into the path of the cyclone. Captain Ross set his teeth, and the telegraph bell jangled "Full speed ahead."
"Poor Jackson!" he murmured. "One of my best men. I remember seeing his wife, a pretty little woman, and two children coming to meet him last homeward trip. They will be there again. Good God! That Lascar who was saved has some one to await him in a Bombay village, I suppose."
The gale sang a mad requiem to its victims. The very surface was torn from the sea. The ship drove relentlessly through sheets of spray that caused the officers high up on the bridge to gasp for breath. They held on by main force, though protected by strong canvas sheets bound to the rails. The main deck was quite impassable. The promenade deck, even the lofty spar deck, was scourged with the broken crests of waves that tried with demoniac energy to smash in the starboard bow, for the Sirdar was cutting into the heart of the cyclone.
The captain fought his way to the charthouse. He wiped the salt water from his eyes and looked anxiously at the barometer.
"Still falling!" he muttered. "I will keep on until seven o'clock and then bear three points to the southward. By midnight we should be behind it."
He struggled back into the outside fury. By comparison the sturdy citadel he quitted was Paradise on the edge of an inferno.
Down in the saloon the hardier passengers were striving to subdue the ennui of an interval before they sought their cabins. Some talked. One hardened reprobate strummed the piano. Others played cards, chess, draughts, anything that would distract attention.
The stately apartment offered strange contrast to the warring elements without. Bright lights, costly upholstery, soft carpets, carved panels and gilded cornices, with uniformed attendants passing to and fro carrying coffee and glasses—these surroundings suggested a floating palace in which the raging seas were defied. Yet forty miles away, somewhere in the furious depths, four corpses swirled about with horrible uncertainty, lurching through battling currents, and perchance convoyed by fighting sharks.
The surgeon had been called away. Iris was the only lady left in the saloon. She watched a set of whist players for a time and then essayed the perilous passage to her stateroom. She found her maid and a stewardess there. Both women were weeping.
"What is the matter?" she inquired.
The stewardess tried to speak. She choked with grief and hastily went out. The maid blubbered an explanation.
"A friend of hers was married, miss, to the man who is drowned."
"Drowned! What man?"
"Haven't you heard, miss? I suppose they are keeping it quiet. An English sailor and some natives were swept off the ship by a sea. One native was saved, but he is all smashed up. The others were never seen again."
Iris by degrees learnt the sad chronicles of the Jackson family. She was moved to tears. She remembered the doctor's hesitancy, and her own idle phrase—"a huge coffin."
Outside the roaring waves pounded upon the iron walls.
Were they not satiated? This tragedy had taken all the grandeur out of the storm. It was no longer a majestic phase of nature's power, but an implacable demon, bellowing for a sacrifice. And that poor woman, with her two children, hopefully scanning the shipping lists for news of the great steamer, news which, to her, meant only the safety of her husband. Oh, it was pitiful!
Iris would not be undressed. The maid sniveled a request to be allowed to remain with her mistress. She would lie on a couch until morning.
Two staterooms had been converted into one to provide Miss Deane with ample accommodation. There were no bunks, but a cozy bed was screwed to the deck. She lay down, and strove to read. It was a difficult task. Her eyes wandered from the printed page to mark the absurd antics of her garments swinging on their hooks. At times the ship rolled so far that she felt sure it must topple over. She was not afraid; but subdued, rather astonished, placidly prepared for vague eventualities. Through it all she wondered why she clung to the belief that in another day or two the storm would be forgotten, and people playing quoits on deck, dancing, singing coon songs in the music-room, or grumbling at the heat.
Things were ridiculous. What need was there for all this external fury? Why should poor sailors be cast forth to instant death in such awful manner? If she could only sleep and forget—if kind oblivion would blot out the storm for a few blissful hours! But how could one sleep with the consciousness of that watery giant thundering his summons upon the iron plates a few inches away?
Then came the blurred picture of Captain Ross high up on the bridge, peering into the moving blackness. How strange that there should be hidden in the convolutions of a man's brain an intelligence that laid bare the pretences of that ravenous demon without. Each of the ship's officers, the commander more than the others, understood the why and the wherefore of this blustering combination of wind and sea. Iris knew the language of poker. Nature was putting up a huge bluff.
What was it the captain said in his little lecture? "When a ship meets a cyclone north of the equator on a westerly course she nearly always has the wind at first on the port side, but, owing to the revolution of the gale, when she passes its center the wind is on the starboard side."
Yes, that was right, as far as the first part was concerned. Evidently they had not yet passed the central path. Oh, dear! She was so tired. It demanded a physical effort to constantly shove away an unseen force that tried to push you over. How funny that a big cloud should travel up against the wind! And so, amidst confused wonderment, she lapsed into an uneasy slumber, her last sentient thought being a quiet thankfulness that the screw went thud-thud, thud-thud with such firm determination.
After the course was changed and the Sirdar bore away towards the south-west, the commander consulted the barometer each half-hour. The tell-tale mercury had sunk over two inches in twelve hours. The abnormally low pressure quickly created dense clouds which enhanced the melancholy darkness of the gale.
For many minutes together the bows of the ship were not visible. Masthead and sidelights were obscured by the pelting scud. The engines thrust the vessel forward like a lance into the vitals of the storm. Wind and wave gushed out of the vortex with impotent fury.
At last, soon after midnight, the barometer showed a slight upward movement. At 1.30 a.m. the change became pronounced; simultaneously the wind swung round a point to the westward.
Then Captain Ross smiled wearily. His face brightened. He opened his oilskin coat, glanced at the compass, and nodded approval.
"That's right," he shouted to the quartermaster at the steam-wheel. "Keep her steady there, south 15 west."
"South 15 west it is, sir," yelled the sailor, impassively watching the moving disk, for the wind alteration necessitated a little less help from the rudder to keep the ship's head true to her course.
Captain Ross ate some sandwiches and washed them down with cold tea. He was more hungry than he imagined, having spent eleven hours without food. The tea was insipid. He called through a speaking-tube for a further supply of sandwiches and some coffee.
Then he turned to consult a chart. He was joined by the chief officer. Both men examined the chart in silence.
Captain Ross finally took a pencil. He stabbed its point on the paper in the neighborhood of 14 deg. N. and 112 deg. E.
"We are about there, I think."
The chief agreed. "That was the locality I had in my mind." He bent closer over the sheet.
"Nothing in the way tonight, sir," he added.
"Nothing whatever. It is a bit of good luck to meet such weather here. We can keep as far south as we like until daybreak, and by that time—How did it look when you came in?"
"A trifle better, I think."
"I have sent for some refreshments. Let us have another dekko[Footnote: Hindustani for "look"—word much used by sailors in the East.] before we tackle them."
The two officers passed out into the hurricane. Instantly the wind endeavored to tear the charthouse from off the deck. They looked aloft and ahead. The officer on duty saw them and nodded silent comprehension. It was useless to attempt to speak. The weather was perceptibly clearer.
Then all three peered ahead again. They stood, pressing against the wind, seeking to penetrate the murkiness in front. Suddenly they were galvanized into strenuous activity.
A wild howl came from the lookout forward. The eyes of the three men glared at a huge dismasted Chinese junk, wallowing helplessly in the trough of the sea, dead under the bows.
The captain sprang to the charthouse and signaled in fierce pantomime that the wheel should be put hard over.
