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"Oh!" was Peggy's only exclamation, and there was a shadow of disappointment in her eyes.
"Come in, Peggy, and I'll read aloud," was Monty's cheerful greeting as he stood before her.
"No, I must go," said Peggy, confusedly. "I thought you might be nervous about the storm — and — "
"And you came to let me out?" Monty had never been so happy.
"Yes, and I don't care what the others say. I thought you were suffering — " But at that moment the boat gave a lurch which threw her across the threshold into Monty's arms. They crashed against the wall, and he held her a moment and forgot the storm. When she drew away from him she showed him the open door and freedom. She could not speak.
"Where are the others?" he asked, bracing himself in the doorway.
"Oh, Monty," she cried, "we must not go to them. They will think me a traitor."
"Why were you a traitor, Peggy?" he demanded, turning toward her suddenly.
"Oh — oh, because it seemed so cruel to keep you locked up through the storm," she answered, blushing.
"And there was no other reason?" he persisted.
"Don't, please don't!" she cried, piteously, and he misunderstood her emotion. It was clear that she was merely sorry for him.
"Never mind, Peggy, it's all right. You stood by me and I'll stand by you. Come on; we'll face the mob and I'll do the fighting."
Together they made their way into the presence of the mutineers, who were crowded into the main cabin.
"Well, here's a conspiracy," cried Dan DeMille, but there was no anger in his voice. "How did you escape? I was just thinking of unlocking your door, Monty, but the key seemed to be missing."
Peggy displayed it triumphantly.
"By Jove," cried Dan. "This is rank treachery. Who was on guard?"
A steward rushing through the cabin at this moment in answer to frantic calls from Bragdon furnished an eloquent reply to the question.
"It was simple," said Monty. "The guards deserted their post and left the key behind."
"Then it is up to me to pay you a thousand dollars."
"Not at all," protested Monty, taken aback. "I did not escape of my own accord. I had help. The money is yours. And now that I am free," he added, quietly, "let me say that this boat does not go to Boston."
"Just what I expected," cried Vanderpool.
"She's going straight to New York!" declared Monty. The words were hardly uttered when a heavy sea sent him sprawling across the cabin and he concluded, "or to the bottom."
"Not so bad as that," said Captain Perry, whose entrance had been somewhat hastened by the lurch of the boat. "But until this blows over I must keep you below." He laughed but he saw they were not deceived. "The seas are pretty heavy and the decks are being holy-stoned for nothing, but I wouldn't like to have any of you washed overboard by mistake."
The hatches were battened down, and it was a sorry company that tried to while away the evening in the main cabin. Monty's chaffing about the advantages of the North Cape over the stormy Atlantic was not calculated to raise the drooping spirits, and it was very early when he and his shattered guests turned in. There was little sleep on board the "Flitter" that night. Even if it had been easy to forget the danger, the creaking of the ship and the incessant roar of the water were enough for wakefulness. With each lurch of the boat it seemed more incredible that it could endure. It was such a mite of a thing to meet so furious an attack. As it rose on the wave to pause in terror on its crest before sinking shivering into the trough, it made the breath come short and the heart stand still. Through the night the fragile little craft fought its lonely way, bravely ignoring its own weakness and the infinite strength of its enemy. To the captain, lashed to the bridge, there were hours of grave anxiety — hours when he feared each wave as it approached, and wondered what new damage it had done as it receded. As the wind increased toward morning he felt a sickening certainty that the brave little boat was beaten. Somehow she seemed to lose courage, to waver a bit and almost give up the fight. He watched her miserably as the dismal dawn came up out of the sea. Yet it was not until seven o'clock that the crash came, which shook the passengers out of their berths and filled them with shivering terror. The whirling of the broken shaft seemed to consume the ship. In every cabin it spoke with horrible vividness of disaster. The clamor of voices and the rush of many feet, which followed, meant but one thing. Almost instantly the machinery was stopped — an ominous silence in the midst of the dull roar of the water and the cry of the wind.
It was a terrified crowd that quickly gathered in the main cabin, but it was a brave one. There were no cries and few tears. They expected anything and were ready for the worst, but they would not show the white feather. It was Mrs. Dan who broke the tension. "I made sure of my pearls," she said; "I thought they would be appreciated at the bottom of the sea."
