CHAPTER XXV

A Rescue

    Even now when it is only a memory I do not like to look back upon that twenty minutes.  My poor girl was hysterical, but decided.   Neither argument nor entreaty could move her from her resolution to save my life, no matter what the cost.  I pleaded in vain.
     "I can't let you die, Jack—I can't—I can't."   So she answered all my appeals, with a kind of hopeless despair that went straight to my heart.

     Through my remonstrances there broke a high-pitched voice jabbering something in Spanish of a sort.  The sound of running footsteps on the deck above came to us.  Some one called a warning.
     "Keep back there or we'll fire!"
     then my heart leaped, for across the water came the cool, steady voice of Blythe.
     "My man, I want to talk with Bothwell."
     More feet pattered back and forth on the deck, and among the hurrying steps was one sharp and strong.
     "Good evening, Captain Blythe.  You're rather late for a call, aren't you?  Mr. Sedgwick was in better time.  We have to thank him for an hour's pleasant entertainment."
     I recognized the voice as belonging to Bothwell.
     "If you've hurt a hair of his head I'll hold you personally to account.  Unless you want me to board your schooner you will at once release Mr. Sedgwick and Miss Wallace."
     "Miss Wallace had practically ceased to exist," the Russian drawled.
     "What do you mean?"
     "I shall have the honor to send you cards, captain.   Miss Wallace has become my wife."
     I stuck my head out of the porthole and shouted.   "That's a lie, Sam.  You're just in time to save her."
     "Are you a prisoner, Jack?"
     "Yes.  So is she.  In the next cabin."   Some one stepped quickly across the deck and leaned over the rail above me.   Bothwell's dark face looked down into mine.  He leveled a revolver at my head and fired just as I drew back.
     That shot served as a signal for the attack.  Bullets sang back and forth, some from the schooner, others from the boats of my friends.
     As for the battle, I saw from my porthole only the edge of it, and that but for a few moments as a boat full of men swept forward.  Someone was firing with a rifle, while the others put their backs to the oars.
     Presently the boat swept round the bow of the schooner and was lost to my view.  But I could hear the firing of guns, the trampling of men above, and from their words could tell that the attackers were keeping their distance, even though they were firing pretty steadily from the cover of the shore bushes.
     I must confess that Blythe's method of attack surprised me.   How many men Bothwell had I did not know, but it was plain to me that the only way to take the ship was to rush it.  We might fire at long distance for a week without doing more than keep them busy.
     That I was wild to be free and in the thick of it may be guessed.  Knowing as I did how matters stood between Evelyn and her cousin, I saw that she must be rescued at once to prevent the unholy marriage the Slav planned.
     Strange that Sam could not see this and that he had not led a more dashing attempt at succoring the girl.
     Three taps on the door of my prison jerked me round as if I had been pulled by a string.  My revolver was in my hand.  The door opened slowly and let in a man.
     "That's far enough.  What do you want?" I asked brusquely.
     "S-sh!  It's me, Mr. Sedgwick.  Are you in irons?
     It was Gallagher.  If I had been a Frenchman I would have kissed his ugly old mug for the sheer pleasure of seeing it.  I knew now that Blythe had kept up the long distance fusillade in order to distract the attention of the defenders while Gallagher had crept close from the shore side.
     I ran forward.
     "Where is your boat?"
     "Hidden in the bushes. Alderson is with it.  Where is the lady, sir?"
     In another minute Evenly was free and standing with us in the passage.  I noticed that the fire of the attackers had grown  more rapid.   The sound seemed closer.  the demonstration was taking on the appearance of a real boarding expedition.
     We climbed the forecastle ladder.  I led the way, revolver in hand.  From where I stood, a few steps from the top of the ladder, my eyes could sweep the forward deck.
     Bothwell, the Flemings, and perhaps half a dozen dark-skinned sailors were crouching behind the bulwarks, raising their heads above the rail only to shoot.
     A constant crackling of small arms filled the air.  The boats had crept nearer and were pouring a very steady fire upon the defenders.
     The forward movement was only a diversion under cover of which we might have a chance to escape, but it was being executed with so much briskness and spirit that Bothwell could not guess its harmless nature.
     At my signal the sailor led Evelyn quickly toward to poop.   With my eyes over my left shoulder I followed at their heels.  We had all but reached the stern when I heard the smack of a fist and turned in time to see a Panama peon hit the deck full length.
     He had been hurrying forward and had caught sight of us.   His mouth was open to shout an alarm at the time the Irishman's fist had landed against the double row of shining teeth.
     The fellow rolled over and was up like an acrobat.  But my revolver, pointing straight at his stomach, steadied him in an instant.
     "Don't move or shout," I warned.
     From the bushes Alderson had been waiting for us and his boat was in place.  He flung up a rope ladder with grappling hooks on the end.   Gallagher fixed them to the rail and helped Evelyn down.
     "You next," I ordered.
     "Yes, sir."
     "Your turn now, Sambo," I told the peon after the sailor had gone.
     The fellow rolled his eyes wildly toward the stem of the vessel but found no hope from that quarter.  He clambered over the rail like a monkey and went down hand after hand.  I followed him.
     We were huddled promiscuously in the little boat so that it rocked to the very lip.  For a half a minute a was afraid we were going down, but a shift in position by Gallagher steadied the shell.
     Meanwhile Alderson had thrown his muscles into the oars and we drew away steadily; fifty strokes, and the shadows had swallowed us.
     Alderson pulled across the river and let the boat drift down the opposite bank.  The outgoing tide carried us swiftly.  We slipped past the schooner unobserved.  Gallagher blew twice on a whistle and the two boats commanded by Blythe and Yeager at once drew back into safety.
     Some three hundred yards farther down stream they caught up with us.
     "All right, Jack?" Blythe called across to me.  
     "All right, Sam."
     "Miss Wallace is with you, of course?"
     "Yes, and one other passenger who nearly swamped us.   Can you take our prisoner?"
     His boat pulled p beside us and relieved us of one very frightened Panama peon.  We were very glad to be rid of him, for a dozen times the waves had nearly swamped our overloaded skiff and I had been bailing every second.
     A few minutes later we reached the Argos.
     From Blythe I learned that Gallagher had been responsible for the plan by means of which he had rescued us.  Moreover, he had insisted on taking the stellar role in carrying it out, dangerous as the part had been.  It was his way of wiping out his share in the mutiny.