Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership





The Trader's Wife (1901)
Louis Becke





CHAPTER I

Brabant's wife was sitting on the shady verandah of her house on the
hills overlooking Levuka harbour, and watching a large fore and aft
schooner being towed in by two boats, for the wind had died away early
in the morning and left the smooth sea to swelter and steam under a sky
of brass.

The schooner was named the _Maritana_, and was owned and commanded by
Mrs. Brabant's husband, John Brabant, who at that moment was standing on
the after-deck looking through his glasses at the house on the hill, and
at the white-robed figure of his wife.

"Can you see Mrs. Brabant, sir?" asked the chief mate, a short,
dark-faced man of about thirty years of age, as he came aft and stood
beside his captain.

"Yes, I can see her quite plainly, Lester," he replied, as he handed the
glasses to his officer; "she is sitting on the verandah watching us."

The mate took the glasses and directed them upon the house for a few
moments. "Perhaps she will come off to us, sir?"

Brabant shook his head. "It is a terribly hot day, you see, Lester,
and she can't stand the sun at all. And then we shall be at anchor in
another hour or so."

"Just so, sir," replied the mate politely. He did not like Mrs. Brabant,
had never liked her from the very first day he saw her a year before,
when Brabant had brought her down on board the _Maritana_ in Auckland,
and introduced her as his future wife. Why he did not like her he could
not tell, and did not waste time in trying to analyse his feelings. He
knew that his old friend and shipmate was passionately fond of his
fair young wife, and was intensely proud of her beauty, and now, at
the conclusion of a wearisome five months' voyage among the sun-baked
islands of the Equatorial Pacific, was returning home more in love
with her than ever. Not that he ever talked of her effusively, even
to Lester, tried and true comrade as he was, for was naturally a
self-contained and somewhat reserved man, as one could tell by his
deep-set, stern grey eyes, and square jaw and chin.

"Damn her!" muttered Lester to himself, as he stood on the topgallant
foc'scle watching the two boats with their toiling crews of
brown-skinned natives; "nearly five months since she last saw him, and
there she sits calmly watching us as if we had only sailed yesterday.
Afraid of the sun! She's too selfish and too frightened of spoiling her
pretty pink-and-white skin--that's what it is."

An hour later the boats came alongside, and then, as the chain rattled
through the hawse-pipes, Brabant came on deck dressed in a suit of
spotless white.

"Shall we see you this evening, Jim?" he asked, as he stood waiting to
receive the Customs officer and doctor, whose boats were approaching.

"Thank you very much, sir, but I would rather stay on board this
evening, as Dr. Bruce is sure to come into town some time to-day, as
soon as he hears the _Maritana_ is here, and I should not like to miss
him."

"Just as you please, Jim. But why not take a run on shore with him, and
both of you come up for an hour or two after dinner?"

The mate nodded. "Yes, we could do that, I think; but at the same time,
Mrs. Brabant won't much care about visitors this evening, I'm afraid."

"My wife will be only too delighted, Jim," replied the captain in his
grave manner; "you and Bruce are my oldest friends--that is quite enough
for her."

The port doctor and Customs officer came on board and warmly greeted
the captain of the _Maritana_ for, apart from his being one of the
wealthiest traders in the South Seas, John Brabant was essentially a
man who made friends--made them insensibly, and then his beautiful young
wife was the acknowledged belle of the small European community in Fiji,
and his house, when he returned from one of his trading voyages, was
literally an open house, for every one--traders, storekeepers, cotton
planters, naval men or merchant skippers--knew there was a welcome
awaiting them in the big bungalow on the hillside at whatever time they
called, day or night. Such hospitality was customary in those old Fijian
days, when every cotton planter saw before him the shining portals of
the City of Fortune inviting him to enter and be rich, and every trader
and trading captain made money so easily that it was hard to spend it
as quickly as it was made; and Manton's Hotel on Levuka beach was filled
night after night with crowds of hilarious and excited people, and the
popping of the champagne corks went on from dusk till dawn of the tropic
day, and men talked and drank and talked and drank again, and told each
other of the lucky strokes they had made; and sun-tanned skippers from
the wild and murderous Solomons and the fever-stricken New Hebrides
spoke of the cargoes of "blackbirds" they had sold at two hundred and
fifty dollars a head, and dashed down a handful of yellow sovereigns
on Manton's bar "for a drink all round." And then, sometimes, a long
snaky-looking brigantine, with the name _Atlantic_ on her stern, and the
Stars and Stripes flying from her gaff, would sail into the noisy little
port nestling under the verdured hills of Ovalau Island, and a big man,
with a black, flowing beard, and a deep but merry voice, would be rowed
ashore by a crew of wild-eyed, brown-skinned Polynesians, and "'Bully'
Hayes has come! 'Bully' Hayes has come!" would be cried from one end of
Levuka to the other, as every one, white, black, and brown, ran to the
beach to see the famous and much-maligned "pirate" land, with a smile
on his handsome face, his pockets full of gold, and he himself ready for
anything or everything--a _liaison_ with some other man's wife, a story
of his last cruise, a fight "for love" with some recently discovered
pugilist of local renown; a sentimental Spanish song to the strumming of
his guitar; or the reading of the burial service according to the rites
of either the Roman Catholic Church, or that of the Church of England,
over the remains of some acquaintance or stranger who had succumbed to
fever or a bullet, or Levuka whiskey. Brave, halcyon days were those,
when men lived their lives quickly, and then disappeared or were ruined,
or committed suicide, and were soon forgotten.

