The Lottery of Death
Jane Porter had been the first of those in the lifeboat
to awaken the morning after the wreck of the LADY ALICE.
The other members of the party were asleep upon the thwarts
or huddled in cramped positions in the bottom of the boat.
When the girl realized that they had become separated
from the other boats she was filled with alarm. The sense
of utter loneliness and helplessness which the vast expanse
of deserted ocean aroused in her was so depressing that,
from the first, contemplation of the future held not the
slightest ray of promise for her. She was confident that
they were lost--lost beyond possibility of succor.
Presently Clayton awoke. It was several minutes before he
could gather his senses sufficiently to realize where he was,
or recall the disaster of the previous night. Finally his
bewildered eyes fell upon the girl.
"Jane!" he cried. "Thank God that we are together!"
"Look," said the girl dully, indicating the horizon with an
apathetic gesture. "We are all alone."
Clayton scanned the water in every direction.
"Where can they be?" he cried. "They cannot have gone down,
for there has been no sea, and they were afloat after the
yacht sank--I saw them all."
He awoke the other members of the party, and explained their plight.
"It is just as well that the boats are scattered, sir," said
one of the sailors. "They are all provisioned, so that they
do not need each other on that score, and should a storm
blow up they could be of no service to one another even if
they were together, but scattered about the ocean there is a
much better chance that one at least will be picked up, and
then a search will be at once started for the others.
Were we together there would be but one chance of rescue,
where now there may be four."
They saw the wisdom of his philosophy, and were cheered
by it, but their joy was short-lived, for when it was
decided that they should row steadily toward the east and
the continent, it was discovered that the sailors who had
been at the only two oars with which the boat had been
provided had fallen asleep at their work, and allowed both
to slip into the sea, nor were they in sight anywhere upon
During the angry words and recriminations which followed
the sailors nearly came to blows, but Clayton succeeded in
quieting them; though a moment later Monsieur Thuran almost
precipitated another row by making a nasty remark about the
stupidity of all Englishmen, and especially English sailors.
"Come, come, mates," spoke up one of the men, Tompkins,
who had taken no part in the altercation, "shootin'
off our bloomin' mugs won't get us nothin'. As Spider 'ere
said afore, we'll all bloody well be picked up, anyway, sez
'e, so wot's the use o' squabblin'? Let's eat, sez I."
"That's not a bad idea," said Monsieur Thuran, and then,
turning to the third sailor, Wilson, he said: "Pass one of
those tins aft, my good man."
"Fetch it yerself," retorted Wilson sullenly. "I ain't a-takin'
no orders from no--furriner--you ain't Captain o' this ship yet."
The result was that Clayton himself had to get the tin,
and then another angry altercation ensued when one of the
sailors accused Clayton and Monsieur Thuran of conspiring to
control the provisions so that they could have the lion's share.
"Some one should take command of this boat," spoke up Jane Porter,
thoroughly disgusted with the disgraceful wrangling that had
marked the very opening of a forced companionship that might
last for many days. "It is terrible enough to be alone
in a frail boat on the Atlantic, without having the added
misery and danger of constant bickering and brawling among
the members of our party. You men should elect a leader,
and then abide by his decisions in all matters. There is
greater need for strict discipline here than there is
upon a well-ordered ship."
She had hoped before she voiced her sentiments that it
would not be necessary for her to enter into the transaction
at all, for she believed that Clayton was amply able to cope
with every emergency, but she had to admit that so far at
least he had shown no greater promise of successfully handling
the situation than any of the others, though he had at least
refrained from adding in any way to the unpleasantness, even
going so far as to give up the tin to the sailors when they
objected to its being opened by him.
The girl's words temporarily quieted the men, and finally it
was decided that the two kegs of water and the four tins of
food should be divided into two parts, one-half going forward
to the three sailors to do with as they saw best, and the
balance aft to the three passengers.
Thus was the little company divided into two camps, and
when the provisions had been apportioned each immediately
set to work to open and distribute food and water. The sailors
were the first to get one of the tins of "food" open, and their
curses of rage and disappointment caused Clayton to ask
what the trouble might be.
"Trouble!" shrieked Spider. "Trouble! It's worse than
trouble--it's death! This --- tin is full of coal oil!"
Hastily now Clayton and Monsieur Thuran tore open one of
theirs, only to learn the hideous truth that it also contained,
not food, but coal oil. One after another the four tins on
board were opened. And as the contents of each became
known howls of anger announced the grim truth--there was
not an ounce of food upon the boat.
"Well, thank Gawd it wasn't the water," cried Thompkins.
"It's easier to get along without food than it is without water.
We can eat our shoes if worse comes to worst, but we
couldn't drink 'em."
