[Illustration: “He aimed hastily at a face which appeared there.”]
“He’s gone clean off his head,” said Captain Brisket, as Mr. Stobell staggered back.
“Mad as a March hare,” said Mr. Tredgold, shivering; “it’s a wonder he didn’t have one of us just now. Call down to him that it’s all right, Stobell.”
“Call yourself,” said that gentleman, shortly.
“Get a stick and raise the skylight,” said Tredgold.
A loud report sounded from below. Mr. Chalk had fired a second and successful shot at the lock. “What’s he doing?” inquired Stobell, blankly.
A sharp exclamation from Captain Brisket was the only reply, and he turned just as Mr. Chalk, with a rifle in one hand and a revolver in the other, appeared on deck. The captain’s cry was echoed forward, and three of the crew dived with marvellous skill into the forecastle. The boy and two others dashed into the galley so hurriedly that the cook, who was peeping out, was borne backwards on to the stove and kept there, the things he said in the heat of the moment being attributed to excitement and attracting no attention. Tredgold, Brisket, and Stobell dodged behind the galley, and Mr. Chalk was left to gaze in open-mouthed wonder at the shrinking figure of Mr. Duckett at the wheel. They regarded each other in silence, until a stealthy step behind Mr. Chalk made him turn round smartly. Mr. Stobell, who was stealing up to secure him, dodged hastily behind the mainmast.
“Stobell!” cried Mr. Chalk, faintly.
“It’s all right,” said the other.
Mr. Chalk regarded his proceedings in amazement. “What are you hiding behind the mast for?” he inquired, stepping towards him.
Mr. Stobell made no reply, but with an agility hardly to be expected of one of his bulk dashed behind the galley again.
A sense of mystery and unreality stole over Mr. Chalk. He began to think that he must be dreaming. He turned and looked at Mr. Duckett, and Mr. Duckett, trying to smile at him, contorted his face so horribly that he shrank back appalled. He looked about him and saw that they were now in open water and drawing gradually away from the land. The stillness and mystery became unbearable, and with an air of resolution he cocked his rifle and proceeded with infinite caution to stalk the galley. As he weathered it, with his finger on the trigger, Stobell and the others stole round the other side and, making a mad break aft, stumbled down the companion-ladder and secured themselves below.
“Has everybody gone mad?” inquired Mr. Chalk, approaching the mate again.
“Everybody except you, sir,” said Mr. Duckett, with great politeness.
Mr. Chalk looked forward again and nearly dropped his rifle as he saw three or four tousled heads protruding from the galley. Instinctively he took a step towards Mr. Duckett, and instinctively that much-enduring man threw up his hands and cried to him not to shoot. Mr. Chalk, pale of face and trembling of limb, strove to reassure him.