CHAPTER XIX

Sense And Nonsense

     The squall passed as suddenly as it had swept upon us, and left in its wake a night of stars and moonbeat.
     Apparently there was no question of returning the mutineers to the irons from which we had freed them.  Alderson, Smith, Neidlinger, and Higgins were grouped together on the forecastle deck in amiable chat.
     Blythe was still at the wheel, and our cheerful friend from the cattle country at the piano bawling out the identical chorus I had interrupted so ruthlessly just before the first blow of the mutiny was struck.
  He was lustily singing as Evelyn and I trod the deck.
     "Tom sings as if with conviction.  I hope it may not be deep-rooted," I laughed.
     "If you mean me—"
    "I don't mean Miss Berry."
     To my surprise she took the words seriously.
     "It isn't so, Jack.  Say it isn't so."
     "Does that mean that it is? I asked.
     "No-o.  Only I can't bear to think that our happiness will make anybody else unhappy."
     "It doesn't appear to be making him unhappy."
     "but he doesn't knowyet."
     "Then he's really serious?  I wasn't quite sure."
     She sighed.
     "I wish he wasn't.  How girls can like to make men fall in love with them I can't conceive.  He's such a splendid fellow, too."
     "He's a man, every inch of him," I offered by way of comfort.  "It won't hurt him to love a good woman even if he doesn't win her.   He'll recover, but it will do him a lot of good first."

     "Would you feel so complacent if it were you?" She asked slyly, with a flash of merry eyes.
     We happened to be in the shadow of the smokestack.   After the interlude I expounded by philosophy more at length.
     "He's young yetat least his heart is.   A man has to love a nice girl or two before he is educated to know the right one when he meets her.  I don't pity Yeager—not a great deal, anyhow.  It's life, you know," I concluded cheerfully.
     "Oh, I see.  A man has to love a mice girl or two as an educative process."  Her voice trailed into the rising inflection of a question.   "Then the right girl ought to thank me for helping to prepare Mr. Yeager for her—if I am."
     "That's a point of view worth considering," I assented.
     "But I suppose she will never even know my name," she mused.
     "Most likely not," was my complacent answer.
     whereupon she let me have her throat with a little purr of amusement in her voice.
     "Any more than  shall know what nice girls prepared you for me."
     "Touché," I conceded with a laugh.   "I didn't know you were the kind of young woman that lays traps for a fellow to tumble into."

