CAPTAIN THOMAS paused to glance along the spacious promenade deck. Some distance aft, under a deck light, a girl and a man were chatting, and the girl’s happy laughter rippled musically. The man was tall, dressed by a good tailor in smart evening clothes, and if one might judge by the expression on the girl’s upturned face, his frontal appearance was not displeasing. The captain saw only his back, however, and was not greatly interested in his face. It was the girl’s face that he regarded so warmly, and presently she turned her eyes and saw him at pause. She waved a hand to him, and he resumed his way to his room beneath the bridge, content.
The liner Jason was nearly a full day out from New York, bound across, having sailed the preceding midnight, and now the commander could relax. Half of his first voyage in the big ship was successfully over; the future lay ahead like a promise of fine weather. He tossed his cap on to a hook, rang the bell for his tiger, and ordered some cold soda water. Then he stretched himself out in his deep, comfortable armchair, and let well-being surround him. The tiger set out whisky and soda, put a box of cigars at the captain's elbow, and went into the stateroom to turn down the bed. The wireless report had contained neither fog nor ice warnings. The Old Man would be able to sleep this night.
A moderate drink of good whisky and a very good cigar encouraged comfortable thoughts, and Captain Thomas’s thoughts were very comfortable indeed. He was young, very little more than forty; master at last of a splendid steamship in a line not noted for youthful skippers; after twenty years of hard and diligent devotion to duty, reward was his. He had seen his daughter, Janice, grow up to young womanhood in the enjoyment of advantages not given to many girls whose fathers were seamen. Her rearing had been his religion; she had been given a good education at the best of boarding schools, and he had built for her a home to which she need never feel ashamed to invite friends of whatever condition. His own career was assured. There would be greater liners, almost certainly a commodore’s flag, and a good retiring pension. Who could say that there would not be a title? Masters in the company had received titles, then why not he? The only sorrow he had was that his wife had not lived to accompany him to the peak of his achievement. She had died many years ago, while Janice was a very small girl.
Some of the brightness faded from the picture. Thomas removed his cigar from his lips and sat staring at the long ash. Some tremor of his hand caused the ash to fall; and he suddenly swallowed his whisky as if assailed with drought. All those years ago!
A MEMORY which he had believed long dead came hack and flooded over him like a cold sea. He got up. threw his cigar away with a smothered curse, and stood at the big square window of his sitting room, staring at the fine high bow of his steamer so gallantly rising and falling against the star-studded sky. The barograph beside him showed a pen line as level as the horizon itself. The sea stretched away on every hand unbroken by the tiniest hint of spite. The sky was fleckless. The gentle rhythm of the ship’s progress was like a lullaby. Never had a passage of the Atlantic begun so auspiciously ; never had a shipmaster of forty been blessed with so perfect a prospect.
Yet all those years ago and back must come that one disquieting memory to shatter his tranquillity.
lie turned irritably and shut his door, to keep out the sound of the dance music. Twenty-two years! He had been a boy then; a boy in years, though a man in sea experience. Second mate of a poor sort of ship in a poor sort of foreign trade, he had nevertheless all the makings of a complete mariner, and had been glad to gain experience in any ship or trade. Second mate at eighteen ! Not only possessing the requisite ticket, but actually holding the berth. Then disaster. I íe had no more to do with it than the messroom boy, but the court saw otherwise. Lives had been lost in a bit of sheer barratry; and the master, mate and he had gone to prison and suffered the loss of all certificates. His sea
career was completely ruined. True, on coming out of prison the skipper had offered him a share in the ghoulish spoils; but that simply secured him another month behind bars, for he had savagely assaulted the ship murderer for the insult. When at last he could leave the East he was a man without hope.
Then luck came his way, in the form of a wild youngster a bit older than himself who had got into money trouble and wanted to quit England to avoid graver trouble. The man held unblemished certificates and discharges, wanted money, had done with the sea —and the precious papers were bought for a hundred pounds. Thomas was the name they bore, and Thomas was the name under which the master of the great Jason had sailed from that day to this.
