The Return of Jerry Mitchell
Wherein a captain of men finds his mate and a bold buccaneer meets his master
ALBERT RICHARD WETJEN
FOR one of the few times in his life, Jerry Mitchell was angry. And, as with most men who are slow to anger, when he finally reached that condition he took a very long time to cool down, and was doubly dangerous while his mood lasted. He had started the voyage on the Cascade Locks with somewhat of the feeling that it was a good joke, both on himself and upon Margaret Waters. He had wanted her and had been willing to do all he could to get her. When he had been suffering those first weeks out of port he had still retained his idea that it was a good joke, even if there were moments when he felt somewhat rueful about it all. His first moments of regret had come when they had found the ^orinthian and he had sensed Sandy’s scheme to gain control of the Cascade Locks and the gold she had taken on board.
But he had not thought the situation without hope, not even when Sandy had gained control of the schooner. He had not believed the crew would actually allow the ringleader to set the captain and the rest adrift without food or oars. There was at least a considerable minority against it, and he had thought he could talk them over to his side if the worst came to the worst. He had gone into a fight with Sandy then on the spur of the moment, filled with irritation rather than anger. And when had won that fight he had known that, barring the unforeseen, he had averted most of the danger from the heads of the captive officers and from Margaret. He had been prepared to heavily bribe such men as Mike, who were easily handled if approached rightly, and could have offered fyhem all much more than they would gain from sharing the gold.
But then the unforeseen had occurred. Collomy had come and, like a fool, as he now considered, Jerry had told him the situation. Although, for that matter, Collomy would have grasped it himself sooner or later,' or heard it from Mike or Sanely. Certainly one of his own men would have picked up hints from Sandy’s crew. But in any case that was in the past. Jerry dismissed it. What had infuriated him was the cold-bloodedness of Collomy. He was a better man, a shrewder
leader than Sandy. And he was obviously desperate. He had probably killed the captain of the Corinthian himself, or had him killed, and he would never take the chance of letting any word of that get abroad.
Then, too, in the case of Margaret and Sandy it would not have been hard to throw the thing into dispute. Sandy was, after all, a fo’c’s'le hand. His followers considered themselves as good as he. But in the case of Collomy the man was a born commander, an officer. There would be no arguments from his men over what he said or proposed. His cool assumption of mastery, his thinly veiled contempt for all others stirred within Jerry something primitive and grim. His humor departed from him. And in the old days, when that happened, matters had marched swiftly. He had been in that mood when he had first plunged into the business world and left the sea. He had been in that mood when he had made his first big coup that was to end with his forming the vast interests of the Mitchell Lumber and Shipping Company. He had been a little in that mood after he had heard of the engagement of Peter Clarke to Margaret Waters. And now, his hands tied behind him, and locked inside the wireless operator’s wrecked cabin, his mood was wholly one of savagery and anger. Clear, cold, and hard.
He surveyed the wrecked room, kicked aside a few fragments of shattered wood and metal, and swore wholeheartedly.
Jerry, my boy! 1 ou’ve got to make good or go under. The bluffs are all called. We’re up against it Bad!”
'"THE cabin was dim, the port having been shut and 1 screwed down the night before. Outside he could hear Collomy s knife and fork clattering. The schooner’s hull was creaking as she lunged along. There were the normal noises of rushing water, the far-off slatting of canvas from the deck. Jerry leaned against the wireless operator’s splintered table and thought. Then he probed among the wreckage.
As his eyes grew accustomed to the dimness searching was easier, but he could find nothing that would be of much help in getting his hands free. He turned at last to scan the bulkheads and then almost laughed. He had forgotten the water carafe and the glasses that still stood in their racks above the wash basin. And he had heard somewhere that broken glass would chafe through rope, given time.
He lifted a glass out by means of his teeth, and then kneeling set it carefully on the deck. He smashed the top with the heel of his shoe, and, satisfied, thrust the jagged bottom piece out of sight in a corner. The day was not done yet and there was a possibility that someone might enter the cabin before it was dark. He crawled into the bunk with difficulty, composed himself, cursing his already numbed hands and arms, and with an effort got his mind off his troubles and tried to sleep. He needed sleep and he wanted his strength, and in spite of the fact that he was hungry he managed to doze off for some hours.
