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crippled ship, incapable of making more than ten knots, and separated
from his ultimate port of refuge by thousands of miles of carefully
patrolled ocean, his position was hazardous in the extreme. Further
captures by the _Independencia_ were almost impossible, since the
usual speed of tramp steamers considerably exceeded that of the
damaged cruiser.

In the midst of these calamities Cervillo's thoughts were not for the
safety of his rascally crew, but how he could effect his own escape
with the riches that the pirates had so unlawfully acquired. The
question of fellow-feeling for his comrades in distress troubled him
not one moment; they could shift for themselves as best they might,
provided he was safely off the disabled ship with the booty. How
could this be done? he asked himself. It was more than the task of a
single man; but did the crew know of his plans his life would not be
worth a moment's purchase. Plan after plan flashed across his mind,
only to be condemned as impracticable, till his cunning brain evolved
a scheme that seemed capable of being put into execution.

"Da Silva," he exclaimed, addressing one of his officers, a Spaniard
like himself. "I want to speak to you in my cabin."

Side by side the two men walked aft till they reached the after
hatchway. It was closed, the bo'sun, in anticipation of bad weather,
having given orders for this to be done. In obedience to a hail a
dozen seamen came running through the fog-laden atmosphere, and
tackles were rove to the heavy steel plates covering the means of
communicating with the half-deck and the officers' cabins.

Slowly the metal slab rose till there was a space of nearly three
feet between the lid and the coaming. One of the seamen slipped
through with the intention of clearing away a chain slung on the
underside. As he did so a report rang out. The man clapped his hands
to his head and toppled across the framework of the hatchway.
Simultaneously the other seamen, alarmed at the noise, hurriedly let
go the tackles, and the hatch-cover fell back with a resounding
clang.

"_Caramba!_ The prisoners are loose!" exclaimed Cervillo.

By a prematurely fired shot all chances of "rushing" the pirates were
thrown away. One of the Frenchmen, with the mercurial excitability of
his race, seeing the pirate enter the hatch, had foolishly discharged
one chamber of his revolver. Before the men under Hiram B. Rutter's
command could rush up the companion ladder the falling of the
armoured slab had rendered their attempt absolutely impossible.

"Hang it, man!" exclaimed Fielding, who had hastened to the base of
the after ladder on hearing the shot and the clang of the cover.
"We've made a hopeless mess of things this time."

Recriminations would have been a mere waste of time. Fielding blamed
no one. He knew, however, that an attempt to storm the quarter-deck
when the hatch was again removed would be useless, as the pirates
would by that time have taken elaborate precautions. As a matter of
fact Cervillo had ordered twenty armed men to come aft, while a
quick-firing gun was temporarily mounted so that its muzzle gaped
menacingly over the aperture leading to the half-deck.

"Yes, Mr. Rutter," continued the sub. "We must sit tight. They can't
very well turn us out, neither can we turn them out, so we must make
ourselves comfortable as best we can. Luckily our quarters are not so
cramped as hitherto, and our circle of acquaintances has widened
considerably."

"That's about right, I guess," agreed the American. "We've only to
keep our eyes skinned and allow no low-down pirate to get down here,
and I reckon we'll come out on top."

Accordingly ten men were stationed at each ladder, ready to pour in a
destructive fire should the crew of the cruiser attempt to descend
from the quarter-deck. This done, the rest of the involuntary guests
were sent to explore the steerage and orlop-decks.

In the captain's and officers' cabins the electric light was still in
working order, although in the quarters previously occupied by the
hostages lamps and candles were the only means of artificial
illumination allowed. There was enough good fare to allow all the new
masters of the after part of the ship to partake of a sumptuous meal,
which, after the meagre fare they had been compelled to subsist upon,
was appreciated with great gusto.

"I wonder how Cervillo will get on without the use of his cabin?"
asked Cardyke.

"He can jolly well go on short commons, as we had to do," growled
Fielding. "Finished, Cardyke? Good! Now cut below, take Hardy with
you, and make an examination of the bread-room, and the compartments
in the flats. Be sure to find out whether there is any fresh water.
Either the wardroom pump is out of order or the supply is getting
low."

Accompanied by the faithful coxswain the mid. descended the several
flights of iron ladders till he reached the flats. An examination of
the fresh-water tank showed that there was barely enough to last over
another day. The bread and spirit rooms were comparatively well
stocked.