Brabant had gone ashore, and Lester and the second mate--a thin,
sallow-faced Chileno named Diaz--were seated under the awning, smoking,
and occasionally watching the progress of a small cutter which was about
a mile distant, and under the influence of a light air which had sprung
up, was heading towards the _Maritana_. She was owned by Dr. Bruce, a
planter friend of Lester. His estate was some miles down the coast, and
he had been an old shipmate of Lester's ten years before, when Brabant
was living in Samoa as manager of the American Plantation Company,
and Lester had first made his acquaintance--an acquaintance which had
resulted in a firm and lasting friendship. Brabant wanted an overseer--a
man who understood the native language--and Lester, then a youth of
twenty, and idling about Samoa, waiting a berth as second mate, had been
sent to him by an old seafaring friend. For three years they had worked
together, and then Brabant, having saved enough money, threw up his
shore berth and bought the _Maritana_ to resume his former vocation of
trader, and took Lester with him as mate, and Diaz, who had also been
employed on the plantation, as second mate. That was seven years ago,
and the schooner, during that time, had traversed the Pacific from one
end to the other over and over again. Sometimes Brabant would take his
cargo to San Francisco, sometimes to Singapore, and at rare intervals to
Auckland. During one of his ship's visits to Fiji his chief mate found
his old friend Bruce settled there as a planter, and Bruce had induced
Brabant to make Fiji his head-quarters. So he bought land and built a
house, and then, a year before the opening of this story, brought a wife
to rule over it, much to the surprise and delight of the white residents
of Levuka and the group generally, for John Brabant had always been
looked upon as a man whose soul was wrapped up in his extensive
business, and as a woman hater. This latter conclusion was arrived at
from purely deductive reasoning--he despised and loathed the current
idea that living in the South Seas palliated the most glaring
licentiousness, and permitted a man to "do as he liked." Therefore he
had been set down as a non-marrying man--"an awfully good fellow, but
with queer ideas, you know," his many friends would say, and "Bully"
Hayes, who knew him well, said that John Brabant was the only
clean-living, single man in Fiji, and that if he ever did marry his wife
would be "some bony Scotch person of about forty, with her hair screwed
up into a Turk's knot at the back of her long head, and with a cold,
steely eye like a gimlet. Nine out of ten of good fellows like Jack
Brabant do get mated with ghastly wives."

So when the _Maritana_ one day sailed into Levuka harbour, and Brabant
brought his young wife ashore, the community simply gasped in pleased
astonishment, and even the exclusive wives of the leading merchants
and planters made haste to call on Mrs. Brabant when they saw in the
marriage announcement, published in the Auckland _Herald_, that she was
"a daughter of the late General Deighton Ransome, Commander-in-Chief of
the Straits Settlements," etc.

In a few months Mrs. Brabant was equally the best-liked and best-hated
woman in Fiji--the men paying her the most undivided attention, because
she liked it and was Brabant's wife, and the women hating her because
she would be, at times, languidly insolent to them, and practically
monopolised even the attentions of the naval officers when a dance was
given. That nine out of ten of her lady friends detested her merely
afforded her secret pleasure--secret, that is, so far as her husband
went, for she feared but one thing in the world, and that was that John
Brabant would discover her true and worthless nature.

For some minutes the two mates smoked on in silence, then Diaz made a
backward gesture towards the bungalow on the hills: "Are you going there
to-night?"

Lester nodded. "I think so. He asked me, you see."

The Chileno remained silent for a minute or so, then said, "She is the
most beautiful fair woman I have ever seen."

Again Lester nodded, but made no remark. He was well aware that Pedro
Diaz shared his dislike for the captain's wife, though he had never
openly said so. The Chileno, morose and grim as he was, was intensely
devoted to Brabant, who had twice saved his life--once under a heavy
rifle fire in the Solomon Islands, when Diaz and his boat's crew were
all but cut off and massacred by the natives, and Brabant came out of
the fray with a broken arm and a bullet through his shoulder; and once
at sea, when he was knocked overboard by the parting of a boom guy, and
his captain sprang overboard after him, though the night was as dark as
pitch, and the _Maritana_ was like to have been smothered by the heavy,
lumping seas which fell upon her decks when she was brought to.

"He is a doomed man," resumed the second mate presently, with a sullen
yet emphatic tone; "that woman will be his doom. She is beautiful, and
as false as she is beautiful. I can see it in her eyes; _he_ cannot see.
But were I in his place I should not leave her alone. She is not to be
trusted."

Lester thought the same, but said nothing, and he and Diaz rose and
went on the main deck to welcome Bruce, whose cutter was now coming
alongside.

"How are you, Jim? How are you, Mr. Diaz?" said the doctor, a big,
bronzed-faced Scotsman with kindly blue eyes, as he sprang over the side
and shook hands with them. "I saw the _Maritana_ early this morning in
tow of the boats, so I started off in the cutter at once. Brabant gone
ashore?"

"Yes, about an hour ago," replied the chief mate. "Almost a
newly-married man, you see," he added, with a laugh.

Dr. Bruce gave his friend a quick, penetrating glance, but there was no
answering smile on his lips. He knew Brabant well, and knew _of_ Mrs.
Brabant more than did her husband.

The three men sat down under the awning for nearly an hour, smoking
and drinking their whiskey-and-soda, and talking freely together.
Bruce--much the oldest man of the three--was aware that both his
companions were devoted to Brabant, and knew him far better than
himself, and so, being a straightforward, purposeful man, he said what
he had to say about Mrs. Brabant in very plain language.

"You, Jim, _can_ and ought to give him a hint. I can't. If I did he
would most likely haul off and knock me down. But he ought to stay
ashore this time. She may be only a brainless little fool of a flirt,
but there's a lot' of talk about her, especially since that young sweep
of a Danvers came here."

"Who is he?" asked Lester.

Dr. Bruce leant back in his seat, and flicked the ash off his cigar.
"He's the manager of the new Land and Trading Company here--a little,
pretty-faced fellow, with a yellow moustache, curly hair, and as much
principle in him as a damned rat. He has the command of any amount of
money, and the women here think no end of him. Was in the army--Rifles,
I think--but believe, though I can't be sure of it, was kicked out.
Thorough beast, but just the kind of man to get along too well with
women who don't know him. Now I'll take another whiskey-and-soda after
thus traducing Mr. Danvers, who I'm perfectly willing to boot along
Levuka beach from one end to the other if he gives me a chance to do it
on my own account. And, by Jove, I'll give him a chance to-night."

"Where?" asked Pedro Diaz, with a gleam of sombre light in his dark
eyes. 189

The Trader's Wife

"At Manton's. He's sure to come in there about eleven to-night. Goodbye
for the present. I'll meet you there about eight."