     "And I didn't know you were a war-worn veteran toughened by previous campaigns," she countered gaily.  "You've been very liberally educated, didn't you say?
     "No, I didn't say.  This is how I put it to myself:  A boy owes something to the nice girls all about him.  One would not like to think, for instance,that the youths of Tennessee had been so insensible as never to have felt a flutter when your long lashes drifted their way,"  I diplomatically suggested.
     "How nicely you wrap it up," she said with her low, soft laugh.  "And must my heart have fluttered, too, for them?  Unless it has, I won't be properly educated for you, shall I?"
     "Ah, that's the difference.  You are born perfect lovers, but we have to acquire excellence through experience."
     "Oh!"
     An interjection can sometimes express more than words.   My sweetheart's left me wondering just what she meant.  There was amusement in it, but there was, too, a demure suppression to which I had not the key.
     She, too, I judged, had known a few love episodes in her life.  Perhaps she had been engaged before, as in sometimes the custom among Southern girls.  The thought gave me a queer little stab of pain.
     Yeager came out of the deck pavilion as we passed.
     "I say, let's have some music, good people."
     I looked at my watch.
     "My turn at the wheel.  Maybe Blythe will join you."
     He did.  From the pilot-house I could bear his clear tenor and Evelyn's sweet soprano filling the night with music.  Presently they drifted into patriotic songs, in which Tom came out strong if not melodious.  But when the piano sounded the notes of "Dixie" Evelyn's voice rose alone, clear and full-throated as that of a lark.
     After being relieved by Alderson I turned in and slept round the clock.  The tune of drumming engines was in my ears when I woke.
     "Sam is making her walk," I thought, and when I reached the deck I learned that we had entered the Gulf of Panama.  A long, low line showed dimly in the foggy distance to the left.  We were running parallel with it, Prieto Point directly in front of us.
     With the exception of the older Fleming, who had been transferred to the same cabin as Bothwell, all the crew were at work.  Only the true men, however, were armed.  From the looks cast by the former mutineers toward the blurred shore line it was plain that they looked forward to Panama with anxiety.
     In the canal zone, with the flag of the United States flying to the breeze, the law would give them short shrift.  We observed that whenever their duties permitted it, they drew uneasily together in earnest talk.
     Blythe smiled grimly.
     "Our friends don't like the wages of sin, now that pay day is at hand.  I'll give you two to one, Jack, that before an hour is up you'll see a delegation to the captain."
     He was right.  As Sam stepped down from the bridge, having turned the wheel over to Alderson, he was approached timidly by Neidlinger and Gallagher.  Higgins, in partial payment for his share in the revolt, was taking a turn at shoveling coal in the stifling furnace room.
     Gallagher touched his hat humbly.
     "We'd like a word with you, Captain Blythe."
     "I thought Bothwell was your captain?"
     The sailor flushed.
     "No, sir.  We're through with him."
     "Now that he's a prisoner?" Suggested Sam.
     "We wish we'd never let him bamboozle us, sir.  It would 'a' been a sight better for a lot of poor fellows if we'd never seen him.  That man's a devil, sir."
     "Indeed!"
     As he stood there, a lean brown man straight as a ramrod, efficient to the last inch of him, it struck me that the mutineers would get justice rather than mercy from our captain.
     The sailor moistened his dry lips and went on.
     "Captain Blythe, we—we're sorry we let ourselves be led into—into—"
     Gallagher stumbled for a word.  Sam supplied it quietly;
     "Mutiny."
     "Yes, sir; if you want to put it that way, sir."
     "How else can I put it?"
     "We were led astray by that man Bothwell, sir.  He promised there would be no bloodshed.  We're sorry, sir."
     "I don't doubt it," the Englishman assented dryly.
     "Begging your pardon, sir, we asks to be taken back and punished by you.  Whatever you give us we'll take and not a word out of our heads.   Say a flogging and we'll thank you kindly, sir.  But don't turn us over to the law."
     "Didn't I tell you what would come of it, Gallagher?"
     "Yes, sir; you warned us straight.  But that man Bothell had us bewitched."
     "If you're taken ashore at Panama you'll be hanged."
     "We know that sir."
     Blythe considered for a minute and announced his decision sharply.
     "I'll give you another chance—you two and Higgins and young Fleming.  I'll not let you off scot-free, but your punishment will depend on how faithful you are for the rest of the cruise."
     Once I saw a man acquitted of murder in a courtroom.   The verdict was such a relief that he fainted.  The captain's unexpected clemency took these men the same way, for virtually he had untied the noose from their necks.  Tears started to their eyes.  Plainly they were shaken with emotion.
     "You'll not regret it, sir.  We'll be true to the death, Captain Blythe," the Irishman promised, his white lips trembling.
     After Alderson's turn at the wheel came mine.  Evenly presently joined me in the pilot-house.
     "When shall we get ashore?" she asked me.
     We were at the time, I remember, passing Taboga Island.
     "Not till morning.  We'll have to be inspected.   Tonight we'll lie in the harbor."
     "How is your hand?" she asked, glancing at my bruised fingers.
     I flashed a look quickly at her.
     "My hand"  Oh, it's all right now."
     "Jimmie's is better, too," she said quietly.
     In the language of my boyhood I was up a stump.  So I played for time.
     "Jimmie's?"
     "Yes.  I have been taking care of it for him.   His fingers were not bruised much, though.  It's odd, isn't it, that both of you were hurt in exactly the same place—by accident?"
     I murmured that it was strange.
     "So I had a little talk with him," she went on quietly.
     "Yes?"
     "And he told me all about it.  Oh, Jack, I didn't think even Boris would do a thing like that!"  She looked up at me with bright, misty eyes.  "I asked Gallagher and Neidlinger about it.  They both told me how brave you were."
     "I'm grateful for their certificate of valor," I answered lightly.
     Before I knew what she was at my sweetheart had stooped to kiss the bruises above my knuckles.  I snatched my hand away.
     "Don't do that," I said gruffly.  "It isn't exactly—you know—right."
     "Why not?"  She looked at me with head flung back in characteristic fashion.  "Why not?  They suffered for us, the poor, bruised fingers.  Why shouldn't I honor them with my poor best?"
     "Oh, well!"  I shrugged, embarrassed by her shining ardor, even though in my heart t pleased me.
     She came close to me.
     "I love you better every day, Jack.  You're splendid.  Life is going to be a great, big thing for me with you."
     "Even though we don't find the treasure?" I asked, thrilling with the joy of her confession.
     "We've found the treasure," she whispered.   "I don't give that"—she snapped her fingers with a gesture of scorn—"for all the gold that was ever buried compared to you, laddie.  I just spend my time thanking God for you with all my heart."
     "But you mustn't idealize me.  I'm full of faults."
     "Don't I know it?  Don't I love your faults, too, you goose?  Who wants a perfect man?"
     "I know, I know."
     The wheel was getting very little attention, for my darling was in my arms and I was kissing softly her tumbled hair and the shadows under her glorious eyes.
     "Love is like that.  It doesn't want perfection.   I care more for you because you're always wanting your own way.  the tiny, powdered freckles on the side of your nose are beauty marks to me."
     "You are a goose."  she laughed.   "But it's true.  I've seen lots of handsomer men than you—Boris, for example; but I've never seen one so good looking."
     "And that's just nonsense," I told her blithely.
     "Of course it's nonsense.  But there is no sense so true as nonsense."
     I dare say we babbled foolishly the inarticulate rhapsody all lovers find so expressive.