"We'll do the rascals out of their grog, sir, if we don't do anything
more," observed Hardy, pointing to the open spirit-room.

"They've plenty for'ard, I don't doubt," replied Cardyke. "Those
fellows don't follow service routine. They've most likely a pannikin
of rum at their fingers' ends or a few puncheons of wine ready
broached. But what's in this place, I wonder?"

The mid. pointed to a store-room adjoining the after submerged
torpedo compartment, which, unlike the spirit-room, was securely
padlocked.

"Can't say, sir," replied Hardy. "Used to be the store for warheads
of torpedoes; but they can't very well have got hold of any o' they."

"We'll jolly soon find out," asserted Cardyke. "It's something of
importance, for there's been a sentry stationed here; look at the
cigarette-ends. He must have bolted up on deck at the time of the
collision."

"Then he won't return to his post just yet awhile," rejoined Hardy.
"D'ye want me to prise the door open, sir? I suppose there ain't
dynamite or stuff of that sort stowed away here?" And the coxswain
drew his revolver.

"Better be careful," said the mid., warningly. "Don't blow the lock
off. See if you can lay hold of a crowbar."

Hardy departed on his quest, and presently returned with a hack-saw.

"This'll do a mighty lot better'n a crowbar, sir," said he. "Would
you mind steadying the padlock while I set to work?"

Five minutes sufficed to saw through the heavy brass framework, and
Cardyke threw open the door. Within the room were piles of
iron-clamped boxes, reaching almost to the ceiling. One or two had
been wrenched open, but it took the united efforts of the midshipman
and the burly coxswain to set one of the chests upon the floor. It
was full of gold ingots.

"Lawks!" ejaculated Hardy, at a loss to say anything else, for the
sight of untold wealth almost capsized his equilibrium.

"We've done the pirates very nicely," said Cardyke. "They'll be wild
with fury to think that we've recaptured the booty."

"Strikes me this is mighty queer. We can't hand the stuff back to its
rightful owners, sir; and the bloomin' pirates can't make use of it
now they've got it on board."

"There's one consolation - it's one in the eye for the rascals," added
the mid. "I'll go and report matters to Mr. Fielding."

"Yes, it's some satisfaction to know we've scored," observed the sub.
when Cardyke made his report. "Sooner than let the rascals lay their
hands on the stuff I'd have the whole lot pitched overboard. But
that's a serious business, the shortage of water. I don't know what
we can do."

"I have it," announced Cardyke. "There's plenty of ice floating
about; we can get a lot of it on board, and melt it down."

"Don't quite see how," objected Fielding.

"The ship's not moving through the water. We can lower a bucket from
one of the ports in the captain's cabin. I don't think it will
attract attention."

"Much more good this," interrupted General Oki, who had overheard the
conversation. "Let man down by rope; pick up ice, and put in sack.
Sack full above top in no time."

"A man would stand a good chance of being frozen to death in five
minutes," objected the sub. "Besides, it would mean a bullet through
his head if the pirates discovered what he was up to."

"Me speak to Mr. Hokosuka," said the general; and turning to his
compatriot he explained the state of affairs.

"Hokosuka he go to-night," announced Oki. "Heap plenty of fresh water
tomorrow."

The rest of the day passed without interruption. The fog showed no
signs of lifting, while at intervals came the thunderous crashes as
the icebergs in the vicinity of the cruiser toppled over or split
asunder. As Cardyke had said, there was plenty of fresh water in a
solid form close at hand. Some of the fragments of ice were so large
that the noise they made as they scraped the ship's sides could be
distinctly heard.

Shortly after dark, for the sun did not set till half-past ten,
Hokosuka was ready for his enterprise. The Jap had stripped off his
clothing and had smeared himself from head to foot with a mixture of
mineral oil and animal fat. This done, he reclothed himself in some
old yet thick garments, so that he would be better able to withstand
the numbing effects of the water. Three large canvas sacks were
prepared ready to be lowered out of the port to the water's edge.
These Hokosuka proposed to fill with lumps of ice before he was
hauled back to his comrades.

