Read CHAPTER XVIII - AT DEAD OF NIGHT of Hurricane Island , free online book, by H. B. Marriott Watson, on ReadCentral.com.

Consciousness flowed back upon me slowly, and I emerged in pain and in intense bewilderment from my swoon. The first sound that came to me in my awakening was the terrific roar of the water against the side of the yacht, the next a woman’s scream. Recalling now the incidents exactly preceding my fall, I stirred and endeavoured to sit up, and then I was aware of being pinned down by a weight. It was, as will be remembered, pitch dark, but I put out my hand and felt the beating of a heart. There was also unmistakably a woman’s bodice under my fingers. It was Princess Alix, who had fallen with me.

But what had happened? And what noise was screaming through the night, even above all that awful tumult of waste water and wild wind? I answered the second query first. It was Mademoiselle. Well, she could wait. My first concern must be for the Princess, who lay upon me a dead weight, but, as I knew, a living, breathing body. I carefully extricated myself and raised her. The yacht was stooping at an angle, and I was forced back against the wall with my burden. If it had been only light and I had known which way to move! I laid the Princess on the couch, which I discovered by groping, and tried to open the door. It was jammed. Then it dawned upon me that the screw had stopped. The noise of its beating was not among the many noises I heard. If it had stopped, only one thing could have happened. The Sea Queen must be ashore. That was the explanation. We had struck.

I was now the more anxious, as you may conceive, to get out of the cabin, for if we had struck it was essential to know how we stood and what degree of risk we ran. For all I knew, the yacht might be sinking at that moment or breaking up upon rocks. Finding egress through the door impossible, I made my way with difficulty to the other side of the boudoir, where I knew there was a communication with the bedrooms. This door stood open, as it had been flung by the shock, and I was now able to locate the sounds of the screaming. They came from the cabin beyond, which I knew to be Mademoiselle’s. I guided myself as well as I could to the door giving access to the corridor and unlocked it. As I did so a speck of light gleamed in the darkness and arrested me. It enlarged and emerged upon me till it took the shape of a candle, and underneath it I beheld the capable face of the French maid Juliette.

“It is necessary I should have something to quiet Mademoiselle, monsieur,” said she in her tranquil way.

“I am in search of something now for the Princess, Juliette,” I explained. “Thank God for your light. How did you get it?”

“I always have a candle with me when I travel, Monsieur,” she replied. She was the most sensible woman I had ever met, and I could have embraced her.

“The yacht has gone aground,” I said. “I will find out how much damage has been done. I will bring back what is necessary. The Princess lies in there. See to her.”

With that I left her and stepped into the corridor. Like the cabins, it was opaque with the night, but I groped my way across it without hearing any sounds of living people only that terrible turmoil of waters without. I knew where my bag was. It was in the small cabin which the Prince used as his smoking-room, and in which we had sometimes played cards to pass the time during those days of anxiety and trouble. The first door I opened seemed to give me access to the open sea. The wind ramped in my face, and would have thrown me back, and I was drenched with a cascade of water. I thought I must have opened the door to the deck until I remembered that that had been destroyed in the fight. I put out a hand, and it touched a piece of furniture, and then once again the sea broke over me. There could be no other solution of the puzzle than this that the outer wall of the cabin had been carried away. I judged that I was in the Prince’s room.

I retraced my way, opening the door with difficulty, and, once more in the shelter of the corridor, felt my way along the railing. There seemed to be a foot of water about my legs, and it was icy chill. The next handle I hit upon I turned as before, and the door came back upon me with a rush, almost sending me headlong. I entered the cabin, and by dint of groping I reached the upholstered couch at the back. My bag was not where I had left it, but it could not be far away. The salt water flowed and oozed on the floor, but I dropped to my knees and hunted for it, and was at last rewarded by finding it jammed into a corner under a cupboard. Getting back into the corridor, I had now to determine whether to return at once to the Princess or to go in search of news.

I stood wavering, reluctant to leave her in her swoon all untended, and yet conscious that it would be wiser to ascertain the extent of our damages. Happily the decision was not forced upon me, for I saw in the distance a swinging lantern, which seemed to be advancing towards me down the corridor. I shouted, and the dim figure behind it stopped and turned the light upon me.

“You, Phillimore?”

It was Barraclough’s voice. “What has happened?” I asked.

“Struck on a reef,” he roared back. “She’s tight yet, I think. But where are the ladies?”

“Let me have your lantern and I’ll take you to them,” said I, and, thanking Providence for that signal mercy, I crossed the corridor with him. The lantern shed a benign light upon the wreck of the boudoir. The Princess lay where I had left her; but her eyes were open, and I made use of my flask of cognac with beneficial results. Then I was plucked by the arm, and Barraclough claimed my attention.