As the doctor went over the side again the Chilian turned to Lester.

"What did I tell you?" he said gloomily.




CHAPTER II

AT five o'clock in the afternoon, as Dr. Bruce was seated on the wide
verandah of Manton's Hotel, smoking his pipe, and wondering in a lazy
sort of a way whether Brabant would hear any of the current scandal
about his wife and Danvers, the voice of the latter person broke in upon
his musings.

"Hallo, Bruce, how are you?" he exclaimed genially as he sprang up
the steps, and extended his hand to the doctor; "I see that Brabant is
back."

Bruce answered him curtly enough. "Yes; but you don't know him, do you?"

Danvers clasped his hands over one knee and leant back in his chair.
"No; but I see Mrs. Brabant a good deal, and naturally should like to
meet her husband. You know him pretty well, don't you?"

"Yes, I do--have known him for nearly ten years." Then he moved his
chair slightly so that he might face Danvers. He was not an impulsive
man, but as he looked into Danvers's smiling, handsome face the dislike
he had always felt towards him, and his keen regard for Brabant, urged
him to speak on the subject that was uppermost in his mind, there and
then.

"I'm glad I have met you, Captain Danvers," he said quietly, "as I
particularly wished to speak to you about a certain matter, and, as you
know, I am not often in town."

"Certainly, my dear fellow. What is it?"

"Your question to me just now saves me a lot of explanation. You asked
me if I knew Brabant, and I told you that I have known him for ten
years. And I must tell you further that he is a man for whom I have
the deepest regard and respect. Therefore," and he emphasised the
'therefore,' "you can of course guess the nature of the matter upon
which I wish to speak with you."

"'Pon my soul, I can't," and Danvers elevated his eyebrows in pretended
astonishment, though his face flushed as he met the doctor's steady,
unnerving glance.

Still keeping his eyes on Danvers's face, Bruce went on: "Brabant is a
valued friend of mine. He is as unsuspecting and confiding a man as ever
lived, but he is a dangerous man to be trifled with. Do you understand
me?"

"I'm hanged if I do," replied Danvers, though the angry flash of his
clear blue eyes belied his words; "what are you driving at? Just say in
plain words what you have to say, and be done with it."

"Right. Plain words. And as few as possible. You have paid Mrs. Brabant
such attention that her husband is like to hear of it. Isn't that
enough?"

Danvers laughed insolently. "Enough to show me that you are meddling
with affairs which do not concern you, Dr. Bruce. I rather imagine
that the lady's husband would be the proper person to resent any undue
attention being paid by me to his wife--which I deny--than you. Did he
commission you to speak to me? I've heard that the Brabant family have
always had a strain of insanity running through it."

Bruce started. He knew that what Danvers had said was perfectly true,
but had thought that he himself was the one man in Fiji who did know.
Brabant had himself told him that several of his family on the father's
side had "gone a bit wrong," as he put it.

The contemptuous tone of Danvers stung him to the quick.

"That's a beastly thing to say of a man whose house you visit almost
daily--and visit when you have never even met him. You must have been
brought up in a blackguardly school."

Danvers sprang to his feet with blazing eyes. "You want to pick a
quarrel with me. Very good. I'm your man."

"That's where you are wrong. I don't want to quarrel with you. I wish to
warn you. And I tell you again that John Brabant is a dangerous man."

"Are you his deputy? What right have you to interfere in my private
affairs?"

"I'm not his deputy; and my interference, if you like to so call it,
will certainly save you from a well-deserved kicking. Don't, don't,
don't! No heroics with me, my boy. You haven't a clean record, and _I_
know _why_ you left the army. Now listen to me. Just put a stop to this
business. If you don't, I'll tell both Mrs. Brabant and her husband in
your presence that you are not altogether the right sort of man to be
accepted as a friend--especially by a young and utterly unsuspicious
woman."

Danvers sank back into his seat, white with passion, as Bruce went on
relentlessly.

"And I'll tell what I do know of you to every planter and decent white
man in the group. I'll make Fiji too hot for you, and your business will
go to the deuce. Now, let us have an understanding. Will you put an end
to this dallying about after another man's wife? You can do the thing
properly, pay a call or two at the house whilst Brabant is at home, and
accept general invitations if you like; but----"

"But what?" Danvers's voice was hoarse with suppressed fury.

"Stop visiting Mrs. Brabant whilst her husband is away. No gentleman
would act as you have acted. You know what a place this is for scandal.
And I believe you have as much of the fool as the _roué_ in your mental
composition."

"And if I decline to entertain your infernal----"

"Steady. No language, please. If you decline to make me that promise
here on the spot, I shall do what I have said--tell husband and wife
that you're not the kind of man to receive as a friend."

"And by Heavens, I'll shoot you like a rat."

The doctor rose to his feet, and the two men faced each other--the one
outwardly calm and collected, the other shaking with passion.

"What is it to be, Captain Danvers?"

"This, you sneaking Scotch sawbones!" and raising his cane Danvers
struck the elder man a savage blow across the face.

In another moment Bruce had closed with him, wrenched the cane from his
hand, and drawing back struck him between the eyes with such force that
he was sent flying backwards off the verandah, to fall heavily upon the
shrubs of the garden beneath, where he lay huddled up in a heap.

A score of people--white and coloured--rushed to the spot. Bruce,
carefully standing the cane against the side of the lounge on which he
had been reclining, walked down the steps and pushed his way into the
little crowd surrounding the fallen man.

"Let me look at him," he said, with grim humour, "as a medical man. I'm
afraid I've hurt him more than I intended."

The landlord joined them. "What is the matter, Doctor?"

"Nothing serious, Manton. Ye see, Captain Danvers rang that old gag
on me about a surgical operation being necessary for a Scotsman to
understand a joke; then I lost my temper and called him a fool, and he
tickled me with his cane across my face, and I hit him harder than I
intended. But he'll be all right soon. He's only stunned. Carry him into
his room."