The officer in charge of the bridge pressed the telegraph lever to "stop" and "full speed astern," whilst with his disengaged hand he pulled hard at the siren cord, and a raucous warning sent stewards flying through the ship to close collision bulkhead doors. The "chief" darted to the port rail, for the Sirdar's instant response to the helm seemed to clear her nose from the junk as if by magic.
It all happened so quickly that whilst the hoarse signal was still vibrating through the ship, the junk swept past her quarter. The chief officer, joined now by the commander, looked down into the wretched craft. They could see her crew lashed in a bunch around the capstan on her elevated poop. She was laden with timber. Although water-logged, she could not sink if she held together.
A great wave sucked her away from the steamer and then hurled her back with irresistible force. The Sirdar was just completing her turning movement, and she heeled over, yielding to the mighty power of the gale. For an appreciable instant her engines stopped. The mass of water that swayed the junk like a cork lifted the great ship high by the stern. The propeller began to revolve in air—for the third officer had corrected his signal to "full speed ahead" again—and the cumbrous Chinese vessel struck the Sirdar a terrible blow in the counter, smashing off the screw close to the thrust-block and wrenching the rudder from its bearings.
There was an awful race by the engines before the engineers could shut off steam. The junk vanished into the wilderness of noise and tumbling seas beyond, and the fine steamer of a few seconds ago, replete with magnificent energy, struggled like a wounded leviathan in the grasp of a vengeful foe.
She swung round, as if in wrath, to pursue the puny assailant which had dealt her this mortal stroke. No longer breasting the storm with stubborn persistency, she now drifted aimlessly before wind and wave. She was merely a larger plaything, tossed about by Titantic gambols. The junk was burst asunder by the collision. Her planks and cargo littered the waves, were even tossed in derision on to the decks of the Sirdar. Of what avail was strong timber or bolted iron against the spleen of the unchained and formless monster who loudly proclaimed his triumph? The great steamship drifted on through chaos. The typhoon had broken the lance.
But brave men, skilfully directed, wrought hard to avert further disaster. After the first moment of stupor, gallant British sailors risked life and limb to bring the vessel under control.
By their calm courage they shamed the paralyzed Lascars into activity. A sail was rigged on the foremast, and a sea anchor hastily constructed as soon as it was discovered that the helm was useless. Rockets flared up into the sky at regular intervals, in the faint hope that should they attract the attention of another vessel she would follow the disabled Sirdar and render help when the weather moderated.
When the captain ascertained that no water was being shipped, the damage being wholly external, the collision doors were opened and the passengers admitted to the saloon, a brilliant palace, superbly indifferent to the wreck and ruin without.
Captain Ross himself came down and addressed a few comforting words to the quiet men and pallid women gathered there. He told them exactly what had happened.
Sir John Tozer, self-possessed and critical, asked a question.
"The junk is destroyed, I assume?" he said.
"Would it not have been better to have struck her end on?"
"Much better, but that is not the view we should take if we encountered a vessel relatively as big as the Sirdar was to the unfortunate junk."
"But," persisted the lawyer, "what would have been the result?"
"You would never have known that the incident had happened, Sir John."
"In other words, the poor despairing Chinamen, clinging to their little craft with some chance of escape, would be quietly murdered to suit our convenience."
It was Iris's clear voice that rang out this downright exposition of the facts. Sir John shook his head; he carried the discussion no further.
The hours passed in tedious misery after Captain Ross's visit. Every one was eager to get a glimpse of the unknown terrors without from the deck. This was out of the question, so people sat around the tables to listen eagerly to Experience and his wise saws on drifting ships and their prospects.
Some cautious persons visited their cabins to secure valuables in case of further disaster. A few hardy spirits returned to bed.
Meanwhile, in the charthouse, the captain and chief officer were gravely pondering over an open chart, and discussing a fresh risk that loomed ominously before them. The ship was a long way out of her usual course when the accident happened. She was drifting now, they estimated, eleven knots an hour, with wind, sea, and current all forcing her in the same direction, drifting into one of the most dangerous places in the known world, the south China Sea, with its numberless reefs, shoals, and isolated rocks, and the great island of Borneo stretching right across the path of the cyclone.
Still, there was nothing to be done save to make a few unobtrusive preparations and trust to idle chance. To attempt to anchor and ride out the gale in their present position was out of the question.
Two, three, four o'clock came, and went. Another half-hour would witness the dawn and a further clearing of the weather. The barometer was rapidly rising. The center of the cyclone had swept far ahead. There was only left the aftermath of heavy seas and furious but steadier wind.
Captain Ross entered the charthouse for the twentieth time.
He had aged many years in appearance. The smiling, confident, debonair officer was changed into a stricken, mournful man. He had altered with his ship. The Sirdar and her master could hardly be recognized, so cruel were the blows they had received.
"It is impossible to see a yard ahead," he confided to his second in command. "I have never been so anxious before in my life. Thank God the night is drawing to a close. Perhaps, when day breaks——"
His last words contained a prayer and a hope. Even as he spoke the ship seemed to lift herself bodily with an unusual effort for a vessel moving before the wind.
The next instant there was a horrible grinding crash forward. Each person who did not chance to be holding fast to an upright was thrown violently down. The deck was tilted to a dangerous angle and remained there, whilst the heavy buffeting of the sea, now raging afresh at this unlooked-for resistance, drowned the despairing yells raised by the Lascars on duty.
The Sirdar had completed her last voyage. She was now a battered wreck on a barrier reef. She hung thus for one heart-breaking second. Then another wave, riding triumphantly through its fellows, caught the great steamer in its tremendous grasp, carried her onward for half her length and smashed her down on the rocks. Her back was broken. She parted in two halves. Both sections turned completely over in the utter wantonness of destruction, and everything—masts, funnels, boats, hull, with every living soul on board—was at once engulfed in a maelstrom of rushing water and far-flung spray.
When the Sirdar parted amidships, the floor of the saloon heaved up in the center with a mighty crash of rending woodwork and iron. Men and women, too stupefied to sob out a prayer, were pitched headlong into chaos. Iris, torn from the terrified grasp of her maid, fell through a corridor, and would have gone down with the ship had not a sailor, clinging to a companion ladder, caught her as she whirled along the steep slope of the deck.
He did not know what had happened. With the instinct of self-preservation he seized the nearest support when the vessel struck. It was the mere impulse of ready helpfulness that caused him to stretch out his left arm and clasp the girl's waist as she fluttered past. By idle chance they were on the port side, and the ship, after pausing for one awful second, fell over to starboard.
The man was not prepared for this second gyration. Even as the stairway canted he lost his balance; they were both thrown violently through the open hatchway, and swept off into the boiling surf. Under such conditions thought itself was impossible. A series of impressions, a number of fantastic pictures, were received by the benumbed faculties, and afterwards painfully sorted out by the memory. Fear, anguish, amazement—none of these could exist. All he knew was that the lifeless form of a woman—for Iris had happily fainted—must be held until death itself wrenched her from him. Then there came the headlong plunge into the swirling sea, followed by an indefinite period of gasping oblivion. Something that felt like a moving rock rose up beneath his feet. He was driven clear out of the water and seemed to recognize a familiar object rising rigid and bright close at hand. It was the binnacle pillar, screwed to a portion of the deck which came away from the charthouse and was rent from the upper framework by contact with the reef.