“Mademoiselle Trebizond is ill,” he called. “Give her something. You must see to her.”

Of course that was my duty, and I took such steps as seemed necessary for one of so neurotic a nature.

“She is all right,” I explained. “If the ship’s in no danger just now they are best here. The maid has a candle.”

I returned to Princess Alix and found her recovered, and I bade her be of good cheer, shouting (for it was always shouting) that we had defied the mutineers successfully, and that we should also successfully defy the elements. Then I went back, for I had other work to do.

Barraclough informed me that the Prince had been taken to the music saloon, and Lane also was there. I therefore joined the relics of our company in that devastated chamber, and did what my skill availed to do for the injured. The Prince had been struck on the head and in the body, but the marks were not very apparent. He breathed heavily, but had still his old air of authority. Lane bubbled over with alternate fumes of petulance and passion; but he had his excuse, as he was suffering a great deal of pain. Ellison, too, wounded as he was, had dragged himself from his temporary hospital to the music-room. But one of Legrand’s men had vanished, and it was supposed he had gone overboard in one of the great tides of sea that swept over the yacht. Legrand had ventured on deck, and clinging to the railings, had endeavoured to get some notion of the position of things. But he had seen and heard nothing beyond the storm.

“She’s firm so far,” he shouted in my ears, “and the night’s clearing. I can see a star.”

“The Star of Hope,” I answered.

He shrugged his shoulders. “They may be at the pumps. But the sea’s moderating and the wind’s dropping. We shall know presently.”

Something was now drawing me irresistibly back to the Princess. My heart pined for the sight of her and the assurance that she had suffered no injury. I grew restless at the inaction, and, weary and bruised as I was, I think passion gave me wings and endurance. I left the music saloon and emerged into the lobby where the stairs went down to the saloon below. The sea was breaking through the shattered door on the one side, but on the lee the Sea Queen was tilted upwards, and it was there she lay in irons, no doubt upon some rocks, or shores. If only the day would dawn! As I stood awhile, before entering the corridor through another shattered doorway, the glimmer of a light caught my eye. It came from the door upon the farther side of the lobby, seeming to shine through the keyhole. As I watched, the door opened and let in a blast of wind that shook the broken woodwork; it also let in the figure of a man, and that man, seen dimly in the shades of the light he carried, was Holgate. I drew myself up into the fastness of the gloom and stared at him. He had turned the shutter in his lantern now, for it was a bull’s-eye, and the darkness was once more universal, but I had a feeling that he had a companion, and although I necessarily lost sight of Holgate I was assured in myself that he had descended the stairway. Any noise his heavy feet might make would be absorbed into the general racket of the night. I stood and wondered. What was Holgate’s object in this silent expedition?

I confess my curiosity rose high to a pitch, indeed, at which it might not be denied. A surmise sprang into my mind, but I hardly allowed it time to formulate, for not a minute after the recognition I, too, was on my way down the stairs. It was comparatively easy to descend, for, as I have said, there was no danger of discovery from noise, and I had the balustrade under my hand. When I had reached the floor below I caught the gleam of the lantern in the distance, and I pursued it down one of the passages. This pursuit took me past the cabins towards the kitchen; and then I came to an abrupt pause, for the lantern, too, had stopped.

I could make out Holgate’s bulky form and the light flashing on the walls, and now, too, I found that my senses had not deceived me, and that there was a second man. He stood in the shadow, so that I could not identify him; and both men were peering into an open door.

My position in the passage began to assume a perilous character, and I made investigations in my neighbourhood. Near me was the door of a cabin, which I opened without difficulty and entered. Now, by putting out my head, I could see the mutineers, while I had a refuge in the event of their turning back. They were still bent forwards, peering into the room. I thought that, with good luck, I might venture farther while they were so engrossed with their occupation. So, leaving my hiding-place, I stole forwards boldly to the next cabin and entered it as I had entered the former. I was now quite close to them, and suddenly I saw who was Holgate’s companion. It was Pye.

With equal celerity did my brain take in the situation and interpret it. Indeed, I should have guessed at it long before, I think, had not the events of the night thrown me into a state of confusion. It was the treasure they looked at, and this was where Pye had concealed it. As this truth came home to me Holgate lifted his head and I drew back, setting the cabin door ajar. Presently after the bull’s-eye flashed through the crack of the door, and stayed there. For a moment I thought all was up, and that my retreat had been discovered, but I was soon reassured. The noise of the water had fallen, and above it, or rather through it, I could hear Holgate’s voice fatly decisive.

