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   Chapter 22 No.22

The Blood Ship By Norman Springer Characters: 17815

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


I was at Newman's side before Captain Swope's feet vanished from the ladder. If he had paused to close the lazaret hatch behind him, he must surely have seen me. But he did not pause; I heard his steps racing up the companion stairs to the poop, and his voice shouting his command: "Watch the main deck, Mister! Light a flare!"

I threw my arms about Newman, and babbled in his ear. "Oh, the beast!-it's I-Jack-the devil, I heard what he said!-come to free you!" Truth to tell, the things I had overheard unnerved me somewhat, and I was incoherent, almost, from rage and horror.

But Newman brought me to myself in short order. "I know-but not so loud-they'll hear you!" Aye, his first words, and he smiled into my face. This man on the rack smiled, and thought clearly, whilst I babbled. "Be quick," he bade me. "Cut the lashings."

I obeyed in jig time. The chains of both the hand and foot irons were secured to the limbers by rope lashings. With two strokes of my knife I severed them. Before I could catch him, Newman fell forward upon his face. His misused limbs could not support him.

I knelt by his side, sobbing and spluttering, and fishing in my pocket for the key the lady had given me. It was the sight of his raw, bleeding wrists and ankles that maddened me; aye, the sight of them would have maddened a saint. You will recall that the Old Man had commanded that Newman's wrists be tightly cuffed; and he had seen to it that the leg cuffs were equally tight. Tight ironing was a favorite sport of Swope's; he was notorious for it among sailormen. I saw the results upon Newman.

The flesh above the irons was puffed and inflamed; the constriction and chafing had broken the skin, and the cuffs upon both arms and legs were buried in the raw wounds. Exquisite agony-aye, trust Swope to produce that! I had to push back the swollen, bruised mass before I could insert the little flat key, and effect the release.

When I had them off, I turned Newman over on his back, and, with my arm about him, prepared to lift him erect. Before I could do so, assistance arrived. Light feet pattered down the lazaret ladder; there was a swish of skirts, a gasp, and the lady was on her knees by Newman's side. "Roy-Roy-I was in time-" she cried. Her arms went around his neck.

I released him to her for the instant, and straightened up and listened. There was noise on deck, and confusion. The ship was in stays; she hung there, aback. I could hear Lynch, somewhere forward, bawling orders; and overhead, Swope sang out to the wheel, and then hailed the roundhouse.

"Roundhouse, there-on deck and lend a hand! Man the lifeboat-lifeboat falls, there! For God's sake, Mister-what's the matter there on deck?"

Oh, he was worried, was Swope. It showed in his voice; for once his tone was not full and musical, it was shrill and screechy. He was sorely shaken, madly anxious to save his faithful jackal; the Eliminator had not planned Fitzgibbon's removal.

Thoughts, questions, rushed through my mind. I listened for other sounds, for shots and shouts and sounds of strife. For there was confusion up there on the dark decks, and the captain had forgotten his caution and withdrawn his ambush. I knew that Boston and Blackie would not overlook this chance; promise or no promise they would profit by this occasion.

It was this thought that spurred me to action. We must get out of this hole we were in; the lazaret was a trap. The die was cast; the mutiny was on-or would be in a moment.

I said as much to my companions. Newman attempted to get to his feet.

"A hand, Jack-it must be stopped," he said.

I gave him the hand. More than that, I took him upon my back and tottered up the ladder with him, the lady assisting as well as she was able. She knew what had happened on deck, and she told us in a word or two.

She had not been able to find Wong (we afterwards discovered that Wong had gone forward to the galley, and surprised the crew at a conference, and had been detained prisoner by them), so she crawled up the companion ladder herself, and lurked in the cuddy, waiting for a chance to speak with Lynch. The Nigger was at the wheel, she said. Fitzgibbon walked up to him and struck him-as he had struck him many, many times before. But this time Nigger did not submit-he whipped out his knife and stabbed the mate. More than that, he grasped the mate in his powerful arms, dragged him to the taffrail, and flung him overboard. It happened so quickly that neither Connolly, the tradesman, nor Lynch, both of whom were on the poop, could interfere. But Lynch took a shot at Nigger, and perhaps struck him, for Nigger went over the rail and into the sea with his victim.

It was Nigger, despised, half-lunatic Nigger, who was not in my reckoning, nor in Swope's, who put the match to the tinder and upset such carefully laid plans. As I feared, the revolt of the crew blazed up immediately. My shipmates were eager, too eager. As it turned out, their precipitancy was to cost them their chance of victory, for they began to riot while the three tradesmen were still handy to the roundhouse door, though, indeed, they had no knowledge, as had I, of the captain's ambuscade.

I staggered into the saloon, and set Newman down upon the divan which ran around the half-round, and which was but a step from the hatch. He got to his feet at once, and, though the lady and I stretched out our arms to catch him, this time he did not fall. He swayed drunkenly, and hobbled when he took a step, but such was his vitality and so strong the urge of his will, that life was already returning to his misused limbs.