The turning of the key in the lock aroused him, and a man entered bearing a small tray upon which was some cold meat and a slice of bread. Collomy loomed behind him in the doorway, smoking a cheroot and looking amiable.
“Let him loose while he feeds,” he said casually, and the seaman complied with a grunt.
Jerry spent some moments massaging his hands and
then immediately started eating.
“We’ll be at the atoll I spoke of in about a couple of days,” said Collomy easily. “That is if the weather doesn’t break.”
“Glass is rising, eh?” said Jerry.
“Some. Looks like a blow. But it’s all in our favor unless it develops.”
Something in the other’s voice made Jerry eye him keenly. He thought Collomy had been drinking, but could not be sure.
“Is my fiancé all right?” he ventured after a pause.
“I’m attending to her,” said Collomy with a laugh. He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a key, which he tossed up and caught. “Got this out of her door while she was eating.”
“I thought you were a gentleman, a little at least.”
“Always am,” said the other calmly. “But I’m also impatient. Bad habit but can’t be helped. You needn’t worry anyway. I make them like me first.”
Jerry said nothing. Collomy blew smoke at the deckhead and went on.
"I’m being generous. Offering to set her ashore with you and her father if she’s a good sport for a couple of days.”
“You’re a dirty sort of swine, aren’t you?” said Jerry
Collomy stiffened abruptly.
“We’ll have none of that talk. I’m liable to toast your feet over a lamp flame. May do it anyway, to get a slice of your jack.”
“I hope Margaret sticks a knife in you,” said Jerry He restrained himself with an effort. It would do no good to charge at the doorway now. The seaman would get him from behind. He finished eating, allowed his hands • to be fastened again.
“See you in the morning,” drawled Collomy.
“Sleep well. There’ll be
a man keeping an eye on the door here so don’t grow ambitious. He’s got orders to stick you if you get out. Not that it’s likely. Unless you can pick locks and wriggle out of that rope.”
“Maybe I will,” said Jerry.
Collomy laughed, ushered the seaman out and locked the door. Jerry could hardly think the man was such a fool as not to take more precautions. If he intended to visit Margaret after it was night he would certainly not have a seaman standing guard in the main cabin. But it had apparently not occurred to him that his captive could get free. Or perhaps his supreme confidence in himself and his contempt for others made him careless. More than one man has. fallen to ruin through underestimating his enemies.
Jerry waited, feeling the need of a smoke but controlling his impatience. He heard the bell strike on the poop, repeating the notes that issued from the main cabin clock. So they had the watches all set and were following ship routine, he thought.„That was good. If he managed to get clear he could figure then on only a few men being on deck at night.
He heard Collomy talking to some men who came below soon after supper, and, pressing his ear against the door, Jerry discovered they were bringing something up out of the lazarette. Liquor, of course. They would want to celebrate after their coup. And even a leader like Collomy would be unable to deny them one spree. Probably he considered there was no danger anyway, and his man Samuels would see that enough men kept sober to work the ship.
Collomy went on deck for a while and the main cabin was still. Margaret came to the door of Jerry’s room, tapped on it and called out:
“Are you all right,
“Fair,” he answered grimly. “Do you know Collomy’s got the key to your door?”
“I found that out some time ago,” she said, and he was grateful she seemed calm. Many girls would have been half hysterical.
“But I’m not using my room tonight.” He heard her laugh a little. “I have a key to the little storeroom near the pantry and I’m sleeping in there. You know father let me keep his log and the accounts of—what do you call it?”
“The slop chest?”
“That’s it. The clothes the men buy. That’s where I’m going. And there’s a bolt on the inside.”
“Good girl!” he muttered.
“Tomorrow ...” she started, and then Jerry heard Collomy call lazily:
“You’d better get away from that door, my dear Miss.”
She moved away and went aft toward the pantry. Jerry heard Collomy descending the companion. Then there came the slam of a door and Collomy gave an abrupt curse and hurried aft also. Jerry heard him try a knob, then rattle and say something angrily, and he chuckled. If Collomy didn’t get too drunk Margaret was probably safe. He heard the big man moving about and then caught the clink of a glass. He went a little cold. But presently Coilcmy went up on deck again, cursing to himself, and someone else came below and sat down.
