Robert Thorpe reached languidly for a cigarette and, with lazy fingers, extracted a lighter from his pocket. “Be a sport,” he repeated to the gray haired man across the table. “Be a sport, Admiral, and send me across on a destroyer. Never been on a destroyer except in port. It … would be a new experience … enjoy it a lot….” In the palm-shaded veranda of this club-house in Manila, Admiral Struthers, U. S. N., regarded with undisguised disfavor the young man in the wicker chair. He looked at the deep chest and the broad shoulders which even a loose white coat could not conceal, at the short, wavy brown hair and the slow, friendly smile on the face below. A likable chap, this Thorpe, but lazy—just an idler—he had concluded. Been playing around Manila for the last two months—resting up, he had said. And from what? the Admiral had questioned disdainfully. Admiral Struthers did not like indolent young men, but it would have saved him money if he had really got an answer to his question and had learned just why and how Robert Thorpe had earned a vacation. “You on a destroyer!” he said, and the lips beneath the close-cut gray mustache twisted into a smile.
“That would be too rough an experience for you, I am afraid, Thorpe. Destroyers pitch about quite a bit, you know.” He included in his smile the destroyer captain and the young lady who completed their party. The young lady had a charming and saucy smile and knew it; she used it in reply to the Admiral’s remark. “I have asked Mr. Thorpe to go on the Adelaide,” she said. “We shall be leaving in another month— but Robert tells me he has other plans.” “Worse and worse,” was the Admiral’s comment. “Your father’s yacht is not even as steady as a destroyer. Now I would suggest a nice comfortable liner….
” obert Thorpe did not miss the official glances of amusement, but his calm complacence was unruffled. “No,” he said, “I don’t just fancy liners. Fact is, I have been thinking of sailing across to the States alone.” The Admiral’s smile increased to a short laugh. “I would make a bet you wouldn’t get fifty miles from Manila harbor.” The younger man crushed his cigarette slowly into the tray. “How much of a bet?” he asked. “What will you bet that I don’t sail alone from here to—where are you stationed?—San Diego?—from here to San Diego?” “Humph!” was the snorted reply. “I would bet a thousand dollars on that and take your money for Miss Allaire’s pet charity.” “Now that’s an idea,” said Thorpe.
He reached for a check book in his inner pocket and began to write. “In case I lose,” he explained, “I might be hard to find, so I will just ask Miss Allaire to hold this check for me. You can do the same.” He handed the check to the girl. “Winner gets his thousand back, Ruth; loser’s money goes to any little orphans you happen to fancy.” “You’re not serious,” protested the Admiral. “Sure! The bank will take that check seriously, I promise you. And I saw just the sloop I want for the trip … had my eye on her for the past month.” “But, Robert,” began Ruth Allaire, “you don’t mean to risk your life on a foolish bet?” Thorpe reached over to pat tenderly the hand that held his check. “I’m glad if you care,” he said, and there was an undertone of seriousness beneath his raillery, “but save your sympathy for the Admiral.
The U. S. Navy can’t bluff me.” He rose more briskly from his chair. “Thorpe….” said Admiral Struthers. He was thinking deeply, trying to recollect. “Robert Thorpe…. I have a book by someone of that name—travel and adventure and knocking about the world. Young man, are you the Robert Thorpe?” “Why, yes, if you wish to put it that way,” agreed the other.
He waved lightly to the girl as he moved away. “I must be running along,” he said, “and get that boat. See you all in San Diego!” he first rays of the sun touched with golden fingers the tops of the lazy swells of the Pacific. Here and there a wave broke to spray under the steady wind and became a shower of molten metal. And in the boat, whose sails caught now and then the touch of morning, Robert Thorpe stirred himself and rose sleepily to his feet. Out of the snug cabin at this first hint of day, he looked first at the compass and checked his course, then made sure of the lashing about the helm. The steady trade-winds had borne him on through the night, and he nodded with satisfaction as he prepared to lower his lights. He was reaching for a line as the little craft hung for an instant on the top of a wave. And in that instant his eyes caught a marking of white on the dim waters ahead. “Breakers!” he shouted aloud and leaped for the lashed wheel.
He swung off to leeward and eased a bit on the main-sheet, then lashed the wheel again to hold on the new course. Again from a wave-crest he stared from under a sheltering hand. The breakers were there—the smooth swells were foaming—breaking in mid-ocean where his chart, he knew, showed water a mile deep. Beyond the white line was a three-master, her sails shivering in the breeze. The big sailing ship swung off on a new tack as he watched. Was she dodging those breakers? he wondered. Then he stared in amazement through the growing light at the unbroken swells where the white line had been. e rubbed his sleepy eyes with a savage hand and stared again. There were no breakers—the sea was an even expanse of heaving water. “I could swear I saw them!” he told himself, but forgot this perplexing occurrence in the still more perplexing maneuvers of the sailing ship.
