The Bulldog Breed by Ambrose Pratt

A Story of the Russo-Japanese War

"What do you make of her, Maclean?" asked Captain Brandon anxiously.

First mate Hugh Maclean did not reply at once. Embracing a stanchion of the S.S. Saigon's bridge in order to steady himself against the vessel's pitching, he was peering with strained eyes through the captain's binoculars at two small brown needle-points, set very close together, that stabbed the northeastern horizon.

At length, however, he lowered the glass, and resumed the perpendicular.

"You were right, sir," he declared. "She has altered her course, and our paths now converge."

"Which proves that she is one of those d——d Russian volunteer pirates."

"Or else a Japanese cruiser, sir."

"Nonsense! The Jap cruisers have only one mast."

"So they have, sir. I was forgetting that."

"What to do!" growled the captain, and he fell to frowning and cracking his long fingers—his habit when perplexed. He was a short, thick-set man, with a round, red face, keen blue eyes, and strong, square jaws: a typical specimen of the old-time British sailor. Hugh Maclean, on the other hand, was a lean and lank Australian, of evident Scottish ancestry. His long, aquiline nose and high cheek-bones were tightly covered with a parchment-like skin, bronzed almost to the hue of leather. He wore a close-cropped, pointed beard, and the deep-set gray eyes that looked out from under the peak of his seaman's cap twinkled with good health and humor.

"We might alter our course, too, sir," he suggested.

"Ay!" snapped the other, "and get pushed for our pains on to the Teraghlind Reef. We are skirting those rocks more closely than I like already."

"You know best, sir, of course. But I meant that we might slip back toward Manila, and try the other channel after we have given that fellow the go-by."

"What!" snorted the captain, his blue eyes flashing fire, "run from the Russian! I'll be —— first. We haven't a stitch of contraband aboard," he added more calmly a moment later. "He daren't do more than stop and search us."

But Maclean shook his head. "One of them took and sunk the Acandaga last month, sir, and she carried no contraband either."

"Russia will have to foot the bill for that."

"May be, sir. But Captain Tollis—as fine a chap as ever breathed, sir—has lost his ship, and the Lord knows if he'll ever get another."

"Are you trying to frighten me, Maclean?" asked Captain Brandon, stormily.

The mate shrugged his shoulders. "No, sir; but I am interested in this venture, and if the Saigon gets back all right to Liverpool I'm due to splice Mr. Keppel's niece, and the old gentleman, as you know, has promised me a ship."

"And hasn't it entered your thick skull that to return as you suggest would cost fifty pounds' worth of coal? How do you suppose old Kep would like that?"

"Better burn a few tons of coal than risk losing the Saigon, sir, and mark time till God knows when in a Russian prison."

Captain Brandon shut his mouth with a snap, and muttered something about Scottish caution that was distinctly uncomplimentary to the Caledonian race. Then, to signify the end of the argument, he strode to the ladder, and prepared to descend. Maclean, however, was of an equally stubborn character. "About the course, sir?" he demanded, touching his cap with ironical deference.

"Carry on!" snarled the captain, and he forthwith disappeared.

Two hours afterward Hugh Maclean knocked at the door of the captain's cabin, and was hoarsely bidden enter. Captain Brandon was seated before a bottle of whisky, which was scarce half full.

"Have a nip?" he hospitably inquired.

Maclean nodded, and half filled a glass.

"Thank you, sir. Queer thing's happened," he observed, as he wiped his lips. "The Russian——"

"I know," interrupted the captain. "I've been watching her through the port. She's the Saigon's twin-sister ship, that was the Saragossa which old Kep sold to Baron Dabchowski six months ago. Much good it would have done us to run. She has the heels of us. Old Kep had just put new triple-expansion engines into her before she changed hands. But they've killed the look of her, converting her into a cruiser. She's nothing but a floating scrap-heap now."

"But she has six guns," observed Maclean. "Don't you think you'd better come up, sir? She is almost near enough to signal."