A seaman, Jerry thought. Then Collomy had meant what he said about setting a guard.
'T'WO hours slid away and Collomy came below again.
He said something to the seaman and there were more clinks of glasses. Collomy went aft and again rattled the handle of the storeroom door.
“All right, young lady,” Jerry heard him say, his
voice grim. “You’ve got to come out to eat. I’ll fix this idea in the morning.”
That done, he drank some more and finally, going into the captain’s room, slammed the door viciously. Jerry chuckled. He thought also that he heard the watching seaman laugh.
The schooner seemed to be pitching more violently and there was a wail of wind. The weather was freshening. Jerry dropped from the bunk to the deck and located his broken glass. He had some trouble lifting it to the top of the splintered wireless table without cutting his mouth, and when he had it there he found that, what with the movements of the vessel and his awkwardness, it slid about quite a good deal. But he persevered, getting his hands on each side of the jagged glass and picking at the rope that bound him with one of the
pointed spurs. He cut his wrists several times, suppressing his exclamations when that happened, and he often hau a hard job to retain his footing when the ship rolled and caught him off balance. It must have taken him nearly two hours before he felt the first give to the line, and another half an hour before the first strand parted. It was easy after that, and he finally straightened, dripping with sweat, and rubbed his bloody wrists.
He considered the closed port for a while and then shook his head. There was a time, when he was really slender, when he might have unfastened it and squeezed through, to stand on the narrow wooden ledge that circled the hull and climb from there to the deck, a dangerous but not an impossible undertaking. Now, however, his girth would not allow of that. He had to open the door.
He found some matches in one of the wireless operator’s coats that swung from a peg, and he also found several keys, most of them small and evidently belonging
to drawers or small boxes. He lighted the oil lamp, turning it very low. Since the wireless had been smashed the steam boiler midships, which turned a small dynamo that provided power and light aft, had been allowed to go out, and the electric globe in the deckhead was useless. Moving quietly and with the utmost care, Jerry considered the door.
The lock was a simple one, opened by a very plain key, which did not bother Jerry at all, although he found several keys which he might have made to fit with a little manipulation. He tried them casually and discarded them, for he had not been figuring on a key anyway. He used some bent wire, a trick he had learned in a South American jail years before, when he had been incarcerated for two weary months with a notorious Chilean thief, the both of them having been arrested
after a brawl in a café that was really none of their affair at all.
The noises of the ship covered any sounds that Jerry now made, but it took him the best part of another hour before his awkward fingers had probed the lock and turned it. The resulting click seemed like a thunder clap, but there was no movement from the seaman in the main cabin, a new man, for the other had been relieved some time before and had, so Jerry’s ears assured him, been having frequent recourse to a bottle. Collomy was apparently asleep. At least no sound had come from his room. Samuels had come below soon after the relieving seaman, and had gone into one of the other cabins. Jerry thought that some other trusty lieutenant of Collomy’s must be on watch, probably with orders to call Samuels if the weather got worse. Well, so far so good !
Jerry waited for ten minutes, listening intently, and then he slowly turned the handle of the door and allowed it to open the merest trifle. He waited again until reassured, then widened the crack until he could see into the main cabin.
One swift glance was enough. Collomy’s door was shut. So was Samuels’. The seaman was nodding in one of the chairs at the table, a glass clenched in one hand and a bottle stuck in the rack against the stanchion that ran through the table. He •was breathing heavily, his heavy red mustache stirring, his legs sprawled out before him. Jerry had blown out the lamp in his own room and was relieved to find that the one in the main cabin, rocking in its gimbals and suspended from the deckhead, was turned low.
He slipped clear of his door, closing it gently behind him; then on tip-toe he advanced toward the drowsv seaman. The man must have received some dim. subconscious warning, for he suddenly jerked up his head and stared around, his eyes heavy and dazed. He began to turn in his chair then and Jerry hit him neatly over the right ear with a leg he had worried from the wireless operator’s table. The man slid down and collapsed without noise save a quick grunt.
“And that’s that!” said Jerry grimly. He searched the man with quick fingers and his heart leaped as he felt the cold steel of a gun thrust in the belt. He drew it clear, hesitated for a moment, and then, lifting the man from the chair, with a tremendous effort he half-dragged halfcarried him back into the operator’s room, where he bound him with the remnants of his own recent bonds and gagged him with one of the operator’s handkerchiefs. That done, he cautiously left the cabin and closed the door behind him.