Manton knew his business. "Just so, Doctor. I'll see to him. But he's
given you a fearful bruise on your cheek."

"A mere trifle, Manton," and then without another word he returned to
his seat on the lounge, not altogether satisfied with what had happened,
and hoping that Danvers would at least have sense enough to corroborate
the story he had told Manton as to the cause of the quarrel.

Between seven and eight o'clock Lester and Pedro Diaz came ashore,
the _Maritana_ being left in charge of the boatswain. By the judicious
application of a strip of fresh goat's meat the long bruise on the
doctor's cheek had almost disappeared, and he was in his usual placid
mood.

"We're a bit too late," remarked Lester, with a laugh, as he and Diaz
shook hands; "why couldn't you wait? We heard that you had thrown the
new chum Danvers over the verandah an hour or two ago."

Bruce told them the story. "Just as well, Jim. I think he'll take a
plain hint that he's sailing on the wrong tack. He went away from here
as soon as he came to, and I think will have sense enough to keep away.
Of course there'll be a lot of talk about the row, and Brabant is sure
to have already heard of it, but we must stick to the surgical operation
yarn. Now settle yourselves for a chat. Touch that bell there."

As the three smoked and talked a pretty Samoan girl appeared on the
verandah, holding a note in her hand. She was Mrs. Brabant's maid, and
the note was directed to Lester, bidding him, the doctor, and Pedro come
up. It was written by Mrs. Brabant herself.

"We must go, Bruce. Your face doesn't look much the worse. Come on."

The walk to Brabant's bungalow took but a few minutes, and both the
captain of the _Maritana_ and his wife met them at the gate; Brabant
looking supremely happy in his quiet way. His wife, however, Bruce at
once saw, seemed pale, and spoke her greetings in a hurried, nervous
manner, very unlike her usual self.

"What's all the row been about, Bruce?" said Brabant, as they seated
themselves on the wide, airy sitting-room. "We heard of it quick enough,
I can tell you. My wife seems rather distressed about it, as she quite
expected Captain Danvers to call this evening, and I'd like to make his
acquaintance."

Bruce gave Mrs. Brabant one swift, sweeping glance which filled her with
an undefined terror. Then he laughed.

"Just nothing at all. We quarrelled over what was simply a trifling
matter to him, but a good deal to older men like you and I, and that's
the whole thing. Now tell me all about the voyage of the _Maritana_."

Brabant saw that there was something beneath the surface, so at once did
begin to talk about his voyage; and presently some other people--men and
women--dropped in, and the conversation became general, and about ten
o'clock Mrs. Brabant, under the plea of a bad headache, bade her guests
good-night. She shook hands with some gracious words with Lester and the
second mate, but, much to her husband's distress, simply bowed coldly
to his friend Bruce, and ignored his proffered hand. The honest,
loyal-hearted Scotsman flushed to the roots of his hair, but pretended
not to notice the slight.

Long after midnight, when all his guests except Bruce and Lester and his
fellow-officer had gone home, Brabant and they walked to and fro under
the coco-palms which surrounded the bungalow. Brabant talked most. He
was full of future trading schemes, and outlined his plans to his two
officers freely.

"It's a bit awkward this affair happening between you and Danvers," he
said to Bruce, "for I've had letters from his principals in Sydney
which possibly points to a combination of their business and mine as one
company, with myself at the head of affairs."

"My row with Danvers won't affect that, Brabant. I know that he
represents people in Australia with any amount of money at their backs,
and you are the one man in the Pacific to make a 'combine,' as the
Yankees say, and found a trading company that will wipe the Germans out
of the Pacific. But, apart from business, don't have anything to do with
Danvers. He's no good."

"No good?"

"Not a straight man outside of business--not to be trusted. You can tell
him I said this of him if you care to do so."

Brabant stopped in his walk, and Lester and Pedro Diaz drew aside a
little.

"There must be something wrong about him, Bruce, else I am sure you
would not speak as you do. We four are all old friends. Speak freely."

"That's just the thing I cannot do, Brabant. I don't like him, and can
only repeat what I have said just now--he's not a straight man--not
a man I would bring into my house as a _friend!_ Now I must be going.
Good-night, old fellow. I'm off again to my place in the morning."

Brabant took his outstretched hand. "Goodnight, Bruce. I wish there were
more outspoken men like you in the world. _I under stand._"

He spoke the last two words with such a look in his deep-set eyes, that
Bruce felt that he did at least understand that Captain Danvers was not
a man to be trusted--outside of business matters.




CHAPTER III

About a week after Dr. Bruce had returned to his plantation Brabant and
his wife were talking in their dining-room, from the wide-open windows
of which the little harbour of Levuka lay basking in the fervid glow of
the westering sun.

Pipe in mouth, and with a smile on his bronzed, rugged face, Brabant
was scanning a heap of accounts which were lying on the table. His wife,
seated in an easy-chair near the window, fanned herself languidly.

"You've spent a lot of money, Nell, in five months--nearly a thousand
pounds. Two hundred a month is a big item to a man in my position."

"But you are very well off, Jack. You told me yesterday that you will
clear three thousand pounds from this last voyage."

She spoke in a petulant, irritated manner, and her brows drew together
as she looked out over the sea.

"Just so, my dear girl; but we cannot afford to live at such a rate as
two hundred pounds a month."

"I have entertained a great many people." This was said with a sullen
inflexion in her voice.

"So I see, Nell. But you need not have done so. We don't want such a lot
of visitors."

"It is all very well for you to talk like that, Jack, but you must
remember that I have to keep myself alive in this wretched place whilst
you are away."

Brabant turned his deep-set eyes upon her. "Did you find it so very dull
then, Nell?"

"Yes, I did. I hate the place, and hate the people, and so I suppose
I spent more of your money than I should have done had I been living
anywhere else."

"Don't say '_your_ money,' Nell. I am only too happy to know that I am
able to meet all these bills, heavy as they are; and I want you to enjoy
yourself as much as possible. But we cannot spend money at this rate, my
girl."

He spoke with a certain grave tenderness that only served to irritate
her.

