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THE CRUISE OF THE JASPER B. (chapter22)

2006-08-28 19:57

    CHAPTER XXII

    DANCING ON THE DECK

    It was decided, at a conference of Lady Agatha, Cleggett, and the three detectives, at the breakfast table, to throw up a line of entrenchments along the bank of the canal commanding the approach to the Jasper B. and the Annabel Lee. No one felt the least doubt that Logan Black would renew the attack sooner or later, unless the two vessels made off.

    "And," said Cleggett, "I shall not leave until the Jasper B. has been rigged as a schooner again. Anything else would have the appearance of a retreat. Nor will I be hurried. I am on my own property, and I purpose to defend it at whatever cost."

    He set his jaws firmly as he declared this intention, and Lady Agatha's eyes dwelt upon him in admiration.

    "The Annabel Lee could tow you away, you know," demurred Wilton Barnstable.

    "When the Jasper B. moves," said Cleggett, with finality, "it will be under her own power."

    Accordingly, work was begun at once on the entrenchments. Everyone on board the Jasper B. was sadly in need of sleep, but Cleggett felt that the earthworks could not wait. He divided his force into two shifts. Cleggett, the three detectives, Jefferson the genial coachman, and Washington Artillery Lamb, the janitor and butler of the house boat Annabel Lee, a negro as large and black as Jefferson himself, took a two-hour trick with the spades and then lay down and slept while Abernethy, Kuroki, Elmer, Calthrop, George the Greek, and Farnsworth dug for an equal length of time. The two prisoners captured by Barnstable the night before, one of whom was the smirking and sinister Pierre, were compelled to dig all the time. Even Teddy, Lady Agatha's little Pomeranian, dug. The ladies of the party slept throughout the morning.

    During the forenoon Cleggett dispatched Dr. Farnsworth to the city in Miss Henrietta Pringle's Ford car, and he returned about one o'clock with four more trained nurses. They were installed on board the houseboat Annabel Lee, instead of at Parker's Beach as Cleggett had originally intended, and the Red Cross flag was hoisted over that vessel. Cleggett felt confident that the next battle would be sanguinary in character, and, true to his humanitarian ideals, was resolved to be fully prepared this time to care for as many people as he might disable. Giuseppe Jones, who was quieter now, although at times still irrationally babbling incendiary vers libre poems, was removed to the Annabel Lee, where Miss Medley, quite worn out, turned him over to a fresh nurse.

    By the time the reinforcement of nurses had arrived the earthworks of the good ship Jasper B. were completed, and, after a double portion of stiff grog all around, Cleggett ordered all hands to lie down on the deck for an hour's comfortable nap. He stood watch himself. Cleggett had not slept much during the past forty-eight hours, but he was a man of iron. Like King Henry Fifth of England, Cleggett found a certain pleasure in watching while his troops slumbered. Cleggett and this lively monarch had other points in common, although Cleggett, even in his youth, would never have associated with a character so habitually dissolute as Sir John Falstaff.

    The construction of the trench was not without its effect upon the gang of villains at Morris's. About nine in the morning Cleggett noticed that he was under observation from the roof of the east verandah of the road house. Loge and two of his ruffianly lieutenants were scrutinizing the Cleggett flotilla and fortifications through their binoculars. Cleggett, through his own glass, returned the compliment.

    The three men were conducting an animated discussion. From their gestures they seemed to be completely nonplussed by the entrenchments. Watching their pantomime closely, Cleggett gathered that Loge was endeavoring to enforce some point of view with regard to the Jasper B. upon his two followers. Finally Loge, making a gesture towards Cleggett with one hand, tapped himself several times on the forehead with the other, his lips moving rapidly the while. The two other men shrugged their shoulders and nodded, as if in agreement with Loge. The insulting significance of the gesture was only too apparent. As plainly as if he had heard the accompanying words Cleggett understood that Loge, out of the depths of his perplexity, had said that he (Cleggett) was mentally erratic.

    "Ah, you think so, do you?" said Cleggett aloud, laying down his glass and seizing a rifle. "Well, just to let you know that I have a certain opinion of you, also, my friend Loge——" And he sent a bullet over the heads of the three men. They hastily ducked into the house. Cleggett might have picked Loge off, but he disdained to do so. It was his purpose to take the man alive, if possible.

    But the rifle shot did not end the espionage. All day scouting parties in taxicabs kept appearing on the sandy plain to reconnoiter the fleet and fortress. They circled, they swooped, they dashed, they zigzagged here and there, but always at a high rate of speed, and always at a prudent distance from the canal. Beyond sending an occasional rifle ball whistling towards the wheels of the cabs, or over the heads of the occupants, to remind them to keep their distance, Cleggett paid but little attention to these parties. If Loge thought him demented, if he had his enemy guessing, so much the better. The eccentric movements of these cabs was a circumstance which in itself testified to Loge's bewilderment and curiosity.