As he spoke Wilson had been boring a hole in one of the water
kegs, and as Spider held a tin cup he tilted the keg to pour
a draft of the precious fluid. A thin stream of blackish,
dry particles filtered slowly through the tiny aperture into
the bottom of the cup. With a groan Wilson dropped the keg, and
sat staring at the dry stuff in the cup, speechless with horror.
"The kegs are filled with gunpowder," said Spider, in a low tone,
turning to those aft. And so it proved when the last had been opened.
"Coal oil and gunpowder!" cried Monsieur Thuran.
"SAPRISTI! What a diet for shipwrecked mariners!"
With the full knowledge that there was neither food nor
water on board, the pangs of hunger and thirst became
immediately aggravated, and so on the first day of their tragic
adventure real suffering commenced in grim earnest, and the
full horrors of shipwreck were upon them.
As the days passed conditions became horrible. Aching eyes
scanned the horizon day and night until the weak
and weary watchers would sink exhausted to the bottom of
the boat, and there wrest in dream-disturbed slumber a
moment's respite from the horrors of the waking reality.
The sailors, goaded by the remorseless pangs of hunger,
had eaten their leather belts, their shoes, the sweatbands
from their caps, although both Clayton and Monsieur
Thuran had done their best to convince them that these
would only add to the suffering they were enduring.
Weak and hopeless, the entire party lay beneath the pitiless
tropic sun, with parched lips and swollen tongues, waiting for
the death they were beginning to crave. The intense suffering
of the first few days had become deadened for the three
passengers who had eaten nothing, but the agony of the
sailors was pitiful, as their weak and impoverished stomachs
attempted to cope with the bits of leather with which they
had filled them. Tompkins was the first to succumb. Just a
week from the day the LADY ALICE went down the sailor died
horribly in frightful convulsions.
For hours his contorted and hideous features lay grinning
back at those in the stern of the little boat, until Jane
Porter could endure the sight no longer.
"Can you not drop his body overboard, William?" she asked.
Clayton rose and staggered toward the corpse. The two
remaining sailors eyed him with a strange, baleful light in
their sunken orbs. Futilely the Englishman tried to lift the
corpse over the side of the boat, but his strength was not
equal to the task.
"Lend me a hand here, please," he said to Wilson, who lay
"Wot do you want to throw 'im over for?" questioned the
sailor, in a querulous voice.
"We've got to before we're too weak to do it," replied Clayton.
"He'd be awful by tomorrow, after a day under that broiling sun."
"Better leave well enough alone," grumbled Wilson.
"We may need him before tomorrow."
Slowly the meaning of the man's words percolated into
Clayton's understanding. At last he realized the fellow's
reason for objecting to the disposal of the dead man.
"God!" whispered Clayton, in a horrified tone. "You don't mean--"
"W'y not?" growled Wilson. "Ain't we gotta live? He's dead,"
he added, jerking his thumb in the direction of the corpse.
"He won't care."
"Come here, Thuran," said Clayton, turning toward the Russian.
"We'll have something worse than death aboard us if we don't
get rid of this body before dark."
Wilson staggered up menacingly to prevent the contemplated act,
but when his comrade, Spider, took sides with Clayton and
Monsieur Thuran he gave up, and sat eying the corpse
hungrily as the three men, by combining their efforts,
succeeded in rolling it overboard.
All the balance of the day Wilson sat glaring at Clayton,
in his eyes the gleam of insanity. Toward evening, as the
sun was sinking into the sea, he commenced to chuckle and
mumble to himself, but his eyes never left Clayton.
After it became quite dark Clayton could still feel those terrible
eyes upon him. He dared not sleep, and yet so exhausted
was he that it was a constant fight to retain consciousness.
After what seemed an eternity of suffering his head dropped
upon a thwart, and he slept. How long he was unconscious
he did not know--he was awakened by a shuffling noise quite
close to him. The moon had risen, and as he opened his
startled eyes he saw Wilson creeping stealthily toward him,
his mouth open and his swollen tongue hanging out.
The slight noise had awakened Jane Porter at the same time,
and as she saw the hideous tableau she gave a shrill cry
of alarm, and at the same instant the sailor lurched forward
and fell upon Clayton. Like a wild beast his teeth sought
the throat of his intended prey, but Clayton, weak though he
was, still found sufficient strength to hold the maniac's
mouth from him.
At Jane Porter's scream Monsieur Thuran and Spider awoke.
On seeing the cause of her alarm, both men crawled to
Clayton's rescue, and between the three of them were able
to subdue Wilson and hurl him to the bottom of the boat.
For a few minutes he lay there chattering and laughing, and then,
with an awful scream, and before any of his companions
could prevent, he staggered to his feet and leaped overboard.