"Am I to live here like the wife of one of the common shopkeepers on the
beach--see no one, go out nowhere?"

"As my wife, Nell, I expect you to go out a good deal, and see a lot of
people. It gives me pleasure to know that the people here like you, and
that you have given all these dances and things. But, Nell, my dear,
don't be so lavish. After all, I am only a trader, and it seems rather
absurd for us to spend more money than any one else does in the matter
of entertaining people who, after all, are merely acquaintances. You
see, Nell, I want to make money, make it as quickly as I can, so that we
can go home to the old country and settle down. But we can't do it if we
live at the rate of two hundred pounds a month."

"But if you amalgamate your business with that of Captain Danvers's
company, you will make £25,000."

"But I may not amalgamate with Captain Danvers's company, Nell. I am
quite satisfied that they can pay me the £25,000, but I am not satisfied
as to the _bond-fides_ of the company. Danvers himself admitted to me
that it is proposed to float the new company in London at a figure
which represents four times the value of my own and his own company's
properties. I don't like it, Nell. My business as it stands I could sell
to the Germans for £20,000, cash down. But I won't associate myself with
an enterprise that is not absolutely fair and square, for the sake of an
extra £5,000."

"I suppose Dr. Bruce has prejudiced you against Captain Danvers."

"Bruce! No, certainly not, Nell. Why should he? Bruce has nothing to
do with the thing. He quarrelled with Danvers over some matter that
has nothing to do with me, and Danvers got the worst of it. Certainly,
however, before I decide to sell my business to Danvers's company I
shall consult Bruce."

"Why consult him?"

"Because he is a man in whose business judgment I have great faith. And
he's an honest man."

"And you think Captain Danvers is not?"

"Not at all. But I do think that Captain Danvers attaches an exaggerated
value to the prospects of the new trading company. He's very young, you
see, Nell, and takes too rosy a view of everything. And I'd rather die
in poverty than be the indirect means of making money at the expense of
other people. I'm old-fashioned Nell, and when I die, I want to die with
the knowledge that I have left a clean sheet behind me."

Nell Brabant rose with an angry light in her eyes. "I hate talking about
money and such horrid things. But I do hope you will come to terms with
Captain Danvers and his company."

"Wait a moment, Nell. I want to tell you something which I think will
please you. Would you like a trip to Sydney?"

"Very much indeed," she answered, with sudden graciousness.

"Well, I'm thinking of sending the _Maritana_ there, to be docked and to
be overhauled, with Lester in command. Then whilst you are away I shall
charter the _Loelia_, cutter, and make a trip through the Line Islands.
You will have at least two months in Sydney, and Lester will take good
care of you on the voyage."

"It will be a nice change for me, Jack? But why cannot you come?"

"I must make this cruise through the Line Islands before I decide to
sell out to Danvers's company."

That evening Brabant announced his plans to his chief officer, and a
week later both the _Maritana_ and the _Loelia_ were ready for sea.
During this time Captain Danvers was an occasional visitor to the
bungalow on the hill, but he and Brabant met very frequently in the town
to discuss business together, and it soon became known that the latter
either intended to sell out to, or amalgamate with, the Danvers company.

Ten days before the _Maritana_ left Brabant bade his wife goodbye, for
the _Loelia_ was to sail first. He kissed her but once, and looked so
searchingly into her eyes as he held her hand that every vestige of
colour left her cheeks.

"You must try and enjoy yourself," he said. "Minea" (her Samoan maid)
"and you will be very comfortable on board. You'll have the entire cabin
to yourselves, as Lester will take up his quarters in the deck-house."

Half an hour later he was giving Lester his final instructions.

"You will not leave Sydney till either you hear from me or see me. I
may follow you in the _Loelia_ in a month. But no one else is to know
this--not even Mrs. Brabant."

"You may depend on me," replied Lester.

"I know it well. Goodbye, Lester."

*****

That evening the _Loelia_ sailed from Levuka. Pedro Diaz had been
transferred from the _Maritana_ and was now mate of the cutter.

As night came on, and the green hills of Ovalau Island changed to
purple, Brabant turned suddenly to his officer.

"Come below, Pedro, I want to talk to you."

The Chileno followed him in silence, and the two men remained conversing
in almost whispered tones for some time.

"Tell me," asked the Chileno, fixing his dark eyes on the captain's
face; "when did you first begin to suspect?"

"From the very first day that I saw her and Danvers together. He
betrayed himself--fool that he is--by being too formally polite to her,
before me."

"And then you read this letter of his to her. How did you get hold of
it?"

"I was coming back from my bathe in Totoga Creek about six in the
morning. Went into Manton's for a few minutes' rest and a smoke.
Danvers's door was open, and though he was not in the room, I could hear
his voice talking to Manton. I stepped inside to sit down and wait for
him. He had been writing a letter, which was but half finished. It was
to my wife, and began, 'My darling Helen.'"

"Ah-h-h!" said Diaz, in a savage, hissing whisper.

"I left it there, strolled out into the dining-room where Manton and
Danvers were having their morning coffee. I joined them, and chatted
with them for half an hour. Then I went home, and told Minea what to
do when the letter came. It was delivered by Danvers's native servant.
Minea met him at the garden gate. He asked if I was in. She said I was
out; he gave her the letter, and told her to give it to her mistress,
who was still in bed. The girl brought it to me to where I was waiting.
I opened it, took a copy of it, and gave it back to her to give to her
mistress."

He paused, and then smiled grimly at the Chileno. Then he smoked on in
silence.

"You will kill them both?" asked Diaz.

"I don't think so, Pedro. I must wait. And you will stand to me?"

The officer's hand met his in a steady grip.

"That is all for the present, Pedro. She--and he, too--thinks that the
_Loelia_ will not be back in Levuka for three months. But we shall be
here in less than a month. And if I find that Danvers has gone to Sydney
in the monthly steamer, then I shall know how to act," and he tapped the
copy of the letter that was in his breast pocket.

Then Pedro told him the real cause of the quarrel between Dr. Bruce and
Danvers. Brabant heard him with an unmoved face. "I thought as much," he
said briefly.