It was just then that pandemonium broke out on deck-a shot, a string of shots and a bedlam of howls and yells. Overhead was bedlam, too. The skipper's tune changed instanter. He had been singing out to Mister Lynch to "topsail haul," and to the tradesmen to man the boat falls-but now he was screaming to the latter in a voice shaken with excitement-or panic-to regain their posts, to get into the roundhouse and "turn loose on 'em-pepper 'em! And, for God's sake, throw out the flares!"

Oh, the Great Eliminator was shocked most unpleasantly In that moment, I think-to discover, when his trusty mate was overboard, that his mutinous crew had firearms!

I looked to Newman for orders, for he was now in command of our forlorn hope. But he had his arm about the lady's shoulders, and was speaking urgently into her ear. My thought was of a place to hide. I ran towards the cabin alleyway. I had no intention of going out on that dangerous deck, my object was to see if the inner door to the sail-locker was unlocked. In the sail-locker, I thought, we could hide, the three of us, until the fight died down.

But my design was frustrated. Before I reached the sail-locker, the door to the deck, at the end of the alleyway, burst open, and the tradesman, Morton, pitched headlong over the base-board. He scrambled to his hands and knees and scuttled towards me. There was a whistling thud near my head. I leaped back into the cabin, out of range, so quickly I tripped and sat down hard upon the deck. For a shot fired after the fleeting Morton had just missed my skull.

Morton crawled into the saloon, and looked at me with a stupid wonder in his face. He was wounded; he nursed his shoulder, and there was a spreading stain upon his white shirt.

"They have guns-in the rigging," says he. Then he grunted, and collapsed, unconscious.

The heavy roar of shotguns, for which my ear was cocked, did not come. There were two pistols in action overhead, and pistol shots rattled forward, and I could tell from the sounds that a free fight was raging somewhere on the main deck. But the heavier discharges did not come. For an instant I thought-aye, and hoped!-that the tradesmen had been cut off from the roundhouse.

Suddenly the saloon grew bright with a reflected glare. I was on my feet again, and I peered into the alleyway, looking out through the door Morton had opened. The roundhouse cut off any view of the main deck, but I could see that the whole deck, aye, the whole ship, was alight with a growing glare, a dazzling greenish-white light.

Then I knew what Captain Swope meant when he screamed for "flares."

Distress flares, signal flares, such as a ship in trouble might use.

He had stocked the roundhouse with them.

Cunning, aye, deadly cunning. This was something Boston and Blackie had not dreamed of. A flare thrown on deck when the men came aft-and slaughter made easy for the defenders of the roundhouse!

Something of this I spoke aloud to Newman. There was no answer, and I became conscious he was not behind me. I wheeled about. Newman, with the lady's assistance, was hobbling up the ladder to the deck above. I swore my amazement and dismay at what seemed to me madness, but I hurried after them, and emerged on th

e poop at their heels.

The night was banished by the strong light flaring forward. That was my impression when I leaped out on deck. When I turned forward, I saw the whole ship, clear to the foc'sle, bathed in that light. Not one, but a half dozen flares were burning at once; they had been thrown upon the deck both to port and starboard. Everything on the decks was brightly revealed, every ringbolt, the pins in the rails, deadeyes, sails, gear, aye, every rope in the rigging was boldly etched against the glowing background. With that one sweeping glance I took in the scene. High up in the main rigging, almost to the futtock shrouds, the figure of a man was revealed: he was blazing away in the direction of the poop with a revolver. On the deck, near the mainmast, the second mate was laying about him with a capstan bar, and a dozen men seemed boiling over each other in efforts to close with him. Other figures lay motionless upon the deck.

So much for what I saw forward; what concerned me that instant was what was right before my eyes. Captain Swope was leaning against the mizzen fife rail, screened by the mast from those forward, returning the fire of the man in the rigging-but no, even as I clapped eyes upon him, he shot, and I saw he aimed, not at the man in the rigging, but at the group fighting on the deck. At his second officer, no less! Aye, and I understood in a flash why I had not beard the shotguns; the tradesmen had not Swope's murderous intent towards Mister Lynch. and they held their fire because they could not rake the gang without hitting Lynch.

The tradesman, Connolly, was crouched against the companion hatch; he was staring after Newman and the lady, mouth agape. He saw them directly they appeared on deck, which Swope did not. He raised his gun uncertainly, then lowered it, then raised it again, covering Newman's broad back-and by that time I was upon him, my clutch was upon his wrist, and my right fist impacted violently against his head. It was a knockout blow, at the base of the brain, and he slumped down, unconscious. I straightened up, with the gun in my hand.

It was at this instant that Captain Swope became aware of our presence. It was Newman, himself, who attracted his attention-aye, and the attention of the whole ship, as well.

For Newman had marched into the light. He stood now almost at the forward poop rail, with his arms raised above his head; and he sent his voice forward in a stentorian hail, a cry that was like a thunderclap.

"Stop fighting, lads! Stop it, I say! It is I-Newman! Stop fighting and go for'ard!"

If ever a human face showed amazement and discomfiture, Swope's did. He had been so busy at his game of potting his officer he did not see Newman until the latter walked into his range of vision and sent forth his hail. He could have shot Newman then, and I could not have prevented, for he had his weapon leveled. But this sudden apparition seemed to paralyze him; he just lowered his arm, and stared.