He hesitated somewhat as to his next move. He had an impulse to turn out the main cabin light but was
afraid the darkness would be noted by the watch on the poop, since the skylight would cease to glow. He wanted to go out on the main deck through the door that was set in the poop’s bulkhead, but was afraid the lamplight, shining out on the deck, would attract attention also. But he had to chance that. He opened the door and slipped outside rapidly, and stood crouched in the darkness and the wind against the rail. There was no alarm, and after a moment he straightened and waited for his eyes to grow accustomed to the murk.
“Let’s see,” he murmured. “When Collomy was coming aboard and while Sandy was counting the daisies, Mike told his crowd to shove the skipper and the rest in the spare cabin midships. If they’re still there I’m O.K.”
He moved along the darkness of the main deck, silent as a ghost, and faintly heard the bell strike on the poop. It was four o’clock. He’d have to work fast. Daylight would come in an hour or so, delayed a little perhaps by the murk that covered the stormy sky. He would have to make his play before then anyway.
He heard voices and ducked into the thicker shadows by the mizzenmast while two men of Collomy’s crew passed him, one evidently going to relieve the wheel. They sounded sleepy, were unquestionably half drunk also. But two men ! Jerry thought fast and then swore. One must be going to relieve the seaman on guard in the main cabin! He turned and ran lightly back to the break of the poop. If the main cabin relief was to go up on the poop first and then down the companion, matters would be awkward. If he chose to use the main deck door . . . And he did ! Jerry broke into cold sweat at the narrow squeak. He would not have been able to stop the man had he gone on the poop.
“See yer later, Bill,” one of the men grumbled, and he rocked up the companion to relieve the wheel.
The other man said something in response and crossed the deck to go through the lee door to the main cabin. He never knew what struck him. Jerry tied him up with his own belt and some strips from his shirt, and gagged him as well, rolling him into the scuppers.
There was one other danger, he knew. If whoever was in charge of the Cascade Locks had been given orders to call Collomy or Samuels at eight bells ... He had to chance it anyway. They would have a devil of a time finding him in the darkness. He stifled an oath and started midships again, crouching at last outside the door of the spare cabin that was abaft the galley.
Inthe galleyitself he could hear the negro cook snoring, evidently sleeping on the carving table for lack of a bunk. Probably two of Collomy’s men had taken the small room where the cook lived with the carpenter. There was no outcry from aft, so Jerry concluded that no orders had been given to rouse either Samuels or Collomy. It might be the main cabin relief man was expected to do that, and if neither of the officers showed up the man in charge of the poop v/ould put it down to the fact that they were sleeping too heavily to be awakened, or were making themselves some coffee or taking a drink perhaps. In any event he would wait a while before going below to see for himself. Whatever happened, there was no time to lose.
He tapped on the door three times before he heard a grunt from within, and then the profane voice of the mate asking who it was. Jerry swore back.
“Shut up, you fool ! This is Mitchell—I mean Thompson. I’ll have you out in a jiffy.”
He heard the mate’s startled and astonished oath, and fumbled in his pocket for the bent wire he had used upon the lock of his own room. And then he cursed. He had forgotten it, left it on the cabin deck after opening the door. He thought for a moment, his pulses racing, and then went along to the galley. The door was not locked and he went in, treading cautiously. The snores of the big negro guided him and he laid a hand over the man’s mouth before shaking him awake.
“Is there anyone else in here with you?” he whispered tensely in the man’s ear. The cook stiffened and turned slightly. Jerry took away his hand.
“Shut up! We’re getting this ship back, with luck. Is there anyone else?”
“No one, boss! Whoosit?”
“Never mind. You got a pinch bar anywhere around? I’ve got to pry open that midship room where the skipper is.”
The cook’s wits began to work. He slid from the bench and muttered softly to himself.