What of it, then? Never for one moment had suspicion clouded the career of the man who sailed under false colors.
Everything he had done had been g<x>d. He could look around him now and see a score of reminders that his life had been valuable to others.
Binoculars, a gold repeater, illuminated addresses souvenirs of heroic rescues at sea, of the gratitude of passengers who knew that their safe passage had been due to the quiet man aloof on his high bridge.
As Captain David Thomas he had met and married the girl who had barely survived giving him Janice. He was a man most highly respected in the community in which he made his home. Then why let that ancient trouble cloud his memory?
It seemed silly, and the sillier the more he thought of it.
Janice was happy. He had been assured of that just now when he saw her face alight with the joy of youth and she waved at him.
He shivered, then laughed harshly, pouring himself his second and final drink. He was foolish to let that old secret bother him now. Nobody who knew him today had known him in that other, darker day.
Perhaps he was ttx> fearful. The thought of anything happening to dam the stream of his daughter’s happiness was ghastly -but why should that thing happen? Twenty-two years!
Yes, he was foolish. Lie sipped his whisky, inspecting his bookcase for a new title.
A knock on his door.
“Yes?” he called, hoping that he was not going to be pestered by some passenger with a grievance.
A tall man stepped in. hooking the door again and pulling the curtain. He was dressed in evening clothes, but had changed the tail coat for a smoking jacket. He was a handsome fellow, with greying curly hair and a queer pallor; his eyes were keen and alert,
and he took in the comforts of the room with one swift comprehensive glance while the captain waited impatiently. “You’ve done yourself well, Gifford,” the man said coolly.
THE CAPTAIN’S bronzed face suddenly turned haggard.
He had not heard that name on another man’s lips for twenty-two years.
“Thomas !” he uttered.
The visitor chuckled, nodded, and sat down on the settee. “Drink your peg—and you might offer me one. I saw your name in the reports of the Jason’s maiden trip, and took passage with you to have a yarn,” he said. Noticing the captain’s eye wandering to the door, he added: ‘A our
man won’t interrupt us. I saw him going to the gloryhole. And your daughter is dancing. I don't dance, unfortunately. Sit down, old pal. Let’s have a friendly chat.”
Thomas sat heavily, and the other grinned.
“By the way, I’m Hutton—John Hutton, on your passenger list. Nothing to be uneasy about—if you’re reasonable.” Reasonable! Here was the very thing which had crept like a black ghost across his memory. There must be such a thing as second sight, or whatever that is called which warns a man of something terrible about to happen to him. Through the whirling confusion of his panic Hutton’s cool voice penetrated—Hutton, who was the real David Thomas: “I’m tickled to see that you’ve got on so well, Giff—beg pardon, Captain Thomas. I’ve not done so well myself. In fact, I’ve just finished a stretch in the stone frigate. Just had cash enough hidden away to let me gamble on a passage with you—”
“What do you want? I paid you,” said the captain hoarsely, and his hand went toward his desk drawer. The other never moved, but returned softly:
“Don’t try any funny business. It’ll do you no good. You can’t afford to shoot me, laddie. What’ll you tell the people if you do? I’m not a pirate.” The man laughed indulgently. “I’m not even going to worry you now. Give me a few pieces of eight, to amuse myself with in the smoking room, and I won’t bother you again until you’ve had time to think matters over.”
“Blackmailing swine!” whispered the captain.
“False colors,” retorted the other gently. “Give me a tenner. That’ll do for the present. I’ll help myself to a drink. You’re not feeling hospitable, I see.”
