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The Lost Warship

The Lost Warship

Robert Moore Williams

Update: 2020-04-22

Chapter 1

  • The sun came up over a glassy, motionless sea. In the life-boat, Crai_rranged the piece of sail to protect them from the sun. He hoisted it to th_op of the improvised mast, spreading it so that it threw a shadow on th_oat. There was no wind. There had been no wind for three days.
  • Craig stood up and swept his eyes around the circle of the sea. The horizo_as unbroken. As he sat down he was aware that the girl, Margy Sharp, who ha_een sleeping at his feet, had awakened.
  • "See anything, pal?" she whispered.
  • He shook his head.
  • Her pinched face seemed to become more pinched at his gesture. She sat up. He_yes went involuntarily to the keg of water beside Craig. She licked he_arched, cracked lips.
  • "How's for a drink, pal?" she asked.
  • "A quarter of a cup is all we get today," Craig said. "Do you want your shar_ow or will you wait and take it later?"
  • "I'm terribly thirsty," the girl said. She glanced quickly back at the other_n the boat. They were still sleeping.
  • "How about slipping me a whole cup?" she asked, her bold blue eyes fixe_ntently on Craig's face.
  • Craig looked at the sea.
  • "They're asleep," the girl said quickly. "They won't ever know."
  • Craig said nothing.
  • "Please," the girl begged.
  • Craig sat in silence. He was a big man with a great thatch of black hair an_ard gray eyes. He was clad in a pair of torn duck trousers. Rolled bottom_evealed bare feet. He wore no shirt. Holstered on his belt was a heav_istol.
  • "Look, big boy," the girl cajoled. "Me and you could get along all right."
  • "What makes you think so?" Craig questioned.
  • This was apparently not the answer she had expected. She seemed to b_tartled. For a moment her eyes measured the man.
  • "You've been looking for something that you wanted very badly," she said. "Yo_aven't found it. Because you haven't found it, you have become bitter."
  • Her words made Craig uncomfortable. They came too close to the truth. H_hifted his position on the seat.
  • "So what?" he said.
  • "So nothing," the girl answered. "Except that we are two of a kind."
  • "And because we are two of a kind, we can get along?" he questioned.
  • "Yes," she answered. She made no effort to hide the longing in her eyes.
  • "Look, Craig, me and you, we're tough." She gestured contemptuously at th_thers in the boat. " _They_  aren't tough."
  • "Aren't they?"
  • "No." The words came faster now, as if she had made up her mind to say wha_he had to say and be damned with the consequences. "They're going to die. Oh, you needn't shake your head. You haven't fooled me for a minute with you_retending there will be a ship along to pick us up. There won't be a ship.
  • Our only hope is that we may drift ashore on an island. It may be days befor_e find an island. There isn't enough water to keep us all alive that long.
  • So—"
  • She couldn't quite finish what she had to say. Craig watched her, his eye_old and unrevealing. Her gaze dropped.
  • "So why don't you and I split the water and let the others die of thirs_ecause we are tough and they aren't? Is that what you mean?" he asked.
  • "No—" She faltered. "N—no." Defiance hardened her face. "Yes!" she snapped.
  • "That's what I mean. Why should we take care of them? We don't owe the_nything. Why should we die with them? What have they—or anybody else—eve_one for us? I'll tell you the answer. Nothing. Nothing!  _Nothing!_ "
  • "Because they have done nothing for us and because we are the stronger, we le_hem die. Is that what you mean?"
  • "Y—yes."
  • Craig sat in silence for a moment. Dark thoughts were in his mind but his fac_howed nothing. "I have a gun," he said, "the only gun in the boat. That make_e the boss. Why don't I keep all the water for myself and let the rest of yo_ie of thirst?"
  • "Oh, you wouldn't do that!" Fright showed on her face.
  • "Why wouldn't I?" Craig challenged.
  • "Because—oh, because—"
  • "What have you got to offer me that is worth a cup of water?" he demanded.
  • "What have I got that you want?" she answered. Her eyes were fixed hungrily o_raig's face.
  • "What have you got that I want! Oh, damn it, girl—" The big man twiste_ncomfortably. He avoided her gaze, looking instead at the glassy sea.
  • "Is it time to wake up?" a new voice asked. It was the voice of Mrs. Miller, who had been lying in the middle of the boat. She raised herself to her knees, looked around at the glassy sea. "I thought—" she whispered. "For a moment _hought I was home again. I guess I must have been—dreaming." She pressed he_ands against her eyes to shut out the sight of the sea.
  • "Is it time to have a drink?" she said, looking at Craig.
  • "No," he said.
  • "But we always have a drink in the morning," Mrs. Miller protested.
  • "Not this morning," Craig said.
  • "May I ask why? Are we—are we out of water?"
  • "We still have water," Craig answered woodenly.
  • "Then why can't I have some? I—well, I guess I don't need to tell you why _eed a drink."
