“Your man, Edwards—the crew—they left her? In the night?”
“What does he mean?” cried Barnett.
“The light! You saw it?”
“Yes; we saw a strange light,” answered Trendon soothingly. Slade half rose. “Lost; all lost!” he cried, and fell back unconscious. Trendon exploded into curses. “See what you’ve done to my patient,” he fumed. Barnett looked at him with contrite eyes.
“Better get out before he comes to,” growled the surgeon. “Nice way to treat a man half dead of exhaustion.”
It was nearly an hour before Slade came back to the world again. The doctor forbade him to attempt speech. But of one thing he would not be denied. There was a struggle for utterance, then:
“The volcano?” he rasped out.
“Dead ahead,” was the reply.
“Stand by!” grasped Slade. He strove to rise, to say something further, but endurance had reached its limit. The man was utterly done.
Dr. Trendon went on deck, his head sunk between his shoulders. For a minute he was in earnest talk with the captain. Presently the Wolverine’s engines slowed down, and she lay head to the waves, with just enough turn of the screw to hold her against the sea-way.
THE FREE LANCE
By the following afternoon Dr. Trendon reported his patient as quite recovered.
“Starved for water,” proffered the surgeon. “Tissues fairly dried out. Soaked him up. Fed him broth. Put him to sleep. He’s all right. Just wakes up to eat; then off again like a two-year old. Wonderful constitution.”
“The gentleman wants to know if he can come on deck, sir,” saluted an orderly.
“Waked up, eh. Come on, Barnett. Help me boost him on deck.”
The two officers disappeared to return in a moment arm-in-arm with Ralph Slade.
Nearly twenty-four hours’ rest and skilful treatment had done wonders. He was still a trifle weak and uncertain, was still a little glad to lean on the arms of his companions, but his eye was bright and alert, and his hollow cheeks mounted a slight colour. This, with the clothes lent him by Barnett, transformed his appearance, and led Captain Parkinson to congratulate himself that he had not obeyed his first impulse to send the castaway forward with the men.
The officers pressed forward.
“Mighty glad to see you out.” “Hope you’ve got your pins under you again.” “Old man, I’m mighty glad we came along.”
The chorus of greeting was hearty enough, but the journalist barely paid the courtesy of acknowledgment. His eye swept the horizon eagerly until it rested on the cloud of volcanic smoke billowing up across the setting sun. A sigh of relief escaped him.
“Where are we?” he asked Barnett. “I mean since you picked me up. How long ago was that, anyway?”
“Yesterday,” replied the navigating officer. “We’ve stood off and on, looking for some of our men.”