"Well, well," said the captain, and putting away the whisky bottle, he led the way to the bridge.

Some half-dozen miles away, steaming at an angle to meet the Saigon at a destined point, there plowed through the sea a large iron steamer of about three thousand tons' burden. She exactly resembled the Saigon in all main points of build, and except for the fact that two guns were mounted fore and aft on her main deck above the line of steel bulwarks, and that her masts were fitted with small fighting tops, she might very well have passed for an ordinary merchantman.

For twenty minutes or thereabouts the two officers watched her in silence, taking turn about with the binoculars; then, quite suddenly, the vessel, now less than two miles distant, luffed and fell slightly away from her course.

"She is going to speak," said Captain Brandon, who held the glasses. "Look out!"

Maclean smiled at the caution; but next instant a bright flash quivered from the other vessel's side, and involuntarily he ducked his head, for something flew dipping and shrieking over the Saigon. In the following second there was heard the clap of the distant cannon and the splash of a shell striking the sea close at hand. Invisible hands unfolded and shook out three balls of bunting at the truck of the war-ship's signal boom. They fluttered for awhile, and then spread out to the breeze. The arms of Russia surmounted two lines of symbolic letters.

"Quartermaster!" shouted Captain Brandon.

"Ay, ay, sir!" rang out a sailor's voice, and the Saigon's number raced a Union Jack to the mast-head.

"Well, Mac?" cried the captain, with his hand on the engine-room signal-bell.

Maclean looked up from the book. "His Imperial Majesty of Russia, by the commander of the converted cruiser Nevski, orders us to stop."

Captain Brandon pressed the lever, and before ten might be counted the shuddering of the Saigon's screw had ceased.

"What next?" he muttered.

As if in answer, another flag fluttered up the Nevski's halliards.

"He will send a boat," interpreted Maclean.

A short period of fret and fume ensued, then a small steam launch rounded the Nevski's bows, and sped like a gray-hound across the intervening space. The Nevski now presented her broadside to the Saigon, and all of her six guns were trained upon the English steamer's decks. The launch was crammed with men. Captain Brandon ordered a gangway to be lowered, and although the tars sprang to the task with great alacrity, it was hardly completed before the launch touched the Saigon's side. An officer, bedizened with gold lace, and accompanied by two glittering subordinates, climbed aboard, and Captain Brandon met him on the main deck. Hugh Maclean, from the bridge, watched them file into the captain's cabin. Ten minutes later they emerged, and without waiting a moment the Russians hurried back into the launch. Captain Brandon's face was purple. He hurriedly mounted to the bridge, and leaning over the rail cursed the departing launch at the top of his voice in five different languages.

"What's the trouble, sir?" asked Maclean when his superior appeared at last to be exhausted.

"They want our coal. C——t them to —— for all eternity," gasped the frenzied captain. "And they'll blow us out of the water if we don't follow them to Tramoieu."

"Where is that?"

"It's a little island off the Cochin coast, a hundred miles from anywhere, with a harbor. By —— they'll smart for this!"

"Not they," said Maclean. "That is, if you obey. They'll gut and scuttle the Saigon, and then kill every mother's son of us. Dead men tell no tales. We'll be posted at Lloyds as a storm loss."

"But what can we do?"

"Full speed ahead, and ram her while she's picking up the launch! Chance the guns!"

"By ——! I'll do it!" shrieked the captain, and he sprang to the signal-bell. But even as he grasped the lever with his hand, he paused.

"What now?" demanded the mate, his face tense with passion. "Hurry's the word, sir. Hurry!"

The captain, however, turned and looked him in the eye. "You've counseled me to murder—wholesale murder, Maclean. Avast there, man! Keep your mouth shut. This is my bridge, and I'll not hear another word from you."

The mate bit his lips and shrugged his shoulders. His eyes were blazing with contempt and rage, but he kept his self-control, and was rewarded by a dozen sympathetic glances from those of the crew grouped upon the deck who had heard the controversy. From that moment he was their idol. The second mate, too, who was standing by the wheel, turned and nodded to him as he passed.

