And, indeed, if Cleggett had been of a mind to abandon the vessel, he could scarcely have done so now. For his words were no more than uttered when the sharp racket of a volley of pistol shots ripped its way through the low-pitched roaring of the wind.
Loge had chosen the height of the storm to mask his approach. He attacked with the tempest.
Without a word Cleggett put out the light in the cabin. His men grasped their weapons and followed him to the deck. A flash of lightning showed him, through the driving rain, the enemy rushing towards the Jasper B., pistol in hand. They were scarcely sixty yards away, and were firing as they came. Loge, a revolver in one hand, and Cleggett's own sword cane in the other, was leading the rush. Besides their firearms, each of Loge's men carried a wicked-looking machete.
"Fire!" shouted Cleggett. "Let them have it, men!" And the rifles blazed from the deck of the Jasper B. in a crashing volley. Instantly the world was dark again; it was impossible to determine whether the fire of the Jasper B. had taken effect.
"To the starboard bulwark," cried Cleggett, "and give them hell with the next lightning flash!"
It came as he spoke, with its vivid glare showing to Cleggett the enemy magnified to a portentous bigness against a background of chaotic night. Two or three of them stood, leaning keenly forward; several of the others had dropped to one knee; the rifle discharge had checked the rush, and they also were waiting for the lightning. Cleggett and his men threw a second volley at this wavering silhouette of astonishment.
A cartridge jammed in the mechanism of Cleggett's gun. With an oath he flung the weapon to the deck. A hand thrust another one into his grasp, and Lady Agatha's voice said in his ear, "Take this one--it's loaded."
"My God," said Cleggett, "I thought you were in the cabin!"
"Not I!" she cried, "I'm loading!"
Just then the lightning came again and showed her to him plainly. Drenched, bare-armed, bareheaded, her hair down and rolling backward in a rich wet mass, she knelt on the deck behind the bulwark. Her eyes blazed with excitement, and there was a smile upon her lips. Beside her was the zinc bucket half full of cartridges. George tossed a rifle to her. She flung him back a loaded one, and began methodically to fill the empty one with cartridges.
"Agatha," shouted Cleggett, catching her by the wrist, "go to the cabin at once--you will get yourself killed!"
"I'll do nothing of the sort!" she shouted.
"I love you!" cried Cleggett, beside himself with fear for her, and scarcely knowing what his words were. "Do you hear--I love you, and I won't have you killed!"
A bullet ripped its way through the bulwark, perforated the zinc bucket, struck the gun which Lady Agatha was loading and knocked it from her hands.
"Go to the cabin yourself!" she shouted in Cleggett's ear. "As for me, I like it!"
"I tell you," shouted Cleggett, "I won't have you here--I won't have you killed!"
He rose to his feet, and attempted to draw her out of danger. She rose likewise and struggled with him in the dark. She wrenched herself free, and in doing so flung him back against the rail; it lightened again, and she screamed. Cleggett turned, and with the next flash saw that one of the enemy, his face bloody from the graze of a bullet across his forehead, and evidently crazed with excitement of fight and storm, was leaping towards the rail of the vessel.
Cleggett stooped to pick up a gun, but as he stooped the madman vaulted over the bulwark and landed upon him, bearing him to the deck. As he struggled to his feet Lady Agatha, who had grasped a cutlass, cut the fellow down. The man fell back over the rail with a cry.
For a long moment there was one continuous electric flash from horizon to horizon, and Cleggett saw her, with windblown hair and wide eyes and parted lips, standing poised with the red blade in her hand beneath the driving clouds, the figure of an antique goddess.
The next instant all was dark; her arms were around his neck in the rain. "Oh, Clement," she sobbed, "I've killed a man! I've killed a man!"