“What the—” A flow of choice Billingsgate, mingled with the sailor’s equally eloquent Golden-Gate, completed the sentence. The convict stood stock-still.
From the door of a state-room at the far end of the cabin a figure appeared. A great shawl draped the small form; the golden hair, a flurry of tangles, floated around it. Clinging to a brass rail that ran along the side of the cabin, she approached, her eyes all alight as if well satisfied with something. Amazed beyond power of action, the man continued to gaze at her, at the tiny feet in the little pink slippers, at something she carried. “By the great horn spoon, the Christmas doll!” he muttered hoarsely. Then forgetting his purpose, the bottles, he lurched quickly toward her.
“Wat you doin’ here?” he demanded.
“I slipped out,” said the child, holding the rail tighter, as perforce she paused to answer. “I thought it would take only a moment.”
“Slipped out?” he repeated.
“Of the life-boat, I mean. It was dark and they didn’t see me. I just happened to think, and I had to do it. If I’d told them, they mightn’t have let me. It would have been very wicked if I’d gone away and forgotten—don’t you think so? And now I’m going back! Only I am afraid I’ve been longer than I thought I would be. The door of my state-room seemed to stick, and I was a few minutes getting it open.”
Beneath disheveled masses of thick dark hair, the brutish face continued to study the fairylike one; for the instant words seemed to fail him. “Do ye mean,” he observed, “you come back here for that measly dicky-bird?”
“It isn’t ‘measly’ and it isn’t a ‘dicky-bird!’” she answered indignantly. “And I’ll thank you not to call it that. It’s a love-bird, and its name is Dearie!”
“‘Dearie’! Ho! Ho!” The ship reeled at a dangerous angle, but the convict appeared not to notice; his voice rose in harsh, irresistible rough merriment. “‘Dearie’! And she thanks me not to call it names! It! No bigger’n my thumb! Ho! Ho!” His laughter, strange at such a moment, died abruptly. “Do you know what you’ve gone and done on account of what’s in that cage?” he demanded almost fiercely. “You’ve got left!”
“Left?” said she blankly, shrinking from him a little. “You don’t mean—oh, I thought I would be only a minute! They haven’t really gone, and—”
The great fingers closed on her arm. “They’ve gone and the crew’s gone! Both boats are gone!”
“Oh!” The big blue eyes widened on him; an inkling of her plight seemed to come over her; her lips trembled, but she held herself bravely. “You mean—we must drown?”
The thunder of seas breaking on the deck answered; a cascade of water dashed down the companionway and swept round them. The man bent toward the child. “Look a’ that! Now ain’t ye sorry ye come back?”
“I couldn’t leave it to drown!” passionately—“couldn’t!—couldn’t!”