The reaction from the terrific strain of excitement left the
weak survivors trembling and prostrated. Spider broke down
and wept; Jane Porter prayed; Clayton swore softly to himself;
Monsieur Thuran sat with his head in his hands, thinking.
The result of his cogitation developed the following morning
in a proposition he made to Spider and Clayton.
"Gentlemen," said Monsieur Thuran, "you see the fate that
awaits us all unless we are picked up within a day or two.
That there is little hope of that is evidenced by the fact
that during all the days we have drifted we have seen no
sail, nor the faintest smudge of smoke upon the horizon.
"There might be a chance if we had food, but without food
there is none. There remains for us, then, but one of two
alternatives, and we must choose at once. Either we must
all die together within a few days, or one must be sacrificed
that the others may live. Do you quite clearly grasp my meaning?"
Jane Porter, who had overheard, was horrified. If the
proposition had come from the poor, ignorant sailor, she
might possibly have not been so surprised; but that it should
come from one who posed as a man of culture and refinement,
from a gentleman, she could scarcely credit.
"It is better that we die together, then," said Clayton.
"That is for the majority to decide," replied Monsieur Thuran.
"As only one of us three will be the object of sacrifice,
we shall decide. Miss Porter is not interested,
since she will be in no danger."
"How shall we know who is to be first?" asked Spider.
"It may be fairly fixed by lot," replied Monsieur Thuran.
"I have a number of franc pieces in my pocket. We can
choose a certain date from among them--the one to draw this
date first from beneath a piece of cloth will be the first."
"I shall have nothing to do with any such diabolical plan,"
muttered Clayton; "even yet land may be sighted or a ship
"You will do as the majority decide, or you will be `the
first' without the formality of drawing lots," said Monsieur
Thuran threateningly. "Come, let us vote on the plan; I
for one am in favor of it. How about you, Spider?"
"And I," replied the sailor.
"It is the will of the majority," announced Monsieur
Thuran, "and now let us lose no time in drawing lots.
It is as fair for one as for another. That three may
live, one of us must die perhaps a few hours sooner
Then he began his preparation for the lottery of death,
while Jane Porter sat wide-eyed and horrified at thought of
the thing that she was about to witness. Monsieur Thuran
spread his coat upon the bottom of the boat, and then from a
handful of money he selected six franc pieces. The other two
men bent close above him as he inspected them. Finally he
handed them all to Clayton.
"Look at them carefully," he said. "The oldest date is
eighteen-seventy-five, and there is only one of that year."
Clayton and the sailor inspected each coin. To them there
seemed not the slightest difference that could be detected
other than the dates. They were quite satisfied. Had they
known that Monsieur Thuran's past experience as a card
sharp had trained his sense of touch to so fine a point that
he could almost differentiate between cards by the mere feel
of them, they would scarcely have felt that the plan was so
entirely fair. The 1875 piece was a hair thinner than the
other coins, but neither Clayton nor Spider could have
detected it without the aid of a micrometer.
"In what order shall we draw?" asked Monsieur Thuran,
knowing from past experience that the majority of men
always prefer last chance in a lottery where the single prize
is some distasteful thing--there is always the chance and the
hope that another will draw it first. Monsieur Thuran, for
reasons of his own, preferred to draw first if the drawing
should happen to require a second adventure beneath the coat.
And so when Spider elected to draw last he graciously
offered to take the first chance himself. His hand was under
the coat for but a moment, yet those quick, deft fingers had
felt of each coin, and found and discarded the fatal piece.
When he brought forth his hand it contained an 1888 franc piece.
Then Clayton drew. Jane Porter leaned forward with a tense
and horrified expression on her face as the hand of the man
she was to marry groped about beneath the coat. Presently he
withdrew it, a franc piece lying in the palm. For an instant
he dared not look, but Monsieur Thuran, who had leaned
nearer to see the date, exclaimed that he was safe.
Jane Porter sank weak and trembling against the side of
the boat. She felt sick and dizzy. And now, if Spider
should not draw the 1875 piece she must endure the whole
horrid thing again.
The sailor already had his hand beneath the coat. Great beads
of sweat were standing upon his brow. He trembled as though
with a fit of ague. Aloud he cursed himself for having
taken the last draw, for now his chances for escape were
but three to one, whereas Monsieur Thuran's had been five to
one, and Clayton's four to one.
The Russian was very patient, and did not hurry the man,
for he knew that he himself was quite safe whether the 1875
piece came out this time or not. When the sailor withdrew
his hand and looked at the piece of money within, he
dropped fainting to the bottom of the boat. Both Clayton
and Monsieur Thuran hastened weakly to examine the coin,
which had rolled from the man's hand and lay beside him.