The captain, who missed nothing of this by-play, felt himself to have been absolutely isolated. But he was a strong man, and he knew that he acted rightly. Five minutes later four thunderous reports rang out, and shells splashed the sea on all sides of the Saigon. Then the machine-guns began to speak, and a perfect storm of bullets tore through the vessel's rigging, some directed so low that they pierced the top rim of the funnel smoke-stack. The display lasted sixty seconds. When it was over, a very sheepish looking lot of men arose from the recumbent attitudes they had assumed. Of the whole ship's company on deck, Captain Brandon, Hugh Maclean, and the chief engineer had alone remained standing.

There was a new flag at the Nevski's truck. "Follow at full speed!" it commanded. The Saigon instantly obeyed. Before night fell, the moon rose, three-quarters full. It lighted the procession into dawn. Sunrise brought them to a rock-bound coast, and so nicely had the Nevski's navigator steered, that the first headland circumvented made room for the revelation of a little bay. It was enclosed on three sides with gray hills, and across the mouth was stretched a broken line of hungry-looking surf-crowned reefs. The Nevski steamed boldly through the first opening, and dropped her anchor in smooth water three-quarters of a mile beyond. The Saigon, currishly obedient to the Russian's signals, followed suit, bringing up within a biscuit cast of her consort and captor. An hour later Hugh Maclean, the engineer, and the lesser officers and thirty-two men of the Saigon's company and some two score of Russian sailors were working like slaves transferring, under the supervision of a strong guard, the Saigon's coal and cargo into the Nevski's boats.

Captain Brandon was not among the toilers. He would have been, perhaps, but for the circumstance that he had permitted himself the liberty of striking a Russian officer in the face. A marine having retorted with the butt end of a carbine, the Englishmen had helplessly watched their captain being carried off, bleeding and insensible, and dumped with a sickening thud into the Russian launch. The incident encouraged them so much that they worked without complaint throughout the day, and they did not even grumble at the rations which their taskmasters served out to them. Shortly before dusk the breeze that had been blowing died away, and the Russians took advantage of the calm to warp the vessels together. After that the business in hand proceeded at such a pace that by dawn the Saigon was completely gutted, and she rode the water like a swan, the greater part of her bulk in air. The weary Englishmen were thereupon driven like sheep upon the Nevski's deck, and forced to descend the small after-hold, which was almost empty. The hatches were then fastened over them for their greater security, and they were left in darkness. But they were too worn out to care. Within five minutes every man of them was sleeping dreamlessly, lying listlessly stretched out upon the ship's false bottom, excepting only Hugh Maclean. He was too tired to sleep. He was, therefore, the only one who heard an hour later the muffled boom of a distant explosion and a faint cheer on deck.

"They have sunk the poor old Saigon," muttered Maclean. "There goes the last hope of my captaincy and Nellie Lane." He uttered a low groan, and covered his face with his grimy paws. Maclean was very much in love, but he was too young and of too strenuous a temperament to rest for long the victim of despair. Moreover, contempt for foreigners, particularly Russians, served him instead of a religion, when not ashore, and he soon fell to wondering just where was the weak spot in his captor's armor, and how he could find and put his finger on it. That there was a weak spot he did not doubt at all. He searched his pockets and found half a plug of tobacco, but not his meerschaum. A Russian sailor had confiscated that some hours before. Maclean consigned the thief to perdition, and with some trouble bit off a plug. Then he lay back to chew and think. "There's only one thing to do," was the result of his reflections. "We'll have to take this boat from the Russians somehow."

But exhausted nature would not be denied, and before he knew it Maclean was in the land of dreams. He was awakened by the noisy removal of a portion of the hatch. He looked up and saw the moon, also a couple of bearded faces looking down at him.

"Good Lord!" he groaned, "I've slept the day out."

