Chapter XIV

THE BATTLE

     I fired through the window and brought down one fellow while they were still coming in a huddle toward us.  Before I could fire again they were in the saloon and at close quarters with us.
     To me it seemed that a hundred men were struggling in that narrow, smoke-filled space.  A grimy, blackfaced stoker leaped at me and I fired.   I remember beating him over the head with my revolver and that we went down together in a clinch.
     As I was falling it came over me that the attack was only a feint to keep us busy.  The main body of the mutineers was storming the wheelhouse.
     When I clambered to my feet I found that our attackers had been routed.  Billie Blue's dirk had put a temporary quietus on my stoker, and the rest had fled as quickly as they had come.
     "This way!" I shouted, and was out of the door in a jiffy.
     A swarm of men were racing up the steps that led to the bridge and the pilot house.  One lay with arms outstretched, face down on the deck.   Another was sliding down the rail of the steps, his face writhing with pain.
     Our friends were hard pressed.  Blythe was keeping the door against a mob, while Yeager was firing through the window.  Twice I saw the captain's cutlas flash.  Then I lost sight of him and I knew that Bothwell had forced the entrance.
     At the same instant the Arizonian disappeared from the opening which he had been using as a porthole.  I knew that Sam was down and that his friend had gone to his assistance.  My flank attack must have come as a surprise.  The mutineers turned, finding themselves between two fires.  We crowded in on them, and for a time the jam was so thick that none of us could do much damage.
     Now they fought as desperately to get out of the wheelhouse as they had a minute earlier to get in.  They were in a panic of fear, fancying themselves trapped.
     I was flung against Bothwell, his furious face so close to mine that the hot breath filled my nostrils.  We tried to grip each other, but in the huddle we were thrust apart.
     Suddenly the room was no longer full.  I could see that the enemy was in flight.  Before I reached the open I knew that the day was won.   Alderson, Billie Blue, and Morgan were pursuing the flying rabble.
     Bothwell, making play with his cutlas against both Blythe and Yeager, was retreating slowly to the bridge rail.  I remember crying out as I ran toward them.
     Bothwell vaulted over the rail to the deck below.  I followed like a fool, for in the row I had lost my weapons.  As I recall it now, Sam shouted to me to come back.  But there was some idiotic notion in my head that the Russian might run into the reception room with his fellows and get possession of the women.
     Instead, he turned and slashed at me.  The blow would have carved my head had not I dodged.  At that I received a nasty swipe in the arm.   It was not possible to stop.  All I could do was to slip past him and continue running.
     George Fleming had stopped at the head of the stairway to the main deck.  He leveled a pistol and waited for me.  Bothwell was at my heels.   I was between the devil and the deep sea.
     "We've got him!" the Russian cried.
     I swung in behind one of the boats which lay under a tarpaulin near the edge of the deck.  Simultaneously I heard the engineer's gun crack.  No rabbit would have clambered around the boat quicker than I.  Bothwell had doubled back and was charging me.  His whistling cutlas hissed down not an inch from my ear and ripped through the tarpaulin to bury the blade in the wood of the bow.
     I scudded back toward the bridge, my enemy in full chase.
     Every instant I expected to feel the slash of his blade between my shoulders.  It seemed to me that my leaden feet clung to the planks, that a toddling child could do that stretch to safety quicker than I was doing it.
    As I ran the deck began to tilt dizzily.  Before my eyes there spread a haze.  All grew black even while my feet still automatically moved.
     "Badly hurt, old man?"
     The voice came to me from a great distance.  With returning consciousness I found that the strong arm of its owner was supporting my head and shoulders.  My eyes looked into those of our captain.
     "It's all right, Jack," he explained.  "We got to you just as you fell and Tom drove that villain back.  How badly cut are you?"
     "A glancing cut, I think.  But I'm a bit dizzy?   We beat them, didn't we?"
     "Yes.  The rats have scuttled back to their holes."
     He helped me into the reception room and I sank down on the lounge.
     "Just a bit light-headed," I explained to Yeager, who came in at that moment.
     "Glad it's no worse.  We gave them a drubbing, anyhow."
     "Get Bothwell?" asked Sam.
     "Nope.  My gun was empty.  I had him at the foot of the ladder, not ten feet from the muzzle, and click
nothing doing.  The beggar turned and laughed in my face."
     "Keep a lookout, Alderson," the captain ordered, while he unbuttoned my coat.  "Tom, you'd better take a look around and size up the damage."
     "Mott is dead.  I found his body in the cabin," I told our chief.
     "I was afraid of it.  With Mott gone and Dugan wounded we were short two men at the beginning of the scrimmage.  Eight to fourteen
devilish long odds.  Easy with that sleeve there.  Here you, Billie Blue, get me a sponge and a basin of water.  And tell Miss Wallace to bring her sticking plaster."
     Morgan, very white, was sitting on the opposite lounge trying to stop with a handkerchief the blood from a scalp wound.  From where I lay I could see the body of Williams just outside the saloon.  A stray bullet from one of the retreating mutineers had killed him at the very close of the battle.
     Altogether that left us five sound men, counting Blue as a man, and three wounded ones.  The pirates had suffered more.  One I had disposed of at the first rush, just before they reached the cabin, and the flunky had wounded one of the firemen.
     Yeager had picked off Johnson in the run for the bridge, and Sam had wounded Caine.  In addition to these at least two more had been blooded in the scrimmage at close quarters outside the wheelhouse.
     "Eight of them left against five of us, not counting the wounded on either side," Yeager summed up.
     "What has become of Philips?" I asked, remembering that I had not seen him since the row began.
     "Thought I saw him run down stairs when the beggars poured in on us here, sir," Alderson answered.
     Later the poor fellow was found in his berth, trembling like an aspen leaf.  He had locked his door and buried his face in the pillows.
     A shock of red hair above a very white face appeared at the head of the companionway.  "Is
is it all over?" rasped a small voice.
     "Yes, Jimmie, right now it is.  And you'll notice that we're still sticking to the saddle, son, and not puling leather either," observed the plainsman cheerfully.
     "I
I didn't know it would be like this," murmured the boy.  "I thought"  His voice tailed out and he dropped limply into a seat, his fascinated eyes fixed on my bleeding arm.  Yeager clasped a hand on the boy's shoulder.
     "Brace up, kid.  The first round is ours, strong.   We've had to hustle, but I reckon we've given them a hectic time of it.   They'll not bother us for quite some hours.  Captain Bothwell is busy explaining to a real sore outfit just why his plans miscarried."
     "Is Mr. Sedgwick
killed?" asked the boy, swallowing hard.
     I laughed faintly.
     "He's worth a dozen dead men yet, Jimmie."
     And to prove it I fell back among the pillows unconscious.