A few days later, the _Loelia_, instead of laying northwards for the
Line Islands, was at anchor in Apia Harbour in Samoa, and Brabant,
leaving the vessel in charge of his mate, paid a round of visits to
several of his old friends in various parts of the island. At the end
of three weeks he returned on board as calm as usual, and told Diaz to
heave up anchor. By sunset that evening the _Loelia_ was sailing between
the islands of Savaii and Manono, and heading due west for Fiji before
the strong south-east trade wind. Just four weeks from the date of her
departure she re-entered Levuka harbour, and the first news that Brabant
heard was that the _Eagle_, the monthly steamer to Sydney, had sailed a
few days previously, and that among her passengers was Captain Danvers,
who had "been called to Melbourne on matters connected with his
business," but would be returning in a couple of months. He had left
a letter for Brabant, in which, after speaking of company matters, he
said: "I do hope I shall have the pleasure of seeing Mrs. Brabant in
Sydney before she leaves. I daresay I can get her address from your
agents there." As he was reading his letters Bruce came on board.

"You are back sooner than you thought, Brabant."

"Yes. When I got to Samoa I met a German brig bound to the line Islands,
and arranged with her captain to see all my traders for me, as the
_Loelia_ is as leaky as a basket. I'm going to give her a good overhaul
here."

There were of course the usual sneering comments made by the local
female gossips on Captain Danvers's sudden departure for Sydney, so soon
after Mrs. Brabant had left in the _Maritana_. If Brabant knew of them
he took no heed. He went about his work as usual, met his friends, and
attended to the _Loelia's_ repairs in his methodical manner.

Eight weeks passed by, and then the _Eagle_, a slow-crawling old
ex-collier, which did duty as a mail and passenger steamer, entered the
port, and Danvers, jauntier and handsomer than ever, stepped ashore
and took up his old quarters at Manton's Hotel. Here he soon learnt the
reason of Brabant's early return, and in less than an hour he was up at
the bungalow, and seated opposite Nell Brabant's husband, whom he had
found reading his letters.

"I met Mrs. Brabant quite a number of times," he said effusively; "she
was looking very well, but I think was getting tired of Sydney when I
last saw her. Said that she thought that Fiji after all was the best
place, you know."

Brabant nodded. "Just so. Well, we'll see her before another couple of
months, I hope."

"I hope so," said Danvers genially, as he raised his glass of
brandy-and-soda and nodded "good luck" to his host.

"I was thinking, Danvers," said Brabant, as he laid down unopened the
rest of his letters, "that it would be just as well if you came round
with me in the _Loelia_ and saw my stations in the New Hebrides. It
would facilitate matters a good deal, and the cutter is all ready for
sea. In anticipation of your coming I have fitted up your quarters on
board."

"Delighted, my dear fellow. When do you propose sailing?"

"As soon as ever you like."

"To-morrow, then. I'm anxious to get this matter pulled through. As you
will see by your letters from my people, they are prepared to pay ten
thousand down at once, and fifteen thousand in three bills, at one, two,
and three years."

"That is all right. Shall you be ready tomorrow, then?"

"Quite."

After Danvers had gone to his hotel Brabant went on board the _Loelia_,
and he and Pedro Diaz again talked together.

*****

At nine o'clock next morning the cutter Loelia weighed anchor, and made
sail for "a cruise among the New Hebrides. With Captain Brabant" (so
said the tiny weekly newspaper published in Levuka) "was Captain Harold
Danvers, who is making a tour of inspection of the captain's properties
before taking possession of them on behalf of the new Trading Company."

*****

Forty-eight hours after leaving Levuka the cutter was clear of the
land, and leaping and spinning before the trade wind which was blowing
lustily. Danvers, as he sat in a deck-chair smoking a cigar, took a lazy
interest in the crew, who were all natives of the Line Islands--short,
square-built, half-naked savages, with jet-black hair and huge pendulous
ear-lobes filled with coiled-up leaves. There were but eight of
them--the _Loelia_ was a vessel of ninety tons--and Diaz was the only
white man on board except Brabant and Danvers.

It was four o'clock in the afternoon. A native seaman struck eight bells
and Brabant came on deck. Pedro was standing aft beside the helmsman.

"We're going along at a jolly good pace, are we not----" began Danvers.
Then his voice failed him suddenly, and his face turned white as he saw
that Brabant was looking at him with the deadliest hatred in his eyes.

"What is the matter with you, Brabant? Why do you----"

Brabant raised his hand, and Pedro came and stood beside him, and then
two of the wild-looking crew suddenly sprang upon Danvers, seized him by
the arms, and handcuffed him.

"Away with him below," said Brabant, turning on his heel and walking
aft.

Too utterly astounded to offer any resistance, Danvers was hurried along
the deck to the main hatch and made to descend. The hold was empty, but
an armed native was there awaiting the prisoner.

Diaz followed him below.

"You are to make no noise, nor speak to the sentry," he said, with a
sullen savageness; "if you do I shall put on the hatches."

Danvers was no coward, but his heart sank within him. "Is this a joke,
or has Captain Brabant gone mad?"

The Chileno looked at him with blazing eyes, and half raised his hand as
if to strike. Then, without a word, he turned away and went on deck.

Brabant was seated on the skylight with an outspread chart before him.

"Keep her S.S.W., Pedro. We are steering for Hunter's Island. Set the
squaresail."

*****

For five days the _Loelia_ steered steadily before the trade wind, till
one morning there lay before her a huge, treeless cone, whose barren,
rugged sides rose blackly from the sea.

Not a vestige of vegetation was visible anywhere from the cutter, and
from the summit of the cone, and from long, gaping fissures in the
sides, ascended thin, wavering clouds of dull, sulphurous smoke. Here
and there were small bays, whose shores showed narrow beaches of black
sand, upon which the surf thundered and clamoured unceasingly. Not even
a wandering sea-bird was to be seen, and the only sound that disturbed
the dread silence of the place was the roar of the breakers mingling
with the muffled groanings and heavings of the still struggling and
mighty forces of Nature in the heart of the island--forces which,
ninety-five years before, had found a vent and destroyed every living
thing, man and beast, in one dreadful outburst of flame, whose awful
reflection was seen a hundred leagues away.