"You hingry—men—like—eat?" observed a hoarse voice. And Maclean saw an immense steaming pan descending toward him on a line. He caught it deftly. A can of water and a tin of biscuits followed. He was instantly surrounded by the Saigon's company, who attacked the contents of the pan like wolves. He seized a lump of fat meat from the mess, also a couple of biscuits, and retired apart. The darkness renewed itself a second later, and for some time the hold buzzed with the noise of crunching jaws and guttural exclamations.

Of a sudden someone near him struck a match, and Maclean looked over the flame into the eyes of Robert Sievers, the Saigon's chief engineer.

"Hello, Mac," said Sievers.

"Good evening, Sievers," replied Maclean politely. "We're still at anchor."

"I've remarked it. What do you suppose they intend to do with us?"

"Maroon us, likely, if we let them, on the island yonder."

"How can we prevent them? But I think not. It's my belief this meat is poisoned!"

"Tastes vile enough," agreed Maclean, but he went on eating, and Robert Sievers, after a momentary hesitation, followed suit.

"We're in the devil of a hole!" he muttered, his mouth full of biscuit. Then he swore horribly, for the match had burned his fingers.

Maclean stood up. "Any of you men happen to have a bit of candle in your pockets?" he demanded.

Silence for a minute, then a Norwegian fireman spoke up. "Bout dree inches," he said.

"He eats 'em," cried another voice, and a roar of laughter greeted the announcement.

"Pass it here," commanded Maclean.

Sievers struck another match, and presently the steady flame of a candle stump showed Maclean a picture such as Gustave Doré would have loved to paint. He glanced at the begrimed faces of the Saigon's wild and ghastly looking company, and beyond them for a moment, then stumbled over the coal, followed by Sievers, until he was brought up by the iron partition of the hold. He made, however, straight for the bulkhead, and stooping down, held the candle close to the line of bolts covering the propeller's tunnel.

"By Jingo!" cried Sievers. "I see your game. Let me look, Maclean! This is my trade."

He bent forward, wrenched at a shoot-bolt, and with a cry of satisfaction threw back a plate. The Saigon's company crowded round the man-hole thus revealed, muttering with excitement.

"One moment, Sievers!" cried Maclean, for the engineer had one leg already in the tunnel. Then he turned to the men. "My lads," he said, "it's a case of our lives or the Russians', for I firmly believe the accursed pirates mean to kill us. We must take this ship by hook or by crook, and I think I see the way to do it!" He concluded with some precise instructions, and a few savage sentences, in which he promised an unmentionable fate to the unfortunate who made a sound or failed to follow to the letter his instructions.

A second later, in a silence that could be felt, he blew out the light, and followed Sievers into the tunnel. A few cave-black yards, crawled painfully on hands and knees, slipping and slithering along the propeller shaft, brought the leaders to the edge of a wider space. Sievers struck a match, and a well-like, vertical opening was revealed. High overhead towered and threatened an enormous steel crank. Before their feet lay a deep pool of slime. The heat was horrible.

"It should be hereabouts," whispered Sievers, and his fingers searched the wall. For a moment nothing could be heard but the deep breathing of the Saigon's company. Then came a slight but terrifying clang.

"I've got it!" whispered Sievers. "Are you ready?"

"Right!"

Maclean's eyes were dazzled of a sudden with a hot flare of light, and the deafening thud of the condensers smote in his ears. He never quite coherently remembered that which immediately ensued, for something struck him on the head.

When he came to his full senses again he was lying on a grating beside the body of the Russian cleaner he had strangled. The Saigon's men were all around him. He arose, gasping for breath. Sievers thrust a bar into his hand and pointed to a line of ladders. Maclean nodded, crossed the grating, and began to climb. Sievers, armed with a hammer, followed at his heels.

There were three men in the engine-room, an engineer and two cleaners. They took the climbers for stokers, and went on with their occupations. Maclean sidled to the door across the grating and closed it in the twinkling of an eye. The engineer, who was reading a newspaper, heard the noise and looked up. Sievers struck him with the hammer and flew at one of the cleaners. Maclean rushed at the other with his spade. It was all over in a moment, and without any noise that the thudding of the donkey-engine did not drown. Maclean changed coats and caps with the insensible Russian engineer, while Sievers called the Saigon's men from below. He then strapped on the man's dirk, and put his revolver in his pocket.