He seized this unlooked-for support with his disengaged hand. For one fleet instant he had a confused vision of the destruction of the ship. Both the fore and aft portions were burst asunder by the force of compressed air. Wreckage and human forms were tossing about foolishly. The sea pounded upon the opposing rocks with the noise of ten thousand mighty steam-hammers.
A uniformed figure—he thought it was the captain—stretched out an unavailing arm to clasp the queer raft which supported the sailor and the girl. But a jealous wave rose under the platform with devilish energy and turned it completely over, hurling the man with his inanimate burthen into the depths. He rose, fighting madly for his life. Now surely he was doomed! But again, as if human existence depended on naught more serious than the spinning of a coin, his knees rested on the same few staunch timbers, now the ceiling of the music-room, and he was given a brief respite. His greatest difficulty was to get his breath, so dense was the spray through which he was driven. Even in that terrible moment he kept his senses. The girl, utterly unconscious, showed by the convulsive heaving of her breast that she was choking. With a wild effort he swung her head round to shield her from the flying scud with his own form.
The tiny air-space thus provided gave her some relief, and in that instant the sailor seemed to recognize her. He was not remotely capable of a definite idea. Just as he vaguely realized the identity of the woman in his arms the unsteady support on which he rested toppled over. Again he renewed the unequal contest. A strong resolute man and a typhoon sea wrestled for supremacy.
This time his feet plunged against something gratefully solid. He was dashed forward, still battling with the raging turmoil of water, and a second time he felt the same firm yet smooth surface. His dormant faculties awoke. It was sand. With frenzied desperation, buoyed now by the inspiring hope of safety, he fought his way onwards like a maniac.
Often he fell, three times did the backwash try to drag him to the swirling death behind, but he staggered blindly on, on, until even the tearing gale ceased to be laden with the suffocating foam, and his faltering feet sank in deep soft white sand.
Then he fell, not to rise again. With a last weak flicker of exhausted strength he drew the girl closely to him, and the two lay, clasped tightly together, heedless now of all things.
How long the man remained prostrate he could only guess subsequently. The Sirdar struck soon after daybreak and the sailor awoke to a hazy consciousness of his surroundings to find a shaft of sunshine flickering through the clouds banked up in the east. The gale was already passing away. Although the wind still whistled with shrill violence it was more blustering than threatening. The sea, too, though running very high, had retreated many yards from the spot where he had finally dropped, and its surface was no longer scourged with venomous spray.
Slowly and painfully he raised himself to a sitting posture, for he was bruised and stiff. With his first movement he became violently ill. He had swallowed much salt water, and it was not until the spasm of sickness had passed that he thought of the girl.
She had slipped from his breast as he rose, and was lying, face downwards, in the sand. The memory of much that had happened surged into his brain with horrifying suddenness.
"She cannot be dead," he hoarsely murmured, feebly trying to lift her. "Surely Providence would not desert her after such an escape. What a weak beggar I must be to give in at the last moment. I am sure she was living when we got ashore. What on earth can I do to revive her?"
Forgetful of his own aching limbs in this newborn anxiety, he sank on one knee and gently pillowed Iris's head and shoulders on the other. Her eyes were closed, her lips and teeth firmly set—a fact to which she undoubtedly owed her life, else she would have been suffocated—and the pallor of her skin seemed to be that terrible bloodless hue which indicates death. The stern lines in the man's face relaxed, and something blurred his vision. He was weak from exhaustion and want of food. For the moment his emotions were easily aroused.
"Oh, it is pitiful," he almost whimpered. "It cannot be!"
With a gesture of despair he drew the sleeve of his thick jersey across his eyes to clear them from the gathering mist. Then he tremblingly endeavored to open the neck of her dress and unclasp her corsets. He had a vague notion that ladies in a fainting condition required such treatment, and he was desperately resolved to bring Iris Deane back to conscious existence if it were possible. His task was rendered difficult by the waistband of her dress. He slipped out a clasp-knife and opened the blade.
Not until then did he discover that the nail of the forefinger on his right hand had been torn out by the quick, probably during his endeavors to grasp the unsteady support which contributed so materially to his escape. It still hung by a shred and hindered the free use of his hand. Without any hesitation he seized the offending nail in his teeth and completed the surgical operation by a rapid jerk.
Bending to resume his task he was startled to find the girl's eyes wide open and surveying him with shadowy alarm. She was quite conscious, absurdly so in a sense, and had noticed his strange action.
"Thank God!" he cried hoarsely. "You are alive."
Her mind as yet could only work in a single groove.
"Why did you do that?" she whispered.
"Bite your nail off!"
"It was in my way. I wished to cut open your dress at the waist. You were collapsed, almost dead, I thought, and I wanted to unfasten your corsets."
Her color came back with remarkable rapidity. From all the rich variety of the English tongue few words could have been selected of such restorative effect.
She tried to assume a sitting posture, and instinctively her hands traveled to her disarranged costume.
"How ridiculous!" she said, with a little note of annoyance in her voice, which sounded curiously hollow. But her brave spirit could not yet command her enfeebled frame. She was perforce compelled to sink back to the support of his knee and arm.
"Do you think you could lie quiet until I try to find some water?" he gasped anxiously.
She nodded a childlike acquiescence, and her eyelids fell. It was only that her eyes smarted dreadfully from the salt water, but the sailor was sure that this was a premonition of a lapse to unconsciousness.
"Please try not to faint again," he said. "Don't you think I had better loosen these things? You can breathe more easily."
A ghost of a smile flickered on her lips. "No—no," she murmured. "My eyes hurt me—that is all. Is there—any—water?"
He laid her tenderly on the sand and rose to his feet. His first glance was towards the sea. He saw something which made him blink with astonishment. A heavy sea was still running over the barrier reef which enclosed a small lagoon. The contrast between the fierce commotion outside and the comparatively smooth surface of the protected pool was very marked. At low tide the lagoon was almost completely isolated. Indeed, he imagined that only a fierce gale blowing from the north-west would enable the waves to leap the reef, save where a strip of broken water, surging far into the small natural harbor, betrayed the position of the tiny entrance.
Yet at this very point a fine cocoanut palm reared its stately column high in air, and its long tremulous fronds were now swinging wildly before the gale. From where he stood it appeared to be growing in the midst of the sea, for huge breakers completely hid the coral embankment. This sentinel of the land had a weirdly impressive effect. It was the only fixed object in the waste of foam-capped waves. Not a vestige of the Sirdar remained seaward, but the sand was littered with wreckage, and—mournful spectacle!—a considerable number of inanimate human forms lay huddled up amidst the relics of the steamer.
This discovery stirred him to action. He turned to survey the land on which he was stranded with his helpless companion. To his great relief he discovered that it was lofty and tree-clad. He knew that the ship could not have drifted to Borneo, which still lay far to the south. This must be one of the hundreds of islands which stud the China Sea and provide resorts for Hainan fishermen. Probably it was inhabited, though he thought it strange that none of the islanders had put in an appearance. In any event, water and food, of some sort, were assured.
But before setting out upon his quest two things demanded attention. The girl must be removed from her present position. It would be too horrible to permit her first conscious gaze to rest upon those crumpled objects on the beach. Common humanity demanded, too, that he should hastily examine each of the bodies in case life was not wholly extinct.
So he bent over the girl, noting with sudden wonder that, weak as she was, she had managed to refasten part of her bodice.
"You must permit me to carry you a little further inland," he explained gently.
Without another word he lifted her in his arms, marveling somewhat at the strength which came of necessity, and bore her some little distance, until a sturdy rock, jutting out of the sand, offered shelter from the wind and protection from the sea and its revelations.