Captain Thomas was thinking of ways to dispose of a body even while taking out his cash box. Blackmail, he knew, was a snowball. Give a blackmailer a tenner now, a hundred later, or a thousand, and the giver started to roll
down a precipice, at the bottom of which lay destruction. His unwelcome visitor seemed to be well aware of the thoughts that filled the captain's brain, for his quiet voice uttered:
“It’s an interesting predicament for you. I don’t see how you’re to beat my game. If you can. I’ll take off my hat to you. For my part, it’s sheer need, and my need is greater than thine. Oh, a tenner? Thanks. You might make it two, since I won't be seeing you for a couple of days.”
Captain Thomas bit his lip, saying nothing, handing over twenty notes. The man poured whisky and drank, then got up and opened the door.
“Think it over, and be generous,” he said. “I’m a quiet chap, but believe me, I’m in dead earnest. I want to settle down.”
THE CAPTAIN heard his footsteps die away, and then stepped outside and went over to the rail. He gazed down at the sea, the clean sea that slipped so swiftly past that the bubble which broke beneath him was lost in the wake almost before it had become foam. And the decks were so quiet, so deserted. A man might drop a bundle overboard at this hour of the night and nobody . . .
On the bridge above him the officer of the watch came in sight like a phantom, his eyes everywhere.
Captain Thomas re-entered his room, shivering. He turned off the lights and flung himself down on his bed, fully dressed. What to do? It was like encountering an iceberg in a black fog at high speed. He closed his eyes, but knew that sleep would never give him peace this night.
Just before midnight, Janice came to say good night. She laughed as she blundered in the dark room, but she knew her way, and also she knew enough to respect the desire of a tired shipmaster for darkness. She crept over to the bunk and felt for his face, kissing him. His arms went up
and around her passionately, and he returned her kiss with an ardor she had rarely known in him.
“Tired, dad?” she whispered. “Haven’t got a headache, have you? Shall I get you some-?”
“No, I’m all right. Janice,” he said hurriedly. He didn’t want her coming back and fussing over him. “Tired, that’s all. Having a good time, darling?”
“Splendid. Aren’t we lucky to have such weather? You’ll have nothing to worry about, will you? And—” She hesitated, and then said shyly: “I’ve been talking to such an interesting man. He’s not one of the jazz sort—been everywheredoesn’t dance, though. That’s a pity. But I think you’d like him.”
Her father feared he must choke. Almost he burst out in angry warning, but got a grip upon himself before it was too late. Instead, he drew' the girl’s face down to his and kissed her again.
“Good night,” he said, and gently pushed her away. He heard her humming a little lilting catch of song as she ran from the alleyway. And he lay in torment until dawn greyed the windows.
GROUPS of sporty folks played games in the forenoon.
and at eleven o’clock the deck steward brought trays of broth to them. In a deck chair in a sheltered cross alleyway lay a woman who looked deathly ill. Her face held trace of amazing beauty, the ankle left uncovered by a slipping rug was shapely, and the hand which took the broth was white and fine; but her great dark eyes held in them a
fire of agony, agony of body and spirit. The fire leaped w'hen those eyes dwelt upon the figures of a tall man and a girl walking rapidly along the deck. The man’s head was bent as he talked, the girl’s face w as upturned, alight with attention. As they pas.sed the cross alleyway, the woman’s spoon fell from her shaking saucer to the deck, and the girl turned her head at the woman’s involuntary cry. She left her companion, ran to the deck chair, and smiled at the sick woman.
"Oh, you’ve spilled your soup.” she said. “Let me get you another cup.” She ran after the steward before the woman could beg her not to bother, and when she returned with a fresh cup of broth she pulled another chair nearer and set the cup on it. She arranged the slipping rug securely.
“I do hope you’ll soon feel better,” she smiled. "Would you like a book?”
"No, thank you. my dear,” the woman replied, her wan face almost beautiful again for an instant. “Run along to your play. You’re a sweet child.”
Janice rejoined her companion, and laughingly told him that she had been called a sweet child.
"I’m scarcely a child, am I?” she protested.
“You’re sweet,” he assured her, with a look so direct that she avoided it and felt hot. The pleasure of the walk wras spoiled. She left hirn with an excuse as soon as she thought of one.