It startled and paralyzed all hands. The struggle on the main deck ceased abruptly. It was the strangest thing I ever beheld, the way Newman's thunderous command seemed to turn to graven images the men on deck. They were frozen into grotesque attitudes, arms drawn back to strike, boots lifted to kick. Mister Lynch stood with his capstan bar poised, as though he were at bat in a baseball game. Every face was lifted to the giant figure standing there on the poop. I even saw in the brilliant light a white face framed in one of the portholes in the roundhouse.

Newman repeated his command. He did not beg or entreat; he commanded, and I don't think there was a sailor or stiff on the main deck who, after his first word, dreamed of disobeying him. Such was the big man's character superiority, such was the dominance his personality had acquired over our minds. I tell you, we of the foc'sle looked upon Newman as of different clay; it was not alone my hero-worship that magnified his stature, in all our eyes he was one of the great, a being apart from and above us.

And not only foc'sle eyes regarded him in this light. There were the tradesmen peering out of the roundhouse ports, with never a thought in their minds of disobeying his injunction. I had it from their own lips afterwards; it was not just surprise at the big fellow's sudden appearance that stayed their hands, it was the power of his personality. There was Mister Lynch, arrested by Newman's voice in mid-stroke, as it were. There was Swope, standing palsied and impotent, with a growing terror in his face.

"Go for'ard, lads! Go below! Come up here, Lynch! Not another blow, men-for'ard with you!"

The frozen figures on the deck came to life. There was a murmur, a shuffling of feet, and Lynch lowered his great club. But it was an obedient noise.

From one quarter came the single note of dissent. The man in the main rigging sang out. It was Boston's voice.

"Go aft, mates!" he shouted. "We've got them-we've won-don't listen to him!" Then he threw his voice at Newman. "Damn you, Big 'Un, you've spoiled the game!" A flash followed the oath, and a splinter flew from the deck at Newman's feet.

There was a flash from my gun as well. I fired without taking conscious aim; I swear, an invisible hand seemed to lift my arm, a finger not mine seemed to press the trigger-and that greedy, murderous rascal in the rigging screamed, and loosed his hold. He struck the sheer pole in his descent, and bounced into the sea.

The shots seemed to awaken Captain Swope from his surprise and terror. He had suddenly moved with catlike swiftness; when I lowered my eyes from the rigging, I saw he had left his refuge behind the mizzenmast and was standing in the open deck. Aye, there he stood in that light, which had reached its maximum, revealed to all eyes-and stamped upon his face was an expression of insane fury so terrible and deadly he seemed not a human being at all, but a mad beast crouched to spring. His lips were drawn back from his teeth, and a froth appeared upon his black beard. The crowd forward saw the demon unmasked in his face, even as I saw it, and from them arose a gasping "a-ah!" of horror.

The sound caused the lady, who was standing at Newman's elbow, to turn around; or perhaps it was the feel of Swope's burning eyes that spun her about so quickly. He was raising his arm, the arm that held the gun, not quickly but slowly and carefully. With a stab of horror I saw him aim, not at the man, but at the woman.

No outside power this time seemed to aid me. I shot. I should have hit the beast, he was not ten paces distant-but only a click answered when my hammer fell. My gun was empty. I threw up my arm, intending to hurl the weapon, and I think I cried out. Swope shot-and the lady threw up her hands and fell.

You must understand, this all happened in a brief instant of time. Aye, it was but a short moment since we stepped out on deck. What happened after that shot must be measured by seconds.

For the lady was still falling, and my hand was still reaching behind me to gather energy for a throw, when Newman bore down upon his enemy. I had not seen him turn around even, and there he was at arm's grips with the captain. There was another flash from Swope's revolver, in Newman's very face. It was a miss, for Newman's hands-helpless lumps of flesh but a few moments before-closed upon Swope's neck. I saw Newman's face. It was a terrible face, the face of an enraged and smiting god. The great scar stood out like a dark line painted upon his forehead.

He lifted Swope from his feet with that throat grip. He whirled him like a flail, and smashed him down upon the deck, and let him go. And there Yankee Swope lay, sprawled, and still, his head bent back at a fatal angle. A broken neck, as a glance at the lolling head would inform; and, as we discovered later, a broken back as well. It was death that Newman's bare hands dealt in that furious second.

Newman did not waste so much as a glance at the work of his hands. He had turned to the lady, with a cry in his throat, a low cry of pain and grief-which changed at once to a shout of gladness. For the lady was stirring, getting to her feet, or trying to.

Newman gathered her slight form into his great arms. I heard him exclaim, "Where, Mary? Did it-" And she answered, dazedly, "I am all right-not hit." He took a step towards me, towards the companion. The swelling murmur from the deck arrested him.

He walked to the break of the poop, with the woman in his arms. She seemed like a child held to his breast. He spoke to the men below in a hushed, solemn voice.

"It is ended," he said. "Swope is dead."

As he stood there, the flares commenced to go out. One by one they guttered and extinguished, and the black night swept down like a falling curtain.

Five bells chimed in the cabin.

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