"I am so cold, and tired," murmured Iris. "Is there any water? My throat hurts me."
He pressed back the tangled hair from her forehead as he might soothe a child.
"Try to lie still for a very few minutes," he said.
"You have not long to suffer. I will return immediately."
His own throat and palate were on fire owing to the brine, but he first hurried back to the edge of the lagoon. There were fourteen bodies in all, three women and eleven men, four of the latter being Lascars. The women were saloon passengers whom he did not know. One of the men was the surgeon, another the first officer, a third Sir John Tozer. The rest were passengers and members of the crew. They were all dead; some had been peacefully drowned, others were fearfully mangled by the rocks. Two of the Lascars, bearing signs of dreadful injuries, were lying on a cluster of low rocks overhanging the water. The remainder rested on the sand.
The sailor exhibited no visible emotion whilst he conducted his sad scrutiny. When he was assured that this silent company was beyond mortal help he at once strode away towards the nearest belt of trees. He could not tell how long the search for water might be protracted, and there was pressing need for it.
When he reached the first clump of brushwood he uttered a delighted exclamation. There, growing in prodigal luxuriance, was the beneficent pitcher-plant, whose large curled-up leaf, shaped like a teacup, not only holds a lasting quantity of rain-water, but mixes therewith its own palatable and natural juices.
With his knife he severed two of the leaves, swearing emphatically the while on account of his damaged finger, and hastened to Iris with the precious beverage. She heard him and managed to raise herself on an elbow.
The poor girl's eyes glistened at the prospect of relief. Without a word of question or surprise she swallowed the contents of both leaves.
Then she found utterance. "How odd it tastes! What is it?" she inquired.
But the eagerness with which she quenched her thirst renewed his own momentarily forgotten torture. His tongue seemed to swell. He was absolutely unable to reply.
The water revived Iris like a magic draught. Her quick intuition told her what had happened.
"You have had none yourself," she cried. "Go at once and get some. And please bring me some more."
He required no second bidding. After hastily gulping down the contents of several leaves he returned with a further supply. Iris was now sitting up. The sun had burst royally through the clouds, and her chilled limbs were gaining some degree of warmth and elasticity.
"What is it?" she repeated after another delicious draught.
"The leaf of the pitcher-plant. Nature is not always cruel. In an unusually generous mood she devised this method of storing water."
Miss Deane reached out her hand for more. Her troubled brain refused to wonder at such a reply from an ordinary seaman. The sailor deliberately spilled the contents of a remaining leaf on the sand.
"No, madam," he said, with an odd mixture of deference and firmness. "No more at present. I must first procure you some food."
She looked up at him in momentary silence.
"The ship is lost?" she said after a pause.
"Are we the only people saved?"
"I fear so."
"Is this a desert island?"
"I think not, madam. It may, by chance, be temporarily uninhabited, but fishermen from China come to all these places to collect tortoise-shell and beche-de-mer. I have seen no other living beings except ourselves; nevertheless, the islanders may live on the south side."
Another pause. Amidst the thrilling sensations of the moment Iris found herself idly speculating as to the meaning of beche-de-mer, and why this common sailor pronounced French so well. Her thoughts reverted to the steamer.
"It surely cannot be possible that the Sirdar has gone to pieces—a magnificent vessel of her size and strength?"
He answered quietly—"It is too true, madam. I suppose you hardly knew she struck, it happened so suddenly. Afterwards, fortunately for you, you were unconscious."
"How do you know?" she inquired quickly. A flood of vivid recollection was pouring in upon her.
"I—er—well, I happened to be near you, madam, when the ship broke up, and we—er—drifted ashore together."
She rose and faced him. "I remember now," she cried hysterically. "You caught me as I was thrown into the corridor. We fell into the sea when the vessel turned over. You have saved my life. Were it not for you I could not possibly have escaped."
She gazed at him more earnestly, seeing that he blushed beneath the crust of salt and sand that covered his face. "Why," she went on with growing excitement, "you are the steward I noticed in the saloon yesterday. How is it that you are now dressed as a sailor?"
He answered readily enough. "There was an accident on board during the gale, madam. I am a fair sailor but a poor steward, so I applied for a transfer. As the crew were short-handed my offer was accepted."
Iris was now looking at him intently.
"You saved my life," she repeated slowly. It seemed that this obvious fact needed to be indelibly established in her mind. Indeed the girl was overwrought by all that she had gone through. Only by degrees were her thoughts marshaling themselves with lucid coherence. As yet, she recalled so many dramatic incidents that they failed to assume due proportion.
But quickly there came memories of Captain Ross, of Sir John and Lady Tozer, of the doctor, her maid, the hundred and one individualities of her pleasant life aboard ship. Could it be that they were all dead? The notion was monstrous. But its ghastly significance was instantly borne in upon her by the plight in which she stood. Her lips quivered; the tears trembled in her eyes.
"Is it really true that all the ship's company except ourselves are lost?" she brokenly demanded.
The sailor's gravely earnest glance fell before hers. "Unhappily there is no room for doubt," he said.
"Are you quite, quite sure?"
"I am sure—of some." Involuntarily he turned seawards.
She understood him. She sank to her knees, covered her face with her hands, and broke into a passion of weeping. With a look of infinite pity he stooped and would have touched her shoulder, but he suddenly restrained the impulse. Something had hardened this man. It cost him an effort to be callous, but he succeeded. His mouth tightened and his expression lost its tenderness.
"Come, come, my dear lady," he exclaimed, and there was a tinge of studied roughness in his voice, "you must calm yourself. It is the fortune of shipwreck as well as of war, you know. We are alive and must look after ourselves. Those who have gone are beyond our help."
"But not beyond our sympathy," wailed Iris, uncovering her swimming eyes for a fleeting look at him. Even in the utter desolation of the moment she could not help marveling that this queer-mannered sailor, who spoke like a gentleman and tried to pose as her inferior, who had rescued her with the utmost gallantry, who carried his Quixotic zeal to the point of first supplying her needs when he was in far worse case himself, should be so utterly indifferent to the fate of others.
He waited silently until her sobs ceased.
"Now, madam," he said, "it is essential that we should obtain some food. I don't wish to leave you alone until we are better acquainted with our whereabouts. Can you walk a little way towards the trees, or shall I assist you?"
Iris immediately stood up. She pressed her hair back defiantly.
"Certainly I can walk," she answered. "What do you propose to do?"
"What is your name?" she interrupted imperiously.
"Jenks, madam. Robert Jenks."
"Thank you. Now, listen, Mr. Robert Jenks. My name is Miss Iris Deane. On board ship I was a passenger and you were a steward—that is, until you became a seaman. Here we are equals in misfortune, but in all else you are the leader—I am quite useless. I can only help in matters by your direction, so I do not wish to be addressed as 'madam' in every breath. Do you understand me?"
Conscious that her large blue eyes were fixed indignantly upon him Mr. Robert Jenks repressed a smile. She was still hysterical and must be humored in her vagaries. What an odd moment for a discussion on etiquette!
"As you wish, Miss Deane," he said. "The fact remains that I have many things to attend to, and we really must eat something."
"What can we eat?"
"Let us find out," he replied, scanning the nearest trees with keen scrutiny.
