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Out of the Primitive   By: (1870-1954)

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[Illustration: Lord James dropped without a groan. "You coward! you murderer!" she gasped. Chapter XXX]



Author of "Into the Primitive," etc.






The second night north of the Zambezi, as well as the first, the little tramp rescue steamer had run out many miles into the offing and laid to during the hours of darkness. The vicinity of the coral reefs that fringe the southeast coast of Africa is decidedly undesirable on moonless nights.

When the Right Honorable the Earl of Avondale came out of his close, hot stateroom into the refreshing coolness that preceded the dawn, the position of the Southern Cross, scintillating in the blue black sky to port, told him that the steamer was headed in for the coast. The black surface of the quiet sea crinkled with lines of phosphorescent light under the ruffling of the faint breeze, which crept offshore heavy with the stench of rotting vegetation. It was evident that the ship was already close in again to the Mozambique swamps.

Lord James sniffed the rank odor, and hastened to make his way forward to the bridge. As he neared the foot of the ladder, his resilient step and the snowy whiteness of his linen suit attracted the attention of the watcher above on the bridge.

"Good morning, m' lord," the officer called down in a bluff but respectful tone. "You're on deck early."

"Hullo, Meggs! That you?" replied his lordship, mounting the steps with youthful agility. "It seems you're still earlier."

"Knowing your lordship's anxiety, I decided to run in, so that we could renew the search with the first glimmer of daylight," explained the skipper. "We're now barely under headway. According to the smell, we're as near those reefs as I care to venture in the dark."

"Right o! We'll lose no time," approved the young earl. "D'you still think to day is apt to tell the tale, one way or the other?"

"Aye, your lordship. I may be mistaken; but, as I told you, reckoning together all the probabilities, we should to day cover the spot where the Impala must have been driven on the coral that is, unless she foundered in deep water."

"But, man, you said that was not probable."

"A new boat should be able to stand the racking of half a dozen cyclones, m' lord, without straining a bottom plate. No; it's far more probable she shook off her screw, or something went wrong with the steering gear or in the engine room. I've recharted her probable course and that of the cyclone. It was as well for us to begin our search at the Zambezi, as I told your lordship. But if to day we fail to find where she piled her bones on the coral, it's odds we'll not to morrow. On beyond, at Port Mozambique, we got only the north rim of the storm. I put in there for shelter when the barometer dropped."

"That was on your run south. Glad I had the luck to chance on a man who knows the coast as you do," remarked Lord James. "Look at those steamers Mr. Leslie chartered by cable a good week the start of us, and still beating the coverts down there along Sofala! Wasting time! If only I'd not gone off on that shunt to India And they six weeks in these damnable swamps if they won ashore at all! You still believe they had a chance of that?"

"Aye. As I explained to your lordship, if the Impala hadn't lost all her boats before she struck, there's a fair probability that the water inside the reefs "

"Yes, yes, to be sure! If there was the slightest chance for any one aboard Lady Bayrose, Miss Leslie and their maids, the only women passengers, and a British ship! Everything must have been done to save them. While Tom he'd be sure to make the shore, if that was within the bounds of possibility. Yet even if they were cast up alive six weeks on the vilest stretch of coast between Zanzibar and the Zambezi! They may be dying of the fever now this very hour! Deuce take it, man! d'you wonder I'm impatient?"

"Aye, m'lord! But here's the dawn, and McPhee is keeping up a full head of steam... Continue reading book >>

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