When the lunch bell rang and the passengers flocked to the saloon, Hutton lingered behind for a moment and went to the woman in the deck chair. He noticed her eyes, and swore.
“Now what’s biting you, Gloria?” he asked, carefully maintaining a polite conversational tone though his words had no politeness in them.
Continued on page 47
Continued from page 17
‘‘Lay off that kid, that’s all,” she replied.
‘‘You know who it is, don't you?”
‘T don’t care who it is. I know you— that’s plenty!”
‘‘She’s the only chick of Gifford—Captain Thomas.”
Interest gleamed in the woman’s eyes, and a tinge of color relieved the pallor of her face. But suspicion soon returned.
“Even if that mattered I’d say lay off,” she returned. Her voice sank, but it took on a note of such intense passion that the man glanced nervously around. Nobody was near. The weather was line enough to encourage the timidest to their lunch.
“Listen to me, and don’t kid yourself I’m just a nagging woman,” she went on. “I don’t want to hear anything about using that kid to gouge her old man. There was a time when I trusted you—but not now. I’m with you in this game because I’m tired of chasing around the world two jumps ahead of the cops. I f you can sting the skipper for a wad, go to it. Anyhow, it’s coming to you. He owes it to you. Go as far as you like with him, and I’m with you. But don’t ever lose sight of this: I stuck to you against all the cops could do while you did your last stretch. I kept my mouth shut about the cash they wanted to find. I stuck it out when they put me through the third degree, when a word from me would have got you out of jail to go on trial for your life ! I’m a sick woman now because of all that—but by all that’s holy I’m your woman, and no baby-faced eighteen-year-old kid is going to steal you. And she’s not going to be—”
“Don’t be a fool,” snapped Hutton angrily. A steward came along to ask about the woman’s lunch, and Hutton moved away, glad to escape.
“Don’t lose your memory,” the woman called after him.
IOHN HUTTON sat in a stiff poker game, yj gambling with the nonchalance of one who knew that lost funds could be readily renewed. It happened that luck was with him, and as his pile of chips increased so did his good humor. His schemes were going as well as his gambling. He had Captain Thomas just where he wanted him, and Janice was a bit more than well disposed toward him. He grinned—and his opponents misunderstood the grin, losing another fat pot to his weak hand—when he thought of the coming scene in the captain’s room: Janice introducing him to her father, who would never dare give him away. For an instant Gloria bothered him ; yet what could she do? She could only inform the police about him, and they knew all there was to know already. He had paid his debt to the law, and there was nothing fresh against him. She might spill the beans about the Thomas business—but she wouldn’t do that, for she was in it, too.
No, she couldn’t do anything. His future was bright, and as Captain Thomas’s fortunes improved so would his. He cashed in his winnings and left the smoking room, feeling sufficiently at peace with the world to spend half an hour in Gloria’s company and lie really nice to her. Her eyes showed how tremendously she valued that trifling kindness, but somehow he did not see her eyes.
"You’ll never go crooked on me, will you, dear?” she whispered, her thin hand covering his and pressing it hard.
“I wish you’d forget about that kid, Gloria,” he laughed, covering her hand with his free one and looking straight between her eyes. “If you hadn’t looked like sticking a knife into me at lunch time I’d have explained it all to you. When I paid a visit to our nice captain and broke the news to him, I saw enough in his room to convince me that he’s easy. We’re on velvet, Gloria, even without the kid. But if I can make her feel foolish about me and then go to him and tell him I’m crazy about his daughter— don’t you see how we can squeeze him?”
“That’s all there is in it, eh?” she commented, trying to force his eyes to meet hers. “Look at me.”
He looked at her, with all the frank honesty of gaze which is rarely found so perfect as in a high-grade crook.
“Have 1 ever played crooked with you?” he asked quietly.
“Not yet—that I know of,” she returned shortly.