It was not dated 1875. The reaction from the state of fear he
had been in had overcome Spider quite as effectually as
though he had drawn the fated piece.
But now the whole proceeding must be gone through again.
Once more the Russian drew forth a harmless coin. Jane
Porter closed her eyes as Clayton reached beneath the coat.
Spider bent, wide-eyed, toward the hand that was to decide
his fate, for whatever luck was Clayton's on this last draw,
the opposite would be Spider's.
Then William Cecil Clayton, Lord Greystoke, removed his hand
from beneath the coat, and with a coin tight pressed within
his palm where none might see it, he looked at Jane Porter.
He did not dare open his hand.
"Quick!" hissed Spider. "My Gawd, let's see it."
Clayton opened his fingers. Spider was the first to see
the date, and ere any knew what his intention was he raised
himself to his feet, and lunged over the side of the boat,
to disappear forever into the green depths beneath--the coin
had not been the 1875 piece.
The strain had exhausted those who remained to such an
extent that they lay half unconscious for the balance of the
day, nor was the subject referred to again for several days.
Horrible days of increasing weakness and hopelessness.
At length Monsieur Thuran crawled to where Clayton lay.
"We must draw once more before we are too weak even to eat,"
Clayton was in such a state that he was scarcely master of
his own will. Jane Porter had not spoken for three days.
He knew that she was dying. Horrible as the thought was,
he hoped that the sacrifice of either Thuran or himself might
be the means of giving her renewed strength, and so he
immediately agreed to the Russian's proposal.
They drew under the same plan as before, but there
could be but one result--Clayton drew the 1875 piece.
"When shall it be?" he asked Thuran.
The Russian had already drawn a pocketknife from his trousers,
and was weakly attempting to open it.
"Now," he muttered, and his greedy eyes gloated upon the Englishman.
"Can't you wait until dark?" asked Clayton. "Miss Porter
must not see this thing done. We were to have been married,
A look of disappointment came over Monsieur Thuran's face.
"Very well," he replied hesitatingly. "It will not be long
until night. I have waited for many days--I can wait a few
"Thank you, my friend," murmured Clayton. "Now I shall go
to her side and remain with her until it is time. I would
like to have an hour or two with her before I die."
When Clayton reached the girl's side she was unconscious
--he knew that she was dying, and he was glad that she
should not have to see or know the awful tragedy that was
shortly to be enacted. He took her hand and raised it to his
cracked and swollen lips. For a long time he lay caressing the
emaciated, clawlike thing that had once been the beautiful,
shapely white hand of the young Baltimore belle.
It was quite dark before he knew it, but he was recalled
to himself by a voice out of the night. It was the Russian
calling him to his doom.
"I am coming, Monsieur Thuran," he hastened to reply.
Thrice he attempted to turn himself upon his hands and
knees, that he might crawl back to his death, but in the
few hours that he had lain there he had become too
weak to return to Thuran's side.
"You will have to come to me, Monsieur," he called weakly.
"I have not sufficient strength to gain my hands and knees."
"SAPRISTI!" muttered Monsieur Thuran. "You are attempting
to cheat me out of my winnings."
Clayton heard the man shuffling about in the bottom of
the boat. Finally there was a despairing groan. "I cannot
crawl," he heard the Russian wail. "It is too late. You have
tricked me, you dirty English dog."
"I have not tricked you, Monsieur," replied Clayton.
"I have done my best to rise, but I shall try again,
and if you will try possibly each of us can crawl halfway,
and then you shall have your `winnings.'"
Again Clayton exerted his remaining strength to the utmost,
and he heard Thuran apparently doing the same. Nearly an hour
later the Englishman succeeded in raising himself to his
hands and knees, but at the first forward movement
he pitched upon his face.
A moment later he heard an exclamation of relief from
"I am coming," whispered the Russian.
Again Clayton essayed to stagger on to meet his fate, but
once more he pitched headlong to the boat's bottom, nor,
try as he would, could he again rise. His last effort caused
him to roll over on his back, and there he lay looking up at
the stars, while behind him, coming ever nearer and nearer,
he could hear the laborious shuffling, and the stertorous
breathing of the Russian.
It seemed that he must have lain thus an hour waiting for the
thing to crawl out of the dark and end his misery. It was quite
close now, but there were longer and longer pauses between
its efforts to advance, and each forward movement seemed
to the waiting Englishman to be almost imperceptible.
Finally he knew that Thuran was quite close beside him.
He heard a cackling laugh, something touched his face, and
he lost consciousness.
Return of Tarzan Chapter 17
... Return of Tarzan Chapter 19