“She’ll hold, I tell you, for twenty-four hours at any rate, even without pumps. Hang it, man, do you suppose I can take the risk now? They’re sick enough as it is all blood and no money. We must let it lie for a bit and take our opportunity.”

Pye’s voice followed; I could not hear what he said, but Holgate’s was in answer and coldly impatient.

“You’ve the stomach of a nursery governess. Good heavens, to run in harness with you! What the deuce do I know? We’re cast away, that’s certain. But I will be hanged if I lose what I’ve played for, Mr. Pye; so put that in your pipe.”

The light went out and the voice faded. Presently I opened the door and looked out upon profound darkness.

I knew my way about the yacht by that time, and was not discomposed by the situation. The mutineer and his treacherous confederate were gone, and I must make the best of my time to follow them. Nothing could be effected without a light, and I had no means of procuring one in those nether regions. I retraced my way more or less by instinct until I came out at the foot of the stairway, and knew it was easy to regain the upper regions. Instead of going to the boudoir, I sought the group in the music-room, and was challenged by Barraclough.

“Who’s that?”

“Phillimore,” I answered. “We must have more light. Have we no more lanterns?”

“Yes, sir,” said Ellison’s cheerful voice. “There’s some in the steward’s room.”

“Good for you,” said I. “If some one will give me matches I think I’ll go on a hunt.”

The other sailor produced a box of vestas from his pocket, and as he was unwounded I took him with me on my return journey. In the steward’s room we found several lanterns, as well as some bottles of beer and some cold fowl. We made a selection from this and got safely back to our friends. Here we lit two or three of the lanterns, and I opened some of the beer and left them to a repast. You will be thinking that I had not kept my word, and had neglected what should have been my prime duty. I had not forgotten, however. Was it likely? And I made haste at once to the quarters of the ladies, taking with me something which should make me welcome which was a lighted lantern. Princess Alix was quite recovered, but showed great anxiety for news of her brother. I was able to quiet her fears by describing the supper at which I had left him, and her eyes brightened.

“He is so good and brave!” she said simply. “He is so noble! He has always thought of others.”

That the Prince was fond of his sister was manifest, and it was patent, too, that he was attached to the woman for whom he had thrown all away and was thus imperilled. Yet I should not have attributed to him inordinate unselfishness. I made no reply, however, beyond urging her to follow her brother’s example and fortify herself with food. She waved it aside.

“No, no, I am not hungry! I am only anxious,” she said. “Tell me, are we safe?”

“For the present,” I said. “I gather that most of the mutineers are at the pumps.”

“Then we are sinking?” she cried.

“It does not follow,” I answered. “Holgate has his own hand to play, and he will play it. We are safe just now. God answered your prayers, Princess.”

She looked me earnestly in the face and sighed.

“Yes,” she said softly.

Meanwhile I discovered that Mademoiselle had picked up her spirits. She complained of the noise, of the darkness, and of the lack of sleep, but she found some compensations, now that it was clear that we were not going to the bottom.

“It was magnificent, Monsieur, that storm!” she exclaimed. “I could see the demons raging in it. Oh, ciel! It was like the terrors of the Erl Koenig, yes. But what have you there, doctor? Oh, it is beer, English beer. I am tired of champagne. Give me some beer. I love the bocks. It calls to mind the boulevards. Oh, the boulevards, that I shall not see, never, never in my life!”

I consoled her, comforting her with the assurance that we were nearer the boulevards now than we had been a few hours ago, which in a way was true enough. She inquired after the Prince pleasantly, also after Barraclough, and asked with cheerful curiosity when we were going to land.

I said I hoped it would be soon, but she was content with her new toy, which was English bottled ale, and I left her eating daintily and sipping the foam from her toilette glass with satisfaction. I returned to the music-room and joined the company; and, after a little, silence fell upon us, and I found myself drift into the slumber of the weary.

I awoke with the grey dawn streaming in by the shattered skylights, and, sitting up, looked about me. My companions were all wrapped in slumber, Lane tossing restlessly with the pain of his wound. I walked to the door and looked out. The sea had gone down, and now lapped and washed along the sides of the Sea Queen. The sky was clear, and far in the east were the banners of the morning. The gentle air of the dawn was grateful to my flesh and stimulated my lungs. I opened my chest to draw it in, and then, recrossing the lobby, I peered out through the windows on the port side. The dim loom of land saluted my eyes, and nearer still a precipice of rocks, by which the seafowl were screaming. We had gone ashore on some sort of island.