They plodded together through the sand in silence. Physically, they were a superb couple, but in raiment they resembled scarecrows. Both, of course, were bare-headed. The sailor's jersey and trousers were old and torn, and the sea-water still soughed loudly in his heavy boots with each step.
But Iris was in a deplorable plight. Her hair fell in a great wave of golden brown strands over her neck and shoulders. Every hairpin had vanished, but with a few dexterous twists she coiled the flying tresses into a loose knot. Her beautiful muslin dress was rent and draggled. It was drying rapidly under the ever-increasing power of the sun, and she surreptitiously endeavored to complete the fastening of the open portion about her neck. Other details must be left until a more favorable opportunity.
She recalled the strange sight that first met her eyes when she recovered consciousness.
"You hurt your finger," she said abruptly. "Let me see it."
They had reached the shelter of the trees, pleasantly grateful now, so powerful are tropical sunbeams at even an early hour.
He held out his right hand without looking at her. Indeed, his eyes had been studiously averted during the past few minutes. Her womanly feelings were aroused by the condition of the ragged wound.
"Oh, you poor fellow," she said. "How awful it must be! How did it happen? Let me tie it up."
"It is not so bad now," he said. "It has been well soaked in salt water, you know. I think the nail was torn off when we—when a piece of wreckage miraculously turned up beneath us."
Iris shredded a strip from her dress. She bound the finger with deft tenderness.
"Thank you," he said simply. Then he gave a glad shout. "By Jove! Miss Deane, we are in luck's way. There is a fine plantain tree."
The pangs of hunger could not be resisted. Although the fruit was hardly ripe they tore at the great bunches and ate ravenously. Iris made no pretence in the matter, and the sailor was in worse plight, for he had been on duty continuously since four o'clock the previous afternoon.
At last their appetite was somewhat appeased, though plantains might not appeal to a gourmand as the solitary joint.
"Now," decided Jenks, "you must rest here a little while, Miss Deane. I am going back to the beach. You need not be afraid. There are no animals to harm you, and I will not be far away."
"What are you going to do on the beach?" she demanded.
"To rescue stores, for the most part."
"May I not come with you—I can be of some little service, surely?"
He answered slowly: "Please oblige me by remaining here at present. In less than an hour I will return, and then, perhaps, you will find plenty to do."
She read his meaning intuitively and shivered. "I could not do that," she murmured. "I would faint. Whilst you are away I will pray for them—my unfortunate friends."
As he passed from her side he heard her sobbing quietly.
When he reached the lagoon he halted suddenly. Something startled him. He was quite certain that he had counted fourteen corpses. Now there were only twelve. The two Lascars' bodies, which rested on the small group of rocks on the verge of the lagoon, had vanished.
Where had they gone to?
The sailor wasted no time in idle bewilderment. He searched carefully for traces of the missing Lascars. He came to the conclusion that the bodies had been dragged from off the sun-dried rocks into the lagoon by some agency the nature of which he could not even conjecture.
They were lying many feet above the sea-level when he last saw them, little more than half an hour earlier. At that point the beach shelved rapidly. He could look far into the depths of the rapidly clearing water. Nothing was visible there save several varieties of small fish.
The incident puzzled and annoyed him. Still thinking about it, he sat down on the highest rock and pulled off his heavy boots to empty the water out. He also divested himself of his stockings and spread them out to dry.
The action reminded him of Miss Deane's necessities. He hurried to a point whence he could call out to her and recommend her to dry some of her clothing during his absence. He retired even more quickly, fearing lest he should be seen. Iris had already displayed to the sunlight a large portion of her costume.
Without further delay he set about a disagreeable but necessary task. From the pockets of the first officer and doctor he secured two revolvers and a supply of cartridges, evidently intended to settle any dispute which might have arisen between the ship's officers and the native members of the crew. He hoped the cartridges were uninjured; but he could not test them at the moment for fear of alarming Miss Deane.
Both officers carried pocket-books and pencils. In one of these, containing dry leaves, the sailor made a careful inventory of the money and other valuable effects he found upon the dead, besides noting names and documents where possible. Curiously enough, the capitalist of this island morgue was a Lascar jemadar, who in a belt around his waist hoarded more than one hundred pounds in gold. The sailor tied in a handkerchief all the money he collected, and ranged pocket-books, letters, and jewelry in separate little heaps. Then he stripped the men of their boots and outer clothing. He could not tell how long the girl and he might be detained on the island before help came, and fresh garments were essential. It would be foolish sentimentality to trust to stores thrown ashore from the ship.
Nevertheless, when it became necessary to search and disrobe the women he almost broke down. For an instant he softened. Gulping back his emotions with a savage imprecation he doggedly persevered. At last he paused to consider what should be done with the bodies. His first intent was to scoop a large hole in the sand with a piece of timber; but when he took into consideration the magnitude of the labor involved, requiring many hours of hard work and a waste of precious time which might be of infinite value to his helpless companion and himself, he was forced to abandon the project. It was not only impracticable but dangerous.
Again he had to set his teeth with grim resolution. One by one the bodies were shot into the lagoon from the little quay of rock. He knew they would not be seen again.
He was quite unnerved now. He felt as if he had committed a colossal crime. In the smooth water of the cove a number of black fins were cutting arrow-shaped ripples. The sharks were soon busy. He shuddered. God's Providence had ferried him and the girl across that very place a few hours ago. How wonderful that he and she should be snatched from the sea whilst hundreds perished! Why was it? And those others—why were they denied rescue? For an instant he was nearer to prayer than he had been for years.
Some lurking fiend of recollection sprang from out the vista of bygone years and choked back the impulse. He arose and shook himself like a dog. There was much to be done. He gathered the clothes and other articles into a heap and placed portions of shattered packing-cases near—to mislead Iris. Whilst thus engaged he kicked up out of the sand a rusty kriss, or Malay sword. The presence of this implement startled him. He examined it slowly and thrust it out of sight.
Then he went back to her, after donning his stockings and boots, now thoroughly dry.
"Are you ready now, Miss Deane?" he sang out cheerily.
"Ready? I have been waiting for you."
Jenks chuckled quietly. "I must guard my tongue: it betrays me," he said to himself.
Iris joined him. By some mysterious means she had effected great improvement in her appearance. Yet there were manifest gaps.
"If only I had a needle and thread—" she began.
"If that is all," said the sailor, fumbling in his pockets. He produced a shabby little hussif, containing a thimble, scissors, needles and some skeins of unbleached thread. Case and contents were sodden or rusted with salt water, but the girl fastened upon this treasure with a sigh of deep content.
"Now, please," she cried, "I want a telegraph office and a ship."
It was impossible to resist the infection of her high spirits. This time he laughed without concealment.
"We will look for them, Miss Deane. Meanwhile, will you oblige me by wearing this? The sun is climbing up rapidly."
He handed her a sou'wester which he carried. He had secured another for himself. The merriment died away from her face. She remembered his errand. Being an eminently sensible young woman she made no protest, even forcing herself to tie the strings beneath her chin.
When they reached the sands she caught sight of the pile of clothes and the broken woodwork, with the small heaps of valuables methodically arranged. The harmless subterfuge did not deceive her. She darted a quick look of gratitude at her companion. How thoughtful he was! After a fearful glance around she was reassured, though she wondered what had become of—them.
"I see you have been busy," she said, nodding towards the clothes and boots.
It was his turn to steal a look of sharp inquiry. 'Twere an easier task to read the records of time in the solid rock than to glean knowledge from the girl's face.
