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THE RESCUE OF PEGGY
Brewster's heart almost ceased beating, and every vestige of color left his face. Clear and distinct in the light from the yacht the Arab and his burden were outlined against the black screen beyond. There was no mistaking the earnestness of the threat, nor could the witnesses doubt the ghastly intention of the long, cruel knife that gleamed on high. Peggy's body served as a shield for that of her captor. Brewster and Bragdon recognized the man as one of Mohammed's principal retainers, a fierce-looking fellow who had attracted more than usual attention on the day of the sheik's visit.
"For God's sake, don't kill her!" cried Brewster in agonized tones. There was a diabolical grin on the face of the Arab, who was about to shout back some defiant taunt when the unexpected happened.
The sharp crack of a gun sounded in the stern of Brewster's boat, and an unerring bullet sped straight for the big Arab's forehead.
It crashed between his eyes and death must have been instantaneous. The knife flew from his hand, his body straightened and then collapsed, toppling over, not among his oarsmen, but across the gunwale of the craft. Before a hand could be lifted to prevent, the dead Arab and the girl were plunged into the sea.
A cry of horror went up from the Americans, and something surprisingly like a shout of triumph from the abductors. Even as Brewster poised for the spring into the water a flying form shot past him and into the sea with a resounding splash. The man that fired the shot had reckoned cleverly, and he was carrying out the final details of an inspired plan. The Arab's position as he stood in the boat was such as to warrant the sailor's belief that he could fall no other way than forward, and that meant over the side of the boat. With all this clearly in mind he had shot straight and true and was on his way to the water almost as the two toppled overboard.
Monty Brewster was in the water an instant later, striking out for the spot where they had disappeared, a little to the left of the course in which his boat was running. There was a rattle of firearms, with curses and cheers, but he paid no heed to these sounds. He was a length or two behind the sailor, praying with all his soul that one or the other might succeed in reaching the white robes that still kept the surface of the water. His crew was "backing water" and straining every muscle to bring the boat around sharp for the rescue.
The sailor's powerful strokes brought him to the spot first, but not in time to clutch the disappearing white robes. Just as he reached out an arm to grasp the form of the girl she went down. He did not hesitate a second but followed. Peggy had fallen from the dead Arab's embrace, and that worthy already was at the bottom of the sea. She was half conscious when the shot came, but the plunge into the cold water revived her. Her struggles were enough to keep her up for a few moments, but not long enough for the swimmers to reach her side. She felt herself going down and down, strangling, smothering, dying. Then something vise-like clutched her arm and she had the sensation of being jerked upward violently.
The sailor fought his way to the surface with the girl, and Brewster was at his side in an instant. Together they supported her until one of the boats came up, and they were drawn over the side to safety. By this time the abductors had scattered like sheep without a leader, and as there was no further object in pursuing them the little American fleet put back for the yacht in great haste. Peggy was quite conscious when carried aboard by the triumphant Brewster. The words he whispered to her as she lay in the bottom of the boat were enough to give her life.
The excitement on board the "Flitter" was boundless. Fear gave way to joy, and where despair had for a moment reigned supreme, there was now the most insane delight. Peggy was bundled below and into her berth, Dr. Lotless attending her, assisted by all the women on board. Brewster and the sailor, drenched but happy, were carried on the shoulders of enthusiastic supporters to a place where hot toddies were to be had before blankets.
"You have returned the favor, Conroy," said Brewster fervently, as he leaned across the heads of his bearers to shake hands with the sailor who was sharing the honors with him. Conroy was grinning from ear to ear as he sat perched on the shoulders of his shipmates. "I was luckier than I thought in saving your life that day."
"It wasn't anything, Mr. Brewster," said young Conroy. "I saw a chance to drop the big nigger, and then it was up to me to get her out of the water."
"You took a big risk, Conroy, but you made good with it. If it had not been for you, my boy, they might have got away with Miss Gray."
"Don't mention it, Mr. Brewster, it was nothing to do," protested Conroy in confusion. "I'd do anything in the world for you and for her."
"What is the adage about casting your bread upon the water and getting it back again?" asked "Rip" Van Winkle of Joe Bragdon as they jubilantly followed the procession below.
There was no more sleep on board that night. In fact the sun was not long in showing himself after the rescuers returned to the vessel. The daring attempt of Mohammed's emissaries was discussed without restraint, and every sailor had a story to tell of the pursuit and rescue. The event furnished conversational food for days and days among both the seamen and the passengers. Dan DeMille blamed himself relentlessly for sleeping through it all and moped for hours because he had lost a magnificent chance to "do something."
The next morning he proposed to hunt for the sheik, and offered to lead an assault in person. An investigation was made and government officials tried to call Mohammed to account, but he had fled to the desert and the search was fruitless.
Brewster refused to accept a share of the glory of Peggy's rescue, pushing Conroy forward as the real hero. But the sailor insisted that he could not have succeeded without help, — that he was completely exhausted when Monty came to the rescue. Peggy found it hard to thank him gently while her heart was so dangerously near the riot point, and her words of gratitude sounded pitifully weak and insufficient.
"It would have been the same had anybody else gone to her rescue," he mused dejectedly. "She cares for me with the devotion of a sister and that's all. Peggy, Peggy," he moaned, "if you could only love me, I'd — I'd — oh, well, there's no use thinking about it! She will love someone else, of course, and — and be happy, too. If she'd appear only one-tenth as grateful to me as to Conroy I'd be satisfied. He had the luck to be first, that's all, but God knows I tried to do it."
Mrs. Dan DeMille was keen enough to see how the land lay, and she at once tried to set matters straight. She was far too clever to push her campaign ruthlessly, but laid her foundations and then built cunningly and securely with the most substantial material that came to hand from day to day. Her subjects were taking themselves too deeply to heart to appreciate interference on the part of an outsider, and Mrs. Dan was wise in the whims of love.
Peggy was not herself for several days after her experience, and the whole party felt a distinct relief when the yacht finally left the harbor and steamed off to the west. A cablegram that came the day before may have had something to do with Brewster's depression, but he was not the sort to confess it. It was from Swearengen Jones, of Butte, Montana, and there was something sinister in the laconic admonition. It read:
"BREWSTER, U. S. CONSULATE, ALEXANDRIA.
a good time while good times last
His brain was almost bursting with the hopes and fears and uncertainties that crowded it far beyond its ordinary capacity. It had come to the point, it seemed to him, when the brains of a dozen men at least were required to operate the affairs that were surging into his alone. The mere fact that the end of his year was less than two months off, and that there was more or less uncertainty as to the character of the end, was sufficient cause for worry, but the new trouble was infinitely harder to endure. When he sat down to think over his financial enterprises his mind treacherously wandered off to Peggy Gray, and then everything was hopeless. He recalled the courage and confidence that had carried him to Barbara Drew with a declaration of love — to the stunning, worldly Barbara — and smiled bitterly when he saw how basely the two allies were deserting him in this hour of love for Peggy Gray. For some reason he had felt sure of Barbara; for another reason he saw no chance with Peggy. She was not the same sort — she was different. She was — well, she was Peggy.
Occasionally his reflections assumed the importance of calculations. His cruise was sure to cost $200,000, a princely sum, but not enough. Swearengen Jones and his cablegram did not awe him to a great extent. The spending of the million had become a mania with him now and he had no regard for consequences. His one desire, aside from Peggy, was to increase the cost of the cruise.
They were leaving Gibraltar when a new idea came into his troubled head.
He decided to change his plans and sail for the North Cape, thereby adding more than $30,000 to his credit.