This discovery relieved one of the anxieties that had weighed upon me. At last we had a refuge not only from the violence and treachery of the ocean, but also from the murderous ruffians who had possession of the yacht. It was, therefore, with a lighter heart that I descended into the cabins and made my way along the passage to the point where I had seen Holgate and Pye stop. I identified the door which they had opened, and after a little manoeuvring I succeeded in getting it open. It was the cook’s pantry in which I now found myself, and I proceeded to examine carefully every drawer and every cupboard by the meagre light of the dawn. I had not been at work ten minutes before I came upon the contents of the safes, safely stowed in a locker. Well, if the documents and gold could be shifted once they could be shifted again; and forthwith I set about the job. It pleased me (I know not why) to choose no other place than Pye’s cabin in which to rehide them. I think the irony of the choice decided me upon it, and also it was scarcely likely that Holgate and his accomplice would think of looking for the treasure in the latter’s room.

It took me quite an hour to make the transfer, during which time I was not interrupted by any alarm. Whatever Holgate and his men were doing, they evidently did not deem that there was any center of interest in the saloon cabins at that moment. My task accomplished, I returned to the music-room, in which the wounded men still slept restlessly. I occupied my time in preparing a meal, and I took a strong glass of whisky and water, for my strength was beginning to ebb. I had endured much and fought hard, and had slept but little. As I stood looking down on my companions, I was aware of a grey shadow that the slender sunlight cast as a ghost upon the wall. I turned and saw the Princess.

She was clad as for a journey, and warmly against the cold, and her face was pale and anxious.

“You are astir, Dr. Phillimore,” she said.

“Yes,” said I. “I could not sleep.”

“Nor I,” she returned with a sigh. “I sometimes feel that I shall never sleep again. The sound of the storm and the noises of the fight the oaths the cries they are forever beating in my brain.”

“They will pass,” I replied encouragingly. “I do believe we are destined to safety. Look forth there and you will see the morning mists on the island.”

“Yes,” she assented. “I saw that we had struck on an island, and that is why I am here. Our chance is given us, Dr. Phillimore. We must go.”

I looked doubtfully at the sleeping men.

“Yes, yes, I know, but my brother will be more reasonable now,” she pursued; “he will see things in another light. He has done all for honour that honour calls for.”

“He has done too much,” said I somewhat bitterly, for I realised how greatly he had imperilled his sister.

She made no answer to that, but approached and looked down at the Prince, who lay with his head pillowed on the cushioned seat.

“He is well enough?” she asked.

“He is well enough to leave the yacht if he will consent,” I answered.

Perhaps it was the sound of our voices, though we had both pitched them low. At any rate, Prince Frederic stirred and sat up slowly.

“Good-morning, Alix,” he said affectionately, and his eyes alighted on me, as if wondering.

The Princess went forward and embraced him. “Dr. Phillimore has kindly got breakfast for you,” she said. “You must eat, Frederic, for we are going to leave the yacht this morning.”

She spoke decisively, as if she had taken control of affairs out of his hands, and he smiled back.

“Are those your orders, Alix? You were always wilful from a child.”

“No, no,” she cried, smiling too, “I always obeyed your orders, Frederic. It was you who were hero to me, not Karl or Wilhelm only you.”

He patted her hand and glanced at the food I had obtained. “We owe to Dr. Phillimore a debt of gratitude,” he said in his friendliest manner. The talking had disturbed Barraclough also, who now awoke and saluted us. He made no difficulty of beginning at once on his breakfast, cracking a joke at my expense. It was a strangely pacific gathering after the terrible night; but I suppose we were all too worn to take things in duly.

There is a limit to the power of facts to make impressions on one’s senses, and I think we had reached it. For the most part we were just animals with an appetite. But there was my news, and I hastened to break it. It was not startling, but it had an interest for us all. The Prince deliberated.

“It is fate,” he said slowly. “It is the luck of the Hochburgers.”

Barraclough’s comment was from a different aspect. “That’s a trick to us. We’ve a shot in the locker yet.”

“What is it you mean?” asked the Prince.

“Why, that we can drive a bargain with them,” replied Barraclough. “We’ve got the whip-hand.”

“There shall no bargain be made with murderers,” said the Prince in his deep voice.

“Frederic,” said Princess Alix in a quick, impulsive way, “let us escape while there is time. The way is clear now. We can get to the island and be quit forever of those dreadful men and horrible scenes.”

The Prince let his glance fall on her. “There is something to be done here,” he said at last. “The luck of the Hochburgers holds.”

He was ill for certain; perhaps he was more than ill; but at that moment I had no patience with him. I turned on my heel and left the room.