“I’se 3ick ob dese shennanigins, boss! What-all does you want? A bar Dere’s one befind de range dere, what I used for to get de lids off wid. Jes’ a minnit.”*
X_IE GROPED away and presently returned with a *■ short crowbar. Jerry took it with a sigh of relief and, telling the cook to grab some weapon and follow him, he went out on the main deck again. It took him some five minutes to spring the cabin door, the cook aiding him by bringing a wedge from the nearest hatch. Then Jerry stepped inside, leaving the cook to prevent the
door from banging. He fell on his knees and groped about, until his hand touched a beard and he knew he had found the captain. The cook produced a knife and the captive’s bonds were severed. Jerry was whispering at him while this was being done, explaining the situation. The mate was released and the wireless operator, and then the carpenter, who had been in the cabin ever since refusing to join Sandy and the others. It had not occurred to Jerry to question the cook’s loyalty, though he knew the negro had been left alone by the mutineers on condition he joined them. And the cook made no comment. The men he had joined were captives themselves now.
“Never in all the years I’ve been to sea . . . ” The captain was muttering as he chafed his limbs back to life.
“By heaven!” choked the big mate. “Gimme a belaying pin an’ I’ll clean up th’ mess m’self. Y’say there’s another one in charge now an’ Sandy’s gang is cooked?” “Shut up,” rasped Jerry, “and listen to me. I’m in charge of tonight’s work. We got to move fast. Understand?”
“As master of this ship—” began Captain Waters, standing with a groan.
Jerry gripped his shoulder and shook him.
“We’ll listen to that later. You’ll do as I say now.” “Is Margaret—?
“Safe! You and the carpenter try and find out where the rest of the men are, Sandy and the crowd I mean. Promise them anything and let them loose. There’ll likely be a fight. I imagine they’re fed up anyway, and scared stiff. If you locate them and can release them bring them aft.” He touched the mate. “You take the cook and batten the fo’c’s’le door. Then beat it aft too.” “Where are you going?” demanded the captain. And then, as a thought occurred to him: “Didn’t you join the mutineers, Thompson?”
“Oh, shut up!” snapped Jerry, exasperated.
Captain Waters grunted, but without further comment stepped out of the cabin, crossed to the rail and slid free an iron belaying pin. The others followed suit. Jerry waited to see them started for’ard and then ran lightly aft again. He had just reached the companion leading to the poop when he heard Collomy speaking.
“I know damned well you sent the helmsman to wake me! But where in the devil is the man who ought to be on guard below?”
“Search me,” said a new voice, surlily, evidently that of the man who had been holding the poop while the other officers slept. “I thought he was relieved at eight bells.”
“That’s what your helmsman said. By heaven, there’s something fishy about this. Go and get a lantern !” There was a thumping noise, as of heavy shoes on wood, and Jerry swore to himself. The main cabin relief whom he had put away had evidently recovered consciousness and was trying to make himself heard. Collomy, however, on the poop above the noise, did not hear it. Jerry crept up the lee companion, Collomy being, naturally, on the weather side. The man he had sent for a lantern went aft somewhere to secure one. Jerry saw Collomy’s bulk outlined against the murky sky and slid around the scuttle to get behind him.
“Who’s that?” the big man rasped irritably. And then, as no one answered he muttered to himself: “I wonder if any of that mob got clear?”
He had his answer in the next moment. Jerry rose against him, brushing him, and he turned with a startled oath, his hand dropping to his revolver.
“My deal,” said Jerry grimly, and hit him between the eyes with the butt of his gun.
Collomy staggered back, choking and half-stunned, and then Jerry hit him again. He dropped and rolled over, grunting. Jerry took his gun and turned as the man who had gone aft came stumbling back with a lantern.
“Hard t’ light in th’ ruddy wind,” he was saying. “I’d better get inside th’ scuttle, eh?”
“No need for that,” said Jerry and dropped him with one rap, the lantern crashing to the deck as he fell and rolling into the scuppers with a tinkle of broken glass. Jerry stood breathing hard, and then thrust both his guns into his belt.
“Not so bad,” he said, and, rolling both of his victims on their stomachs, he made their hands fast. He had just completed this when he heard shoes scuffing up the companion from the main deck and he whipped around, a gun in each hand.
“Who’s that?” he rasped.
“Waters,” grunted the captain. “Is that Thompson?” “Right,” said Jerry. “Here’s a gun, sir. I’ve got the leaders of the latest affair. Did you find Sandy?”