“No, and I’m not the man to try it, Gloria. I’m not forgetting how you stuck by me. We’re in this game together. I wouldn’t be with you how if I didn’t know the kid was up with her father. If we’re to bring the thing off properly, we can’t be too careful. You trust me. I'm not going to be seen too much with you, but you needn’t watch the girl and me as if we were robbing you. I ’m going to give her a hot run—until I get her going—then, when she’s taken me up to papa, and he sees the extra trump I hold, I’ll force him to a contract. After that’s done, I—well, I don’t care if she does a spot of sobbing over a lost lover.”
“Swear it.” The woman’s voice was lowand tense.
“I swear it. She can go jump over the side the minute 1 peg her old man down. Now cool down, old girl, and leave it to me. I’ll get you a drink, shall I?”
“Don’t bother,” she said, and her head fell wearily on her shoulder. “Your Janice ff’homas is going to have her tea with me, when it’s ready.”
“Don’t you go and get chummy with the kid and spoil the game.”
“You know me better than that. Business first, and you know' it. Play straight your-! self and you needn’t waste a minute’s worry on me,” she said quietly, her eyes already shut.
“TWENTY-FOUR hours later, the Jason
I w'as pitching heavily in a rising gale. Her . decks were slippery with spray on the I weather side, and the motion had driven many of her people below. She was not yet uncomfortable for seasoned travellers, but, huge as she was, she could pitch and roll, and often both together; and now and then when she thrust her great stem into a long comber she flung a few tons of water aboard which made her tremble. It was nothing to make her commander uneasy or to give undue worry to her bridge officers. They simply peered a bit harder through the flying spray, and the lookout in the crow’s nest kept all but his eyes and nose below the rim of the shelter.
Captain Thomas had not been down to the saloon since that first night visit. He had grown haggard and irritable, until even Janice left him alone except to say good morning and good night. This afternoon, however, she had something to tell him. and was trying to screw up her courage in the face of his palpable ill humor. She could not do it, after trying for an hour.
“I’ll come up again when the weather’s better, daddy,” she said. “I do wish you’d let me get something for you, though. I’m sure you’re having one of those headaches.”
“It’s nothing, my dear,” he smiled, smoothing her hair. He wanted to tell her everything, to throw himself upon her affection, to draw her close to his side and together face John Hutton and tell him to do his worst. But he could not do it. All the fabric of his hopes and ambitions rested upon his accomplishment since that one black page in his career had been turned. She believed in him utterly, believed there was no man on earth to compare with him, and he dared not strip the living flesh from the skeleton that was his old self.
“But you wanted to tell me something, pet. What is it?” he prompted.
“No,” she laughed. “Not now. I’ll come up tomorrow. ’By.”
She went down to join Gloria for tea. While they chatted, sheltered against the wind in a snug comer, John Hutton passed along and glanced at them, and the girl waved a hand at him gaily.
“I wouldn’t get too thick with that man, ¡ my dear,” Gloria said gently.
“Don’t you like him? I think he’s wonderful,” smiled Janice. ‘‘Let me give you some more tea.”
j “You can’t know much about him,” the woman insisted. “He’s—he’s— ”
“What?” The tone was sharp.
“He’s old enough to be your father, my dear. ”
“Oh, no. You’re quite wrong,” asserted ! the girl, a bit indignantly. “And you must not say nasty things about him.” After a pause: “1 think I am going to marry him. He’s asked me ”
The woman spilled her tea and began coughing rackingly. There was blood on the handkerchief she hurriedly dabbed at her lips. Janice was all solicitude. She helped the woman to her feet and supported her to her stateroom. All the way down the seemingly interminable stairs Gloria fiercely fought with the urge to tell the girl everything. It was so easy to spoil John I Iutton’s double-crossing game—yet, was it so easy? If she said one word of the truth, she must tell all; and then this silly kid w'ould know' trouble indeed. And she had been kind.