Noiselessly the deadlight covering the port was unscrewed; Hokosuka
fastened a rope round his waist, and was preparing to clamber through
the port when he was struck in the face by a man's toes that
mysteriously appeared from without. Before he could recover from his
astonishment the owner of the toes slid feet foremost through the
port, and to the surprise of all who recognised him, the wily Mukyima
gravely saluted his compatriots and the two Englishmen.

The man had contrived to understand the position of affairs, and,
taking advantage of his marvellous agility, dropped over the side,
and crawling aft by means of the torpedo-net shelves, gained the open
port. Luckily for him it was open, for all the other ports and
scuttles were secured by deadlights. But what surprised Fielding and
Cardyke more than the feat the Jap had successfully performed was the
matter-of-fact way in which the Japanese took the reunion. Hokosuka
was astonished - not at seeing his friend once more, but by the sudden
blow in the face. Beyond that there were no visible expressions of
welcome or delight upon the visages of the unfathomable Asiatics.

Without further delay Hokosuka departed on his perilous errand. In
five minutes the first sack was hauled up. Another eight minutes
passed before the second consignment arrived; then there was an
ominous delay.

"The man is frozen to death," exclaimed Fielding. "Haul away as fast
as you can."

The sub., Cardyke, Rutter, and four or five more tugged at the
rope - it broke.

Thrusting his head out of the port Fielding tried to peer through the
darkness. No call for aid came from the surface of the
night-enshrouded sea. He placed his hand upon the rope holding the
third. It was heavy - far too heavy for a bag filled with ice only.

"He's hanging on to this rope," announced the sub. in a low tone.
"It's not stout enough to haul him up."

A hand touched his shoulder. He withdrew from the port-hole, and,
turning, saw Cardyke, clad in a pilot-coat and with a rope made fast
round his waist.

"I'll see what I can do," said the mid., quietly. "I'll take another
length of rope with me. There's no time to waste."

The next instant he had vanished. Scraping down the rusty-streaked
grey side of the ship, guiding his descent by means of the rope
attached to the weighted sack, Cardyke proceeded on his errand of
rescue. For full thirty feet he was lowered before he touched the
mouth of the ice-filled bag. By giving two tugs upon the
supplementary line the mid. signalled to his friends to stop
lowering, and, fumbling with his hands, he strove to find the hapless
Jap. But still success did not reward his efforts. He realised that
the piercing cold was beginning to make itself known in a most
unpleasant fashion. His hands were already numbed, the keenness of
the air stung his face like repeated blows of a whip.

Three tugs - lower still. The mid.'s feet were in the water. Again he
groped. His fingers touched Hokosuka's grease-covered face. The man
gave no sign of life. Perhaps he was already dead with exposure.
Labouringly Cardyke passed the end of the second rope under the Jap's
shoulders, and with a painful effort succeeded in tying a running
knot. This done he tugged frantically at the rope. It was a last
effort - the cold had completely paralysed his muscles.

Limply Cardyke was hauled up, and as willing hands assisted him
through the port, he had barely strength to utter "Haul away on the
other line" ere he fainted.

Half a minute later Hokosuka, bound to the third sack with the
severed portion of the rope by which he had been lowered, was dragged
into the cabin. Mukyima bent over him, and placed his hand on the
unconscious man's heart. It still beat feebly.

While the Japanese were attending to their courageous comrade Rutter
approached.

"Can you come this way?" he asked, addressing Fielding. "I guess
they're trying to break in. The hatch-cover is all a-shake."




CHAPTER XVII

TOUCH AND GO


SNATCHING up a revolver Fielding left the cabin and made his way
along the half-deck till he reached the foremost ladder. Here were
standing nearly a dozen men ready to repel the threatened attack. The
American had spoken truly. Already there was a strain upon the
tackles, and the metal covering was just rising from the coamings.
The pirates were evidently trying to uncover the hatchway without
alarming their foes.

Jumping on the ladder Fielding waited till there was sufficient room
to thrust the muzzle of his revolver under the rising metal plate. He
fired, but whether the shot found a billet or otherwise he knew not,
for the men hauling at the tackles instantly let go, and the
ponderous mass of metal fell with a clang. Simultaneously all the
electric light in the after part of the ship went out; the pirates
had cut the wiring. Lamps and candles were hastily procured, and as
there were plenty in the store-room there was no cause for economy in
this respect; while with the ice that Hokosuka had gathered almost at
the cost of his life there was sufficient water to last nearly a
fortnight.

Finding the partially liberated captives were on the alert the
pirates desisted from making attempts upon the hatchway that night,
and in consequence Fielding was able to divide his command into two
watches, one of which could turn in while the other stood by ready
for any emergency.

The pirate captain undoubtedly meant to attempt all artifices to
recapture the prisoners solely on account of the bulk of the booty
that was stored on the orlop-deck. Were it not for that important
factor Cervillo would not hesitate to seize the first vessel he came
across, transfer the remainder of the booty and crew to her, and
scuttle the _Independencia_, without thought of mercy towards the men
who had baulked him. But his greatest desire was to recover, by
stratagem or force, the precious metal stored in the after part of
the cruiser. Just before dark the voice of the pirate was heard
speaking to them.

"Señor Englishman," he began. "We are in difficulty. The ship is in
danger of sinking."

"Is she?" asked the sub. with well-affected surprise. He knew
perfectly well that had the _Independencia_ really been on the point
of foundering the pirates would be in a panic.

"To save your lives, señor, is the wish of me, Juan Cervillo. So if
you come up we put you away in boats."

"I've no doubt you'd be most pleased to put us away," replied
Fielding. "Where are your boats? Have you enough for the crew? And do
you think boats would stand much chance of being picked up in these
seas?"

"Me find a ship."

"Then we'll wait till you do, especially if the ship is a British
cruiser."

"You refuse?"

"Absolutely."

"Den I pour petrol into cabins, and set fire. You dogs will burn to
death."

"Very considerate of you to provide us with heat in this cold
atmosphere," replied Fielding, coolly. "Now, listen, Señor Cervillo:
you will not dare to use so much as a litre of petrol. I'll tell you
why. We know that most of the gold you precious scoundrels have
collared lies on the orlop-deck."

Fielding paused to let his words sink in. Cervillo gasped with fury.
He had vainly consoled himself that the treasure had escaped the
notice of the men whom he hoped to use to further his ends.

"And so," continued the young British officer, "we've made up our
minds that if you attempt any of your dirty, underhand tricks we will
open the cover of the submerged torpedo-tubes and sink the ship. Then
where will you be? And what good will the stolen treasure do you?"

"Señor, I swear to you - - "

"Don't waste your breath, you scoundrel!"

"Señor, hear me. Give up the gold, and you will be on shore placed,
with not one hair of your head - - "

"Scalped, eh? Now look here, you rascal: At the first sign of
treachery down goes the _Independencia_ to the bottom of the sea."

Juan Cervillo, baulked, and powerless to gain his end, made his way
for'ard to his temporary quarters, that, contrasting unfavourably
with his cabin, served to increase his discomfiture. During the rest
of that short night the pirate captain racked his brains to devise
some scheme to save himself and secure the treasure. He realised that
Fielding and his associates held the whiphand. He knew enough of
Englishmen in general to feel sure that the sub. would keep his word,
and scuttle the ship should things go badly with them.

Day dawned, but still the fog held. The _Independencia_ was still
floating idly on the ocean. All her boilers were allowed to cool down
save two. The reserve of oil fuel was running short, and only by the
strictest economy could another four hundred miles be got out of the
ship.

Like a caged tiger Juan Cervillo paced his limited quarters. The
Englishman was the source of all the difficulty, he assured himself
again and again. But for that obstacle that stood in his path, the
villain would make good his escape, and leave his companions in
infamy to their fate.

Yes, the first step was to regain possession of the bullion in the
after store-room. Then he could form his plans to get the stuff
safely ashore at the expense of his companions.

Presently Cervillo opened the door and looked out. The upper deck was
almost deserted. Few of the crew could stand the numbing effects of
the Arctic weather. Pacing up and down on the lee side of the
quarter-deck was a muffled figure that Cervillo recognised as his
minion Da Silva. The pirate captain beckoned, and his lieutenant
hastened towards him. Both men entered the cabin that Cervillo had
been obliged to occupy, and the door was shut and bolted.

"I've been striving to find a means of recapturing those insolent
dogs," began Cervillo, jerking his thumb in the direction of the
after end of the ship. "_Caramba!_ It must be done! But how? Can you
suggest anything, Da Silva? You were ever a man of resource.

"We managed it before with chloroform," began the lieutenant.

