The Iron Pirate/Chapter 27

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The Iron Pirate  (1905)  by Max Pemberton
Chapter XXVII

CHAPTER XXVII.


I FALL TO WONDERING.


I had sprung up the ladder, which was always at the side of the Celsis, before Dan had gathered his scattered wits to remember that it was there. It was worth much to watch that honest fellow as he gripped my hand in his two great paws: and then let it go to walk away, and survey me at a distance; or drew nearer again, and seemed to wish to give me a great hug as a bear hugs its cub. But I cut him short with a gesture, and asked him if Roderick and Mary were aboard.

"They're down below, as I'm alive, and the hands is ashore, but they'll come aboard for this, drunk or sober. Thunder! if I was ten years younger—but there, I ain't, and you'll be waking 'em; do you see, they're resting after victuals down in the saloon. Shall I tell 'em as you've called in passing like? Lord, I can hardly see out of my eyes for looking at you, sir."

Poor old Dan did not quite know what he was doing. I left him in the midst of his strange talk, and walked softly down the companion way to the door of the saloon, and I opened it and stood, I doubt not, before them as one come from the dead. Mary, whose childish face looked very drawn, was seated before a book, open upon the table, her head resting upon her hands, and a strange expression of melancholy in her great dark eyes. But Roderick lay upon a sofa-bunk, and was fast asleep, with the novel which he had been reading lying crumpled upon the floor.

I had opened the door so gently that neither of them moved as I entered the room. It was to me the best moment of my life to be looking again upon them, and I waited for one minute till Mary raised her head, and our eyes met. Then I bent over the cabin table and kissed her, and I felt her clinging to me, and though she never spoke, her eyes were wet with hot tears; and when she smiled through them, it was as a glimpse of bright sunlight shining through a rain-shower. In another moment there was nothing but the expression of a great childish joy on her face, and the old Mary spoke.

"Mark, I can't believe it," she said, holding me close lest I might go away again, "and I always guessed you'd come."

But Roderick awoke with a yawn, and when he saw me he rubbed his eyes, and said as one in a dream—

"Oh, is that you?"

****

The tea which Mary made was very fragrant, and Roderick's cigars had a fine rich flavour of their own, to which we did justice, as we sat long that afternoon, and I told of the days in Ice-haven. It was a long story, as you know, and I could but give them the outline of it, or, in turn, hear but a tenth part of their own anxieties and ceaseless efforts in my behalf. It appeared that when I had failed to return to the hotel on that night when I followed Paolo to the den in the Bowery, Roderick had gone at once to the yacht, and there had learnt from Dan of my intention. He did not lose an instant in seeking the aid of the police, but I was even then astern of the Labrador, and the keen search which the New York detectives had made was fruitless even in gleaning any tidings of me. Paolo was followed night and day for twenty-four hours; but he was shot in a drinking-den before the detectives laid hands on him, and only lived long enough to send Mary a message, telling her that her pretty eyes had saved the Celsis from disaster in the Atlantic. On the next day both the skipper and Roderick made public all they knew of Black and his crew, and a greater sensation was never made in any city. The news was cabled to Europe over half-a-dozen wires, was hurried to the Pacific, to Japanese seas—it shook the navies of the world with an excitement rarely known, and for some weeks it paralysed all traffic on the Atlantic. Cruisers of many nations were sent in the course of the great ocean-going steamers; arms were carried by some of the largest of the passenger ships, and the question was asked daily before all other questions, "Is the nameless ship taken?" Yet, it was no more than a few weeks' wonder; for we had fled to Ice-haven, and people who heard no more of the new piracy asked themselves, "Are not these the dreams of dreamers?"

Meanwhile Roderick and Mary, who suffered all the anguish of suspense, returned to Europe, and to London, there to interview the First Lord of the Admiralty, and to hear the whole matter discussed in Parliament. Several warships and cruisers were despatched to the Atlantic, but returned to report the ill result of their mission, which could have had but this end, since Black was then in the shelter of the fjord at Greenland, and none thought of seeking him there. Nor was my oldest friend content with this national action and the subsequent offer of a reward of £50,000 for the capture of the nameless ship or of her crew, for he put the best private detectives in the city at the work, sending two to New York, and others to Paris and to Spezia. These fathomed something of the earlier mystery of Captain Black's life, but the man's after-deeds were hidden from them; and when the weeks passed and I did not come, all thought that I had died in my self-appointed mission—another of his many victims.

It was but a few days after this sorrowful conviction that Black and I went to London, and were seen by Inspector King, who had watched night and day for the man's coming. The detective had immediately telegraphed to the Admiralty, and to Roderick, who had reached my hotel to find that I had already left. Then he hurried back to Southampton, there to hear of the going of the warships and to wait with Mary tidings of the last great battle, which meant life or death to me.

Long we sat discussing these things, and very bright were a pair of dark eyes that listened again to Roderick's story, and then to more of mine. But Roderick himself had awoke from his lethargy, and his enthusiasm broke through all his old restraint.

"To-morrow, why, to-morrow, by George, you'll astound London. My dear fellow, we'll go to town together to claim the £50,000 which the Admiralty offered, and the £20,000 from the Black Anchor Line, to say nothing of American money galore. You're made for life, old man; and we'll take the old yacht north to Greenland, and hunt up the place and Black's tender, which seems to have escaped the ironclads, and it'll be the finest trip we ever knew."

"What does Mary say?" I asked as she still held my hand.

"I don't mean to leave you again," she answered, and as she spoke there was a great sound of cheering above, and a great tramp of feet upon the deck; and as we hurried up, the hands I loved to see crowded about me, and their shouting was carried far over the water, and was taken up on other ships, which threw their searchlights upon us, so that the night was as a new day to me, and the awakening from the weeks of dreaming as the coming of spring after winter's dark. Yet, as the child-face was all lighted with radiant smiles, and honest hands clasped mine, and the waters echoed the triumphant greeting, I could not but think again of Captain Black, or ask myself—Is the man really dead, or shall we yet hear of him, bringing terror upon the sea, and death and suffering; the master of the nations, and the child of a wanton ambition? Or is his grave in the great Atlantic that he ruled in the mighty moments of his power?

Ah, I wonder.

THE END.


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