“Good heavens!” Mr. Gillett seized the girl’s arm and abruptly drew her away. “My dear little lady!” he said. “Really you don’t know the danger you run. And near that cell of all of them!”
“That cell?” observed Sir Charles. “Then that is—”
“The convict I was telling you about! The ’Pet of ‘Frisco.’ The ’Pride of Golden Gate.’”
* * * * *
A MESSAGE TO THE ADMIRALTY
The following night, Captain Macpherson in his cabin, rolled up carefully the chart he had been scanning, deposited it in a copper cylinder and drew from his pocket a small pipe. As he filled and lighted it, exhaling the smoke of the black weed and leaning more comfortably back in his low, swinging chair, the expression of his iron countenance exhibited, in the slightest degree, that solace which comes from the nicotine. Occasionally, however, he would hold his pipe away from his mouth, to pause and listen. The weather had turned nasty again; above, the wind sounded loudly. Now it descended on the ship like a fierce-scolding virago, then rushed on with wild, shrieking dissonance. The Lord Nelson minded not, but continued steadily on her way.
Her captain emptied his pipe, glanced toward his bunk and started to take off his coat. Human nature has its limit; he had passed many sleepless nights and now felt entitled to a brief respite, especially as the chart showed neither reef nor rock anywhere in the neighborhood. But he had only one arm out of the garment when something happened that caused him to change his mind; abruptly hurled to the other end of the cabin, he found himself lying, half-stunned, on the floor. A hubbub of noises filled the air, snappings, crashings, the rending of woodwork.
Captain Macpherson staggered to his feet, and, swaying like a drunken man, stood a few moments holding his hand to his brow. Then his fist clenched and he shook it at the cylinder that had fallen from the table.
“Ye viperous, lying thing!” he cried, and ran from the cabin to the deck.
A single glance told all: two of the ship’s giant spars had gone by the board; entangled in her own wreckage, the vessel thumped and pounded with ominous violence against some sunken reef. The full scope of the plight of the once noble ship was plainly made manifest. Though thick streams of scud sped across the sky, the southern moon at the moment looked down between two dark rivulets, and cast its silvery glow like a lime-light, over the spectacle. Captain Macpherson groaned.
“Mr. O’Brien!” he called loudly.
“Aye, aye, sir.”
“How long do you give her?”
“Half an hour, sir.”
The master shook his head. “She’ll nae last that long.” And holding to a stanchion, he seemed like a man in a dream.
“Any orders, sir?” asked the chief mate.