“Thank you, my dear,” said Gloria, when the stewardess had taken her in hand. “Forget what I said. You know' best. I don’t think you’ll come to any harm. Thanks so much.”
IT WAS getting dusk wrhen the lookout I reported something ahead, and Captain Thomas was sent for. I íe reached the bridge to find two officers peering through binoculars at a dismasted sailing ship rolling desperately in the tremendous seas which I seemed so harmless from the tow'ering bridge ; of the great liner. She flew a signal of urgency from the stump of her mizzenmast, and ; as the Jason drew’ nearer a group of people could be seen on her poop. The rest of her was being swept by the seas. Captain Thomas sent to his room for his hard weather clothes and took charge.
“Get one of the lifeboats ready,” he said curtly, and had the course changed a few degrees to bring the liner to windward of the derelict. Word passed swiftly around the steamer. Passengers who had believed themselves dying found strength to come on deck to watch people w’ho almost certainly were going to die. Gloria was not among them. She was really ill. Janice and Hutton, however, were there, right under the bridge, and the girl’s face was alight with eagerness.
“Oh, isn’t daddy lucky?” she exclaimed. "He’s got quite a reputation for saving people at sea. You’ll see. He’s marvellous.”
“He’ll have to lx? marvellous to do anything in this,” returned her companion, who was no stranger to the sea. In truth, he was not deeply interested in this bit of rescue work. Far more important in his mind was the fact that Gloria had suffered a desperate breakdown. Good. She was in the way, and if she slipjx'd off it was not his loss. He squeezed Janice’s arm.
The liner slowed down to windward of the derelict and her hose pipes spouted heavy oil on the sea. The lifehxxat was lowered and I sent smartly away from the lee side of the steamer, while Captain Thomas personally directed everything. The moment the boat left the high side of the Jason the height and force of the seas were terribly apparent, and the hundreds of passengers gasped at its peril. The liner steamed around to come to leeward again, in order that the boat might have no arduous pull back if she did manage to take off those people.
In the chaotic welter of wreckage beside the hulk, oars were broken, and the boat more than once seemed about to be smashed. But the officer in charge of her knew his business. He backed away, approached, and backed again as need arose, and one by one the men were taken from the wreck. Then a great sea, no longer smoothed by oil, rolled i over the dismasted hulk, and when it jxassed on. the lifeboat was driven a hundred fai thorns away, half full of water. For awhile ! it fought to get back, but it had left the lee of the hull and. overloaded with men and water, was steadily driven down upon the liner. There were still two figures standing on the poop of the wreck—a man holding to
him a smaller figure, a boy—and the seas were washing over the sinking ship.
“Stand by to take the men from the boat; never mind the boat itself,” ordered Captain Thomas grimly.
“Shall I take a fresh crew for those others, sir?” the mate asked.
“Do as I tell you, and keep lines handy along the port side,” said Thomas.
THE LINER steamed ahead again, to make a lee for the boat. As she crossed the run of the seas she rolled tremendously, and shipped tons of water. Her passengers were hurled about like cork fenders. The lifeboat struggled alongside, and a score of strong hands hove lines and hauled crew and rescued aboard as the light craft fell apart with a mighty crash against the steel side. While the last man still hung suspended, the liner’s engines rose to full power; the Jason went ahead, and a groan went up. She was deserting those two men.
"I think I could make it, sir,” said the mate earnestly.
“Go down and stretch the hands along the side,” replied the captain.
The steamer came around, and again headed for the stern of the wreck. The wreck was almost awash now. Her stern v/as high, but her bows no longer rose. The sea swept her heavily. Straight for her stern sped the Jason, the captain standing at the bridge wing like a stone man.
“By Jove! He’s going to sink us both,” swore Hutton. He was sure now that Thomas was taking a terrible way out of his dilemma.
“He’s gone mad,” exclaimed the mate, down at the rail. “One touch, in this sea, and —What are you gaping at? Stand by with those lines,” he yelled at his men.