"What next?" asked Sievers.

Maclean glanced at the engine-room clock. The hands pointed to seven-fifteen. "Captain and officers are just about half through their dinner," he reflected.

"Wait here," he said aloud: "I'm going to reconnoitre. Just keep the door ajar when I leave. Let anyone come in that wants to, but crack him over the skull once he gets inside."

"Ay, ay, sir!"

Maclean opened the door and stepped out leisurely upon the deck. Before him rose the captain's cabin, the officers' quarters, and the bridge above. Beyond that stretched the main deck, with the forecastle far forward. An officer paced the bridge; some two score sailors were grouped about the forecastle door drinking tea, and the rattle of knives and forks, the clink of glasses, and sounds of talk and laughter proceeding from the saloon astern sufficiently located the leaders of his enemies. Maclean thought hard for a moment, then pulling his cap over his eyes walked underneath the bridge and looked up. As he had expected, and ardently hoped, he perceived the muzzle of a machine-gun protruding from the very centre of the iron rampart. Thanking Providence for two years spent in the service of the New South Wales Naval Brigade in his younger days, he returned to the engine-room door, and after a cautious whisper stepped inside.

"Sievers," said he, "the officers are all at dinner astern. Take this revolver, and when you hear me knock three times on the railing of the bridge, sneak out with all the men and rush the cabin. Most of the crew are forward. I'll look after them; there's a Nordenfeldt on the bridge."

"Ay, ay, sir!"

"Give me your hammer!"

"Good luck to you, sir!"

Maclean took the hammer, slipped it under his jacket, and once more sought the deck. A steward passed him at a run, and two stokers proceeding toward the engine-house saluted his uniform. He pulled his cap over his eyes, and began to climb the ladder. The Nevski was swinging softly at her anchor, her nose pointing to the land. On the distant beach a small fire was burning, and at this the officer of the watch was gazing through his telescope. He was quite alone, and standing in a shaded corner of the bridge. "What sort of a watch can one man keep?" muttered Maclean who had served on an Australian gunboat. He stepped to the officer's side, seized the telescope in his left hand, and as the startled man turned, he dealt him a terrible blow on the nape of his neck with the hammer. The officer fell into his arms sighing out his breath. Maclean laid him gently on the floor, and relieved him of his revolver. Then he slid softly to the machine-gun, and uttered a low, irrepressible cry of joy to find that it was stored with cartridges and prepared for action. A moment later its muzzle commanded the deck before the forecastle. One of the sailors had just commenced a song. He had a fine tenor voice, and the others listened entranced. Maclean, however, rapped three times very loudly on the railing with his hammer, and the song ceased.

Someone called to him in Russian, but he would not have answered even if he understood. His every sense was strained to listen. He counted twenty, the song commenced again. Thirty, forty. Then a wild scream resounded through the vessel.

"Sievers is dealing with the watch on the after-hold," muttered Maclean. "Hurry!" he whispered. "Hurry! Sievers, hurry!"

The sailors forward were now afoot, exclaiming aloud and glancing questioningly at one another. A great many more, too, poured out every second from the forecastle, made curious by the noise. Maclean grasped the crank firmly and gave them every scrap of his attention. There woke an increasing buzz of shouts and cries astern. It culminated presently in the crack of a revolver, a shriek of pain, and a wild British cheer. Then all over the din a loud, insistent whistle shrilled. The sailors forward rushed for their stacked arms, and formed in ranks with the speed of magic. A petty officer shouted a command, and down the deck they started at the double.

"Halt!" Maclean shouted, and he turned the crank of the Nordenfeldt. The effect was horrible. A dozen fell at the first discharge. The rest halted, and after one dazed instant's wavering, threw down their arms, broke and fled for the cover of the forecastle. The air was filled with the sound of groans. The deck was like a shambles. Maclean watched three or four poor wounded creatures crawl off on their hands and knees for shelter and he shuddered violently.