    Cleggett had no idea that there would be an attack before nightfall, and at two o'clock in the afternoon he awakened all the members of his crew who were still sleeping, ordered them into bathing suits, a supply of which he had been thoughtful enough to have the young doctor bring out along with the nurses, and piped them into the canal. The water was cold, but they came out refreshed and invigorated by the plunge and feeling fit for any struggle that might be ahead of them. This maneuver on the part of Cleggett and his marines and infantrymen seemed still more to excite the curiosity and contribute to the bewilderment of Loge and his ruffians.

    After the general bath and a substantial lunch, Cleggett called all hands aft and addressed them.

    "Ladies and loyal followers and co-workers," he said. "We have passed some nights and days of peril. And there are, I doubt not, still parlous times ahead of the Jasper B. before our ship sets sail for the China Seas. But what is sweeter than pleasure snatched from the very presence of danger? Courage and gayety should go hand in hand! It is a beautiful May afternoon, we have a goodly deck beneath our feet, and, briefly, who is for a dance?"

    A huzza showed the popularity of the suggestion. Washington Artillery Lamb, the janitor and butler of the Annabel Lee, possessed an accordion on which he was an earnest and artistic performer. Miss Pringle's Jefferson had with him a harmonica, or mouth organ, which he at once produced. Jefferson was endowed with the peculiar gift of manipulating this little musical instrument solely with his lips, moving it back and forth and round about as he played, without touching it with his hands; and this left his hands free to pat the time. The negro orchestra perched itself on the top of the cabin, and in a moment Lady Agatha, the five nurses, Cleggett, the three detectives, Dr. Farnsworth, and Captain Abernethy were tangoing on the deck. And this to the still further perplexity of Logan Black. As the dance started Cleggett saw that person, almost distracted by his inability to comprehend the mental processes of the commander of the Jasper B., rise to his feet in an automobile that had stopped a couple of hundred yards away, and beat with both hands upon his temples, gnashing his long yellow teeth the while.

    The Rev. Simeon Calthrop turned sadly away from the vessel, and, with a sigh, went and sat in the trench, where he was soon joined by Elmer. The disgraced preacher and the reformed convict had struck up a fast friendship. They sat with their backs towards the Jasper B., and Cleggett supposed from their attitude that they were sternly condemnatory of the frivolity and festivity on board ship.

    Cleggett, after the first dance, sought them out.

    "I hope," he said to the Rev. Mr. Calthrop, not unkindly, "that you

    don't disapprove of us."

    "It isn't that, Mr. Cleggett," said the ship's chaplain, with sorrow in his eloquent brown eyes, "it isn't that at all. In fact, I had a tango class in the basement of my church, every Thursday evening-when I had a church."

    "Then what is it?"

    "Alas!" sighed the young preacher. "I do not trust myself! Women, as I have told you, Mr. Cleggett, are apt to become fascinated with me. I cannot help it. It is in such gay scenes as this that the danger lies, Mr. Cleggett. As an honorable man, I feel that I am bound to withdraw myself and my fatal influence."

    "You are too subtle——too subtle for moral health," said Cleggett.

    "But I will not attempt to influence you. Elmer, are you also afraid of inspiring a hopeless passion?"

    "Mister Cleggett," said Elmer gloomily and huskily, out of one corner of his mouth, "I ain't takin' a chance. D' youse get me? Not a chancet. Oncet youse reformed, Mr. Cleggett, youse can't be too careful."

    Cleggett returned to the vessel. Miss Pringle the elder was leaving it. Miss Henrietta Pringle was following. Cleggett gathered that the niece left reluctantly, and under the coercion of the aunt.

    Miss Pringle the elder was about to join the Rev. Mr. Calthrop in the trench. Morality, as well as misery, loves company. But Mr. Calthrop saw the Misses Pringle coming. He swiftly rose, passed them by with his face averted, and went aboard the Annabel Lee. It was evident that he believed that his fatal gift of fascination had attracted these ladies towards him in spite of himself. Elmer and the Misses Pringle sat gloomily on a clean plank in the trench while the dance went gayly on.

    "If you was to ask me," said Captain Abernethy, pausing winded from the tango, strong old man that he was, "I'd give it as my opinion that them that gits their enjoyment in an oncheerful way don't git nigh as much of it as them that gits it in a cheerful way. Mrs. Lady Agatha, ma'am, if you kin fox-trot as well as you kin tango I'll never have another word to say agin female suffragettes."

    But as Cap'n Abernethy spoke the grin froze upon his face.

    "My God! Look there!" he shrilled, pointing a long finger towards the plain. Simultaneously the Misses Pringle, shrieking wildly, leaped from the trench towards the ship and Elmer fired a pistol shot.

    Cleggett beheld five taxicabs, filled with Loge's assassins, charging towards the vessel at the rate of thirty miles an hour.

    "To arms! To arms!" shouted the commander of the Jasper B.

    But the enemy, with Logan Black in the lead, had already reached the trenches. They flung themselves to the ground and swept over the trench towards the bulwarks, twenty strong, with flashing machetes. So confident had Cleggett been that Loge would not dare to attack in broad daylight that he had scarcely even considered the possibility. It was the one fault of his military and naval career.

    "Cutlasses, men, and at them!" he cried.

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