Brewster came in upon their laughter. "I like your nerve, people," he exclaimed, "you are all right. It won't be so bad now. The wind has dropped."
Long afterward when they talked the matter over, DeMille claimed that the only thing that bothered him that night was the effort to decide whether the club of which he and Monty were members would put in the main hallway two black-bordered cards, each bearing a name, or only one with both names. Mr. Valentine regretted that he had gone on for years paying life insurance premiums when now his only relatives were on the boat and would die with him.
The captain, looking pretty rocky after his twenty-hour vigil, summoned his chief. "We're in a bad hole, Mr. Brewster," he said when they were alone, "and no mistake. A broken shaft and this weather make a pretty poor combination."
"Is there no chance of making a port for repairs?"
"I don't see it, sir. It looks like a long pull."
"We are way off our course, I suppose?" and Monty's coolness won Captain Perry's admiration.
"I can't tell just how much until I get the sun, but this wind is hell. I suspect we've drifted pretty far."
"Come and get some coffee, captain. While the storm lasts the only thing to do is to cheer up the women and trust to luck."
"You are the nerviest mate I ever shipped with, Mr. Brewster," and the captain's hand gripped Monty's in a way that meant things. It was a tribute he appreciated.
During the day Monty devoted himself to his guests, and at the first sign of pensiveness he was ready with a jest or a story. But he did it all with a tact that inspired the crowd as a whole with hope, and no one suspected that he himself was not cheerful. For Peggy Gray there was a special tenderness, and he made up his mind that if things should go wrong he would tell her that he loved her.
"It could do no harm," he thought to himself, "and I want her to know."
Toward night the worst was over. The sea had gone down and the hatches were opened for a while to admit air, though it was still too rough to venture out. The next morning was bright and clear. When the company gathered on deck the havoc created by the storm was apparent. Two of the boats had been completely carried away and the launch was rendered useless by a large hole in the stern.
"You don't mean to say that we will drift about until the repairs can be made?" asked Mrs. Dan in alarm.
"We are three hundred miles off the course already," explained Monty, "and it will be pretty slow traveling under sail."
It was decided to make for the Canary Islands, where repairs could be made and the voyage resumed. But where the wind had raged a few days before, it had now disappeared altogether, and for a week the "Flitter' tossed about absolutely unable to make headway. The first of August had arrived and Monty himself was beginning; to be nervous. With the fatal day not quite two months away, things began to look serious. Over one hundred thousand dollars would remain after he had settled the expenses of the cruise, and he was helplessly drifting in mid-ocean. Even if the necessary repairs could be made promptly, it would take the "Flitter" fourteen days to sail from the Canaries to New York. Figure as hard as he could he saw no way out of the unfortunate situation. Two days more elapsed and still no sign of a breeze. He made sure that September 23d would find him still drifting and still in possession of one hundred thousand superfluous dollars.
At the end of ten days the yacht had progressed but two hundred miles and Monty was beginning to plan the rest of his existence on a capital of $100,000. He had given up all hope of the Sedgwick legacy and was trying to be resigned to his fate, when a tramp steamer was suddenly sighted. Brewster ordered the man on watch to fly a flag of distress. Then he reported to the captain and told what he had done. With a bound the captain rushed on deck and tore the flag from the sailor's hand.
"That was my order," said Monty, nettled at the captain's manner.
"You want them to get a line on us and claim salvage, do you?"
"What do you mean?"
"If they get a line on us in response to that flag they will claim the entire value of the ship as salvage. You want to spend another $200,000 on this boat?"
"I didn't understand," said Monty, sheepishly. "But for God's sake, fix it up somehow. Can't they tow us? I'll pay for it."
Communication was slow, but after an apparently endless amount of signaling, the captain finally announced that the freight steamer was bound for Southampton and would tow the "Flitter" to that point for a price.
"Back to Southampton!" groaned Monty. "That means months before we get back to New York."
"He says he can get us to Southampton in ten days," interrupted the captain.
"I can do it, I can do it," he cried, to the consternation of his guests who wondered if his mind were affected. "If he'll land us in Southampton by the 27th, I'll pay him up to one hundred thousand dollars."