He was already sick to death of war. But the fight was not yet over. He heard footsteps on the ladder behind him, and turned just in time to escape a sweeping sword stroke. Next instant he was locked in a deadly struggle with the captain of the Nevski, a brave man, who, it seems, had refused to surrender, and had cut his way through all Sievers's men in the desperate resolve to retrieve the consequences of his own carelessness. Maclean, however, was a practised wrestler, and although lean almost as a lath, the muscles he possessed were as strong as steel bands. Even as they fell he writhed uppermost, and baffling with an active elbow the captain's last effort to transfix him, he dashed his adversary's head upon the boards. A second later he arose, breathless, but quite uninjured.

Sievers was calling to him: "Maclean! Maclean! I say!"

"Hallo, there!" he gasped back, hoarsely.

"Look out for the captain. He escaped us!"

"I've got him!" croaked Maclean, with a grim glance at his unconscious foe. "How about the rest?"

"All sigarnio! What shall I do?"

"Drive them forward to the foc'sle."

Sievers obeyed, and very soon five splendidly upholstered, but shamefaced-looking gentlemen, three stewards, and four sailors were standing underneath the beacon light before the forecastle companion. Maclean noted that already many of the Saigon's men carried swords and carbines. He watched the rest arm themselves with the Nevski sailors' discarded weapons as they marched their prisoners along the deck. His breast began to swell with pride.

"Any casualties?" he demanded.

"Two of ours have crossed over," replied Sievers, "and some of us are hurt a bit. But we can't grumble. There are four Russian corpses aft, and I see you've bagged seven."

"Damned pirates!" commented Maclean. "I've a mind to shoot the rest of them out of hand."

"Just give the word, sir."

"No," said Maclean, "we'll maroon them instead. Lower away all the boats but one, Sievers, and bring them under the bows. I can look after these dogs!"

"Ay, ay, sir. But first three cheers for Captain Maclean, lads!"

The cheers were given with hearty good-will, and then the men tramped off to carry out their new task.

Maclean, whose face was still flushed from the compliment that had been paid him, leaned over the machine-gun and surveyed the prisoners.

"Can any of you pirate scum speak English?" he demanded truculently.

"I have that privilege, sir," replied a swart-faced lieutenant.

"Then kindly inform your friends that at the first sign of any monkey trick I'll send you all to kingdom come."

The officer complied presumably with this command, and when he had finished, addressed Maclean:

"You cannot intend to maroon us, sir?" he cried. "The island yonder is totally uninhabited."

"You're a liar!" retorted Maclean. "Fires don't light themselves. Look yonder."

The officer choked back an oath. "Have a care what you are doing, sir," he muttered in a strangled voice. "This will lead to a war between your country and mine."

"I guess not—not even if I hanged the lot of you—you dirty pirates. But if it did, what then?"

"You should see, sir."

"And so would you—see that Englishmen can fight a durned sight better than the Japs. I guess you know how they fight by this."

"I have always heard that the English are generous foes, sir——"

"None of your blarney," interrupted Maclean. "Short shrift to pirates, is an English motto. You sank our ship: we take yours. Fair exchange is no robbery. You should be thankful to get off with your skins."

"At least permit us to take with us our personal belongings."

"Not a match."

"Some provisions?"

"Not a biscuit."

"Some arms, then, to defend ourselves against the natives, if we are attacked?"

"Not a penknife."

"Sir, you condemn us to death!"

"Sir, we have but forestalled your intention in regard to us!"

"As God hears me, sir——"

"Shut up!" cried Maclean, "your voice hurts my ears."