It was a place of horror and desolation, set in a lonely sea, appalling
in appearance to the human eye.

But at one point on the western side, as the _Loelia_ crept in under the
lee, there opened out a small bay less than fifty fathoms in width from
head to head, where, instead of the roaring surf which beat so fiercely
against the rest of the island, as if it sought to burst in its rocky
walls and extinguish for ever the raging fires hidden deep down in its
heart, there was but a gentle swell which broke softly upon a beach less
dismal to the eye than the others. For instead of the black volcanic
sand the shore was strewn with rough boulders of rock, whose sides were
covered in places with a thick, green creeper. Above, the sides of the
mountain showed here and there a scanty foliage, low, stunted, and dull
tinted; and in the centre of the beach a tiny stream of fresh water
trickled through sand and rock and mingled itself with the sea.

Abreast of this spot the cutter's jib-sheet was hauled to windward. Then
the boat was lowered and filled with provisions in cases and casks, and
Diaz, with four hands, went ashore and carried everything up beyond high
water-mark. Brabant watched them unconcernedly from the ship.

The boat returned and Diaz came on deck, and looked at the captain
expectantly. Brabant made a gesture towards the main hatch, then stepped
forward. Diaz, with two seamen, descended the hold. In two minutes they
reappeared with Danvers, who, the moment he came on deck, looked wildly
about him.

"For God's sake, listen to me!" he said hoarsely to the Chileno. "Are
you, too, and these men, as mad as your captain, or am I mad myself?
Where is he? Let me see him. What are you doing with me?"

No answer was made. The native sailors seized him by the arms and
dragged him to the side. Then he was lowered into the boat, which at
once pushed off and was headed towards the land. He looked, with horror
in his eyes, at the dreadful aspect before him, then turned his face
towards the cutter. Brabant was leaning on the rail watching him.

The five grim, silent men landed him on the beach, and Diaz pointed
without a word to the pile of stores, and then, grasping his steer-oar,
motioned to his crew to push off.

"You devils! You fiends incarnate! Are you going to leave me here to die
alone in this awful place?" cried Danvers, as with clenched and uplifted
hands he saw Diaz swing the boat's head seaward.

The Chileno turned his face slowly towards him.

"You shall not die alone, Señor Danvers. You shall have company--good
company."




CHAPTER IV

One evening Captain Lester of the _Maritana_, then lying in Sydney
harbour "awaiting orders," called on Mrs. Brabant at the Royal Hotel.

"I have just received this from Captain Brabant, madam," he said with
studied, but cold politeness, as he handed her a letter.

She took it with an impatient gesture. "A letter to you and none to me!
Surely he must have written, and the letter has miscarried."

"No doubt, madam," replied the captain of the _Maritana_ in the same
stiff tones.

Mrs. Brabant motioned him to a seat as she read the letter, first
telling Minea, the Samoan maid, who was present, to leave the room. The
girl obeyed, and as she passed Lester she gave him such a curious
but friendly glance, that now for the first time he began to have a
suspicion that she was not false to her master. Then, too, it suddenly
flashed across his mind that according to Samoan custom, unknown to her
mistress, Minea was a "sister" to Brabant, who had exchanged names with
her father, a minor chief of a good family, on whose land Brabant had
settled when he first came to Samoa. That alone, he knew, would ensure
the girl's unswerving loyalty and devotion to her "brother"--she could
not conceal from him anything that affected his honour or reputation.

"She'll tell him," he thought, as he watched Mrs. Brabant read the
letter; "thank God I shall be spared the task."

Brabant's letter to Lester was very short. It was dated from Vavau,
Friendly Islands, and was as follows:--

     "Dear Lester,--I send you this hurried note by the Tongan
     Government schooner _Taufaahau_. I am here in the _Loelia_,
     inspecting my stations in connection with their transference
     to Captain Danvers's company. He is very anxious to realise
     his ideal, and I do not wish to keep him waiting. If Mrs.
     Brabant is not in Sydney when this reaches you, please
     communicate with her as quickly as possible. No doubt she
     will be quite anxious to return to Fiji now, and I shall be
     here awaiting the _Maritana_. I hope to see you within three
     weeks after you receive this. Make the _Maritana_ sail for
     all she is worth.

     "Yours sincerely,

     "John Brabant."

She handed him the letter. "Thank you, Captain Lester. When do you
propose sailing?"

"I am ready for sea now, madam. I only await your pleasure."

He did not look at her as he spoke, for he feared that the hatred and
contempt with which he regarded her would show itself in his face.

"I can come on board to-morrow. Will that do?" she asked.

"Certainly, madam, if it will not hurry you too much."

"Not at all, Captain; I am sick of Sydney, and am only too glad to come
on board the _Maritana_ again." She spoke with a friendly warmth, but
Lester's distantly polite manner gave her no encouragement.

"Will you not stay and dine with me?" she asked, with a smile; "do say
yes. I feel quite angry that my husband has not written to me. I am
really a deserted wife. Don't you think so, Captain Lester?"

Her forced pleasantry was thrown away.

"I am very sorry, Mrs. Brabant, but as we are to sail to-morrow, I must
hasten on board at once. There are many matters to which I must attend."

He rose and bowed stiffly, and Nell Brabant extended her hand. He
touched it, and in another moment was gone. She sank back in her chair
with a white face and terror in her eyes. What did he mean by his cold
and distant manner? Did he suspect anything? Did he know anything? How
could he? Minea alone knew that she had left Sydney for a month with
Danvers, and Minea would not betray her! What need to fear anything?

Then, satisfied with her own powers of intrigue, she smiled to herself,
and dismissed Lester's cold face and unresponsive manner from her mind.

When Lester went on board again he took from his pocket a second letter
from Brabant, which was marked "Private and Confidential," and with
a puzzled brow read it over again. "I want you, Lester, to attend
carefully to my instructions. _You are to consider my other letter as
cancelled_. I wish you, instead of coming to Tonga, to make all possible
haste to 22 10' S. and 170 25' E. I shall meet you there or thereabouts
in the _Loelia_.--Yours sincerely. J. B."

