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33: At "Lolo"

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Author Topic: 33: At "Lolo"  (Read 44 times)
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« on: June 25, 2023, 08:00:42 am »

UNDER an awning on the quarter-deck of the Maria Braganza, George T. Baggin was stretched out in the easiest of easy-chairs in an attitude of luxurious comfort.

Admiral Lombrosa, passing on his way to his cabin, smacked him familiarly upon the shoulder---an attitude which epitomised the changed relationships of the pair.

The Maria Braganza was steaming slowly eastward, and, since it was the hour of siesta, the deck was strewn with the recumbent forms of men.

Baggin looked up with a scowl.

"Where is Poltavo?" he asked, and the other laughed.

"He sleeps, Señor Presidente," said the "Admiral."---There had been some curious promotions on board the Maria Braganza.---"He is amusing, your count."

Baggin wriggled uncomfortably in his chair, but made no answer, and the other man eyed him keenly.

Baggin must have felt rather than observed the scrutiny, for suddenly he looked up and caught the sailor's eye.

"Eh?" he asked, as though to some unspoken question. Then, "Where is Grayson?"

Again the smile on the swart face of the Brazilian.

"He is here," he said, as a stout figure in white ducks shuffled awkwardly along the canting deck.

He came opposite to Baggin; and, drawing a chair towards him with a grunt, he dropped into it with a crash.

"You grow fatter, my friend," said Baggin.

"Fatter!" gasped the other. "Of course I'm fatter! No exercise---this cursed ship! Oh, what a fool, what a fool I've been!"

"Forget it," said Baggin. He took a long gold case from his inside pocket, opened it, and selected with care a black cheroot. "Forget it."

"I wish I could! I'd give half-a-million to be safe in the hands of the Official Receiver! I'd give half-a-million to be serving five years in Sing Sing! Baggin," he said, with comic earnestness, "we've got to compromise! It's got to be done. Where do we stand, eh?"

Baggin puffed leisurely at his cigar, but made no attempt to elucidate the position.

He was used to all this; but now, with his nerves on edge, this cowardice of Grayson's grated.

"Where are the Nine Men of Cadiz?" demanded Grayson, the sweat rolling down his cheeks. "Where is Bortuski? Where is Morson? Where is Couthwright? Zillier, we know where he is, or was, but where are the others? You and me and Count Poltavo and the rest---phutt!" He made a little noise with his mouth. "I know!" he said. He raised a trembling finger accusingly.

"My dear man," said Baggin lazily, though his face was white and his lips firm-pressed. "There was the storm----"

"That's a lie!" screamed Grayson, beating the air with his hands; "that's a lie! The storm didn't take Kohr from his bunk and leave blood on his pillow! It didn't make Morson's cabin smell of chloroform! I know, I know!"

"There is such a thing as knowing too much," said George T. Baggin, rising unsteadily. "Grayson," he said, "I've been a good friend of yours because I sort of like you in spite of your foolishness. Our friends perished in the storm; it wasn't a bad thing for us, taking matters all round. If this manifesto of ours doesn't secure us a pardon, we can risk making a run for safety. There are fewer of us to blab. See here"---he sat down on the side of the other's chair and dropped his voice---"suppose we can't shock this old world into giving us a free pardon, and the sun gets too warm for us, as it will sooner or later----"

"Suppose it!" Grayson burst in. "Do you think there's an hour of the day or night when I don't suppose it? Lord! I----"

"Listen, can't you?" said Baggin savagely. "When that happens, what are we to do? We've buried gold on the African coast; we've buried it on the South American coast——"

"All the crew know. We're at the mercy----"

"Wait, wait!" said the other wearily. "Suppose there comes a time when we must make a dash for safety---with the steam pinnace. Slipping away in the night when the men of the watch are doped. You and your daughter, and me, Poltavo, and the Admiral"---he bent his head lower---"leaving a time-fuse in the magazine," he whispered. "There's a way out for us, my friend! We are going to make one last effort," he went on. "Between here and 'Lolo' we fall in with the outward-bound, intermediate Cape mail. It shall be our last attack upon civilisation."

"Don't do it!" begged Grayson; "for the love of Heaven, don't do it, Baggin!"

He got upon his feet, pallid and staring. His hand was clapped over his heart, and his breath came in thick, stertorous gasps.

Doris appeared around the corner, walking with Count Poltavo. She came forward swiftly.

"Come, father!" she said, and led him, unresisting, away.

They ate a silent meal in the magnificently upbolstered ward-room, which had been converted into a saloon for the officers of the "Mad Battleship."

After dinner, Count Poltavo and Baggin promenaded the quarter-deck together.

"Grayson has gone below," reported the count, in answer to a question of his companion. "He got no sleep last night."

"He is a greater danger than any of the others," said Baggin.

They stood for a while, watching the phosphorescence on the water, till Lombrosa's voice recalled them.

"Are you there?" he called quickly. They detected the agitation in his tone and turned together.

"It's Grayson," said the captain rapidly. "I found him in the wireless cabin, trying to send a message. He's half-mad."

"Where is he?" demanded the count; but, before his tongue had formed the words, the voice of the fat man came to him. He came along, the centre of a swaying body of sailors, who held him.

"For God's sake, silence him!" said the Brazilian hoarsely. "Don't you hear----?"

"Dead! you'll all be dead!" yelled Grayson. He was screaming at the top of his voice in English. "A time-fuse in your magazine! whilst they get away with the money!"

At any moment he might remember that the Brazilians who held him could not understand a word he said.

Poltavo gave an order, and the struggling man was flung to the deck.

"Murder!" he screamed. "Hyatt, and the other man! And poor Morson and Kohr. I see the blood on his pillow! and a time-fuse in the magazine----"

Baggin thrust a handkerchief in his mouth.

"Chloroform," he said in Spanish. "Our friend has been drinking."

In a few seconds, the captain was back with a bottle of colourless liquid, and a saturated handkerchief was pressed over the struggling man's mouth.

He was silent at last, and, at a word from their captain, the men who held him released their hold, and went forward to their quarters. The captain discreetly followed them.

The two men stood in silence, gazing down at the huddled figure. Then, "He must go," said Baggin.

Poltavo was silent a moment.

"No," he said finally, "I do not agree."

Baggin regarded him blackly.

"I see your point," he said, with biting emphasis. "With the others"---he wet his dry lips---"you cast the black vote fast enough----"

The count elevated his eyebrows. "Why refer to such things?" he objected mildly. "If they be necessary---do them, swiftly and well---but be silent, even as Nature is silent. For Mr. Grayson, he is---how you say---a very sick man. Perhaps----" He shrugged his shoulders and did not finish the sentence.

He bent down to the unconscious man.

"Lend a hand," he said quietly to Baggin.

The American obeyed, sullenly, and, between them, they half supported, half carried Grayson to his cabin.

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