"That will not do. They are too astute to be caught twice that way.
No, Da Silva. They warned me that if I used my usual methods they
would scuttle the ship - and, think, the gold goes with it!"

"Will they dare do it - don't they value their lives?"

"I cannot take the risks. I would not give that much for the whole
lot of them" - and Cervillo snapped his fingers contemptuously - "but
they have the wealth that is ours by right of conquest. They are
desperate men. If they should sink the ship what chance have we in
our shattered boats in this fearful sea of fog and ice?"

"I would suggest that we bring forty or fifty men aft, and hold them
ready to open fire; warn our men first, so that no more panic may
take place - they were quite out of hand yesterday - then raise an
alarm that the ship is sinking, and every man is to save himself.
Those Englishmen and their companions will bolt from below like
startled rabbits, and we can mow them down as soon as they are all
clear of the hatchway."

"But if we fail?" asked Cervillo, dubiously. "If only one man
survives and runs below again he would open the valves before we
could stop him."

"Then why not drop a charge of dynamite through the ventilator? The
damage would be great, but not enough to sink the ship, and you would
have the whole crowd of them removed without any trouble at all. We
settled thrice that number in the Plazza of Barcelona."

"No," replied the Spanish captain. "That also will not do. Could I be
sure of wiping out this nest of hornets with one blow I would not
hesitate. But without doubt they would not be all close together.
Some would be down in the after-hold. I should be greatly surprised
if that English officer has not given every man instructions as to
what is to be done should anything happen to him. It's the gold that
keeps our hands behind our backs; but for that - - "

"Then why not offer them a share of the gold, and a passage in the
first ship we fall across? There are whalers to be met with in these
seas, I believe. The rest would be simple. Once you had them off the
ship there is no reason why you should abide by your promise - dead
men tell no tales." And Da Silva grinned sardonically.

Cervillo shook his head.

"These men seem different to others I have met," he remarked. "They
stoutly refuse to discuss terms. No, Da Silva, that will not do. Your
plan of raising a false alarm seems to be the most likely. As soon as
this accursed fog lifts we'll try it. It is worth the risk."

"The fog is lifting now," said the lieutenant, opening the scuttle
and looking out.

Da Silva spoke truly. The belt of fog was dispersing, and already the
sea was visible for a distance of nearly four hundred yards - a
greyish, sluggishly heaving expanse dotted here and there with masses
of floating ice of various shapes and sizes.

"Then we'll make our preparations, Da Silva. Please warn the crew
that a false alarm is to be raised, and order them to muster aft with
rifles and revolvers."

While the lieutenant was carrying out his chief's instructions Juan
Cervillo made his way to the fore-bridge. It was now sufficiently
clear to see a considerable distance. The _Independencia_ was
floating idly in an almost circular basin of mountainous masses of
ice, some of the jagged peaks rising four hundred feet or more in the
air. Had she been steaming she would have rammed the floating
ice-barrier again. The only way of escape was to turn and run
southward, between the horns of the almost encircling field of ice.
To Cervillo's heated imagination it seemed as if the surrounding
bergs were already converging to imprison the partially crippled
cruiser.

Apart from the peril the grandeur of the scene was almost beyond
description. The sun, that even at midday was low in the heavens, was
still hidden behind the pinnacles of the berg, its feeble rays
gilding the minaret-like projections, and causing them to scintillate
gorgeous shafts of light. At frequent intervals masses of ice,
slipping from the gradually melting mountain, would descend with a
rumble resembling thunder, crash into the sea amid a cauldron of
foam, or splash into fragments against a lower projection on the face
of these stupendous precipices. A vessel coming within reach of these
Titanic missiles would be instantly pulverised.

Cervillo realised the danger. All thought of carrying out his plans
for the capture of Fielding and his companions must, for the time
being, be set aside. The escape of the cruiser from the ice prison
that threatened her must be the first consideration.

With great difficulty the engineers and stokers performed their
tasks, and at a leisurely five knots the _Independencia_ headed for
the open sea. Every now and again one of her propellers would drive
its blades into a mass of ice, the jar sending a quiver through the
ship, till Cervillo, fearing that the two outside propellers might be
irreparably damaged, ordered steam to be shut off from the cylinders
actuating them, keeping the two inside "screws," which were partially
protected by a twin rudder, revolving at a comparatively low rate
barely sufficient to give the vessel steerage way.


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