"What does all this mystery mean, I wonder?" he muttered, as he looked
at an outspread chart on the table; "why should he pick upon the
vicinity of such a God-forsaken spot as Hunter's Island for a
rendezvous? But it's none of my business." Then he turned in and slept.

*****

Sunset in the South Seas.

The _Loelia_ was lazily head-reaching towards Hunter's Island, about six
miles distant, its grim and rugged outlines showing out clearly under
the yellow streaks of the sinking sun, Pedro Diaz was on deck, drinking
his coffee, when the native seaman who was on the lookout cried--

"Sail ho, sir! Away there on the weather beam."

Diaz stepped below to Brabant, who was lying in his bunk reading a book.

"Here she is, sir."

"Ah! three days sooner than I expected her, Pedro. You know what to do,
don't you? Here is the letter for Lester. Get away as quickly as you
can. The night will be fine and clear, and there will be no need to
hoist a light for you."

He handed the officer a letter addressed to "Captain James Lester,
schooner _Maritana_," and then rose and began to dress himself.

In a few minutes the cutter's boat, with Pedro Diaz and four hands, was
pulling towards the _Maritana_ which was coming along under a six-knot
breeze. The moment the boat left the side Brabant set the gaff topsail
and square-sail, and headed the Loelia towards the north end of the
island. Just as she disappeared from the view of those on board the
approaching vessel, Pedro Diaz came within hailing distance. He stood
up.

"_Maritana_ ahoy!"

Lester's voice replied to his hail, the schooner was brought to the
wind, the boat ranged alongside, and Diaz ascended.

"How are you, Lester?" he said, shaking hands with his friend. "I have
no time to talk. Read this letter at once, and let me get away with all
speed."

Lester was impressed with the emphatic manner in which he spoke, and
without a single question opened Brabant's letter. Then an exclamation
of astonishment burst from him.

"What does it all mean, Pedro? I----"

The Chileno waved his hand impatiently, and shrugged his shoulders. "We
must obey orders, Lester."

"Of course. I shall let Mrs. Brabant know at once." Then he read the
letter a second time.

     "Dear Lester,--Please ask Mrs. Brabant to get together some
     of her luggage as quickly as possible, and come on board the
     _Loelia_, which is the better vessel of the two as far as
     comfort goes. Minea can remain on board the _Maritana_. You
     will find further orders awaiting you at Levuka."

That was all. Lester stepped below, and found his passenger seated at
the cabin table.

"That vessel is the _Loelia_ madam, and Diaz has just come aboard with
this letter;" and he handed it to her.

"What an extraordinary thing! Why did not my husband come for me
himself if he is so anxious for me to join him on the _Loelia_. Is she
close-to?"

"Yes, but not in sight. I think Captain Brabant was afraid of the wind
failing, and the cutter drifting in on the weather side of the island,
for he has gone round to the lee side."

Calling Minea, Mrs. Brabant hurriedly packed some necessary clothing,
telling the girl the reason for such haste, and in a few minutes she
sent word on deck that she was ready. Diaz was already in the boat,
steer-oar in hand, and talking to Lester, who was leaning over the rail,
wondering why his former comrade seemed so embarrassed, and impatient to
get away.

Mrs. Brabant held out her hand. "Good-bye, Captain Lester. I hope you
will have a quick passage to Levuka. Goodbye, Minea."

She descended the ladder into the boat, and took her seat, Diaz lifted
his hat, and then gave the word to push off.

"Good-bye, Pedro," said Lester.

The Chileno looked up.

"Good-bye, Jim, old comrade."

The men stretched to their oars, and the whaleboat shot out towards
the dark shadow of the island as the crew of the _Maritana_ went to the
braces, the yards swung round, and she stood away to the eastward, and
Lester, with a strange feeling of unrest oppressing him, leant with
folded arms upon the rail, and wondered why Pedro Diaz had given such a
tone of sadness to his last words.

The night was clear with the light of myriad stars, as the boat swept
through the gently heaving sea. Diaz, standing grim and sombre-faced at
the steer-oar, had not spoken a word since the boat left the ship. His
eyes looked straight ahead.

Mrs. Brabant had never liked the dark, sullen-faced Chilian, but now
there came into her heart such a sudden, horrible feeling of loneliness
that she felt she would be glad to hear him speak.

"Is my husband quite well, Mr. Diaz?"

"Quite well, madam," he replied, still staring straight before him.

His voice appalled her, and she made no further effort to break the
dreadful silence as she looked at the black bulk of the island, along
whose fissured sides there every now and then ran ragged sheets of smoky
flame. The boat rounded the island, and then when opposite the little
bay, Diaz swung her head round, and headed directly for the shore.

"Are we landing here?" asked the woman in a faint, terrified voice.

"Yes."

The boat touched the shore, the crew jumped out, carried Mrs. Brabant's
two boxes to the beach, placed a lighted boat-lantern on one, and then
Diaz silently held out his hand to assist her on shore.

She stepped out, and then stood facing him for a moment, her cheek
showing the pallor of deadly fear. Then the seaman thrust his hand in
the breast of his coat, and handed her a letter. In another instant,
without a word of farewell, he had leapt into the boat again, which at
once pushed off--and she was alone.

*****

When daylight broke it revealed two figures on the lonely beach--one a
woman, who lay prone upon the ground, and wept in silent anguish, and
the other a man, whose frightful aspect made him look scarcely human.
He was kneeling beside one of the boxes, glaring with the eyes of one
almost mad with horror at a letter he had taken from the woman's hand
when he discovered her lying unconscious.

     "I have known everything from the very first. Danvers said
     in one of his letters to you that life with you would be
     happiness unutterable, even in a desert place. I have
     brought you here to meet him.    He has waited long.

    "John Brabant."

And never again were Danvers and Nell Brabant seen by men, and John
Brabant and the _Loelia_ and her crew were supposed to have been lost at
sea.



THE END





This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia