“Who is there? Who moaned just now?” he asked, struggling to control his voice.
“I did,” the answer was a mere husky whisper out of the darkness. “Masters, the watchman; but who are you? I don’t know your voice.”
“It makes no difference; are you hurt? Where are you? How can I get a light?”
“Yes, sir; I’m about done for I guess; you’re over by the door, ain’t you? There’s a hangin’ lantern just up above, if you’ve got a match with you. Say, that looks good; I didn’t hardly know but I was dead, it was so black. But I never saw you before; how did you get aboard here?”
The flame of the match caught the wick, and flared up, throwing a dim illumination over the cabin interior. West drew down the glass, before he ventured to glance in the direction of the voice. A man lay facing him, curled up on the deck, his hair, matted with blood, hanging over eyes that were burning with fever. He made no attempt to rise, apparently was unable to move, and a dark, bloody stain covered the deck. West sprang forward, and lifted the head on his arm.
“You are hurt—badly?” he exclaimed. “What can I do for you?”
“Nuthin’, I reckon,” still in that same strained whisper. “I’m done for; no doubt of it. That guy got me. You ain’t one o’ that murderin’ gang, are you?”
“No; I was a prisoner on board; I came here to help a girl.”
“A girl! Miss Coolidge you mean, sir?”
“Yes, Natalie Coolidge; do you know anything about her? Where she is?”
“Sure, I know; the damn whelps left her here; that was their dirty game, sir. ’Twas because I tried to unlock her door that Hogan slugged me. The boat’s goin’ down, ain’t it? I know’d it was; I heard the skunks talk about what they was goin’ to do, an’ then I tried to get her out, sir.”
“You were the watchman?”
“Yes, sir; down in the lagoon at Jackson Park. These fellows come off to the yacht about midnight, an’ they had Miss Coolidge with ’em. That’s what fooled me, sir, an’ I let ’em get aboard, thinkin’ it must be all right. After that I couldn’t do nuthin’—there was six to one, an’ that ‘Red’ Hogan had a gun in his mitt. They hustled me down into the cabin. I didn’t even know she was a prisoner until they locked her into a stateroom; then I got wise, but it was too late.”
“And she is there yet, Masters? What room is it?”
“The last one to the right, sir. Don’t you mind about me; I’m done for, but maybe there’s a chance for you two.”
FREE OF THE YACHT
The man was evidently dying. West, from his experience on European battle-fields, felt assured the end was indeed close at hand. His face under the flitting rays of the swinging light was ghastly and drawn, his words were barely audible, and painfully uttered, while, as the arm supporting his head was withdrawn, he sank back heavily into his former position, and his eyes instantly closed. Only as West bent lower could he determine the surety of his breathing still.