  • The reason she needed water was obvious. Worse than anyone else in the boat, Mrs. Miller needed a drink.
  • "Sorry," Craig shook his head.
  • "Why?"
  • "Well, if you must know," Craig said uncomfortably. "Margy and I have decide_o keep all the water for ourselves."
  • "Damn you, Craig!" Margy Sharp said quickly.
  • "You two have decided—to keep all the—water?" Mrs. Miller said slowly, as i_he was trying to understand the meaning of the words. "But what—what abou_he rest of us?"
  • "It's too bad for the rest of you," Craig said. He was aware that Margy Shar_as gazing frantically at him but he ignored her. Picking up a tin cup, h_eld it under the faucet in the side of the keg. A thin stream of wate_rickled out. He filled the cup half full, and handed it to Margy Sharp.
  • "Drink up," he said. "Double rations for you and me."
  • The girl took the cup. She looked at Craig, then glanced quickly at Mrs.
  • Miller. Her parched lips were working but no sound came forth. She looked a_he water and Craig could see the movement of her throat as she tried t_wallow.
  • Mrs. Miller said nothing. She stared at Craig and the girl as if she did no_nderstand what she was seeing.
  • "Damn you, Craig," Margy Sharp said.
  • "Go on and drink," the big man answered. "That's what you wanted, isn't it?"
  • "Y—yes."
  • "Then drink!"
  • "Oh, damn you—" Tears were in the girl's eyes. While Craig watched woodenly, she turned and crawled back to where Mrs. Miller was sitting.
  • "Craig was only teasing," she said gently. "He's a great teaser. He meant fo_ou to have the water all the time. Here, Mrs. Miller, this is for you."
  • "Thank you, dear; thank you ever so much." Mrs. Miller drank the water slowly, in little sips. Margy Sharp watched her. Craig could see the girl trembling.
  • When the last drop was gone, she brought the cup back to Craig—and flung it i_is face.
  • "I could kill you!" she gasped.
  • "I gave you what you wanted," he said. His voice was impersonal but th_ardness had gone from his eyes.
  • Sobbing, Margy Sharp collapsed in the bottom of the boat. She hid her face i_er hands.
  • "Here," Craig said.
  • She looked up. He had drawn a fourth of a cup of water and was holding i_oward her.
  • "I—I gave my share to Mrs. Miller," she whispered.
  • "I know you did," Craig answered. "This is my share."
  • "But—"
  • "Water would only rust my stomach," he said. "Take it."
  • The girl drank. She looked at Craig. There were stars in her eyes.
  • He leaned forward and patted her on the shoulder. "You'll do, Margy," he said.
  • "You'll do."
  • The boat floated in the glassy sea. The long ground swell of the Pacific, marching aimlessly toward some unknown shore, lifted it steadily up and down, giving the boat the appearance of moving. An empty tin can, thrown overboar_hree days previously, floated beside the boat. A school of flying fish, fleeing from some pursuing maw beneath the surface, skipped from wave to wave.
  • Besides Craig, Margy Sharp, and Mrs. Miller, there were three other persons i_he boat, all men. They were: English, a blond youth; Michaelson, a littl_ird of a man who seemed not yet to have comprehended what had happened t_hem, or to care; and Voronoff, whose chief distinguishing characteristic wa_ pair of furtive eyes. English had been wounded. He sat up and looked ove_he side of the boat. Pointing, he suddenly cried out:
  • "Look! Look! There's a dragon! A flying dragon!"
  • "Easy, old man," Craig said gently. For two days English had been delirious.
  • The infection that had developed in his wound was quite beyond the curativ_owers of the simple medicines carried among the emergency stores of the lif_oat.
  • "It's a dragon!" the youth shouted. "It's going to get us."
  • He stared at something that he could see coming through the air.
  • Craig drew his pistol. "If it comes after us, I'll shoot it," he said, displaying the gun. "See this pistol."
  • "That won't stop  _this_  dragon," English insisted. "Oh—oh—" His eyes widene_ith fright as he watched something coming through the sky. He ducked down i_he bottom of the boat, hid his face in his hands. Men, caught unprotected i_he open by a bombing raid, threw themselves to the ground like that, whil_hey waited for the bombs to fall. A few minutes later, English looked up.
  • Relief showed on his face.
  • "It's gone away," he said. "It flew over and didn't see us."
  • "There was no danger," Craig said gently. "It wouldn't have harmed us. It wa_ tame dragon."
  • "There aren't any tame dragons!" the youth said scornfully. He was lookin_gain at the sea. "There's a snake!" he yelled. "A huge snake! It's got it_ead out of the water—"
  • "Poor kid," Margy Sharp whispered. "Can't we do something for him?"
  • "I'm afraid not," Craig answered. "But you might take him some water." H_oured a generous share into the cup, watched the girl take it to the youth, who drank it eagerly.
  • Michaelson and Voronoff, awakened by the hysterical cries of the youth, wer_itting up. Michaelson stared incuriously around him, like a bird that find_tself in a strange forest and wonders how he got there. Then he pulled _mall black notebook out of his pocket and began studying it. Ever since h_ad been in the life boat he had been studying the contents of the notebook, ignoring everything else.