"Yes," he replied simply. "Lucky find, wasn't it?"
"Most fortunate. When they are quite dry I will replenish my wardrobe. What is the first thing to be done?"
"Well, Miss Deane, I think our programme is, in the first place, to examine the articles thrown ashore and see if any of the cases contain food. Secondly, we should haul high and dry everything that may be of use to us, lest the weather should break again and the next tide sweep away the spoil. Thirdly, we should eat and rest, and finally, we must explore the island before the light fails. I am convinced we are alone here. It is a small place at the best, and if any Chinamen were ashore they would have put in an appearance long since."
"Do you think, then, that we may remain here long?"
"It is impossible to form an opinion on that point. Help may come in a day. On the other hand——"
"It is a wise thing, Miss Deane, to prepare for other contingencies."
She stood still, and swept the horizon with comprehensive eyes. The storm had vanished. Masses of cloud were passing away to the west, leaving a glorious expanse of blue sky. Already the sea was calming. Huge breakers roared over the reef, but beyond it the waves were subsiding into a heavy unbroken swell.
The sailor watched her closely. In the quaint oilskin hat and her tattered muslin dress she looked bewitchingly pretty. She reminded him of a well-bred and beautiful society lady whom he once saw figuring as Grace Darling at a fashionable bazaar.
But Miss Iris's thoughts were serious.
"Do you mean," she said slowly, without moving her gaze from the distant meeting-place of sky and water, "that we may be imprisoned here for weeks, perhaps months?"
"If you cast your mind back a few hours you will perhaps admit that we are very fortunate to be here at all."
She whisked round upon him. "Do not fence with my question, Mr. Jenks. Answer me!"
He bowed. There was a perceptible return of his stubborn cynicism when he spoke.
"The facts are obvious, Miss Deane. The loss of the Sirdar will not be definitely known for many days. It will be assumed that she has broken down. The agents in Singapore will await cabled tidings of her whereabouts. She might have drifted anywhere in that typhoon. Ultimately they will send out a vessel to search, impelled to that course a little earlier by your father's anxiety. Pardon me. I did not intend to pain you. I am speaking my mind."
"Go on," said Iris bravely.
"The relief ship must search the entire China Sea. The gale might have driven a disabled steamer north, south, east or west. A typhoon travels in a whirling spiral, you see, and the direction of a drifting ship depends wholly upon the locality where she sustained damage. The coasts of China, Java, Borneo, and the Philippines are not equipped with lighthouses on every headland and cordoned with telegraph wires. There are river pirates and savage races to be reckoned with. Casting aside all other possibilities, and assuming that a prompt search is made to the south of our course, this part of the ocean is full of reefs and small islands, some inhabited permanently, others visited occasionally by fishermen." He was about to add something, but checked himself.
"To sum up," he continued hurriedly, "we may have to remain here for many days, even months. There is always a chance of speedy help. We must act, however, on the basis of detention for an indefinite period. I am discussing appearances as they are. A survey of the island may change all these views."
"In what way?"
He turned and pointed to the summit of the tree-covered hill behind them.
"From that point," he said, "we may see other and larger islands. If so, they will certainly be inhabited. I am surprised this one is not."
He ended abruptly. They were losing time. Before Iris could join him he was already hauling a large undamaged case out of the water.
He laughed unmirthfully. "Champagne!" he said, "A good brand, too!"
This man was certainly an enigma. Iris wrinkled her pretty forehead in the effort to place him in a fitting category. His words and accent were those of an educated gentleman, yet his actions and manners were studiously uncouth when he thought she was observing him. The veneer of roughness puzzled her. That he was naturally of refined temperament she knew quite well, not alone by perception but by the plain evidence of his earlier dealings with her. Then why this affectation of coarseness, this borrowed aroma of the steward's mess and the forecastle?
To the best of her ability she silently helped in the work of salvage. They made a queer collection. A case of champagne, and another of brandy. A box of books. A pair of night glasses. A compass. Several boxes of ship's biscuits, coated with salt, but saved by their hardness, having been immersed but a few seconds. Two large cases of hams in equally good condition. Some huge dish-covers. A bit of twisted ironwork, and a great quantity of cordage and timber.
There was one very heavy package which their united strength could not lift. The sailor searched round until he found an iron bar that could be wrenched from its socket. With this he pried open the strong outer cover and revealed the contents—regulation boxes of Lee-Metford ammunition, each containing 500 rounds.
"Ah!" he cried, "now we want some rifles."
"What good would they be?" inquired Iris.
He softly denounced himself as a fool, but he answered at once: "To shoot birds, of course, Miss Deane. There are plenty here, and many of them are edible."
"You have two revolvers and some cartridges."
"Yes. They are useful in a way, but not for pot hunting."
"How stupid of me! What you really need is a shot-gun."
He smiled grimly. At times his sense of humor forced a way through the outward shield of reserve, of defiance it might be.
"The only persons I ever heard of," he said, "who landed under compulsion on a desert island with a ship-load of requisites, were the Swiss Family Robinson."
"Good gracious!" cried Iris irrelevantly; "I had not even thought of Robinson Crusoe until this moment. Isn't it odd? I—we—"
She pulled herself up short, firmly resolved not to blush. Without flinching she challenged him to complete her sentence. He dared not do it. He could not be mean enough to take advantage of her slip.
Instantly he helped her embarrassment. "I hope the parallel will not hold good," he said. "In any event, you, Miss Deane, fill a part less familiar in fiction."
The phrase was neat. It meant much or little, as fancy dictated. Iris at first felt profoundly grateful for his tact. Thinking the words over at leisure she became hot and very angry.
They worked in silence for another hour. The sun was nearing the zenith. They were distressed with the increasing heat of the day. Jenks secured a ham and some biscuits, some pieces of driftwood and the binoculars, and invited Miss Deane to accompany him to the grove. She obeyed without a word, though she wondered how he proposed to light a fire. To contribute something towards the expected feast she picked up a dish-cover and a bottle of champagne.
The sailor eyed the concluding item with disfavor. "Not whilst the sun is up." he said. "In the evening, yes."
"It was for you," explained Iris, coldly. "I do not drink wine."
"You must break the pledge whilst you are here, Miss Deane. It is often very cold at night in this latitude. A chill would mean fever and perhaps death."
"What a strange man!" murmured the girl.
She covertly watched his preparations. He tore a dry leaf from a notebook and broke the bullet out of a cartridge, damping the powder with water from a pitcher-plant. Smearing the composition on the paper, he placed it in the sun, where it dried at once. He gathered a small bundle of withered spines from the palms, and arranged the driftwood on top, choosing a place for his bonfire just within the shade. Then, inserting the touch-paper among the spines, he unscrewed one of the lenses of the binoculars, converted it into a burning-glass, and had a fine blaze roaring merrily in a few minutes. With the aid of pointed sticks he grilled some slices of ham, cut with his clasp-knife, which he first carefully cleaned in the earth. The biscuits were of the variety that become soft when toasted, and so he balanced a few by stones near the fire.
Iris forgot her annoyance in her interest. A most appetizing smell filled the air. They were having a picnic amidst delightful surroundings. Yesterday at this time—she almost yielded to a rush of sentiment, but forced it back with instant determination. Tears were a poor resource, unmindful of God's goodness to herself and her companion. Without the sailor what would have become of her, even were she thrown ashore while still living? She knew none of the expedients which seemed to be at his command. It was a most ungrateful proceeding to be vexed with him for her own thoughtless suggestion that she occupied a new role as Mrs. Crusoe.