This steady wind—for smooth handling—was all that such a craft could ask, yet here was this oldtimer of the sea with a full spread of canvas booming and cracking as the ship jibed. She rolled far over as he watched, recovered, and tore off on a long, sweeping circle. The one man crew of the little sloop should have been preparing breakfast, as he had for many mornings past, but, instead he swung his little craft into the wind and watched for near an hour the erratic rushes and shivering haltings of the larger ship. But long before this time had passed Thorpe knew he was observing the aimless maneuvers of an unmanned vessel. And he watched his chance for a closer inspection. he three-master Minnie R., from the dingy painting of the stern, hung quivering in the wind when he boarded her. There was a broken log-line that swept down from the stern, and he caught this and made his own boat fast. Then, watching his chance, he drew close and went overboard, the line in his hand. “Like a blooming native after cocoanuts,” he told himself as he went up the side.
But he made it and pulled himself over the rail as the ship drew off on another tack. Thorpe looked quickly about the deserted deck. “Ahoy, there!” he shouted, but the straining of rope and spars was his only answer. Canvas was whipping to ribbons, sheets cracked their frayed ends like lashes as the booms swung wildly, but a few sails still held and caught the air. He was on the after deck, and he leaped first for the wheel that was kicking and whirling with the swing of the rudder. A glance at the canvas that still drew, and he set her on a course with a few steadying pulls. There was rope lying about, and he lashed the wheel with a quick turn or two and watched the ship steady down to a smooth slicing of the waves from the west. And only then did the man take time to quiet his panting breath and look about him in the unnatural quiet of this strangely deserted deck. He shouted again and walked to a companionway to repeat the hail. Only an echo, sounding hollowly from below, replied to break the vast silence.
t was puzzling—inconceivable. Thorpe looked about him to note the lifeboats snug and undisturbed in their places. No sign there of an abandonment of the boat, but abandoned she was, as the silence told only too plainly. And Thorpe, as he went below, had an uncanny feeling of the crew’s presence—as if they had been there, walked where he walked, shouted and laughed a matter of a brief hour or two before. The door of the captain’s cabin was burst in, hanging drunkenly from one hinge. The log-book was open; there were papers on a rude desk. The bunk was empty where the blankets had been thrown hurriedly aside. Thorpe could almost see the skipper of this mystery ship leaping frantically from his bed at some sudden call or commotion. A chair was smashed and broken, and the man who examined it curiously wiped from his hands a disgusting slime that was smeared stickily on the splintered fragments. There was a fetid stench within his nostrils, and he passed up further examination of this room.
Forward in the fo’c’sle he felt again irresistibly the recent presence of the crew. And again he found silence and emptiness and a disorder that told of a fear-stricken flight. The odor that sickened and nauseated the exploring man was everywhere. He was glad to gain the freedom of the wind-swept deck and rid his lungs of the vile breath within the vessel. He stood silent and bewildered. There was not a living soul aboard the ship—no sign of life. He started suddenly. A moaning, whimpering cry came from forward on the deck! Thorpe leaped across a disorder of tangled rope to race toward the bow. He stopped short at sight of a battered cage. Again the moaning came to him—there was something that still lived on board the illfated ship.
e drew closer to see a great, huddled, furry mass that crouched and cowered in a corner of the cage. A huge ape, Thorpe concluded, and it moaned and whimpered absurdly like a human in abject fear. Had this been the terror that drove the men into the sea? Had this ape escaped and menaced the officers and crew? Thorpe dismissed the thought he well knew was absurd. The stout wood bars of the cage were broken. It had been partially crushed, and the chain that held it to the deck was extended to its full length. “Too much for me,” the man said slowly, aloud; “entirely too much for me! But I can’t sail this old hooker alone; I’ll have to get out and let her drift.” He removed completely one of the splintered bars from the broken cage. “I’ve got to leave you, old fellow,” he told the cowering animal, “but I’ll give you the run of the ship.” He went below once more and came quickly back with the log-book and papers from the captain’s room. He tied these in a tight wrapping of oilcloth from the galley and hung them at his belt.
He took the wheel again and brought the cumbersome craft slowly into the wind. The bare mast of his own sloop was bobbing alongside as he went down the line and swam over to her. Fending off from the wallowing hulk, he cut the line, and his small craft slipped slowly astern as the big vessel fell off in the wind and drew lumberingly away on its unguided course. She vanished into the clear-cut horizon before the watching man ceased his staring and pricked a point upon his chart that he estimated was his position. And he watched vainly for some sign of life on the heaving waters as he set his sloop back on her easterly course. t was a sun-tanned young man who walked with brisk strides into the office of Admiral Struthers. The gold-striped arm of the uniformed man was extended in quick greeting. “Made it, did you?” he exclaimed. “Congratulations!”