“Daddy isn’t going to do anything silly,” Janice insisted. “You see.”
Nearer. The steamer rolled, the wreck rolled. If both rolled toward each other at the same instant, nothing on earth could prevent disaster. Captain Thomas never moved except to indicate with one hand directions to the helmsman.
“Catch the lines and jump clear. You only have one chance,” shouted the captain, then turned away from the wreck and concentrated every nerve upon his own vessel. Just once, for half a breath, the vessels touched. So lightly it was that the tremor was not felt by many, yet in that instant a hundred feet of the steamer’s rail w'as stripped off. The steamer was clear. Captain Thomas brought his ship to her course and, shaking in every limb, walked to the rail to look over, fearfully.
A cheer split the air. Passengers yelled and whacked each other on the back. They gathered around the shivering boy. The man was dragged aboard. One leg was crushed in that slight impact, but what was one leg? The passengers cheered again. The w'reck rolled away astern, floundered for a moment, then vanished.
“Oh, daddy. I’m so proud of you!” cried Janice, meeting him by his door. He glanced at her and at her companion, and his face darkened.
“Thanks, Janice; please don’t come in now,” he said, and left her standing there.
IN HIS ROOM he drank a stiff peg of I whisky, flung off his oilskins and walked the Rxxm. There would be one more memento to add to his collection of souvenirs. Presently the passengers would doubtless appear, or a committee of them, to give him a vote of thanks. And to what end? John Hutton had him in a trap. There was no way out of that. The more he achieved, the higher he rose on the tide of success, the more he must sacrifice to John Hutton. Suppose he told Janice the truth. Janice would angrily confront Hutton, and Hutton would doubly revenge himself. Suppose he dared Hutton to do his worst? All this must go. All that he had built up by sheer worth and devotion to duty must go as that old sailing ship had gone.
He drank another peg. pacing the floor xn frenzy. Then came the dreaded knock on the door. He ignored it. A fat little millionaire opened it unbidden and stepped inside.
He had a bit of paper in his hand, and a smile like a sunburst on his face.
“Captain, the passengers have appointed me to say for them that never in the sea’s history has there been so grand a piece of heroism as that you’ve just shown. Yes, sir ! We know, for your officers have told us, that in saving those tw’o lads you risked your ship and your career. I am a big shareholder in this line and—”
“Please thank the passengers, sir, and leave me alone,” Thomas said quietly. “I can’t talk now.”
“I know. I know’, captain. Shaken, eh? Well, we shall have this address done up right for you, sir, and we’ll present it to you before we land. Give me your hand, sir. I’m proud to have seen that little job, sir.”
The little man left, and among the heads that passed by the window Thomas saw that of John Hutton. Hutton glanced in, and their eyes met.
There was no softness in John Hutton’s eyes.
For an hour the captain paced his room. He refused dinner, and while the decks were deserted he went up to the boat deck and passed between two boats to stand at the rail. He was cold, and felt glad that he was cold, for coldness was what he needed. He had made his decision. He was not going to let that scoundrel w’reck him. He would neither submit co a lifetime of blackmail, nor let the blackmailer bring him crashing down. He felt along the rail. It was easy. By the boats there was a gap, left for the boat's launching. He w’ould get the man up here to talk, pleading against discussing the matter in his room on score of interruption; get him behind that boat. One shove, one good punch—the sea was’ a great wiper out of debts.
He w’ent back to his room and rang for his tiger.
“Tell Miss Janice I want to see her after dinner,” he said.
WHEN JANICE came up, all eager to praise him, he kissed her with a passionate affection which made her gasp. After a breathless moment she flung her arms around his neck and returned his embrace.
“Daddy!” she whispered. “I’m so glad you did that. I—you see I—well, I wasn’t sure how you’d—”
“Something bothering you?” he smiled understanding^. “I never have been an old bear, have I? Tell me the secret. I’m still your daddy, you know, Janice.”