Nevertheless, when all was ready, Maclean commanded Sievers to stock the boats with water and provisions, and to throw some fifty swords and bayonets aboard. Then began the debarkation. Using the officer who could speak English as his mouthpiece, Maclean commanded the crew of the Nevski to file out one by one from the forecastle, and slide down a rope over the vessel's bows into the waiting boats. They numbered one hundred and thirty-three all told, but not a man offered to resist, and within an hour the last boat had sheered off, carrying with its hale company the still unconscious bodies of the Russian captain and the officer of the watch. Maclean's next business was to bury the dead, which done, he searched the ship. He made two discoveries: He found in the captain's cabin a chest containing no less than fifteen thousand golden rubles; and locked away in one of the disused bathrooms astern, inhumanly disposed of in a tub, the silent form of Captain Brandon. But the tough little bulldog of an Englishman was by no means dead, and when some three days later the ghost of what had been the Nevski steamed out of the bay of Tramoieu, he was already so far recovered from the terrible blow that had laid him low, but which had, nevertheless, failed to shatter his hard skull, as to be engaged in a confused but constant effort to remember. On the following morning he insisted upon getting up, and was helped afterward by a steward to the bridge.

Maclean greeted him with a genial smile.

"Well done, sir," he cried heartily. "Glad to see you up again and looking so fit. The old Saigon has been as dull as a coffin-ship without you."

Captain Brandon nodded, frowned, and glanced around him. A carpenter close by was busily at work painting S.S. Saigon upon a row of virgin-white life buoys. The captain wondered and glanced up at the masts. They were just ordinary masts in the sense that they had no fighting tops, but they gleamed with wet paint. He frowned again, and, wondering more and more, looked forward. There was not the slightest trace of a cannon to be seen—but the deck in one place had a canvas covering. He began to crack his fingers, his old habit, but a moment later he abruptly turned and faced the mate.

"Maclean," said he.

The eyes of the two men met.

"This is not the Saigon, Maclean," said Captain Brandon.

"You'll see it in iron letters on her bows, sir, if you look."

"Come into the chart-room."

Maclean obeyed, chuckling under his breath.

"Tell me how you did it," commanded the captain as he took a chair.

"It was as easy as rolling off a log, sir," replied the first mate. "The blighters clapped us into the small after-hold, but totally forgot there was such a thing there as a propeller tunnel. We got into the stoke-hole and collared the engine-room while the Russians were at dinner. Then, while I covered the sailors forward with the machine-gun on the bridge, Sievers took the gold-laced crowd aft with a rush. The rest is not worth telling, for you know it. All that is to say, barring the fact that we're the richer by 15,000 rubles and triple-expansion engines, and the poorer by two of our crew the Russian captain killed."

Captain Brandon drew a deep breath.

"What course are we steering," he demanded.

"Straight for Kobe, sir, to carry out our charter. We've every stick of the old cargo aboard—the pirates saw to that—also our books and papers. The guns are all at the bottom of the sea. We'll be a bit late, but we can easily rig up a yarn to explain."

"But the Russians will talk."

"No fear, sir: they'd be too ashamed to own up the truth; ay, and afraid as well, for what they did was piracy on the high seas—nothing less. You take my tip for it, sir, one of these days we'll hear that the Nevski struck a reef."

"We'll have to tell the owners, though—what will they say?"

Maclean closed one eye. "The new Saigon has triple-expansion engines, sir. If I know anything of Mr. Keppel, he'll be better pleased with a ship in the hand than a cause of action against the Russian Government."

"But our own men?"

"Why, sir, we have 7,000 rubles to share among them. They'll be made for life."

"But I thought you said just now there were 15,000?"

"So I did, sir; but there's only you and Sievers and myself know how much there is exactly: there was no call to shout it all over the ship. And I've figured it out this way: You, as captain, are entitled to the most, and you'll want all of four thousand to heal up the memory of that crack you got on your skull properly. That'll leave two for Sievers to do with as he likes, and two for me to buy Nellie—that's Mrs. Maclean that is to be—just the sort of house she's set her heart on these ages back. What do you say, sir?"

"What do I say, Maclean?" cried Captain Brandon, his eyes big with excitement and surprise, too, perhaps. "Why, I say this: You are that rare thing, a sensible, honest man! Tip us your flipper!"