“Aye. Down in the hold. And I left him there. Brought the rest along though. They’re good dogs.” Jerry peered over the rail and saw a small knot of men on the main deck. The mate came along, thrust his way among them, and climbed to the poop.
“All right?” enquired Captain Waters.
“Right enough,” agreed the mate. “We battened the fo’c’s’le door. Made some noise about it too. They’re
a-hammerin’ away but they won’t get out. What’s doin’?”
“It appears to be all done,” remarked the captain dryly. “Thompson here’s taken charge now.”
“It’ll be light in less than an hour,” said Jerry, staring at the weather sky. “When it is we’ll clean up the pieces. You’ll find a gun on one of these birds, the smaller one.” “Thanks,” grunted the mate, and bent to secure the weapon from Collomy’s lieutenant.
“I suppose you two can hold things down while I go below?” Jerry suggested.
“I need a drink,” grumbled the mate.
“You’ll get one,” Jerry told him, “when the day breaks and we can see what’s yet to be done.”
“You take a very high tone, Thompson,” said the captain, ruffled. “I appreciate what you’ve done but I’ll ask you to remember—”
“My name’s Mitchell,” said Jerry calmly. “Your daughter was quite right.”
OH!” choked Captain Waters. He had not been able to get a good look at his rescuer, to see him without his beard and his ragged clothes. He was astonished.
Jerry went down the companion to the main cabin and laughed a little. Samuels was just emerging from his room, fastening his belt and blinking sleepily.
“What’s all th’ racket about?” he demanded. “Someone failin’ all over th’ deck—”
His jaw dropped and then he sprang into action. His gun was in his hip pocket and he reached for it with a startled oath. Jerry cleared the table and was on him as he raised it, and they struggled for a moment before the weapon fell with a thud to the deck. Jerry stepped back and laughed.
“Now !” he said, and he swung clean to the jaw. There was a crack like a breaking stick and Samuels fell forward, out on his feet. Jerry picked up his gun, stuck it in his pocket, and without another look at the motionless man strode aft toward the pantry.
“I ought to have saved that for Collomy,” he told himself. “But as long as I got a crack at somebody I ought to be satisfied.” He rapped on the storeroom door. “After all,” he mused, “Collomy didn’t make much of a showing. No damage done anyway. The man’s a flop.” There was a stirring inside the storeroom as Margaret Waters rose from the temporary bed she had made on the deck
“Who is it?” she wanted to know, her voice hard. “Do I have to bust in this door too?” Jerry enquired. “This is your future husband talking.”
A bolt slid back, a key turned. She stood blinking a little in the soft light from the main cabin, a kimono wrapped about her.
“Why, Jerry! What’s been happening? I thought I heard things, but—”
“I finally got mad,” said Jerry, “and took charge.” He felt good-natured again, and quite friendly to all the world. The satisfying blow he had been able to take at Samuels had restored him to his old self. “Collomy was careless and left gaps a mile wide.”
She stared at him, open-mouthed.
“Well, aren’t you going to kiss me? Or have you any other remarks to make about my appearance?”
He caught her by the shoulders and laughed, and kissed her.
“We’ll be married in Sydney, my dear,” he said calmly. “Your father is going to take a nice voyage home on a liner.”
“I don’t understand, Jerry.”
He kissed her again.
“You’re talking to Captain Mitchell, my dear. I’m taking the Cascade Locks back myself. I never did have a command and I’m going to see what it feels like. I guess I can handle a ship and a honeymoon without any trouble.”
For some reason he could not fathom why she was crying. He eyed her calmly and decided to kiss her again.
“And if I ever begin to look like an overgrown slug, my dear, you can send me to sea again. Personally I feel remarkably well.” He waited for a moment and when she did not answer he went on. “Of course, if you prefer Peter Clarke ...”
She stared at him then, her mouth open and her eyes distended.
“I—Jerry, I’d forgotten all about him.”
The mate’s voice came booming down from the scuttle. “Hey! What about that drink?”
“Wait a minute,” said Jerry, grinning. "Captain Mitchell has to reprimand his mate.”
“That’s me,” said Margaret firmly. “Don’t you dare go away yet.”
And then they both laughed and went up on the poop together to confront a very dazed and bewildered Captain Waters.