She hid her face against his coat.
“It’s about John,” she said. “John Hutton, daddy. He’s asked me to marry him. You don’t know him very well, do you? So I wanted you to let me bring him to see you ...”
It was well that she could not see the captain’s face then. He bit his lip desperately to repress the words that clamored for utterance.
“Are you very fond of this man, lassie? I mean, do you know your mind about him? You haven’t known him long, you know.” “I I think so,” she replied. “Perhaps I’m not quite sure. But I am terribly interested in him, and—”
Captain Thomas’s dark problem suddenly took on a glimmer of light. In this new interest both forgot that he had sent for her. The girl looked up quickly when ne next spoke, so changed, so bright was his voice.
"I don’t want you to bring him here tonight, Janice. All sorts of people keep bursting in on me since that rescue. Shall you be seeing him? Tonight? But of course you will.”
“I was going to meet him in half an hour on the boat deck,” she said shyly. "It’s the only quiet place on this ship. I was to bring him to you, if you—”
“I know something much better,” he said, pinching her cheek. “You find something else to do, and I ’ll meet him instead. I’d like to have a chat with him, and he won’t mind if I take your place—under the circumstances, darling.”
"Then you . . .?” The girl’s face was pink with gladness.
“I’m all for your happiness,” he said.
WHEN JANICE had goné. Captain Thomas went up on the bridge, and on his way keenly scanned the long, silent boat deck. It was deserted, and the few lights only threw welcome shadows. The funnels, and the fiddley structures about them, with the boats themselves, formed ideal nooks for the meetings of lovers; but on this blustery night no lovers seemed to have ventured. After a word with the watch officer, the captain turned and descended the ladder again, standing for a moment at its foot.
The ship’s bell struck. It sounded subdued in the wind. The gale still roared in the funnel guys; the steamer flung sprays high about her storming bows. Somewhere, it seemed far off, music was playing behind shut doors. Captain Thomas was not nervous now. He had never been cooler. He lit a cigar in the shelter, then, when the officer had walked to that side of the bridge and turned, he walked aft.
It was time for Hutton to appear. Lovers were never late at that stage of the courtship.
A figure came in sight at the extreme afterend of the deck, a female figure. Thomas stopped, and swore. The silly girl! The figure hurried and vanished between two boats; and then another figure appeared —a man’s figure - and the captain knew it was Hutton by his size and stride. He told himself that it made no difference; that as soon as he appeared Janice would say good night and run off; but the check brought back all the nervousness he had been at such terrific pains to quell.
He walked slowly toward the boat.
He heard voices, angry voices. Good. No j need to fear that Janice would kiss that j fellow good night.
A shot split the windy air. Another. Then out from between the boats stumbled Hutton, clutching at his breast. He pitched to the deck at the captain’s feet, rolled over ! and lay still. A quartermaster came running. Then while the captain stooped over the | fallen man, a woman tottered out and fell beside him, blood pouring from her lips, a pistol dropping from her nerveless hand.
“Fetch the surgeon,” ordered Captain Thomas.
LATER, in his room, the captain spoke . with the surgeon.
“Who was the woman, doctor? You’ve put her in the hospital, I suppose?”
“Yes, sir, but it’s hopeless. She won’t live until daylight. She’s a Mrs. Gloria Yerger. Nobody seems to know much about her.” “The man? Hutton, isn’t it? Is he . . .?” “John Hutton, sir. Dead as mutton. Shot through the heart.”
“Very well, doctor. Thanks. Better have him put on ice until we get in. Did the woman say anything?”
“No, sir. She won’t, either. Too far gone,” said the surgeon.
“Another mystery of the sea. A fellow rarely has a peaceful passage these days.” The surgeon left.
Captain Thomas undressed and went to bed to sleep, for the first time in days. Tomorrow he knew he could soothe Janice’s brief sorrow. He glanced at the barograph. It was rising -for better weather.