"Can I do nothing to help?" she exclaimed. So contrite was her tone that Jenks was astonished.
"Yes," he said, pointing to the dish-cover. "If you polish the top of that with your sleeve it will serve as a plate. Luncheon is ready."
He neatly dished up two slices of ham on a couple of biscuits and handed them to her, with the clasp-knife.
"I can depend on my fingers," he explained. "It will not be the first time."
"Have you led an adventurous life?" she asked, by way of polite conversation.
"No," he growled.
"I only thought so because you appear to know all sorts of dodges for prolonging existence—things I never heard of."
"Broiled ham—and biscuits—for instance?"
At another time Iris would have snapped at him for the retort. Still humbly regretful for her previous attitude she answered meekly—
"Yes, in this manner of cooking them, I mean. But there are other items—methods of lighting fires, finding water, knowing what fruits and other articles may be found on a desert island, such as plantains and cocoanuts, certain sorts of birds—and beche-de-mer."
For the life of her she could not tell why she tacked on that weird item to her list.
The sailor inquired, more civilly—"Then you are acquainted with trepang?"
"Trepang—beche-de-mer, you know."
Iris made a desperate guess. "Yes," she said, demurely. "It makes beautiful backs for hair brushes. And it looks so nice as a frame for platinotype photographs. I have—"
Jenks swallowed a large piece of ham and became very red. At last he managed to say—"I beg your pardon. You are thinking of tortoise-shell. Beche-de-mer is a sort of marine slug."
"How odd!" said Iris.
She had discovered at an early age the tactical value of this remark, and the experience of maturer years confirmed the success of juvenile efforts to upset the equanimity of governesses. Even the sailor was silenced.
Talk ceased until the meal was ended. Jenks sprang lightly to his feet. Rest and food had restored his faculties. The girl thought dreamily, as he stood there in his rough attire, that she had never seen a finer man. He was tall, sinewy, and well formed. In repose his face was pleasant, if masterful. Its somewhat sullen, self-contained expression was occasional and acquired. She wondered how he could be so energetic. Personally she was consumed with sleepiness.
He produced a revolver.
"Do you mind if I fire a shot to test these cartridges?" he inquired. "The powder is all right, but the fulminate in the caps may be damaged."
She agreed promptly. He pointed the weapon at a cluster of cocoanuts, and there was a loud report. Two nuts fell to the ground, and the air was filled with shrill screams and the flapping of innumerable wings. Iris was momentarily dismayed, but her senses confirmed the sailor's explanation—"Sea-birds."
He reloaded the empty chamber, and was about to say something, when a queer sound, exactly resembling the gurgling of water poured from a large bottle, fell upon their ears. It came from the interior of the grove, and the two exchanged a quick look of amazed questioning. Jenks took a hasty step in the direction of the noise, but he stopped and laughed at his own expense. Iris liked the sound of his mirth. It was genuine, not forced.
"I remember now," he explained. "The wou-wou monkey cries in that peculiar warble. The presence of the animal here shows that the island has been inhabited at some time."
"You remember?" repeated the girl. "Then you have been in this part of the world before?"
"No. I mean I have read about it."
Twice in half an hour had he curtly declined to indulge in personal reminiscences.
"Can you use a revolver?" he went on.
"My father taught me. He thinks every woman should know how to defend herself if need be."
"Excellent. Well, Miss Deane, you must try to sleep for a couple of hours. I purpose examining the coast for some distance on each side. Should you want me, a shot will be the best sort of signal."
"I am very tired," she admitted. "But you?"
"Oh, I am all right. I feel restless; that is, I mean I will not be able to sleep until night comes, and before we climb the hill to survey our domain I want to find better quarters than we now possess."
Perhaps, were she less fatigued, she would have caught the vague anxiety, the note of distrust, in his voice. But the carpet of sand and leaves on which she lay was very seductive. Her eyes closed. She nestled into a comfortable position, and slept.
The man looked at her steadily for a little while. Then he moved the revolver out of harm's way to a spot where she must see it instantly, pulled his sou'wester well over his eyes and walked off quietly.
They were flung ashore on the north-west side of the island. Except for the cove formed by the coral reef, with its mysterious palm-tree growing apparently in the midst of the waves, the shape of the coast was roughly that of the concave side of a bow, the two visible extremities being about three-quarters of a mile apart.
He guessed, by the way in which the sea raced past these points, that the land did not extend beyond them. Behind him, it rose steeply to a considerable height, 150 or 200 feet. In the center was the tallest hill, which seemed to end abruptly towards the south-west. On the north-east side it was connected with a rocky promontory by a ridge of easy grade. The sailor turned to the south-west, as offering the most likely direction for rapid survey.
He followed the line of vegetation; there the ground was firm and level. There was no suggestion of the mariner's roll in his steady gait. Alter his clothing, change the heavy boots into spurred Wellingtons, and he would be the beau ideal of a cavalry soldier, the order of Melchisedec in the profession of arms.
He was not surprised to find that the hill terminated in a sheer wall of rock, which stood out, ominous and massive, from the wealth of verdure clothing the remainder of the ridge. Facing the precipice, and separated from it by a strip of ground not twenty feet above the sea-level in the highest part, was another rock-built eminence, quite bare of trees, blackened by the weather and scarred in a manner that attested the attacks of lightning.
He whistled softly. "By Jove!" he said. "Volcanic, and highly mineralized."
The intervening belt was sparsely dotted with trees, casuarinas, poon, and other woods he did not know, resembling ebony and cedar. A number of stumps showed that the axe had been at work, but not recently. He passed into the cleft and climbed a tree that offered easy access. As he expected, after rising a few feet from the ground, his eyes encountered the solemn blue line of the sea, not half a mile distant.
He descended and commenced a systematic search. Men had been here. Was there a house? Would he suddenly encounter some hermit Malay or Chinaman?
At the foot of the main cliff was a cluster of fruit-bearing trees, plantains, areca-nuts, and cocoa-palms. A couple of cinchonas caught his eye. In one spot the undergrowth was rank and vividly green. The cassava, or tapioca plant, reared its high, passion-flower leaves above the grass, and some sago-palms thrust aloft their thick-stemmed trunks.
"Here is a change of menu, at any rate," he communed.
Breaking a thick branch off a poon tree he whittled away the minor stems. A strong stick was needful to explore that leafy fastness thoroughly.
A few cautious strides and vigorous whacks with the stick laid bare the cause of such prodigality in a soil covered with drifted sand and lumps of black and white speckled coral. The trees and bushes enclosed a well—safe-guarded it, in fact, from being choked with sand during the first gale that blew.
Delighted with this discovery, more precious than diamonds at the moment, for he doubted the advisability of existing on the water supply of the pitcher-plant, he knelt to peer into the excavation. The well had been properly made. Ten feet down he could see the reflection of his face. Expert hands had tapped the secret reservoir of the island. By stretching to the full extent of his arm, he managed to plunge the stick into the water. Tasting the drops, he found that they were quite sweet. The sand and porous rock provided the best of filter-beds.
He rose, wall pleased, and noted that on the opposite side the appearance of the shrubs and tufts of long grass indicated the existence of a grown-over path towards the cliff. He followed it, walking carelessly, with eyes seeking the prospect beyond, when something rattled and cracked beneath his feet. Looking down, he was horrified to find he was trampling on a skeleton.