  • "What's the idea of wasting water on  _him_?" Voronoff said sullenly, noddin_is head toward English. Margy Sharp was holding the cup to the youth's lips.
  • "What?" Craig was startled.
  • "He's done for," Voronoff asserted. He seemed to consider the statemen_ufficient. He did not attempt to explain it.
  • A cold glitter appeared in Craig's eyes. "So why waste water on him?" h_uestioned. "Is that what you mean?"
  • "That's exactly what I mean," Voronoff answered. "Why waste water on a dea_an? We don't have any too much water anyhow."
  • "Go to hell!" Craig said contemptuously.
  • "You can say that because you've got the gun," Voronoff said.
  • Craig's face turned gray with anger but he controlled his temper. "If yo_hink you can taunt me into throwing the gun away, you are mistaken," he said.
  • "In the meantime, I have issued water to everyone else and I assume you an_ichaelson will want your shares. If you will come aft, one at a time, I wil_ee that you get it."
  • "Water?" said Michaelson vaguely. He had paid no attention to the argument.
  • When he heard his name mentioned, he looked up and smiled. "Water? Oh, yes, _elieve I would like some." He came aft and Craig held the tin cup under th_aucet in the keg. The water rilled out very slowly. Craig stared at it i_erplexity. The stream dried to a trickle, then stopped running.
  • Horror tightened a band around his heart. He lifted the keg, shook it, the_et it down.
  • Michaelson gazed at the few drops of water in the cup. "What is the matter?"
  • he asked. "Is this all I get?"
  • "The keg is almost empty!" Craig choked out the words.
  • "Empty?" Michaelson said dazedly. "But yesterday you said it was a quarte_ull!"
  • "That was yesterday," Craig said. "Today there isn't over two cups of wate_eft in the keg."
  • Silence settled over the boat as he spoke. He was aware that four sets of eye_ere gazing steadily at him. He picked up the keg, examined it to see if i_ere leaking. It wasn't. When he set it down, the eyes were still staring a_im. There was accusation in them now.
  • " _You_  were the self-appointed guardian of the water supply," Voronoff spa_ut the words.
  • Craig didn't answer.
  • "Last night, when we were asleep, did you help yourself to the water?"
  • Voronoff demanded.
  • "I did not!" Craig said hotly. "Damn you—"
  • Voronoff kept silent. Craig looked around the boat. "I don't know wha_appened to the water," he said. "I didn't drink it, that's certain—"
  • "Then what became of it?" Michaelson spoke.
  • He seemed to voice the question in the minds of all the others. If Craig ha_ot taken the water, then what had happened to it? It was gone, the keg didn'_eak, and he had been guarding it.
  • "And here I thought you were a good guy," Margy Sharp said, moving aft.
  • "Honestly, I didn't drink the water," Craig answered.
  • " _Honestly?_ " she mocked him. "No wonder you were so generous about givin_e your share this morning. You had already had all you wanted to drink."
  • Her voice was bitter and hard.
  • "If you want to think that, I can't stop you," Craig said.
  • "I hope you feel good while you stay alive and watch the rest of us die o_hirst," the girl said.
  • "Shut up!"
  • "I won't shut up. I'll talk all I want to. You won't stop me either. Do yo_ear that? You won't stop me!"
  • She was on the verge of hysteria. Craig let her scream. There was nothing h_ould do to stop her, short of using force. He sat silent and impassive on th_eat. Hot fires smouldered behind his eyes. In his mind was a single thought: What had happened to the water?
  • The boat drifted on the sullen sea. Michaelson, after trying to comprehen_hat had happened, and failing in the effort, went back to studying th_igures in the notebook. Voronoff furtively watched Craig. English had lapse_nto a coma. Mrs. Miller huddled in the middle of the boat. She watched th_orizon, seeking a sail, a plume of smoke, the sight of a low-lying shore.
  • Margy Sharp had collapsed at Craig's feet. She did not move. Now and then he_houlders jerked as a sob shook her body.
  • "Well," thought Craig, "I guess this is it. I guess this is the end of th_ine. I guess this is where we get off. What happens to you after you're dead, I wonder?"
  • He shrugged. Never in his life had he worried about what would happen after h_ied and it was too late to begin now.
  • He was so lost in his thoughts that he did not hear the plane until it ha_wooped low over them. The roar of its motor jerked his head to the sky. I_as an American naval plane, the markings on its wings revealed.
  • The occupants of the boat leaped to their feet and shouted themselves hoarse.
  • The pilot waggled his wings at them and flew off.
  • Against the far horizon the superstructure of a warship was visible. It wa_oming closer. Craig put his fingers to his nose, wiggled them at the sea.
  • "Damn you, we beat you," he said.
  • He knew they hadn't beaten the sea. Luck and nothing else had brought tha_arship near them. Luck had a way of running good for a time. Then it ran bad.