Had a venomous snake coiled its glistening folds around his leg he would not have been more startled. But this man of iron nerve soon recovered. He frowned deeply after the first involuntary heart-throb.
With the stick he cleared away the undergrowth, and revealed the skeleton of a man. The bones were big and strong, but oxidized by the action of the air. Jenks had injured the left tibia by his tread, but three fractured ribs and a smashed shoulder-blade told some terrible unwritten story.
Beneath the mournful relics were fragments of decayed cloth. It was blue serge. Lying about were a few blackened objects—brass buttons marked with an anchor. The dead man's boots were in the best state of preservation, but the leather had shrunk and the nails protruded like fangs.
A rusted pocket-knife lay there, and on the left breast of the skeleton rested a round piece of tin, the top of a canister, which might have reposed in a coat pocket. Jenks picked it up. Some curious marks and figures were punched into its surface. After a hasty glance he put it aside for more leisurely examination.
No weapon was visible. He could form no estimate as to the cause of the death of this poor unknown, nor the time since the tragedy had occurred.
Jenks must have stood many minutes before he perceived that the skeleton was headless. At first he imagined that in rummaging about with the stick he had disturbed the skull. But the most minute search demonstrated that it had gone, had been taken away, in fact, for the plants which so effectually screened the lighter bones would not permit the skull to vanish.
Then the frown on the sailor's face became threatening, thunderous. He recollected the rusty kriss. Indistinct memories of strange tales of the China Sea crowded unbidden to his brain.
"Dyaks!" he growled fiercely. "A ship's officer, an Englishman probably, murdered by head-hunting Dyak pirates!"
If they came once they would come again.
Five hundred yards away Iris Deane was sleeping. He ought not to have left her alone. And then, with the devilish ingenuity of coincidence, a revolver shot awoke the echoes, and sent all manner of wildfowl hurtling through the trees with clamorous outcry.
Panting and wild-eyed, Jenks was at the girl's side in an inconceivably short space of time. She was not beneath the shelter of the grove, but on the sands, gazing, pallid in cheek and lip, at the group of rocks on the edge of the lagoon.
"What is the matter?" he gasped.
"Oh, I don't know," she wailed brokenly. "I had a dream, such a horrible dream. You were struggling with some awful thing down there." She pointed to the rocks.
"I was not near the place," he said laboriously. It cost him an effort to breathe. His broad chest expanded inches with each respiration.
"Yes, yes, I understand. But I awoke and ran to save you. When I got here I saw something, a thing with waving arms, and fired. It vanished, and then you came."
The sailor walked slowly to the rocks. A fresh chip out of the stone showed where the bullet struck. One huge boulder was wet, as if water had been splashed over it. He halted and looked intently into the water. Not a fish was to be seen, but small spirals of sand were eddying up from the bottom, where it shelved steeply from the shore.
Iris followed him. "See," she cried excitedly. "I was not mistaken. There was something here."
A creepy sensation ran up the man's spine and passed behind his ears. At this spot the drowned Lascars were lying. Like an inspiration came the knowledge that the cuttlefish, the dreaded octopus, abounds in the China Sea.
His face was livid when he turned to Iris. "You are over-wrought by fatigue, Miss Deane," he said. "What you saw was probably a seal;" he knew the ludicrous substitution would not be questioned. "Please go and lie down again."
"I cannot," she protested. "I am too frightened."
"Frightened! By a dream! In broad daylight!"
"But why are you so pale? What has alarmed you?"
"Can you ask? Did you not give the agreed signal?"
Her inquiring glance fell. He was breathless from agitation rather than running. He was perturbed on her account. For an instant she had looked into his soul.
"I will go back," she said quietly, "though I would rather accompany you. What are you doing?"
"Seeking a place to lay our heads," he answered, with gruff carelessness. "You really must rest, Miss Deane. Otherwise you will be broken up by fatigue and become ill."
So Iris again sought her couch of sand, and the sailor returned to the skeleton. They separated unwillingly, each thinking only of the other's safety and comfort. The girl knew she was not wanted because the man wished to spare her some unpleasant experience. She obeyed him with a sigh, and sat down, not to sleep, but to muse, as girls will, round-eyed, wistful, with the angelic fantasy of youth and innocence.
Across the parched bones lay the stick discarded by Jenks in his alarm. He picked it up and resumed his progress along the pathway. So closely did he now examine the ground that he hardly noted his direction. The track led straight towards the wall of rock. The distance was not great—about forty yards. At first the brushwood impeded him, but soon even this hindrance disappeared, and a well-defined passage meandered through a belt of trees, some strong and lofty, others quite immature.
More bushes gathered at the foot of the cliff. Behind them he could see the mouth of a cave; the six months' old growth of vegetation about the entrance gave clear indication as to the time which had elapsed since a human foot last disturbed the solitude.
A few vigorous blows with the stick cleared away obstructing plants and leafy branches. The sailor stooped and looked into the cavern, for the opening was barely five feet high. He perceived instantly that the excavation was man's handiwork, applied to a fault in the hard rock. A sort of natural shaft existed, and this had been extended by manual labor. Beyond the entrance the cave became more lofty. Owing to its position with reference to the sun at that hour Jenks imagined that sufficient light would be obtainable when the tropical luxuriance of foliage outside was dispensed with.
At present the interior was dark. With the stick he tapped the walls and roof. A startled cluck and the rush of wings heralded the flight of two birds, alarmed by the noise. Soon his eyes, more accustomed to the gloom, made out that the place was about thirty feet deep, ten feet wide in the center, and seven or eight feet high.
At the further end was a collection of objects inviting prompt attention. Each moment he could see with greater distinctness. Kneeling on one side of the little pile he discerned that on a large stone, serving as a rude bench, were some tin utensils, some knives, a sextant, and a quantity of empty cartridge cases. Between the stone and what a miner terms the "face" of the rock was a four-foot space. Here, half imbedded in the sand which covered the floor, were two pickaxes, a shovel, a sledge-hammer, a fine timber-felling axe, and three crowbars.
In the darkest corner of the cave's extremity the "wall" appeared to be very smooth. He prodded with the stick, and there was a sharp clang of tin. He discovered six square kerosene-oil cases carefully stacked up. Three were empty, one seemed to be half full, and the contents of two were untouched. With almost feverish haste he ascertained that the half-filled tin did really contain oil.
"What a find!" he ejaculated aloud. Another pair of birds dashed from a ledge near the roof.
"Confound you!" shouted the sailor. He sprang back and whacked the walls viciously, but all the feathered intruders had gone.
So far as he could judge the cave harbored no further surprises. Returning towards the exit his boots dislodged more empty cartridges from the sand. They were shells adapted to a revolver of heavy caliber. At a short distance from the doorway they were present in dozens.
"The remnants of a fight," he thought. "The man was attacked, and defended himself here. Not expecting the arrival of enemies he provided no store of food or water. He was killed whilst trying to reach the well, probably at night."
He vividly pictured the scene—a brave, hardy European keeping at bay a boatload of Dyak savages, enduring manfully the agonies of hunger, thirst, perhaps wounds. Then the siege, followed by a wild effort to gain the life-giving well, the hiss of a Malay parang wielded by a lurking foe, and the last despairing struggle before death came.
He might be mistaken. Perchance there was a less dramatic explanation. But he could not shake off his, first impressions. They were garnered from dumb evidence and developed by some occult but overwhelming sense of certainty.